What’s Ahead for Fire Service Discussed at FDIC in Memphis
The direction the fire service will take became the theme of the Fire Department Instructors Conference in Memphis as speakers at the general sessions talked about effects of the report by the National Commission on Fire Prevention and Control, less dependence on the grading schedule by fire departments and the need for a state master plan for fire service training.
The conference returned to Memphis March 26-29 after four annual conferences in Kansas City, Mo. This year’s FDIC, the 36th to be held in Memphis, was sponsored by the Insurance Services Office and hosted by the Memphis Fire Department. The FDIC registrar, Ralph Link, reported a registration of 2660 persons.
The conference learned what is happening as a result of the National Commission on Fire Prevention and Control report, “America Burning,” from two speakers, Louis J. Amabili, director of the Delaware State Fire School, who was a member of the commission, and Dr. Rosswell L. Atwood, director of education for the International Association of Fire Fighters, who spoke for W. Howard McClennan, IAFF president and commission member who because of a last-minute schedule conflict was unable to be present.
Fire bill support urged
Speaking for McClennan, Atwood urged his listeners to support the legislation now before Congress, S. 1769 that has been passed by the Senate and H.R. 11989 that was expected to come up for a vote in the House any day. The two bills, which were inspired by the national commission’s report, will go to a conference committee if the House action on H. R. 11989 is favorable. Atwood called on the fire service members to make their desire for legislation establishing a national fire academy and other facilities and services known not only to Congress but also to the White House.
Atwood denied that a bureaucracy would be built up as the result of passage of a national fire control act and declared that if a fire academy is established, it will be “one of the best investments that the people of the United States have ever made in terms of lives saved, injuries prevented and property damage averted.”
In further discussion of repercussions of the national commission’s report, Amabili pointed out that the necessity for all segments of the fire service to work together had been emphasized by commissioners from the fire service in reporting to their own organizations. He also noted that the Joint Council of National Fire Service Organizations has been instrumental in developing greater cooperation among the various segments of the fire service.
Prevention needs reappraisal
Noting that the fire service is now willing to give more time and effort to fire prevention, Amabili observed, “There is a dire need to take a long, hard look at existing fire prevention programs to determine why they have not been as effective as they should be.” A good program, he declared, must have fire fighters who believe in fire prevention and reflect a change from the ageold emphasis on fire suppression by fire departments.
Amabili noted that two recommendations of the national commission had already brought responsive action by the federal government. In line with the commission’s plea for extension of the Chem-Trec system for providing information about hazardous materials, the Hazardous Materials Office of the United States Department of Transportation early this year published a manual, “Emergency Services Guide for Selected Hazardous Materials,” which not only provides basic information needed to handle emergency situations but also features the Chem-Trec phone number, 800-424-9300, which can bring immediate advice on handling a hazardous incident.
The national commission’s recommendation for improved life safety in housing, Amabili commented, has been followed by a Department of Housing and Urban Development announcement of stricter standards for multifamily housing, nursing homes and housing for the elderly. The fire-safety requirements that must be met for HUD funding and Federal Housing Administration mortgage insurance include compartmentation, smoke detectors, automatic sprinklers, automatic fire alarm svstems and flamespread limitations on materials.
In the keynote speech, Weldon F. Williams, executive vice president of the Insurance Services Office, struck out at fire departments and municipalities that give undue importance to the ISO grading schedule ratings.
“Fire service objectives,” Williams declared, “should be based on reasonable needs rather than competitive thrusts among fire departments and among cities aimed at improving the grading for its own sake or to satisfy a city’s pride.
Discussed at FDIC in Memphis
“It may be well that for a given city, a class 5 grading is just right and any effort to improve on that classification number will cause an unrewarding expenditure of money.”
Specific hazardous areas, he suggested, might best be handled on an individual basis through private action of the occupants rather than by raising the fire protection level of the entire city high enough to handle portions of the city.
Williams saw a new era in which “fire protection must be sold on its own merits for the protection of one’s life, income and property, as it should be,” and he urged the fire service to “sell fire protection for its real purpose—to prevent and suppress fires.” Williams advised communities to consider their “fire prevention and suppression in terms of real local priorities” rather than in terms of grading classifications. He-explained that in the larger cities, an improved fire protection grading classification “will not bring (insurance) rates down until the fire loss experience earns it.”
Master training plan
The opinion that “master planning for fire service training is the most neglected, yet most important, ingredient of a comprehensive state fire training system” was voiced by Edward McCormack, director of the Massachusetts Firefighting Academy and secretary of the International Society of Fire Service Instructors.
He suggested developing a master plan in phases because funding can be sought from various sources for each phase. Also, technical writers not only can be selected from a narrower area of specialization, but they also can more easily be dropped if their work is unsatisfactory.
Once a subcommittee has completed its recommendations for a section of the master plan, the recommendations should be reviewed by the entire planning committee. McCormack advised. As the Massachusetts plan takes shape, regional workshops will be held to give all levels of fire service members—as well as persons outside the service—an opportunity to comment on the proposals.
McCormack also suggested that persons designing a fire service training program should first take a close look at what fire fighters actually do. There may be some surprises, he suggested, but even these surprises must be known to make certain that the training program wall be job-related. Apparatus and manning must be taken into consideration as well as the area to be protected if the training is to be realistic, he advised.
“Master planning will identify what should be taught within a local department, what at a state academy or its regional satellites and what should be done at the college level,” McCormack stated.
In a discussion of fire fighting in tall buildings, Commissioner John T. O’Hagan of New York City declared, “The key to control of fire in high-rise buildings is control of the size of the fire.”
Potential fire size, he explained, can be limited by three methods: compartmentalization of large floor areas, installation of a sprinkler system either alone or in combination with early warning fire detection devices, and control of the fire load in a building. He commented that education is the only way to induce occupants to limit the amount of combustible furnishings in high-rise office buildings. Fire laws are inadequate for reducing the fire load, the commissioner explained, because “you would need an army of inspectors” to enforce the laws.
Unless properly designed, high-rise buildings will continue to threaten the lives not only of the occupants, but also of fire fighters, O’Hagan declared. The solution is in building codes that will, among other things, limit the size of undivided floor areas. The greatest threat to life in high-rises is in the large undivided floor areas, building heights and confusing floor layouts, the commissioner said.
Compartment area limited
He said that the New York City code requires eventual compartmentation of even existing buildings so that no unsprinklered area will be larger than 7500 square feet, although even this size area can provide a tough fire to control with hand lines. If sprinklers are installed, or fire detectors and an alarm system are provided, the compartment size can be as much as 15,000 square feet. High-rise fire fighting is almost limited to fighting fires from interior stairs, O’Hagan remarked. The central or side-center core building design allows fast fire spread as the common ceiling plenum lets convected fire heat bank down through registers in hanging ceilings to spread fire to other areas on the fire floor of a high-rise. Furthermore, forced draft from airconditioning systems provides an accelerated flow of oxygen, the commissioner added.
In addition to the stack action inherent in high-rise buildings, O’Hagan continued, “all systems in the building are magnifying the effects of the fire.”
An insight into what three states are doing through commissions for fire department personnel standards was provided by a panel consisting of Carl E. McCoy, executive director of the Illinois Fire Protection Personnel Standards Commission; William F. Eldredge, executive director of the Florida Fire Standards Council; and Henry D. Smith, chief of the Firemen’s Training School, Texas A&M University. The panel moderator was Carrol Herring, coordinator of firemen training, Louisiana State University.
The influence of courts on standards was seen by Eldredge, who said, “In view of the increasing pressure toward job-related requirements as defined by the courts, we believe we will find it necessary to reassess our total requirements and establish standards that are demonstrably job-related. I believe this will improve our recruitment process.”
Eldredge also saw standards as a force in expanding lateral movement of members of the fire service from one department to another and in professionalizing the fire service “along legitimate and progressive lines ot growth.”
He pointed out that experience in some fire departments covers a “narrow part of the total spectrum of even basic fire fighting” while the fire service “must be built upon a firm foundation of academic knowledge and education.” Certification, he said, leads to the broad background of knowledge desirable for members of the fire service through their “attainment of a measurable level of competence and knowledge pertaining to a specific field of knowledge and skills.”
In addition to identifying the proficiency and knowledge required for each level of training, McCoy commented, certification also provides a way to compare the effectiveness of training.
McCoy said, “Volunteers should be permitted to prepare for the final examinations (for certification) through a combination of attendance at the fire station for regular training sessions, through self-study and on-the-job training, or through attendance at one of the established state or regional academies.”
State shares costs
In Illinois, he said, paid fire departments can bill the state standards commission for 50 percent of the cost of training fire fighters, including meals, lodging, transportation, tuition or registration fees, and salaries.
In Texas, Smith said, the standards commission at the present time has no funds for reimbursing local fire departments. He added that Texas law states, “The commission may authorize reimbursement for each political subdivision and each state agency for expenses in attending such training programs as authorized by the legislature.” Whether funding will become available, Smith said, “is a matter of conjecture.”
Individual fire departments pay for the training of instructors and the necessary training manuals or books, Smith explained, adding that such expenditures by a fire department are necessary “in order to operate as a trained and efficient fire fighting unit.”
Budgeting fire protection
In a talk on how to provide maximum fire protection and still stay within budget limitations, Keith Royer, supervisor of the Fire Service Extension at Iowa State University, said that a fire department executive must have data collection systems. The data, Royer explained, will give the fire executive information on which he can base judgments and develop recommendations
In outlining basic assumptions for strategic planning, he declared, “We cannot overcome the fire problem by the sheer application of mass.”
Royer suggested that a community should determine the fire risk it is willing to accept and should shun basing fire department appropriations on emotions engendered by several serious fires or merely increasing or decreasing the previous appropriation to determine the next appropriation.
He added that although “fire fighting capability will always be needed, what a community does or does not do about its public fire protection is having less and less effect on what the insurance costs will be.”
Federal financial aid
The fire service can obtain funds from a variety of federal government sources, Harvey Grant, a senior instructor at the Delaware State Fire School, told the FDIC.
“There is a pot at the end of the red tape rainbow waiting for fire and other public safety officials who are willing to wade through the bureaucratic process,” Grant remarked.
Through the National Highway Safety Act, he explained, there are funds available for upgrading emergency medical services, improving facilities, training emergency medical personnel, and obtaining equipment. He said that Delaware is preparing to start a 30-hour vehicle rescue course with federal funds.
Highway safety funds also are available, Grant said, for special equipment for rescue squads. The Wilmington Bureau of Fire bought a quick-response rescue vehicle with federal aid and Dover, Del., started its ambulance service with federal financial aid. The Delaware state police obtained federal funds for a helicopter and a regional police communications center.
Grant explained that applications for federal highway safety funds must first go to the governor’s representative for highway safety in each state. With his approval, the application then goes to the regional office of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Defense preparedness funds
The Defense Civil Preparedness Agency still has money for communications equipment, rescue vehicles and public warning devices, Grant disclosed.
The Department of Health, Education and Welfare, he added, will have millions of dollars for upgrading emergency medical services under Title 12 of the Public Health Service Act. This money can be used with matching state appropriations for the acquisition of equipment and facilities as well as the modernization of facilities.
Under Title 7 of the same act, HEW can provide 100 percent of the costs of training ambulance attendants by established fire fighter training facilities, Grant stated.
With funds obtained through the Vocational Education Act of 1963, which was amended in 1972 to fund training for volunteer as well as paid fire fighters, Delaware put an overhead projector in every firehouse in the state to improve training programs. Grant said that further information about funds from this source can be obtained from the supervisor of vocational education in each state.
In discussing the problem of heart disease in the fire service, Dr. Marshall B. Conrad, St. Louis Fire Department surgeon, said that as yet there are “no figures to document” the theory that heart disease is more prevalent in the fire service. The risk factors, he said, include a family history of heart disease, obesity, hypertension, cigarette smoking and poor physical fitness.
Conrad deplored the loss of experience to a fire department that accompanies the early retirement of a member because of his physical condition. By the time a fire fighter is 40, Conrad asserted, “he should be getting a physical exam every year.” This would uncover physical problems early and permit early action to remedy the defects and restore men to full service, the physician commented.
The use of a helicopter to speed victims to a hospital was described by Chief John DeJong of the Bancroft, Colo., Fire Protection District. He said that there is an ambulance in three of his four fire stations, and after a victim is stabilized, an ambulance takes him to the nearest copter pad. From any pad, it is no more than four minutes by copter to the emergency room of St. Anthony’s Hospital in Denver.
The hospital leases three helicopters, which can each carry two patients. One copter is kept at the main hospital, another at the satellite hospital and a third at the airport. Use of a copter costs $45 plus $1.50 per statute mile.
A victim of severe burns during a training fire in a building that was being burned down, Captain John L. Petersen, training officer of the Sugar Grove, Ill., Fire Department, pointed out that racing car drivers are better protected from fire than are fire fighters. He criticized fire departments that buy highpriced apparatus and fail to buy the best quality protective clothing for their fire fighters.
Tank fire warning
As a result of a 33,000-gallon liquefied propane railroad tank car explosion while the tanker was burning in Kingman, Ariz., the National Fire Protection Association is warning fire officers that if they don’t have to attack a tanker fire, they should withdraw to 3000 feet and let it bum, John Sharry, NFPA fire records specialist, told the FDIC. He added that if fire fighters have to protect exposures, they should set up lines with master streams and then get out of the area because there is no way of knowing when an explosion may occur.
“Tank rupture may occur at any time,” Sharry warned.
Driver-training was discussed by Anthony J. Bizjak, district safety manager for Ryder Truck Rental, Inc., College Park, Md., who said that driving simulators are now adapted to fire service requirements and can accurately predict the road performance of men using the simulators.
He warned against using problems uncovered by physical examinations to eliminate fire department drivers. Instead, he urged, the information should be used to make drivers aware of their problems and to teach them how to compensate for the problems.
The fire department training officer has two major hurdles to overcome in developing better fire prevention activities, said A. William Westhoff, chief of the Boone County, Mo., Fire Prevention District and an assistant professor at the University of Missouri. He defined these hurdles as tradition and communications.
Westhoff said that the traditional responsibilities of the fire service leave “fire suppression completely separated from fire prevention,” and as for communications, he charged that there is a “definite breakdown between the training and fire prevention divisions.” He urged the use of fire suppression personnel on overtime fire prevention work as a prescription for attaining close coordination of the two divisions of the fire service.
In a discussion of the various types of fire detectors, Richard E. Bright, a research engineer in the Fire Technology Division of the National Bureau of Standards, recommended smoke detectors as best for use in residences. He said that hot gases may become too diluted to activate heat detectors and provide an early warning.
The final session of the FDIC featured a movie and slides of the Chelsea, Mass., conflagration. Chief Herbert Fothergill of Chelsea said that a high wind with gusts to 60 mph and poor water supply in some of the fire area contributed to the conflagration that overwhelmed his department of 109 men and five engine and two ladder companies. He said that Chelsea now has a $3.5-million program under way to improve its water system. Some 1000 fire fighters from other municipalities responded with their equipment to Chelsea’s call for assistance.