Sunday, March 13, 2011

New footage of the Japanese Tsunamis

USAID Dispatches USAR Teams To Japan

Washington, DC (March 13, 2011) -- The estimated death toll from Japan's earthquakes, tsunamis and nuclear power plants soared past 10,000 Sunday as authorities raced to combat the threat of multiple nuclear reactor meltdowns. Tens of thousands are missing and hundreds of thousands of people struggled to find food and water.

Two Urban Search and Rescue Teams from the United States are on the ground in Japan and being deployed to the devastated northeastern section of the country. Los Angeles County USAR, just back from deployment in New Zealand, and the Fairfax County VA USAR Teams are being joined by search and rescue teams from around the globe as they search through devastated coastal towns.

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) reports that a Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) has also been dispatched, along with the California and Virginia teams.

to be updated regularly

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Rolling Bypass: Accuracy in Explaining a Controversial Public Safety Concept

by: Lou Angeli

WILMINGTON, DE (March 3, 2011) -- As a resident of Wilmington, Delaware, I am served by one of the best-trained, most experienced fire departments in the nation. I support and have a deep respect for the staff and members, however I am neither a career firefighter nor member of Local 1590, the Wilmington Fire Fighter’s Association.

I have written this commentary in response to the continuing confusion surrounding the Wilmington Fire Department’s “Rolling Bypass Program,” a cost cutting concept, which you may hear referred to as brownouts or blackouts, (1) depending on where you live in the country. The program has cut overtime costs, however it wasn't enough to cover the predicted deficit, and on January 1, 2011, Delaware's only full-time, profesionally staffed Rescue Squad was closed - along with the loss of 17 jobs.

Rolling Bypass simply stated: One of three Engine companies in the City of Wilmington is placed out of service each day on a rotating basis. Rolling Bypass has been in effect now in Wilmington for 18 months with little negative impact. However, the loss of an Engine company can have a devastating effect on the fireground operation -- and your life.

So let's take a moment now to review the WDEL story, which in its print version heralded the following headline:

“WDEL Exclusive: Wilmington Firefighters’ Union Misleading Residents?” (2)

The reporter, Amy Green, bases her headline on information that is available to every city resident through a pamphlet offered by the firefighters’ union. As a resident of a neighborhood, whose local Engine company is closed every 3rd day, I received the same information from Local 1590. And as a longtime writer of fire-rescue features, I must disagree with Ms. Green. The information contained in the pamphlet is accurate and by no means misleads the general public.

First, a short backgrounder on the current make up of the Wilmington Fire Department and how Rolling Bypass is used. This is the research part of the story that reporter Amy failed to do.

The Wilmington Fire Department is made up of Engine Companies, Squads and Ladder Companies, along with Battalion shift commanders, all of whom answer to the Deputy Chief of Operations and the Fire Chief.

Companies respond on structure fires, nuisance blazes, automobile accidents, gas leaks, explosions, hazardous materials incidents and life threatening emergency medical calls. Why Medical? Well, if there’s a report of a heart attack, chest pains, a stabbing or shooting, Wilmington Firefighters, trained and certified as EMT’s, can respond quickly to initiate patient care.

As an example, let's consider a scenario in which a resident has suffered a Heart Attack somewhere in the city. As part of a multi-tiered response, the nearest Engine company is dispatched because each company carries an Automatic Defibrillator (AED), which is an essential life-saving tool when dealing with cardiac patients. In a few minutes time, the nearest engine can be on scene, and using the AED, perhaps restore the patient's heart rhythm, before County Paramedics, St Francis BLS and Wilmington Police arrive on scene.

And now for Citizen Firefighting 101 -- and there will be a test!

The Engine Company

The Engine Company is the heart of the firefighting operation. Why? Well, as old school firefighters would say, they put the wet stuff on the red stuff. Each engine is fitted with a large volume pump, water tank, foam, various sizes and lengths of hose and nozzles. Upon arriving at a fire, the engine company members secure a water supply (hydrant) – then prepare to make entry into the fire building to extinguish the blaze

The Ladder Company

The Ladder Truck serves as the base for the aerial ladder, and carries a full compliment of Ground Ladders. Onboard is a myriad of hand and power tools, which allow the crew to make quick entry into a burning structure. There’s also power saws, chain saws, portable lighting equipment, generators, and ventilation fans, just to name a few.

The Engine and Ladder Companies work as a Team

When they arrive at the blaze, The Ladder Company’s crew has a much different mission than the Engine crew. Members assigned to the Ladder are responsible for making entry into the building, conducting a search for victims, placing ladders against the building, venting the structure and finally overhaul – the search for hidden fire in walls, roofs and voids.

In order to be effective, the hoseline attack by the engine company must be coordinated with the ventilation effort by the ladder company’s crew. That means that both units – each with very specific jobs -- need to be on the scene together in order to conduct a safe and proper fire attack.

Stations and Locations of Rolling Bypass Companies:

Engine-6 – which shares its quarters with Tower Ladder 2 at 3rd and Union Streets.

Squrt-4 – an Engine equipped with a water tower, which shares quarters with Ladder Company 1 on Tatnall Street near Concord Avenue.

Engine-5 – which operates alone. It serves as the first due company in high value sections of the city including Trolley Square, 40 Acres, Kentmere Parkway, Rockford Park and the Triangle Neighborhood. In addition, most of the city’s elderly high rises are located in Engine 5’ local alarm district.

How does Rolling Bypass impact a firefighting operation? Let’s assume that today Engine 6 – 3rd and Union Street – is in bypass and unstaffed. Even so, the fire station remains open with Tower Ladder 2 staffed by a fire officer and three firefighters.

At 10am, companies are dispatched to a structure fire at a donut shop on Lancaster Ave at Cleveland Avenue in the far western section of the city. On a normal day, Engine 6 and Ladder Tower 2 would respond together, followed by additional engines and 2 battalion chiefs.

However, it’s not a normal day at Station 6, and first-due Tower Ladder 2 leaves its station alone. There are three engines also on the roll, all of which are responding from distant stations. Traffic conditions and speed will determine how quickly they can arrive to assist the crew of the Tower Ladder.

Who's On First?

The Ladder Company arrives and the officer reports that a large section of the rear of the structure is burning with a vengeance. It’s 10:02am, which will serve as the officially recorded arrival time. The crew hears sirens in the distance, but the fire ignores the whines and begins to consume the front of the store. But what course of action can the Ladder officer and his crew take? With no water or hoses, they can only await the arrival of the first engine company. (1)

At roughly the 5-minute mark, Engine Company 5 arrives from their station in the 40 Acres, closely followed by Squad 1, whose crew has responded from 2nd and West streets. Within a minute, 6 firefighters are in position and have begun an aggressive attack. Ladder company members are on the roof, using a chain saws, to create ventilation openings.

And here lies the confusion when different groups -- with vastly different interests -- interpret response data. In order to illustrate to citizens that Rolling Bypass doesn’t affect day-to-day fire-rescue operations, city administrators use the 10:02am mark as the official time of arrival – a response of just 2 minutes. But the actual firefight didn’t begin until 10:06am. That’s a 4-minute difference in opinion, and for firefighters-- and the FIRE -- there is no firefight unless water is streaming from the nozzle of a hose.

The Wilmington Fire Department subscribes to standards and recommendations set by the National Fire Protection Association, a non-governmental watchdog agency, which monitors
firefighting in the United States. One very important standard, NFPA 1710,(3) deals with the operation of a career fire department, like Wilmington's. 1710 describes "arrival time" as the moment when "4 firefighters have assembled...with the capability of flowing 400 gallons of water per minute."  At the donut shop, even though 4 firefighters arrived within 2 minutes, the pumping apparatus and its crew needed every bit of 6 minutes to make it to the blaze. Based on NFPA1710 which is the more accurate arrival time? 10:02 or 10:06am?

Ladder Company 1 - No pump, water, tank or hose.
And that's why I submit that WDEL's report is erroneous. In it, reporter Amy Cherry asks Local1590 president Kevin Turner if literature being distributed by Wilmington Firefighters is misleading – which in itself is a leading question.

Cherry quotes from the pamphlet, "YOUR Engine #6 at 224 North Union Street is closed," every three days. And as she stated, Cherry phoned Station 6 on a day when Engine-6 was out of service. She writes that if you call on a bypass day, “someone will answer the phone and respond to your fire -- it's just down a truck and some staff, so it's not really closed at all.”
(see Engine and Ladder Company duties)

Amy, you're correct in stating that the station is not closed. However, there is no Engine – the water pumping apparatus -- operating from Station-6. The mission is to extinguish the fire, a tactic which a conventional ladder apparatus is unable to support. So, Station 6 is NOT down a truck -- it's down an Engine.

As city spokesman John Rago tells Green in the report “that part of the city (Engine 6’s district) is covered by two other engines when the station is closed, and response time isn't affected.”
That's cityspeak -- a way of manipulating statistics to support Rolling Bypass. But NFPA 1710 clearly spells out how the true arrival time is calculated.

Your commentary:

The given in this case is the comment in Local 1590’s pamphlet, “YOUR Engine #6 at 224 North Union Street is closed (today).” There is no doubt about it, every three days Engine 6 is out of service. The information is in no way misleading and our scenario is not out of the ordinary as the donut shop has had smaller fires in the past. 

I’d like my readers to respond to the following query. In your determination, which party is correct? City administration insisting that response times are not affected by Engine-6's closure? Or perhaps Amy Cherry, who phoned the firehouse only to find the crew of Tower Ladder 2 on duty?

The decision to initiate Rolling Bypass in Wilmington is understandable when you consider the state of city finances. But when it comes to protecting the public, bypasses and brownouts can have a devastating effect as the City of Philadelphia has unfortunately learned.

Mayor James Baker will soon give his 2011-2012 budget address, and it's a safe bet that the fire department -- already ravaged by cutbacks -- will be asked to make additional cuts. The most obvious would be to permanently shut down one of the Bypass Engines -- but which one? It's a tough decision - and I'd tender resignation before making that call. How do you tell an entire section of the city "you no longer need a pumper?"


Hope to hear from you soon.

(1) Media Mobilizing Project -- What is a brownout?
(2) -- "Wilmington Firefighters' Union Misleading Residents?"
(3) NFPA 1710 -- Standard for Operating Career Departments