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The Next Step: Charleston Facts Part 2

Clearly, the fire in Charleston that took the lives of nine firefighters shook all members of the fire service in one way or the other. Most firefighters were shocked, saddened and upset. Why wouldn't we be? We have lost 9 "more" firefighters-in a situation that some folks feel was avoidable. From looking at the video and pictures, it appears that it may very well be that way. But as we wrote following the fire, we need to await the facts.

Most firefighters know that it is easy to sit back and comment and offer opinions and if we do that in our firehouses, and take what we initially think we know and apply it to our own personnel. We can probably avoid "it" from happening to our own personnel, locally. What happened at a fire and what those who were not there THINK happened at a fire can be exactly the same or it can be far, far apart. It all depends. Sometimes it depends on not knowing all the information. Other times the facts and information mean nothing if people just do not want to know the facts or accept them. Sometimes, folks who are in our business or who have or have had some affiliation to our business could care less about the facts, and just want to do whatever they can to keep stoking the fires. Nice folks.

As we wrote a few weeks agoas tempting as it was and is for anyone to comment on all the videos and photos-out of respect for the LODD firefighters' families, there is no rush. Some argue with that by saying "lives can be saved"...sure they can. If you saw something on the Charleston videos and pictures that you don't agree with - don't do that. Don't do whatever you think should not be done. There are tactics shown in the videos and photos that I wouldn't do-but I wasn't there. But if you don't like what you saw in the Charleston videos or any other videos for that matter, do whatever you think is best in your town so that whatever is seen at Charleston or Hackensack or Waldbaums, or wherever...isn't repeated at your FD. But until the facts come out in Charleston-from outside experts-nothing is factual. Does it "look like" things should have been done differently? Absolutely-some of it may seem pretty obvious-after all, there are nine firefighters who gave their lives and many questions remain. Actually, there are more than a few videos that you can look at from most any FD at almost any fire or emergency where things could have been done different. But it takes EXPERTS looking at the entire situation, evaluating, determining and totally investigating the facts for us to see the true picture vs a snap shot or a video. And with nine firefighters tragically lost, the Charleston firefighters' families deserve the truth-by experts in a professional manner. So who are the experts?

In what appears to be a very positive move, the Mayor of Charleston, Joe Riley, has contracted with some of the best in our nation involved in firefighter fatality research and investigation. The Mayor has stated publicly that he wants an external, independent and thorough analysis of the fire and evaluation of the Charleston FD.....an external, independent and thorough analysis of the fire and evaluation of the Charleston FD. (those words repeated intentionally).

If that is what will happen and the mayor is truly sincere about his intentions, I don't think anything else can be asked for at this point. When statements are made like that publicly, by elected officials, with the families, the public, the media and the firefighting world watching and listening intensely, the options to do anything else become very, very limited.

So who is the initial, primary on-scene in Charleston team going to be? Well, the Project Team Leader will be Chief Gordon Routley, a nationally recognized fire service management expert, consultant and fire protection engineer. Gordon was the fire chief in Shreveport, La. (retired), a National Fallen Firefighters Foundation firefighter safety program specialist and serves on the International Association of Fire Chiefs Safety, Health and Survival Section Board. He spent 16 years with the Phoenix Fire Department, serving as Assistant to the Fire Chief; then from 1989 to 1991 served as the Fire Chief in Shreveport. He was the Director of Fire Service Consulting for TriData from 1992 to 1996, before launching an independent consultancy. Gordon has been very active in the cause of fire fighter health and safety, working on numerous projects and committees with the International Association of Fire Chiefs, the United States Fire Administration, National Fallen Firefighters Foundation and the National Fire Protection Association. He is a past chair of the IAFC Health and Safety Committee. He was directly involved in the establishment of the Fire Fighter Life Safety Initiatives Project for the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation. He is also a member of the Society of Fire Protection Engineers (SFPE), the Institution of Fire Engineers (IFE), the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and the Metropolitan Fire Chiefs Association.

Chief Routley's education includes a degree in Civil Engineering from McGill University, graduate studies in Fire Protection at the University of Maryland and a Master of Public Administration degree from Arizona State University. He was a 2006 recipient of the U.S. Fire Administration's Harvard Fellowship to attend the program for Senior Executives in State and Local Government at the university's John F. Kennedy School of Government.

Kevin Roche will be the Research and Resource Management Specialist. Kevin is Assistant Fire Marshal in Phoenix, Arizona and served as the Assistant to the Fire Chief in Phoenix and a fire service consultant and researcher-with a very strong focus and background in firefighter fatalities. He was previously responsible for the overall management of Support Services for the Phoenix FD. He is a graduate of the Fire Protection program at Oklahoma State University and has a master's degree in political science and public administration from the University of Florida. Kevin began his career with the Gainesville Fire-Rescue Department in Florida and has been a member of the Phoenix Fire Department since 1990. He is also an active writer and consultant on firefighter safety and management issues, with an emphasis on fire department resource deployment and firefighter health and safety.

Well known and highly respected Chief Tim Sendelbach will be responsible as the Training Specialist. Tim is currently the President of the International Society of Fire Service Instructors, the former Chief of Training - Savannah Fire and Emergency Services and a well respected fire service training consultant. Assistant Fire Chief for Missouri City Fire & Rescue Services, Texas; and Firefighter/Paramedic with Kansas City FD, Kansas. Tim has earned B.S. degrees in Fire Administration, Arson and an A.S. degree in Emergency Medical Care from Eastern Kentucky University. He is pursuing a master's degree from Bellevue University and is enrolled in the Executive Fire Officer Program at the National Fire Academy. In July 2002, Tim was awarded the prestigious Innovator of the Year Award from the International Society of Fire Service Instructors (ISFSI) for his innovative training ideas and concepts in the area of firefighter safety & survival. In 2001, Tim was awarded the George Hughes Award from the Texas Association of Fire Educators for his accomplishments as a speaker and trainer in the state of Texas.

Assistant Fire Chief Brian Crawford from Shreveport will serve as the Administration Specialist. Brian is the Assistant to the Fire Chief in Shreveport, Louisiana, a National Fire Academy (NFA) resident instructor and a Maryland Fire Rescue Institute (MFRI) Staff and Command faculty member. He was a 2006 recipient of the U.S. Fire Administration's Harvard Fellowship to attend the program for Senior Executives in State and Local Government at the university's John F. Kennedy School of Government. He holds a master of arts in industrial psychology, a bachelor of science in organizational management, and an associate degree in paramedic. He is a member of Fire Chief Magazine's advisory board.

Serving as the Fire Prevention and Code Enforcement Specialist is Chief Mike Chiramonte. Mike is a Fire Inspector and Former Chief of Lynbrook, NY. He is a 36-year veteran of the LFD and served as Chief Fire Inspector for over 20 years. He is certified as a NY State Code Enforcement Official and serves on the North East Regional Code Committee of the International Code Council. He is the past chairman and current board member of the VCOS Section of the IAFC and a current member of the Advisory Board of the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation. He also serves as 2nd vice president of the Eastern Division of the IAFC and a member of Fire Chief Magazine's advisory board. Chief Chiaramonte serves as an adjunct instructor at the National Fire Academy and the Nassau County, New York, EMS Academy. He was a high school communications teacher at Jericho High School for 34 years. He has a Bachelor of Science in Communication Education from the University of Houston and a Master of Arts in Education from Hofstra University. He has also completed extensive Post Masters Graduate Work in Communications Education.

Managing the information during this process also requires an expert and the Public Information Specialist coordinating the facts is Pete Piringer. Pete is currently Director of Community Outreach and Public Information for the Montgomery County (Maryland) Fire and Rescue Service and is assigned to the Division of Community Risk Reduction. In this capacity he serves as the Public Information Officer and oversees the Life Safety Education Team. Pete previously served as the Public Information Officer for the Maryland State Police and presently serves as Chairman of the Washington (D.C.) Area Public Safety Media Relations Council. He has over 35 years of public safety experience and for 23 years, from 1975 to 1998, Mr. Piringer worked for Prince Georges's County (Maryland) Fire/EMS and served in numerous capacities, including Public Information Officer. He is the recipient of numerous fire/rescue awards, including the Prince George's County Chamber of Commerce Gold Medal of Valor, Maryland EMS Institute Outstanding Contribution to EMS Award, as well as several American Legion and VFW Firefighter of the Year awards.

While numerous external resources and individuals will support the above lead teams efforts, this appears to be a very professional and positive start by the Mayor. While some might think these folks are there serving at the Mayor's pleasure-forget it. These folks are busy, have plenty to do in their professional and personal lives. None of them would waste their time if they were not given full authority to seek and provide the facts and truth without any interference. None of them would 'touch" this investigation if there was the slightest concern that what they say would not be made public. None of them.

Now, add the experts at NIST as well as the experts at NIOSH to the above experts and odds are-the FACTS will come out in a coordinated and professional manner. Odds are the above team will communicate with the NIST folks and the NIOSH folks and from all these areas of expertise, the facts will come out so we can learn and not repeat history, once again.

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