The 2009 session of FDIC began with words of warning and encouragement for the leaders gathered in Indianapolis today.
Chief Bobby Halton, the FDIC's Education Director extolled the words of writer and Indianapolis native Kurt Vonnegut, addressing the crowd of hundreds. Vonnegut once called the fire truck "the most stirring symbol of man's humanity to his fellow man." Halton reminded the firefighters gathered today that, as members of the fire service, they are part of that symbol, and they must continue to strive to meet the high expectations that come with it.
Halton told attendees the story of a firefighter who braved a burning apartment building to rescue a woman who was trapped inside. He got the woman out safely, but, rather than treating him as a hero, the firefighter's superiors admonished him for taking too great a risk.
"Occasionally, in our passion to make our profession safer, we forget that we cannot control the uncontrollable."
He called firefighting a "sacred honor" and urged attendees to do all they can to make sure not only people, but their most treasured possessions, be removed safely from harm's way.
Keynote speaker Dave McGrail, District Chief of the Denver, Colo. Fire Department, echoed Halton's call for passion and dedication, telling attendees that they must not let themselves be discouraged by those who are not as passionate about the firefighting profession as they are.
He said those gathered in Indianapolis are tasked with learning all they can and then bringing it back to their departments. That is an important job, but also one that can be met with ridicule from those who may not want to change. McGrail told attendees not to give up, not to be broken.
This morning's ceremony was also a time to honor the tremendous sacrifices firefighters made throughout the year. Halton took time during his remarks to honor the firefighters of Clarence Center, N.Y., who responded to the crash of Continental Flight 3407. Milwaukee firefighter Anthony Rueda was honored with the Ray Downey Courage and Valor Award for rescuing his captain after they were both injured in a floor collapse.
The conference, now in its eighty-first year, offers over 160 classroom presentations focusing on various aspects of safety, leadership and training. Among educational classes offered this morning was To Hell and Back IV: Cyanide. The presentation was the latest part of an educational program developed by The People's Burn Foundation and the Cyanide Poisoning Treatment Coalition.
The goal of the session was to bring to light the damaging effects of cyanide and carbon monoxide, targeting firefighters who, not understanding how toxic smoke can be, may be somewhat lax with safety precautions on the fireground.
Because of the use of chemicals and plastics in modern-day building materials, presenter Alameda County, Calif. Special Operations Chief Rob Schnepp told attendees that smoke is much more hazardous than ever before.
"How many of you wear a hood" he asked. "How many times have you washed it?" "How many of you leave your gear by the bed?" He said all these are ways that firefighters can leave themselves open to exposure to damaging chemicals.
He said even if a firefighter walks away from the fire, even if he or she seems healthy now, long-term exposure to cyanide or carbon monoxide can have serious health risks, like cancer or Parkinson's disease.
He told attendees that paying attention to smoke is of the utmost importance to firefighters, because no matter what the situation, smoke will be present at every single fire.