USFA and NIST study SCBA thermal performance

A study initiated by the United States Fire Administration (USFA) and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) will seek to increase protection for firefighters by enhancing the thermal performance of self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) face pieces.

The initial phase of the study will include an analysis of documented on-duty firefighter injuries and fatalities caused by thermal exposure through SCBA face pieces. In this phase, the USFA and NIST will also work with the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1981, Open-Circuit Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus, Technical Committee to explore ways to enhance the operational effectiveness of SCBA face pieces, and commercially available SCBA face pieces will undergo initial laboratory thermal testing.


Line-of-Duty Deaths


October 21. Captain John Thurman, 52, Clinton (MS) Fire Department: cause of death still to be determined.
October 24. Lieutenant Roy Everett Westover Jr., 41, Westover (PA) Area Fire Department: heart attack.
October 28. Chief Phil Whitney, 72, Springville (UT) Fire Department: cause of death pending further examination.

November 4. Firefighter Robert Stone, 47, Amity Fire and Rescue, Douglassville, PA: cardiac arrest.
November 4. Deputy Chief Chad Eric Greene, 34, Union Cross Fire and Rescue of Forsyth County, Inc., Kernersville, NC: cause of death pending investigation.

Source: USFA Firefighters Memorial Database


Research: 9/11 responders twice as likely to have asthma


“First responders exposed to caustic dust and toxic pollutants following the 2001 World Trade Center (WTC) terrorist attacks suffer from asthma at more than twice the rate of the general U.S. population,” according to data Mount Sinai School of Medicine (MSSM) researchers presented at CHEST 2009, the 75th annual international scientific assembly of the American College of Chest Physicians (ACCP), in San Diego.

Asthma is seen in as many as eight percent of the workers and volunteers who participated in post-9/11 rescue and recovery, essential service restoration, and cleanup efforts, in comparison with only about four percent of the general population, according to the Mount Sinai report. Although less than one percent of WTC responders reported episodes of asthma during the year 2000, eight percent reported them in the years 2005 to 2007.

“This report focused on findings from baseline or initial visit examinations,” said Philip J. Landrigan, MD, Ethel H. Wise Professor and Chair of MSSM’s Department of Preventive Medicine and principal investigator of the WTC Program Data and Coordination Center “…. It is clearly vital that we continue to track responders’ health and look further into the medical outcomes of this population.”

To determine eligibility, to enroll, or for more information, WTC responders can call toll-free (888) 702-0630 or visit


ICC members vote to retain residential sprinklers in IRC


The 2009 International Residential Code (IRC) will continue to retain the provision to make fire sprinkler systems mandatory in newly constructed one- and two-family residences beginning January 1, 2011, and in all new townhouses when the code is adopted. International Code Council (ICC) members’ voted decisively at the code development hearings in Baltimore, Maryland, in October 2009 to keep the mandatory requirement that was passed at last year’s code development hearings in Minneapolis, Minnesota. “An overwhelming majority” of those present at the ICC meeting defeated the floor motion to overturn the Minneapolis vote, according to the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC).

Glenn Gaines, deputy U.S. fire administrator, and Chief Jeff Johnson, IAFC president and chairman of the board, presented testimony on behalf of retaining the mandatory sprinkler provision in the IRC. Johnson expressed the national fire chiefs’ willingness to work with homebuilders and others to find “a common path that ends with homes that are fire safe in America.”

Additional hearing and conference information is at and


NIOSH warning for apparatus automatic slack adjusters


The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) warns fire departments in its Publication No. 2010-102 (October 2009): “Manual adjustment of automatic slack adjusters (ASAs) may contribute to unexpected brake failure on automotive fire apparatus.” The NIOSH warning makes the following important points:

  • When an ASA [a mechanical component of the air brake system that adjusts brakes as necessary when in operation to compensate for wear in the brake shoes (drum brakes) or pads (disc brakes)] is out of adjustment, it signifies that there is a larger braking system problem that needs correction.
  • The ASA should be manually adjusted during installation or when “absolutely necessary to move the apparatus to a repair facility.” Only qualified technicians, those who meet the criteria of National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1071, Standard for Emergency Vehicle Technician Professional Qualifications, should manually adjust the ASA on these occasions.
  • Fire departments should establish procedures to ensure that maintenance on fire apparatus is conducted as recommended in NFPA 1911, Standard for the Inspection, Maintenance, Testing, and Retirement of In-Service Automotive Fire Apparatus.


The International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) first reported on the ASA problem to the industry in 2006, after the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) had released a report advising that it had found the ASA to be involved in a firefighter fatality that occurred in an apparatus crash. NIOSH has found it necessary to call this issue to the fire service’s attention again, however, because it has become aware of the fact that fire departments still may not fully appreciate the hazards associated with manually adjusting ASAs. Hence, NIOSH is again calling this urgent matter to the attention of all U.S. fire departments, firefighters, and fleet maintenance departments responsible for performing preventive maintenance. It is stressing that manually adjusting ASAs may contribute to unexpected brake failure on fire apparatus. NIOSH is also warning that apparatus with ASAs that are out of adjustment should be taken out of service immediately until the brake system has been completely corrected.

In addition, fire departments should ensure that all technicians repairing brakes on apparatus are certified in air brake repair to the T-4 Automotive Service Excellence Medium/Heavy Duty Truck Technician level and that they have, at a minimum, Level 1 Fire Apparatus Technician certification by the Emergency Vehicle Technician Certification Commission. Also, fire departments should adhere to manufacturer guidelines and recommendations and applicable federal, state or provincial, and local laws regarding apparatus inspection and maintenance, as cited in NFPA 1911.

NIOSH also concurs with the NTSB recommendation that all drivers of fire apparatus equipped with air brakes must undergo training and testing to demonstrate proficiency in the inspection and operation of air-braked vehicles. The training should emphasize that the manual adjustment of ASAs is dangerous and should not be done except during installation or in an emergency situation when it is absolutely necessary to move the vehicle to a repair facility—even then, only by qualified technicians.


Richard Serino sworn in as FEMA deputy administrator


Richard Serino was sworn in as deputy administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency in October. Serino, who has served 35 years in state and local emergency management and emergency medical services, previously served as chief of emergency medical services and assistant director for the Boston (MA) Public Health Commission. In that role, he assisted in strengthening the city’s response plans for chemical, biological, and radiological attacks and other emergency incidents. Additional information on Serino is at


Integrating home sprinklers with local water supply


“Water supply integration requirements [for home sprinkler systems] have been put into place, and there are no examples of insurmountable problems or issues. Neither design problems nor significant added costs were found in the communities surveyed,” states the National Fire Protection Association’s (NFPA) Integration of Residential Sprinklers with Water Supply Systems, released in October. The study, conducted by Newport Partners of Maryland, analyzed detailed information for 20 U.S. communities that have a residential sprinkler ordinance. Jim Shannon, NFPA president, notes: “This is another critical piece of substantiation against the myths that abound about home fire sprinklers. It is simply not true that sprinklers cannot be integrated with the public water supply or that they significantly add to cost. What is true is that home fire sprinklers save lives and should be required in new construction of one- and two-family homes.”

Overall, the report states that water suppliers, building departments, and the fire service have developed practical approaches to accommodate home fire sprinklers and the local water supply. A copy of the full report is at


Placarding homes with lightweight construction


The borough of River Edge, New Jersey, will placard one-family houses constructed of lightweight building materials. It is the first municipality in Bergen County, New Jersey, to do so and may be among the first in the state as well.



Vision 20/20 Focus: Enhance Firefighter Mission of Saving Life and Property


“Vision 20/20: National Strategies for Fire Loss Prevention” was launched in 2007 with a Department of Homeland Security Fire Prevention and Safety Grant awarded to the USA branch of the Institution of Fire Engineers (IFE-USA). The project’s objective was to develop a national strategic agenda for preventing fire loss. Professionals from across the nation and from a diversity of backgrounds and disciplines are engaged in the Vision 20/20 project.

Its Steering Committee includes two dozen representatives of major fire safety organizations. Through a series of planning meetings, a nationwide webinar, and a major summit in Washington, D.C., the group adopted five strategies:

  • Strategy 1. Increase advocacy for fire prevention.
  • Strategy 2. Conduct a national fire safety education/social marketing campaign.
  • Strategy 3. Raise the importance of fire prevention within the fire service.
  • Strategy 4. Promote technology to enhance fire and life safety.
  • Strategy 5. Refine and improve the application of codes and standards that enhance public and firefighter safety and preserve community assets.


A lead organization assumed responsibility for each strategy. The IFE-USA branch adopted Strategy 3. It conducted a survey to determine the attitude of the fire service with regard to fire prevention efforts and, more specifically, the status of the subject of fire prevention within firefighter recruit training programs. The raw data from the survey and accompanying comments are available on the Vision 20/20 Web site: A brief explanation of some of the major findings is presented below.

A total of 483 responses to the survey were received. The participants revealed that most recruit training is done locally at a fire school or an academy, and there are approximately 100 graduates annually. Almost three out of four of the respondents (73 percent) reported that fewer than 10 hours out of more than 200 program contact hours are devoted to fire prevention education and risk management. More than three-quarters (78 percent) reported that fire prevention objectives are listed in the recruit curriculum; however, there are 10 or fewer questions (82 percent of respondents) relative to these topics on the final exam.

Respondents were asked to rate the priorities for the American fire service in addressing its mission—preserving life and property. Of the six options listed, “extinguishing fires” received the greatest response. “Providing the public with fire safety education” was the second highest priority. The other four options listed (and respondents’ choices for third and lower priorities) were “develop the ability for all-hazards response,” “develop/promote fire protection systems,” “building inspections,” and “fire and arson investigations.”

Overall, it was apparent from this survey that firefighter recruit training does not have sufficient emphasis on fire prevention and risk management and that the heroic image of battling the “red devil” still permeates the American fire service. Fire prevention education can be the most effective use of limited financial resources when it comes to reducing the tragic loss of life and property from fire. Unfortunately, however, from recruits to officers, the main focus is still on fire suppression, not fire prevention.

Vision 20/20 Strategy 3 plans to look into some positive loss-reduction programs (both overall and specifically for firefighter recruit training) that work. Firefighters need to develop the initiative to make the necessary changes that have the deepest impact in reducing community risks and fire losses at the local and national levels. A number of people are dedicated to making this change and are closely involved in the efforts of Vision 20/20. To become involved, or for more information, go to

Editor’s note: The above is based on a report prepared by Frank Blackley, assistant chief, Wilmington (NC) Fire Department; Bill Kehoe, a volunteer firefighter with the Alexandria (VA) Fire Department and a member of the Vision 20/20 executive committee; and Steve Nash, operations battalion chief for Solon (OH) Fire & Rescue Services.


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