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The Poltiics of Safety

Mon, 7 Mar 2011|

Frank Ricci discusses politics and its impact on firefighters safety and staffing issues.

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Automatically Generated Transcript (may not be 100% accurate)

Hi and welcome to the Z99.5 studios here in Indianapolis, Indiana. I'm Brad Thompson a professional firefighter here in Indianapolis, but I also do this radio gig on my days off. You know, Indianapolis and FDIC have become synonymous top trainers from all over the country and all over the world come here each year to hone their skills. I'd like to introduce you to Frank Richie. Frank Richie is a New Haven firefighter. He's also a guy that knows that getting in front of the issues and being there is how you get things done. But it also attracts some lightning. >> But the best part, Frank's a friend, a New Haven firefighter, and a contributing author to The Firefighter's Handbook. He's also the creator of the best-selling DVD, Firefighter Survival Techniques. Frank is currently writing a book entitled, The Politics of Safety, as well. Whether it's last chance filter technology, consulting for Yale, or advocating for legislation, you'll find him out front. Just don't stand too close. You may get hit with something. Ladies and gentlemen, Frank Ricci. [MUSIC] [MUSIC] [MUSIC] The politics of safety. City hall and your role in safe staffing. I'm honored to be able to speak with you today and would like to thank the entire PennWell and Fire engineering family for all they do to enhance fire firefighter safety. I'd also like to recognize our armed forces for their sacrifice and dedication to preserve this great democracy. Someone asked me in class the other day, Frank how did you get where you are? I thought it was a fair question, but the answer had little to do with me. The only way you can achieve in this profession is through others. It's no different than a fire an individual, or even a crew, is only one building block in what is needed to get the job done. Safe staffing requires ESP. Education and emotion. Standard in statistics, political action, and of course a little bit of politeness. Today, we are gonna talk about the root causes of our failures when it comes to staffing. How to work with City Hall, and at times against it. We will also cover some innovative solutions from around the country to increase your staff. Our combat fire desk continue to grow. If you look at Nyasa reports there's a random report card of our service. We are failing in may areas. There needs to be a new focus on staffing, training and physical fitness. Today we're just gonna cover the one that's the hardest to achieve, safe staffing. No, it is not the hardest because of our economy. It is because we've gotten away from our roots and we failed to participate in our democracy. Our forefathers understood that politics and service went hand in hand. Most of our forefathers were firefighters. George Washington, our nation's first advocate for safe staffing in the last years of his life, after his second term as president, was riding his horse down King's street in Alexandra, Virginia when he came across a blaze. The crowd stood idle. He was appalled by the indifference they were displaying. They were watching an under staff fire company try to contain the fire to the block. He dismounted his horse in full dress and rallied the crowd to assist. His words are still relevant today. Washington said it is your business to lead in these matters. The crowd along with Washington extinguished the blaze. The crowd failed to understand the potential for their cost of inaction. Just as some of our elected officials have failed to understand the cost of their actions. It is our responsibility to educate our community leaders. In the Washington story you will note that their goal was to contain the fire to the block. Today, we strive to contain the fire to the room of origin. Bobby Hall has taken the lead in having firefighters understand the dynamic fire environment in the critical boundaries we operate in. Remember, we are forced to make decisions based on imperfect information. Our officers are further challenged when they are forced by lack of staffing to get directly involved in tactical operations. If they lose valuable perspective, in the overall operation, in turn this negatively effects firefighter safety. Although technology has evolved, it has not, it will not fix this problem. With the advent of breathing apparatus, we have been able to save more lives and property than we could've imagined,. We have become more efficient and more effective but not safer. The only way to increase safety is to ensure adequate staffing. The tactics we use must occur in unison with each other in order to control the building. The structures that we respond to today are more dangerous. Lightweight components that fail earlier, high heat release from furnishings that are made of synthetics, essentially solid state gasoline that brings on flash over and rapid fire development quicker. Toxic smoke that contains hydrogen cyanide, acroine, carbon monoxide, hydrogen chloride, and soot effects firefighters and victims at the fire. Moreover, this chemical cocktail continues to harm us years later in the form of stroke, heart attacks, and cancer. The only way to impact safety and improve our overall effectiveness is to increase staffing. Get politically active, train hard,. It blows my mind that our members have the courage to crawl down an interior hallway, on a weakened floor, through blinding smoke, blistering heat to extinguish a fire. Yet, the hall that scares them the most is City Hall. We need to stand together and not just win their cut on our budgets. We have the best service that our municipalities offer. A citizen calls 911 and within minutes we arrive. Ready to help. With no paper work, we help everyone the girls of their status. Our political leaders must understand that when times are tough, the need for our service grows. I was having coffee a few months ago, in a diner after work. And the mayor walked in and immediately went into his speech on how bad things were in the city, and how cuts would be coming. I countered with, mr. mayor you understand that we serve as the healthcare and as a safety net for the two most at-risk segments of our population, the elderly and the poor? We need more resources, not less. He simply nodded. I explained further. Foreclosures are on the rise in this city and that means the increase in the fire hazard is going up. Last night, we had a fire in a foreclosed house, that was supposed to vacant. There was eleven people in that house. The conversation turned. The mayor started talking about the number of vacant buildings in our area, and how it jumped from 400 to 825. He was concerned that the problem, the fire problems that the city saw in the 1960s would return. There were no more talks of cuts in that conversation. The two firefighters I was with looked on in amazement. And after the mayor left they asked, was that rehearsed. I said no, but when speaking to a politician always try to frame the conversation. We as a service have been able to accomplish so much, but we must change the way we measure our success. Firefighters have over simplified what constitutes a fire. The foot on the stove call, that we all mitigate on a weekly basis, is not viewed in the proper context. The incipient fire, is equivalent to a home invasion, with the armed suspect, where injury or death is likely to occur. Every fire starts small. It is only our actions, that stop the inevitable harm from occurring. Yet we blow this off as no big deal. Do you think the homeowner would be happier if it extended and lead to the loss of most of their belongings? Of course not. So why do we only measure what is lost? While [UNKNOWN] is set up to measure what is lost, there is a way to record through [UNKNOWN] the value of what is saved. Remember, if the fire progressed without being checked. It would result in a total loss. Your role is to market the fire service. Customer service knows no rank. Our firefighters interact with our citizens on a daily basis. We must keep in mind that these are our customers, and they should be treated as such. The 911 call may not be an emergency to you. But it is, to them. Giving a citizen an attitude, can have a devastating political effect. When we go to a call, there's three impressions that we can leave on the public, our customers. Number one, complete indifference. The meeting couldn't hurt you or help you. It's almost like, the meeting didn't happen. Number two, they think you're an ****. And this could be catastrophic. And we wanna avoid that at all costs. Number three, you can make a new best friend and this is what we should strive for on every call. Make this interaction an opportunity to educate the public. Leave a survey with some safety information that covers what your fire department does. These are the citizens that will rally to our cause when we ask them to help us. Remember, as a firefighter, citizens listen to what you say. It makes it extremely tough for your leaders to advocate for safe staffing when we have firefighters going around saying the only thing they do is wash their cars or sleep at work. Hell, if I come off the night shift and we're fortunate enough to sleep, I tell my wife what a rough night we had. I take a nap out of principle. We are an insurance company. We are insurance policy that pays out on every single alarm. Firefighters must know what our message is and how to deliver it in a quick soundbite. A recent kitchen fire in the city of Torenton, Connecticut ended with the entire loss of an apartment building. The fire department arrived on scene with just eight firefighters. With eight firefighters they were unable to control the building. I believe the fire's still burning today. But the union president had the courage, Chris Peppler. He said to the press that their understaffed apartment is equivalent to a baseball team playing the Yankees with no outfield. I'd like to add to that that the names on the jerseys of those Yankees, they wouldn't read Jeter or other Yankee greats, but vertical voids, illegally altered buildings, and synthetic fuels. An all star lineup compared to eight firefighters when the stakes are injury and death. Our members should be armed with the latest information. They should know, just off the top of their head, how many alarms their department responds to, what's their department's operating budget, as well as general national statistics, know how many firefighters died in the line of duty, how many firefighters get injured. Each year, there's over a million fires reported in the U.S., with over 3,000 civilian deaths and over 17,000 injuries. These are not just numbers. They represent our friends, our family, and our neighbors. Do your members know even what their elected officials look like? Many lobbying firms for business, will print out a sheet each year. You'll have the photograph on, of each politician on the sheet. It will also say where the politicians stand on pertinent information, on issues. We can learn a lot from business. I hear firefighters say things. Things are bad now. We cannot advocate for more staffing. Yet one of our, my mentors, Tom Brennan, former chief of Waterbury, Connecticut had some of the best staffing in the country. When speaking to officials, he would state the reasons why he should have an increase. He would say, if you're not asking for more, if you're asking for more, they're less likely to take it away. One of the simple business models goes like this. When the economy is bad, we must prepare for recovery. When the economy is good we must prepare for a downturn. The days of allowing politicians to shake our hands with one hand and slash our budgets with the other must end now. Let them know that we will hold them accountable and if they work with us we'll work for them. Get out, support a candidate. If you work hard, as an organization, you work the polls, you get out the vote, you craft your message, you will win even if your candidate loses. Other politicians will respect the effort of your organization and understand that you could be a future ally. They're not gonna wanna go against you in the future. Why politics is a compromise. Never, never, never should we as a profession, comprise on safety. This means, staffing, merit based promotions and training. [BLANK_AUDIO] Understand the standards that affect our profession. NFPA 1710 is a good starting point. Most firefighters don't realize it's only based on a two story house that has two thousand square feet, no basement and no exposures. The goal of 1710 is to have four personnel arrive on scene within five minutes from the notification of the alarm and have the rest of the full assignment. Arrive within eight minutes. This puts us in a good position to limit the fire spread back to that room of origin. If the fire's allowed to extend past the room of origin, the death rate for civilians climbs seven times higher. If the fire extends past the fire floor, the civilian death rate climbs 11 times higher. But what about the other standards out there, for volunteer and combination departments? There's NFPA 1720, and in my opinion, it harms volunteer and combination department. The fire does not discriminate between a volunteer and a career fire fighter. It will kill and injure, just the same. But there is some hope. Volunteer departments across the US, are recognizing this. And are instituting duty nights, to decrease response time, and allow for adequate staffing. They've also implemented junior programs and explorer programs, to build interest in public service and mold young adults, into the future leaders of the fire service. Paid and volunteer fire departments have taken initiative. An innovative approach, to start college live in programs to bolster their ranks and increase staffing. As a past live in at station 31 in Rockville, Maryland, I can attest that these programs are beneficial to all. For the career departments, one of the best methods of utilizing the ESP method to achieve safe staffing is to conduct fire ops 101 training through the IAFF. This program puts the politicians right in our boots. We run them through realistic fire evolutions and in the opening we utilize a film called smoke showing to help demonstrate why and how tactics must be performed. This film was put together by fire engineering, the Williams Direct Dryer Company and the Hartford Insurance Company. Its biggest strength is it demonstrates that it is not the number of firefighters you need on-scene, but it's how many firefighters can arrive within minutes of each other to control that building. The best thing about this film is that I and Bobby Holton grant you permission to add a short segment to it, with your own union rep or union president, and your fire chief. Make it hit home, personalize it, get the message out to your community. Have it play on public access, career day at the high school. Just get the word out. In the opening of Fire Ops 101, explain that evolutions that they are gonna perform, are under ideal conditions. It's not 90 degrees out or 15 degrees out. The fire's not gonna burn a hole in the floor. A collapse isn't gonna trap them underneath debris. Draw a comparison to a nearby city or department. It doesn't matter whether your department runs one fire a year or 600. The number of firefighters needed to put out that fire and control the building does not change. In my department a fire in a two and a half story wood frame residential structure, we get 24 personnel arriving within minutes of each other. Compare that to the same fire on Main Street America where my brother responds. Only 11 firefighters does he have to put out that fire. I'll tell you who's got the most dangerous job, by far it's the department that's understaffed. These departments have my greatest respect, but they just can't accept the way things are. Our nature is to get the job done, no matter what the cost. This is the spirit of firefighters everywhere, but we must do more. Fire chiefs, it's your responsibility to advocate for staffing. Your members and the citizens demand it. There are far too many fire chiefs spending so much time keeping their job that they forgot to do their job. One great example of a fire chief leading is Chief Riordan from the New Haven fire department. He was ordered by the board of Aldermen, to cut two companies in the 1980s. His response to the board was simple. I will take the companies off duty, but I will decide, which companies come off. There were two members of that board, that were strongly advocating for the closure of the company. One of them asked the chief. Chief, what companies are you gonna take off? Without hesitation the chief answered, the one that responds to your house and the one that responds to his. No, there was a change of heart and both companies stayed on. Chiefs, we wanna follow, we wanna support ya, but tha requires you to lead. What if a budget roadblock becomes impassable. We need to ensure that automatic mutual aid agreements get help, on the way, at the receipt of the alarm, not after the fire has been confirmed. And any units coming will only be playing catchup. For our shift commanders and battalion chiefs, if you're in command of a fire remember, there's no politician on-scene telling you you cannot call for the resources you need to keep your personnel safe. Across the country as firefighters we are too quick to concede the argument. Take cutbacks, close stations, rotating brown outs. We must fight this. Look at our own personal lives. If you can't balance the budget at your house, your sure to cut back on recreation and entertaining. It would be absurd, to shut off the electricity or the heat. These are essential items. They're no different from our service. In the days of working two jobs, balancing the family, how do we manage to get our members out to those meetings? Maximize your turn out. Schedule your monthly meetings, so they fall in line. With the town or cities meetings. That way at the start you can establish a presence, either before or after when you meet. When asked why you're attending, follow the advice from Jerry Nilus. We're here to make sure that you have the right information. Or from our own, my own union president Patrick Eagan who says we're here to keep you honest. Patty Yin and Jimmy Conitch took our local in a political direction. He used to be neutral on everything. We now have representatives at almost every political function. We establish relationships. We took out full page ads in the newspaper to counter firehouse Russian roulette. We worked the polls, went door to door and even on the coldest day when we had less than a stellar turn out to get the word out, we divided the city into sectors so when the mayor's office received calls from the citizens, it appeared that we canvassed the entire city. If your working the polls and have limited staff, man the most important ones, then have a team of rollovers that you can split up to hit the other polls on a rotation basis. These tactics have given us one of the best staffing agreements in New England despite being one of the poorest cities. We must be prepared to stand up. In recent months the city of Meriden, Connecticut was facing a station closing in order to save a meer six hundred thousand dollars. Firefighters went to the neighborhoods, they posted signs, they utilized the media, and that firehouse has been saved. If you haven't been cut yet, be proactive. Get out there. Get the word out. There is a sign that hangs in an office at Yale. It reads, if it doesn't make sense the answer is political. How true is that in these times? Sometimes when all of the facts and education is on our side, no matter what, it will come down to a political decision, it will come down to political relationships. Fostering these relationships, while being right, can make the difference. We can no longer go down the path of inaction. We must take this as a call to action to wield political influence, educate our elected officials. protect our firefighters everywhere. Once again, I'd like to thank you for your time. Check out the film, Smoke Showing. We'll provide a link for it at the conclusion of this. Special thanks to Dan Nosera, Pete Patrilla, Chris Pepler, Glen Corbett, Marla Patterson. Mary McGee, my wife and son, Christine and Nicolas Richie, Troy Adams, Benny Puruso, Sam Bebura, my brothers, Jim and John Richie, Bobby Gaulle, and of course the guy who gets everything done Bobby Holland. Now get out there and make some noise. [MUSIC]

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