By John F. “Skip” Coleman, Technical Editor

No one should dispute the fact that the United States is becoming a more litigious society. When I first came on the job, the term “sovereign immunity” was the norm, simply meaning that the sovereign or state cannot commit a legal wrong and is therefore immune from civil suit or criminal prosecution.

This changed in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Toledo was involved in a legal case in the mid-1980s that has become a landmark case in the legal industry. This fire involved the Willis Day Storage Company: A 15-acre warehouse burned down in one very long evening and morning. I personally went through eight breathing air bottles at that fire before we exhausted our entire city supply.

Even with the increase in lawyers and lawsuits, we still do some pretty “simple” (“simple” as in absence of forethought as opposed to easy) things at fires. Again, when I came on the job, we were taught (a relative term-my training in this topic lasted probably an hour) to replace sprinkler heads that were activated by fire. We would shut the system down, replace all the used heads, and then turn the system back on. As long as we didn’t see any leaks at the heads and the alarm didn’t go off, we went home and back to bed.

Now, let’s look at that from a lawyer’s standpoint! What training did we have? Don’t sprinkler workers have to be certified?

Roundtable question: Does your department allow firefighters to replace discharged sprinkler heads and reset fire alarm systems that malfunction? To post your comments, go to fireengineering.com/roundtable.html.

PHOTO OF THE DAY: A firefighter pulls hoseline into the interior of Monroe High School in the North Hills area of Los Angeles in November. (Photo by Rick McClure.) See more photos at http://www.fireengineering.com/photo-of-the-day.html. Send your Photo of the Day submissions to Peter Prochilo (peterp@pennwell.com).


Join us for monthly Webcasts featuring the best of Fire Engineering authors and FDIC speakers. On January 17, Battalion Chief Larry Collins, Los Angeles County (CA) Fire Department, will present “Managing Rescue Operations.” On January 31, Captain Bill Gustin, Miami-Dade (FL) Fire Rescue, will present “Hoseline Operations for Fires in Multiple-Family Occupancies.” Webcasts are free, but you must register!



Are you looking for a way to blend your home family and your fire family? Go to www.firelife.com for tips for spouses, fire safety education for the kids, hunting and fishing videos for you, and cooking and fitness columns for the whole family.


Chief Dennis L. Rubin writes in “Dealing with Seriously Bad Behaviors”: “Being in command of a fire department is an honor and a privilege. Most of the time the work is exciting and challenging like no other career could possibly offer, but there are a few exceptions. How do you deal with seriously bad behaviors from the members of your organization?” (http://bit.ly/URyjnj)

Lt. Ray McCormack, Fire Department of New York, writes in “Pulling Ceilings for Sandy”: “The fire service puts out its fires, but Mother Nature’s events call for a continued fire department presence. We can offer so much to those who have suffered poststorm, but we have to seriously examine how to take a service that traditionally doesn’t involve postfire continuous operations to a new level. Until then, a small volunteer army is doing what it can, pulling ceilings for Sandy.” (http://bit.ly/Xy1H9y)

Gregg Squeglia, physical therapist, writes in “Implementing NFPA 1583, Standard on Health-Related Fitness Programs for Fire Department Members”: “Firefighting is considered to be among the most physically demanding occupations. Long work shifts, heavy EMS call volumes, and the need to ramp up to full speed on a moment’s notice all contribute to the potential for injury. Added to this is the aging process, which tends to make the workforce slower and stiffer over time. This standard serves as an outline for the department’s command staff regarding physical fitness and contains five components across the health and fitness spectrum that must be adhered to for a department to claim compliance.” (http://bit.ly/UDpMnV)

Craig Nelson and Dane Carley write in their series “Tailboard Talk”: “Often, because of tradition, new firefighters begin their career in a fire academy or some other type of organized training by practicing the same skills over and over and over. We pull hose, bed hose, pull hose, bed hose, pull hose, bed it, and then pull it again. We throw a ladder, take it down, throw it again, take it down, and throw it again. We practice each critical firefighting skill until it becomes second nature.” (http://bit.ly/Q8BNVr)

Captain Brian Zaitz, Metro West (MO) Fire Protection District, writes in “The Morning Meeting”: “You walk in that first day and see five firefighters looking to you for guidance, leadership, and safety. How do you ensure this will happen?” (http://bit.ly/Te9tkY)


Name: Lisa A. Swanson.

Department: Shepherd (MT) Fire Department.

Title/rank: training officer/firefighter.

Years of public service: 18.

Agency structure: volunteer department.


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