It Is About Time

As emergency responders first on the scene to all types of emergencies, it is of utmost importance that we recognize that the National Institute of Standard and Technology's World Trade Center recommendations have direct relevance to all of us.

Where the opposition argues about the cost, we seek adequate time to evacuate the building and perform our interior operations to mitigate the hazard. No, fire service is not naive and inconsiderate to the cost issues imposed by implementing the NIST's WTC recommendations. We in the fire service should, and indeed must work with the design professionals, to reach cost effective solutions in providing enhanced levels of fire protection and life safety for the building occupants and our own firefighters. But, I find the opponent's general disregard for our firefighters' safety rather appalling and their unwillingness to consider any fire and life safety enhancements quite irresponsible. We just don't want our own brothers and sisters, in addition to the occupants of these high-rise buildings, to pay the ultimate price as they did back in September 11, 2001.

The opponents might not recognize it, but we in the fire service are also quite astute in evaluating risks, in our own ways of course, and are not naive about the concept of "probabilistic analysis". After all, we utilize this risk based approach in all our daily emergency response operations. That being said, since we are responsible to respond to the various types of emergencies in high-rises, we know quite well that the concept of "probabilistic analysis" should not only be limited to the fires, and must be viewed from the multi-hazard perspective.

To support our perspective in rebutting our opposition's arguments, it should be explained that to all of us as Americans, the September 11, 2001 events was a "paradigm shift" that should have alerted us to abandon our naivete and recognize that "we are not in Kansas anymore".

Simplistic application of the "probabilistic analysis" concept in a reality vacuum, will undoubtedly prove that hundreds of thousands of flights take place, and millions of people travel by air around the world every year; thus logically air transportation is actually the safest mode of travel. But then 19 terrorists and 4 airplanes changed the history of our country and the entire world. Based on the views of the proponents of the "probabilistic analysis" approach, there should be absolutely no reason to have spent hundreds of millions of dollars upgrading security arrangements in our airports; since after all the probability of such occurrences were astronomically low. But again, September 11, 2001, was a "paradigm shift", and despite the miniscule odds, our government correctly decided to take corrective measures and spend hundreds of millions of dollars to enhance the security in our airports to reduce the possibility of such attacks in future.

Does the opposition believe that these security improvements were too cost prohibitive and were a waste of our resources and should not have been done? The proponents of the "probabilistic analysis" approach are quite aware of the more stringent security checks at the airports, and the fact that even nail clippers are confiscated by the TSA at the airport security gates. Yet, they fail to apply that same logic to the high-rise buildings emergencies, and acknowledge the fact that even miniscule probabilities could prompt tremendous societal concerns and costly preventive measures.

The opposition's strategy is to cloak their intent and the delay tactics under the facade of scientific "probabilistic analysis". Their strategy is to drag the adoption process, and essentially killing the NIST's WTC recommendations in the long run; pronounced cause of death "analysis paralysis".

NIST is a non-regulatory agency and does not have any enforcement authority. Therefore, their recommendations would not be implemented, until they are incorporated into the body of the building codes. It is only logical then that all fire service organizations put their support and influence, into implementing these recommendations and incorporating them into the body of the building codes, developed by both of the national model code developers, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), and the International Code Council (ICC). The federal government has done all they could. It is up to us now to take a stance.

It is about time that all fire service organizations take a lot more proactive role in the building code development process. It is about time that we pay the much deserved respect to our 343 comrades that perished in the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, by making sure that the fire and life safety features of the high-rise buildings of the future, are enhanced and the structures' integrity are improved to prevent burnout and progressive collapse.

It is about time that we look in the eyes of the thousands of young boys and girls who dream of becoming a firefighter when they grow up, and make sure that the future generation of firefighters won't face the same problems that our brothers and sisters faced on September 11, 2001. We owe it to them to make these changes to make the high-rise buildings safer. It is about time.