BROOKLYN, NY, DEC. 19, 2011 – Two firefighters were burned, one of them critically, during a mid-morning fire in a three-story brownstone-type structure. The fire occurred on the top floor of the occupied building in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section. One firefighter is required to undergo skin grafts and a several-months-long stay in the burn center. Photo by Bill Bennett
Photo credit: Photo by Bill Bennett
Recently across the country, there have been several close calls involving firefighters. The only reason they didn’t suffer further injury was they had all of their personal protective equipment (PPE) on and in proper fashion. Because of the increased use of technology, we know almost instantly what is going on in the U.S. fire service from coast to coast and from around the world – good and bad. Websites, smartphones, texts, video feeds, email and other social media bombard us 24 hours a day. Apps are available to hear dispatches and radio traffic from fires in many large cities nationwide with a flick of a finger. This was unheard of, impossible or unthinkable just a few years ago.
Here are some interesting facts from the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA): A fire department in this country responds to a fire every 24 seconds; a structure fire every 65 seconds; an outside fire every 50 seconds and a vehicle fire every 146 seconds. During 2010, there were 482,000 structure fires, 215,000 vehicle fires and 634,000 outside and other fires.
A fire instructor at a national conference I attended asked an audience of firefighters how many of them respond to 1,000 structure fires a year. No hands went up. Five hundred? Two-fifty? A couple of firefighters raised their hands. One hundred? A few more responded. Seventy-five? A few more acknowledged. Fifty? A few more hands went up. Twenty-five? A couple more answered. Then he asked how many respond to 10 to 15 fires a year. Most of those in the audience raised their hands.
The point the instructor was making is that most firefighters do not respond to many structure fires, but they still must train, prepare, execute and be ready for the unknown on the fireground. The fireground has gotten more dangerous than ever because of interior combustibility, lightweight construction, shorter time to flashover, less manpower in certain companies, increased response time in many areas and a host of other possibilities that can only hurt or kill you.
The best in PPE can only offer a short time of protection. It is not meant for you to be caught in a room with direct flame impingement for a long time. Your training should make you avoid being caught in situations like that. Many firefighters survive flashover, unlike others who weren’t so lucky in the past, because they are wearing all of their PPE in proper working order. We have all seen videos, pictures and streaming lines of communication showing firefighters unprepared to go to work. Did you ever ask yourself, when you watch some of these incidents, what are they doing? Hopefully, you will never appear in any of these “videos of the day” when you are about to go in harm’s way.
With the recent arson wave in greater Los Angeles, CA, we present a cover story/photo spread showing many of these incidents. Aggressive work by the Joint Arson Task Force led to the arrest of a suspect within a few days. See page 50 for the rest of the story.