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


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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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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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. 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.