As Firehouse Sees It: Staying Alive and Improving Firefighter Safety for Most

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) recently released its annual Firefighter Fatality Report showing a total of 61 on-duty firefighter deaths in the United States in 2011, the lowest annual total of firefighter deaths for the second consecutive year, as well as the lowest annual total in 35 years. The number of firefighter deaths has also sharply decreased over the past three years, a dramatic decline from 105 line-of-duty deaths (LODDs) in 2008.

I asked Ron Siarnicki, the chief executive officer of the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation (NFFF), to comment on the recent statistics. Siarnicki said, “The NFFF is encouraged and delighted to see the report from the NFPA, which confirms our own data. We believe this trend is a result of the entire American fire service commitment and drive to ensure the safest environment possible for all firefighters. We have been working since 2004 (at our historic Tampa LODD Summit) to make this a reality and it is great to see the numbers continue to decline. However, we cannot lose our focus or lessen our efforts for the ultimate goal – that no firefighter dies in a preventable event. The NFFF will continue to promulgate the 16 Life Safety Initiatives in an effort to reduce the number of LODDs even more. Our focus has to be relative to the culture of firefighting which puts a priority on life safety. We encourage research into all aspects of firefighter wellness, including diet, physical fitness, behavioral health, working smarter and safer, and learning to make good decisions based on risk analysis. This is good for us and the citizens we serve.” Let’s all keep the trend going.


With its goal of improving firefighter safety, the FDNY partnered with the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), Underwriters Laboratory (UL) and the Governor’s Island Preservation and Education Corp. (GIPEC) to conduct experiments on Governor’s Island for six days in July that involved setting controlled fires in vacant residential buildings where high-tech sensors and heat-resistant cameras captured critical data on fire behavior. These experiments, conducted under various fire scenarios, are expected to result in new scientific data on the dynamics of fire and enhanced operational firefighting tactics for the FDNY and other urban, suburban and rural fire departments in the U.S. The tests specifically examined ventilation techniques used in structural firefighting and how those techniques impact and influence the movement of fire, smoke and dangerous gases. The experiments mark the first time a series of live burns of this scale has been conducted in a real-life setting, giving the FDNY the opportunity to assess the impact of commonly used firefighting and ventilation techniques. The live burns are aimed at quantifying emerging theories about how fires are different today, largely due to new building construction and the composition of home furnishings and products that in the past were mainly composed of natural materials, such as wood and cotton, but now contain large quantities of petroleum-based product and synthetics that burn faster and hotter. Where a fire in a room once took approximately 20 minutes to flash over, this can happen with today’s products in as little as four to five minutes. In addition, fire professionals and experts will closely analyze how the introduction of oxygen into these scenarios impacts fire behavior, and how this requires consideration of new procedures on ventilation strategies during firefighting operations. 


Speaking of the FDNY, the City Council found funds to keep 20-plus companies from being disbanded. Some of these companies have been on the chopping block for many years. Not so lucky were some Baltimore City, MD, fire companies, especially Truck 15, which was closed after having served for 104 years and being the busiest truck in the city, according to our National Run Survey. Detroit, MI, was scheduled to disband 10 engines, four trucks and one squad and demote 193 personnel. At the end of July, 164 firefighters were to be laid off. This is in response to a $23 million cut to the fire department budget. The firefighters are caught up in this continuing fiscal crisis in Detroit. Engine 23 called out of service after 113 years. Arson still runs rampant. Recently, there were 16 fires on the city’s East side in six hours. I find it amazing in this day and age that Detroit, in the shape it is in, is even part of the U.S. Portions of the city are like a third world country. In fiscal year 2010, the U.S. government allocated the following amounts for aid: Total economic and military assistance: $52.7 billion. Total military assistance: $15.0 billion, total economic assistance: $37.7 billion. It’s absolutely mindboggling that we give away so much and can’t take care of real Americans here at home. Disgusting.


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