The Campus Fire Safety Right to Know Act of 2003, recently introduced in the House of Representatives by U.S. Reps. Bill Pascrell, Jr. (D-NJ), Joe Wilson (R-SC), and U.S. Sen. Jon Corzine (D-NJ), amends the Higher Education Act to require that schools evaluate fire safety at their institutions, disclose the information to the Secretary of Education, and then work to improve safety for their students and faculty members. The Secretary would report to Congress on the depth of the problem and proposed solutions. The mechanism would work in the same way as the one schools use to disclose crime statistics and other safety information.
“No student or family should be in the dark about a school’s fire safety record,” Pascrell said. “It should not take another catastrophe to ensure safety.” The measure was initially introduced in 2000 in response to the fire at Seton Hall University in New Jersey, which claimed the lives of three students and injured more than 50 others. Dana Christmas, a Seton Hall resident assistant, who, despite being seriously burned still saved many students’ lives by persistently alerting them to the fire, was present when the 2003 bill was introduced. She had spoken about her ordeal at FDIC 2001.
In that fire, a student and a former Seton Hall student were charged with arson and murder. Four others, including the father, mother, and sister of the former student, were charged with obstructing the investigation. According to a report in The New York Times (June 13, 2003), the two students ignited a bulletin board poster with a match or a cigarette lighter; the poster was found lying on a couch made of highly flammable foam. The dormitory had no sprinklers.
Assistance to Firefighters Grant awards exceed $100 million
In the eighth round (August 1) of the 2003 Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program, 247 grants were awarded to U.S. fire departments. As of this date, more than 1,700 fire departments had received more than $108 million under the 2003 grant program. The U.S. Fire Administration (USFA), a division of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), administers the program. A list of current award recipients announced to date is posted on the USFA Web site at www.usfa.fema.gov/grants. Future grant recipients will be listed as awards are made. The most current information on this program and other USFA projects is available at www.usfa.fema.gov.
Proposed changes in FLSA raise concerns for public safety sector
The House of Representatives in July (at press time) had defeated an amendment that would have prevented the Department of Labor (DOL) from implementing changes in overtime eligibility requirements under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The changes were proposed by President Bush and announced by the DOL last March. The changes, if effected, would designate many workers now eligible for overtime pay as professional or managerial personnel, thereby eliminating their right to time-and-a-half pay. There is concern that the proposed changes could be interpreted to prevent firefighters and paramedics from receiving overtime pay, according to the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF). IAFF General President Harold Schaitberger has filed formal written comments and met with DOL officials to discuss these concerns. The formal comments can be accessed at www.iaff.org.
In a letter dated July 9, Victoria A. Lipnic of the DOL responded to Schaitberger’s letter. In part, she said the following:
- There should be no change as a result of the administrative and professional exemptions. The proposed executive exemptions should result in fewer firefighters being exempt under it than under the current regulations governing the executive exemption.
- Highly compensated firefighters and other emergency response personnel performing ordinary or routine public safety work will not become exempt.
- The DOL “will consider the IAFF’s substantive comments, as well as others, when it drafts a final rule and preamble based on the rulemaking record.”
- Relative to paramedics, the letter stated, “… the typical paramedic will continue not to meet the requirements for the professional exemption [court cases for this position were cited].” The DOL noted that “paramedics do not have the necessary education to qualify for the professional exemption, even though they complete rigorous training. In short,” the letter said, “the changes in the proposal should have no effect on paramedics because they generally are not required to possess a degree in a specialized field of science or learning.”
In summation, the DOL explained that “the proposal will not affect employees paid pursuant to the terms of collective bargaining agreements” and that “even without a collective bargaining agreement, the situation for public safety employees is unlikely to change under the regulations as proposed.” The letter in its entirety is at the IAFF Web site.
The final regulation is expected to be issued the end of 2003 or the beginning of 2004.
NFPA calls for end to fire “tricks” promotion
The president of the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) has asked Zippo Manufacturing Company to stop its “zippotricks” promotion, which it says “teaches and promotes fireplay with lighted Zippo cigarette lighters.” The promotion includes a Web site, www.zippotricks.com, which hypes 500-plus “tricks” and a planned nightclub tour to 12 cities.
Zippo was to begin taking its show of “tricks,” which demonstrate hand and body movements with lit lighters, on the road later this summer to nightclubs in Atlanta, Austin, Chicago, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, New Orleans, New York, Oakland/San Francisco, Pittsburgh, and Seattle.
Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program 2001 report
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has passed on to the U.S. Fire Administration the following recommendations based on an on-line survey it completed among fire departments that received grants under the 2001 Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program.
- Provide additional training in the grant application process to ensure all eligible and interested parties are afforded the opportunity to submit a complete and comprehensive application.
- Consider seeking out those departments with survey responses that indicate a need for further training (if appropriate training could be offered by teleconference or other venue).
- Continue to survey program participants. Initial findings from grant recipients are extremely positive. Ongoing collection and analysis are likely to further support program goals and provide continued insight into fire department needs and program modification requirements.
- Review the matching funds requirements. Differing needs and budgets among rural vs. urban fire departments and large vs. small may be placing an undue burden on some departments and could inhibit participation.
- Consider directing funds toward specific programs or equipment that will assist in bringing more departments into compliance.
- Consider following up with respondents that indicated the grant funds did not affect their department.
Overall, survey and analysis reflect that the USFA Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program was highly effective in improving the readiness and capabilities of firefighters across the nation. Many positive comments on the program’s value and success were received.
A complete report of the findings and supporting documentation is available at www. usfa. fema.gov, as is the most current information regarding the Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program for years 2001, 2002, and 2003.
New York State passes bill to protect firefighters in training
In July, New York Governor George Pataki signed “Bradley’s Law,” which prohibits the use of live “victims” during fire training exercises. The bill is named for firefighter recruit Bradley Golden, who died in a live-burn training exercise in Lairdsville, New York, in September 2001. Alan G. Baird III, who was assistant fire chief of the Lairdsville Fire Department at the time of the accident and who planned the training exercise, was convicted of criminally negligent homicide. He is appealing to overturn the conviction. Two firefighters were critically injured in the incident. UticaOD.com, July 18, 2003.
Loaded gun concealed inside teddy bear
A recent release from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security revealed that a loaded weapon was found inside a teddy bear during an airport security checkpoint in Orlando, Florida. The bear belonged to a 10-year-old boy, who was given the bear as a gift from a child, a stranger, who had approached him at his Orlando hotel earlier in the week. This finding is not only a warning against complacency for airport screeners but also for first responders, who, unfortunately in these times, must always be keenly aware of their surroundings, no matter how routine or innocent a scenario may look. Imagine what might happen if such a teddy bear were sitting in a kiddie rocker being impinged by flames in a bedroom from which firefighters were attempting to rescue a youngster during a house fire or sitting beside a child inside a motor vehicle during a fiery extrication.
USFA announces national residential sprinkler strategy
A national residential sprinkler strategy recently developed by the United States Fire Administration (USFA) and national fire protection professionals advocates localized fire suppression in high-risk areas of the home—such as the kitchen—and proposes that residential sprinklers be installed in buildings supported by the federal government. These plans were developed at a meeting held at the National Emergency Training Center (NETC) in Emmitsburg, Maryland.
Among the national strategies proposed at the meeting include the following:
- Develop an aggressive strategy for advocating residential sprinklers in occupancies influenced or supported by the federal government.
- Advocate localized fire suppression in high-risk areas (e.g., kitchens) for retrofit applications.
Additional information is available at www.usfa.fema.gov.
Chiefs to have more participation in code process
The International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) recently signed memorandums of understanding (MOU) with the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and the International Code Council (ICC) that will provide the IAFC with increased participation in the code processes of the two organizations.
Regarding NFPA codes, the IAFC representation will be increased on the regional fire code development committees; the technical committees for the Building Construction and Safety Code™, Life Safety Code®, and Uniform Fire Code™ projects; and certification advisory committees for fire inspector and plans reviewer.
The IAFC will actively participate on ICC committees and will have a greater voice in issues pertaining to life safety.
WY teen firefighter death draws attention to drinking in the fire station
Sixteen-year-old Volunteer Firefighter Anndee Huber, a cadet in the Explorer program working in the Newcastle (WY) Fire Department, died when the fire truck in which she was riding rolled over. The firefighter who was driving to the grass fire at the time of the fatal accident was charged with drunken driving. He told authorities he had swerved to avoid hitting an antelope, according to a WyomingEMSNetwork report. He was charged with aggravated homicide by vehicle. If convicted, the driver could face up to 20 years. Neither firefighter was wearing a seatbelt.
Huber’s death angered the town’s residents, who were anguished over the death of the straight-A student, when it was reported that the driver allegedly had a previous history of drunken driving incidents. The death brought to the public’s attention the fact that many small-town fire stations often serve as social clubs. The driver of the truck reportedly drank at a bar, not at the fire hall, the night of the tragedy. Nevertheless, the incident has sparked calls for banning alcohol in fire stations in Wyoming and other areas of the country.
Wyoming State Fire Marshal Jim Narva says every fire department must have a policy prohibiting any person from responding to an emergency dispatch if under the influence of drugs or alcohol and must also have in place a procedure to ensure that the policy is enforced.
According to TheDenverChannel.com- News, the Newcastle (WY) Volunteer Fire department voted with a hand vote to ban alcohol from the town’s fire hall. “Teen firefighter’s death leads to outcry over drinking in firehouses,” www.azcentral.com, 6-9-03; “Fire station ban sought for liquor after FF death—Wyoming,” EMSNetwork, 5/31/03; “FF who wrecked engine, killed partner, had previous DUI and was suspended—Newcastle, Wyoming,” Star Tribune, www.emsnetwork.org, 5/29/03; “Fire Department Bans Alcohol at Firehouse,” The DenverChannel.com, July 24, 2003.
July 9. Assistant Chief Doug Thomas, 41, Kent Island Volunteer Fire Department, Stevensville, Maryland: Injuries sustained in an apparatus accident en route to the September 16, 2001, boat fire at the Kent Island Yacht Club.
July 21. Firefighter Samuel Lee Green, 50, Shelby County Fire Department, Memphis, Tennessee: Heart attack while on duty at the fire station.
July 22. Firefighter Jeff Allen, 24, U.S. Forest Service, Salmon (ID)-Challis National Forest: Trapped by fast-moving flames on the Cramer Fire in the Salmon-Challis National Forest.
July 22. Firefighter Shane Heath, 22, U.S. Forest Service, Salmon (ID)-Challis National Forest: Trapped by fast-moving flames on the Cramer Fire in the Salmon-Challis National Forest.
July 23. Firefighter Douglas Bruce Coffey, 51, Blowing Rock (NC) Fire Department: Apparent heart attack after returning home from a residential structure fire.
July 25. Pilot Randall Harmon, 44, Superior Helicopter, LLC, Grants Pass, Oregon: Helicopter crash while fighting the McGinnis Flats fire in Washington state.
July 26. Pilot Jess Pearce, 50, BIA Fire Management, Whiteriver, Arizona: Helicopter crash while taking firefighters from the Bureau of Indian Affairs to begin an initial attack on a fire in the Aspen Ridge area of Arizona.
July 26. Firefighter/Helitack Crew Member Randall Bonito, Jr., 32, BIA Fire Management, Whiteriver, Arizona: Helicopter crash while taking firefighters from the Bureau of Indian Affairs to begin an initial attack on a fire in the Aspen Ridge area of Arizona.
July 28. Lieutenant Randy Neal Jones, 23, Cool Springs Volunteer Fire Department, Inc., Statesville, North Carolina: Traumatic injuries sustained in a motor vehicle crash while responding to a structure fire.
Source: National Fallen Firefighters Memorial Database, United States Fire Administration.
•Tool detects germs in bioweapons. Researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Lincoln Laboratory in Lexington and the Center for Cancer Research and Department of Biology, MIT, Cambridge, have reported developing genetically engineered B-lymphocyte cells in a sensor to rapidly identify a variety of pathogens at very low levels. The B-lymphocytes have been engineered to emit light within seconds of exposure to specific bacteria and viruses. The speed, sensitivity, and specificity of the pathogen identification sensor, the researchers say, make the device suitable for various applications, including medical diagnostics, biowarfare defense, and food- and water-quality monitoring. The glowing cell indicates a bacterium or virus is present. The system is said to be easy to operate. The researchers may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org/. The report was published in Science, Vol. 301: No. 5630, July 11, 2003, pp. 213-215. www.sciencemag.org; “Test detects bioweapons,” in MSNBC Health Library, MSNnews.com; AP, July 10, 2003.
•Flag Memorial Act. The U.S. Senate unanimously passed the Fallen Law Enforcement Officers and Firefighters Flag Memorial Act of 2003 (S. 535). It would provide that the family of a law enforcement officer or firefighter who died in the line of duty may request from the Department of Justice or the Department of Homeland Security that a United States flag be flown over the Capitol Building in the fallen individual’s honor. Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, cochair of the Congressional Fire Services Caucus, sponsored the bill. Sen. Chris Dodd, cosponsor of the legislation, offered an amendment that would provide that Congress deliver the flag. The amendment passed unanimously. The proposed legislation was sent to the House for consideration.
•New York City plans to adopt international building code. New York City plans to adopt the International Building Code (IBC), according to Department of Buildings Commissioner Patricia J. Lancaster. According to Lancaster, the IBC will allow the city to streamline the construction process without sacrificing the effectiveness of the code. The recommendation was made by the Mayoral Commission to Study the Feasibility of Adopting a Model Code, which included members from the public and private sectors. The selection of the IBC code was based on the following criteria: “comprehensiveness, ease of understanding, flexibility of upgrading, ease of adaptability to the unique requirements of New York City, as well as the training provided under each code,” according to the Commission’s final report, which is available at www.NYC.gov/buildings.
- Jet engine helps fight mine fires. A modified jet engine was used to fight a fire in a West Virginia mine that had been burning for almost two months. The engine was positioned at the entrance of one of the mineshafts and blew water vapor and inert gases into the mine to smother the fire. It was the first time the technique was used in the United States. The Department of Energy and the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health paid for part of the costs to test the jet engine suppression system. The new technology made it possible for miners to reenter the mine more than 12 months sooner than had other fire suppression techniques been used. “Jet Engine Successfully Used to Fight Mine Fires,” www.fs-world.com, June 17, 2003.
- NFPA codes to be more stringent in wake of disasters. The Standards Council of the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) has amended NFPA 101, Life Safety Code®, and NFPA 5000™, Building Construction and Safety Code™, in response to the February 2003 tragedies at the E2 nightclub in Chicago and The Station nightclub in West Warwick, Rhode Island; the incidents took the lives of 121 people. Fire sprinklers will be required in all new nightclub-type facilities and for existing nightclubs with occupancies exceeding 100. In addition, festival seating will be restricted in occupancies exceeding 250 (unless a life safety evaluation is performed), crowd managers will be required for all places of assembly, and regular egress inspection and record keeping will be mandated for existing nightclubs.
• OSHA to play more of a role in emergency response. The September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks were a “turning point” for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), according to OSHA Administrator John L. Henshaw. OSHA, he said, will take a leadership role to ensure workers’ safety and health and will focus on emergency preparedness. The agency, Henshaw added, wants to provide firefighters and local emergency planning groups with assistance so that the latest technology is applied to protect workers’ safety. He made these comments during an address at a July conference sponsored by the Texas Engineering Extension Service and OSHA on strategies for protecting America’s workforce. To that end, Henshaw said he expects OSHA to be designated as the primary federal agency in the Department of Homeland Security’s National Response Plan, which will involve state and local emergency management agencies. The plan, he explained, will address a range of issues, including ensuring that an early and complete command system is available at all incidents, conducting comprehensive site risk assessments, monitoring work site health risks, and implementing appropriate controls. Managers and safety plan coordinators attending the conference were urged to develop emergency evacuation plans, build partnerships with emergency response agencies before incidents occur, and prepare for the psychological impact of terrorism.