Training, Equipment Stressed In Memphis
The City of Memphis, Tenn., with a population of nearly 700,000 is proud of its fire department. Over 1600 professional fire fighters and more than 200 pieces of modern rolling stock work around the clock to protect the lives and property in the 266-squaremile area.
Robert W. Walker, director of fire services, and Fire Chief Larry R. Williams attribute the city’s pride in the fire department to the continuing esprit de corps evident between the men and the people they serve.
“The Division of Fire Services has been charged with the responsibility of moving mankind toward safety from destructive fire,” Walker said. “I know of no other profession that faces such a challenge, but challenges have become a way of life for fire fighters. Our goal is to earn due recognition for the fire fighting profession that is long overdue.”
Memphis plays a major role in upholding the fire fighting tradition by providing the necessary equipment and training to support the fire fighters. The fire fighters, themselves, are innovative and professional in their service. The men, according to Walker, are all trained as professional fire fighters first. Some are then placed in specialized fields and further trained to serve as emergency medical technicians (EMTs). For example, last year the EMTs delivered 26 babies while on emergency runs to area hospitals with the mothers.
Training starts it all
It all begins with extensive fire training programs the men receive the first year as rookies and during their probation, he said. The programs are then carried on each year with in-service training and continuing qualification requirements after the men have been assigned to one of the department’s 103 operating companies.
Departmental groups that support the fire fighters, in addition to the training center, include an apparatus maintenance division that keeps personal protective clothing and equipment, operating vehicles and fire fighting tools in top working condition; a fire prevention bureau that directs its efforts toward reducing the number of potential fire hazards in a continually expanding area; a communication center that speeds the men and equipment on the way to a fire; and a forward-thinking administration dedicated toward keeping the Class I Memphis Fire Department one of the best-equipped and best-trained in the nation.
The department depends to a great extent on manufacturers of protective and fire fighting equipment to support its extensive training and maintenance programs. For example, Mine Safety Appliances Company supplies much of the personal protective and emergency rescue equipment used by the fire fighters such as self-contained breathing apparatus, resuscitators, stretchers, hydraulic rescue tools, air splints, and fire protective clothing.
MSA provides departmental staff with professional audio-visual presentations emphasizing, for example, the importance of proper training, inspection and maintenance of self-contained breathing apparatus. This presentation cites related ANSI (American National Standards Institute) standards, explains major components and individual functions of the apparatus, and gives instructions and step-by-step procedures on its care and use.
Cut-away views of breathing apparatus are also provided to the training staff to explain various elements such as facepiece and breathing tubes, air demand regulator, warning device, air cylinder and apparatus harness. Schematic drawings of the equipment, showing exploded views of the various parts are made available to maintenance personnel to assist them in inspection, repair, assembly and parts ordering functions.
Williams, a 32-year veteran of the force, believes that servicing, maintaining and inspecting the professional fire fighters’ equipment are essential functions to safeguard the lives of his men as they perform their duties. The department, he says, would not have the reputation and rating it has without* such support services.
Williams also considers fire prevention and arson detection two of the most significant functions his men perform. It’s an area, he says, that is sometimes difficult to justify because it’s hard to show results. “But we’re putting more effort into it by improving and accelerating our inspection, investigative reporting and training activities. We are fortunate in having the assistance of a 500-member association of commercial and industrial organizations to help us promote fire prevention and safety throughout the Memphis area.”
The department’s training center is located on a 17-acre site at the Claude A. Armour Police and Fire Training Academy. Last year the fire training division logged over 71,000 manhours of training including basic, probationary and qualifying instructions, and in-service training. More than 15,000 hours were devoted to classroom and drill instructions, physical education conducted at the center’s gym facilities, and preparation of supporting visual aids and instructional material.
It begins with training
Training subjects at the center range from instruction and use of breathing apparatus to instruction on operation and fire fighting with a huge Yankee Walter airport crash/rescue truck, one of two stationed at the Memphis International Airport. The Memphis Fire Department is one of a few in the country that is responsible for providing complete airport fire protection services. The men at the airport, Station 33, are equipped with aluminized fire rescue suits that enable them to perform in high ambient temperatures if necessary.
District Chief D. G. Goolsby, who heads, up training center activities, said keeping department personnel updated on the latest techniques for fighting structural fires at the airport or handling tank trucks hauling flammable liquids and gases represents only part of his division’s responsibilities. They also conduct surveys throughout the city to keep up with the changing physical layouts of major buildings and service as support personnel during multi-alarm fire fighting activities.
This year, Goolsby said, the training program is entering a second phase of fire fighting instruction that includes handling of hazardous materials in bulk storage and tank cars, high-rise fire fighting techniques and additional structural fire fighting methods. “Each year,” he explained, “we learn new ways to more effectively serve the city. This comes about through the mutual exchange of ideas from such national meetings as the Fire Department Instructors Conference and communication with other fire fighting organizations and associations.
“For example, our truck companies are depending more and more on their 100-foot aerial ladders to gain access and effect rescue operations through interior and exterior stairways of highrise buildings, rather than the ladderagainst-the-wall approach. The firemen, with their familiarity, through training, of the physical layout of the city’s high-rise building designs, location of critical control valves, sprinkler systems and water distribution points, can increase their overall fire fighting efficiency.”
Perhaps one of the most effective efforts sponsored by the Memphis Fire Department and conducted by the training center is the program involving the Commercial and Industrial Fire Prevention Association. The 500 local members of this organization are representative of the area’s commercial, industrial, institutional and governmental interests, and are dedicated to promoting the concept of fire prevention and safety to their own member organizations and to the community as a whole.
Two members of Goolsby’s training staff are assigned full time to the association’s activities, which includes organizing and conducting training sessions for any requesting group of three or more individuals. “We believe that the training provided by the association members is a major factor in reducing loss of life and property in the community, and keeping the concept of fire prevention foremost in the citizens’ minds,” Goolsby said. Last year association members reached more than 40,000 people in the area with free instructions on fire fighting, safety and fire prevention.
Fire prevention emphasized
Activities of the fire prevention bureau, headed by Deputy Chief and Fire Marshal Charles E. Torian, are directed primarily toward enforcing the city’s fire code through periodic building inspections and investigation of fires to determine cause and assess damage. “We get a good indication from the reports on where our inspection efforts should be concentrated,” he said.
During 1973, the bureau conducted over 7500 fire prevention inspections, investigated about 9000 fires, checked out more than 1000 complaints, made over 150 arrests, and reported fire casualties of 129 burn injuries and 24 fatalities. The bureau receives good cooperation from businesses and individuals, he said, primarily because of the emphasis the department places on fire prevention.
Innovative maintenance division
Apparatus and equipment maintenance and repair has been an integral part of the Memphis Fire Department since the first fire alarm sounded back in the 1800s. It is at this division, which operates from a separate facility in downtown Memphis, that innovation becomes routine rather than the exception.
According to District Chief A. A. Smith, apparatus maintenance division, who also is a master mechanic, if a part cannot be found through a supplier to keep a vehicle or a piece of essential equipment in operation, his division has the skill and capability of making it in-house. For example, a floodlight truck built by the division in 1936 is still in service after the original chassis was rebuilt in 1958. Departmental records, as far back as 1890, indicate Memphis Fire Department personnel have continually upgraded and made improvements on both old and new equipment to meet the specialized needs of the fire fighters.
The division also has inspection, repair and maintenance responsibility for the department’s self-contained breathing apparatus, oxygen equipment and other emergency rescue tools. Some of our men, said Smith, are sent to the manufacturer’s facility for first-hand inspection and maintenance training. This is in addition to the in-service training they receive here on the use and operation of breathing apparatus.
Smith’s men built up their own automatic system for refilling cylinders used with the breathing apparatus. The 15-cubic-foot, 15-hp unit is capable of pumping up to 5000 psi of free air per minute to a six-cylinder cascade, although it is presently set for 2500 psi which is currently required. It is equipped with a dual air filter system comprised of activated charcoal and Hopcalite cartridges to ensure pure, clean air for the firemen. The unit can be automatically timed to turn off the filling process after one hour of operation.
“We plan to eventually perform our maintenance and repair work on personal protective equipment, such as resuscitators and self-contained breathing apparatus, in a clean room area separate from the main facility,” Smith added.
Emergency rescue service
One of the more demanding services provided by the department, in terms of both training and responsibility, is an emergency ambulance service. The Memphis Fire Department assumed this task in 1966 after the city had limited private ambulance service to nonemergency calls only. Since then, the State of Tennessee has passed a law requiring that at least one trained and certified medical technician respond to each emergency rescue call.
District Chief John A. Fuller is in charge of the 92 emergency medical technicians and four lieutenants who perform this life-saving service. Each man, in addition to his basic fire training, is given 81 hours of advanced first aid instruction and specialized training by medical doctors before taking the state-supervised certification test. Each year, after certification, the men are required to take 21 additional hours of refresher training in administering emergency treatment and in the operation and use of rescue equipment.
During 1973, the two-man emergency rescue units responded to 28,000 calls ranging from gunshot wounds to heart attack victims. Of this total number, more than 20,000 emergency cases were transported to nearby hospitals in the fully-equipped rescue vehicles. It was during this time, Fuller added, that our fire fighters were getting a reputation among their fellow professionals of becoming “mid-husbands” by delivering babies in emergency situations.
The department has recently purchased six modular-type rescue vehicles in its program to replace the older units now in service. Eventually the total number of emergency rescue vehicles will reach 15 based on the city’s population growth and annexation plans.
According to Fuller, the vehicles provide more working room for the EMTs and will save the taxpayers about $10,000 per unit. The vehicle body, after the original chassis is worn out, can be moved in one piece and mounted on a new chassis, saving the expense of purchasing a complete unit.
Professional tradition to continue
Walker and Williams place major emphasis on giving their men more decisiommaking responsibility. This has gone a long way in making the fire fighters feel they are part of the team effort that has gained the department its reputation and recognition. “One of our firemen,” said Walker, “was just awarded $5000 by the city for suggesting a new alarm system to detect fire and/or movement of unauthorized persons in school facilities after hours. This plan will be implemented in the near future. We encourage such suggestions from our people.”
In keeping with its tradition of professional service, the Memphis Fire Department is in the process of changing its communication system from manual to computer operation. “Where we now respond to fire calls through several information channels in about a minute, the new computerized system will cut this time in half. The versatile system can be programmed to permit other money-saving features for the people of Memphis,” the director said.