Monday, February 23, 2009

Firefighters Train With new Bell 412

Delaware State Police Aviation crew introduce Wilmington firefighters to Bell 412.

Trooper-4 (Heavy), a Bell 412 pictured in the foreground, with Trooper-2 (Bell 407) in the background, as aviation team members work with Wilmington, Delaware firefighters during a training evolution using the rescue basket. As part of its multi-mission mandate, The Delaware State Police Aviation Unit, provides search and rescue along the busy Delaware River and Bay, from Philadelphia area to the Atlantic Ocean.

You can view my documentary on the Bell 407 by clicking here! Many thanks to Master Cpl. Robert McMahon, now retired from DSP, for his assistance in producing the video.

More photos of DSP helicopters and operations on FLICKR.

(photo by Lou Angeli)

Friday, February 20, 2009

Alleged Arsonist Applied to be a Firefighter

Roger Barlow, Jr: Arrested and Charged

COATESVILLE, PA. (February 20, 2009) -- Two young men have been arrested and charged with a string of arsons that have terrorized the citizens of Coatesville, PA in Chester County. 19 year old Roger Barlow was arrested and charged by local authorities, while 20 year old Mark Gilliam was arrested by members of an ATF Task Force.

According to officials, Gilliam of West Bradford, PA had applied for membership with the West Bradford Fire Company as recently as January, according to the fire company. In a press release issued by the fire company on Friday afternoon, fire officials say that Mark Gilliam had applied for membership with their company in January.

However, "in the course of our normal application process, including a background investigation, it was determined that Mr. Gilliam would not be offered a membership with the West Bradford Fire Company." the press release noted.

Fire officials were insistent that Gilliam had not been accepted as a member. "(The company) wishes to reiterate that Mark Gilliam was never a member of the West Bradford Fire Company," the press release said. Thursday evening, Gilliam was charged with the Jan. 25 attempted arson of the Happy Days Family Bistro on East Lincoln Highway in Caln.

Barlow faces far more serious charges including starting a blaze in Coatesville on Jan. 24 fire that ripped through 15 city rowhomes. Barlow, a resident of nearby Downingtown, was arraigned before Magisterial District Judge Rita Arnold on Thursday afternoon. Based on the bail agency's recommendation, Arnold set Barlow's bail at a whopping $9 million. In lieu of bail, he was taken to Chester County Prison.

More on this story at Daily Local News.


Monday, February 16, 2009

Why America Still Burns!

A History Lesson
by: Lou Angeli

Organized chaos. That's how the fire scene is often described. The adrenaline charged atmosphere feels like a battleground. But in this war zone there's no time to develop a battle plan. For the firefight to be successful action must be immediate. Firefighters have only a few precious minutes to defeat their opponent.

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 1,100,000 will be injured on the job during they 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 250 years. 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 1950's 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 of 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." They 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 most of us take for granted.

35 Years Later

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 in the updated report, “America Burning Recommissioned.”

Even with the introduction of the smoke detector, 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 most recent commission agrees. “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 fire itself that kills! 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 150,000 are injured. An overwhelming number of these life-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. Too many fires are caused by carelessness and ignorance of fire safety principles that have been, until now, thought to be obvious. Education about the fire hazard should not only reach children, but to the adult community as well – the caretakers.

But one of the problems for fire departments is finding necessary funding to conduct adult oriented public education programs. Fact is, there are few fire safety informational programs designed for secondary education and adults.

Do you know what you should do if there's a fire? Are you sure? Does everyone who lives in your home know? If you're not able to answer these questions, ask your kid.
In a recent early morning row home fire in Baltimore, a news helicopter arrived before the fire department. Hovering above the scene, the camera reveals a fire that's moving rocket fast through the center of the block, spreading quickly to homes on either side through common cocklofts.

What struck me most about the chopper coverage was the evacuation of the two attached homes -- both led by children. In one scene, a youngster is shown taking his parents and siblings by the hand and moving them to a safer spot further up the block.
Now, that kid deserves a medal.


Friday, February 13, 2009

Dash-7 Crashes Into Fireball

Crew in Buffalo plane crash talked of ice on wings
Originally uploaded by MashGet

Clarence Center, NY (February 13, 2009) -- The crew of the commuter airliner that abruptly fell into a house in suburban Buffalo discussed ice buildup on the windshield and the wings, investigators of the crash that killed 50 people said today.

At an afternoon briefing, National Transportation Safety Board member Steven Chealander said an initial examination of data recorders showed that the crew tried to adjust the landing gear. That could imply that they were trying to gain control of Continental Connection Flight 3407, which crashed Thursday night.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Death Toll from Aussie Blazes Now at 200

VICTORIA, Australia (February 9, 2009) -- Victoria's bushfire death toll has hit 200, as major blazes continued to menace many country towns and a massive relief operation gathered pace. 52 major fires are still burning with some firefighters having worked 3 days with no sleep. More than 700 homes have been destroyed and 330,000 acres have been scorched.

Blazes have been burning for weeks in the southeastern state of Victoria but turned deadly on Saturday when searing temperatures and wind blasts created a firestorm that swept across the region. A long-running drought in the south, the worst in a century, had left forests extra-dry and Saturday's fire conditions were said to be the worst ever in Australia.

Evidence of heart-wrenching loss abounded. From the air, the landscape was blackened as far as the eye could see. In at least one town, bodies still lay in the streets. Entire forests were reduced to leafless, charred trunks, farmland to ashes.

The bushfires have been moving across the terrain with lightning speed, which has made it impossible for firefighters to build firebreaks in order to separate the blazes from tinder dry fuel. Much of their time is spent going into burned towns in an attempt to recover burned corpses.

The Kinglake area remains the worst hit by a fierce 220,000 acre firestorm, which ripped through the region on Saturday, killing 103 people, so far, and destroying over 550 homes. Nearby Marysville was annihilated and is one of dozens of towns that have been declared major crime scenes as police Chief Commissioner Christine Nixon confirmed some fires were deliberately lit.
An emotional Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said the firebugs responsible were nothing short of mass murderers.

"What do you say about anyone like that? There are no words to describe it other than mass murder," Mr Rudd said.

Country Fire Authority (CFA) volunteers have been traumatized by many of their gruesome discoveries and the job of searching for bodies has been taken over by specialized police Disaster Victim Identification (DVI) teams.

As refugees flooded down the mountain from Kinglake and surrounding townships into Whittlesea, emergency relief workers headed the other way, taking desperately needed food, water and fuel supplies to firefighters and those who have remained behind.

"We’ve been making the area safe for firefighters to work in but (we’re) also getting supplies and resources to people on the mountain who decided to stay and protect their properties," CFA spokesman Dave Wolf told AAP.
Many firefighters stood helpless as firestorms roared through communities consuming their own homes and those of their colleagues. While responding to fires in the Yarra Valley on Saturday, Fire Lieutenant Drew Adamson's strike team was stopped just outside Yarra Glen to extinguish an overturned burning car. When he opened the door of the wreck a body fell out.

"It's just like a bomb blast, like street after street is just no longer there.” Adamson said. “You see fireplaces and remnants of tin roofs still there and car bodies, cars that are half alight still."

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Bushfires Rage in Australia: 108 Dead

Compiled from dispatches

VICTORIA, Australia (February 9, 2009) -- The death toll after the worst wildfires in Australian history has risen to 108, with thousands of firefighters tackling the blazes.

Fires caused by temperatures of approximately 116F have burnt countless homes across the state of Victoria, with entire towns destroyed as unpredictable winds and high temperatures combined for the most deadly Australian bush fires in more than 25 years.

"It rained fire," said one survivor, showing his singed shirt. "We hid in the olive grove and watched our house burn."

On Sunday, the remains of charred cars littered the smoldering towns, about 50 miles north of Melbourne. Some vehicles had crashed into each other as their drivers frantically tried to escape the approaching fires.

Thousands of firefighters battled to contain the blazes, which witnesses said reached four stories high and raced across the land like speeding trains, spewing hot embers as far as the horizon. The most serious fires are burning north of the Victorian capital, Melbourne, reported the UK Guardian.

See current County Fire Authoirty Incidents and Statewide Fire Locator

Entire townships were razed to the ground, with television footage showing the picturesque hamlet of Marysville reduced to smoking ruins. Victoria state's Country Fire Authority said only one building was left standing in the popular tourist hamlet.

Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd said the nation had experienced an "appalling tragedy"."Hell in all its fury has visited the good people of Victoria in the last 24 hours," he added.

Queen Elizabeth today expressed her shock at the destruction caused by this weekend's fire."I send my heartfelt condolences to the families of all those who have died and my deep sympathy to the many that have lost their homes in this disaster," the head of the commonwealth said.

Victoria premier John Brumby confirmed he has accepted an offer for help from the national army to assist firefighters in the fight to contain the blazes. He indicated that the state has already received A$10 million in emergency aid.

The neighboring State of New South Wales has sent more than 250 firefighters, 50 tankers, 25 search-and-rescue experts, nine identification experts and five paramedics to help in Australia's worst bushfire disaster. New South Wales Premier Nathan Rees added that the state will provide assistance for as long as is needed to bushfire-ravaged Victoria.

A group of 30 American volunteers, who serve as seasonal smokejumpers with CalFire, plan to fly to Sydney on Monday, then travel to Victoria to assist with the firefighting effort. Ten American firefighters, part of a training team serving in South Australia, are already working on the frontlines north of Melbourne.

The BBC reports that Bushfires are common in Australia, but the current blazes have eclipsed the death toll from what had been the previous worst fire in 1983, when 75 people died on a day that became known as Ash Wednesday.

View slideshow produced by Australian Broadcasting


Saturday, February 07, 2009

Coatesville's Arsonists: Please God, Not the Firefighters?

By: Lou Angeli

COATESVILLE, PA (February 7, 2009) -- Since the first of the year, firefighters in this once bustling steel town have seen more work in a few short weeks, than they might have seen during their entire career. A string of arson fires, now totalling 29, have plagued the city's 12,000 residents, and the multi-agency task force investigating the blazes have no solid leads.

It's a news story that is making world headlines, and has many in the fire-rescue services sitting on the edge of their seats. Why? In the past, similar multiple arson events have been the work of those entrusted to protect the citizens...the firefighters themselves.

Most studies investigating motives for arson note that the "torches" can sometimes be firefighters, who light the blazes for a variety of reasons. Most ofte, when a firefighter turns arsonist, it will usually be out of a desire for excitement or as a way of gaining attention and recognition.

There's not much solid research on the subject, but a 2005 study conducted by the Australian Institute of Criminology suggests that, "There are cases of firefighters who have started a fire, reported it and attended the fire with their unit in the hope of being seen as the hero who saves the community."

As firefighters, the thought of placing some one's life in jeopardy goes against our grain, but the fact is that a considerable number of arson blazes are started by people we would never suspect. In my career as a volunteer, I've experienced the phenomenon up close and personal on three separate occasions.

The three situations were not related and were separated by several years, but they were very similar in that the firesetters had a common motive. They told investigators that they had become bored sitting around the firehouse and wanted to "see some action." So, they chose to light up the night.

In the cases with which I'm familiar, I was stunned when I learned of the actions of my colleagues. Even though all were first offenders -- all received prison time. One of the firefighters, who torched his own apartment complex after removing smoke detector batteries, was convicted of several counts of attempted murder, in addition to a slew of arson convictions. It's clear that when once caught, charged, tried and convicted, judges and juries can be expected to come down hard on those who have sworn to a higher power that they serve to save lives and protect property.

For other members of the department, it's tough to tell when a resident arsonist has begun his run. At first, it's simply chalked off to a busy spell. But then a pattern emerges including types of structures, time of day and the arrival of the unusually prompt arrival of the Fire Marshal's SUV while companies are taking up.

The Coatesville Pattern

To understand the arson problem in Coatesville, you need to understand the history of the Fire Department. A few decades ago, the city's huge steel mills once employed thousands, most of whom lived in the neighborhoods surrounding the factories. It was these blue collar workers who also served to operate the city's three volunteer fire stations, some of which were the oldest in the Commonwealth.

But then came the unexpected -- cheap Japanese steel. With that the demand for Coatesville product plumetted and soon the mills shut down with workers moving elsewhere to find jobs. The historic downtown area was left to slowly rot and the housing situation went the way of nearby cities like Philadelphia and Chester. Coatesville's plight came complete with other big city problems like drugs. gangs and street crime.

Over the past 10 years, the volunteer companies have been disbanded. Today, the Coatesville Fire Department operates two fire stations staffed by 7 career firefighters, who are augmented by volunteers who served in the old companies. Like any combination system, the department sometimes experiences problems with adequate staffing, but during the current run of arson jobs, there seems to be no shortage of firefighters.

In reviewing the recent news stories and statistics, most of the arsons happen in the evening after 9pm, and of those the majority occur on weekend nights. Although the department no longer is accepting volunteer applications, nearby volunteer companies conduct move-ups during peak hours in anticipation of more work and cover-ups.

Click here to review locations of fires determined to be arson.

Kudos to the City Fathers

The city administration has been pro-active during this entire ordeal. The Mayor declared a formal state of emergency, giving him the immediate power to acquire resources it may need as it continues to try to battle this plague of fires that have hit the city. Fire Chief Kevin Johnson has referred to the blazes as the "...the work of terrorists."

"The safety of our residents is our No. 1 priority, and we will do whatever is necessary to protect them," said Police Chief William Matthews. "We are hoping that all residents will comply with our requests."

The most recent request is a actually a demand -- an 8pm curfew for those 18 years old and younger. A 10pm curfew has been imposed on other residents, as Coatesville, PA becomes a city in lock-down in order to keep the community safe.

A week ago ATF agents and a small contingent of FBI entered the city to assist the Pennsylvania State Police Fire Marshall and local investigators in determining clues.

Special note to Photo Buffs or those who want to SCUV. Pick-up a Chester County map at any Wawa store, and dial in Chester County Fire Radio at 154.16000 and 33.86 for mutual aid. Stage outside the city along US Route 30 (east of town) or PA Route 82 (south). Another good staging area would be near The Fire Store, along US Route 30, west of town at the airport.


Tuesday, February 03, 2009

NYS Firefighter/EMT Shot, Killed by Patient

EMT Shot in the back after patient becomes uncontrollable

Thousand Islands, NY (February 3, 2009) -- A 25 year old Firefighter-EMT from Cape Vincent (NY) Volunteer Fire Department was shot and killed when he and three other emergency services personnel were assaulted by an agitated patient.

The murdered EMT, Mark Davis, along with other EMS personnel had been summoned to the residence Christopher G. Burke in Cape Vincent by a 911 call. While being assessed by the EMS workers, Burke revealed that he had weapons in the home, police said. He became agitated, went into another room and retrieved a high powered rifle.

"They (EMS Team) heard the action of a weapon being activated. At that point the EMTs attempted to retreat from the residence," said State Police BCI captain Mark Lincoln.

As the EMTs retreated, Burke allegedly fired two rounds, one of them hitting Davis and killing him. Burke then ran from the home and was tackled and held down by another EMT. Clayton Police officer Robin Pearce took him into custody with help from Alexandria Bay Police officer Jerry Delosh.

EMTs at the scene attempted life-saving efforts on Davis and continued during the ambulance transport to Samaritan Medical Center in Watertown, where he was pronounced dead.

Please send your condolences to Thousand Islands Rescue (New York State)