Fires, Fires, Everywhere: Maybe It's Time to Raise the White Flag

Detroit, MI, the scene of urban decay, vacant buildings, abandoned neighborhoods and terrible unemployment, has probably more working structure fires than anywhere else in America. You would think that this was a foreign country or undeveloped nation, but this is right in the middle of the Great Lakes region of the U.S. of A.

Devil's Night, which is celebrated the night before Halloween, was the highlight for arsonists for many years. Now, fires burn citywide day and night. On Sept. 8, three multiple alarms were burning at the same time. One of the fires involved 12 dwellings. The following day, during a period of high winds, 750 downed electric wires sparked many fires. The Detroit Fire Department answered 85 alarms for fires in a four-hour period. One of these fires spread to 18 vacant dwellings, two occupied dwellings and nine garages.

Hindering operations, eight to nine fire companies are browned out each tour. Several ambulances are off duty each night. Mutual aid was requested from several surrounding departments to help battle the blazes and answer alarms. If there are going to be so many fires burning multiple buildings at one time, then there will be a lot fewer buildings in the city real soon. Weeds and grass around many vacant dwellings are so high that firefighters may soon have to employ wildland tactics. It's a real shame.

The fire department is down 200 members from 2004, and those who remain are really doing more with less. That's an understatement. The mayor reportedly said the high winds that sparked the fires comprised a natural disaster and there was no way to prepare for it. But the fire department, fire companies and firefighters still have to respond, no matter what the alarm is for.

In this issue, we present a preliminary report of a recent fire in Detroit where someone apparently torched a store. Firefighters who responded and extinguished the fire returned minutes later for a rekindle and several firefighters were injured in a collapse. Several firefighters remain seriously injured at presstime.

Under Firefighter Health & Wellness, Dr. Raymond Basri and Eric Bergman report that nearly half of on-duty firefighter deaths are due to overexertion. This includes deaths from heart attacks as well as heat stress. Rehabilitation should be part of any department's health and safety program, as a proper incident rehab program can help reduce adverse events to the health of the firefighters operating at the scene. The goal of the rehab sector is to let responders return to a state of readiness to operate safely during an incident.

Also this month, Chief Jim Smith reports on exterior operations. Large-scale fires requiring extensive exterior operations will challenge a fire department. These events can showcase all of the good points of your fire department or can reflect poorly if you are unprepared to meet the demands these fires present. Dealing with these complex operations requires a mixture of pre-planning, training, implementation of an incident management system and dedicated firefighters.

We are proud to present the latest installment of the Volunteer Run Survey, comparing statistics from departments across the country. To be included in next year's survey go to, download the form and fax it back to us.

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