Jerry Tracy, a retired battalion chief and a 31-year veteran of the Fire Department of New York (FDNY) and a pioneer researcher in the areas of high-rise operations, firefighter safety, and contemporary fire tactics, was presented with the 2016 Tom Brennan Lifetime Achievement Award at Thursday’s General Session.
Tracy, who previously had served in the U.S. Navy and in Vietnam, had various assignments in FDNY. Among them were Engine 90 in the Bronx and 108 Truck in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. As a lieutenant, he served with the 9th Battalion in midtown Manhattan and 4 Truck in the heart of Times Square/the Theater District. As a battalion chief, he was assigned to Battalion 49 in Queens. In 1998, Tracy formed and commanded Squad 18 of Manhattan, a new elite unit within special operations command.
While a captain, Tracy and John Salka, then the captain of 48 Engine, developed the Engine Company Operations: “Back to Basics” course for the Captains Development program, which was launched in FDNY and gained recognition throughout the fire service.
In 1997, while responding first-due to a high-rise fire, Tracy realized that there were alternate strategies to the direct frontal attack for fighting wind-driven fires. This was the impetus for his campaign to propose using a nozzle from the floor below the fire in cases where windows to a fire area had failed. He demonstrated a year later in a test commanded by then FDNY Captain John Norman that the 10-foot Navy nozzle modified to flow in excess of 150 gallons per minute could be deployed effectively from the floor below a wind-driven fire.
The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST); Underwriters Laboratories Firefighter Safety Research Institute; the Chicago (IL) Fire Department, and the Brooklyn Poly Technical University of New York University later participated in research that would prove Tracy’s premise. A study in 2006 confirmed that portable fans cleared stairwells of smoke and maintained pressures to keep them smoke free in the majority of fires encountered in the live-fire testing.
In 2008, a study on Governors Island showed that fans pressurized stairwells, covered failed windows effectively with wind-control devices, and extinguished fires with a nozzle device from a position of safety–typically the floor below the fire. These data revolutionized FDNY’s policies, procedures, and response plans for fires in high-rise commercial and residential buildings.
The Lifetime Achievement Award is named for Tom Brennan, who was the editor of Fire Engineering for eight years and a technical editor. Brennan had more than 35 years of fire service experience, including more than 20 years with the Fire Department of New York and five years as chief of the Waterbury (CT) Fire Department. He was co-editor of The Fire Chief’s Handbook, Fifth Edition (Fire Engineering Books, 1995) and the recipient of the 1998 Fire Engineering Lifetime Achievement Award.