History Repeats Itself

A week before I wrote this editorial, a fire ripped through a nightclub in Perm, Russia, killing 113 people and injuring 121 others. The fire in the Lame Horse Nightclub began when fireworks ignited the wicker covering in the ceiling. A stampede of occupants rushed to the building's only exit. Just weeks ago, we assigned a writer to put together a summary of the facts surrounding The Station nightclub fire in West Warwick, RI on Feb. 20, 2003. Because of legal and court proceedings, until now we were unable to discuss what happened during this tragic event, in which four pyrotechnic displays were ignited to begin a show and ignited polyurethane foam. Twenty-five seconds later, the flames reached the ceiling. At 41 seconds, the fire alarm sounded. In 60 seconds, the 911 center started receiving calls reporting the fire. Less than 100 seconds after the fire ignited, the main front doorway was clogged with occupants trying to exit. The fire killed 100 people. Sound familiar? You can read about the investigation of the Rhode Island tragedy in an upcoming issue of Firehouse® Magazine.

Recently, a ceremony marked the 10th anniversary of the fire that killed six firefighters in Worcester, MA, on Dec. 3, 1999. In this issue, we present a look at the ceremony, memorials to those killed in the line of duty and the new fire station that was built on the exact site of the cold storage warehouse where the fire took place. Attending the ceremony marking the anniversary were 1,400 firefighters.

I attended the original memorial service, held a few days after the fire in Worcester, with an estimated 40,000 other firefighters who traveled to the site to honor those who died. I believe that the firefighters who attended the Worcester memorial service and those who traveled to honor the FDNY members by attending some of the 15 funerals that were held each day after 9/11 brought the fire service together more than any time in its 350-plus-year history of the fire service. It wasn't East versus West, it was a brotherhood unlike any other. This fire brought about tremendous discussion nationwide regarding the operations inside vacant buildings and the dangers associated with them. For more extensive coverage of the 10th anniversary, see Firehouse.com, where you can also read my blog about the memorial events.

Every day, I read about fire departments nationwide laying off firefighters, browning out or closing companies, talking about merging departments, appointing one fire chief to oversee several neighboring departments and cutting budgets to make up for reduced government income. Despite the reports of economic improvements, I don't see it. The fire service has taken, and continues to take, a major hit in an attempt to reduce municipal spending. One of our reporters is looking into how widespread the fire service cuts have become and will report for us in an upcoming issue. Firefighters know how this is affecting service, paychecks and response times. We are trying to identify how much of the fire service has taken a big hit now and what the crystal ball holds for the future.

In this issue, we pay particular attention to fire and emergency apparatus maintenance and design. In partnership with Firehouse.com, we present a roundtable discussion of apparatus maintenance concerns, aimed at helping departments understand the importance of basic apparatus maintenance and develop programs to keep their rigs safe and working. We invited a cross-section of manufacturers and apparatus maintenance service departments around the nation to share their experiences and offer advice. This is the first of a series of articles about apparatus maintenance planned for 2010. Our coverage will be in Firehouse® Magazine, expanded on Firehouse.com and augmented with audio podcasts.

We are happy to announce a new monthly feature, "Telling It Like It Is," the most open and frank discussion on fire service topics we have ever published. We will discuss hot topics of the day and we want you to send in your opinions, with no holds barred, but in a constructive manner. See page 20 for the opener.

For comments, ideas, suggestions, please contact us at comments@firehouse.com.