SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. -- Monday marked the start of The International Association of Fire Fighters' 17th Symposium on the Occupational Health and Hazards of the Fire Service.
The Redmond Symposium, running in San Francisco from Oct 6-9, opened with a plenary session covering topics from new technology to firefighter medical standards and the health effects of 9-11.
"During the next few days we need to re-dedicate ourselves to making firefighting as safe as possible," said IAFF General President Harold A. Schaitberger. "The loss of life should not just be accepted as part of the job."
Schaitberger spoke of developing new tactics for facing health hazards including Hepatitis, post traumatic stress, and new threats such as SARS. He called for firefighters to push their federal governments for funding and information, and to make sure they follow through. "The fact is that we have no other choice. The stakes are just too high," he said.
Schaitberger also asked that union members be proactive and make sure they are doing all they can for health and safety. "We owe it to every one of our brothers and sisters who went to work and never came home," he said.
IAFF leadership also called for all conference attendees to join in a march and rally later Monday against California's recall election.
Additional welcoming remarks came from San Francisco Fire Fighters Local 798 President John Haney, San Francisco Fire Chief Mario Trevino, and most notably, San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown.
Brown's appearance was a major highlight of Monday's session as he joked with the crowd and spoke fondly of his city and its diverse population. "For some of us it's as close as we'll ever get to heaven," he said.
The day's keynote address was presented by General Dennis J. Reimer, director of the National Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism, in Oklahoma City. Reimer spoke of the institute's efforts to help responders share lessons learned from previous terrorist incidents, as well as a project to provide responders with a sort of consumer reports for current and emerging rescue technology.
Reimer then turned the talk over to Donald Hewitt, Program Manager for the Terrorism Research Center in Burke, Virginia. Hewitt explained that the organizations are creating a web site that will include product information, any verified testing and standards information, explain the training required for the technology, discuss how to pay for it, and provide feedback from others who have used it.
Hewitt said they are looking for help from manufacturers, standards organizations, testers and users to provide the information, and asked that people take a look at their web site and give feedback. The site is expected to launch on Oct 31 at www.rkb.mipt.org. In the meantime, viewers can access a demo web site at www.rkb.wdl.csc.com.
IAFF Assistant to the General President Richard M. Duffy highlighted the IAFF's efforts over the past two years, including their assistance to FDNY after 9/11, legislative efforts such as increasing the PSOB, the IAFF's response to recent biohazards such as anthrax, smallpox and SARS, and work on the SAFER Bill, which is expected to fund an additional 75,000 firefighters, he said.
The IAFF also outlined their Frontline Policy, a new plan to make legal representation available when firefighters suffer death or injury as a result of defective equipment or another party's negligence.
Later in the the session the discussion was led by several medical experts.
Dr. Sandy Bogucki, medical director for the New Haven FD and the Connecticut Fire Academy, discussed the updated NFPA 1582. She said it now calls for a yearly medical evaluation for all firefighters, and requires that the evaluations look for conditions for which firefighters are at increased risk.
"It went from a tool to disqualify people to a standard whose mission is to take care of the nation's fire service," she said.
Finally, the session turned to the Health Effects of 9-11. David Prezant, Deputy Chief Medical Officer for FDNY, discussed his study and treatment of FDNY firefighters who worked at Ground Zero.
"This is about the 11,000 FDNY firefighters who survived," he said. Prezant said all of the firefighters got medicals which were compared to prior medical data collected for the IAFF's Wellness and Fitness Program. Prezant created a chart of pulmonary function using the two sets of data which showed a substantial drop after 9/11, of about 10 times the amount that would have been normal due to aging.
The doctor said he is seeing career threatening asthma and "World Trade Center cough," and showed photos of particles of asbestos, glass and concrete removed from a firefighter's lungs.
Prezant shared one story a patient told him, about how he used to love watching his little boy play firefighter and imitate him. "But now he's imitating my cough," the patient said, and pretending to cough uncontrollably and fall down. "I felt like a sick old man, I didn't know whether to laugh or cry," the patient told him.
Prezant said some firefighters are experiencing a loss of physical abilities, and they worry about a shortened lifespan, or families that don't understand why they can't move on. He stressed the importance of ongoing treatment, counseling and long term medical monitoring.
"We cannot travel back in time to prevent 9/11, the explosions that have already occurred. But we can work to restore the health of those that did survive," he said. "The terrorists didn't know they were attacking the strongest people on earth - firefighters."