Swedish Expert Outlines ‘Stupid’ U.S. Practices

ATLANTA -- As an outsider looking in, Dr. Stefan Svensson - a firefighter from Loberod, Sweden, who is also a research and development engineer - thinks the fire service in the United States only pays lip service to firefighter safety. "You can talk...


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ATLANTA -- As an outsider looking in, Dr. Stefan Svensson - a firefighter from Loberod, Sweden, who is also a research and development engineer - thinks the fire service in the United States only pays lip service to firefighter safety.

"You can talk the talk, but can you walk the walk?" Svensson asked. "I dare say you cannot."

Svensson's comments came almost four years to the day when he first shared similar criticisms of the fire service at the International Association of Fire Chiefs' Fire-Rescue International conference and show. This year's presentation was part of the Institute of Fire Engineers International Forum program, which was co-located with FRI's show.

As he did four years ago, he apologized in advance of his comments saying he would likely offend people.

"I will insult you," Svensson said. "I will make you upset and I apologize for that."

Svensson then launched into a 40-minute critique of the fire service in the United States.

In the four years since he last visited the states, he's noticed a lot of talk but not much action to promote firefighter safety.

"I am afraid to say you have not made it any safer," said Svensson, who is also a firefighter in his local brigade and a Ph.D. researcher for the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency.

"There are some things in the U.S. Fire Service that are kind of strange, and when I say strange, it might mean stupid," he said.

At the top of his list of strange behavior is the concept of venting a roof. "Why do you do that?" he asked while showing a few examples of firefighters in peril on roofs that had already been compromised and were self-venting.

Svensson drew a comparison between a fireplace and a fire in a building. A fireplace has a chimney, which he said was an upstairs window. It also has a damper which is an exterior door. The fire itself would be in a room of origin.

He suggested that like a fireplace, the fire in the building can easily be controlled by limiting the amount of air that will make the fire flair up.

A piercing fog nozzle jammed into the building, into the roof or side will smother the fire.

"If you cool hot gases and put water on the fire you will prevent it from spreading and if you put enough water on it, it might go out," Svensson said.

There's no truth to the idea that a house will blow up and knock out windows and worse if the smoke gets too dense in the building, he said.

"You need a good scientist, and no myths to teach you about fire behavior," he said, noting there are many in United States that would help with the education.

He sees no reason for people to vent roofs that have already self-vented through a burned out hole in the roof or the windows in the gable ends.

On top of that, he sees even less reason to climb into a chimney (a broken window) that is issuing heavy smoke, he said. "It shows a lack of an understanding about what's going on... Venting a fire causes a lot of problems and if you don't have the knowledge, you might not want to try it."

Svensson said he's heard a lot about aggressive interior attack firefighters, but he doesn't understand why that kind of firefighter would repeatedly go into a building with a compromised floor.

"I wouldn't go in at all in that situation," he said. "No way. Being aggressive requires a great deal of knowledge."

He criticized the nation's apparatus which he claimed is getting bigger while all of Europe is going with smaller and smaller apparatus that are smarter and smarter.

There's also a dangerous culture of rewarding the worst behaviors, Svensson said, noting a recent award to a firefighter who ran into a burning building without PPE and got second degree burns on his face, to save a woman inside the building.

"Does anyone see a problem with that?" Svensson asked. "You are promoting dangerous behavior. You are showing stupid behavior... You can reward, but you have to give them something for the right reason."

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