IAFC warns “FIRE Act in danger”; urges instant action

On August 13, 2003, the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) issued a second urgent call for all fire chiefs to write and e-mail the White House concerning the administration’s proposed plans to move the Assistance to Firefighters grant program (FIRE Act) from the U.S. Fire Administration to the Office for Domestic Preparedness (ODP), which, the IAFC says, “will have serious ramifications for the future of the program.”

The IAFC issued its first call on July 30. Since that time, the IAFC said it has become aware that the White House is monitoring the strength of the fire service’s response to the IAFC request for action, and some reports indicate that the White House is paying attention to the congressional districts and states from which the fire service letters/calls are coming.

The IAFC believes that fire service feedback to respective senators and representatives on this issue will encourage them to pressure the White House for support for the fire service’s position.

“It is our time to lead. It is our time to stand up and make our voice heard by our President,” said IAFC President Randy Bruegman. “Without a concerted effort from the leadership of the fire service, the FIRE Act, as we know it, will be no more.”

Bruegman pointed out that since its inception in 2001, the FIRE Act has made more than $1.2 billion dollars in federal funds available to local fire departments and that it is the only federal grant program that has provided funding directly to local fire departments.

A sample letter is posted at www.iafc.org. The IAFC would like a copy of the letter you send to be e-mailed to news@iafc.org or faxed to (703) 273-9363, as the organization would like to track the response to this action call. Personalize your letter, and fax it as soon as possible to the White House at (202) 456-2461. In addition, send a copy of the letter to your member(s) of Congress, to keep them informed of the fire service’s position on this important issue. Because of changes to congressional mail-handling procedures in the aftermath of the anthrax attack, fax your letter to the members’ offices. Contact information can be found at www.congress.org.

On July 25, the U.S. Senate passed the fiscal year 2004 Department of Homeland Security appropriations bill, in which $750 million was allocated for the FIRE Act. The bill, at the request of the Bush administration, moved the administration of the FIRE Act from the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA) to the Office for Domestic Preparedness (ODP).

Earlier, the House of Representatives passed a Department of Homeland Security funding bill that retained management of the FIRE Act in the USFA and funded the program at $750 million. This is the position supported by the IAFC and America’s fire service.

In the next few weeks (after press time), the two houses of Congress will meet in conference to iron out the differences between the two bills.

Bruegman notes that the fire service won an important victory in the House earlier this year to keep the program under its current management. Now, he adds, the fire service must apply additional pressure to dissuade the administration and Congress from damaging this program.

NVFC: Contract is part of campaign to destroy volunteer fire service

The recent contract between the City of Hartford, Connecticut, and the Hartford Fire Fighters Association contains a clause that forbids full-time firefighters from serving as volunteers in their home communities effective 2008.

Philip C. Stittleburg, chairman of the National Volunteer Fire Council, has called the prohibition “unconscionable” and “an organized campaign against the volunteer fire service aimed at destroying our ranks in the hope of increasing union membership and power.”

In a release, Stittleburg notes that “in a time when there is a revived push led by President Bush for volunteerism across the country, the city of Hartford and the local union have the gall to try to tell firefighters they cannot serve their local communities during off-duty hours.”

Advocates of the volunteering prohibition say it is a health and safety issue and that firefighters are given time off to recoup and relax, Stittleburg notes. But, he adds, “I haven’t heard anything about a clause in the agreement barring firefighters from strenuous second jobs in construction and other trades. There appears to be nothing in the contract prohibiting a Hartford firefighter from partaking in potentially dangerous hobbies like skiing or skydiving.”

Moreover, Stittleburg asks, “What about career firefighters who work or volunteer for state or local fire training agencies? Are they not allowed to educate fellow firefighters during their off-duty hours?”

Another reason given for the no-volunteering position, Stittleburg says, is “that union and city leadership are worried that families will not be able to collect benefits if the firefighters may be injured or killed volunteering outside the jurisdiction of their employer.” In reality, Stittleburg explains, “A large majority of volunteer fire departments have their own benefits that would cover the firefighters or their families. In fact, the likelihood of firefighters being covered is much greater in a volunteer fire company than in some other part-time job.”

Alluding to assurances by union leaders that the “two-hatter” issue is only about the possible loss of union membership and that career firefighters’ employment or benefits are not in jeopardy if they continue to serve their hometowns as volunteers, Stittleburg says this is not true. “The Hartford contract, and others like it across the country, clearly states that firefighters who volunteer to save life and property with volunteer fire departments will face disciplinary action from his or her employer, not just the union,” he explains. Stittleburg notes that anti-volunteer efforts by local unions have surfaced in Maryland, Virginia, New York, California, Oregon, Washington State, Florida, Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin, Ontario (Canada), as well as in Connecticut.

He warns: “If this campaign expands, the results will be devastating to the protection of communities in suburban and rural areas. These departments will surely lose firefighters, many of whom play key roles in firefighting training and safety.”

Stittleburg is urging firefighters across the country “to steadfastly fight these abominable union actions wherever they may arise.” He also asks that “these firefighters educate their elected officials at all levels of government about the destructive effects this policy will have nationwide. Nobody should have the right to tell firefighters how they should or should not spend their off-duty time, which is their own time, especially when they are spending that time doing good in their community,” Stittleburg asserts. Stittleburg’s complete comments are at www.nvfc.org.

According to a July 3 Associated Press report, three neighboring towns (Newington, Wethersfield, and Rocky Hill) have asked Hartford to reconsider the contract provision, which, they say, will hurt their departments. The Newington town manager told an area newspaper that the provision affects every community and that he views it “as the beginning of the end of volunteer fire departments.” (“Towns ask Hartford to Reconsider Firefighter Contract Clause,” AP.)

Connecticut State Rep. Paul Doyle, according to a report in the Hartford Courant, said he “hoped the issue could be worked out among the towns.” He added that he believed Hartford was reviewing the provision and noted that Hartford and the towns were working on several projects; this move, he said, “is not a good step.” Doyle also observed that in recent years the legislature has instituted measures to encourage volunteers. (“Firefighters Cannot Volunteer Elsewhere,” Thuy-Doan Le, Hartford Courant, Aug. 2, 2003. )

NFPA studies focus on smoke’s ability to incapacitate

The objective of the International Study of the Sublethal Effects of Fire Smoke on Survivability and Health is to ensure that people can escape a burning building before being overcome by smoke. This shift from determining how much smoke can kill a person instead of incapacitate him represents a “revolution in fire safety,” according to Rick Mulhaupt, National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) Research Foundation. “For most of the history of fire science and fire safety,” he explains, “our efforts have focused on how much smoke would kill a person. Now, we’re recognizing that many people die in fires not because smoke killed them on the spot but because smoke or heat prevented them from getting out of the building.”

In 2002, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), a network of the industrial standards institutes of 147 countries, had issued a standard addressing “sublethal” effects of smoke (reduced vision, choking or eye tearing, or unconsciousness). Based on the standard, these effects of smoke are to be taken into account when regulating the size and placement of exits and the types of materials allowed in buildings.

The NFPA Research Foundation is working with the National Institute of Standards and Technology to lay the scientific groundwork needed to put the new standard into practice. In the most recent phase of the study (Phase 2), Foundation researchers performed three tests to obtain data that fire-test laboratories and manufacturers would be able to use as the bases for future smaller-scale tests. The tests included burning (1) a sofa made of upholstered cushions on a steel frame, (2) some particleboard bookcases, and (3) some household cable. In each case, the materials were burned in a room with a long adjacent corridor. The researchers then measured the toxic gases emitted by each item and how quickly the gases filled the room and moved down the corridor. They then determined when and where in the room and in the hallway people would have to stop because of the smoke or the heat.

Assistance to Firefighters grant awards at $170 million

As of press time, some 2, 600 fire departments received $170 million through the 11th round of Assistance to Firefighters grant awards, according to Michael D. Brown, Under Secretary of Homeland Security. Fire departments that have received grants are listed at www.usfa.fema.gov.

NFPA: Home fire deaths down in 2002

The number of people who died in home fires in 2002 (2,670) dropped 14.1 percent from 2001, according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) report “Fire Loss in the United States During 2002.” This figure, says the NFPA, is the lowest (54 percent lower) since it began keeping comparable statistics in 1977. The overall number of civilian fire deaths for 2002 was 3,380 (down 9.8 percent from 2001; the terrorist attacks of 9-11 were not included); 79 percent of these deaths occurred in home fires.

The study, which is based on an analysis of survey data provided by 3,460 U.S. fire departments, also revealed the following pertaining to 2002:

  • There were 1.69 million fires reported to America’s 30,000+ fire departments, a decrease of 2.7 percent from 2001. About half were exterior fires, 30 percent occurred in structures, and 20 percent were vehicle fires.
  • Three out of four structure fires involved one- and two-family dwellings and apartments.
  • Nationwide, a fire department responded to a fire every 19 seconds.
  • A civilian died in a fire every 21/2 hours.
  • There was a 9.2 percent decrease from 2001 in the number of civilians injured in fires (18,425).
  • More than half the total property loss occurred in homes.

A condensed version of the report is at http://www.nfpa.org/Research/OneStopDataShop/OneStopDataShop.asp.

FEMA initiates campaign to reduce fire deaths of babies and toddlers

The U.S. Fire Administration, part of the Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), has instituted a campaign to raise awareness about the increased risk of fire death for young children and to teach parents and other caregivers how to avoid such tragedies. The campaign’s theme is “Prepare. Practice. Prevent the Unthinkable.” Safety messages will stress installing smoke alarms, securing lighters and matches, and developing a fire evacuation plan.

Campaign materials include a print public service announcement, an educational video on fire safety for babies and toddlers, posters, brochures, and fact sheets. The information is available in English and Spanish at www. usfaparents.gov; materials can also be ordered through the USFA Publications Online Catalog at www.usfa.fema.gov/applications/publications/.

Partners for the campaign include the American Academy of Pediatrics, ZERO TO THREE, the National SAFE KIDS Campaign, and the National Fire Protection Association.

Health care professionals perceive low attack risk for their communities

A study by the Saint Louis University School of Public Health showed that 74 percent of health care professionals, mainly nurses, surveyed said there is a high or somewhat high risk of bioterrorism in the United States, but only 32 percent believe their communities are at risk for such an attack. Researcher Brooke Shade, Ph.D., M.P.H., assistant professor of public health and associate director of the Center for the Study of Bioterrorism and Emergency Infections at Saint Louis University School of Public Health, noted that a low perception of the risk of an attack in one’s community may make training for a response less likely and leave unprepared the health care professionals who are supposed to be part of such responses. The survey covered more than 1,200 infection control practitioners in 50 states. The study was funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Details of the study were published in the American Journal of Infection Control (2003;31:129-34).

Fifty-six percent of the respondents reported that they had prior training in bioterrorism preparedness. The two barriers to receiving training most commonly cited by participants were lack of training opportunities and no dedicated work time for training. The researchers conclude that there is an urgent need for more clinical education continuing education resources and opportunities in bioterrorism preparedness.

On the need to maintain vigilance on the job

The following are examples of recent incidents that could have turned out tragically for emergency responders. They illustrate why in today’s environment there is no such thing as “routine” or “being too careful.”

Suspect threatens to use her blood as a “weapon.” In Texas, a female suspect stopped by a police officer for erratic driving allegedly attempted to use blood from her bleeding nose as a weapon against the police officer. She was charged with a first-degree felony and could face anywhere from five to 99 years in state prison and a $10,000 fine. According to a TexasEMSNetwork report, it was learned after subpoenaing the woman’s medical records that she had hepatitis A and hepatitis C.

Another important development in this case was that it took two days to obtain the medical information (and, consequently to institute medical treatment for the officers) pertaining to the suspect’s health because of the need to subpoena it under the HIPAA regulations. (“Suspect allegedly used blood as weapon,” TexasEMSNetwork, July 19, 2003.)

Armed man transported to ER. A handcuffed suspect transported to a medical center in Ohio was found to be carrying a .32-caliber handgun with a bullet in the chamber and six bullets in the clip. Reportedly, the suspect had been hastily “patted down” before being handcuffed. Police had summoned an EMS squad to the scene of a motor vehicle incident because the suspect had a head wound. (“EMS unknowingly transports armed man to ER,” Lisa Roberson, lroberso@nncogannett.com, in Ohio EMSNetwork, July 22, 2003.)

Line-of-Duty Deaths

August 6. Firefighter/EMT Ronald L. Holmes, 43, North Platte (NE) Fire Department: Traumatic vehicular Injuries sustained during a routine patient transport.

August 8. Firefighter Recruit Wayne Mitchell, 37, Miami-Dade (FL) Fire Rescue: Overcome by heat during simulated shipboard fire training at the Resolve Marine Fire School in Port Everglades, Florida.

August 13. Firefighter Barry D. Lutsy, 44, Racine (WV) Volunteer Fire Department: Struck by apparatus while it was being backed into a bay at the fire station after returning from a call.

August 15. State Firefighter 1 Wayne W. Mickle, 48, Massachusetts Wildfire Crew, Bureau of Forest Fire, Pittsfield, Massachusetts: In his sleep of an apparent heart attack at a camp for wildland firefighters near Missoula, Montana.

Source: National Fallen Firefighters Memorial Database, United States Fire Administration.

News Glimpses

Army medics acquiring skills as part of fire department medical crews. Army medics have been taking on more peacekeeping assignments that involve giving medical assistance to civilians as well as young military personnel. Consequently, they must learn how to treat babies, children, the middle aged, and the elderly. To acquire practical experience in these areas, Army reservists are responding as part of the fire department medical response team. In Lynn, Massachusetts, for example, Army personnel are learning to treat cardiac arrest, asthma, stroke, diabetes, congestive heart failure, drug overdoses, and other conditions removed from the usual military injuries such as projectile wounds and trauma. Many have never given CPR to an older person or a child. The Army expects to train about 5,000 of these “super medics” each year. “Creating a new breed of battlefield super-medics,” EMSNetwork, www.EMSnetwork.com, July 17, 2003.

Public works employees drive fire trucks. Crafton (PA) Fire Chief Roy Hermes has sounded an alarm concerning the shortage of volunteer firefighters in his department. The community is short firefighters on the day shift. Two public works employees—and the chief—sometimes have to drive the apparatus. “Crafton fire chief raises alarm about volunteer shortage,” Jim McMahon, Tri-State Sports & News Service, June 11, 2003.

IAFC Benjamin Franklin award. Firefighter/Paramedic Jasen Brown of the City of Alhambra (CA) Fire Department has been awarded the Benjamin Franklin Fire Service Award for Valor. The award, cosponsored by the International Association of Fire Chiefs and Motorola, Inc., was bestowed on Brown for his roles in a motor vehicle accident that occurred in Ventura in February. He was off duty at the time. Brown extricated an injured woman motorist from a burning vehicle, freed the victims of the other vehicle involved in the collision, and assessed and treated the three women, who survived the accident. Brown had also freed and obtained medical aid for two child vitim, who unfortunately did not survive.

NC expands LODD death benefit to cover heart attacks. In June, North Carolina enacted legislation that extends the state’s line-of-duty death benefit to law enforcement officers, firefighters, and rescue squad workers who die “as a direct and proximate result of a myocardial infarction suffered while on duty or within 24 hours after participating in a training exercise or responding to an emergency situation.” Also, the LODD death benefit was increased from $25,000 to $50,000 for the same groups of employees and also members of the civil air patrol.

Firefighters’ stunt on Jay Leno show “irresponsible.” Three firefighters from Wichita incurred the wrath of their department and union when they went on the Jay Leno “Tonight” show in July and performed a skit in which one of them set his chest hair on fire with a lighter. Critics wondered what kind of message is sent to children when firefighters perform such stunts. The firefighters said they thought children wouldn’t see the skit because it was a late-night show. They also said they took precautions on stage and followed local fire regulations and that they portrayed themselves as private citizens, not members of the fire department. “Firefighters in hot seat over stunt on Leno,” Tim Potter, the Wichita Eagle, July 26, 2003.

No posts to display