Sunday, December 28, 2008

Recalling Route-52's "Phantom Box"

WILMINGTON, DE (December 27, 2008) – Long before the Route 141 Bypass, and years before Greenville evolved into a suburban shopping Mecca, firefighting along Route 52, Delaware's Chateau Country, was often handled by the Wilmington Fire Department. At least that’s the story that’s been handed down by old school Wilmington firefighters, several of whom recalled responding to what were commonly reffered to as “phantom box alarms."

In layman's terms a “Phantom Box” referred to a Fire Alarm Box (or Box number), which didn’t exist. When a call for help came from a citizen along Kennett Pike, Wilmington’s Fire Station 5, located in the 40 Acres section of the city, was dispatched to box 5-5-5. In strictly covert fashion, the men of Station 5 responded with a pumper, a multi-purpose quad and a crew of 9 or 10. And when the job was over, the crew quietly returned to quarters as if nothing ever happened. It was never discussed…never entered into the house journal.

Before World War II, fire response along the Kennett Pike, from Wilmington to the Delaware/PA state line, was virtually non-existent. There were no community fire stations, and it would be decades before New Castle County fire companies would determine how to slice up that piece of the county. When a fire occurred on the Kennett Pike, homeowners would dial “0” and reach the Diamond State Bell operator, who would direct the emergency call to individual fire company dispatchers, many of whom worked from their homes.

Once the operator convinced a rural dispatcher that there truly was an emergency, an engine was sent from Elsmere, Talleyville, Hockessin or even Kennett Square – whichever station assembled their crew the fastest. Back then; the trip wasn’t easy, as the top heavy, slow moving pumpers would make their way through the winding back roads and hills to the fire scene. The trip often took 30 minutes or more.

View the Fire Response map along Route 52

It’s tough to find records from days gone by, but suffice it to say that the Brandywine Valley had its share of blazes in the first part of the 20th century. From barns to multi-million dollar homes, if there was a working fire in Chateau Country, chances are fire companies would arrive to find little more than a smoldering foundation. With such tremendous losses, it may seem odd that communities like Greenville and Centerville, the folks who could easily afford to support a local firehouse, never considered building their own station.

The lack of rapid fire response became an issue with wealthy estate owners, whose assets included large homes, which contained collectibles, irreplaceable furnishings and artifacts. So, a wealthy few took the firefighting problem into their own hands, creating their own brigades, staffed by employees, chauffeurs and farm hands

The first brigade was formed in 1924 when multi-millionaire Pierre S. DuPont purchased a GMC fire engine to protect his estate, Longwood Farms. (Now Longwood Gardens) Two years later, he founded the Longwood Fire Company, and expanded the brigade’s responsibilities to include protecting his neighbor’s homes.

Further toward Wilmington, another DuPont family member, Henry Francis, established a well-equipped fire brigade to protect his growing property, furniture and art collections at the Winterthur Estate. Nearly 80 years later, Henry's brigade still exists covering the Winterthur Estate and Museum with 24 hour coverage, two fire engines and 26 trained fire-rescue personnel.

For the duPonts, leaving their properties unprotected would have been foolish, especially when a small investment in apparatus and equipment could provide them with a trained, rapid-response team. In retrospect, their good sense preserved what have become cherished national treasures.
But for other families and homeowners along the road between Kennett and Wilmington, the thought of watching their home burn as they waited for fire crews to arrive didn’t sit well.

The first to approach the city Fire Bureau was H. R. Sharp, Jr., whose "Gibraltar" estate sat just outside the city's corporate limits. His pitch to fire administrators was simple -- "I'll pay for you to respond to my home." It wasn't long before other families along Route 52 caught on and began to contract with the Wilmington Bureau of Fire for the so-called phantom protection.

For Wilmington firefighters, who worked a grueling military schedule of 24 hours on, 24 hours off, the response to rural New Castle County was always welcomed. Why? Homeowners were extremely kind to the responding firemen, offering them food, drink, but most importantly, gratuities. Of course uniformed personnel were forbidden to accept tips or gifts, but the thinking among the fire station personnel was, "What the Hell, these are phantom boxes”, fires that never took place…never happened at all.

Most of the salts who I’ve spoken to recall that the “phantom box alarms” ended sometime in the mid-1960’s. By then, volunteer companies had established district boundaries, with mutual aid agreements, many of which have been fine-tuned to provide much better service for those who live along Route 52.

Since the last phanton response, the Pride of the 40 Acres, Engine 5, has lost over half of its crew through cutbacks and attrition. These days there are just 4 firefighters and one pumper remaining in a station that once held three apparatus and housed 10 firefighters.

But even now, when FireCom dispatches volunteers along the Route 52 corridor, Station 5's watchman turns an ear, and the mighty Pierce Pumper draws a little extra current from it shore line, just in case the Phantom returns.

Up Next: Could the Phantom Box concept increase fire protection along Route-52? What are some of the other solutions that could solve the problem of rapid response to Chateau Country?

Interviews included retired firefighters FFr.Doug Rifenberg, Lt. Russel Stats, Lt. Ed Stepp, and the late Chief Sean Mulhern.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Update on Delaware LODD, Michelle Smith

Michelle Smith pictured with Warren Jones, President of the Delaware Volunteer Firemen's Association during the 2008 conference. (Photo courtesy Delaware City Fire Company) Click here for more Photos

Driver with Revoked License Arrested in Firefighter's Death
Line-Of-Duty Death Update:

NEW CASTLE COUNTY, DE (December 23, 2008) -- Delaware State Police late Monday identified the driver of a BMW which ran down Firefighter Michelle Smith and an injured motorcyclist, as Joseph Taye, 28, of Bear, Delaware. Taye was arrested and taken to Troop 2 in Glasgow, state police spokesman Cpl. Jeff Whitmarsh said.

Taye was expected to be charged with manslaughter, second-degree assault, driving on a revoked license, leaving the scene of a crash and failure to report a crash, Whitmarsh said.
He is being held in Young Correctional Institution in lieu of $37,000 cash bail. Sources close to the family say that he expected to make bail sometime today.

In the meantime, firefighters throughout the First State mourn the loss of a brave woman who was a dedicated firefighter and loving mother.

Michelle L. Smith had served the Delaware City Fire Company and the Delaware City Ladies Auxiliary for over five years. She also served as a member of the Volunteer Hose Company of Middletown, DE. A graduate of Middletown High School, Michelle worked for Coventry Healthcare. She leaves behind a 12 year old daughter.

Department spokesperson Dave Carpenter, Jr. characterized Michelle Smith as a truly positive person who specifically became a member to provide assistance to the community, through fire prevention and emergency medical services. Her work in fire prevention earned her the Edward McCormack Award, presented by the Delaware State Fire Prevention Commission.

Funeral arrangements are being made and will be posted on the Department's website at Delaware City Fire Company (Station 15). I am personally asking my fire-rescue-EMS colleagues in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Maryland to consider sending a representative to Firefighter Smith's funeral.

Lou Angeli


Monday, December 22, 2008

Delaware Firefighter Dies After Weekend Accident

DELAWARE CITY, DE (December 22, 2008) -- A Delaware City (DE) Volunteer Firefighter died today of injuries she sustained after being run down by a motorist on US Route 13 at the New Castle County Airport. Firefighter Michelle Smith, 29. was assisting in the treatment of the victim of a motorcycle accident when a driver sped through the emergency scene, running over Smith and the patient.

Smith and her EMT partner were staffing the Delaware City BLS Unit, which had been covering Wilmington Manor Fire Station #28, when they were dispatched to the report of a motorcycle accident with injuries, about 1 mile from the station. In Delaware, accidents involving motorcycles receive a multi-tiered response, which includes the nearest BLS unit, a county Paramedic unit, a Rescue/Pumper, Fire Police and the Delaware State Police helicopter.

The Delaware City ambulance responded immediately, arriving less than a minute after being dispatched. On arrival, Smith noticed the motorcyclist lying in the median of the four southbound lanes of busy US Route 13, and placed the ambulance in a blocking position. Smith and the EMT began to access the victim's injuries as traffic in adjacent lanes sped by at 55 miles per hour.

A passing New Castle County Police Officer stopped to render assistance, pulling his patrol car near the grass median. According to a News Journal report, "as he opened his door, the officer noticed a 2004 BMW 760 speeding in his direction and quickly got back into his car to avoid being struck."

Witnesses say that the BMW sideswiped the police cruiser, swerved around the ambulance and ran down Smith and the accident victim, Edward Reiss, 30. of New Castle.

The driver of the BMW fled the scene, then abandoned the car further south on US Route 13. He is said to have jumped into another vehicle, which quickly left the area. Delaware State Police believe they have identified the runaway driver, but offered no further information.

According to initial information released by the Delaware City Fire Company, Ms. Smith was treated on scene by NCC Paramedics and EMT’s from Wilmington Manor and Goodwill Fire Companies. She was transported to Christiana Emergency Department, where she was initially listed in stable condition as her injuries were further being evaluated.

News of her death came at around Noon on Monday, sending a shockwave through Delaware's small, tighly knit emergency services community. Smith is the first Delaware firefighter to perish in the line of duty in nearly 9 years. In 2000, a Greenwood (DE) Assistant Fire Chief was killed in a flashover during a training exercise gone bad.

Offer your condolences by visiting Delaware City Fire Company on the web.
-News Journal Papers
-Delaware City Fire Company
-Delaware State Police

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Mayor Strikes a Deep Blow to Philly's Firefighters

Mayor Michael Nutter

by: Lou Angeli

PHILADELPHIA, PA (December 18, 2008) -- Back in early November, Philly Mayor Michael Nutter announced plans to cut 7 companies from the Philadelphia Fire Department roster. The closings were part of a larger budget cut package that will eventually cost 800 city employees their jobs. Nutter’s reason? He says that the city faces "an economic storm" that could result in a $1 billion shortfall.

The proposed cuts to the Philadelphia Fire Department would be the most drastic in the agency’s 300-year history. Companies, which are being eliminated include:

Engine-1, Engine-6, Engine-8, Engine-14, Engine-39, Ladder-1, Ladder-11

Nutter has defended the company closings as being crucial to the city’s fiscal health, but critics want proof that proposed cuts won't increase risks. They cite increased response times and workload, as neighboring companies pick up the slack.

The cuts will reduce the department’s operating strength by 147, which essentially cancels the department’s new rookie class. A sad state of affairs as many of those young men and women have waited as long a 4 years for the class – and their careers – to begin. No active firefighters will lose their jobs as the city plans to reassign them to other stations in the city.

Engine-8, a popular spot for tourists and firebuffs, is already missing from this picture.

Whenever any fire station is closed, one can expect the community to be up at arms. But Philadelphians have been especially vocal in regard to this issue, launching impromptu street protests and supporting firefighters during their scheduled demonstrations.

Additionally, many of the closings make no tactical sense. For example, in the Roxborough section of the city, the loss of Engine 39 means that the first-due company in much of the area will be its station partner, Ladder 30, a tractor drawn aerial. Should a working fire occur, the ladder crew will be forced to wait for one of three surrounding Engine Companies to arrive before the fire attack to begin. Imagine the chaos as 5 firefighters pace back and forth in front of the burning building, waiting for water to arrive.

During presentation of his budget cut package, Mayor Nutter indicated that Emergency Medical Services would not be affected. If you read between the lines you’ll find that the comment is misleading. Each of the 7 companies, which are scheduled to be closed, are dispatched as a first responders on life-threatening emergencies. At least one member of each company is certified to the EMT-B level and nearly all members have been trained in the use of AED’s. It’s not unusual for an Engine or Ladder crew to have stabilized a critically ill or injured patient before the arrival of firemedic units.

The last of a dozen or so town meetings with Mayor Nutter was held last night but it doesn’t appear that he’ll be changing his mind soon. In the meantime, IAFF Local 22, the Philadelphia Fire Fighters’ Union, yesterday sued the city in both Pennsylvania Supreme Court and Common Pleas Court. Both complaints cite that firefighter safety and health will be compromised if the city proceeds with the closings.

“We have taken this step because we have no other choice,” said IAFF Local 22 President Brian McBride, a 33 year veteran of the Fire Department. “Lives are at stake', McBride added, 'Unless we do something to slow this thing down, I am convinced that people will die.”

There is no specific date set for the closings, but the Mayor has indicated they will take place just after the New Year. Many expect the shutdowns to take place without any warning, with on-coming crews being sent home to await reassignment.

For additional information, or to support Philly’s firefighters, visit this special website


-Philadelphia Inquirer
-IAFF Local 22

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Letter to the News Journal Editor

published on Thursday, December 11, 2008

A debt is owed to all who volunteer to fight fires

America’s volunteer firefighters and emergency medical technicians are extraordinary people. Why? That’s simple – they work at this nation’s most dangerous profession for free. And you will likely never meet a group of individuals more consumed by an avocation, because theirs is a mission of supreme importance – to save lives and limit damage to property. They are dedicated to the core and prove it day-in and day-out by placing their own lives on the line to protect those of others.

The controversial decision as to what level of protection a volunteer fire department provides is not one that firefighters make, but a choice that falls smack dab on the laps of the citizens that they serve. Without the level of dedication provided by local community volunteers, fire rescue services in Delaware would be forced back upon local, state and possibly federal government,

And the thought of inviting federal emergency management at the local level would be disastrous.

We must take stock and the populace must make up its mind of which way they want to turn. If the community wants a higher level of fire protection, they’ll have to pay for it one way or another. Money makes the system work, and that is the bottom line.In a very real sense, the antagonist in this story is not the stubborn volunteer or the head-strong career advocate – it is public apathy.

Lou Angeli,

View my photo essay on Delaware's Volunteer Firefighters


Sunday, December 07, 2008

Volunteer-to-Career: Costs vs. Benefits

Volunteers at the mercy of the communities they serve
by: Lou Angeli

(New Castle County, DE) -- I became a firefighter on a dare. I lost the bet and have been calling myself a volunteer ever since.

It was 1978, and the fallout from Wilmington’s “King Riots” (Martin not Rodney) had not yet cleared. Even though the rioting had been suppressed in a matter of weeks, the city remained a “police state” for a year, with heavily armed National Guard and State Police patrolling Wilmington's neighborhoods each and every night. Whether the constant military presence was really justified is still being debated in the First State. But one thing’s for sure - the riot patrols were a constant reminder that the city had somehow gone bad.

Civil disorder had ruined a huge section of town, and well populated Irish, Italian, Polish and Hispanic communities surrounding the devastation, were being abandoned for the safety and comfort of the city’s western suburbs. My parents and our family followed the lead.

The same scenario was being repeated up and down the East Coast as cities along the I-95 corridor lost families (and tax base) to suburban communities. In most cases, growth came so quickly to suburbia that government was ill prepared to cope. With the emphasis on providing better roads and a more appropriate infrastructure, Fire-EMS-Rescue protection was the last thing on most legislators’ minds.

“The Volunteers will handle it!”, was the reaction from many county seats and state capitals. But there was an inherent problem with their thinking. Volunteer fire departments were originally designed to protect small rural communities - not extensions of the big city.

Me and Citizen Fritz

Still in college, and a cub journalist for the local newspaper, my editor had assigned me to develop a feature expose’ on Delaware’s volunteer Fire-EMS system for the first-ever edition of Delaware’s first Sunday newspaper.

It seemed that some very vocal residents of a rapidly growing Wilmington suburb, Pike Creek Valley, were complaining that their community was being denied adequate Fire-EMS-Rescue protection. “The Valley” was a no-man’s land, developed on rolling farmland, miles from the nearest stores, churches and volunteer fire station. The community's mouthpiece, “Citizen Fritz” claimed that under the best of conditions, response time to “The Valley” was in “excess of 15 minutes.”

Although I didn't want the story, the editor claimed that I was best suited for the assignment, because I was already a Reserve Firefighter in the Wilmington Fire Department’s CD incubator system. He also knew that as a career advocate, I’d make the story controversial.

While researching the story, the local volunteer department’s President suggested that I join the company as a “probationary member” to get a firsthand look at how the volunteer system worked. But there was a catch to his proposal. If my report was favorable to the volunteers, I’d have to join as a full-blown member.

The Pike Creek Valley community lobbied heavily at the county and state levels to have a career fire station built - the first ever in Delaware, outside the city of Wilmington. Politicans promised quick action, which came in the form of an “outside” study. The results from Princeton, “not enough call volume to warrant a career station...’ but ‘the community is a prime candidate for its own volunteer station.”

At first, County government suggested that the existing volunteer agency relinquish the “valley” section of its district to the local community. And both the county and state agreed to fund the new entity as Delaware’s newest department. But there was just one problem, a big problem, as I reported in that very first edition of the Sunday paper, “ one in Pike Creek Valley wants to man their proposed new volunteer fire station.”

Since then Delaware’s Mill Creek Fire Company has built, recruited personnel for and manned a well equipped fire station not far from the spot where I first interviewed “Citizen Fritz”, whose complaints of inadequate volunteer service were among the loudest. 25 years later, I’m told that “Fritz” has never stepped foot in the station that he so vehemently demanded.

“Citizen Fritz” is just one of millions of citizens nationwide, who enjoy the tax payer friendly protection of a volunteer system, but who are unwilling to join the “community of givers”, a term coined by Chief Ken Farmer of North Carolina. In most cases, “takers”, like Fritz, are also unwilling to dole out the money needed to support the career system that they believe they deserve.

So the controversial decision as to “what level of protection a
community deserves” is not one that we as firefighters make, but
a choice that falls smack dab on the laps of the citizens we serve.

“Fire, Rescue and EMS volunteers continue to provide a valued and low cost service in many communities, as they have for hundreds of years.” says volunteer activist Jim Wick, who was a member of Mill Creek Fire Co during the Pike Creek controversy. Today, Wick heads the Oregon Governor’s Fire Council and reminds us that “the volunteer service is still a good service, but it’s a changing service.’ He adds, “We need to keep the focus on service and cost to citizens.”

Case Study - Mill Creek Fire Co.

What would be the cost to citizens of converting their local volunteer agency to a career system? That’s the question that we posed to a half dozen fire service administrators, both career and volunteer. Their answers were remarkably identical, and is best illustrated by using the Pike Creek Fire Station, the one that “Citizen Fritz” demanded, as an example.

The Pike Creek fire station is operated as Mill Creek Fire Company’s Station #2, and serves as a remote sub-station to its main headquarters, which is still located in the heart of the original community, Marshallton, Delaware. The department operates as a corporation and is contracted by the state and county to provide emergency services. When the department was founded 75 years ago, it was a small farming community with less than 1,000 residents living in the district.
Today, the department serves a community of nearly 60,000, covering 17 square miles and a wide variety of risks. Annual call volume for both stations is in the thousands, and increasing each year.

Although the department has 300 members on its books, Station #2 is covered by 24 or so “active” volunteers, who are commanded by two company level officers and an Assistant Chief. During daytime hours, the department employs a core group of “paid” members to man and operate first-out equipment. The members of Station #2 operate a BLS ambulance, quint, rescue pumper and brush rig.

Even though “our administrators” disagreed on manning levels, (some suggested three and even two person engines) for the sake of argument, it was agreed that two firefighter-EMT’s would be assigned to the ambulance, with three other firefighter-EMT’s and and a shift commander assigned to cross-man the fire suppression and rescue rigs, 24x7, 365 days a year.

The committee arrived at the calculations by various methods and formulae, but the final average cost to the community came in loud and clear. Converting Station #2 to a career system would run a little over $840,000 per year, excluding capital expenditures such as training, PPE, tools and equipment, apparatus and building maintenance. Add to that amount projected overtime to cover vacations and sick leaves, a solid benefits package, and of course, a pension program, and the final number is well over $1 million. That’s the cost of running one small volunteer station, as a career job.

The benefits of such a career model are obvious. Immediate response by career professionals, day or night, as opposed to a delayed home response by well trained volunteers. In an ideal world, with no financial restrictions, my choice would be crystal clear.

But the ideal world only exists on paper, and the hard, cold reality is that the general public is not ready to bear the financial burden for the perfect system. At the same time, the chances of persuading John Q to devote a dozen hours each week to what we consider to be a noble profession are slim to none.

Without the level of dedication provided by local community volunteers’, says Chief Rod Carringer of Indiana, ‘fire rescue services in this country would be forced back upon state, local and federal governments.” And the thought of inviting federal management at the local level has many administrators shaking in their boots.

“If the federal government intervenes at the local level,’ notes Chief Michael Perkins, ‘the quality of protection will be based on a community's ability to lobby in Washington, not at the town hall. And that’s where small communities will lose out.”

And so the debate over career vs. volunteer is not one in which we, as firefighters, should be engaged in at this time. In a very real sense, the antagonist in this story is not the stubborn volunteer or the head strong career advocate - it is public apathy.
Change is blowin’ in the wind.

Will change in the fire service be a breeze, or forced upon us like a gail force wind? Only the general public can determine how hard this wind blows. But one thing's for certain. We can affect the outcome of the approaching storm by taking our message to the street, and allowing the public to decide.


Delaware's Volunteers: Response Times Fall Behind

Wilmington, DE (December 7, 2008) -- The long standing feud between Delaware's volunteer firefighters and the state's largest newspaper came to a head today when the News-Journal published a scathing report on volunteer response time. There's been a great deal of research involved with this story, and as they say, numbers don't lie!

Read the News-Journal story by Mike Chalmers

For most Delawareans, this feature represents their first knowledge of a system that can no longer serve the best interests of the community. What's the answer? It's time for fire administrators to staff Delaware's 60 fire stations with a core team of career firefighters, who can place first-due apparatus on the streets in 10 seconds -- not 10 minutes.

Interactive Map of Delaware's Fire Stations

Photos of Delaware's Firefighters

My Report: Last One Standing


Wednesday, December 03, 2008

India's Bravest Taken To Task

By: Lou Angeli

Mumbai, India (December 3, 2008) -- Just last week, terrorism reared it ugly ahead again, this time in the Indian city of Mumbai. Once known as Bombay, Mumbai is the 2nd largest city in the World, with a population of 19 million and growing. The city is the economic capital of India and home to the nation's incredibly huge film industry.

But on November 28th, even Bollywood’s best scriptwriters couldn’t have topped the story that was taking place in the streets of south city. Teams of terrorists, believed to have snuck into the city from Pakistan, went on a rampage of murder and destruction that lasted nearly four days.

In addition to automatic weapons and grenades, the terrorists wreaked havoc in public buildings by exploding bombs made of C4, which ignited massive fires in two hotels and the earth’s busiest train station.

As the Mumbai Fire Brigade mobilized to fight these blazes, officers and firefighters alike knew that they’d be facing a tremendous challenge as terrorists attacked multiple, high visibilty targets within the congested city centre.

In a city of nearly 20 million, there are only 30 fire stations and 2,000 uniformed firefighters. What makes matters worse is that the Brigade has long been government’s stepchild, forced to operate as if it were 1950. Apparatus are old (20 years plus), firefighting equipment is worn, most SCBA’s no longer work, and the members themselves have no PPE to speak of.

As station members began to arrive on the fireground turned battleground, their size up was not very promising.The attacks took place in buildings which were frequented by foreign tourists, especially American and British citizens. Among the buildings involved were the Taj Mahal Hotel, Hotel Trident (formerly Oberoi), Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (formerly Victoria Terminal), The Leopold Cafe and Bade Miyan Gali.

In a well-planned series of simultaneous attacks, the terrorists murdered as many as possible, taking hostages and igniting fires within the centuries old structures. The largest blaze burned at the Taj Mahal Hotel where the flames started on the upper floors and systematically consumed floors below..

With no sprinkler systems or interior standpipes, the fire suppression effort was limited to a master stream attack from aerial devices such as the Bronto Skylift. The firefight was hampered by gunfire aimed at fire-rescue personnel, who bravely remained at their posts both atop the aerial platforms and at the ground level. Additional aerial devices were brought in – some from 50 miles away -- as the onerous task of rescuing and removing hundreds of trapped victims began to take place.

Amercian businessman, C. Richard Diffenderffer, was just one of the scores who were trapped by the lethal combination of gunfire and flames. As the blaze burned downward, the Delaware businessman could hear the flames in the 6th floor room above him. Finally, hours after the ordeal began, fire crews finally reached Diffenderffer.

“These guys are true heroes,” Diffenderffer said about Mumbai's firemen. He added that the rescue team surrounded him in order to protect him from gunfire that was pelting the Skylift’s basket. He refers to Mumbai's Bravest as "angels from Heaven."

By Saturday, the last hostages were freed as the remaining terrorists were wiped out by Indian Special Forces. The attacks killed 174, including 26 foreigners. 240 were injured and damage tolls to hotels and the train station are still being determined.

In the wake of the late November 2008 events, it was revealed that Mumbai's firefighters are poorly equipped and not prepared to effectively battle such large blazes. One fireman best described the brigade's PPE as London circa 1950. Indeed, members currently wear wool tunics and compressed cork helmets, the same gear used by firemen in England during World War II. State-of-the-art firefighting gear has apparently been authorized by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation, but 13 months after being fitted, frontline firefighting teams have yet to see these lifesaving garments.

As official enquiries begin, and politicians face the press, citizens of Mumbai will demand answers. There will be a tremendous outpouring of support for the city's heroic firefighters, and the brigade will eventually benefit from this tragedy much like their FDNY colleagues did following the events of 9/11/01. The PPE that brigade members have been anxiously awating apparently will soon be shipped. And there have already been discussions of replacing aging apparatus and perhaps training special teams of firefighters to enter burning buildings to conduct an interior firefight.

2,000 firefighters protecting a population of 19 million? In my book, those numbers seem a bit screwy, especially when compared to staffing in US departments. It seems like a recruitment program to hire additional firefighters would serve to bolster the ranks of India’s Bravest, while providing much needed protection to one of the largest municipalities on earth.


Friday, November 28, 2008

Fire Union to Chiefs: “Don’t meddle!”

Union and Chiefs Bump Heads on Two-Hatter Issue
Washington, DC (November 28, 2008) -- It’s been a bone of contention for decades – career firefighters also serving as volunteers in their home communities. This “two-hatter” concept has been a godsend to volunteer departments, who benefit from the expertise and daytime availability of well-trained, paid municipal firefighters. But in recent years the union representing North America's paid firefighters has really turned up the heat on those who have chosen to serve in a dual capacity.

The supporting position for the International Association of Fire Fighters is simple; that secondary employment – including volunteering -- of IAFF members as a firefighter or other public safety worker is wrong, unsafe and against the IAFF's constitution. For the most part, IAFF locals have turned a blind eye to the practice. But with the volunteer fire service losing tens of thousands of members to poor retention and recruitment (see Last One Standing) these “two hatters” are essentially permitting volunteer agencies to operate without the need for hiring paid staff. Something to consider with the economy and job situation as it is.

On the Volunteer side of the issue, administrators cite the US Constitution as the governing law in this thorny matter. In a November 3rd statement, the International Association of Fire Chiefs wrote, “(We) support the rights of each individual to choose to serve in any capacity, whether in a volunteer, paid, or paid-on-call position.”

The IAFC statement also swings a heavy axe at the IAFF’s embargo. “The IAFC would recommend that no membership organization – volunteer, trade, or paid – should restrict membership and the right to serve in multiple organizations or communities.” Needless to say, IAFF’s DC-based headquarters was quick to respond to the IAFC challenge.

IAFF General President, Harold Schaitberger
"This is not an issue that welcomes or warrants an opinion from the IAFC," said Harold A. Schaitberger, General President of the IAFF in an open letter issued on Tuesday of this week. As reported on, Schaitberger went on to call the statement an attempt to "meddle" in the IAFF's internal affairs.

Although I’ve been unable to find supporting statistics, a great many career personnel who I know also serve as volunteers in the communities in which they live. But it’s no big shakes here in Delaware, where career personnel total only about 200 members, represented by 3 IAFF locals.

But consider Long Island, home to hundreds of volunteer fire departments, and most of FDNY’s 14,000 members. Long Island fire departments have long prided themselves as being fully-volunteer. But reality is that many within these "volunteer ranks" also carry the FDNY shield in their wallet. You’ll also find paid apparatus drivers, who are listed by their employer departments as janitors or maintenance personnel.

“If it weren’t for the ‘two-hatters,’’ one Nassau County administrator told me, ‘daytime response would be in a shambles.”

Under the IAFF’s membership rules, a union member agrees not to accept secondary employment as an emergency responder, unless the position is represented by another affiliated local. And it’s the responsibility of the locals – not the International – to enforce the “two-hatter” regulation. But few have chosen to do so.

The State of Connecticut recently passed legislation that codifies the right of career firefighters to volunteer during off-duty hours. Development of the law was prompted by a 2003 agreement between the City of Hartford and the Hartford Firefighters’ Local prohibiting city firefighters from volunteering in their hometowns during personal time. Within days, Mayor Eddie Perez was inundated with letters from volunteer agencies, citizenry and the National Volunteer Fire Council demanding that the agreement be rescinded.

Then National Volunteer Fire Council Chairman Philip C. Stittleburg wrote to Perez noting that the Hartford ruling would have wide reaching implications, one that would affect volunteerism nationally.

“The firefighter union’s organized campaign against the volunteer fire service is aimed at destroying our ranks in the hope of increasing union membership and power,” Stittleburg wrote.

Many in the Fire-Rescue services agree with Chairman Stittleburg’s belief that these actions are simply a power play by the International Association of Fire Fighters. That may be so, but the IAFF is also following through on one of its primary missions – and that is to protect its members. Case in point: The 1999 line-of-duty deaths of two Fort Worth, TX career firefighters, who had responded to a church fire as a members of their local volunteer department, River Oaks.
Phillip Dean and Brian Collins were killed instantly when the roof of the well involved Lake Worth, TX church collapsed on them and 20 year-old volunteer firefighter Garry Sanders.

Following their burials, the Fort Worth Local 440's Pension Board denied the families of Dean and Collins death benefits because they weren’t working for the Fort Worth Fire Department at the time. The Pension Board suggested that the burden of caring for the families lie with the suburban department for which they volunteered. Sadly, at the time, the agency did not carry insurance for those members who became injured or killed. The surviving familes relied on federal death benefits, which topped out at whopping $55,000 in 1999.
For me, the thought of not providing for my family, if I were to perish in service to the community, is plenty enough reason to not volunteer. It’s quite possible that neither Dean nor Collins knew that they had no benefit coverage while serving at River Oaks.

The next step for the IAFF is to lobby at the federal level in an effort to persuade lawmakers to legislate career firefighters to stay at home when off-duty and out of volunteer firehouses. If successful, the volunteer fire service -- especially departments surrounding large municipalities -- would be dealt a lousy hand. The chips would go to the public, who will be forced to decide on how much they're willing to ante up to protect their communities.

Personal note: I’ve got no gripe with the concept of “two hatters”, although when I compare it to a plumber returning home at night, only to rush off and fix someone’s drain for no fee, the thought is a bit bizarre. However, I do have a deep concern for “two hatters” as well as volunteers who serve in agencies that provides little or no benefits in case of injury.

If you decide to don that second helmet, make it a point to determine what benefits exist for you and your family, should tragedy strike on the fireground. My bet is that you’ll find you have poor coverage at best. That’s when you should hang up that second lid and take up golf.

- International Assn. of Fire Chiefs

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Federal Safety Vest Requirement Goes Into Effect

Everywhere, USA (November 24, 2008) -- A new provision from the Federal Highway Administration goes into effect today requiring firefighters and EMS personnel to wear flourescent safety vests when operating at emergency scenes along nationally funded roadways.

The vests must meet the Performance Class II or III requirements of the American National Standards Institute/International Safety Equipment Association (ANSI/ISEA) 107-2004 publication. ANSI requires that vests be fluorescent yellow-green, orange-red, or red background material with 360 degree retroflective visibility.

A provision was recently added to the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control that exempted Firefighters from wearing vests, who were directly engaged in fire suppression as the vest material could ignite or melt if exposed to flame.

A full range of vests are available online at

Although the FHWA rule applies only to responses on federal aid highways, most fire administrators agree that firefighters and EMS personnel responding to any roadside incident wear MUTCD-approved safety vests.

While there is no federal funding set aside specifically to help local agencies purchase safety vests, my personal request is that local fraternal groups such as the Lions, Jaycees and Shriners consider taking the initiative to help local fire-rescue agencies outfit their members with this vitally important safety equipment.

photo courtesy

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Brea Fire/Triangle Complex Fire

Originally uploaded by NEWSMAN91

This wildfire in Corona, California is finally contained, but not before scorching more than 30,000 acres and destroying or damaging at least 259 homes. To place this in perspective for East Coast firefighters, the Philadelphia Fire Department loses about 259 homes each YEAR.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

MedEvac Crash Trend Continues Following Illinois Incident

Illinois Medical Chopper Crash brings 2008 total to 12

AURORA, Ill. (October 16, 2008) ― A medical helicopter responding to Chicago’s Children's Memorial Hospital crashed into a forest preserve in Aurora, IL overnight, killing the three crewmembers on board and their patient, a 14-month-old girl.According to CBS station WBBM-TV in Chicago, the medevac helicopter clipped a guy wire that was supporting a radio tower nearby before crashing

The helicopter was headed for Children's Hospital from the western suburbs when it went down around midnight. Aurora firefighters arrived to find the helicopter in the Night Heron Marsh Forest Preserve, fully engulfed in flames. Rescue crews immediately attempted a rescue operation but onbly found the four deceased victims, including three crew members and the child.

The helicopter was owned and operated by Air Angels Inc., an emergency medical transport service based in suburban Chicago near Bolingbrook, IL.

The Illinois crash comes among a spate of devastating Air Medevac incidents that have plagued the emergency services during the past year. Just last week, a Maryland State Police “Dauphine” helicopter crashed near its barracks at Andrews Air Force Base, killing the pilot, a police medic, a volunteer EMT and the crew’s patient, a 17 year old accident victim.

In July, the fatal collision of two medical helicopters in Flagstaff, AZ was the ninth accident involving emergency medical aircraft to date. At that time, the chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board called the series of crashes a "disturbing trend."

In Aurora, Assistant Fire Chief John Lehman reported that, "The impact was tremendous…and so there really is no aircraft left."

In their investigation, the National Transportation Safety Board is trying to determine why the chopper ended up so low, under 750 feet. They have not concluded whether there was a mechanical problem or an emergency on board. A safety investigator was expected to debrief reporters later Thursday.

The crash site is in the residential area, across the street from a radio station with a tower the height of a 70-story building. A snapped wire could be seen hanging from the 734-foot tower that stands across a busy road from the crash site.

According to WBBM News, NTSB spokesman John Brannen said the helicopter was flying about 50 feet below the top of the tower when the wire was clipped. He said NTSB was investigating whether lights on the tower were on at the time or could have been knocked out during the incident.

The helicopter, a a single engine Bell 222 Helicopter, had been in service for about 8 years.

On Aug. 4, 2007, an Air Angels rescue helicopter was forced to make an emergency landing in unincorporated Sugar Grove. The chopper was on fire, but the crew was able to walk away from the scene.


Rescources: CBS News

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Recalling America's Tragedy

September 11, 2008
The attacks on the World Trade Center towers on September 11, 2001 tested the determination of emergency responders well beyond their experience and imagination. As emergency calls poured in,-- New York City firefighters, police and emergency personnel -- whether on or off duty -- rushed to lower Manhattan.Unaware of the impending collapse of the twin towers, their sole focus was to get in and rescue tens of thousands of people.
As those first responders conducted the search and evacuated victims, the intense heat had rapidly weakened and distorted the massive steel structures.In less than 2 hours it was all over. Just after the twin towers collapsed, casualty estimates were in the tens of thousands. With many of New York’s most seasoned rescue personnel missing in the collapses, surviving firefighters took the initiative of breaking workers into teams to begin search and rescue.
Within minutes, emergency and support personnel across the nation responded to New York City’s – call for help. It would become the greatest rescue and recovery mission in the America’s history.
I invite you to read the diary I kept at Ground Zero. Based on a series of emails to my son, who was 10 years old at the time, you'll learn about the men and women who served during one of this nation's most horrifying disasters. It is a story of bravery and dedication, and a nation coming together.
Lou Angeli

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

3 Firefighters Killed in Air Tanker Crash

P2V Tanker operated by Neptune Aviation

RENO (AP) — An air tanker that had been used to drop retardant on a wildfire in the Sierra Nevada crashed after taking off for a flight to another blaze, killing all three crewmembers.
Preliminary witness reports suggested the aircraft had lost part of one engine or a wing after taking off from Reno-Stead Airport, said Ian Gregor, a spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration.

The plane went down about a half-mile from the airport and burst into flame, Reno fire spokesman Steve Frady said.

The twin-engine P2V air tanker owned by Neptune Aviation of Missoula, Mont., had returned to the airport Monday after making one flight over a fire in California's Hope Valley south of Lake Tahoe during the morning, said Marnie Bonesteel, a spokeswoman with the Sierra Front Wildfire Cooperators.

The plane crashed after it took off to drop retardant on another fire in California later in the day, she said.

source: AP

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

9 Firefighters Killed in Chopper Crash

Carson 16 Originally uploaded by misterarrow

A Sikorsky S-61 Heavy-Lift Helicopter like the ship that crashed.
resource: KCRA3 (Sacramento)

JUNCTION CITY, Calif. -- Nine firefighters are missing and presumed to be dead after a firefighting helicopter crash in Trinity County according to the Federal Aviation Administration on Wednesday.

The chopper went down in the northwest sector of the so-called "Buckhorn Fire," one of a half dozen blazes being fought as part of the larger Iron Complex Fire. Four firefighters were badly burned in the crash, which took place at about 7:30 p.m. Tuesday about 15 miles northwest of Junction City, west of Redding.

The helicopter, a Sikorsky S-61 "Fire King," was operating under contract to US Forest Service and was carrying 13 people -- including 11 firefighters and two crew members -- when it went down.

Ian Gregor, spokesman for the FAA, said the nine missing people are likely dead. Sharon Heywood, a Forest Service supervisor, confirmed fatalities but did not offer specifics.

Three of the injured fire personnel -- including the pilot -- were at UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento and were listed in critical or serious condition. The fourth firefighter remained at Mercy Medical Center in Redding and was listed in serious but stable condition.

The firefighters were in transit near the north end of the Buckhorn Fire, which has burned nearly 25 square miles. All 11 are employees of Grayback Forestry, Inc., a private firefighting contractor based in LaGrande, Orgeon. They were working as part of a multi agency task force working the Iron Complex.

The large, yellow helicopter was operated by Carson Helicopters, which has offices in Grants Pass, Ore., and Perkasie, Pa. Company spokesperson Bob Madden said that Carson is an established firm which, operates a large fleet of Sikorsky S-61 choppers.

"We don't know what occurred," Madden said. "We haven't examined the aircraft yet. We've never had a copter go down due to firefighting efforts."

The Sikorsky S-61 can transport 18 firefighters and drop up to 1,000 gallons of water via a bucket suspended from the bottom, Carson Helicopters said.

Grayback Forestry provides firefighting resources and services to clients such as USFS, BLM, USF&W. Last week, another Grayback firefighter lost his life when a large tree fell and crushed him. The company website acknowledges that three of its firefighters were injured in the crash, but makes no mention of the 9 missing or dead firefighters.

"This is a tragic day for firefighters everywhere and the people of California are profoundly aware of the tremendous sacrifices these heroes and their families make day in and day out to keep us safe," Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said in a statement. "We are praying for the swift recovery of the victims and our hearts go out to their loved ones."

The FAA and National Transportation Safety Board are continuing their investigation into the crash. NIOSH and OSHA will investigate the firefighter deaths.
Watch Video of the Carson S-61 Fire King

BLOG Photo courtesy misterarrow

Monday, August 04, 2008

Rhode Island Firefighter Dies During Rescue Operation

Firefighter Suffers MI During Dive Rescue

Tiverton, RI (August 4, 2008) -- WPRI-TV News reports that a Rhode Island firefighter has lost his life in the line-of-duty. Firefighter First Class Gerald R. Leduc, died Sunday night while operating during a water rescue at Stafford Pond.

Emergency Personnel had been summoned to the pond when a civilian boater went missing in about 15 feet of water. Leduc was part of a multi-agency dive-rescue team. While diving, he went into cardiac arrest and rushed to shore, but efforts to revive him proved fruitless.

Chief Robert Lloyd of the Tiverton Fire Department issued a statement to press a little before 10:00 PM Monday evening.

"I'm very saddened for the family of this fallen firefighter," Lloyd said. "The Tiverton Fire Department and the town of Tiverton give our deepest sympathies."

Tiverton's former fire chief, Otis Wyatt praised Leduc.

"Gerald was a sincere and dedicated firefighter. My sympathies to Chief Lloyd and his men, Gerald's wife and family during this tragic event."

Gerald Leduc was a 25 year veteran of the Fire Service and most recently was assigned to Tiverton Station #4. Tiverton Fire Department is a career agency operating with 30 firefighters.

sources: WPRI News

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Foreign Firefighters Respond to California

The Story and Commentary:
by Lou Angeli

The story from AP:
PARADISE, Calif. (July 12, 2008)- As hundreds of blazes continue to char California, additional National Guard troops and overseas crews are being called in to assist exhausted firefighters.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Friday ordered 2,000 more National Guard troops to join the 400 already on firefighting duty. Australia, Canada, Greece, Mexico and New Zealand are also sending firefighters and equipment, federal officials said. Firefighters in Italy and France have also been placed on alert.

"We are stretched thin, and our firefighters are exhausted," Schwarzenegger said. "The fire season as we've known it is pretty much over. ... Now we have fire season all year round."

Federal officials said they would send more equipment and personnel to California. The federal government has committed $100 million and 80 percent of its firefighting resources to California, said Glen Cannon, an assistant administrator with the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

"We've put a significant amount of resources there, and we'll continue to add resources until we bring the fires under control," Cannon said.

Why Foreign Firefighters?

In a nation with one million firefighters, the question arises -- Why does California need foreign firefighting assistance? It's a good question but it can be explained quite easily..

Wildland firefights, like those in Central California, can be lengthy campaigns often lasting several weeks or a month. With all of California's available forces and 80% of all federal firefighters on the frontlines, it's time now for exhausted crews to be relieved. So why not send in reinforcements from the midwest and the East Coast?

If we were in the Control Truck, we'd learn that Commanders have already written-off 80% of available American firefighters, because they serve on a volunteer basis. As much as volunteers would like to be on the frontlines helping the folks in California, they have full time jobs and therefore a committment to their employers (and families) to show up for work.

The remaining career firefighters serve primarily in municipalities, and with the exception of an occasional brush fire, city crews see little wildland action. To them, fighting a wildland blaze is an alien tactic, far different than tackling a room and contents fire. Add to that the fact that many municipal departments are short-handed, the result of local governments stretching their resources thin by operating with less than minimum staffing. Sending just a dozen guys to the West Coast would leave a giant hole in their own local protection.

So why shuttle in firefighters from the other side of the world? Well, Australia and New Zealand are wilderness countries where "bush" or wildland fires are a part of everyday life. Firefighters down under know the drill all too well -- and are familiar with the dangers. If you need to bring in ringers -- these are the guys. And just two years ago, the Greek Fire Service was confronted with wildfires of epic proportions, as firefronts of 100 miles in length burned from one end of the country until they reached the waters of the Mediterranean.

As many have noted in recent weeks, California's wildfire season is no longer limited to late summer -- it's become a year-round concern. State and Federal Government have only two choices: Let the fires burn -- or beef up protection by converting what is essentially a seasonal emergency service to full time status. And in order to retain well-trained seasonal personnel, federal agencies like the USFS and BLM will need to ante up, paying their people on par with CalFire/CDF and municipal departments.

Gov. Schwarzenegger and administrators from CalFire and OES are keeping their fingers crossed, lighting candles to St. Florian and praying to the thunder gods that Southern California remains fire free. If a blaze like last year's SoCal firestorm were to whip up again in the next few weeks, the system would fall flat on its googles. Those familar air tankers would be replaced by F-15's, creating firebreaks with missles instead of water.

(1) Associated Press

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Controlling Delaware's Volunteers

Delaware’s Volunteers Face Mandatory Audit

Wilmington, DE (July 10, 2008) – It was about this time last year that Governor Ruth Ann Miller ordered Delaware’s Volunteer Fire Companies to get their firehouses in order. Her demand came in the form of a voluntary audit to be conducted by the departments themselves.

The dispatch that the Governor was issuing at the time came in loud and clear. For the first time ever in the 300 year history of the Delaware volunteer fire service, companies were finally being held publicly accountable for the way they operated.

“This move by Minner…is big time gutsy on her part,” wrote the News Journal’s Ron Williams at the time the Governor issued Executive Order #99. Some believe that the Governor was uncomfortable with embezzlement cases involving Cranston Heights and Frederica fire companies, cases in which both treasurers were found guilty.

However what was once a request from Minner is now state law. Signed by the Governor on Wednesday, House Bill 329 requires that each of Delaware’s 60 volunteer fire departments undergo mandatory financial audits.

State Fire Prevention Commission vice chairman Bob Ricker told the News-Journal that the audits will help ensure that departments are spending their money wisely and create a means for the commission to oversee how funds are being appropriated and then make suggestions about the use of funds

Now comes the rub. Who will determine whether a department is spending money wisely – and what standard will they use?

In my mind, the practice of auditing fire departments will certainly help to reveal inconsistencies in spending, such as theft and embezzlement. But nearly every volunteer fire company is audited by a 3rd party agent, and not a single department has ever refused to open their books when asked.

There’s something more to this audit thing then meets the eye. If you ask me, HB329 is about control.

Although Mr. Ricker didn't come out and say it, HB 329 will place Delaware’s volunteers under the control of the State Fire Prevention Commission. And it won't be long before there is a correlation between annual grants-in-aid to volunteers and the Commission.

Here's one potential scenario. When it comes time to replace old Engine 222, the decision on the purchase of a new rig won’t go to the company floor. Instead it will go to the State Fire Prevention Commission who will have a list of approved vendors as well as a standardized spec. In short, companies will be told who will build their replacement, including pump capacity, size of the water tank, length of hose and how the truck is lettered.

State of Delaware
Department of Public Safety
Division of Fire Suppression
operated by Minquadale Fire Company

No offense to Minquadale -- you guys came to mind first.

Mots national experts agree that control of the fire-rescue services needs to remain with local authorities, and here in the First State that would be best served by a consortium of districts, or perhaps with the county in cooperation with the local companies. But until someone presents that idea to Chris Coons, look for manufacturers’ reps to increase visitation to the offices of the State Fire Prevention Commission.

It’s quite possible that in the future, Delaware’s firefighters will experience their own version of the Space Shuttle syndrome, responding to alarms aboard low-bid machines, wearing low-bid garments and entering burning buildings with tools that may not coincide with the department’s tactics.

A generation ago, Delaware boasted a volunteer fire service of 10,000 members, which represented a huge voting block. Firefighters could swing a local election in a heartbeat and in statewide elections they were a force to be reckoned with. But those numbers have dropped significantly over the past 25 years -- to 4,000 or so -- and many candidates need to be reminded of the contribution of Delaware's volunteers.

Big changes are looming for Delaware's volunteers, however with a few tweaks here and there, the current system can be revamped without much pain, and continue to work for another generation. But if the state intervenes now, as Mr. Ricker suggests, look for many volunteers to hang up their turnouts and helmets.
(1) News-Journal Papers

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

California Is Burning...Again!

Federal Engines Sit Idle as Agencies Seek Additional Firefighters
by Lou Angeli

Big Sur, CA (July 8, 2008) -- With dry winds and low humidity in the forecast, the day doesn’t seem to be a promising one for firefighters working wildland blazes on California’s central coast. The Basin Complex Fire in the Los Padres National Forest has currently destroyed 74,985 acres and is only 11 percent contained. The Basin Complex fire was started by lightning and is burning away at one of the nation’s most beautiful destinations, Big Sur. Scenic Highway 1 remains closed and the towns of Big Sur and Carmel are threatened and evacuations are in place.

Not far south in the Los Padres, the Gap Fire has already taken 9,924 acres and although it is 30 percent contained, today's heat and low humidity may reverse the progress that firefighters had made. The Gap fire is located six miles northwest of Santa Barbara and is endangering communities, cultural and historical resources, like J. Paul Getty’s home. Evacuations are in order there as well.

The US Forest Service believes that Gap fire were intentionally set and has asked the general public for its help in investigating those blazes.

“The information the public provides could be crucial to our investigation into who is responsible," said Forest Service Special Agent Heather Campbell.

These high-profile fires at each end of Los Padres National Forest — in Monterey and Santa Barbara counties — are among 330 state blazes burning out of control statewide. So far, about 1,800 fires have burned over 600,000 acres of forests and woodlands and there is no relief in sight. Fires continue to burn statewide in what many predict will be California’s most damaging wildfire season in decades.

The nation's fire preparedness level on Sunday remained at Level 5, indicating firefighting resources are at their most strained.The idea of fighting so many fires simultaneously is mind-boggling, especially when you consider that stats for national, state and local agencies are tallied separately. So how many firefighters, engines and helicopters are working?

At the state level, CalFire (CDF) reports 20,000 plus firefighters operating aboard 1420 engines and in 420 hand crews. The state also has 300 bulldozers, over 400 water tankers and nearly 100 helicopters operating on the frontlines.

National Interagency Fire Command, which coordinates the activities of federal firefighting resources from its headquarters in Boise, Idaho, reports another 10,000 federal firefighters working in California, with 400 plus engines, 50 helicopters and National Guard C-130’s from Sacramento, Charlotte, Cheyenne, and Colorado Springs.

There are so many fast-moving fires, that they often travel through local fire districts in just a day – sometimes hours. Factor in crews and apparatus from city and county departments that protect areas along the coast, including Carmel, Monterey, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara City and County, and dozens of volunteer agencies, and the total number of working firefighters easily totals 50,000.

It’s been some time since the nation has stood at Level 5 Firefighting Preparedness, and firefighters and resources from as far away as Delaware and Puerto Rico have arrived to serve on the frontlines.

One firefighter safety watchdog group claims that the Federal firefighting system is understaffed. At the start of the season, only 2/3s of the US Forest Service's 275 engines were staffed.

"The federal fire system is imploding in California. They are crossing their fingers and just hoping they get through the season without a disaster," said Casey Judd, who represents government firefighters from five agencies through the Federal Wildland Fire Service Association.

In an interview with the Monterey County Herald, Judd notes that the US Forest Service is 500 firefighters short of its 5,000-member allotment for the Central California region. He argues that Federal firefighters are working alongside CalFire and Municipal colleagues for less money, so many seasonal firefighting personnel stay home and work at odd jobs.

With Level 5 staffing already in place – compared to last season’s 2 or 3 at the height of the San Diego fires – both federal and state government will need to consider additional outsourcing, and red-card training of out-of-state municipal crews. Such needs become extremely critical when you combine current conditions with the strong potential for wildfires in populated areas of southern California, which have not yet begun to burn.
So here's an invitation to firefighters nationwide to train for their red card and vacation in sunny California.