BY RON KANTERMAN
The Mohegan Tribal Fire Department (MTFD) in Uncasville, Connecticut, protects the Mohegan Tribe’s main reservation in southeastern Connecticut, which includes most of the 350 acres the tribe holds in trust. The area includes the tribal government building, warehousing, the utility authority, public safety operations, numerous parking garages, and the Mohegan Sun casino hotel and resort complex.
This complex includes a 35-story hotel with 1,200 rooms and suites, a retail mall with stores and restaurants, and a 10,000-seat arena for basketball games and concerts. Occupying approximately 4½ million square feet (37 acres) under one roof, the complex may hold more than 80,000 on a capacity night. Within the 25 square miles of the Town of Montville, the Tribe also holds in trust small parcels of land on which are located a retirement housing complex for the Tribal Elders, Fort Shantok (a public park), the Mohegan Church, and private housing for Tribal members. All these facilities have a direct tie to the Tribal 911/Dispatch Center.
Although the Mohegan Tribe gained federal recognition as a sovereign nation on March 7, 1994, it has existed in southeastern Connecticut for hundreds of years.
PUBLIC SAFETY DEPARTMENT
An executive director oversees the Mohegan Tribal Public Safety Department, which includes the MTFD, the Tribal Police, Protective Services, the Tribal Dispatch/911 Center, and the Surveillance Unit. The Tribal Police has jurisdiction at all Tribal properties and works closely with local town police and the Connecticut State Police (CSP). A CSP detail is assigned to the casino to assist with law, public safety, and Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority issues.
Protective Services is a mobile security force that patrols the main reservation and other Tribal properties and is the eyes and ears of Public Safety. The Surveillance Unit monitors casino and hotel operations electronically to ensure the safety and well-being of guests and employees.
The Tribal Dispatch/911 Center receives automatic alarms for the Mohegan Sun complex, the retirement housing complex, the Mohegan Church, and various private homes and can be contacted directly by any house phone in the hotel casino complex.
The MTFD started operations in 1996 with a chief, a deputy chief, and a couple of fire inspectors. Over the next two years, it hired paramedics and firefighters, setting up a typical municipal fire service hierarchy. As the Tribal-owned facilities grew, the MTFD increased staffing and acquired apparatus and equipment. Today, the full-service fire/rescue/EMS department participates in regional hazmat response and in the New London County Mutual Aid System and is the first-due firefighter assistance and search team (FAST) for 20 communities around the reservation.
Staffing is 10 personnel per shift, including two paramedics. The staffing breakdown is one captain (shift commander), one lieutenant (company officer), two paramedics, and six firefighter/EMTs. One paramedic covers the Tribal properties; the other covers the outside communities, but both will go anywhere when needed. In Connecticut, all municipalities must have a paramedic service; our assigned paramedic responds to the Town of Montville. The paramedics also provide backup service for most of southeastern Connecticut.
The daytime staff includes an EMS captain, three fire inspectors, a deputy chief, a chief, and an administrative assistant. The 10 shift members respond to an average of 4,500 calls per year. The MTFD operates on a 24-/72-hour shift calendar.
The MTFD houses the regional hazmat unit, which the State of Connecticut purchased with U.S. Department of Homeland Security funds. This is marked as an MTFD unit, and the department and the state share maintenance responsibility. In addition, the department has an engine, a tower ladder, an advanced life support medical unit, three ambulances providing basic and advanced life support, and a foam skid unit that serves as the shift commander’s vehicle. For fire inspectors, there are three all-terrain utility vehicles and an additional one for use at special events.
FIRE SAFETY AND PREVENTION
The MTFD’s chief is also the fire marshal and is assisted by the deputy fire marshal and three state-certified fire inspectors. Fire prevention and code enforcement are priorities. The Mohegan Tribal Government has adopted the Connecticut State Fire Safety and Building Codes with modifications as part of the Mohegan Tribal Code. Routine fire and life safety inspections occur daily, in addition to regular fire alarm, fire protection, and fixed suppression system tests and inspections.
The entire casino hotel facility is fully sprinklered with fire detection, standpipe, smoke control, and specialty fire suppression systems featuring clean agents and wet chemical systems. The detection systems are linked to the security cameras and will automatically show the area in alarm, so responders will know whether there is a working incident as they leave the firehouse through the 911 center that monitors the alarm systems and some of the cameras.
Fire drills, evacuation, and crowd control training are held at least annually for employees, event staff, and related personnel working in the Mohegan Sun Arena, the larger bars and restaurants, and child care areas.
The Fire Marshal’s Office handles all permits for concerts, acts, and special events that use pyrotechnics or other special effects and approves floor plans for all venues and events. At the arena, a fire inspector is on duty for all events; if a show includes pyrotechnics, at least one firefighter/EMT and a third member accompany the inspector. The smoke ejection, fire alarm, and emergency public address systems are manually activated. The department also supplies paramedics for boxing events, bull riding, and other extreme sports. The office educates the facility staff and reviews and recommends good engineering practices for the proper protection using fixed systems and will enforce the code provisions to maintain compliance.
TRAINING AND SOGs
Each month, the MTFD covers different aspects of fire, rope, EMS, hazmat, and meter training. Fire training includes such topics as personal protective equipment and self-contained breathing apparatus, elevators/escalators including lockout and tagout procedures, ladders, standpipes and high-rise operations, confined space rescue, pumping apparatus/hand-lines, vehicle fires and extrication, search and rescue, and FAST operations.
Rope training covers lowering and mechanical advantage systems, lifting patients in a variety of stretchers, and knots. EMS training covers the gamut of recertifications for EMTs and paramedics. Hazmat covers all aspects of recertification for a “technician” under Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) 1910.120 (q), including responding to acts of terrorism. In meter training, personnel master the use of the department’s different meters by using them every month and drilling with actual materials.
The MTFD put into service a new 100-foot tower ladder in September 2009. Ladder training was fierce, since it had to be done within the existing training schedule. What put us ahead of the game is that 40 of our 46 members are volunteer firefighters at home, and more than half of them have a truck company in their community.
In line with the training program are our standard operating guidelines (SOGs), which we review in classroom sessions and validate in the field, when that training subject is addressed. Operations Bulletins supplement the SOGs, serving as temporary changes until they are incorporated into the SOGs during the annual update period.
Training with other departments is another important task. Geographically, the MTFD is within the Town of Montville and interacts almost daily with those fire companies, mostly on medical calls. The next closest municipality and second most frequently called is Norwich, which has a career staff of 60 for the inner-city core and is surrounded by five volunteer fire companies that cover the outskirts. The MTFD is the primary FAST for Norwich and provides this service almost weekly. As a result, we share information and training documents and hold joint training classes. Training together allows familiarity with procedures and personnel, which makes future joint emergency operations flow smoothly.
The MTFD is well prepared for on-property and off-property mutual-aid response. On the main property, we respond mostly (60 to 80 percent) to EMS calls but also to fire and hazmat calls. The main station is a quarter-mile from the casino/hotel complex, and Station 2 is set up in the casino so personnel are quickly on the scene. A firefighter/EMT with a jump bag staffs Station 2 24 hours a day. Thousands of people patronize the complex each day and even more on the weekends. This system has proven to be very effective, and our response time is unbeatable. We also receive our share of automatic alarms in the retail mall, restaurants, and high-rise hotel.
The Norwich Fire Department is the last municipal career fire department as one heads north and east to the state border with Rhode Island. The MTFD serves as its FAST team. Although local volunteers are summoned, too, timing becomes an issue. The volunteer fire services in southeast Connecticut are plentiful but are thinly staffed during the day at best, like many parts of the country, so Norwich relies on us, as we would rely on it for a working fire at our complex. In addition, we run FAST to several other communities because the department is “available” as a career fire department, particularly in the daytime.
Considering time and distance, although we may have a 15-minute response time to the outer edge of our FAST area, the local volunteers take an average of 15 minutes to muster a crew at a fire, so it seems to work out where our FAST team is arriving and standing by with those companies and when they are making their initial entry. For initial response to our complex, we use a combination of career and volunteer fire departments, including Montville and Norwich career and volunteer companies, New London (career), and the U.S. Naval Submarine Base Fire Department (federal career) from Groton. If we go to greater alarms, we bring in more mutual aid from around the county, mostly volunteer. Familiarity with the county demographics is key to knowing what we will get and when we’ll get it. As part of New London County, the MTFD has made it a point to share training, response, and preplan information. We have had operational discussions with our mutual-aid partners and have also sent instructors to each other’s stations to teach and advise.
In Connecticut, hazardous materials response is regional for the most part with a few exceptions; large cities such as Hartford have their own hazmat teams. The state is divided into five regions for emergency management and homeland security. The MTFD is part of the Connecticut Eastern Regional Response Integrated Team (CERRIT), which covers Region IV. The team includes three apparatus, six trailers, and 60 personnel from 10 fire departments. Seven chiefs participate as team leaders, branch officers, operations group leaders, and incident commanders. Region IV also has a Level 3 Incident Management Team, which overlaps with CERRIT and responds and lends support as needed. Hazmat technicians train within their own fire departments. However, twice a year, CERRIT holds drills; in 2009, CERRIT and Rhode Island hazmat teams drilled together for a simulated incident at the state border. The teams, along with each state’s emergency management and environmental protection personnel and the U.S. Coast Guard, participated in training led by the Federal Emergency Management Agency Exercise Group. You have to get out and try things and meet people before something happens. The amount of planning and preparation for such an event will have a definite impact on the outcome of any incident.
The MTFD is fully involved in the local fire and EMS community and beyond. The chief also belongs to the National Native American Fire Chief’s Association, a networking group of fire chiefs who protect tribal nations across America. As a public safety organization, the MTFD works with the Tribal Police, Protective Services, and Surveillance groups as a team to ensure the safety of the Tribe, the employees, the patrons, guests, and our responders. Through networking opportunities and working with local, state, and federal law enforcement and fire organizations, we are able to stay on our game and remain effective.
RON KANTERMAN is a 35-year veteran of the fire service and chief of the Mohegan Tribal Fire Department in Uncasville, Connecticut. He has a bachelor’s degree and two master’s degrees. An advocate for the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation (NFFF), Kanterman serves as chief of operations for the NFFF’s annual Memorial Weekend ceremonies in Emmitsburg, Maryland. He is a member of the Safety, Health and Survival Section of the International Association of Fire Chiefs.
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