In-depth analysis best honors fallen firefighters

Thank you for your excellent April 1993 cover story on the tragic death of Engineer Mark Langvardt of the Denver Fire Department. The article by Lieutenants McGrail and Rogers was comprehensive and graphic yet sensitive to the fact that the subject was the death of a fellow firefighter.

I have long felt the need for this type of in-depth analysis and public reporting in every instance where a firefighter is lost. A few years ago I wrote, in the second edition of Fire Instructor’s Training Guide, “Historically, we in the fire service have been quick to bury our dead with honors, but we have been very slow to investigate carefully the circumstances which caused the death to occur.” I sincerely hope and pray that this article will serve as a model and as a forerunner for similar analysis and reporting in Fire Engineering and in other fire service publications.

How can we best honor those who lose their lives in our profession? By assuring, to the best of our ability, that the circumstances surrounding each death are accurately reported and carefully analyzed so that other members might not be lost in similar occurrences. That is exactly what you did, and l salute you for it. Well done!

Joseph R. Bachtler

Salisbury, Mary land

Reenactment of death on cover

You were right to publish that photo on the cover of the April issue. It really is difficult to motivate firefighters to consider their own safety. However, fear is a great motivator, and realizing your own and your fellow firefighters’ mortality can be quite sobering. Unfortunately, it sometimes takes an image with shock value to get through.

I am reminded of the NFA film, part of the “Firefighter Safety and Survival Course,” in which firefighters discuss their injuries. In one film clip, a truckie goes up a ladder and onto the roof of a commercial building and seconds later scrambles and falls back down the ladder with the clothing on his upper body on fire. I remember vividly the chill that ran through my body the first time I saw it.

Your photo produced the same chill. Thank you. It has strengthened my resolve to act and think and talk safety. It has reminded me of the terrible price we may pay when w^e stop fearing the obvious danger— w hen we start thinking it can’t happen to us.

Charles M. “Sandy” Huss

Assistant Chief

Fire Prevention Safety Officer

Kotzebue (AK) Fire Department

My first reaction to the cover of your April 1993 issue was one of shock and anger. I couldn’t believe that the best of the fire service journals would engage in sensational pictorials to educate. I was angry that Fire Engineering could so callously depict the fall of a brother firefighter. What, I thought, would be the reaction of the fallen firefighter’s family to seeing the picture of their lost loved one?

Then 1 turned to page five and learned that the picture was a reenactment. That helped. I then read further, searching for the one sentence that w ould let me know that this dramatic photo was presented with the fallen firefighter’s family’s approval. I did not find this critical information.

Come on! When a brother firefighter fell in our company, our first duty was to help his family deal with the tragic loss. I saw no evidence of similar thinking from the editorial staff of Fire Engineering in reaching its decision to run this picture.

Teaching a lesson in firefighter health and safety does not “supersede all other considerations.” Your intended end could have been made by much better means.

Jerry Montrym


Rotterdam (NY) Fire Department

Whether actual photo or reenactment, there is simply no excuse to run photos of a brother giving his life in the act of performing his duty. It is my opinion that when a brother/sister gives the most precious gift for the sake of others, then at the very least that individual deserves the decency of death with dignity and not the fanfare of being displayed on the front cover of Fire Engineering.

Granted, Fire Engineering is a valuable learning journal and the unfortunate incident a lesson to be learned, but to go with the photo as a cover just shows utter contempt for the family, friends, and brothers and sisters in the fire service who are grieving the loss of engineer Mark Langvardt. I sincerely believe I am not the only person with these beliefs. My deepest sympathy is extended to the family of our fallen brother.

Alan F. Martinez


Chicago (Ilf Fire Department

Bill Manning responds: Thank you for your passionate responses to our April cover photo. It was indeed a strong photo. Please consider the following:

  • The death of Mark Langvardt was a tragic event, and we grieve with our fire service family. We also act for the positive, presenting an analysis of the
  • tragedy with words and pictures and so do our part, to the best we knowhow, to turn this tragedy into a learning experience for firefighters everywhere. If the photo got you thinking and talking about firefighter safety and devising contingency plans so it doesn’t happen in your own department, then we have completed our mission.
  • We sought and received permis-
  • sion from the family of Mark Langvardt to run the rescue recreation photo on our cover. Our heartfelt thanks to Mark’s family for their commitment to firefighter safety even in the most devastating of times. We never would have run such a painful reminder of Mark’s death without his family’s consent.
  • Family consent being obtained, lessons in firefighter safety and health do supersede all other considerations, in my opinion. If we cannot learn and grow from our tragedies to prevent
  • them from happening again, then we are on a fire service treadmill. Let’s not wave the flag of pretentious sensibilities when it comes to firefighter safety. There have been no photos in the fire service publications in the past few years with the strength and importance of that photo —remember it, and learn from it.

Sprinkler systems

Our hats are off to Bill Manning and the staff at Fire Engineering for the April 1993 issue, which has two pages of “Fire Sprinkler News.” We at the New York State Fire Safety Consortium hope you will continue this trend —if not monthly, at least on a regular basis.

The Consortium is in the business of promoting commercial and especially residential fire sprinklers. We are urging localities to enact legislation requiring fire sprinkler systems in all new construction, including the retrofit of sprinkler systems in all buildings that are remodeled. We currently have fire sprinkler demonstration trailers throughout the state that demonstrate the effectiveness of residential fire sprinkler systems.

Again, we thank you for these timely articles.

Jack Lamboy

Secretary/Treasu rer

New York State Fire Safety


East Schoclack, New York

PASS devices

I am writing regarding “High-Rise Operations: Surviving Above the Fire” (Training Notebook, March 1993). I was a member of the search team that located the bodies of our fallen brothers at the One Meridian Plaza fire. I also spent more than 12 hours at the Penn Mutual fire.

As we were removing the bodies to the staging area, I thought of returning to get the SCBAs (and PASS devices) that we had removed when we first located the bodies, thinking it would benefit the investigation. But by that time we already were on our way downstairs, so I didn’t go back for reasons of personal safety. As Chief Grover stated, we’ll never know whether the devices were activated.

PASS devices were relatively new to the PR) at that time and were not customarily used by all members, ft is my firm belief that if their PASS devices were activated, the men would have been located much sooner and may have survived. As an addendum to Chief Grover’s lesson, I would like to offer the following suggestion: If you get in trouble in a high-rise building and leave the fire tower, remove your PASS device (or one device if working in a team — as you always should in these situations) and leave it in the fire tower. There is no way a search party would be able to pass an activated PASS device in a fire tower.

Joseph P. McCool


Philadelphia (PA) Fire Department

“Bread and butter” operations

I read with concern “ Bread and Butter’ Operations: Multilevel Houses,” by Bob Pressler, in the February issue. Staging apparatus at a structure showing smoke without having taken a hydrant appears flawed and risky and should not be portrayed as a good fire attack procedure; the second-due pumper could be delayed by an accident. In addition, directing a company to enter a fire building with a pressurized water extinguisher rather than with the handline deployed appears to unnecessarily risk the welfare of firefighters who may encounter a flashover.

There are well-documented incidents w here seemingly incipient fires have rapidly progressed to flashover and only a 1 ½or 1′ vinch line would be effective. Many structures have burned to the ground due to “too little too late” and the good old booster line.

I recall a previous article in your publication that specified that firefighters enter a residence from the front and rear dtxirs to extinguish a fire. The authors warned that good communication is necessary in such a case to prevent the crews from inadvertently driving fire and scalding water onto each other. Surely this flies in the face of “attack from the unburned side” and again puts firefighters at risk.

With due respect for the two authors’ qualifications, I must challenge their operational decisions, which appear to place property before firefighters’ lives—a situation that has occurred time and time again and that we misguidedly view as making a justifiable sacrifice. If this comment seems harsh, reflect back to the six firefighters in New York or New Jersey who fell through the roof of an unoccupied vacant commercial structure and died. What for—tradition? Ask their families!

P.A. Hampson

Fire Chief

District of Squamish, B.C., Canada

Fire Rescue

Bob Pressler responds: I will try to address your concerns point by point. As for the staging of apparatus, not all departments use a hydrant-to-fire stretch for establishing a water supply. With the engine positioned just past the front of the structure, lines can be stretched without blocking the front of the house, which should be left open for responding aerial apparatus. If the second engine is delayed, the first engine would employ either a hand stretch to the nearest hydrant or a fire-to-hydrant stretch. The article does state that the second engine is in radio contact.

Use as a first-aid appliance is exactly w hat extinguishers were invented for. Hundreds of times a day across the country, extinguishers in the hands of everyone from schoolteachers to factory workers to children are used to knock down fires in the incipient stage. In the article’s scenario, an extinguisher is used by a member of the ladder company who is operating from the relative safety of a position at the top of the stairs. The firefighter is neither entering the room that is on fire nor attempting to pass the burning rcxmi but rather is using the extinguisher for its intended purpose as the hoseline is being stretched. As always, untrained or inexperienced firefighters should not attempt to use a hand extinguisher in the way described in the article. Just as there are well-documented cases of flashover leading to structures burning to the ground, there also are many documented cases where hand extinguishers have prevented flashover and saved lives and buildings.

In your letter you also make reference to an article by C. Bruce Edwards (“Critical Flow Rate,” September 1992) about attacking a fire from both the front and rear doors simultaneously. A quick review of this article shows that the author actually states that, “As the 1,000-gallon tank ran dry, the Wabasca mutual-aid engine arrived.” That mutual-aid engine company then proceeded to stretch and operate its own handline, choosing a different entrance to the fire. The original company did not continue to operate its lines from the back, as they now had no water. Yes, opposing streams are dangerous, but it wasn’t happening in the case presented in Edwards’ article.

The last point you bring up is the firefighters who made the supreme sacrifice in “New York or New Jersey.” The fire in New York City that resulted in the deaths of six firefighters occurred during normal business hours at an occupied Walbaum’s supermarket in Brooklyn in August 1978. The firefighters were killed when the bowstring truss roof on which they were operating collapsed, plunging them into the fire below. The five firefighters killed in Hackensack, New Jersey, in July 1988 also were trapped by the collapse of a bowstring truss, but they were operating under the truss, not on it. This fire occurred in an auto dealership that also was open for business and occupied at the time of the fire. I agree that property’ should not be put before life, but I do try’ to preach the use of basics and the importance of proper training. These two ideals are part of the fire service “tradition” that you mention and that sometimes seems to be pushed aside in the name of “progress.”

Grain bin and silo fires

My department is looking for information on grain bin and silo fires for a elass we are putting together. If any fire department has responded to one of these situations, we would appreciate information on your response. The information we are looking for is the type and size of the structure, the kinds of materials inside, how the fire started, where the fire was located inside the structure, how you gained access, and what you did to control the situation. Please send information to Tony Griffin, Auburn Fire Department, 902 S. Grandstaff Dr., Auburn, IN 46706, (219) 925-8256.

Tony Griffin


Auburn (IN) Fire Department

Fire service leadership/ADA

Two articles in your March 1993 issue caught my eye: William Goldfeder’s Volunteers Corner, “Selecting Leaders,” and Bill Manning’s Editor’s Opinion, “ADA: A Two-Edged Sword.”

The selection of leaders for both career and volunteer fire departments is a critical issue. Too often those leaders lack the background to succeed. Career departments can avoid some of the selection pitfalls by implementing a career development program that specifies a course of training and testing that leads to promotion at various ranks. Volunteers can do likewise. Although it might seem too formal, such a program specifies the needs related to the job requirements of a particular department. That way, an organization’s future is ensured qualified leadership.

Goldfcder mentioned various training programs but omitted one that has made a significant impact: the International Society of Fire Service Instructors’ Company Officer Development I. This course, based on the NFPA’s Officer Standards, brings together as its instructors key leaders from today’s fire and rescue services. They provide a knowledge base that has helped numerous attendees in the promotion process. The feedback from the attendees has been outstanding.

As for the editorial, I am somewhat dismayed by the attitude shown regarding the Americans with Disabilities Act. Your attitude, in my view, is one that is tainted with discrimination.

We are in emergency service. Our personnel always must be ready in our “real-world” responses. That means the protective devices needed for any call to which we are trained to respond should be available and used by the responding personnel. To fail to do so is an invitation to trouble.

You easily could extrapolate your writing to cover hepatitis, severe colds, recovering substance abuse, or a host of other illnesses. Before we blatantly discriminate against a class of people, we need to review all of our options; those options include how we protect the employee as well as the citizen.

Roger A. McGary

Assistant Chief

Department of Fire and Rescue


Montgomery County, Maryland

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