2009 Year in Review

Firehouse.com’s editorial staff has rounded up a list of 2009’s biggest issues and events. Share your top memories and biggest issues by commenting below.

Economic Impact

The recession held center stage in 2009 as departments around the country saw budget shortfalls, layoffs and station closures. Some of these cutbacks provoked local controversy. In one notable July instance, Boston firefighters refused to leave three stations that were placed under a “brown out” and defiantly continued to staff them while officially off-duty.

The issue of funding pervaded the fire service and forced many leaders to focus on solutions: how to cut costs without cutting safety, and how to find creative and alternative funding sources.

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Grant Updates

The Fire Act and SAFER grants underwent some revisions this year in reaction to the economic climate, sparking some controversy in the process.

In November the House passed a measure reauthorizing the programs, and setting aside $1B for the Assistance to Firefighters Grants and $1.2M for SAFER annually through 2014.

The bill includes the establishment of a survey to determine whether departments are adhering to safety practices; OKs funds for river rescue operations; and authorizes grant money to be spent for equipment that conserves water.

It also includes the creation of a task force comprised of members from fire service organizations to make recommendations to Congress on ways to increase compliance with those firefighter safety standards. That amendment was debated, but eventually passed.

The measure now goes to the Senate for its consideration, and then a committee work session to resolve any differences.

For the SAFER grants, three significant differences have been implemented for the 2010 awards, all of which were made possible because of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA), according to the DHS.
The biggest change is there is no prescribed cost-share for recipients. In years past, communities awarded were expected to provide a percentage of the cost of the new hires.
Other significant changes outlined in the 54-page guidelines document include: a provision that says there are no annual salary limits for employees; a provision that says grantees that hire laid off firefighters do not have to commit to retaining the SAFER-funded firefighters; and a change in the provision regarding the period of performance which has been reduced for hiring grants from four years to two years.

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House Passes Grant Reauthorization

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House Moves to Ban ACORN from Fire Grants

Congress Ups SAFER, Cuts FIRE Act Funding

Cost Sharing Requirement Waived in SAFER Grant

Code Updates

Firefighters and burn survivors descended on the International Code Council's annual conference in October to vote to keep residential sprinklers on the books. The council had been considering a request from the nation's home builders to kill a requirement that all new homes have sprinklers by 2011, which was voted down by a majority of its members. Two other provisions -- which sought to weaken the mandate -- also were voted down.

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After ICC Vote, Fire Sprinkler Mandate Stands

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Video Technology

The growing prevalence of video on the fire scene and around the firehouse created new ethical and legal dilemmas this year.

In a world of helmet cams, cell phones and other mini recording devices, as well as vast and instant distribution tools like YouTube, fire departments are increasingly having to consider the benefits and liabilities of such material.

Though video can sometimes prove valuable, more departments are banning the use of photography and video equipment while on duty, while others are making it clear that their policies forbidding the devices still stand. HIPAA laws can be broken and the image of the department can be threatened by certain types of videos, officials say. The topic was a common thread at several 2009 fire service training conferences.

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Viral Video Made an Impact on Fire Service in 2009

Helmet Cameras Put Under Microscope 

Lessons Learned from Calif. Helmet Cam Video

New Fire Administrator

Kelvin Cochran, former Chief of the Atlanta, Ga. Fire Department, was tapped and confirmed this summer as the new U.S. Fire Administrator, a key position in the Obama administration. Cochran has 28 years of experience in the fire service and has also served as Chief of the Shreveport, La. Fire Department, as the 1st Vice President of the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC), President of the Metropolitan Fire Chiefs Association, and Vice Chairman of Volunteers of America (VOA).

Cochran said there are numerous issues he plans to address. These include an evaluation of the USFA’s performance compared to the recommendations of the “America Burning” and “America Burning Revisited" reports. An additional internal effort will be made to evaluate the impact of the Assistance to Firefighters grants and the SAFER grants, to make sure credible evidence is collected to show that these programs are effective.

Furthermore, Cochran plans a more assertive effort to reduce line of duty deaths in the fire service. "I don't believe we've played as aggressive a role as we need," he said.

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Ryan White Language Restored

Responders revived legislation in 2009 that will permit notification of personnel exposed to HIV or other serious illnesses.

In late October, President Obama signed the updated Ryan White legislation with a provision allowing hospitals to notify personnel about certain exposures within 48 hours.

When the original bill was first revised in 2006, the section allowing hospitals to tell first responders if their health could be in jeopardy was eliminated. The fire/EMS community was not consulted about the measure, and it was dropped from the original language. Since then, public safety officials have been on a mission to get it reinstated.

One issue still remains, says Lisa Meyer, of Cornerstone Government Affairs. The legislation states that in the event of a federally-declared public health emergency, the HHS Secretary may wholly or partially waive the notification. "We think it's important that people be notified if they have been exposed," Meyer said. "We are willing to waive the 48-hour rule. But, not notification entirely…"

Meyer said EMS and fire officials will be meeting with administration staff to discuss the matter.

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Ryan White Notification Law Restored

See more on the year’s EMS-related issues, including H1N1 flu and air-medical safety in The Top EMS Stories of the Year.

Inauguration Response

Months of planning and thousands of calls for assistance were handled by D.C. Fire and EMS as 1.8 million people descended on the city in January 2009 to witness the inauguration of Barack Obama. The record-setting event served as a massive learning experience locally and regionally.

The majority of calls were handled by local personnel and crews from surrounding jurisdictions including Maryland and Virginia, as well as some recruited by FEMA. Many of the calls involved exposure issues as the temperatures never budged out of the 20s.

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D.C. Officials Reflect on Record-Setting Inauguration Response

D.C. Metro Wreck

D.C. also held the nation’s attention with a major disaster in June 2009, when a metro train slammed into the back of another, leaving numerous people dead and dozens more injured.

Within minutes, a mass casualty event was declared and resources throughout the region were alerted. During the initial response, more than 200 fire and rescue personnel responded to the collision, the deadliest in the city's transit system history. Crews from Fairfax, Arlington and Alexandria, Va. as well as Montgomery and Prince George's Counties also responded to assist with the incident and to handle other calls in the city.

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D.C. Train Crash Launches Regional Mutual Aid Effort

Death Toll Rises to 9 in D.C. Metro Train Collision 

D.C. Metro Trains Collide, Nine Killed

DC Metro Wreck

Hudson River Plane Crash

Another of the year’s most captivating events was the landing of a U.S. Airways plane on the Hudson River in January. All 155 people on board survived the landing and were rescued from the frigid water by emergency crews and other boats. One victim reportedly suffered two broken legs but there were no other reports of serious injuries.

The plane had just taken off from LaGuardia Airport enroute to Charlotte, N.C. and struck one or more birds, disabling two engines. The pilot, Capt. Chesley Sullenberger, became known as a national hero for safely guiding the plane down, and rescuers were heavily praised for the successful emergency response. FDNY got the first call, and additional response agencies included NYPD, NY Waterway ferries and Weehawken, N.J., police, firefighters and emergency medical crews.

Worcester Tragedy 10th Anniversary

Dec. 3, 2009 marked the 10th anniversary of the Worcester Cold Storage Warehouse Fire, the tragic 1999 blaze that claimed the lives of six Worcester, Mass. firefighters. The historic incident sparked safety assessments throughout the U.S. fire service, leaving a positive legacy on behalf of those killed: Paul A. Brotherton, Jeremiah M. Lucey, Joseph T. McGuirk, Timothy P. Jackson Sr., Thomas E. Spencer and James F. 'Jay' Lyons III.

Firehouse.com was on the scene for the memorial service, and for updates from those who helped the department weather the storm and come out stronger.

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Worcester 10th Anniversary

Line of Duty Deaths

As of Dec. 31, there have been 93 line of duty deaths reported for 2009, according to the USFA. This is down from 118 reported for 2008.

While all of these deaths are equal and tragic losses, several stood out as lessons learned for the fire service.

In one incident, a Boston firefighter was killed and several others were injured when a ladder truck crashed into a high-rise building in January. The incident took the life of 30-year veteran Lt. Kevin M. Kelley and put its apparatus maintenance division under a microscope when catastrophic brake failure was found to blame.

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Critical Boston Apparatus Maintenance Report Can Serve as Learning Tool to Fire Departments

Boston Lieutenant Killed After Ladder Truck Smashes into High-Rise Building

In another tragic accident, two Texas firefighters were killed in ladder truck training. The Kilgore firefighters fell eight stories from an elevated aerial platform Jan. 25 on the Kilgore College campus. Firefighters Kyle Perkins, 45, and Cory Galloway, 28, were participating in a training exercise to familiarize fire department personnel with the newly purchased equipment. Fall protection was not used during the training.

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Report: Unfamiliarity of Aerial Platform Truck Key Factor in Texas Firefighter Training Deaths

USFA 2009 LODD List

This year’s National Fallen Firefighters Memorial Service