Friday, January 22, 2010

Rescue Turns To Recovery in Haiti

A German USAR team members searches a collapsed school. Photo by: FWNetz

Aftershocks keep USAR teams busy

By Lou Angeli

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (January 22, 2010) -- Despite extraordinary effort and teamwork – both above the rubble and below – there have been no Haiti for nearly 48 hours. Family members of the missing, unable to rest and nowhere to go, stand at the edge of the destruction, watching – waiting – praying for a miracle.

Urban Search and Rescue Teams from around the globe have worked heroically since their arrival. But the mood has changed as SAR dogs consistently come up with no hits. Many of the rescuers have had little rest, and most offer their own rations (MREs) to starving Haitians who are standing nearby.

"Chances of finding additional live victims are very slim," says a New York USAR team member. "Trapped for 8 days, with no water...well, there's little likliehood for survival."

BREAKING NEWS: Late this afternoon, 10 days after the quake, an Israeli Defence Forces Rescue Team recovered a 23 year old male from the rubble of a supermarket. He was taken to the IDF Medical Compound where the man was said to be dehyrated but in good condition. A short time later, a 69-year-old woman was removed from the wreckage of a 3 story concrete building by a Mexican Rescue Crew. Her condition is critical, and doctors are not optimistic about her survival.

According to FEMA USAR Coordinator, Carlos Castillos, 6 U.S. US&R teams remain on the ground in Haiti, joined by a larger international force.

"As of January 21, international and U.S. US&R teams had rescued 122 individuals throughout Port-au-Prince, Haiti." Castillos reports. "U.S. US&R teams are credited with rescuing 43 of the 122. Search and rescue activities continue under direction of USAID and the United Nations."

Aftershocks -- some significant -- may cause additional collapses, so USAR teams will likely remain to conduct secondary reconnaissance missions throughout Port-au-Prince.

As of yesterday,7,000 patients have been treated by the 5 Disaster Medical Assistance Teams (DMATs) from the Department of Health and Human Services and one International Medical Surgical Team (IMSuRT) in Haiti (all funded by USAID/OFDA). These teams treated 2,160 patients on January 20.

Each DMAT has 35 staff members and 40 beds and functions as a field emergency room, while the IMSuRT has 50 staff members and 35 beds and performs disaster surgery.

As of January 21 there are 20 U.S. Navy and Coast Guard ships, 63 helicopters, and 204 vehicles in the joint operations area.

Although the rescue mission may have come to an end, the difficult task of recovery is just beginning.


Thursday, January 21, 2010

Haiti: Red Tape Endangers Lives!

Desperately needed supplies sit on the tarmac at PAP Airport while Haitians suffer and die.

by: Lou Angeli

PORT-AU-PRINCE (Thursday January 21, 2010) -- As of late Wednesday, International USAR teams have rescued 121 people from collapsed buildings in Haiti since the January 12 earthquake, according to Carlos Castillo, a spokesperson for US-based USAR teams.

The most recent rescue was that of a 5-year-old boy, who flashed a huge smile and flung his hands upward in victory, as a US-Hungarian rescue team pulled him from the rubble.

Currently, 43 international USAR teams, comprised of 1,739 rescue workers, with 161 dogs, are working in Haiti. 6 of those teams are from the United States – with 511 rescue workers from Fairfax County, Los Angeles County, Miami-=Broward, Miami-Dade, Virginia Beach, and New York. In addition, another 1000 or so EMT’s and firefighters from North America have self deployed,

working mainly in the villages surrounding Port-Au-Prince. In addition, there are 20 U.S. Navy and U.S. Coast Guard vessels as well as 51 helicopters deployed.

As of January 20, more than 5,000 patients have been treated by Disaster Medical Assistance Teams (DMATs) from the Department of Health and Human Services. Despite DMAT efforts, officials estimate that approximately 2,000 injured Haitian injured are succumbing each day to infection and dehydration.

Most of the deaths have taken place in hospitals which have been staffed with volunteer physicians, nurses, paramedics and EMT’s from around the world. Why? These well-trained, highly motivated medical professionals are being denied medicine and equipment that is crucial to providing definitive health care.

“We’re working with a Civil War mentality.” said one Trauma doc from San Francisco. “With no meds or surgical equipment, we’re amputating broken limbs with hacksaws and without anesthetics, in order to keep infection from spreading so the patient will live.”

Many of the medical professionals who are working these “street hospitals” blame DMAT for hoarding medicine and equipment, which is simply being stockpiled at the Port-Au-Prince Airport.

“DMAT can’t meet the level of need here in Port-Au-Prince, They don’t have the numbers” one US nurse complained. “If lives are going to be saved, they (DMAT) need to come off those supplies and distribute them stat!”

Officials estimate that nearly 350,000 Haitians are walking wounded, many with serious injuries. They wait in makeshift EMS staging areas, laying on the ground in the scorching sun, hoping to be seen by DMAT or flown to the single operating room aboard the USS Vinson. For many, help doesn’t arrive in time – their dead bodies moved onto a pile to make room for other injured.

In the meantime, many drugs, especially antibiotics and pain meds, are being slipped into the country by newly arriving medical groups, which are not affiliated with DMAT. In my hometown of Wilmington, Delaware today, a plea went out to radio listeners asking them to check their medicine cabinets and dresser drawers for any antibiotics or pain medications which can be spared to support the effort of a local team of physicians and medical volunteers.

Denying life-saving medicine and supplies to other medical professionals, simply because they’re not wearing a DMAT patch, is absurd. Such thinking is based solely on the belief that unaffiliated volunteers, like the group from Delaware, should be banned from the disaster ground. But this isn’t a FEMA operation – it is a large scale disaster that is international in scope. The term SCUV* is not a four letter word in Haiti – here it is as important as the Star of Life.


*SCUV – Spontaneous Convergent Unaffiliated Volunteer
-- a term which arose from the ashes of 9/11, referring to those who willingly volunteered to serve during the crucial first 72 hours, when no "official" agency was set up to provide support to the rescue effort.


Friday, January 15, 2010

Haiti Rescue and Relief Efforts

From Carlos Castillo (SFTF1 and SFTF2)

As of 1700 hours January 17, U.S. Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) teams had rescued 30 individuals from collapsed buildings, including one individual rescued at approximately 1615 hours local time and three individuals rescued overnight from the Caribbean Market. To date, international USAR teams have rescued a total of 62 individuals throughout Port-au-Prince.
View photos and video at United State Southern Command

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Firefighters' Union Responds To City Press Release

In yesterday's blog post, I posted a scathing press release issued through John Rago's office. In their comments, Mayor Baker and Chief Willie Patrick say the Firefighters Union is making unprofessional, irresponsible and false claims about fire safety in Wilmington.

In order to provide well-rounded coverage of the debate over fire department staffing and resources here in Wilmington, Delaware, I'm publishing an open letter to Chief Patrick, written by Kevin Turner, President of Local 1590 of the International Association of Fire Fighters.


Chief Willie J. Patrick Jr., EFO
Wilmington Fire Department
22 South Heald Street
Wilmington, Delaware 19801

Chief Patrick,

On behalf of myself, the Executive Board and the membership of the Wilmington Firefighter’s Association, I am writing to you to express our grave concerns regarding the continued rolling engine company bypass and the negative impact it continues to produce, including at the recent fire in the 2200 block of West Street.

Last year during Labor Management Meetings, you stated that you would not limit the on-duty Battalion Chiefs from being able to perform their jobs. Over the last several months however, the Union has witnessed repeatedly that you or the Deputy Chief of Operations have responded to working fire scenes to ensure that additional resources are not requested or on-scene units are not committed “unnecessarily.” We see this as a clear undermining of the Battalion Chiefs.

While the Union can appreciate the City administration’s efforts to reduce personnel costs and other department expenses due to the economic climate, we can no longer stand by silently and allow the Fire Department administration to jeopardize the safety of our members or the public that we serve.

For example, the decision at the West Street fire scene to limit the on-duty Battalion Chiefs from calling for additional Fire Department resources had a negative impact on our members working the fire and the public that we took an oath to protect. This was not a sound operational decision. It was a financial one.

The short staffing of responding companies due to New Year’s Eve celebration activities affected fire ground operations and fire department efficiency. Two of the first responding Engine companies were short staffed in order to provide an ambulance to stand by at First Night activities. While we recognize the need for public safety at these events, it should not come at a cost to on-duty personnel and apparatus. This was not a sound operational decision. It was a financial one.

We believe that the Director of Public Safety played a role in your decision to fail to send a call-back engine to cover a vacant City fire station or to assist units already on the fire ground. Rather than support these important fire activities, the engine was directed to the New Year’s Eve Fireworks Show instead. This was not a sound operational decision.

These decisions cause us, as a provider of public safety, to question the Department’s priorities. When the decision to support public entertainment over active fire scene activities affects the safety of our firefighters and the public we serve, we have surely deviated from our true mission of protecting lives and saving property.

Since the inception of rolling bypass, firefighter injuries have increased, overall company responses and response times have increased and your administration has callously ignored repeated requests to end the engine company bypass, even when only one or two overtime positions were needed to restore the engine company that was placed in bypass.

This minimum expense would have allowed the Fire Department to return to its fully staffed strength of six engines, two ladders, rescue squad and two on-duty battalion chiefs for a total of 38 firefighters on duty.

In the coming days, the Union will be making public notice throughout the City to inform our citizens of the danger they have been placed in by the City Administration.

We will seek to educate our citizens on the dangers that face them and ask them to demand that their Fire Department be appropriately staffed at all times to handle the emergency needs of all who live, work or visit the City of Wilmington.


Kevin O. Turner – President
Wilmington Firefighter’s Association

CC: The Honorable Mayor James Baker
William J. Montgomery – Chief of Staff
All Honorable Wilmington City Council Members
All City of Wilmington Civic Associations
Kevin Turner is a Fire Lieutenant assigned to Engine Co. #6 on the city's west side.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Mayor and Chief say Fire Union Making False Claims

Backstory: Executives of IAFF Local 1590, Wilmington Firefighters, claim that Chief Willie Patrick denied firefighters an important resource during an extra alarm blaze, which occurred on New Year's Eve near 22nd and Washington Streets. The union has been actively reporting that such activities are a clear, ongoing danger to citizens and firefighters alike.

Local 1590 is attempting to end the current practice of "rolling bypass" which places an Engine Company out-of-service each day, leaving just 8 companies to protect the city.

Today, Mayor James Baker fired back at the IAFF Local issuing a scathing press release that calls the union's claims false and irresponsible.

News Release
Monday, January 11, 2010

Mayor Baker Says Firefighters Union is Making Unprofessional,

Irresponsible and False Claims About Fire Safety in Wilmington

Mayor Demands that IAFF Local 1590 Stop Disseminating
Information That the Union Knows to be Untrue and Misleading

Wilmington Mayor James M. Baker today demanded that the leadership of the union representing Wilmington’s firefighters stop telling citizens that Wilmington’s highly respected fire fighting system, a hallmark of the Wilmington Fire Department for generations, has been compromised and that citizens are in danger.The Mayor said he has rarely been as angry as he was this past weekend when he read a false and misleading letter from IAFF Local 1590 President Kevin O. Turner to Wilmington Fire Chief Willie Patrick containing numerous inaccuracies about the state of readiness of the Fire Department to protect lives and property. The Mayor said the union is using scare tactics to misinform citizens through flyers and appearances at community meetings alleging that the Wilmington Fire Department can no longer carry out its mission of protecting lives and saving property.

IAFF Local 1590 claims in a letter to Chief Patrick that insufficient fire apparatus is being made available to adequately suppress fires and that Chief Patrick and Deputy Chief Joseph Kalinowski have denied requests to bring additional units to the scenes of fires.

Chief Patrick said these claims are totally false and the union leadership knows they are not only false, but outrageous. The Chief, a 29-year veteran of the Department, said he would never do anything to compromise fire safety for citizens or for firefighters. Chief Patrick said he has never denied and would never deny a request from a Battalion Chief or incident commander that additional equipment or personnel be called to the scene of a fire.

Chief Patrick said he recently had a courteous and professional discussion with union President Turner about the union’s concerns with regard to the “rolling bypass” that was instituted on July 1.

“The union doesn’t like it because it helps us control overtime costs without compromising safety,” said the Chief, “It is very unprofessional for the union leadership to make false claims when they know the information is untrue and even more frustrating when the union starts misinforming and frightening citizens,” said the Chief.

Chief Patrick said many fire companies around the United States have successfully instituted a rolling bypass process to help control costs while not compromising the safety of citizens or firefighters. A rolling bypass means that one piece of equipment per shift is deactivated as are the four firefighters needed to operate that equipment. Mayor Baker and Chief of Staff William S. Montgomery said today that the Chief and his staff have complete authority to lift the rolling bypass whenever they choose to address changing conditions as they did in late December during a major snowstorm.

Mayor Baker expressed his confidence today in Chief Patrick and his continuing disappointment with the union leadership’s efforts to misinform the public.

“This union leadership has once again demonstrated its utter disregard for citizens, its disrespect for Chief Patrick and for the mission of the Wilmington Fire Department,” said Mayor Baker. “This is the same union leadership that six months ago, during one of the worse economic periods facing our City, chose to sacrifice seven of its own members to an unnecessary layoff rather than forego a pay increase that every other employee of City government had to endure,” said the Mayor. “The leaders of Local 1590 have now compounded their embarrassing and irresponsible maneuver that resulted in the layoff of firefighters by announcing a campaign to frighten citizens when the union knows that its claims are 100% false.”

Mayor Baker and Chief Patrick reassured citizens today that the safety of citizens and of firefighters is their ultimate goal and responsibility. They said that if equipment or personnel are needed in response to a fire it will be assigned to the scene of a fire without question.

The Mayor and Chief again asked the union to think about the negative consequences of their public misinformation campaign and to cease this type of action, which they said is a disservice to the public and to the proud tradition of the Wilmington Fire Department.

John Rago
Director of Communications and Policy Development

Office of Wilmington Mayor James M. Baker


Saturday, January 02, 2010

Fighting Fires in Cold Weather

Mother Nature Shows No Mercy
By: Lou Angeli
(St. Louis, MO) -- REPOST -- As weather experts and politicians debate the effects of Global Warming on North America’s weather patterns, the "B" shift members of St. Louis Squad-2 don't really give a damn. Winter is on them, and the simple fact of the matter is it's getting mighty cold.

Cold weather makes America's most dangerous occupation even more hazardous. Statistics show that most serious structural fires occur during the winter months, when homes and businesses are sealed tight, and supplemental sources of heat are being used.

Granted, a few areas of North America are "temperate" and experience consistent weather patterns throughout the year. But unless you're a firefighter in Key West, McAllen (TX) or Phoenix, chances are you've already noticed that hot, muggy days have been replaced by cold, windy nights. You've also noticed that fighting fires in below freezing weather isn't fun.

This year, winter came early and with vengeance to the East Coast and Upper Midwest. So much so that many governors designated areas hit by early winter storms as disaster areas. With temperatures hitting the single digits, and wind chills exceeding minus 40 below, serious fires have caused millions in damage, and claimed a number of lives.

Fighting fires in cold weather is part of everyday life for firefighters who operate near our border with Canada. This constant exposure to Mother Nature's brutal side has made on thing clear. -- the cold takes it toll on personnel and equipment.

And during the past week the Arctic cold has dipped well into the continental US. And even though we know it's going to happen, Old Man Winter takes those of us in the lower-48 by surprise every time.

But It's A Dry Cold, Chief

Try telling that to firefighters in Indianapolis, who are accustomed to relatively stable winter weather. Last year -- by mid-December -- they were operating in the coldest air to hit the area since 1887. Just South of Indy, in Bargersville, Indiana, the town experienced 12 consecutive days of sub-zero weather. Years of training and experience hadn't prepared these Johnson County volunteers for this type of firefighting.

This season, fire departments throughout the snow belt, are preparing for the same cold, with one major difference. Many have developed a contingency plan - one that stresses "firefighter safety". Generally speaking, north of the Mason-Dixon line, departments are better prepared for the hardships of cold weather. But when the alarm sounds, and the thermometer is stuck at zero, neither a firefighter's training nor protective gear can block out the effects of the biting cold.

Using Common Sense

Once companies have arrived on the fireground, firefighter safety becomes a primary consideration for command. While Engine Company members concern themselves with fighting the fire inside the structure, Truck or Support Company members are busy fighting the elements, working on icy surfaces and slippery ladders.

Firefighting in cold weather still requires getting water to handlines and master streams. It's one of the most difficult tasks in winter firefighting. In icy temperatures, leading off from a frozen hydrant or pond may waste valuable minutes. That's why it's important to pre-plan wintertime water supply operations.

In areas which have limited or no firefighting water, companies rely on large diameter supply lines and tanker shuttles to provide adequate water. Planning officers know that it's difficult enough to secure water under ideal situations. But when the weather turns cold, the job becomes much more difficult. So preplan for the worse case scenario by matching mutual aid companies with your own resources in order to get the job done. Mutual Aid also plays a vital role during "working" assignments, especially when one factors in RIT teams and firefighter rehab.

Important Cold Weather Tips

Fighting fires in cold weather isn't only uncomfortable for front line personnel, it's damaging to equipment as well. Here are some tips from departments around the country that may prove useful during cold weather incidents in your area:

  • Avoid coming up DRY by initiating a hydrant "Pump-Out" plan
  • Apparatus maintenance is crucial! Make sure that tire chains or other traction devices are available for all first-in units
  • Develop a "contingency plan" with the authority or agency responsible for road maintenance and service
  • Develop SOP's regarding "dry-pump" vs. "wet-pump" operations. Things to consider are response time, pump design and normal ambient temperature in the station.
  • Carry a supply of salt, sand or oil-dry to enhance footing and reduce the possibility of falls.
  • During heavy snowfalls, apparatus may be forced to operate "away" from the fire building.
    Extra lengths of attack line should be added to preconnects to compensate for the longer and indirect lays.
  • Following knockdown, when handlines are not being used, partially opened control valves will allow water to flow and prevent freezing.
  • Make sure that all waterways for monitors or deck pipes are dry, to avoid any freezing or clogging effects resulting from ice or slush.
  • Follow the manufacturer's recommendations regarding the cold weather use of SCBA. Don't allow water to seep into regulators or emission valves.
  • And finally, ensure that extra turnout gear is available, especially gloves. It's recommended that personnel wear layered clothing, rather than bulky articles.

Ours is a unique profession. As firefighters and EMT's, we're called upon to perform a number of important tasks, in a wide range of weather conditions. So whether we're working in desert heat - or arctic cold, our mission is always the same . . .to save the folks inside, and perhaps save their home. By the way, wasn't the 4th of July picnic just a few weeks ago?


(1) NOAA
(2) US Weather Service, Mt Holly, NJ
(3) Battalion Chief Edward Hojnicki
(4) KYW-TV