Photo credit: Photo by Carl Whitehill/Gettysburg CVB
Every time you respond to a fire, EMS call or other emergency, you may encounter drivers who try to beat you to the next corner, fail to pull to the right, speed by you on a highway or stop right in front of you, but at least you can make it safely to the scene. When you arrive at a fire scene, you should do your own size-up, determine the type of attack that will be attempted and whether you have enough personnel to operate, use all of your protective gear, stay low, use your thermal imager and hazardous materials detectors. You can then attack the fire, search for life and check for extension. If you can avoid extreme heat, dense smoke and zero visibility, the potential for a lightweight construction collapse and rollover and flashover, hopefully the incident can be controlled without injury.
That was not the case recently in Webster, NY, east of Rochester. Several firefighters from the West Webster Fire Department responding to a 6 A.M. house fire were shot at. Two never returned. Firefighters Mike Chiapperini and Tomasz Koczowka were killed and Theodore Scardino and Joseph Hofstetter were injured. This was senseless violence directed at the first responders whose sole purpose is to save people and property from the ravages of fires and life-threatening medical emergencies. As Chief Dennis Compton often tells us, when citizens call the fire department, it often is “the worst day of their lives.” Here, it was the firefighters who experienced “the worst day of their lives.”
Incredibly, this was not the first time that firefighters have been shot. In March 2011, a Long Island, NY, firefighter was shot as he approached a car accident. In Lexington, KY, a fire lieutenant was killed when she was shot while attending a shooting victim. Responding to a car fire in Maplewood, MO, in 2008, a firefighter was shot to death. In 1977, in the Pennsylvania town of Shippensburg, a fire chief was killed and two firefighters were shot when they arrived at a fire scene. Just one more factor to be considered when responding in today’s world.
In another sad note, long-time Firehouse® contributing editor and conference speaker Kim Alyn passed away on Dec. 27, 2012. We were saddened by the news, as I am sure many of Kim’s followers, avid fans and readers were shocked by the news. The fire service and the Firehouse® family have lost a well-respected speaker and instructor. Kim helped many of us overcome leadership and management issues and guided others through the promotion process.
A day after I heard the news, I was working with a fire captain in Southern California. He had been scheduled to speak with Kim the following day to assist him in his preparation for an upcoming promotional exam. We offer our sincere condolences to Kim’s family and friends. Many in the fire service will remember this as another dark day. We will move forward and be better for all she did for us as a fire service. In her memory, we present her final column on page 26.
As you read this editorial, we will be making final preparations for the Firehouse World Conference in San Diego, CA, Feb. 17-21. For the latest schedule and other information, go to www.firehouseworld.com. Shortly, we will issue a call for papers for our upcoming Firehouse World 2014 and Firehouse Expo 2014 conferences. Watch for details. n