Friday, January 14, 2011

Staffing vs. Code

Just had a conversation regarding a news piece that's been circulating for the last couple of days.  The article focuses on a fire chief's request for additional staffing, in the wake of a large warehouse fire.  He cites "2-in/2-out" , insinuating that if they had more people, they would have been able to make an interior attack and, presumably, save the structure.
I am 100% in favor of effective staffing levels, but (especially if I were a taxpayer in this jurisdiction) here's a few questions I'd be asking...
#1 - Why was this building built without fire sprinklers?  I don't have the answer to that.  It may be that the code in place at the time did not require sprinklers, resulting in the building "burning down according to code", as Chief Brunacini would put it.  Regardless of why, the building didn't have them, it caught fire, burned to the ground, and now the fire department wants more people as a result.  So, instead of the cost of fire protection falling on those that create the need (the people or company who built and/or occupied the building, who would be the same ones who profitted from its existence), the cost of increased fire protection will fall to those who simply live there, in the form of a tax increase.  This is on top of the lost tax revenues as a result of the building burning down (hard to collect property tax on something that is now a pile of ashes, much less sales tax from the business that operated there)... a double-whammy for the taxpayerI'm a huge fan of work smarter, not harder...
#2 - What, exactly, would have been the outcome of this fire, had there been more personnel on the scene?  Given a building's construction type, fire load, and amount of fire involvement upon arrival, having "2-out" doesn't make it any safer to enter a structure.  The "2-out" regulation, as well as the entire "rapid intervention" concept, can give firefighters a false sense of security, causing them to take unwarranted risks.  Yes, both are vital on any fireground operation, but they are not the fail-safe that they are sometimes made out to be. 
I understand this Chief's desire.  They probably do need some level of increase in personnel.  BUT, any request that is in the name of increased community fire protection MUST include considerations for code enhancements and fire prevention.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

2010 Media-Reported Fire Deaths

The report for the 2010 media-reported fire deaths is now available on the Fire Team Tennessee home page. 
I'm sure someone, after reviewing this year's document, will think this is "more of the same".  I thought the same thing when putting it together.  Other than the additional 10 fire deaths that made headlines, the numbers don't vary much from year's past.
So what does that mean?  It means we still have work to do.  As responders, policy makers, code officials, and anyone else who has a concern for life safety, it means we need to work harder.  We need enough guided effort in our prevention and response work that, when we look at this report in the future, we'll be able to say "holy *&^@#!!!! That's HALF of what it used to be!"
Just a thought.  Have a safe 2011.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Educating Our Own

I just had a conversation with a company officer who has obviously had a big glass of the home builder's cool-aid.

How is it that, in this day and time, and in this state, we still have fire service personnel who will speak out AGAINST residential sprinklers?

The information is there... FACTS are there... Would people actually choose to remain ignorant?

And how do we choose to effectively deal with those who fall into this categoy?
Sent from my BlackBerry® wireless device

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The sleeping dog just woke up in TN...

Well by now, if you haven’t heard about the issues surrounding the fire in Obion County, TN, (that was allowed to burn by the South Fulton Fire Department) you must have been in a coma for the last week…

This story has captured national media attention, as well as the ire of most who have chosen to comment or blog on the whole debacle.

Those who have been the target of the most criticism stemming from this have been the responding firefighters (SFFD), South Fulton’s Fire Chief, and the South Fulton City Administrator. This is the case because South Fulton was the department that initially didn’t respond, didn’t extinguish the fire once they did respond, and followed their “rules” regarding what fires they can and cannot extinguish. They operated in this manner on orders of their Fire Chief, who was following what his boss (the City Administrator) told him to do.

All of that being what it is, if I’m the officer on the engine, we’re putting the fire out. But that didn’t happen in this case, so let’s look a bit closer…

Point #1: The fire was NOT IN SOUTH FULTON. The fire was in unincorporated OBION COUNTY. Financial responsibility of fire protection for those living in rural Obion County should NOT be placed on the taxpayers living in South Fulton.

The policy of “you don’t pay, we don’t spray” is bad… no question. But what about the policy adopted by the Obion County government of “nah, we won’t provide fire protection… Just let the municipality handle it if they can collect some money.” This, despite the fact that (according to the Chief of the Hornbeak VFD) 85% of the fires in Obion County occur in the unincorporated areas. The simple fact that the City department is willing to respond outside their corporate limits speaks more to their character than the County government who isn’t willing (or in the County Mayor’s words, “not obligated”) to provide this service. He is correct… State law in Tennessee doesn’t require a county government to provide fire protection. But if a governing body isn’t required to provide an essential emergency service, who is?

It’s not like those involved weren’t aware of the issues related to fire protection in this county, as this report clearly identifies. In their wisdom, however, county government officials chose NOT to pursue this plan.

Point #2: The property owner started a fire, which they failed to control, and burned up his property. There has to be some level of personal responsibility assigned in this case. The entitled American culture of “I do something careless and it’s everyone else’s responsibility to fix it” is blatantly evident here.

Solutions? First and foremost, you build it (or buy it), and intend to live in it, then YOU protect it (bet you didn’t see that coming). Residential fire sprinklers provide a level of fire protection that is impossible to match with any type of emergency response model.

Secondly, if you want fire protection service, then YOU pay for fire protection service. Not dues, not donations, not subscriptions… a fire tax. Everybody pays their share – period. Dues collection rates (in areas that I’m familiar with) typically hover at or below 30%; so 7 of every 10 residents don’t pay their share.
It’s also not uncommon for fire departments that are NOT tax supported to devote countless hours towards fundraising activities. Personally, I’ve licked stamps, stuffed envelopes; bar-b-que’d chickens, participated in golf tournaments, bingo nights, car shows, picnics, auctions, yard sales, mud races, and haunted houses, all in the name of raising money for the good ol’ VFD.

How much better would the service be if our volunteers could spend that amount of time TRAINING for the calls that we respond to? I want my surgeon practicing surgery… not sewing scrubs.

All in all, I hate it for the family who lost their home, and the firefighters who were put in this position, all because those who were elected to govern and make decisions either made poor decisions, or no decision at all. It's unfortunate that it takes a tragedy like this, and being placed under the national microscope, to wake the "sleeping dog" and address the issue of funding fire protection.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Fire Prevention Month needs to get here soon...

News of the recent multi-fatality fire in Atoka (Tipton County) brought to mind two words: Tragic, and Typical.

No immediate information is available on the cause and origin of the fire, so it is too early to draw many conclusions. Rural Tennessee is, however, not unfamiliar territory for multi-fatality events, and it seems every year we have one or two significant loss-of-life fires in these areas. That's not to say that our metropolitan areas are immune, as fires in Nashville and Memphis in recent years have also claimed a relatively large number of the citizen's we are protecting.

The Tipton County blaze brings September's media-reported fatality total to 10, which more than doubles any other September total since 2005 (when FTT started tracking this data). Additionally, the media-reported total for 2010 now EQUALS the total for all twelve months of 2009... And here we were thinking that statewide prevention efforts were getting better, as the annual media-reported totals have been trending downward since '05. Reality check.

Another reality check would be the recent events in Franklin, as the City experienced not one, but two fire fatalities in the span of 30 days... their first since 2004. Franklin wouldn't typically be mentioned in the discussion of lower-income areas that are usually associated with fire deaths. Instead, being neither inner-city or rural, in the opinion of most, they would be classified in "bubble-protected", well-to-do suburbia that is frequently considered immune from such events. They have a progressive, well-equipped, well-staffed, well-trained fire department, providing top-notch fire prevention efforts.

Just goes to show that no matter what your jurisdiction's median home value ($300,000 in Franklin; barely half that in Atoka), the citizens we protect ARE at risk, and we must make every effort to provide the BEST level of protection available.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Fire death discrepencies; FFD Kudos; Loss of a legend

Media Reports vs. Reality
In the latest example of how fire deaths are not considered "newsworthy", an article appeared out of Memphis, stating that they have had 10 fire deaths already in 2010. Obviously, this appears high, as the MFD reports that the City averages 15.3 fire deaths per year.

A quick review of the headlines from January & February reveal that only 6 of those 10 deaths registered on the news radar. This is where the fire service needs to step it up, and make sure that this information reaches the media outlets, along with a message of how important it is to ensure that it is communicated to the citizens. If John Q. Public only hears about 60% of the fire problem, it may not seem like much of a problem. This can affect not only the public's attitude toward fire safety in their day-to-day activities, but may also affect the FD's efforts to secure support for increases in service, public education and prevention activities, etc.

Kudos to Franklin Fire Department and Fire & Life Safety Educator Jamie Mooney for their press release detailing one citizen's decision to retrofit his home with a residential fire sprinkler system. Real-world examples of people like Mr. Crosby will only foster smart decision-making in the future. The complete release is on the website.

The Tennessee Fire Service lost a legend on February 28th, with the passing
of Mr. Lewis Baker. The following text from an email sent by Gary West of
MTAS says it well:
Lewis was most known for his ability to inspire others about becoming great fire apparatus operators. His teaching skills were outstanding and he kept so many of us students at the old Tennessee Fire School on the edge of our seats to answer his not so tricky questions. One of those he was famous for was asking, “How long is a rope?”. When I went through pumper school in the mid-80’s I was so impressed that he knew every apparatus that every fire department had anywhere in the state and he could always tell you something you didn’t know about your own fire apparatus.

Lewis was a great teacher but also a former fire chief, a partner in a fire apparatus dealership, and instrumental in making many positive changes in the fire service. One example was his concept of stacking hand-lines on engines (commonly referred to as the “Baker Load” in Tennessee) was quite common in Tennessee before it was first introduced at the FDIC in Memphis. This concept changed the fire service as a whole as it later became the “Triple-stack Hose Load” which is used by almost every fire department in the United States. Lewis had may influences on us Tennesseans but also fire service professionals around the country. It has been great knowing Lewis both as an instructor and friend. He will truly be missed by many.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Nashville Sprinkler Save

Just a quick "kudos" to Kim Lawson of the NFD for her interview following the sprinkler save today in Madison today. She did a good job of articulating the fact that the sprinkler system did its job and controlled the fire.

Keep in mind that this was a high-rise assisted-living facility. If not for the sprinkler system, this is a tragedy worthy of national headlines. High-rise fire? Always a big problem. Assisted-living? Multiple occupants who aren't likely sprinting to the exits. 8:30 AM? Probably some still asleep. Headlines should have been "SPRINKLERS SAVE COUNTLESS LIVES"; but they didn't. Heck, one local news station reported that the fire was controlled by a "fire extinguisher"... Priceless. I guess with the nature of news reporting, I say we should be thankful for the press that it did receive.

Not sure if this building was built with sprinklers, or if it was a retrofit. As a result of the deadly NHC fire in September of 2003 in Nashville, legislation was passed to require all nursing homes, asssited living facilities, and homes for the aged to be sprinklered. According to the State Fire Marshal's website, there is only one assisted-living facility in the state that has not yet complied with this requirement.