Massachusetts Fire Report Offers Solutions

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The unflinching diagnosis of Fire Department weaknesses contained in the Lorraine Apartments fire After-Action report comes with a lengthy prescription.

More training, modernized equipment and new inter-agency planning are at the center of 30 recommendations in the report from Municipal Resources Inc., from their exhaustive post-mortem of the Fire Department's response to the December 2007 Middle Street fire -- a response described in the 84-page report as disorganized and short on leadership.

As noted in the $10,000 report -- commissioned a year ago by Mayor Carolyn Kirk -- some of the recommendations will require new expenditures for the cash-strapped city and others, while others could be put in place with only policy changes.

One of the criticisms of the report was that, since the fire -- which killed one man, displaced 24 residents and destroyed the apartment building and neighboring Temple Ahavat Achim more than a year ago -- the department had not made any substantial changes to its procedures.

The top recommendation was for something the city is already doing: "an intense and comprehensive study of the department."

MRI itself has been commissioned by the mayor and City Council to examine the workings of both the fire and police departments, a study that is already in its advanced stages.

Beefed-up training on almost every level of the Fire Department is recommended in the After-Action report, including a call for all firefighters completing, within six months, training in a national set of fire response procedures called the National Incident Management System.

With much of the training recommended by the report, the cost to the city would mostly come from the time firefighters would have to spend doing it and corresponding overtime needed to cover their shifts.

In the area of equipment, however, the report recommends utilizing grants to develop a portable radio system with digital identification units, and switching to a system of radio pagers to recall firefighters.

Water pressure and supply problems were a major issue identified in the report and the consultants recommended flow tests throughout the city to find problem areas and create an updated map with the Department of Public Works of all water mains.

Other specific recommendations outlined in the report include:

  • Defining the role of the Emergency Medical Services coordinator.
  • Creating a new large building inspection program that highlights and targets hazardous buildings.
  • Pre-planning response procedures with regional agencies included in mutual aid agreements.
  • Establishing a staff safety officer at all working fires.
  • Reviewing all department standard operating procedures.
  • A city-wide "tabletop" exercise with other agencies to practice emergency response.

City Council President Bruce Tobey said he was confident that MRI would use all of the relevant findings and recommendations gathered in the After-Action report in the public safety audit. He said it was important for leaders not to react rashly before the full audit report was released.

"I am confident (MRI's) concerns will be fully explored through that report," Tobey said about the public safety audit. "Community leaders will need to implement those changes and behave with measured patience in the meantime, taking no steps that will preclude that from happening."

Republished with permission of The Gloucester Daily Times.

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