THE FIRE SERVICE READIES ITS GAME PLAN FOR THE 21ST CENTURY
The spirit of the New Millenium was blowing through the classrooms, ballrooms, training fields, and exhibit halls of the 71st Fire Department Instructors Conference (FDIC). There was no mistaking it. It was evident everywhere–in the provoking, honest sharings of presenters; in the sincere, insightful questions of audience members; in the dedication and intensity of instructors and students in the Hands-On Training (H.O.T.) exercises, and in the innovative products and services displayed in the exhibit hall.
Some 14,000 firefighters participated in the dynamic experience. In addition to the 17 H.O.T. evolutions, the 16 concurrent one- and two-day H.O.T. workshops, and the more than 160 specialized classroom sessions, FDIC participants were able to tap into the technological expertise of 651 exhibitors who displayed their services and products, including 175 models of apparatus, in more than 425,000 square feet of exhibit hall space. The 30-plus seminars offered through the FDIC Exhibitors Tech and Learning Center provided technological updates on equipment and ways to use it to achieve maximum efficiency. Some of the 1999 FDIC themes, experiences, and opportunities that will influence the fire service game plan for success in the next millennium follow.
“Today`s successful fire service leaders share a commitment to constant improvement. If you`re not getting better, you`re getting worse, as Vince Lombardi noted. People have told me, if it`s not broke don`t fix it. I say, if it`s not broke, let`s make it better–better today than yesterday, better this week than last week, better this month than last month, better this year than last year. To make that happen, you have to overcome people`s inertia and resistance …. High expectations produce high productivity…. Overlearning [your job skills] produces excitement. When the alarm goes off, it`s show time.”
“You are fire service trainers. You are a special breed, a cut above the rest. You`re the movers and the shakers. You`re the ones who will direct and influence and lead us into the next few months and next two years of progress. It`s that soon. It`s not that obscure word `future.` It`s within the next few months and two years. It`s here, and it`s now. And we`ve only got one opportunity to make a hallway in a building on fire and we`ve only got one opportunity to stop a cardiac arrest and we`ve only got one opportunity to build a building the right way …. We`ve got this opportunity to prepare the [members of the] next generation for the challenges they face …. Make the decision to get involved … . Together you are invincible ….”
–Dennis Onieal, Administrator, National Fire Academy
THE INDIVIDUAL: THE CRITICAL COMPONENT
“There is no challenge more challenging than the challenge to improve yourself.”
–Father Stephen Foley, FDIC Fire Chaplain
Paul Stein: “Everyone`s a Teacher”
“If the leaders in your organization didn`t have a position of power, would they still be leaders? Can 50 percent of the officers in your organization pass [this] acid test? Can 50 percent of the co-officers? What level are you? What level are the people in your organization? How do you find out? Training is the absolute key.”
“Rank means nothing …. If a job is worth doing, it`s worth doing well. You earn your reputation …. I tell recruits, `Your career and your [fire service] reputation start today, right now.` “
“Everyone is ethical is his or her own eyes. When conflict occurs (things get tough), we rationalize. We skip guilty feelings because we rationalize. Ethics is not about rhetoric or good intentions. It`s about action. Think of the most ethical people you know–how did they influence you?”
“Bridge the gap between what you say and what you do. Leaders teach values… we teach younger people about values. I don`t think there`s a Generation X. There`s just people who might be thinking a little differently than we think or have thought. Thirty years ago, we were Generation X. They just didn`t label us …. We`re them, and they will be us.”
“Young people, understand the justification for a decision before you criticize the way things are done.”
“…. Accountability of self and others has become a lost requirement in the fire service. We as an organization don`t hold our people accountable as we should. If we did, some of the things that happen in the fire station would not be happening and some of the things that happen on the fireground would not be happening …. Nobody holds chief officers accountable. Everybody in the organization needs to be held accountable … as long as we have the ability to choose, we should be held accountable for our choices. No excuses. In the end, this is the highest form of respecting our humanity.”
“Teachers treat others as they want to be treated. They speak positively about people …. If you`re going to fight, use pillows. It`s okay to disagree, but not to be disagreeable. Don`t blow out anyone else`s candles. If someone becomes successful, don`t talk about him and try to bring him down. We need to identify and address professional jealousy.”
“A teacher is a coach …. Successful coaches do the following:
–indicate the right way,
–observe performance (managers often don`t do this),
–recognize good performance (we don`t do enough of that), and
–choose respect over popularity: People want leaders who are technically competent and give direct leadership.”
“Effective coaches don`t punish for failure. They`re value-driven. They make good events better. They make bad events a lesson learned.”
Robert L. Smith, firefighter/paramedic, Washington Township (IN); psychotherapist/consultant: “The Relationship Between the Station Officer and the Firefighter”
“Inevitably, we have a responsibility in our relationships. For the firefighter, the ultimate question should be an evaluation of responsibility. What is the firefighter`s job in this relationship? Is the officer justified in his or her actions? Is the officer treating the firefighter appropriately? Are you posing questions about the officer that are not your concern? Are you undermining your officer`s authority? The bottom line is that no single person is totally at fault in a relationship–each person has his or her responsibility in it.”
Brennan and Bruno “Unplugged” II:
“If you do the job as best you can, recognition usually comes unexpectedly …. Be good, be better, be the best you can. Importance comes unexpectedly.”
“We`re all firefighters. There are no celebrities in the fire service. The strength in our service is doing the work–delivering the work. Everything gets passed on …. The fire service is a line …. Younger people join at the end of the line. That is the greatest part of our career in the process. There is a lot of continuity in what we do …. I think that`s the neat part of the fire service …. We keep on keeping on. It`s a continuous process. People who come here … and get to be on the stage are people who took it [being a firefighter] seriously, they`re people who are good at it ….”
Individual as Team Member
Scott Millsap, president, ESE Training Associates, Dalton, Georgia: “Team Training, the Core Values”
Since human beings are interdependent, operating through the use of teams is a natural human function. Interdependence allows human beings to achieve their greatest success. A good team player or team leader knows how to act interdependently.
“A first step in effective team building would be to break down words and analyze functions so that information can be shared. Successful teams enjoy strong upper management support that`s demonstrated by management commitment to the team process, demonstrated by the expected confidence that success is achievable by that team.”
“Information is the most empowering resource available to any leader, and sharing that information is a critical first step of truly effective leadership and team-building.”
“The first job of a team leader is to define the team`s mission. The last job is to say, `Thank you.`”
“The commander of units, the training division, and the prevention director must understand that if they isolate themselves from that unit (engine, squad, truck), they`re making themselves less effective leaders. Organizations do not exist for the aggrandizement of some particular `I`–least of all the leader. The `I` focus in teamwork is absolute dysfunction.”
Mike Singletary, linebacker, Chicago Bears Championship Football Team; video presented as part of Dennis Onieal`s “Making Change Work for Your Mission”: Analogy: Eagles and Team Members
“Higher-performance teams exhibit shared leadership. We all must be prepared and able to both lead and follow. You can`t sit in an organization and say the leader is not leading if you`re not following …. [you must ask] `What have I done to help the leader succeed?`”
“Eagles are balanced individuals who know who and what they are, know their strengths and weaknesses, and are comfortable enough with themselves to understand the big picture and their role in it. They don`t need hidden agendas. They`re up front and aboveboard with everybody.”
“An eagle is one. An eagle is whole. An eagle is the fundamental component of a winning team …. So you see, an effective team member is first an eagle, performing a high degree of self-awareness and positive self-regard, but it takes more than the individual contribution of the eagle to persevere. To win, it takes courage; it takes maturity–the courage and maturity to take those special talents you possess and share them unselfishly with others on your team so you can be great together.”
“…. On a team, everybody has to know that his or her job is the most important job of all. On a team, everybody has to be involved. There can`t be any dead weight. It`s too heavy–too costly. On a team, if one person comes up just a little bit short, someone else has to step in and fill the gap ….”
We [the Bears] beat ourselves [through] pride, selfishness, complacency, and greed. “Each felt he was the reason the team became successful. Each thought he didn`t need the other guy. We started to play the game of blame and stopped communicating, sharing goals, and balancing skills. We lost our vision. We weren`t even eagles anymore. There was too much personal baggage. We never saw a Super Bowl again.”
William Beetschen, deputy chief and training officer, Newport Township (IL) Fire Department, founder/owner of Emsource Group, Inc.: “The Challenge: Part-Time Officer, Full-Time Responsibility”
“We are only as good as the team we share with–the fire department team, the family team, the community team, and the fire service as a whole. Your successes and, yes, fulfillment, as an officer will lie quietly among the members of your teams but will depend on your willingness to remain at bat and take coaching. We are allowed to do the greatest job in the world, albeit on a part-time basis. We must savor that and be grateful for that opportunity as the community is grateful for us and I am grateful for working with you today.”
John T. Vigiano, captain, Fire Department of New York (re-tired): “Fire Operations–Case Study”
“The one thing I learned in my 36-year career was the importance of `position.` Every unit and every member on the fireground has a position. It is that member`s responsibility to cover that position and do his or her job. Whether it is the roof team getting to the roof or the forcible entry team forcing the door or the driver of the pumper `hooking up` to a source of water U. Everyone has a position. As in sports, if a member of a team does not cover his or her position, a goal or touchdown may follow. We are not in a sporting event; we are in a life-and-death struggle with a deadly adversary–fire.”
Individual as Leader
Peter Sells, chief training officer, Toronto, Canada: “The Strategic Recruitment Selection and Development of Staff Officers”
“The organization is looking for people who can quickly and accurately take in, process, and analyze information and provide innovative and effective solutions to complex problems. This is what you will be expected to do in the [job] interview.”
H.O.T. Leadership Panel:
“A true leader must lead–not pull, push, or drag screaming. Leadership is about understanding the needs of those you`re leading. It`s about empathy. I need to understand your concerns so I may better address this situation. [When there is a problem], this is more than just a disagreement between two people; it is a systemic problem, a leadership problem. Collectively, we are obliged to correct it because we are the leaders.”
George Goldbach, chief, West Metro Fire Rescue, Lakewood, Colorado; Tom Wutz, deputy chief, New York State Office of Fire Prevention and Control, Midway Fire Department, Albany, New York: “Leadership for the 21st Century”
The three ruts of prejudice that self-leaders must avoid are the following:
–the Rut of Average–Instead of average, we should all strive to be the best we can.
–the Rut of Conventional Wisdom–This is merely the consensus of opinion until someone replaces it with something better.
–the Rut of Group Think–Powerful in all professions, organizations, industries, and societies, “it`s the idea that that`s the way we do things around here, so fall into step and march to the cadence.”
“[An] heroic leader says, `It`s my responsibility to determine the direction, to find the right answers, and to carry out the traditional management functions. It`s your job to deliver in your area.` “
Brennan and Bruno “Unplugged” II:
“When building a management team (to surround yourself with smart people), observe the “interconnection” among members–how each member fits with the others …. [View] job performance at the finish line. Substitute performance for politics. Don`t play favorites. Leaders should send the message in the system that they reward positive performance …. It`s hard to do ….”
Leader as Follower
FDIC Fire Department Engine Company 14:
“There must be a clear line of authority on the fireground. To violate that is to create chaos. [Government regulations are an attempt to provide at least the minimum level of safety for firefighters.] …. Promulgating regulations will never take the place of good judgment by a fire officer …. Diversity can be a strength, but diversity in command can be a disaster. These issues cannot be debated on the fireground.”
John F. (Skip) Coleman, battalion chief, Department of Fire and Rescue Operations, Toledo (OH) Fire Department: “Accountability and the Incident Management System”
“There is an `assignment cycle` that should not be broken at incidents, especially large, labor-intensive incidents, at which we seem to lose track of crews more often and more easily. The cycle `Staged – Assigned – Rehab (bottle change if no rehab is required) – Staged` calls for control units at large incidents. Crews not yet assigned must stage at Level I or Level II staging areas. Once assigned, they go to work. If the location of their work (assignment) changes or is changed, this fact is noted. Once they come out for bottle changes or to take a break, they report to Rehab. After they change bottles and take a break as per procedure, they report back to a staging area for reassignment.”
Richard Patrick, emergency services/education specialist for VFIS Client Education and Training Services, active volunteer firefighter, and vice president of the Annville (PA) Fire Department: “Education and Training Services”
The four priorities of an emergency response as the operator of an emergency vehicle are the following:
“I am my #1 priority. When I count myself as priority #1, then I will drive to protect me. There is no one more important than me.
“My partner(s) is my #2 priority. When I treat myself as #1 and drive professionally, then my partner(s) and my patient(s) will benefit from that safe attitude.
“The community is my #3 priority. The law requires that I exercise `due regard` for the safety of other operators, pedestrians, and cyclists on the road.
“My patient is my #4 priority. When I follow the above priorities, everyone benefits, and we will fulfill our commission, which is to `help, not hurt.` “
H.O.T. Leadership Panel:
You can develop participatory leadership without losing the lead. To do so, you must give parity to get parity. Delegate. Do not abdicate. Share responsibility.
FDIC Fire Department Engine Company 14:
“… Everything changes. The only thing that never changes is the fact that everything changes. Managing change is one of the most difficult tasks an effective leader must deal with.
“… There is a need to adapt. Issues will come in large supply. What is in short supply is leadership. It is in the handling of those issues that [we become] a stronger or weaker fire service. It is by confronting them head on that we grow …. Together we are stronger than one of us will ever be U. We will accomplish great things together.”
Return to the Basics
Robert Pressler, lieutenant (ret.), Fire Department of New York; technical editor, Fire Engineering: Keynote Presentation–“The Training Priority”
Our best ammunition against [fire] is proper training …. New firefighters coming on the job … are not being taught everything they need to know to survive …. The basics, the tried and true methods of firefighting and survival, have been forgotten, abandoned, and set aside for the New Age firefighter. This is happening every-where from the smallest to the largest departments. No one seems to be immuned. Many other topics have become more important than firefighting ….”
Cross-train all personnel. Make sure everyone in the engine knows how to use truck company equipment. Make sure every one in the truck company knows how to use the engine, how to start water, how to put the apparatus in power takeoff.
Don`t forget proper laddering and horizontal ventilation. If you use PPV, understand its limitations …. Ventilation increases visibility, removes heat and smoke, and increases survival time for trapped victims.
Critique “to identify problems so that we can work on them now and not be caught on the fireground doing the same thing wrong the second time.”
…. Live fire training should be conducted in a real burning building in a situation that mirrors what we`re going to encounter in the world …. If acquired structures are not available, then we`ll have to rely on regional training facilities. “Why is it that every new training state-of-the-art facility is a million dollar environmentally sound, user-friendly, fake smoke-filled pile of concrete block? Even pallet and straw were better. They provided a more realistic fire than propane ever will.”
Ask for a copy of the curriculum of your training academy. See what your people are going to be taught. If you don`t agree, ask questions. Try to make changes. “We have to get more active in training our people.”
“I`d like to see the National Fire Academy offer line officers more classes aimed at saving firefighters` lives–firefighter survival, self-rescue, and true tactics. They are the soldiers in the war that are suffering the casualties–the first-due engines and trucks around this country that are stretching the handline and starting the search. They deserve everything that they can get …. We need money and funding available on the local level …. There are places right here in the United States that at any time can be considered disaster areas–places where the fire duty is still quite high, where the companies are riding with an officer and one and two firefighters, or where [they are riding] with apparatus that is 20 years old and held together by chicken wire and rubber bands …. Let`s get some [money] for the underprivileged fire departments in this country. Let`s get some for the sorely needed training for small and medium departments.”
“Critique. Let`s reinvent the wheel. Let`s start from scratch. Review the last working house fire to which you responded: What went right? What went wrong? Examine this with a critical eye. Identify the problem areas. Take steps to correct them now. Understand that proper positioning and operating of the first handline will save more lives than all the rescues we see on TV put together.”
“We are not properly trained to do aggressive searches.”
Don`t rely on manufacturers` information bulletins to learn what a nozzle and hoseline will do. “Take the equipment out and learn for yourselves …. There`s nothing like seeing results for yourself.”
Brennan and Bruno “Unplugged” II:
“We don`t do what we say we do. We don`t have a leadership model in place that simply says that if we write an SOP on a procedure, we`re going to train people in that SOP; we`re going to apply that SOP; and in the end, we`re going to take a picture of it. That picture should look like the SOP …. We don`t do what we say we`re going to do at the front end of the model.”
“We`re failing to train in the stations …. Do you have training on your shift based on what you do in your district virtually every tour? … I`m talking about firefighting.”
Eddie Buchanan lieutenant, Hanover (VA) Fire Department:”Quality Training for the Volunteer Fire Service”
“Volunteers need a clear, concise training path to follow. This will help motivate the volunteers to continue to expand their training. Be sure to start with elementary subjects and move to the advanced.”
Ray Hoff, battalion chief (ret.), Chicago Fire Department: “Profiling Buildings”
“Fire Departments, with or without a truck company, need to update their skills and tactics in the following disciplines: laddering, forcible entry/exit, search and rescue, and ventilation. As a company officer takes his crew out and walks around the various types of structures in the district, they can develop tool selection and tactics for various buildings before a fire occurs. The manner [in which] to address each type of building would be to develop a profile for each type of the following tasks.”
Tom Brennan, chief (ret.), Waterbury (CT) Fire Department; technical editor of Fire Engineering: “Staffing Levels to Survive Fire Buildings”
[When we go to other departments] we hear that our program is too basic. Go back and look at the firefighter deaths every year and find out what `too basic` means. We`re dealing with things on the fireground now at an accelerated rate. Flashover is a daily word …. If you take one thing home from me, let it be this: “If in your career, you can`t see [when inside the fire building], crawl.” That`ll probably save more than half of the flashover injuries and most of the injuries from falling or walking into holes.”
“In every case (of a firefighter`s death), it`s the basics. Nobody`s dying because a zipper in the entry suit … failed. Firefighters are lost, caught, or trapped, or they fall or are burned …. Never have we seen firefighters burned to the degree that they are today …. The strange part is that we`re going to fewer fires and are more protected than ever before ….
“From my perspective, if you look at these cases, the tactics are not performed. The ventilation is not performed. The second exit and entry are not performed. The interior search, which is not only for victims, is not performed. [If] they`re not being performed because people don`t know how to do it, that`s a local problem. But if they`re not being performed because there are no people, then that`s a felony isn`t it? …”
Vincent Dunn, deputy chief (ret.), Fire Department of New York: “Flashover Fires and Backdraft Explosions”
Surprises kill firefighters. Flashover is the most common surprise that kills firefighters. Everything changes after a flashover: Search changes, [there`s] fire extension, a small handline can`t be used as the attack handline …. The fire is now attacking the building`s structure.
“How many more firefighters have to fall through a collapsed roof and be buried under truss roofs?”
Severe burn injuries are increasing for firefighters. No matter how experienced a firefighter is, he can get trapped. Today, we are responding to fires that are equivalent to “oil burner” fires …. A major contributing factor is the polyurethane found in home furnishings, especially upholstery. It contains pentane, which is similar to gasoline. “You`re really in a gasoline environment that can flash over at any time …. In the fire room, the firefighter is the object that can take the least amount of heat.”
Firefighters are dying as a result of becoming disoriented. Train using the mass competence course in which firefighters work while partially blindfolded; use the sense of feel; and practice safe search tactics such as keeping in contact with a wall, keeping a shoulder on the wall in a hallway, memorizing building layouts, studying floor plans, and tethering a rope to an object while searching.
Consider the possibility of “flameover” in the hallways of high-rise buildings. This phenomenon occurs when wall coverings [fabric with fuzzy material, wood paneling (polyurethane), or layers of paint] ignite along the wall, resulting in high-intensity fires. In New York City, layers of paint in hallways contributed to high-intensity stairway fires. The paint buildup is now being taken off hallway walls, and the walls are being repainted.
“Firefighters have been given all the equipment possible to protect themselves. It`s time we start working on procedures and tactics. Our fire gear is not an entry suit; it is not a proximity suit. It`s not designed so we can go 20 feet head-to-head with flame roaring in back of us ….
“The guy who wrote our SOPs 35 years ago didn`t wear a mask. He couldn`t get to the floor above the fire as fast as you guys can. He`d get five steps in the smoke on that stairway and he`d be coughing and coughing until we moved in and put the fire out ….
“Now, we`re there with no water or Rabbit tools. How far into the building should we go? If there`s no heat in the smoke, 20 to 30 feet is okay. But if when you open the door, smoke is banking down, you see rollover, or you have to get down to get below the heat, do not go in beyond five feet …”
Richard A. Fritz, instructor, Fire Protection Technology, Harrisburg (PA) Area Community College: “Hand Tools for the Fire Service”
“Training is the key issue with hand tools …. The best training with hand tools is to get out and use them. The fireground is not the place to `train` with tools. By working closely with area contractors or local governments, fire departments may be given the opportunity to tear up houses or buildings slated for remodeling or demolition.”
Francis L. Brannigan, author, Building Construction for the Fire Service, Third Edition: “Flame Spread: A Firefighter Killer” and “Flame Spread/Fire Growth”
“We train people in buildings with a small fire controlled by a gas switch …. It`s like training for war with blanks in the gun. We get killed on the fireground because training is not related to reality.”
For 30 years, I`ve been telling you “undress the building.” Thermal devices can undress buildings and find overhead fire.
There is a great difference between a contents fire and one in which the fire attacks the structure`s gravity resistance system (GRS).
Watch out for ceiling tiles. The combustible adhesive used stays highly flammable forever. In some cases, there are multiple layers of tiles.
Watch for standpipes/sprinkler systems that may have been temporarily disconnected by maintenance people or during renovation projects.
When preplanning, think about how fast the fire will grow.
Watch the newspapers for remodelings. Go the sites, and find out things such as where the new or removed furniture and carpeting are stored during renovation.
“Sooner or later, some fire officer is going to be indicted for criminal neglect, negligent homicide …. It`s going to come, no doubt about it. Negligence applies to firefighting as well as manufacturing …. The reality of the fire service today is such that the insurance company will go after the fire department …. We often create the standards to which we`re held …”
Gerald Naylis, firefighter, Bergenfield (NJ) Volunteer Fire Department, training advisory board member of the Bergen County (NJ) Fire Academy: “Attacking and Controlling Fires in Warehouses, Distribution Centers, and Storage Buildings”
“Fires in warehouses, distribution centers, and storage buildings present the fire service with serious challenges not really seen in other occupancies. Firefighters must educate themselves with regard to the construction, occupancy, protection, and exposures that these buildings represent. A preincident plan is of vital importance to fire suppression activities. Adequate resources must be contemplated well in advance of the incident if there is to be any success in combating a fire in one of these buildings.”
Anthony Avillo, battalion chief, North Hudson (NJ) Regional Fire/Rescue:
Scenario 1. This fire occurred in a 36-story, unsprinklered circular high-rise. The stairs were in the center. The fire was on the 17th floor. The circular hallway made it extremely difficult to locate the fire apartment–“it`s like chasing your tail to find the fire.” There were no fire service elevators. The fire pump malfunctioned. The building was unsprinklered. There were no self-closing doors. The hallway was untenable; there was ceiling-to-floor smoke. No one ventilated from above. The ceilings and walls were of concrete, making the building like a vault. One firefighter took the elevator to the fire floor and went flying over the firefighters in the hall, down the stairway. He lost a couple of teeth and suffered from smoke inhalation (he did not have his SCBA activated) but ultimately recovered.
Scenario 2. This fire occurred in a 22-story, unsprinklered, fire-resistive high-rise. Occupants were senior citizens and low-income families. The ceilings and floors were of concrete, but the walls were of double gypsum board, which was a major factor in fire spread. A wet standpipe was at the north and south stairwells; however, parts were missing. The smoke barrier doors did not operate. The doors at the ends of the halls had been opened so that residents could get a breeze. The fire occurred in a fourth-floor, one-bedroom apartment occupied by two sisters. Yet, apartment doors on the 14th and 15th floors had melted. One of the occupants of the fire apartment was a habitual smoker and was on oxygen for a cancer condition. The fire started on the couch, where she slept, and was fed by the oxygen. There was a pony cylinder of oxygen in the area of origin and another pony and a four-foot steel cylinder in the kitchen (the larger one did not become involved in the fire). The building was set back from the street, and the grade dropped down.
One of the sisters jumped to her death from the balcony; the other died on the balcony, which had become untenable. The bodies of two other residents were found on the sixth-floor stairway.
Lessons Learned and Reinforced
“You have to be able to take personnel and throw them at the fire. That`s basically the name of the game in high-rise fires. If you don`t have the firefighters, you`d better get them from somewhere, because eventually the fire will burn down to an area where you won`t need them anymore. When you run out of people, you run out of options.”
Secondary search is a must–for firefighters as well as civilians.
Stay off balconies [exposed to fire]. The heat can cause concrete to spall and aluminum railings to buckle. Remember that gravity never takes a day off.
Vent from the leeward side; wind is a significant factor in high-rise fires.
Occupants must be educated with regard to safe fire behavior. They should be taught to remain in their apartments and about protection in place.
There must be accountability. Commanders must have discipline, and firefighters must follow SOPs.
The following are needed:
–good radio communications (radios often don`t work in high-rises),
–provisions for firefighter rehabilitation, and
–staging of apparatus.
Frank C. Schaper, deputy chief, St. Louis (MO) Fire Department:
Scenario. This fire occurred in a 27-story, high-rise building housing elderly residents. Seven alarms were called. It was not sprinklered but had a standpipe. A fire captain was severely injured but is recovering. The fire apartment was on the 21st floor. It was a one-room burnout. There was a 30-minute preburn while the occupant of the fire apartment attempted to put out the fire. Oxygen was in the apartment. The fire department had previously responded to this building for smoke alarm activations.
At the request of the fire commissioner, the fire was investigated by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), the International Association of Fire Chiefs, and the International Association of Fire Fighters.
Lessons Learned and Reinforced
Some of the following were included in the NIOSH report.
Follow all SOPs. Train and test on them under live fire conditions.
Ensure that the incident commander maintains close accountability.
Freelancing got the firefighters in trouble.
Ensure that all firefighters are in full protective gear and use their PASS devices. Issued equipment must be used.
Have a rapid intervention team in place before it is needed. However, neither the RIT nor the institution of the two-in/two-out rule will do much good if firefighters are freelancing.
Develop and implement a respiratory maintenance program. (St. Louis now has one on computer, and all masks are up to manufacturer recommendations.) Make sure firefighters enter the atmosphere with full SCBA bottles. In this case, the firefighter`s warning bell went off, but he disregarded it and went to the fire floor.
Tether a rope to a big object, or use a flashlight to prop open the door to give a beam of light to assist disoriented firefighters.
Establish procedures for fireground communications.
Thomas Von Essen, fire commissioner, City of New York:
New York City had two high-rise fires a week apart in December 1998.
Scenario 1. The fire was in a 10-story residential structure that housed primarily elderly residents. Three firefighters died. This was shocking, considering that the fire was considered a “small fire.” The occupant had been smoking and had tried to put the fire out before fleeing the apartment. There was little heat but much smoke damage. The heat in the hallway became very intense; the fire doors between Side A and Side B of the building were open (it`s not known whether the wind blew them open or they opened when the windows blew). The first-due truck could not hook up to the standpipe because the insulation was too close to the threads. There was much wind.
For some reason yet unknown (it is being investigated) the sprinkler system, which was required only in the hallways–not the stairwells–was not working (all but two heads were fused; it`s not known if they ever worked), even though forms filed monthly by the building`s managers (this was a city-managed building) indicated that the sprinkler system had been checked each month.
When the firefighters were found, their masks had run out (when this happened could not be determined). The firefighters had not been severely burned. “We don`t think we`ll ever be able to figure out how the tragedy happened.”
Scenario 2. In the second fire, on the 19th floor of a 51-floor luxury, multipurpose high-rise, four civilians died in stairwells–two on the 26th floor and two on the 27th floor. It was a shock to find them so far above the fire.
The building was not sprinklered; it was not required under the city`s old fire regulations. The fire originated in an auxiliary heater in which gum and candy wrappers were found (probably placed there by children who lived in the apartment). The fire spread to a nearby Christmas tree and a sofa. The occupants of the fire apartment fled and left the apartment door open.
Occupants from as high as the 40th floor were reporting heavy smoke in their apartments. Residents were panic-stricken and were interfering with fire department operations.
Lessons Learned and Reinforced
These two fires forced the Fire Department of New York to review tactics and procedures, initiate new fire codes and administrative laws in the city, and expand its fire safety education program to include residents of high-rise buildings.
The two closest water sources were unusable. They were faulty. If they had been inspected, something could have been done.
Sprinkler systems will be mandated for newly constructed structures of four or more units, regardless of the structure`s height. Existing structures will have to be retrofitted with sprinklers if they undergo more than 50 percent renovation (the fire department had asked for 30 percent). One-, two-, and three-family dwellings are exempt.
The fire department has asked that high-rise structures be equipped with a public speaking system that will enable firefighters in the lobby to communicate with residents in their apartments during an emergency. The City Council has given a public commitment to follow through on the passage of this and additional fire safety regulations at a later date.
The city will institute an owner-by-owner check of buildings to assess code compliance.
FDNY will do the following:
— have its lieutenants visit 5,000 buildings to check the water supply and other critical systems that can affect fire suppression and safety;
–improve coordination between engine (hoseline) and ladder operations;
–review search rescue tactics;
–revise high-rise ventilation tactics;
–have senior officers work with younger officers;
–study smoke travel in high-rise structures, in view of the smoke`s rapid travel to units a considerable number of floors above the fire; and
–ask building management to check that self-closing fire doors are working properly and kept closed (residents sometimes adjust the doors so that they will remain open or open more easily).
John Mittendorf, battalion chief (ret.), Los Angeles City Fire Department: “Truck Company Operations”
Single-family dwellings should require at least two engines, one truck, and one chief. This provides an engine for fire attack, an engine for backup and exposures, a truck for support operations (ventilation, search and rescue, inside operations, utilities, salvage, and so on), and a chief for command.
Structures larger than a single-family dwelling should require at least three engines, two trucks, and one chief. This provides an engine for fire attack, a truck for ventilation operations and inside operations, a truck for additional support functions (search and rescue, utilities, salvage, and so on), and a chief for command.
Thomas Aurnhammer, chief, Farmington (NM) Fire Department, staff member of New Mexico Firefighters Training Academy: “Marketing Your Fire Department: Getting Back to Basics”
“One of the most successful and low-cost marketing techniques that a department can utilize is the development of a good working relationship with the media. After coming to the realization that what most people know about their fire department comes from the media, you must set your sights on educating them about who you are, what you do, and what you can provide to them in the way of information and assistance ….”
“The fire service has never had a greater need to competitively market itself and its services. The fire service must recognize the changing environment of society and develop competitive strategies for marketing its services to its stakeholders, representing a wide spectrum of key individuals, public and elected officials, and various organizations.”
Tom Brennan, chief (ret.), Waterbury (CT) Fire Department, technical editor, Fire Engineering: “Staffing Levels to Survive Fire Buildings”
“We fail to understand what we do …. We`ve lost our ability to diagnose the fireground as far as personnel is concerned.”
“I love the ICS system. The thing that`s wrong with it is that it has too many boxes. There`s not enough people …. If you work for me, you`d better be able to put two engines and a truck to work on a fire scene without a primary and second incident commander standing there taking notes ….”
“What they`ve done is taken the company officer, who now is an unsung person … and put him in this box. So now, you have engines moving in without anybody watching them and … the truck officer has lost his/her value and perspective … [and they are] put in charge of the outside of the fire building ….”
“…. I don`t care if you are on the hook and ladder or whether you have a truck or whether you don`t have a truck–there are functions that have to go on in the fire service under the imaginative command of the most experienced person you have arriving. That tends to be the truck officer from my point of view, because that`s where the variable decisions are made: Is there a collapse? Where is the fire location? What are the impacts? What is the secondary means of egress? Where are the people? How are we going to get them? And they take that person and put him outside the fire building. The first seven minutes of the fire–which is the win or lose, rescue or not rescue [period] –is lost forever ….”
The company officer … has lost his/her value in a lot of cases because of staffing. We have failed to market the value of the company officer. In a lot of cases, we`re just lucky to have company officers because municipalities that have them aren`t able to market 47 things that are their responsibilities, other than backing up a nozzle. [This leaves municipal officials/managers with the impression that] “they`ve got nothing but high-priced nozzle people ….” They ask why we need company officers. We`ve lost their value. We`ve lost the importance of the rapid-fire decision making and versatility of the truck officer.
[A position commonly taken by those with whom we`re negotiating for personnel] “is that two firefighters can stretch a 134-inch hose to the front door of the fire structure. Two morticians, two lawyers … two children … can do this, but it takes the proper number of firefighters to move the hose in through the building maze to the seat of the fire as rapidly as possible to extinguish the fire and protect the envelope ….”
“Many police officers never fire their guns or fire them rarely, yet the municipality does not give them only one bullet.”
“Are we are protecting our citizens as best we can? The best protection for the citizen trapped in the fire building is for the fire to go out. If the hose is not moving that fast because enough people are not available at the third bend at the hose, for backup, to take the proper [size] hose and amount into the situation [can we protect them]?
“You cannot pull up to the fire scene and have a 212-inch hoseline fire on the second floor rear in a commercial building and think you`re going to be able to get there with two firefighters …. The hoseline at the minimum should be stretched by at least two firefighters and an officer, with another firefighter, at least, getting water.”
Four firefighters on a pumper is close to a disgrace and certainly the bare minimum from my point of view.”
You must be aware of the interrelationships of all the functions of all the tactics of firefighting. If you can market your tactics, you can market your people. You can`t keep saying, `We need four because we always had four` …. That is no longer a valid argument.”
“Real rescues are trapped people you could have gotten to before the water started but couldn`t because you couldn`t get there with a ladder from the opposite side of the nozzle or you didn`t have the people or couldn`t get the venting accomplished to make [the fire building] habitable for fully protected firefighters.”
“Fire chief leadership is falling apart in our business …. The detachment of the fire chief from the tactical aspects of what we do is the reason chiefs fail to market. Paid sector unions have pushed the chief away from the bargaining unit … If you don`t know this business, you can`t even begin to fight. Chiefs can recover if they want.
“In my opinion, if I`m a fire chief, I have to be able to tell why I have to have a firefighter on the roof of a three-story building that has 1,700 pounds of equipment on it, cutting holes in the roof if the fire is on the top floor. I have to know it. That`s how I market …. We [the chief] lost the ability to know every aspect of every team member`s job.”
“In the marketing vernacular … we have to control the workplace. We have to ensure that the workplace is safe … and we have to convince everyone that has a decision in our business that the workplace is not the fire station. The workplace is the inside of the fire building …. We continually work in an uncontrolled environment, and it`s up to us to control it. If they keep taking away people from us, we`re losing control of the fire building and … that is one of the major reasons we are having so many horrible and crippling injuries today–it`s tied to the manning issue.”
William Manning, editor, Fire Engineering:
“…. The fire service stage is a large one. Fires and emergencies play out in the center, but surrounding them are numerous acts in progress, all occurring simultaneously. It`s frenetic. It`s loud. It`s a cacophony.”
“You are the directors. Only no one told you could direct all the other acts, too–not just the one in the middle, the fire act. Maybe you think you`re just not prepared to deal with the other acts …. The side acts grow louder and louder. They begin to overpower the stage ….”
“You have the power to bring the acts into balance. You have the power to write a new script and direct the action. The power lies within you. The power does not lie with those selfish agendized people who think they have it. It lies with the righteous, who have it inside.”
“External circumstances overshadow you and take hold of you only if you allow them to–only if you perceive them to be greater than your inner strength. Political entities and organizations are freelancing on your fireground–your stage. They exist. They will always exist.”
“The fire service, the true thinking fire service–you in this room–must summon the spiritual maturity to embrace them, to draw them together with the same force that draws you into this room. So what is that force? What`s your motivation? What distinguishes you from all others? Is it your desire to be of service? To put out fires? To rescue? To train? …. I`ve come to an understanding that true power derives from … wisdom and compassion …. They drive all good things in this life …. These two ingredients … will give you the clarity and sense of purpose to accomplish what lies before you …. They will make your choices clear….”
Alan Brunacini, chief, Phoenix (AZ) Fire Department: “Brennan and Bruno `Unplugged` II”
“…. It seems as if we`re saying, `I`m doing this. If you ask me to do this, it`s almost like I can`t keep doing what I was doing.` One of the challenges facing the fire service today is that the world has gotten much more complicated. Keeping up with the full-service profile of a fire department is part of the leadership struggle. `The traditional systems of leadership don`t work …. You can`t manage in 1999 as though it were 1942 …. It`s not the firefighters. They`re incredible in what they can do if we will lead them in the process.”
“We`re the most popular service, the most trusted service. The worst thing that can happen to us is that we become complacent and stop agitating each other and stop asking the kinds of questions we`re asking here inside, outside, together, separately–however we do that ….”
“I don`t think the customers are changing that much. I met with some young citizens and asked, `What do you expect of the fire department?` The answer was, `Put out my fire quickly.` I had to remind them of everything else we do, such as EMS. My point is, I don`t think we`ve capitalized on just that perception people have …. Our sitting around saying we don`t have fires anymore gets pretty self-defeating ….”
“…. The Fortune 500 companies would die to have the dimension of acceptance we have from our customers. No other organization has that other than the family …. What a launching pad for the year 2000 and the future …. The stuff we have been doing for the past hundreds of years will be enormously functional for the next 5,000 years ….”
Robert Crandall, vice president, Fireproof Children, Division of National Fire Service Support Systems, Inc, lieutenant, Rochester (NY) Fire Department: “Sizing-Up Juvenile Firesetter”
“Our community has a prevention program that focuses on children`s involvement with fire. Fire prevention needs to happen all year long, not just during fire prevention week, and by design must deal with the juvenile fireplay/setting issue in addition to traditional fire prevention education. It needs the cooperation of both intervention (reactive) and prevention (proactive) resources. Make sure your department uses age-appropriate materials and valid research. Your goal is to meet all the needs of your community, including the juvenile firesetter and family.”
Death of a Firefighter: Some Lessons
Stephen J. Ruda, captain and public information officer, Los Angeles City Fire Department:
On March 8, 1998, Captain Joseph Dupee, of the Los Angeles City Fire Department, the 38-year-old father of two sons, ages two years and 10 days, was killed in a structure fire. His battalion responded to a reported structure fire in a one-story commercial structure used to manufacture pet foods. Light smoke was showing. The truck went to the roof to vent. Significant fire was encountered after the first vent hole was cut. Initial companies were detained seven to nine minutes because of security bars and gates and a metal entry door.
Four engine companies, 12 firefighters, entered the structure through the door. Visibility was near zero. They could hear but couldn`t see the main body of fire.
Stored inside the structure were 55-gallon drums filled with unprocessed bones, which were dried out in ovens. An office was in the mezzanine.
The truck vented four holes in the roof at the front of the building. The fire inside the structure still was not found.
The companies were ordered out of the building. The engine crews didn`t hear the order to evacuate. Two firefighters mistakenly returned to the nozzle. Another firefighter became separated and set off his alarm. He was rescued.
Captain Dupee became separated from his engine company. All members of his team exited. He did not. The mezzanine and roof collapsed.
The PASS device of a firefighter from another engine company was accidentally activated. He was determined to be okay.
The rapid intervention team was dispatched to find Dupee. He was found at the back of the store. A red alert was transmitted, automatically changing the radio from tactical channel to personal channel. Dupee was covered with debris and was in full cardiac arrest. CPR was administered. He was pronounced dead at 3:30 a.m.
Among the difficulties experienced in this incident were the following:
There was a seven- to nine-minute delay in entering the fire structure, as a result of security bars and gates and a metal-clad door that took four cuts and some 30 hits with a sledgehammer to open.
Dupee was on the second-arriving engine company. He basically had a new crew–reassigned fire prevention specialists who had been sent back to the line for economy reasons.
The presence of the bone-filled drums and drying ovens added to the fire intensity, as did the layers of animal fat that had accumulated on the ceiling after years of drying bones in the facility.
There was no reliable communication between the roof and inside crews.
The fact that only light smoke was showing fostered a sense of “casualness.”
Parts of the “big picture” (fire showing on the roof and the delay in entering the building) were not known in time.
The crews were inside too long.
Firefighters were concerned about the situation inside but did not express their feelings. “If you feel it, tell someone about it.”
High-Rise Fire Safety Tips
Get the word out to high-rise residents that they must close the door to the fire apartment. Failing to do this makes the fire floor untenable, has melted apartment doors as high as 12 floors above the fire, and has caused civilians to be trapped and killed in stairways above the fire as they were trying to evacuate.
Inspect standpipe connections in these buildings before a fire occurs. In many cases, they have broken or missing parts.
The key answer is to have high-rises (especially for elderly residents) sprinklered.
Educate high-rise residents/occupants so that they do not attempt to put out a fire before calling the fire department.
Study how smoke travels in these buildings, how occupant and firefighter safety are affected, and what can be done to remedy any potential safety threats.