1. #1
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    Default Question regarding conduct at scene

    At 4:30 this a.m., we received a page regarding a residential fire smoldering withing the stud space of a wall adjacent to the fireplace. We broke access above the hot spot, applied water, and removed the gypboard to reveal the affected area. The house is only 4 years old and the studs were butted against the back of the fireplace/chimney. As the chief was taking the report, I mentioned that UBC requires a minimum 2" gap between combustible materials and the masonry of the fireplace. I barely got the last words out of my mouth when the chief told me, in front of the homeowner, that I didn't know what I was talking about. Now, besides being the jolly vollie that I am, I also design fire sprinkler systems, as does my wife, who is also a probie with the dept. AND who was with me. As we cleared the scene, upon walking out to our vehicles, the chief told me, "You need to watch what you are saying in front of the homeowner." I simply said told him to take it easy and I'd see him later.

    My question is this...did I do something wrong??? I was wanting to give the homeowner an opportunity to correct an obvious hazard when he had the contractor do the repairs in order to avoid a future problem. This was quite obviously what started the smoldering as the studs were charred from the fireplace side of the space AND the masonry was still hotter than a two dollar pistol once we removed the burned material.

    Just to give a little background on the chief...he's sorta already on thin ice with the department and is probably not going to be with us much beyond January. Someone please advise?

  2. #2
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    I wouldn't have said anything in front of the homeowner about what the code requires. And, As a Chief, I'll never make a comment to one of my people about their knowledge in front of the homeowner either. Since I'm not near the homeowner now, I will say that, if the Masonry got that hot, there is a problem beyond the 2 inch clearance rule. I would think you might end up back at that address again. As for the Chief, if he normally talks to folks like that, I can see why he's on his way out. Is he leaving because you folks get to vote him out? If so, be sure that whoever gets voted in, is capable of doing the job, and doing it in a way that restores a sense of professionalism to the Department. Good luck.
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  3. #3
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    I have my own policy on giveing out infomation or giveing opinions on a call---I dont.
    If and when I am asked something by a reporter or a on looker I simply say "I am not the one who gives the infomation" and I move on. I do not offer speculations or opinions to the public. I am just a lowley peon in the game, it is not my job to do that stuff, its my job to do what I am told to do by a higher authority safely and efficently.

    There may have been a defect in the construction by the contractor and a oversight by the inspector.But thats not for you to point out. You are not the building inspector, you are not a CFI and your not the Chief. These are the 3 people a homeowner wants to hear from.

    A fire in someones home, no matter how small is an upheavel and there is probally alot of stress on them. The last thing (and to me most unprofessional) thing is to have a rank and file,that is also not a CFI,building inspector, fire prevention etc. walk up to the homeowner and say what you said.

    IMO I belive the Chiefs remark or "watch what you say" was fair and called for. IMO....thats all.
    I dont suffer from insanity, I enjoy every minute of it.

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    I suppose my biggest gripe is that he was very condescending and made the decision to call me in front of the HO. I used to be a police officer, so I have a little situation awareness regarding conduct in front of "civvies". One thing that you never do...and I believe that this carries more weight than mere opinion, is to give the appearance that there is a rift between the folks that are responding to a call. As it was said, there is enough upheaval in the homeowner's routine without having to sort through the comptetence maze of the fire crew. I feel that if I had done something "wrong", I could have been approached in a much different manner. He could have taken me and my wife aside outside and said something and explained his position. At this point, I can't see what was wrong...because he didn't take the time to explain it to me. I'm not one to take "just because" as an answer. "Just because" isn't proper training. I have UBC, IFC, and NFPA all over my office with scads of references to what I mentioned. My concern was for the homeowner. I forgot to mention that we are unincorporated in this area, so there are no enforceable codes. I'm having a difficult time understanding how it may be unprofessional to point out something that the homeowner could have a contractor look at before repairing the damage. It's my opinion that departments have people from many backgrounds and experiences working for them...and those experiences should only serve the better of the department, not detract from someone's position or rank. If I had just pulled this out of my rear end, then I could see the point. {shrugs}

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    As firefighters it is not our place to tell home owners how there house should be built. Now that you have said this to the Homeowner are you willing to appear in court to testify as a professional on the situation?

    Our department fills out the fire report and the fire report is accessible (not given) to the insurance company if requested. The insurance company can read on the report that their could be some spacing issues in the fire place. At that point the insurance company will send out its investigator and he will get a building inspector. This doesnt say we wont get called in to court to testify at a civil suit - but it wont be as a professional building inspector.

    Hope things go better for your department!

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    Yes.
    Perhaps you were a little too mater-of-fact...I think you were beyond the scope of your duties. simply saying "that wood looks too close there" (stating the obvious...duh) would suffice. Let the fire marshal and adjusters and lawyers figgure out the rest and go home.

    I also would have said yes sir after being corrected..now you have another situation, he'll probably keep you and your wife on short reins.
    If you can't respect the man, respect the rank. Being 'right' is quite overrated.
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  7. #7
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    Someone needed to say SOMETHING to the homeowner. If the Chief wasn't, maybe you should have pointed it out to him privately instead of just blurting it, but it needed to be pointed out. A dangerous situation definately existed.

    You can run your career afraid of testifying in court. That's fine. But from my point of view, I'd rather someone tell them "Look, your studs are too close to the fireplace. This is a definate fire hazard, so DON'T burn anything in this fire place until you can get in touch with someone to get this entire situation rectified."

    Then I'd let the building inspector know of the problem.

    Because, as I see it, it's better to let them know and run the risk of going to court if, for some odd reason, they sue someone, than to have to get up 3AM that night or a couple of days later when they burned again to answer a reported structure fire w/ entrapment and have to risk firefighter lives in something easily preventable.
    "Captain 1 to control, retone this as a structure and notify the fire chief...."

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    You are both wrong. The Chief should never speak to any of his people in that manner in front of the public.

    What you did was just involve yourself and your department in leagl issues that may develope between the homeowner and the contractor.

    I know you meant well, but careful what you say when it comes to the public. This situation should have been pointed out to the homeowner by the Chief, or better yet, given to your prevention folks for them to check on.

    Dave
    Last edited by Dave1983; 12-27-2004 at 02:25 PM.

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    I would have to know more details before I would give an opinion. I am often charged with determining or assisting with the determination of the cause and origin of fires (something that is mandated by the Ohio Fire Code for a fire chief to do at most fires). While doing a fire investigation, it is common for the investigators to verbalize potential causes. Those of us who are also fire safety inspectors are prone to quote the fire code and building code while doing this. If that is what was happening, I don't think it is too out of line to point out a problem in the construction of a fireplace so that it can be corrected. Unless you have taken some training in investigating fires in wood burning applications, you might be amazed to find that most fireplace installations are not done correctly. The person that taught my class made a bet to the class that if she can not find a problem with the installation of a student's fireplace, she would buy them a steak dinner. To my knowledge, she has not bought a dinner yet.

    My only caution would be how the information is conveyed. If you come off as a "know-it-all" I can see why the chief might get a little upset. But, if you are presenting facts in a professional manner, I would tend to think it would be improper for you to not point out the fire hazard that you discovered. After all, preventing fires is more important than fighting fires.
    Richard Nester
    Orrville (OH) Fire Dept.

    "People don't care what you know... until they know that you care." - Scott Bolleter

  10. #10
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    Default Non-legal opinion...

    If you see something that is against code and don't say anything about it you are wrong. You will not be liable if you present factual information...But think about if you DIDNT say anything and a fire occurred again with worse results.
    IAFF-IACOJ PROUD

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    I agree with you Mikey, if you know something is wrong, your remise in not pointing it out. As for the chief, I would have waited until we were alone and then ripped him a new one. As an officer myself, I never, repeat never, will do anything or say anything to make one of my people look bad in front of their peers or civies. That is just plain unproffesional and not to be tolerated. If I have an issue with one of my people whether it be some under me or someone higher up, the issue has to be taken care of in private, away from the other members.

  12. #12
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    You did nothing wrong. The chief was out of line.
    If you can't respect the man, respect the rank. Being 'right' is quite overrated.
    Rank is something you wear; respect is something you earn.

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    You did the right thing by keeping quiet at the scene, take it up with just you and the chief back at the station.

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    LACAPT hit the nail on the head with that comment. I agree 100%

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