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“I also feel it is my duty in the budgetary process to request more personnel, but the city budget is such that just keeping numbers where they are is difficult. It is something I will continue to strive for, particularly in light of NFPA 1710. Another thing firefighters need to understand is the limitations of the equipment we use. Our guys had both integrated PASS (personal alert safety system) alarms and personal PASS alarms. They all failed. If you’re inside of a room when it flashes over, your gear may survive the heat and the flames, but your body won’t.
“OSHA investigators arrived on Jan. 18, less than a month following the incident. The only thing the department was written up for was not having a written respiratory protection (SCBA) program, and that was regarded as an ‘other than serious’ violation. There was no fine. I felt very good about the way all the OSHA investigators conducted themselves. They came in and did not act in a way that intimidated anyone in any way. In fact, I actually found them to be some help and comfort through the early phases of dealing with this.
“The real bottom line is if you really want to increase the safety factor for firefighters and civilians, you need a good comprehensive smoke detector program in your community. A 95-cent battery could have saved all six of these people’s lives...
“The deaths of three Keokuk firefighters have left a void that for years to come will not go away. The loss is one that many will never understand and hopefully will never have to understand. I believe the department is a closer, more cohesive team now, working harder than ever to provide the protection this community deserves. The absence of our brothers from our midst is difficult to accept, but it does not even compare to the pain and sorrow that has devastated the families of the three. The loss of a husband and father have had insurmountable affects on the loved ones left behind. My career has been full, from the best of times to the worst of times. If granted one wish in life, I would change that day, that fire, those moments.”
Chief Goldfeder comments:
Some of you are reading this and thinking that there really isn’t anything “new” about this fire and the lessons learned – and that’s correct. In this country, we continue to injure and kill firefighters the same way over and over. In many, many cases, this kind of fire, the “bad” fire, is what I have started calling the “101st fire.” The 101st fire (or “101st incident”) is the fire that “finally” catches up to us after we get caught doing things a certain specific way over time.
As Wessel stated, the Keokuk firefighters had been to fires like this dozens of times before, but this time something went terribly wrong. The 101st fire may not be 101 fires away – it can happen a lot quicker – but knowing this and maintaining an attitude of NOT wanting to experience it, the 101st fire potential can be reduced significantly. Yes, this fire in Keokuk killed three firefighters and was, essentially, a horrible close call for the remaining chief, lieutenant and firefighter. But, in the case of the KFD, an aggressive want and need to change set the plan for the future. How many “bad events” have occurred at other fire departments where there was no change following the tragic results?
What can be done to work on preventing the 101st fire? Planning ahead now and looking honestly at the obvious changes needed in your department is the first step. Sometimes, that’s not so easy to see, but by using national standards and related experiences such as this fire (and so many others) and applying relevant and interesting regular training, the “odds” are decreased greatly. Every day must be a training day.
Sharing What We Learn
What are some of the items on a “check list” you can look for to help improve the survivability of your firefighters? One of the best and most recent documents made available is the Cincinnati Fire Department’s very well-written, detailed, highly professional and frank report reviewing the recent tragic loss of Firefighter Oscar Armstrong. As discussed in a recent editorial in Firehouse®, the entire report can be viewed at http://www.wcpo.com/news/2004/ local/03/30/report.pdf.
While the 200-plus-page report provides critical and highly detailed insights on the tragic fire, we urge all firefighters, officers, chiefs and commissioners to at least pay specific attention to Chapter 7, titled “Lessons Learned and Reinforced.” This section covers 47 specific, easy-to-understand points that can and should be used by any fire department as a “map” and guide to preventing firefighter injury and death.