Fire service “on the menu”

Fire service “on the menu”

Congratulations to Bill Manning for his Editor’s Opinion regarding the fire service being on the “menu” (“Fire Service on the Menu at DHS,” May 2003). I think he has said it all. One has to only keep in mind that it was President Bush’s goal to eliminate the funding for the Fire Act prior to 9/11 to know what our fate would ultimately be. The euphoria surrounding post-9/11 made a lot of us in the fire service think that we would be treated differently. Thanks to Manning for the reality check.

Gary Cassanelli
Chief
Springfield (MA) Fire Department

I wanted to compliment Bill Manning on “Fire Service on the Menu at DHS.” It was an excellent analysis of the plight we find ourselves in. As a firefighter for 30 years, I’ve seen hard times before. Since 9/11, I have seen my state giving tons of money to police and health departments. Firefighters have been left holding the bag. I’m worried that more of my brethren will die to fulfill a politician’s agenda.

The fire service groups must present a united front to protect the day-to-day activity of the fire service. I don’t have much hope that these organizations will be able to get this done. I’m very sad for the state of my profession.

Charles J. Gluck
Watsonville, California

Quint Roundtable

“Quint Apparatus” (Roundtable, March 2003) was a disservice to the fire departments that effectively use the concept. Asking this particular group of professionals, for whom I have the utmost respect, who do not use a “total or new” quint concept, was like asking them how they like the Boeing 767—they may have flown in one but haven’t run a fleet of them. In fact, since several of the Roundtable participants are members of very traditional departments, I would question their objectivity. The Roundtable is a good forum, but it is being poorly managed.

Shan English
Chief
Wylie (TX) Fire Department

Fire prevention a “disjointed effort”

In Silence Dogood’s Fire Commentary “A Disjointed Effort” (April 2003), he understates the case. The traditional fire service is well aware of the benefits derived from an aggressive fire prevention effort—so aware, in fact, that we fear the repercussions of fire prevention to our careers, our department budgets, and the future of the fire service as we known it. Our fear runs deep: We will stand and rave to high heaven in support of additional staffing at fire scenes, safer firefighting equipment, and more comprehensive workers’ compensation—all the while cutting fire prevention funding. We point to the dangers of extinguishing fires. We scream we need more and better firefighter training, two in/two out, RIT, firefighter rescue, and SCBA monitoring. We are cowardly heroes too afraid to keep the fire from starting to begin with but willing to risk life and limb to run in and put it out. Firefighting is a great way of life. We enjoy a good fire. It’s fun, so we hide behind a “lie.” Fire departments do the best job they can at saving lives and reducing fire loss. Let’s face the truth: This is not “a disjointed effort,” as the title implies, but quite the opposite—a concerted effort … a concerted effort to fail at fire prevention.

Jay G. Craddock
Nevada

Liquid hydrogen systems

“Hydrogen: A Growing Technology” by Larry Moulthrop and Roberto Lucheme (Technology Today, April 2003) addressed the dangers of liquid hydrogen systems. Our jurisdiction is home to a powdered metallurgical company that uses liquid hydrogen from bulk storage tanks and is considering on-site hydrogen generators. We are planning a preplan tour of this facility. Accordingly, the article is most timely and appropriate. This concise and accurate hydrogen information will prove most helpful and will yield dividends in terms of safer operations.

Thanks to Fire Engineering for a fine tradition of “getting the word out” and educating the fire service. I have enjoyed and used the magazine for several years and find it a valuable reference resource in this “information age.”

Michael S. Scardino
Fire Marshal
Winslow Township Fire District #1
Sicklerville, New Jersey

Fire prevention should be greatest innovation

In “The Greatest Innovation in the Fire Service” (Roundtable, May 2003), it was interesting that only Chief Rick Lasky from the Lewisville (TX) Fire Department mentioned fire prevention. That is one of the problems with the fire service today—the leaders do not think about fire prevention.

Structure fire calls are decreasing nationwide, yet we continue to spend millions of dollars for operations personnel and equipment while spending way less in the prevention division. Sure, it’s a terrible tragedy that 100 firefighters lose their lives each year, but what about the 3,500 civilians? When are the fire department leaders going to understand that fire prevention needs to play a larger role in our business?

In most fire departments, an average of more than 85 percent of calls are EMS. How about increasing the fire prevention staffing levels with qualified, educated, enthusiastic personnel (not just light-duty personnel who do not want to be there) and start conducting public education classes on injury prevention, proper use of 9-1-1, motor vehicle safety, and water safety as well as fire prevention? How about requiring automatic fire sprinkler systems to be installed in all new buildings, commercial and residential?

Hopefully, the future leaders of the nation’s fire departments can look back some day and say, “Fire prevention is the greatest innovation in the fire service.”

Anonymous

Psychological first aid

The article “Psychological First Aid: After the Debriefing” by Cheryl Lemanski and Stephanie Samuels (June 2003) brings psychobabble to an unprecedented level. Not only was it nonsensical, but it made several erroneous statements.

The authors state, without reference, numerous assumptions about firefighters. For example, the statement that firefighters can’t seek solace and comfort in their families because their families don’t understand the job is sheer nonsense and unsupported by fact. They also state that firefighters tend to use “black and white” thinking, which is also totally baseless. They go on to say that this thinking is “bipolar.” Bipolar disorder is a specific condition—an affective disorder characterized by extreme shifts in mood ranging from depression to mania. It is a very different process than “black and white” thought.

While the attack on the United States by terrorists profoundly affected all Americans, there is no proof that firefighters are any more affected than members of the general public. Most studies have shown that firefighters deal with occupational stress quite well.

The authors state that there was a rise in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after 9/11. I have not seen any evidence that this is the case other than in those who were specifically involved or who lived in lower Manhattan. And there, the incidence of PTSD fell sharply in the months that followed the attacks. PTSD is an anxiety disorder that is an abnormal response to stress—usually occurring in persons with some sort of psychological predisposition. It is overdiagnosed.

The authors state that stress causes increased thyroxin release from the thyroid gland and this can “alter the immune system.” This is just not true at physiological thyroxin levels. It takes several days for the thyroxin level to rise in response to stress, and the signs and symptoms are hardly noticeable. Furthermore, the statement that thyroxin (in response to stress) can increase the metabolic rate by 60 to 100 percent is total nonsense. Furthermore, the symptoms the authors list as signs of increased thyroxin levels are from pathological increases in thyroxin levels—a condition called thyrotoxicosis. They do not occur with a physiological thyroxin elevation as occurs with the stress response.

The world literature is clear that CISD and CISM are ineffective in mitigating stress associated with emergency services. Furthermore, some studies indicate that it might be harmful. Several studies, including one sponsored by FEMA, have looked specifically at firefighters and CISD and found the practice to be ineffective. It is hard to believe that these authors still advocate such practices.

Finally, the article was supposed to be about psychological first aid. As best I can tell, psychological first aid is not discussed. Psychological first aid is the appropriate practice for assisting rescuers after a traumatic event. It doesn’t involve such nonsense as CISD or CISM but simply meeting the physical needs of those involved. This is the practice that the National Institute of Mental Health endorses—not CISD or CISM.

Bryan E. Bledsoe, DO, FACEP
Clinical Associate Professor of Emergency Medicine University of North Texas
Health Sciences Center
Midlothian, Texas

Cheryl Lemanski and Stephanie Samuels respond: We are aware that Bledsoe lives in the Midwest, which might not have the same need as the East Coast for CISM and CISD. After 9/11 and the collapse of the WTC, the partial collapse of the Pentagon, and the downing of the United Airlines Flight 93 in Somerset County, Pennsylvania, it was clear that something needed to be done on a large scale—and quickly—for firefighters and first responders.

CISM/CISD is one of the first tools in psychological first aid. It provides a safe, appropriate place to deal with thoughts and feelings and receive educational tools as well as understand that the reactions responders are having are “normal responses to an abnormal situation.” Firefighters and other first responders having difficulty can be identified in these debriefings or defusings, and additional psychological first aid can be administered. Without the initial phase, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to reach those having difficulties and attempt to prevent PTSD.

9/11 Mayday: A Firefighter’s Plea for Help

By Lee Ielpi

On September 11, 2001, my son Jonathan, a member of FDNY Squad 288 in Maspeth, Queens, called to tell me to turn on the television. I did and saw the smoke pouring from the North Tower of the World Trade Center. “Dad, we’re going,” he said. I told him to be safe. They were the last words I ever spoke to him. As he and his brothers at the Maspeth fire station, also home to the Haz Mat 1 unit, climbed into their trucks, they could see the towers in the distance. There were 19 men. None backed down. And none came home.

I was a New York City firefighter for 26 years before a building collapse forced my retirement. When I saw the towers on fire, I knew we might lose some people, but I never dreamed I would lose my son. I never dreamed he would be just one of 343 FDNY firefighters murdered that day.

For eight months, I helped to recover bodies at the site. On December 11, my youngest son, Brendan, also a member of FDNY, and I carried Jon’s body from the smoking wreckage where the South Tower had fallen. What I saw in the hellish world of “Ground Zero” will haunt my every thought for the rest of my life.

It’s different for the rest of the country, I know. For those who do not live in New York City, or who did not lose a loved one at the WTC, Shanksville, or the Pentagon on 9/11, perhaps the events of that day seem remote. But 9/11 is not just a moment in distant memory, nor is it simply a political issue. It is a human tragedy and an American tragedy. If you are a firefighter who knows that every call may be your last, you probably feel a connection to the spirit of the FDNY members who made the ultimate sacrifice that day.

Nothing can bring our 343 brothers or the 2,389 civilians back. But we can make sure their sacrifice for their fellow human beings and their nation is properly remembered.

In the months after 9/11, I and many others picked our way piece-by-piece through the rubble of the towers’ footprints. We walked slowly among tractors, grapplers, and payloaders, searching for any sign of human remains. We picked up shoes and sniffed them because they might contain enough flesh for a DNA sample that could be used to identify someone’s loved one. Only 292 whole bodies were recovered at the WTC; there were no more.

Almost 13,000 body parts await identification at a makeshift morgue on the East Side of Manhattan. I tell you this because I want you to know that the towers’ footprints and the slurry wall/bathtub area that extends six stories below street level to bedrock are a mass grave. I was lucky, if you can call it that: I was able to take my son home and bury him. The relatives and friends of 135 FDNY firefighters, many friends, and 1,149 civilians—more than 45 percent of those who died—were denied that comfort.

As I write this, the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation (LMDC), the agency created to rebuild Ground Zero, is reviewing designs for a 9/11 memorial. The LMDC’s design specifications call for a limited memorial that extends down only 30 feet. The agency wants to cover up the bedrock with a bus terminal and a mall. The LMDC argues that “infrastructure” is needed to support the slurry wall that keeps out the waters of the Hudson River, but a memorial would serve that function just as effectively. The Coalition of 9/11 Families, of which I am a member, supports the redevelopment of the World Trade Center site but not the desecration of this ground sanctified by the blood of 2,792 people murdered on September 11, 2001.

The LMDC is a powerful organization, its members handpicked from among Manhattan’s movers and shakers. It has tremendous connections and resources, and so far it has controlled the debate over the 9/11 memorial. The Coalition of 9/11 Families lacks the resources to take out full-page ads or call standing-room-only press conferences. We simply do not have the means, the staff, or the money to get out a simple message that I know most Americans would respond to: that a Ground Zero memorial is not just a memorial to the people who worked at the WTC, or to the members of FDNY—it is an American memorial. It is a horrible but necessary reminder that our entire nation, not just New York City, Shanksville, and the Pentagon, was attacked by fanatics hoping to destroy our way of life. Ground Zero is the site of a tragedy but also a triumph. I think especially of the 343 men of FDNY ascending those staircases as people streamed down around them. I tell myself they are still climbing.

As firefighters, or the loved ones of firefighters, I am certain you can identify with the members of FDNY and the families and friends they left behind. You know the special resolve it takes to face fire and potential catastrophe without panic or selfishness. As Americans, I hope you will agree that a memorial that covers up the final resting place of the dead also covers up the sacrifice of the firefighters and the civilians who died on 9/11. I ask you to help make sure such a thing never happens.

What can you do to help? First, help create awareness of this issue in your community; let your neighbors know they have a stake in the construction of an American memorial at Ground Zero. Use your monthly department meetings to muster fellow firefighters. Spread the word informally, talk to community groups, write a letter to the editor of your local paper. Second, take a moment to visit our Web site, www.memorialfor911.com. Read about this struggle; find the names, addresses, phone numbers, and e-mail addresses of your U.S. representative, U.S. senator, and governor; urge them to support a down-to-the-bedrock memorial at Ground Zero. You’ll also find contact information there for New York Governor George Pataki, LMDC Chairman John Whitehead, and President George W. Bush.

Many politicians have assured the families of the victims of 9/11 that they support the memorial we seek, but without evidence of public will, they may not act on these assurances. As firefighters, you can supply that evidence of public will. Join our fight to ensure that a down-to-the-bedrock memorial is at the center of the redevelopment of the World Trade Center. An excellent graphic on our Web site shows the area that must be preserved along with an imaging graph pinpointing the location of victims and body parts. Download the petition on our Web site and circulate it in your fire department and in the local communities in which you live and work.

If you write to or call the public officials who will decide this issue, urge the following:

  • The slurry wall/bathtub area that includes the footprints of the Twin Towers must be preserved all the way down to bedrock as a memorial.
  • No commercial enterprises, bus stations, or malls should be built where so many of the victims were found.

If you are a firefighter, you know there is no such thing as a lost cause. You know that you never leave a brother or sister behind. You know that the human will to succeed can overcome any obstacle. On behalf of the Coalition of 9/11 Families and the extended family of FDNY, I ask you to bring your will to bear on the political process so that when you, your family members, or your neighbors visit the World Trade Center site, you will be able to see, feel, and touch the tragedy and the bravery that reside on the bedrock there.

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