Remembering Hackensack and Gloucester

As we approach the July 4th holiday period, two significant LODD incidents previously occurred during this time frame that hold a number of lessons learned related to command management, operations, building construction principles and building...

NIOSH investigators concluded that, to minimize the risk of similar incidents, fire departments should;
• Ensure that the department’s structural fire fighting standard operating guidelines (SOGs) are followed and refresher training is provided
• Ensure that the Incident Commander (IC) formulates and establishes a strategic plan for offensive and defensive operations
• Ensure that the incident commander (IC) continuously evaluates the risk versus gain during operations at an incident
• Ensure that a separate Incident Safety Officer, independent from the Incident Commander, is appointed
• Ensure that fire fighters conducting interior operations (e.g., search and rescue, initial attack, etc.) provide progress reports to the IC
• Ensure that accountability for all personnel at the fire scene is maintained
• Ensure that a Rapid Intervention Team (RIT) is established and in position
• Ensure that the officer in charge of an incident recognize factors (e.g., structural defects, large body of fire in an old structure, etc.) when analyzing potential building collapse
• Ensure, when feasible, that fire fighters should respond together, in one emergency vehicle, as a crew
Additionally, municipalities should consider
• Establishing and maintaining regional mutual-aid radio channels to coordinate and communicate activities involving units from multiple jurisdictions
In order to minimize the risk of similar incidents, the New Jersey Division of Fire Safety identified key issues that must be addressed and remedies that should be implemented within all departments.
1. FACTOR: There appears to be a disconnect between career and volunteer personnel in the Gloucester City Fire Department (GCFD). Many personnel expressed the concern that the GCFD operated as separate fire departments rather than as one.
REMEDY: It is essential that all firefighters put individual differences aside in order to work together successfully as a team to achieve their common goal of saving lives and property.
2. FACTOR: The GCFD, faces a common dilemma associated with combination fire departments: staffing levels may be unpredictable depending on how many volunteers are available to respond to any one incident. This unpredictability can result in insufficient staff to perform required tasks until additional staff arrives.
REMEDY: Elected or appointed municipal officials need to make a commitment to the adequate staffing of the fire department and staffing levels must allow for compliance with the two-in / two-out provisions of the Public Employees Occupational Safety and Health (PEOSH) Standard 29CFR1910.134. The New Jersey Division of Fire Safety can provide assistance to the municipalities and provide examples of how this can be accomplished
3. FACTOR: Due to the limited number of firefighting personnel who arrived at this incident, all initial efforts were focused on the rescue of occupants. This postponed fire suppression operations until additional resources arrived. Because rescue and fire suppression operations were performed sequentially rather than simultaneously, the fire may have spread more quickly resulting in the early failure of the structure.
REMEDY: Sufficient personnel are critical to ensure that all necessary operations can be performed at the appropriate time. Furthermore, a continual size-up assessment must be maintained so that the Incident Commander (IC) can be kept aware of the conditions as the incident progresses. This continual size-up will allow the IC to modify the strategy and / or tactics as deemed necessary.
4. FACTOR: Although the GCFD was equipped with a thermal imaging camera (TIC), firefighters failed to utilize it for the initial search for victims. The TIC was also not used properly to analyze the scope of the incident and determine what tactics to employ.
REMEDY: Fire departments that possess TIC units should use them regularly during routine operations such as training, scene size up, search and rescue and structural fire fighting.