(January 2013)

Community’s responsibility in public safety

Fire services remain under siege from both within and without as elected officials retrench public safety under a guise of responsible leadership and fiscal accountability. Substandard staffing, insufficient coverage by fire companies resulting from brownouts and closings, deteriorating equipment, and constrained training budgets conspire to subvert fire department mission and public safety. Unprecedented assaults on the fire service by politicians include covert actions that continue to erode capability.

The governor of a state writes to the federal agency urging that no additional federal funds for hiring new firefighters be granted to the state’s municipalities because local government is ill served by assuming responsibility for matching funds or subsequent support of firefighter salaries.

A local firefighter’s union goes to court to defend minimum staffing of personnel in fire companies that directly affects operational effectiveness and public safety. The court rules that firefighters have no standing because they are neither legally nor morally obligated to the public for the protection of life and property. That responsibility to the public lies exclusively with elected officials; firefighters are accountable only to such officials elected by the constituency.

State government maintains an agency called the Division of Fire Safety. The organization exists presumably to promote fire safety in the state, including effective fire protection. In addition to enforcement of fire inspection standards, the agency provides technical assistance to local governments and fire departments. In the state’s oversight of fiscally distressed municipalities, the division is also called on to provide technical guidance to bean counters in matters of fire service budget expenditures. In conferring with local government, the division encourages a reduction in fire company staffing below minimally acceptable levels to achieve fiscal savings.

In addition to assailable operations, further attacks on firefighter salaries and compensation under fiscal reform for taxpayer advantage exacerbate low morale and organizational resolve among fire departments. Lost in the onslaught of government austerity are real-world ramifications of budget cuts and the community’s own responsibility in effective public safety. Although education of the public is central to this discussion, fire chiefs are too often not willing or are unable to contradict or criticize elected officials in matters of austerity. Firefighters who bear a continuing burden in such fiscal constraints have a direct and compelling interest in their representative unions and associations to resist such actions and advocate for the department and its membership.

With support of fire department management, unions must advocate for effective fire services not only for public safety but also for the occupational safety and welfare of firefighters. In advocating for occupational safety, the community must understand that firefighters are not mad monks committed to rushing headlong into immediately dangerous to life and health environments without adequate staffing or resources necessary for preserving their safety in addition to the public’s. Community education must include real-world outcomes where fires double in size every minute and fire company response times directly affect lives and property lost and that, in the absence of adequate staffing and resources at the scene during the early stage of operations, primary searches for victims will be delayed or omitted until the fire has been contained. Without sufficient resources, firefighters should not be expected to jeopardize personal safety and welfare in exchange for preserving the public safety.

Where communities join elected officials and deem advantage in lower taxes to be of greater importance than adequate services, the community should also be willing to accept responsibility for sharing the risks that firefighters are expected to endure. Without such frank discussion, municipal fire services will continue to disproportionately bear the burden of fiscal austerity in government without perspective. As a police chief once stated at budget hearings before a governing body, “The city can save millions by abolishing the police department and dismantling law enforcement, but everyone will have to sleep with a knife in their teeth.” In matters of responsibility, the community should get only the level of fire services it deserves based on decided support; it should not receive a level of services it does not deserve.

Joseph A. Marini
Chief (Ret.)
Camden (NJ) Fire Department


Comments on hydraulics

As the author of Hydraulics for Firefighting, 2nd Ed., Thompson/Delmar Learning, I take special note when I see articles about hydraulics and pump operation in Fire Engineering. I enjoyed Paul Spurgeon’s article “Every Pump Operator’s Basic Equation” (October 2012). In the short space of his article, he did a good job covering a lot of material.

I do, however, have three comments. First, the fifth rule under friction loss of fire hose is not completely accurate. While it is true that pressure will have no effect on friction loss in ridged conduits, such as pipe and ridged hose, it will affect the friction loss in nonridged hose. In any hose that can collapse when the water is drained, pressure will have an effect on friction loss in two ways. First, as pressure in the hose increases, it increases the diameter of the hose. It may not be by much, but it is real. Technically, there is less friction loss closer to the pump than at the other end of the hose because the friction loss changes as the pressure drops along the length of the hose. Second, as pressure increases, the hose will lengthen. Again, this will technically affect the friction loss in the hose. These two factors are part of the reason it is impossible to find a “spot on” friction loss formula. The higher the pressure and/or longer the line is, the more these two issues are a factor.

My second point is about the use of the formula FL = 2Q2 + Q. Wow, that formula takes me back at least 40 years. That formula was dropped 40-plus years ago when I had my initial hydraulics training. It was dropped in favor of FL = 2Q2 because it was felt that modern manufacturing techniques were producing better hose and the +Q was no longer needed. The coefficient formula mentioned in the article is essentially the FL = 2Q2 premultiplying and updating the conversion factor (where needed) by 2 to create the coefficient. Departments that aren’t satisfied with the friction loss provided by the coefficient formula are better advised to do in-house testing and determine a coefficient that works best for them. It isn’t at all hard.

My final comment is about the use of 0.434 per foot of elevation instead of 0.433 in the formula for determining pressure when the height of a column of water is known. The value 0.434 is based on a cubic foot of water weighing 62.5 pounds. I find that most sources recommend 62.4 pounds as the weight of a cubic foot of water. This will not produce any major calculation error; it would just be nice to see everyone “singing from the same sheet of music,” so to speak. Everyone using the same numbers would make us look more professional instead of like a bunch of independent organizations jockeying for attention. For what it is worth, the chapter of the National Fire Protection Association Handbook of Fire Protection on hydraulics uses 62.4 pounds. Granted, this is a pet peeve of mine, but details are important.

The author did a good job; I hope to see more such articles in the future.

William F. Crapo
Deputy Chief (Ret.)
>Harrisonburg, Virginia

Paul Spurgeon responds: I always appreciate feedback and comments about my work. I feel that it is so important to open up discussions about all aspects of the fire service. Crapo’s first comment about the hose both increasing in diameter and length is absolutely correct. The problem is that we have no way of knowing how much expansion will occur. Each section could be different from the last, and it could vary from manufacturer to manufacturer. Unfortunately, there is no way to put an exact figure to it.

His argument about the use of “+Q” in the underwriter’s formula may or may not be valid. I state in my book and, subsequently, in the article that there is no one formula that can be completely accurate. There are too many variables that are out of our control, such as hose manufacturer, condition, and coupling type. As we both stated, the only way to accurately determine friction loss is to test the hose you are using. The Denver (CO) Fire Department has found significantly different figures between the two hose brands we carry.

In fire service hydraulics, especially when teaching, we try to use pencil sharp calculations. Sometimes we try to put too sharp of a point on the pencil-i.e., 0.434 vs. 0.433 pounds per square inch. In the end, it would take 1,000 feet of elevation to change the elevation calculation by one pound. I agree that it would be nice if we were all on the same page, but there are so many variables that it is all but impossible to accomplish this feat. I feel it is so much more important to present the concepts and get people to understand what is happening when water is moving through the fire pumps and hoses. This will get people thinking and discussing these fascinating topics.

This brings me to one final thought and allows me to get on my soapbox a little. Even though we may agree or disagree about what is said, I love that it has opened up a dialog that may get people thinking. Many, many aspects of what we do in the fire service need to be questioned. Of course, this needs to be done respectfully and professionally. Questions such as the following need to be asked: “Are the friction loss numbers we use accurate?” “Why do we use the nozzle pressures we use?” This also applies to strategy and tactics. The argument between the use of 2½-inch vs. 1¾-inch hose, as well as smoothbore vs. fog nozzles, needs to have the question “WHY?” answered. The number of questions can be endless. Just because a company officer or chief or the training staff says we need to do something a certain way does not mean that we as dedicated firefighters cannot question the reason for doing things. Again, this needs to be done respectfully. Beware when you are questioning authority. If you question someone or something, you need to have an answer or a solution, or you are going to look silly. Don’t expect to get your way. Change sometimes is hard.

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