Five years after first blazing the trail of online emergency services news and information, Firehouse.com celebrates its anniversary Christmas Day by looking back at some of the most significant events in our community and forward to further serving the needs of first responders worldwide.
"Firehouse.Com was intended to be a combination of a CNN for the fire service and a Yahoo!-like portal of all things emergency services, and I think we've accomplished that for the most part," said Firehouse.Com founder/publisher Dave Iannone, who launched the site in a spare bedroom along with site co-founder Chris Hebert.
"A goal of firehouse.com was to create a site that fit the needs of all members working in emergency services, allowing them a place to go to get all the resources they would need to do their job. A one-stop shop if you will," Hebert said.
The site started out small but quickly became the web's one-stop resource for the fire service. It received 3,500 visitors its first day and now averages 35,000 to 50,000 unique visitors a day, totaling 500,000 unique visitors each month and nearly 10 million page views monthly.
Steve Austin, past President of the Delaware Volunteer Firemen's Association and the Director of Governmental Relations for the International Association of Arson Investigators, said he values Firehouse.com because it allows the tight-knit community of the fire service to communicate with one another.
"Prior to Firehouse.Com, most of the information that one gleaned came from trade periodicals, which are still important, but no one was able to supply daily information," Austin said. "You're able to improve the communication and add to the understanding of what we're all about as firefighters."
"If you're not looking at Firehouse.Com at least once a day," Austin said, "you're probably missing a lot of what's going on in the fire service and probably around the world."
Austin added that prior to Firehouse.Com, firefighter fatality notices were only heard by word of mouth or through monthly publications, but now such information is immediately available nationwide.
And it isn't only the tragedies that Firehouse.Com brings to light.
"It's also all the good things - people's triumphs and rescues and things that make people proud to be rescuers," Austin said. "The site has given us a better opportunity to look into ourselves, to understand why we do the things we do, and if we can do some things better."
Firehouse.com stepped to the forefront of breaking news coverage in the fire service after the Dec. 3, 1999 Worcester Cold Storage blaze that claimed the lives of six firefighters -- the largest loss of firefighters' lives in decades in a structural fire.
Within an hour of the fire, Firehouse.com began five days of total coverage, including on the scene reports, photos, and personal stories. Thousands of condolences poured in from around the world.
Sadly, it would not be the saddest day for America's fire service. But Firehouse.com has been there are the central point for the world's firefighters whether it be good, bad, sad, or ugly.
"It's been a unique experiencing going through the dot-com bust, surviving, and managing to grow to what we have today from relatively simple beginnings to more than two dozen full time employees and countless contributors today that are needed to run the site," Iannone said.
The growth of Firehouse.com has been greatly enhanced by its sister properties within Cygnus Business Media.
"Without the support of Firehouse Magazine, and our trade shows, Firehouse Expo and Firehouse World, and the promotional vehicle they have offered, we would not be what we are today. But in the end it comes down to our users, who are probably among the most dedicated of any online," Iannone said.
"There was an outpouring of support after 9/11 when tens of thousands of firefighters across the globe came together and raised tens of millions of dollars for the families of FDNY's fallen heroes, and came together for the memorial services a year later," Iannone said, "and we were able to be the bridge to the world's firefighters for all the information and resources that were needed."
Firehouse Magazine founder Dennis Smith said the site is an extremely valuable and effective resource. "I think you've come a long way," he said. "I think it's been tremendously effective and that it's the most important new media for the fire service since Firehouse Magazine."
As the site has grown, it has strived to bring into focus on a national scale complete coverage of the most thought-provoking incidents, such as the deadly live-fire training accidents in Utica, New York and Osceola County, Florida, and the drunk driving accident in Newcastle, Wyoming that caused the death of a 16-year-old fire explorer.
Firehouse.Com's news coverage, commentaries and columns have not only reported, but have probed the issues, such as when aggressive interior firefighting should become exterior firefighting and what level of training should be required and what standards should be demanded of fire departments in areas where there is little regulation.
Such coverage has caused decision makers to review and perhaps change ordinances and laws. Scott's Law was created in Illinois after the roadside death of Chicago Fire Lt. Scott Gillen, and fire inspections were initiated all over the Northeast after the Rhode Island nightclub fire.
Firefighters come weekly to the site to check in for the latest HotShot photography, training articles in the MembersZone, hold hundreds of discussions weekly in the forums, chat live online and much more.
Other milestones have included Firehouse.Com's Emergency Fest in May 2000, coverage of the Hepatitis C first responder epidemic in Philadelphia and extensive, ongoing coverage of the federal FIRE Act grant program that began in 2001.
"With five great years under our belt we are still learning how to be a better service to our loyal readers," Hebert said. "Just like the fire service we look forward to the challenges ahead and will strive to find new ways to inform our audience for the next five years."
The widespread sharing of news and ideas has had a real effect on Firehouse.Com's readers. Phil Whitson, who runs an intense high school firefighting program in Mariposa County, California that includes real live-fire training and Firefighter 1 certification, said that after his program was covered on Firehouse.Com he received calls from around the country and has since helped start four similar programs around California. "I got calls from all over the U.S. including Alaska," he said. "We're known nationally now."
Making An Impact
It didn't take long for Firehouse.Com to become not only a leading source of information for members of the fire service, but for the leaders of the fire service, the government and the fire service organizations.
"Since its inception in 1998, Firehouse.Com has been an excellent resource for the IAFF and our affiliates and members to receive the latest news and information that affects us in the fire service," said Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters. "Firehouse.Com has and continues to provide accurate and timely information about all aspects of the fire service and our role as the labor organization representing the interests of the career and professional firefighters and paramedics throughout North America," he said.
"More personally," Schaitberger added, "on behalf of our 260,000 IAFF brothers and sisters who bravely serve their communities across the U.S. and Canada, we most sincerely thank the staff of Firehouse.Com for their efforts to help us in raising over $160 million for the families of the 343 firefighters we lost on September 11, 2001. We will Always Remember and Never Forget."
Garry Briese, Executive Director of the International Association of Fire Chiefs, said "Firehouse.Com provides the entire fire service with up-to-the-minute information and that provides anyone who wants to know what is happening, the almost real-time ability to stay on top of issues. Firehouse.Com has established itself as an essential online communications channel to the fire service in just five short, but intense, years. We, here at the IAFC, are looking forward to the upcoming contributions that this excellent level of communications will provide to the fire and emergency services in the next five years."
R. Wayne Powell, Chief of Citizen and Community Preparedness at the United States Fire Administration/FEMA said he is also a long-time user of Firehouse.Com. "I am on it several times each and every week," he said. "The articles are frequently the way we at the United States Fire Administration first learn of critical events and significant advances in the business of fire protection and fire safety. I consider it one of the most amazing sites on the entire web, not just as regards 'fire and emergency services issues,' but the entire world wide web."
Firehouse.Com contributing editor Billy Goldfeder, a Battalion Chief for the Loveland-Symmes Fire Department in southwest Ohio, responded to Firehouse.Com's request for feedback saying, "What impact has Firehouse.Com had? What impact HASN'T it had would be a better question!"
"I remember back in the early days when I was told that there was going to be a Firehouse "DOT COM" and wondered what could it do different from the printed versions of "fire related news... How naive was I?" Goldfeder said. "Like most of us, we had no idea what the 'information super highway' would do to our world as we knew it. Specifically, in the world of fire information, a few forward thinkers came up with this great idea: Firehouse.Com."
"Thanks to those who run the site, but also those who provide the input directly or indirectly, Firehouse.Com is the #1 site to find out 'what's up' in the fire and related emergency services field," Goldfeder said. "Like CNN, FOX and USA Today, Firehouse.Com gets the information out RIGHT NOW with a focus on informing all facets of the fire service.
The information that Firehouse.Com provides informs firefighters, and that information can often lead to a safer fireground operation -- and that is the top value of Firehouse.Com. I am very confident that countless firefighters have avoided tragedy due to information they read at Firehouse.Com. That makes Firehouse.Com priceless," he said.
The staff at Firehouse.Com couldn't hope for a better outcome to their efforts than an increase in safety and an even tighter bond among America's fire service and of firefighters around the world.
"When Christmas day 2023 comes around I would like to know that after 25 years of providing information to the emergency services family that we have made a contribution to making emergency services better," Hebert said. "Firefighters have tools and gear to make them perform better, and safer. I hope Firehouse.Com is in their toolbox."
Coming Next Week: The Top Stories Of 2003