Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Saving Firefighter Ryan

Learning to Recognize Flashover
by: Lou Angeli

Flashover! Even though firefighters are beginning to understand it, this fatal phenomenon is still shrouded in a veil of mystery. Experts in the fire training arena have differing opinions and descriptions of Flashover, but they all seem to agree on one thing. It's a nasty thing!

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.

Up until the 1960's, the average residence contained natural products made up of woods, cottons and other fabrics. Back then it often took a blaze from 8 to 10 minutes to grow from inception to the fully-involved stage. But in our present day world of synthetics, plastics and hydrocarbons, the same room takes only 2 to 3 minutes to reach the peak of fire growth. This accelerated rate of burn has become a major concern for firefighting teams and the officers who command them.

Oddly enough, it was a prevention tool designed to save lives that first brought Flashover to our attention - the home smoke detector. In days gone by, fires were typically unreported until they vented from a window, sending the fastest civilian running for the Gamewell Box.

Today, because of the effectiveness of early warning systems, departments are now notified of fires much, much earlier.Companies now arrive on the scene during the growth stage, entering the structure at the worst possible time, just prior to flashover. Combine this with the standing practice of aggressive interior attack, and one can quickly understand why firefighters have become more aware, and much more concerned, of the phenomenon.

The simple fact is - we're seeing it much more often.

Low Tech System - High Tech Results

In Europe, where line of duty deaths, and interior attack, are quite rare, the multi-national fire community was shocked, when in 1987, two Swedish firefighters lost their lives to a flashover incident.

In response, training officers in Stockholm saw the need to create an awareness program for the brigade's firefighters. They developed a rudimentary simulator that allows attack teams to identify potentially dangerous environments during the early stages of the firefight. Their primary goal: to demonstrate to suppression teams how to escape a flashover and exit safely.

On the fire training grounds near Stockholm, I prepare to videotape the special fire training simulator designed by the Swedes. I was expecting a high-tech block structure, with thermal sensors, gas jets, and emergency sprinklers. Instead, I'm led to a series of overseas shipping containers, that have been laid out in random fashion to represent various firefighting scenarios.

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.

6,000 miles away from Stockholm, in America's heartland, Indianapolis firefighters carry on a tradition that's been passed down from generation to generation -- mounting an aggressive interior attack. Like so many departments nationwide, Indy fire administration have armed all front-line personnel with the very best in protective equipment. A secure envelope, that guards firefighters from intense heat and vicious flames.

But some say that this very same envelope denies firefighters the use of an important God-given safety regulator – the sense of feel. In short, present day protective gear is so damned good, it's difficult to determine when to bail out.

A 3-alarm blaze in Indy's downtown section, found three firefighters deep inside the bowels of the beast. A huge structure, the Athletic Club blaze was stubborn, and difficult to ventilate. According to other interior personnel, the trio entered a smoky room in search of the seat of the fire, but within moments the room erupted in an explosion of flame, instantly snuffing out their lives.
IFD was determined to prevent similar horrible accidents from ever happening again. They imported the Swede Survival System, and since its installation, EVERY IFD firefighter and officer has received extensive flashover training. Many, more than once.

In other departments throughout the USA, training officers have adapted the system to meet the needs of America's aggressive firefighters. Their goal, to show an uncontrolled blaze in a SAFE, controlled atmosphere. And to date, nearly fifty departments and agencies have answered the call.

Copyright 2009, Lou Angeli, All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

EMT: #1 Lowest Paying Job in USA

From: YAHOO HotJobs

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

Ground Zero Diary

by: Lou Angeli
Recalling America's Tragedy

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"

What if you had a fire -- and no one came!

By Lou Angeli

(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.