U.S. Fire Administrator Ernest Mitchell
A member of the Rocky Mount SWERT team searches the Tar River for a crucial piece of evidence.
Photo credit: Bob Bartosz/RMFD photographer
November Line-of-Duty Deaths
Four U.S. firefighters died in November. One career firefighter and three volunteer firefighters died at four separate incidents. All four deaths were attributed to heart attacks.
FIRE POLICE OFFICER EDWARD STEFFY, 71, of the Rothsville, PA, Volunteer Fire Company died on Nov. 10. While directing traffic at the scene of a motor vehicle accident at Rothsville Road and 772, Steffy became ill and sat in his vehicle. He went into cardiac arrest and died at the scene. Steffy was a 30-year veteran of the department.
CAPTAIN JONATHAN YOUNG, 50, of the Roselle, NJ, Fire Department died on Nov. 16. While responding to a reported fire, Young suffered a heart attack and crashed the vehicle he was operating into a tree on East Highland Parkway. He was transported to a hospital, where he died.
FIRE CHIEF GREGORY S. BAKER, 52, of the Lewisville, OH, Volunteer Fire Department died on Nov. 20 after he became ill while operating at a tanker fill site being used for a structure fire. EMS personnel provided immediate aid and transported him by medical helicopter to a Wheeling, WV, hospital, where he died of an apparent heart attack.
FIREFIGHTER JONNY LYNN NORTON, 56, of the Hot Springs, NC, Volunteer Fire Department died on Nov. 24. Norton suffered an apparent heart attack after returning home from a two-day search-and-rescue operation. He was transported to Memorial Mission Hospital in Asheville, NC, where he died. Norton was a 37-year veteran of the fire service.
—Jay K. Bradish
U.S. Senate Confirms Mitchell as Nation’s Fire Chief
The United States Senate unanimously voted to confirm President Barack Obama’s selection of Chief Ernest Mitchell (Ret.) as the U.S. Fire Administrator. Mitchell will take the helm of the Department of Homeland Security’s U.S. Fire Administration, an agency he sees as, “elevating and enhancing the American fire service’s response capability” according to his testimony before the Senate committee of jurisdiction.
Before retiring in 2004, Mitchell served as fire chief and assistant director of disaster emergency services for the Pasadena (CA) Fire Department, and as president of the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC). His career encompasses 30 years of experience in the local fire service, as well as a prominent role in national efforts to improve the capabilities, training and safety of American responders and those they serve.
“This is a great day for America’s fire service,” said Chief Al Gillespie, IAFC president and chairman of the board. “Chief Mitchell has a leadership style that draws from the best of the fire and emergency service tradition, and combines it with a modern outlook and a progressive vision. I cannot think of a better person to lead our industry during these difficult times and into a bright future.”
Rocky Mount SWERT Teams Aids Police
Members of the Rocky Mount, NC, Fire Department’s Swift Water Emergency Response Team (SWERT) responded to a call for assistance from their local police department. Two armed robbery suspects were fleeing from police when pursuing officers noticed one of the suspects throw something over the Peachtree Street Bridge railing into the Tar River below. SWERT members responded and developed a plan to recover the evidence. Divers were able to utilize information gathered from the witnessing officers to narrow down what otherwise would have been a large search area. Initial Diver, Senior Firefighter Matthew Hux entered the cold, zero-visibility water and was able to locate a small, black BB pistol that police officials believe was used during the commission of the robbery.
NFPA Issues High-Rise Fire Report
The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) has issued a new report on high-rise fires. Among the findings:
• In 2005-2009, there was an average of 15,700 reported structure fires in high-rise buildings per year with an associated $235 million in direct property damage.
• In 2005-2009, high-rise fires claimed the lives of 53 civilians and injured 546 others, per year.
• The risks of fire, fire death and direct property damage due to fire tend to be lower in high-rise buildings than in shorter buildings of the same property use.
• An estimated three percent of all 2005-2009 reported structure fires were in high-rise buildings.
• Usage of wet pipe sprinklers and fire detection equipment is higher in high-rise buildings than in other buildings of the same property use.
• Most high-rise building fires begin on floors no higher than the 6th story.
• The risk of a fire is greater on the lower floors for apartments, hotels and motels, and facilities
NFA Launches FESHE Recognition Program
The U.S. Fire Administration (USFA) announced a new National Fire Academy (NFA) program opportunity for educational institutions offering undergraduate fire science degree programs. This effort is designed to offer national recognition to students participating in the Fire and Emergency Services Higher Education (FESHE) model core associate’s and bachelor’s courses. The new FESHE recognition acknowledges the regionally accredited institutions that promote the standardization of fire science course titles, descriptions and outcomes across the nation.
“The NFA has consistently demonstrated a commitment to standardize fire science degree programs,” said Ernest Mitchell, the new U.S. Fire Administrator. “Working with FEMA and USFA partners in colleges and state fire training systems, the USFA has an opportunity to support a universal system of professional development for fire service personnel.”
To achieve this national recognition from the USFA, regionally accredited institutions will provide a six-course model fire science curriculum in their associate’s or baccalaureate programs. In addition, regionally accredited institutions with the FESHE designation will also be able to provide the participating students with a NFA course Certificate of Completion for each course they complete. The documentation of a student’s participation in the FESHE model core curriculum will further recognize the graduate’s degree as one tied to a nationally recognized standard of education and achievement. This national approach to standardizing fire science education will produce graduates well prepared to improve the quality of fire and emergency services delivery throughout the nation.
“With our current NFA curriculum development and delivery and our continued resolve to prepare the fire service for the future through training and education, this FESHE effort moves the fire service another step closer to providing the leadership and safety all citizens have come to expect of their fire departments now and into the future,” said NFA Superintendent Dr. Denis Onieal.
For more information about the FESHE program and the USFA’s continued efforts to standardize professional development for the nation’s fire service, visit the USFA website at www.usfa.fema.gov.
Younger Firefighters Wanted
According to the “U.S. Fire Department Profile Through 2010,” an annual report that was recently issued by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), there were 44,000 fewer volunteer firefighters in 2010 compared to 2009, a reduction of 5.4 percent. The loss of volunteers is primarily coming in communities with populations of 2,500 or fewer, which were protected by 377,550 firefighters in 2010 compared with 408,550 in 2009, a drop of approximately 7.6 percent.
The lower number of firefighters is only part of the problem, and maybe not even the most troubling. For the seventh year in a row, the percentage of firefighters over the age of 40 serving in communities of 2,500 or less rose. A total of 51.2 percent of firefighters in our nation’s smallest communities were over 40 in 2010, and 28.7 percent were over the age of 50. The percentage of firefighters over 50 years old serving communities of 2,500 or less has risen every year since 2000, when it stood at 18.9.
The reduction in volunteer firefighter numbers combined with the persistent aging trend among firefighters protecting our nation’s smallest communities highlights the importance of re-doubling recruitment and retention efforts. A number of the National Volunteer Fire Council’s (NVFC’s) Legislative Priorities deal specifically with marshaling federal resources to assist local communities’ recruitment and retention efforts, including the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant program, which provides funding to volunteer and combination fire departments to undertake recruitment and retention campaigns.
In addition to working on federal legislation, the NVFC operates several national programs designed to increase the capacity of fire departments, including 1-800-FIRE-LINE, which is a national recruitment campaign that provides a toll-free number that anyone in the nation can call to learn about fire and emergency service volunteer opportunities in their area.
USFA Releases 2010 Fire Estimate Summary Series
The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) U.S. Fire Administration (USFA) issued the 2010 Fire Estimate Summary Series which presents basic information on the size and status of the fire problem in the United States as depicted through data collected in USFA’s National Fire Incident Reporting System (NFIRS). The data summary series was developed by USFA’s National Fire Data Center and is further evidence of FEMA’s commitment to sharing information with the American public, fire departments and first responders around the country to help them keep their communities safe.
“The fire estimate summaries serve as a great resource tool for members of the fire service and the public to obtain general information regarding fire issues impacting our nation’s communities,” said Glenn Gaines, Deputy U.S. Fire Administrator. “It is important to use this information to further reduce the risk of deaths, injuries and property loss due to fire.”
Individual summaries are issued as part of the series and address the size of a specific fire or fire-related issue as well as highlight important data trends. As part of this series, 17 summaries have been issued presenting basic information on the leading causes of residential building and nonresidential building fires, deaths, injuries and dollar losses for 2010 and highlighting overall trends in these leading causes for the 5-year period from 2006 to 2010. Additional new and updated fire estimate summaries will be periodically released under this series as future year data become available.
The complete Fire Estimate Summary Series is available at www.usfa.fema.gov/statistics/estimates/. For further information regarding other statistical reports or any programs and training available at USFA, visit www.usfa.fema.gov.