On the Safe Side

THIS MONTH, WE'RE DOING OUR PART to help you stay out of trouble — on the fireground and in the firehouse. First: to the fireground. In his Safety and Survival column, Vincent Dunn begins a two-part series outlining the various dangers that firefighters face at cellar fires. See page 24 to learn why he says, "A cellar is the most dangerous area inside a burning building." William Goldfeder's Close Calls column on page 30 teaches firefighters how a "routine" gas leak resulted in a major explosion. Robert Burke's Hazmat Studies column on page 42 offers tips on handling emergencies involving ethanol in transit and at fixed facilities. His column ties into Jay K. Bradish's "On The Job — Illinois," on page 52, which covers the fire department response to the derailment of a train hauling ethanol. Mark Emery continues his coverage of building construction and its effects on firefighters in "Truss Truce" by introducing you to three simple and effective tools that will demonstrate how a truss works; see page 68.


BACK AT THE FIREHOUSE, Steve Blackistone's Fire Law column on page 96 cautions firefighters and fire departments to be careful about becoming involved in election campaigns. To accompany the column, loss-control expert Bill Tricarico outlines ways in which fire departments can prevent theft by members. Curt Varone, a fire service attorney, reviews a few recent cases of theft within volunteer organizations and how they were resolved by the courts. Also in this issue, Ed Ballam moderates a roundtable discussion of apparatus maintenance issues, this time centering on ensuring that apparatus are ready for "extreme service in the toughest conditions." There are many details to keep track of if your apparatus are going to be ready to perform at their best at all times and in all environments. These experts share their knowledge and experience on page 56.

"ARSON AWARENESS WEEK" is being marked May 2–8 across the country. The U.S. Fire Administration (USFA) says this year's theme is "Community Arson Prevention," intended to "focus attention on the horrific crime of arson and provide communities with tools and strategies to combat arson in their neighborhoods, businesses, schools and places of worship." The USFA notes that in 2008, the last year for which it has complete statistics, an estimated 30,500 intentionally set structure fires occurred in the U.S., that arson fires in structures caused 315 civilian deaths and $866 million in property loss, and that 17,500 intentionally set vehicle fires caused $139 million in property damage. The USFA further notes that intentional fires injure thousands of firefighters and civilians. In fact, as I was writing this editorial, I received two e-mail alerts, one from Las Vegas, NV, Fire & Rescue headlined "Arson Fire Causes Firefighter Injury," involving a small fire set in a vacant dwelling and another from Baltimore, MD, about a woman who was charged with setting an apartment fire that injured a firefighter.

It's even worse when our own are involved in this crime. Just last month, a 20-year-old probationary volunteer firefighter from Long Island, NY, was convicted of intentionally setting a 2009 fire that killed four people in an apartment building. The victims were a 46-year-old woman, her 19-year-old stepson, and her 9- and 10-year-old daughters. The prosecutor in the case accused the firefighter of setting the fire in an apartment building so he could be a hero in rescuing the occupants. According to an article in Newsday, in sentencing the firefighter to the maximum sentence of 25 years to life in prison, the judge told him, "You always wanted to be a firefighter. You always wanted to help people. But you betrayed your oath."

More recently, three young firefighters in Pennsylvania were charged with arson, conspiracy to commit arson, criminal mischief and reckless endangerment following a series of deliberately set fires. An article in the Republican Herald reported that the suspects told police they "set the fires out of boredom, and that they were looking for work." As Harvey Eisner has stated in this space, don't even think of doing it. You will be caught and prosecuted, you'll ruin your life and you'll give the rest of us a black eye.

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(Harvey Eisner is on medical leave. Jeff Barrington is associate publisher of Firehouse®.)