FIREHOUSE: With a proposed new entrance examination being designed under a court order, how long do you estimate it will take before the department can hire new members?
KILDUFF: Right now, the written portion of the entrance exam is scheduled for late February through March. After the written test is graded, the physical portion of the exam will be administered to those with the highest written scores. After the physical, a list will be established followed by a candidate investigation. As soon as the first few hundred candidates are identified, an 18-week probationary class will be scheduled, probably in late 2012. That means new firefighters won’t arrive in the firehouse until early 2013.
FIREHOUSE: How will retirements and possible promotions affect the number of members currently in the rank of firefighter and increase the need to fill vacancies with overtime before the new members can be hired?
KILDUFF: Our overtime budget has increased significantly because we are hundreds of firefighters below our usual staffing level. Promotions have been slowed down, so as not to deplete the firefighter rank too quickly, but at the same time, we still need to maintain our supervisor ranks at a safe level. The firefighters are all working more tours. We try our best to spread out the work assignments and balance the overtime.
FIREHOUSE: How has the department’s research on ventilation and wind-driven fires changed the standard operating procedures for these types of incidents?
KILDUFF: The department has changed its approach to wind-driven fires, particularly in fireproof high-rise residential dwellings, based on recent national tests and tests conducted here in New York City, which we did with the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the Polytechnic Institute of New York University.
There are several thousand residential high-rises in New York City. We lost four firefighters in high-rise hallways in the ’90s and one in 2008. Our approach has become much more deliberate with a heavy reliance on size-up and communications. We now have units that respond to these fires with the ability to deploy a “window curtain” and/or a high-rise nozzle from the floor below. We have also introduced mechanical ventilation of hallways and stairs into high-rise operations. So far, these new procedures have worked well for us.
FIREHOUSE: In the past, when there were several Maydays at an incident at the same time, it was difficult to keep track of a firefighter on a visual display on a radio. How has that changed today?
KILDUFF: We have begun implementing a tool, created in-house, called the “Electronic Firefighter Accountability System” (EFAS). The system utilizes a laptop or mobile data terminal to record and time-stamp all radio transmissions at the scene of an incident. The EFAS can lock in, highlight and identify any emergency alert transmission sent by a firefighter. If a verbal-only Mayday is transmitted, we can scroll to identify all radios that have transmitted and identify the firefighter by conducting an electronic roll call, if necessary. A member of our FAST (or rapid intervention) team is dedicated to the EFAS screen for the duration of the incident.
FIREHOUSE: I heard you describe the weekday as “the business end of the fire department.” Please explain what you mean.
KILDUFF: The day tour for our company officers and firefighters starts at roll call and continues on through building inspection periods, training periods (in quarters or at our Training Academy), special inspections (construction/demolition), hydrant inspection, fire safety education duties and firehouse and equipment maintenance. There is no down time during the day tour any longer. All of the above activity must be documented, so the company officer spends considerable time in the office. By the way, this is in addition to the six-eight-10 responses the unit takes in during the tour, so the end of the day arrives in a hurry.
FIREHOUSE: Why is the department responding to so many more emergencies like stuck occupied elevators, natural gas leaks, water leaks, electric emergencies and steam leaks?
KILDUFF: New York is a sprawling city with many buildings approaching 100 years old and dozens of public housing complexes in each borough. In some regard, we have become the Mr. Fix-It for the city – “Call 911 and the guys in the big red truck will show up to fix the water leak, access the stuck elevator or shut down the gas!” That said, we all know there are no “routine” emergencies.
FIREHOUSE: Please explain the department’s retrofitting of each apparatus with a newer type of seatbelts.
KILDUFF: Commissioner (Salvatore) Cassano and Chief of Safety Steve Raynis are extremely committed to providing a safer response environment for our members. Although the number of serious accidents is down, there is no question in our mind that wearing seatbelts will eventually save a firefighter’s life. The commissioner has allocated over a million dollars for this retrofit. We are working on an education plan to convince every member to wear his or her seatbelt every time they are on the apparatus.
FIREHOUSE: Has the department’s policy of responding with no lights and sirens to certain types of calls reduced apparatus accidents?
KILDUFF: “Modified response” reduces the number of units responding with lights and sirens to certain types of “low-risk” calls (utility emergencies, fixed-station alarms, pull boxes). The first-due engine, ladder and chief respond in normal emergency mode. The second- and third-due units obey all traffic regulations. These units in particular, have seen close to a 50% decrease in accidents in all areas of the city. We give full discretion to the responding company officer or battalion chief to order all units to switch to “emergency mode” if they feel there is reason to have all units respond with lights and sirens.
FIREHOUSE: How has training helped the department since 9/11?
KILDUFF: More than any other aspect, training has been the foundation of rebuilding the department since Sept. 11. Starting with hiring thousands of new firefighters, promoting hundreds of new officers and taking on the additional responsibilities brought on by Sept. 11, the FDNY has invested over a hundred million dollars in training and equipment. Ten years later, training is still the linchpin to implementing a new tool, procedure or federal mandate. We never short-change training and continually strive for methods to push training down to a local level. When I get the occasional complaint that units are spending too much time at our Training Academy, I know we’re doing a good job.
FIREHOUSE: Many new types of special apparatus have been added to the department to enhance operations since 9/11. Please describe how these units will help the department.
KILDUFF: The majority of our new apparatus are dedicated to the department’s role at a large-scale, multi-casualty incident. Some of these apparatus carry technical equipment for collapse/rescue or re-breather operations. Other apparatus carry large caches of equipment to deal with the aftermath of a bio/chem release or major explosion and are complemented by special EMS “Haz-Tac” units that can operate alongside firefighters in a dangerous environment. While everyone likes to focus on preventing an incident, it’s our job to be prepared to mitigate the incident and to provide assistance to potentially hundreds of casualties. We feel the threat is as real now as it was in 2001.
We have also partnered with the Department of Homeland Security and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to purchase two new 140-foot fireboats, a 64-foot fireboat and a dozen new 33-foot boats to provide complete fire and life safety coverage in New York Harbor.
FIREHOUSE: The department has given engine and ladder companies many different roles other than basic firefighting. For example, a ladder company may also respond as a Special Operations Command support truck, cold-water rescue unit, chemical protective company or as part of a decontamination task force. In today’s economy, how does that benefit the department’s ability to respond to unusual incidents?
KILDUFF: Many of our units are now enhanced apparatus that have additional equipment and training and are bundled to provide flexibility into our “tiered-response” matrix. For instance, 33 ladder companies are trained as Chemical Protective Clothing (CPC) Units for rapid victim removal from a contaminated area and 33 engines and ladders are teamed up for gross decontamination capabilities. In addition, 25 ladder companies are trained as Special Operations Support Ladders (SSL) and respond with a second vehicle for technical rescue or hazmat incidents. These units are also deployed for an all-hazards event such as a hurricane or ice storm. Other units double up to provide enhanced communications, high-rise firefighting equipment or water-rescue capabilities. By “layering” the capabilities of resources, we can fully address life safety at the local level and have resources available for a larger event. n