Fire prevention a worthy mission

I commend Mark Chubb on his article, “Fire Inspectors: Bridging the Credibility Gap” (June 1994). He touched on several points that need to be addressed.

We in the fire service are not looked on as “expediters” of building certificates. In addition, as Chubb noted, some of our fire inspectors may be viewed by their civilian counterparts as incompetent in their field. Education may be the answer to these problems. But there may exist an even more insidious reason for fire inspectors being viewed in a less than complimentary light: Members of the fire service historically have looked on the fire prevention bureau as a place where the “losers” go to “mark time” until their retirement. Such an attitude goes far to discredit the work that fire prevention bureaus accomplish.

Until we in the fire service eradicate the attitude that fire prevention is not worthy of recognition and acknowledge that fire prevention ultimately makes significant contributions to the overall mission of protecting lives and saving property, we will not have an impetus to professionalize this most important facet of our departments.

Patrick T. Reynolds

Lieutenant (retired)

City of New York (NY) Fire Department

Assistant Professor, OLFSP

University of Cincinnati

Cincinnati, Ohio

Proud of volunteers

I can relate entirely to “What Happens When You Leave” by Richard A. Marinucci (Volunteers Comer. June 1994). As the wife of a volunteer firefighter for 16 years, w hen his pager goes off, I still wrestle internally with the question, “Is it harder to listen to the scanner and know what is happening or not listen and wonder what might be happening?” However, despite the worry, the missed meals, the nights of broken sleep, and the interruptions to family activities, I wouldn’t think of asking him to give it up.

I can still see the tears of thanks from Chuck and Marge Murphy, both in their 80s, when two engines responded during the winter rains two years ago and sandbagged and pumped out their basement. And Mr. Woods still greets me and everyone else he meets with the biggest smile seven years after my husband and three other firefighters performed CPR until an air ambulance could transport him to the hospital. There are other faces of people I know, although I do not know their names, who know me as the wife of one of the firefighters who came when they needed help and who greet me with a nod, smile, or hug.

So. the next time the three tones sound. I’ll freeze a moment and take a deep breath and then go turn on one of the scanners and listen with some fear—but with more pride—as my husband and several close friends of ours respond to what they see as their duty and pray that they all come home safely.

Mrs. Dick Anders

Lamar, Colorado

Dry-powder extinguishers

I’m a fire protection engineer and (just recently started as) a doctoral candidate in fire and rescue tactics, working at the Swedish Rescue Services Agency. I read in the June issue about the 21^-galIon extinguisher. Many Swedish fire departments are using 12-kg (we don’t have gallons) drypowder extinguishers for initial attack as standard procedure w ith great success. Some departments are also using a small barrel w ith 300 kg of dry powder hooked up on the first-arriving truck/engine, for initial attack on residential fires. The Swedish National Testing and Research Institute also made some tests in the mid-’80s and found the following:

  • It is very’ effective to use dry-powder portable extinguishers for room fires.
  • A fire in a 20-25m room can be put out with 2-10 kg of dry powder.
  • Dry-powder extinguishers are no substitutes for traditional methods (water through a hose), but they are time-saving because of their portability.
  • There is no immediate danger of the fire’s flashing up again if the dry powder is used in a correct way and in a sufficient amount.
  • The effect gets better the larger the fire, preferably post-flashover.
  • Clothes and equipment get a bit messy.
  • The procedure should be considered only when making an initial attack to one or a few rooms in a small house or to a small flat.

In some cases, you don’t even have to open the door to put out the fire; just use the mail-drop or a small window.

Stefan Svensson

Raddnings Verket

Swedish Rescue Services Agency

Karlstad, Sweden

NFPA 1999 discussion continued

I would like to respond to two items published in recent issues of Fire Engineering regarding the relevance of NFPA 1999, Standard on Protective Clothing for Emergency Medical Operations. First, I would like to congratulate you for publishing a balanced article in the July 1994 issue that presented several perspectives on NFPA 1999. While I don’t agree with everyone’s opinion, I was pleased to see that the fire service is taking notice of NFPA 1999. There were, however, some inaccurate statements made that I would like to address.

One panel member indicated that the bacteriophage penetration method should be peer-reviewed before its adoption. This has already taken place, since the method used in NFPA 1999 is the same as in ASTM ES 22. a standard method that has undergone extensive peer review and interlaboratory validation, in addition to having appeared in medical journals (in some articles published by Food and Drug Administration researchers).

There is no doubt that NFPA 1999 is a standard that applies to the manufacture of protective clothing. NFPA 1581, Standard on Infection Control Programs, and NFPA 15(X), Standard on Fire Department Occupational Health and Safety Program, are the standards that apply to specifying when and how to use emergency medical protective clothing. This is true of all the other protective clothing and equipment standards for firefighting (NFPA 1971. 1972, 1973, and 1974) and SCBA (NFPA 1981), and there haven’t been any complaints about their representation.

On the issue of intact skin being a barrier to bloodborne pathogens, I believe the panel was nearly in agreement. While they agree with this statement in principle, they also believe in the need for using protective clothing because skin is not always intact. The OS HA standard on bloodborne pathogens could not be any clearer in its requirements that “appropriate” protective clothing is clothing that keeps blood or other potentially infectious fluids off the wearer’s skin or undergarments.

The second item 1 would like to address is a letter to the editor that appeared in the June 1994 issue under the title, “NFPA 1999: An Undue Financial Burden?” In this letter, I believe the author has dangerously misrepresented many aspects of NFPA 1999. Her main contention is that no science went into the development of the standard. Yet, a one-and-a-half-year-long study sponsored by the U.S. Fire Administration helped to establish many of its performance requirements. This included not only the scientific selection and validation of product test requirements but also linking those requirements to EMS complaints about products then in the marketplace. The NFPA Technical Committee responsible for the standard’s development also took advantage of several other developments for test methods and evaluation practices used in the related medical industries.

Perhaps the most appalling of the author’s statements is that there is no basis for using gloves with the protection required by NFPA 1999. She even goes on to cite a study that says “when leaks were present, gloves presented hand contamination in 77 percent of instances, and quantitative counts of microorganisms were two or four logs less than counts on external surfaces of the gloves.” Listen to what this says. How would you like to be in the 23 percent that didn’t get protection? What she doesn’t say is that hepatitis B occurs in titers (concentrations) of up to 100 million viruses per milliliter. Four “logs” less is still 10,000 viruses per milliliter. Many gloves leak and leak at high rates because they are cheaply made or made from inferior barrier materials. Should the fire and emergency services have to accept that? I think not, and that is why a standard like NFPA 1999 should be recognized for the value it provides.

She makes an issue out of requirements for hair and shoe covers. NFPA 1999 does not require these items; but, if provided, they should meet certain requirements. This is yet one more example of a misunderstanding that could be avoided if time were taken to more carefully read NFPA 1999.

For all those who support or criticize NFPA 1999, the opportunity to make their opinions known has arrived. NFPA 1999 is about to begin its regularly scheduled revision later this year (see page 24). Anyone interested in participating should contact Bruce Teele at (617) 984-7482.

Jeffrey O. Stull


International Personnel Protection, Inc.

Chair, NFPA Task Group to revise/update

NFPA 1999




A teacher’s reward

Teachers never really know how deeply or to what extent they have touched a particular student. They must simply trust that the seeds they plant daily will someday bear fruit or blossom.

As a former commissioner and chief of the Philadelphia (PA) Fire Department, I saw the importance of supporting individuals intent on advancing themselves. At the same time, I realized that we were learning valuable lessons that should be shared with others in the American fire service.

My mission was clear. In some eases, I offered subtle suggestions to enroll and continue formal education. In other cases, I prodded and poked to achieve this end. Members were encouraged to express themselves and their opinions to whatever audience would listen. It was slow at first but soon began escalating. It is a rare month now that an article written by a present or former member of the Philadelphia Fire Department does not appear in one trade magazine or another. A case in point is “Rescues from Windows: Warrington Court Apartments Fire, Philadelphia” (Fire Engineering, March 1993) by Gerald F. Grover and Thomas J. Garrity. To say it makes me proud to see this and gives me great satisfaction is a gross understatement.

Readers also will note that the biographies of these two individuals contain references to formal education. In my day higher education was not considered important and was even frowned on. “Not necessary,” they told us. “You’ll never use it.” Well, guess what? There is seldom an advertisement for a responsible fire serviceposition that does not require education beyond high school. More than that, though, is the fact that educational credentials put firefighters on the same plane as community leaders and other department heads in municipal government. It lends authorityto your positions and opinions. Don’t get me wrong. There is nothing wrong with the individual who is satisfied to ride the back step —figuratively speaking, that is—and crawl the hallways (I love them and always will), but for the firefighter who desires to command one day, education is vital.

I issue a challenge to all present fire service leaders: Offer your students the opportunity, extend encouragement, sit back and wait for achievements, and then bask in the warmth of their personal accomplishments. It’s a great feeling!

William C. Richmond

Comm issioner/Chief (Retired) Philadelphia (PA) Fire Department

Rope safety

“Running Protection,” by Kenneth J. Brennan (Training Notebook, February 1993) contains several errors that could lead to the serious injury of a rescuer rely ing solely on Brennan’s article.

The NFPA guideline for rope safety calls for a 15 to 1 ratio of break strength to working load. Thus, a 300pound rescuer needs a 4,500-pound line, and a rescuer and a victim need as much as a 9,000-pound break strength if they are on one line. All other elements used in lightweight rope rescue have less than 9,000pound break strength. The guide doesn’t specify single-rope or doublerope technique.

The definitions of static and dynamic ropes are incorrect. A static rope stretches four percent or less of its length under a 180-pound load (Padgett, A., B. Smith, 1987. On Rope, National Speleological Society, ISBN 0-9615093*2-5, Glossary ). A dynamic rope stretches 10 percent or more under a 180-pound load.

When working in a situation where fall protection is necessary, the proper rope is selected based on the fall distance. If the fall distance exceeds the rope length, a dynamic rope should be used. The rope should be secured or, at a minimum, a friction device with a fail-safe backup brake should be used. If a top belay is used, static line is the rope of choice.

Protection should be fixed. Relying on a fellow rescuer to hold a falling load with his hands is foolhardy. The rope is the strongest part of the climbing system. It is unlikely that any other component can take the 9,000pound load that ‘/2-inch rescue rope can take.

Without using formal calculations, a rescuer who falls 30 feet, starting 15 feet above his protection and ending 15 feet below, may stretch static-type rope one to two feet (six to 12 percent) and incur a 15G load. If the rope holds, the rescuer or some part of his harness probably breaks.

The assumption is that a 30-foot fall stopped in two feet results in 15 times the negative acceleration as the initial positive acceleration of the fall. A dynamic rope that stretches twice as much would reduce the stopping load by half.

When rigging a horizontal safety line, fix both ends of the line and minimize the need to unclip and reclip around obstacles. A vertical safety line, such as that used for a cliff or a fixed ladder, also should be fixed at both ends when fully rigged. Personnel would then use a friction knot (prusik) or an ascender with a short connecting line and a chest harness. Removing the rescuer’s hand from the knot or brake device (ascender) sets the safety. A rescuer attached to a line loosely—e g., via a carabiner clipped over the line—w ill slide until he encounters an obstacle, such as the end of the rope or the ground.

Setting protection is inherently dangerous. If the operating area w ere safe, we would not need the safety’ or protection lines. If only’ static line is available, use a belay point above the rescuer with a friction device and a brake. Where a top belay is not viable, such as w hen the first rescuer is up a fixed access ladder, the rescuer should set protection frequently and move from one fixed point to another.

A personal comment: The more frequent use of single-rope techniques increases the danger to the rescuer and the victim. The perceived need to use ½-inch rope and large, heavy hardware required by this stiff, large line has eliminated the portability gained with the adoption of lightweight techniques by the rescue service. Two /Winch, 6,000-pound breaking strength ropes provide a higher level of safety and a built-in backup. Also, the hardware is light, small, and cheaper.

Irvin Lichtenstein Chief

Greater Philadelphia Search & Rescue

Erdenheim, Pennsyli>ania

Kenneth J. Brennan responds: I broke Chief Lichtenstein’s letter down into the following eight areas:

  1. A one-man rope has to have a breaking strength of 4,500 pounds and a two-man rope has to have a breaking strength of 9,000 pounds. That’s correct, and the article reflects this; however, the original manuscript talked only about a rescuer. Rescuer and victim were added in the final article, and this may draw concern about the oneand two-man rope (page 17, first paragraph).
  2. The definitions of the static and dynamic ropes from On Rope, National Speleological Society, are correct. Numerical figures were used in the definitions; I used layman’s English — the fewer the numbers, the better. It is critical to impress on the reader the practical differences between the two rope constructions. I gave the basic principle of each, and then it’s realworld application.
  3. He notes that where fall protection is required, the proper rope selection is based on the fall distance and if the fall distance exceeds the rope length, a dynamic rope should be used. Most lengths of rope come in sections of 165 feet; and according to Chief Lichtenstein, if the fall distance is less than the length of the rope, then a static rope can be used. The bottom line is, if your potential fall factor is greater than one, it is highly recommended that a dynamic rope be used. Most static rope manufacturers have tested their rope unofficially to factor one; however, the rescuer in a harness may sustain serious injury, depending on the actual distance fallen. Just remember that when the 200pound rescuer comes to a sudden stop after a fall, this energy has to be transferred somewhere —i.e., to the rope or the human body. And if a static rope is used, it’s inherently inelastic, so the body takes the shock. The original manuscript noted that if you had to use a static rope, then any potential fall of a factor one or less would be the outer limits. This was deleted from the final article. That’s why running protection is needed — because a fall of this magnitude certainly would be devastating.
  4. He notes that protection should be fixed and a hand belay is foolhardy. 1 agree. Nowhere in the article was body belaying mentioned. This article focused on running protection, and many other skills were required to perform it. This article was devised on the basis that many agencies performing modern heights rescue evolutions already are informed on the proper belaying techniques but not about running protection on steel and concrete structures. Modern belaying essentially has eliminated wrapping the rope around your waist to take the load off a fallen rescuer. A fixed and independent belay point utilizing either a figure of eight or break plate tied to a substantial anchor is the norm.
  5. I agree that if you fall 30 feet plus two feet of stretch on a static rope, there is a possibility the harness may break. I agree because many of the class-two harnesses worn out there are traditional mountain-climbing types, and they don’t meet the NFPA criterion of having a breaking strength of 6,000 pounds. The one worn and shown in the article’s picture is an NFPA-compliant harness. That’s why I painstakingly wrote the article as I did. There is a great diversity of opinion as to which rope should be used; almost exclusively, this is where most experts agree dynamic ropes should be used. Failure to mention static rope would, however, have caused a stampede.
  6. He notes that a prusik knot should be used to attach to the running protection line once it is in place instead of clipping and unclipping the carabiners. This is an organizational difference between which techniques to use. However, in real-world situations, using this technique on bridges and towers may prove difficult and dangerous. If you are carrying a lot of equipment and are experiencing climbing difficulties, the last thing you need is to move a prusik—especially if you are operating on a steel bridge and your running protection isn’t straight in line. Murphy’s Law prevails. In addition, using prusiks on wet or icy ropes can prove difficult. Once you hit a protection point, you’re still going to have to unclip something— so what have you gained? This skill is for the urban/suburban situations and not for the traditional wilderness rescue.
  7. He notes that setting protection is inherently dangerous. If the operating area were safe, we would not need the protection lines. Why was the fire department called in the first place?
  8. The differences noted between the single-rope and double-rope systems are fine. These are organizational differences. However, my article addresses that and says to double up or beef up the system with a second rope when additional rescuers use the systern. When a victim is reached, then additional equipment and techniques are to be deployed —including either a ½-inch static rope or doubling up a dynamic rope.

The article was written with the initial rescuer in the given situations in mind.