A Month To Remember
February 1960 exacted a heavy toll of injury and, in some cases, death to firemen from coast to coast. The hazards of the profession have long been stressed by all authorities interested in the cause of better fire protection and fire fighting methods and a rapid review of recent accidents indicates that with little exception the causes are routine. These include explosion, building collapse, and traffic accidents which appear all too frequently as common pitfalls facing the most safety-conscious fire fighter. There are indications that some new possibilities will also plague those dedicated to the preservation of life and property.
Random examples from across the country during the past month point up the risks which constantly harass firemen and weigh heavily upon responsible fire officials. On February 13 one Boston fireman was blown from a ladder 20 feet to the ground and others were struck by falling facade tile when a smoke explosion ripped through a five-story business building. All five required hospitalization.
New Jersey fire departments were especially hard hit. Early in the month three Bayonne firemen were pitched from an aerial ladder in an unusual mishap which still puzzles fire officials. Fortunately, these men suffered no broken bones but were severely bruised and shaken up.
A crescendo was reached during the week of the 14th. In Hoboken a fireman was thrown from the back step of a pumper following a collision with an automobile driven by an unlicensed person. Death resulted within hours of the accident. On the same day a Bayonne fire captain and three firemen were seriously burned in a flaming crash with a gasoline tanker, of the same aerial truck referred to previously.
On the following day Clifton and Passaic suffered from the whims of fire. The driver and aide to the chief of the Passaic Fire Department had a leg severed below the knee when a section of falling wall from a five-story building struck him as he dived for cover beneath an aerial truck. Practically at the same instant one deputy chief of Clifton required hospitalization when he was struck by falling debris during the same building collapse. The accident also caused injury to eight other Clifton and Passaic firemen.
Building collapse also claimed the lives of three St. Louis lire fighters, two of them captains, when the interior of a three-story building suddenly gave way. Two of the victims lived for some time under the debris as their comrades struggled in vain to free them. In the same collapse 10 additional fire fighters were injured, one critically. Houston, Texas, also felt the sting of chance when four firemen battling a refining tank blaze at a petroleum and chemical plant were burned on the face and hands when a propane caustic scrubber exploded.
The foregoing are general examples which point up the hazards facing the fire service every hour of the day and accepted as a calculated risk. Emphasis on recognition of danger signals is stressed by fire service officials, but frequently cannot be: applied before the catastrophe occurs.
Health hazard is a subject which has worried the entire profession at times and press reports of two recent incidents involving policemen have again caused some misgivings among fire officers. A New York policeman, recently responded to an emergency where a woman was having breathing difficulty. While awaiting an ambulance the patrolman attempted mouth-to-mouth respiration in an effort to save her life. This was to no avail and the woman died of meningitis, a highly contagious disease. At present the officer is confined to his home by medical orders until it is determined whether or not he has contracted the dread malady. Another police officer in the Pittsburgh area is also under observation after exposure to the same disease in a very similar manner.
The developments in these cases will be closely watched. Hazards to life in the daily occupation of a fire fighter have previously been well catalogued, but with the increase in our pace of living these same dangers have multiplied. Unfortunately, many of them are hidden from human view until it is too late to take counteraction. It is possible that lacking clear cut warning signs of disaster, these men are being expected to jeopardize their own lives well beyond reasonable duty to the public.