Friday, December 18, 2009
Filmed and edited by: Lou Angeli
Saturday, December 12, 2009
On the evening of 12/5/09, New Castle County (DE) fire dispatch toned out a half dozen county stations for a house fire with reported entrapment and a police officer down.
First units arrived to find heavy fire conditions and a report of 4 people still inside. One of the first to be rescued was a badly injured child, who was handed over to county paramedics for the trip to AI duPont Children's Hospital.
The 5 year old boy was pronounced dead at the hospital.
It was the second major blaze for these firefighters within 3 hours, and despite the cold, snowy conditions, firefighters controlled the fire quickly.
These are photos of the mop-up, and the men and women who served at this job.
photos by: Lou Angeli
Thursday, December 10, 2009
by: Lou Angeli
Suburban Philadelphia, PA -- (November 22,, 2010) During the next 6 weeks thousands of suburban firefirefighters around metro Philadelphia. will have the opportunity to decide who will lead their 120 member volunteer department during the year 2011. As they've done for nearly 200 years, they will determine by 'popular vote', who is best suited to command the department, which protects a community of 45,000 and has a budget of over $8 million.
Of course, the civilian population isn't aware how the department is actually operated. In fact, most assume that their department is staffed by "career" personnel, because of the high level of training and professionalism exhibited by the volunteers at emergencies.
Does it make sense to "elect" emergency management, without regard to qualifications or experience? No. But the fact is that America's most dangerous avocation is sometimes run by individuals who do not have the qualifications or skills to lead a fire department or rescue agency.
As I was browsing through posts on a popular fire and rescue discussion forum the other evening, I was shocked to read that a familiar contributor had resigned from his own department. Why? Because his department's members had elected chief officers with a total combined fireground experience of five (5) years. Hello?
Jason Zigmont, content provider for VolunteerFD.org, found that the election process is a pain the axe nationwide. He says that volunteer officers should be held to the same standards as any ‘active’ firefighter. but in many departments, those seeking office may only have 2 years of training and even less experience.
In my former department in Missouri, the annual election of fireline officers had become somewhat of a joke. Those who were vying for the top job began lobbying as early as mid-Summer by throwing barbeques and pool parties. By October, morale became a major concern as members split up to fall behind and support "their man" or "woman.". And without fail, the individual most qualified to lead the department, would lose out to the guy with the nicest lakeh house.
As I look through my screen into cyberspace, I see that there are those of you who are reading this with a puzzled look. It's for real California! It's how most volunteer departments on the East Coast still operate. A century ago, when these very same departments protected communities of 200 or so, the system worked.
But today, operating even the smallest of departments is like running any business. And the folks who run the department need to be more than just brave firefighters. They’re dealing with large budgets, dwindling staffing, a broader variety of emergency incidents and a demanding general public.
When it comes to the 'election' of individuals to serve in a department's 'administrative' positions, such as a Board Member or Recording Secretary, open voting carries a valid argument. After all, it's how we run our own government. But when it comes to choosing fireground command, or any line officer's position for that matter, the decision must never be based on popularity
But how do you change the system? It isn’t easy, because no one wants to serve on that committee. In many cases it's extremely difficult to alter the by-laws of a “fire company" or "sub chapter S corporation" because it usually takes a 2/3 vote to override or change existing by-laws.
In nearby Kennett Square, PA, the volunteer fire department did away with the popular vote over 10 years ago, replacing it with a Board of Fire Commissioners, who promote Commanders and Line Officers based on resumes submitted for their review. Administrative management is still elected by the general membership, but the operation of emergency incidents now falls in the hands of qualified, seasoned personnel.
In the 1700's, Ben Franklin helped create the volunteer system to replace the Insurance Brigade system, which had become a failure in Franklin's eyes. 300 years later we're still working from the game plan he scratched on the table at a riverfront pub. I don't think ole’ Ben would object to us making a few play changes here and there.
And finally, Brother from the Internet - Don't quit! We're losing way too many qualified volunteers to our politics, culture and lifestyle. You don't have to kiss your newly elected officer’s ass, just suck it up and do your best.
Sunday, October 25, 2009
by: Lou Angeli
Note: This feature was originally written for a civilian audience.
Wilmington, DE (October 25, 2009) -- Organized chaos. That's how the fire scene is often described. The adrenaline charged atmosphere often resembles a battleground. But in this war zone there's no time to develop a battle plan. Firefighters have only a few precious minutes to defeat their opponent so forthis firefight to be successful action must be immediate.
Back in the day, Firefighting was all about racing to the scene, donning a tin helmet and aiming the nozzle at the flames and smoke. And that's pretty much how the general public still perceives the job. But times have changed, and today there’s an art, not to mention a science, to fighting fires.
In terms of extinguishing blazes, today’s firefighters are trained to go face-to-face with the beast, inside the burning building for an "offensive" attack. Some fire training experts say that the trick is to tame the fire, before extinguishing it, and there are dozens of tactics for doing so. But these strategies often come with extreme risk.
Bottom line -- firefighters must make crucial life and death decisions quickly.During the past 30 years, annual civilian fire deaths have been reduced by 50%. But firefighters deaths continue to rise, with 112 being lost in the line of duty last year alone. Even more disturbing are OSHA and the National Fire Protection Association’s predictions that fully one-third of the current firefighting force of approximately 1 million will be injured on the job during the year 2009. Of those who will be injured, it is estimated that over half do not have adequate insurance coverage to attend their needs. Is this any way to treat the Bravest?
Change Comes Slowly to America's Firehouses
Our firefighting counterparts of just 50 years ago were leather-lunged old salts who were overworked, under trained and poorly equipped. Without adequate personal protection, or proper equipment, a "career" in the fire service back then was a sure-fire invitation to an early grave.
Thankfully, our job as firefighters has evolved into a high-tech profession. During the last generation alone, the fire-rescue service has seen more change than it did in its first 300 years. But change comes slowly to America’s firehouses.
In the years immediately following World War II, some of the technology that had been made available to the armed services was brought home to fire stations by the soldiers and sailors who actually used it. Tools and equipment like Chem-Ox masks, fog nozzles, even 1.5 inch hose were all born from military uses during the War. Imagine the culture shock that existed among veteran firefighters, when these "wet behind the ears" probies introduced their new toys. Hell, the old-timers we're just growing accustomed to motorized apparatus.
But the post War techno-revolution was short-lived, and our counterparts of the late 50's and early 60's found themselves falling way behind the rest of society. The World was changing, and so were our first-alarm districts. In homes and businesses, wooden furniture and cotton products were replaced by plastics and hydrocarbons, which changed the way we did business at fires. The DuPont slogan, "Better Living Through Chemistry," brought new meaning to America's Bravest.
Without proper equipment and training, fighting these "new wave" fires was a tough game. By 1965, we'd lost possession of the ball and our forward momentum had stalled. Our coaching staff was perplexed and the spectators were beginning to lose their interest.
The Fire Act
In 1972 President Richard M. Nixon (a Republican) made a bold move by appointing a special commission to study the fire problem here in the United States. His directive was simple -- determine the fire problems, and make suggestions on how to fix them. Nixon was determined to make the Commission succeed, and he did so by enlisting and recruiting the nation's movers and shakers of the fire-rescue services.
Once together, theirs was no small task. The commission took on some very controversial issues including rising civilian deaths, firefighter safety, the high-rise dilemma, and fire prevention. Their report "America Burning" was a harsh, and very critical review of the fire situation here in America.
"It is appalling,' the report began, 'that the most technologically advanced nation in the World, reports the highest per-capita fire deaths and monetary fire loss." The commission pulled no punches in their treatment of the issues, and those of us who serve today, owe a great deal to the men and women who recommended the changes that most of us take for granted.
35 Years After
However, now 35 years later, the fire problem here in the United States has once again raised its fiery head. And according to fire administrators, the situation seems to be getting worse, instead of better.
“To a great extent, the fire problem in America remains as severe as it was 30 years ago.” That’s the very first sentence from “America Burning Recommissioned,” a report dealing with progress made since the introduction of the Fire Act. Even with the introduction of the smoke detectors and a greater emphasis on public education, the incidence of fire in this nation has increased to an alarming rate. Why? Some say it’s public apathy.
“Americans have always been neglectful of safety and loss prevention,” says investigative journalist Herb Denenberg, He adds, “Perhaps we are more focused on producing wealth than preserving it.” The new commission agreed. “The indifference with which Americans confront the subject, which the 1973 Commission found so striking, continues today.”
Fire is the most common of all home disasters and the third leading cause of accidental injury and death in the home. Fires spread very quickly, but it isn’t the flames that kill! Deadly smoke and poisonous gases snuff the life out of victims long before the flames reach them. There's no time to stop and think and wonder what's the best thing to do. The situation can change in seconds. Half a minute after the smoke alarm goes off, an entire floor of your house could be filled with dense smoke.
More than 4,500 Americans die each year in fires and over 100,000 are injured. An overwhelming number of these lif- threatening fires occur in the home. However, there are time-tested ways to prevent and survive a fire. It's not a question of luck - it's a matter of planning ahead.
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
by: Lou Angeli
Simply put, room and contents begin to burn at a very rapid rate during the growth stage of the blaze. Heat is radiated from burning combustibles, then reradiated by the walls and other structural elements. This "thermal feedback" causes an even greater acceleration of heat. Finally, the entire room and its contents ignite with violent and explosive force.Our culture and its technology have served as a major contributor to the problem of flashover.
Low Tech System - High Tech Results
According to Roland Lindquist, Director of the Raddnings Verket, (The Swedish Fire Rescue Services Board) the system was adopted by all departments in Sweden by 1990. Instructors there further refined both classroom and hands-on curriculum, and today every Swedish firefighter is required to take this special training course. It's dubbed the Swede Survival System, and it's taken Europe, and this nation, by storm.
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
From preschool teachers to hospitals aides, there are many people in critical roles whose salaries don't necessarily reflect the importance of their professional contributions. You may be surprised to find out who's making the bare minimum.
1. Emergency Medical Technician (EMT)
Bottom 10% earn: $8.79 per hour
U.S. median salary: $11.41 per hour
Job description: Assess injuries, administer emergency medical care, and extricate trapped individuals. Transport injured or sick persons to medical facilities.
An EMT may pull you from a car wreck and keep you alive on your way to the hospital -- and maybe for as little as $9 an hour? New EMTs must be brave, decisive, compassionate, and knowledgeable. Fortunately, their salaries go up after they get some experience under their belts.
My question: Do salaries really increase with experience?
Wednesday, September 09, 2009
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.
This is not a tale of heroics -- nor is it an account of the devastation. Those facts are already evident and well documented. This is the story of the people who worked at the worst emergency scene imaginable -- firefighters, law enforcement, and medics -- united as one group, and bound by a common goal.
Please Read "Eight Years Later"
(Anytown, USA) -- They are the folks who leave behind family and home at a moment’s notice to help a neighbor or other any person in need. That’s the story of 800,000 Americans who serve as fire-rescue volunteers. Until recently, it was a story that brought pride and inspiration to 80% of the communities in this nation.
But times have changed and what was once America’s greatest emergency asset is suffering from a variety of setbacks.
A generation ago, when the fire whistle blew, members raced to the firehouse – almost as if someone’s life depended on it. Every firefighter’s goal was to arrive at the station as quickly as possible, in order to ride out on the first responding engine.
“Within 3 minutes of the alarm being sounded, that firetruck was packed with firefighters,” says Paul Brown, a veteran Delaware volunteer. “There were so many of us onboard that we often left the station with guys riding atop the hosebed.”
In 1976 it was this country’s largest private club. But a generation later, the sad truth is that somewhere along the line many of Firefighter Brown’s colleagues fell off the hose wagon. With membership numbers dropping, the inability to retain well trained personnel and with very few new recruits, the American volunteer service is in dire straits and some say that its downward spiral is irreversible.
With the notion that fire-rescue services are a given, supported by some secret stash of tax dollars, the public never really learns about the hard, cold reality of delivering and managing fire-rescue services in North America’s suburban and rural communities. Citizens expect, and government claims they rightfully deserve first-class fire protection, no matter where they reside. In fact, most citizens assume that the vast majority of firefighters receive a paycheck.
“They think of us as the glitzy, metropolitan image of the ideal firefighter,” says Michael Donofrio, a volunteer in suburban Philadelphia. “What they don’t know is that 80% of us work for free, in departments that often are ill prepared to do an effective job.”
Asking Folks To Risk Their Lives - For Free
Many of North America’s volunteer fire departments are hurting - in a very big way. Problem #1 for volunteer administrators is finding suitable individuals to serve at America’s most dangerous occupation - for free.
When I first became a firefighter 23 years ago, I simply filled out a one-page application, submitted it to the membership chairman, and 56 of the 57 members attending the company meeting voted me “in” as a member. I was issued a locker and turnout gear, and responded to my first call within 2 hours of my acceptance into the company.
These days it’s not quite that easy. Prospective members must endure a thorough screening, medical physicals, extensive background checks and face-to-face interviews, before they’re presented to the membership. And in my mind, that’s a real good thing. Some questionable individuals, who were invited to ride the back step in 1976, wouldn’t make the cut in today’s volunteer fire service. But eliminating warm bodies has taken a toll on the system’s overall numbers.
Keeping The Good Ones:
A generation ago, Firefighter I and II, a 40 hour EMT course, and an Extrication class were all we really needed to be certified as firefighters. These days, similar training merely earns a spot in the jumpseat of the last out rig. In an industry that has evolved into a multi-task emergency response system, training volunteers for every eventuality requires a major commitment on the part of individual members.
The question in many minds is, how much more can we ask of our volunteer members?”With families and two jobs it’s a commitment that many just can’t make. For departments, retaining these qualified, trained personnel becomes a real challenge. The reward of the annual banquet dinner or Christmas party somehow has lost its appeal.
Managing Costs With Limited Funds:
“Running a volunteer department has become a real art,” one chief officer told me recently. “…because technology keeps bashing us in the head.” As the fire-rescue business diversifies to include specialty tasks such as haz-mat and terrorism response, the need for expensive, high-tech equipment becomes a costly reality.
With these new tools comes another costly demand – additional training.Volunteer departments on the East Coast are fortunate. There is a huge tax base from which to draw, and the most costly line items – salaries and benefits – don’t appear on the spreadsheet.
On Long Island, for example, volunteer departments operate with new, state-of-the-art apparatus, working from stations that are so large and well equipped that they’ve earned the nickname “fire cathedrals.”Unfortunately, the vast majority of volunteer fire departments don’t enjoy the same level of support as their colleagues in the Mid-Atlantic States.
For example, Oceanside, Long Island’s vintage parade pumper might be some other department’s first-out machine. Can you imagine stretching a hose line from a 35-year-old rig, not knowing whether the pump will draw an adequate vacuum, or simply grind to a halt? Or worse yet, responding to the call in protective equipment that was a “hand me down” in 1978.
There are many among us who do it every day. That’s the predicament faced by thousands of departments nationwide, especially those in America’s heartland. When the cards are laid out on the table, it’s clear to see that inadequate funding often forces small town fire administrators to gamble with firefighters’ lives.
Providing Adequate Daytime Response:
But the issue that is common to all volunteer departments, large or small, and regardless of funding, is that of Daytime staffing and response. More than any other issue, it has become the prime fodder that fuels the ongoing debate over volunteer vs. career. And it is this often-heated debate, which has allowed the problems of America’s volunteers to surface in headlines and on TV, bringing the entire system (good and bad) under public scrutiny.
The problem is simple - the solution is not. Simply stated, the volunteer system functions best after 5pm, when the majority of its members have returned from their full time jobs, and are readily available to respond to emergencies. Unfortunately, the fire beast, an inattentive driver or a broken down human heart could care less about job commitments and the 9 to 5 routine of daily life. Serious emergencies strike where they want, when they want, as often as they want.
More than all of the other problems combined, the issue of daytime response is the most important for the volunteer sector to address. For many departments around the country it means bringing paid personnel aboard to serve as the nucleus for daytime response. For others it means consolidation and relinquishing control to a greater authority.
Career proponents are eager to begin the conversion, however die-hard volunteers are vehemently opposed to either solution.
But one thing is certain, whether it’s poor staffing or the inability to place rolling stock on the street in a timely fashion; the situation is looking quite grim for the Volunteer Fire-Rescue Service. And many of those who make firefighting and EMS part of their lifestyle and living, believe that it’s the beginning of the end for one of this nation’s most venerable of institutions.
Monday, August 31, 2009
The fire started near the City of LaCanada in the foothills of the Angeles National Forest, part of the San Gabriel Mountains. Yesterday, 32,000 acres of super-dry Douglas Fir, Scrub Oak and Manzanita were ablaze, fed by 20mph winds. By 4:30pm (EDT) today, the Los Angeles County Fire Department reported that 105,000 acres were involved, and the inferno shows no signs of letting up.
The fire is also threatening the Mount Lukens TV Tower Site, Mount Wilson Communications Facilities and the Observatory itself. Command fears that the blaze may reach these locations within the next 24 hours.
According to the LA County Fire Department website, flames as tall as 80 feet are the norm for this rapidly advancing blaze. The loom-up of dense white smoke could be seen as far as Ventura, along the Pacific coastline.
Unified Command is in place with the US Forestry Service serving as the lead agency.
In addition to USFS fire units, the National Park Service, LA County, LA City, CalFire, Glendale and Pasadena Fire Departments are all in service. In total, 2600 personnel operating from 290 Engines are on the frontlines, being aided by 8 air tankers, 7 heli-tankers and 6 helicopters.
Sunday, August 30, 2009
Originally uploaded by Sbaros
Story by: Lou AngeliLOS ANGELES (August 31, 2009) -- This photo, taken from atop the Hollywood Hills along Mulholland Drive, shows Los Angeles in the foreground, and the raging Station Fire in the Angeles National Forest in the background.
As of Monday morning 42,000 acres are burning as Santa Ana winds increase to 20mph with a humidity of just 6%. 2,500 firefighters from a dozen agencies are now working under unified command headed by the USFS.
On Sunday, two Los Angeles County firefighters were killed when their vehicle went over an embankment and into a ravine during heavy fire activity. Capt. Tedmund Hall, 47, and Spc. Arnaldo Quinones, 35, are the first line-of-duty deaths on this blaze, which promises to be one of the largest in California history. Captain Hall had just completed 26 years with LA County, Firefighter Quinones, a marine veteran, 6 years.
The wildland blaze is beginning to affect the intermix and evacuations have been ordered. 10,000 homes are threatened along with 500 commercial properties and 2,000 other stuctures.
Just last week I toured this region, when the USFS had posted the fire potential as EXTREME. Integrated Command is currently focusing on keeping the fire from moving westward, into the city of Los Angeles. The fire continues to move eastward unchecked.
PHOTO BY: SBAROS
Thursday, August 27, 2009
Thursday, May 28, 2009
Citizens Form Volunteer Brigades To Assist Career Colleagues
by: Lou Angeli
Well, today is next Thursday, and it has come and gone. The administration will not consider a simple language change, a short clause which would protect newly-hired firefighters from being dropped. A small request to bring about unity and guarantee citizen safety.
In the meantime, Lord William Montgomery suggested that 8 layoffs would not be sufficient and to expect more firings.
"We're considering 30 layoffs in total,' Montgomery explained, 'because we still haven't fully funded the Barber Shop Quartet Festival," which is scheduled to be held on the Riverfront in August.
Montgomery continued, "Knocking off another 22 firefighters should do the trick and provide us the monies needed to make this a wholesome, well attended event."
In the meantime, Wilmingtonians are gearing up to provide their own fire-rescue protection. In the city's Little Italy section, a new mimi-pumper was donated by private contributions to residents of "The Antonian," a high rise apartment complex for the elderly. The brigade is currently conducting training in the parish rectory, and includes both men and women.
Leading the new brigade into action is Brother Mike, a St. Anthony's icon, most recognized for his work during the Italian festival. Mike is confident that the brigade will be effective.
"I guarantee you that we'll smoke Engine 6 anywhere northof 8th Street," said the 87 year old Oblate. "Hell, let em roll the entire house -- we'll have the fire knocked down by the time they arrive."
"They can take up my freakin' lines!" said Dolores DeFeo, who at 92, is wagon driver for the brigade.
Dolores proudly notes that she comes from firefighting stock. Her great grandfather was part of the Rome Fire Brigade during Nero's famous violin solo.
"We concede that our career colleagues are under a bit of a disadvantage," said Rev. Theo Green, of Riverside. "We're simply trying to give them a helping hand during these hard times."
It's Rev Green and Brother Mike's enthusiasm that will allow the members of the Wilmington Fire Department to keep their minds during the final years of the Baker administration.
We're all hoping that by then, someone special ascends to Wilmington's Mayordom. Perhaps someone who understands that public safety is about protecting the citizen public -- not playing head games with firefighters and law enforcement personnel.
Note: Like Weekend Update, many of the stories and comments which appear in the piece have been fabricated. For example, Dolores DeFeo is only 91.
KEN de la BASTIDE
KOKOMO, IN (May 28, 2009) The two highest ranking administrative officers of the Kokomo Fire Department have resigned their positions as a result of Mayor Greg Goodnight's decision to lay off 12 firefighters.
Chief Scott Kern, a 20-year veteran of the department, and Assistant Chief Randy Wilson submitted their letters of resignation Friday to Goodnight, according to city spokesman David Gavin. The resignations took effect on Sunday.
Both Kern and Wilson remain with the department. Gavin said Goodnight has named Deputy Chief Brad Myers as acting chief. Earlier this month, Goodnight ended the department's EMS service. Those duties were shifted to Howard Regional Health System and St. Joseph Hospital.
The layoff of the 12 firefighters was not unexpected. Jeremy Shaw, president of Local 396 of the International Association of Firefighters Union, said last week that since Goodnight took office on Jan. 1, 2008, the number of firefighters has declined from 121 to 100.
Kern said last week that Goodnight’s decision jeopardizes safety at fire scenes for members of the department.
Goodnight said Kern has mentioned resigning three or four times in the past few weeks.Kern could not be reached for comment.“What we have done is revamp the fire department,”
Goodnight said Tuesday. “We have eliminated two administrative offices, reducing that number from eight to six and eliminated ambulance transport, which had 15 jobs associated with the service but only eliminated 12 positions.
“We have the same number of people at each station and truck and the same number of stations,” he continued.
Goodnight said he met three times with officials of Local 396 to provide them an opportunity to help find a solution. He said the union recommended closing Kokomo Beach and the Senior Citizens Center. Goodnight said that would not provide enough savings.
“This is an attempt by firefighters to hold onto their benefits,” Goodnight said. “The union president also suggested a trash fee, which the citizens of Kokomo can’t afford.”
A pamphlet being distributed by the firefighters union is urging residents to speak out against the cuts in the fire department.
“Hardest hit will be the southeastern and southwestern parts of the city,” the pamphlet reads, “which is troubling since high-occupancy buildings such as the Walnut Creek Apartments, Westbrook Apartments and new library are located in this areas.”
The pamphlet further states with the planned annexation of 14 square miles over the next two years the fire department’s resources will be stretched thinner, which could mean longer response times.
Goodnight said the pamphlet is not accurate in that the Kokomo Fire Department already provides service to 7 square miles of the annexation area that are in Center Township.
“When I eliminated the two management positions, the union said it created a safety issue,” Goodnight said. “When we eliminated ambulance transport, the union said it created a safety issue.
“They say it every single time,” he said. “We have less people in the front office and no people providing ambulance transport. Everything has stayed exactly the same."
Rescource: Kokomo Tribune
Monday, May 25, 2009
Last Thursday evening, Mayor Baker’s controversial FY 2010 budget was sent to City Council for its approval. Prior to the meeting, many believed that passage would be a shoe-in. However, the prospect of losing 8 city firefighters was a major concern for many city council members, and during voting it became clear that the budget would not pass. The vote was tabled for one week, allowing the city and firefighters’ union more time to remedy the problem.
The city wants firefighters to accept a compromise “no salary increase/no layoff” plan, which administration says would avoid the need to layoff firefighters during FY 2010.
Kevin Turner, President of Wilmington Firefighters Local 1590, has indicated that the major stumbling block deals with the “no layoff” language in the proposed agreement. Although probationary firefighters are not yet represented by the union, Turner, an Engine Lieutenant, wants the city to guarantee that the newbies won’t be bumped.
I call upon the Mayor’s Chief of Staff, Bill Montgomery and Local 1590 President Kevin Turner to move quickly in reaching a tentative agreement, much like the one announced by FOP Lodge #1 last week. There is a very short window of opportunity, and tabling the budget again is not an option.
City Council came to the rescue -- please show them that it was a meaningful save.
Public Safety Advocate
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500
Mr. Vice President,
Here in your hometown of Wilmington, firefighters and citizens are marking the closing of RESCUE-ONE, quite possibly the most important fire-rescue unit in the state. The reason? Mayor James Baker's decision to layoff highly trained public servants for not agreeing to his unusual demand to ignore the articles of their contract, which were negotiated and signed just weeks ago.
The citizens of Wilmington and the State are losing the ONLY full-time technical rescue team in the First State. With Rescue-One's closure the city of Wilmington returns to tactics that were used in the 1960's. The family trapped in a wrecked auto along I-95 will be required to wait for a volunteer squad to come to their rescue. Such delayed rescues will deprive them from gaining quick access to definitive health care at nearby Trauma centers.
Workers trapped on a scaffold on the upper floors of a Wilmington High-Rise will be required to wait it out hundreds of feet above the street, as dispatchers check with surrounding cities to determine if fire-rescue administrators are willing to lend assistance. Children caught in a swiftwater Brandywine River will perish as their would be rescuers stand not grabbing hold of a rescue line, but rather holding paperwork in the unemployment line.
Many see Rescue-One's closing as being punitive in nature, as the city administration has turned a deaf ear to dozens of options offered by citizens and firefighters alike.
Mr. Baker’s layoffs make a bad problem worse. The firings will do absolutely nothing to help fix the overriding problem -- overtime. So Chief Willie Patrick will still need to initiate his proposed rolling bypass concept, which closes inadequately staffed stations for the day. There will be days when this city of 75,000 plus will be protected by as few as 24 firefighters -- down from 38.
Mr. Vice President, you have said on several occasions that the burden of current state, county and city financial woes should not be borne on the backs of its public servants. President Obama announced last week substantial increases in the SAFER program, which you helped develop as co-chair of the Congressional Fire Services Institute. Surely, Wilmington's finance officer could develop a proposal requesting assistance from the SAFER fund.
I know that your schedule is extremely tight, but many of us in Wilmington are hoping that a phone call to the Mayor may help him re-think this decision.
I respectfully submit this letter as a firefighter advocate, and as the rookie firefighter who responded, along with Larry Mertgenthaler and Don Lentes, to the horrible accident that affected you and your family in December of 1972.
2203 N. Harrison Street
Wilmington, DE 19802
Saturday, May 09, 2009
Originally uploaded by kevinalanbaum
SANTA BARBARA, CA (May 9, 2009) -- Flames consume a multimillion dollar home on a hillside above the City of Santa Barbara. The evacuation area now includes many urban areas of Santa Barbara City as far as Highway 101 along the Pacific Coast.
Unified Command reports 30% containment, with 9,000 acres burned and 70 structures destroyed.Structure protection is the current mission, with 3500 residences and 100 commercial properties threatened by the blaze.
Nearly 5,000 firefighters operating 500 engines are currently assigned to the blaze, which has been burning for 5 days now. In addition to CalFire personnel, firefighters from Santa Barbara City and County, Ventura County, OES, USFS and BLM are also on scene.
CalFire and other agencies have set up a comprehensive website dealing with all aspects of the conflagration.
You can listen to fire command operations LIVE on ScanAmerica.
Thursday, May 07, 2009
Named the Jesusita Fire, flames are quickly surrounding Santa Barabara, which just last November experienced the Tea Fire, which consumed more than 200 homes. In mid summer of 2008, the Gap Fire threatened thousands of homes, while burning nearly 10,000 acres
McElroy added that statewide mass mutual aid had already been requested.
Even with winds gusting to 50mph, three were quickly helicopters were placed in service and air tankers were making their way to the scene.
Sunday, May 03, 2009
WILMINGTON, DE (May 6, 2009) -- The national public safety hit list hit home this past week, when Wilmington, DE Mayor James Baker announced layoffs of firefighting and police personnel. How Baker tagged the fire department is somewhat fishy but a story worth sharing.
Just a few weeks ago, Local 1590, the Wilmington Fire Fighters Association and the city agreed on a new contract, after the fire department had been working without one for over 2 years. The members received slim raises, but there was comfort knowing that the city fire department would finally be working at authorized staffing for the first time in nearly 20 years.
In the meantime, Chief Willie Patrick, CFO and his administrative staff had labored diligently to cut nearly $800,000 from the department's 2010 budget at the Mayor’s request. They presented the plan to Wilmington City Council last week, who had questions and asked for clarifications, but suggested no changes.
The biggest money saver for the city would have been Patrick’s concept of “rolling bypasses”, which would close a single company for the day, if it were understaffed due to vacation or illness. Overtime personnel normally fill those positions, but since the mission was to drastically reduce overtime pay, bypass was fair resolution. It was a win-win-win situation for everyone – the citizens, city government and the firefighters, since staffing would remain the same and there would be no company closings.
Then, last week, Mayor Baker announced the layoffs, claiming that Local 1590 would not agree to freeze their newly authorized wage increase. His announcement came as a shock to the firefighting community, since he made no reference whatsoever to raise freezes just days before while the city and union were hammering out a settlement.
Incredibly, no one came to the firefighters’ defense, and the local newspaper, the News-Journal, did nothing to report on the impact of such layoffs to city residents. Well, since the News Journal didn’t feel the need to report the bad news, here it is.
I’m told that at least, 20 Wilmington firefighters will be fired– and the city's job hackers will be going back through the past three recruit classes to find enough firefighters to axe. Some of these brave men and women have invested 10 years on-the-job, and will soon lose their health benefits and payments into the pension system.
With 20 members gone, somewhere in Wilmington, a company will certainly be closed down. In the most logical scenario, the closure will likely be Rescue-1, which responds to every alarm in the city providing fire scene rescue, auto extrication, water rescue, high-angle rescue, technical rescue and hazmat mitigation. Rescue-1's closure will have immediate ramifications on emergency response and deny city residents the same level of protection that the smallest neighboring volunteer companies provide on a daily basis.
Historically speaking, when Wilmington shuts down a firehouse or closes a company, it never re-opens again. In the last generation alone, the city has lost four companies and two stations to cutbacks, none of which have ever come back online.
Expect 30 firefighters per shift
Unfortunately, Mr. Baker’s layoffs will do absolutely nothing to help fix the overtime problem, so Chief Patrick will still need to initiate the rolling bypass concept. There will be days when this city of 75,000 plus will be protected by as few as 3 engines and 2 ladders, or some combination thereof.
In order to fight a working fire, the WFD will be calling on neighboring volunteer companies more and more often to provide Rapid Intervention Teams, cover-up companies, even suppression units during large scale blazes. The volunteers are barely handling their own load, especially during the daytime hours, and are now be told to back-up their career colleagues with NO compensation whatsoever. The city receives pro-bono firefighting services by relying on an age old mutual aid agreement.
However, for those of you who recall layoffs and closings in Camden, NJ about 10 years ago, South Jersey volunteers and the City of Philadelphia FD were being called into Camden several times each week to handle an endless wave of arsons. But after a year, the volunteers got wise to Camden's ways and stopped responding, as did the City of Philadelphia -- and one could only watch as Camden burned, burned and burned some more.
Just a few weeks ago, Vice President Joe Biden emphasized that city, county and state fiscal woes “would not be borne on the backs of public safety personnel.” Evidently Joe’s friend, Mayor James Baker, and so many other public officials, didn’t tune into CNN for that speech.
"I find it difficult to comprehend that an elected official would endanger his constituents and end the careers of so many dedicated firefighter/EMT's based on retaliation." said Michelle Jones, a resident of the 40 Acres section of the city.
"The mayor is pointing the finger of blame at the firefighter's union,' she added, 'when in reality, it is his (Baker's) decision alone that will soon place the citizens of Wilmington at risk."
Update: On May 7, 2009, President Barack Obama fulfilled a campaign commitment by proposing a huge funding increase for Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grants, which has been the IAFF's signature program. The extra funding is being made available to career departments in order to keep firefighters in firehouse, not the unemployment line. A portion of these funds could be directed to the Wilmington Fire Department, if someone would simply apply for the assistance.
Tuesday, April 28, 2009
Dateline USA (April 28, 2009) -- Firefighting by definition is a dangerous job. As a fire officer, you carefully consider the situation before allowing those under your command to run into a burning building. You must be certain that they can make a real difference in someone’s life. But “running in” takes on new meaning especially when you’re one of only a few firefighters on the scene.
The concept of operating at a blaze with a handful of personnel is foreign to many firefighters, both career and volunteer. But during these hard times, more and more city administrators are looking toward the public safety sector to make cuts in order to make ends meet. To them, getting several apparatus to the fire is what the public expects, despite the fact that many of the rigs are staffed with 2 and 1 man companies.
See Keokuk, IA Fire Department, December, 1999.
You heard it right, a driver and partner to make up the supply line, advance the attack line, make forcible entry, and attempt rescues until the 2nd due company rolls in with additional help. Hopefully, the “2nd due” company, staffed by yet another 2 man crew, will arrive quickly. It’s a procedure that troubles firefighters and union officials, and when it tragically hits home, the citizen public will be in an uproar.
Authorized Staffing vs. Overtime
Google the term “fire department layoffs,” and you’ll instantly find dozens of current references to staffing reductions in career departments, large and small, nationwide. Why layoff firefighters or any members of Public Safety? Well, according to many city administrators, the layoffs are necessary to offset the extraordinary amount of money spent to cover firefighter overtime.
Voices from the fire-side say government officials are using the economic downturn as an excuse to close companies and layoff firefighters, with no intention of returning the lost companies to service once the economy is back on track.
The overtime issue has become so controversial, that in some cities like Buffalo, NY, citizens rebuke firefighters, suggesting that excessive overtime payouts are an abuse of taxpayer dollars. But if you dig a tiny bit deeper into the story, you’ll learn the real reason why overtime is needed and justified.
With an authorized staffing level of 766, BFD currently employs only 631 uniformed personnel. So at the beginning of each shift, dozens of positions remain vacant and must be filled with off duty firefighters, in order to properly staff the city’s 19 Engines, 9 Ladder Trucks and Heavy Rescue Squad. Thankfully, some taxpayers now get it, and have figured out the solution on their own.
“If the city hired the additional firefighters,’ one Buffalo resident notes, ‘their combined salaries and benefits would total less than the money spent on overtime.”
Hardest hit during the current recession are small, career and combination departments, where proper staffing is always an issue. Take a city like Mansfield, Ohio, where the fire department operates 6 Engines, 2 Ladders and 3 EMS Units. Under the NFPA’s minimum staffing guidelines, the city should employ 3 shifts of at least 40 firefighters to cover the current positions.
However, the actual number of firefighters on Mansfield’s roster is just 103, and the Mayor has promised to lay off an additional 25 firefighters. With those members gone, companies would be staffed with just 1 or 2 firefighters, which some assert is a disaster waiting to happen.
Be prepared – Because we’re not coming in!
To his credit, Mansfied Chief John Harsch has notified city officials, the press, and the general public to expect a lower level of service from his fire department, if the layoffs take place.
"We'll cease being...an interior attack fire department and go to an exterior fire department to protect exposures.” Harsch told reporters. “It won't be safe for the firefighters to go in the house and we will not risk personnel for property.”
Harsch, who was never notified of the potential layoffs added, “I would recommend (that) citizens have a few working smoke detectors if they don't already."
With so few firefighters, Mansfield would be forced to renege on long standing mutual aid pacts with departments surrounding the city.
“I have a responsibility to help (the citizens) here,” Harsch said. “It’s gonna be different. Our goal in this is to figure out how to work everyday with less.”
Not far away, in another central Ohio city, IAFF Local 474 representing the City of Elyria’s firefighters, have launched a public service website entitled “Elyria At Risk.” It’s a great template for other IAFF locals to emulate, in order to explain to citizens how cuts in companies and staffing affect their safety.
Elyria Fire Department’s authorized staffing was 88 firefighters, and until recently operated from four fire stations with 3 shifts of 24, plus additional daytime administrative personnel. In recent weeks, 25 firefighters were laid off, leaving just 14 firefighters per shift to protect the community. A tough task, since most fire experts agree that to fight a working, one-alarm house fire,17 personnel are required. Once on the scene, Elyria’s firefighters can expect no back-ups, no fresh troops not even a RIT TEAM.
View graph depicting effectiveness of one-man vs. 4-person staffing.
Some other cities, which have been targeted by the fiscal axe include; Spokane Fire Department (24+ layoffs), Woonsocket, RI (22 layoffs), Monroe, MI (1/2 of the department to be laid off), Clifton, NJ (17 layoffs, 1 station closing), and the FDNY, which is facing layoffs totaling over 5% of its 12,000 member force.
What we're seeing is a risky trend, because city administrators are placing the public and firefighters at risk. The mere suggestion that 5 or 6 firemen can mitigate a working house fire shows a total ignorance of firefighting tactics and a blatant disregard for personal safety.
"We need to reduce staffing and be fiscally responsible." one mayor said. If there is a significant fire he added, "...we'll use neighboring volunteer departments for mutual aid." However, most volunteer chiefs acknowledge that their own staffing is way down, and what resources they do have are dedicated to protecting their local alarm district.
Like the Ohio fire chief says, check the batteries in your smoke detector, because we won't be able to come in and get you.
Thursday, April 23, 2009
For the city Fire Department, which just recently began operating at its authorized strength, the loss of jobs, combined with members who are on extended sick leave (one with cancer) and a huge drop in overtime, most certainly will result in company closings. And I did use the plural.
These layoffs will come quickly, without city council's yea or nay. First to go will be the 8 members of WFD's 35th recruit class, who have only been on the job for a little over a month. One of those recruits, Ffr. Cameron Dorsey (Class President) saw very little action as he was seriosuly burned during a rescue and firefight on Adams Street.
I'm not planning to spend a great deal of time writing a response, because my last report was determined by fire management to be misleading and untrue. Unfortunately, today's events make my initial analysis far more conservative than what will now take place.
City Begins Process of Laying Off Unionized Employees After Union Presidents Reject Mayor’s Plan to Preserve Jobs and Benefits in FY 2010
Wilmington Mayor James M. Baker today directed Chief of Staff William Montgomery to begin the process of identifying and then notifying as many as 75 unionized City employees that they will be laid-off in the FY 2010 fiscal year beginning July 1.
The Mayor said he has now regrettably been forced to plan for lay-offs because the Presidents of AFSCME Locals 320, 1102, 1102B, Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #1 and International Association of Firefighters Local 1590 have rejected his request that the City’s union employees forego salary and step increases next fiscal year while maintaining their current jobs, salaries and benefits.
The Mayor and the Presidents of the unions were scheduled to meet on Tuesday, April 21, to discuss his request. Instead, the Presidents sent a letter to the Mayor dated April 17 cancelling the meeting and rejecting his plan to preserve the jobs and benefits of all City employees in exchange for the elimination FY 2010 salary and step increases.
Mayor Baker said even though the City will move forward now with layoffs of union employees, he remains ready and willing to further discuss with the union leaders the consequences of their decision.
When the Mayor presented his Fiscal Year 2010 Operating Budget to City Council in March, he announced that the City is struggling to close an estimated $20 million deficit.
To close the gap in anticipated revenue versus expenditures, the Mayor cut $15 million in proposed or planned City spending and requested $7.2 million in new taxes and fees for City residents and businesses. He also proposed no layoffs for City employees, but said all employees must forego salary and step pay increases equaling $2.5 million.
“It is not fair to ask taxpayers, who are already stressed in the current economic climate, for more money to operate the government; nor is it fair to ask our Department Directors to operate their units next year with severely reduced budgets across the board, only to have our City’s union leadership refuse to share in the sacrifices we all have to make to get the City out of a deep fiscal hole,” said Mayor Baker.
The Mayor said he will still move forward with part of his deficit-reduction decision by eliminating all salary and step increases for FY 2010 for non-union City employees. The Mayor said as a result, no non-union City employee will be laid-off.
Mayor Baker said it is unfortunate that the leaders of the City’s unions have forced his hand when it comes to laying off their members.
Via John Rago
Director of Communications and Policy Development
City of Wilmington
Tuesday, April 07, 2009
by: Lou Angeli
L’AQUILA, Italy (April 7, 2009) -- Nearly 5 DAYS since a 6.2 magnitude earthquake rocked the Abruzzo city of L'Aquila, rescuers are continuing to search for victims, who may be trapped deep in the debris of a university dorm.
The death toll has climbed past 250, another 50 citizens are missing, and 2000 have been injured, some critically. The Ministry of the Interior reports that 15,000 structures have been completely demolished, and the number of homeless is placed at 30,000.
To make a tragic situation even worse, the area has been hit with dozens of aftershocks, the most recent registering a 5.6 magnitude.
Unlike disasters here in the states, the press won’t be reporting on delays in emergency personnel and supplies. Why? They were on location within hours. How did Italian emergency responders mount such a quick response? Simple. The lack of red tape and a damned good preplan.
According to David Alexander, who teaches emergency planning in Europe, the Italian government designed their Disaster Response plan around a "key component found in every province and locale"…the Fire-Rescue service or the Vigili Del Fuoco.
The Vigili Del Fuoco is much different than fire departments here in the states. In Italy, the fire-rescue service is a single, national entity and is paramilitary in design.. So whether a firefighter is assigned to a small station in the Alps, or working a big city like Naples, tactics, command and apparatus are identical.
Comapre that to the states where we have 31,000 agencies with 31,000 different commanders. And even though most of America's Fire-Rescue-EMS service have integrated Incident Command into the operations, our system continues to focus on mitigation of the incident, then followed by caring for those who are homeless.
“When the disaster presents itself in Italy,’ says Howard, ‘the unified response system kicks in immediately.”
The Italian system, known as the Augustus Plan, takes our Incident Command system a step further by automatically integrating municipal emergency agencies – like police and EMS – into the Fire-Rescue system.
- Command has divided the disaster region into four sectors, from 4 base camps.
- 169 senior officers
- In addition to 1000 firefighters on scene, another 2650 are responding.
- 90 specialized recovery teams from 6 surrounding regions
- 48 Volunteer First-Responder Teams of 100
- 6 Urban Search and Rescue Teams
- There are 1,000 Engines or Tankers on scene.
- 24 Ladder Trucks
- 30 Rescue Vehicles
- 6 Cranes
- 4 Bell 412 helicopters
- 6 Agusta EMS helicopters
- 3 Satellite Transmission Vehicles