2011 a Year of Reflection, Constant Change for Fire Service

The year of 2011 was one of reflection on losses new and old, financial ups and downs, innovation and constant change for the fire service.

The nation marked ten years since the 9/11 terrorist attacks occurred this fall, honoring those who made the ultimate sacrifice and their family members -- who remain forever changed.

Firehouse.com had staff writers in New York City and Shanksville, Pa. for memorial events held in both cities.

While the weekend's events were somber, there was some controversy leading up to the unveiling of the memorial erected on the World Trade Center site.

Firefighters and other responders discovered about a month in advance that they were not invited to the event the morning of 9/11 in order to accommodate the families of those killed in the attacks.

Despite being turned away from the WTC site, thousands of firefighters flocked to the city memorial at Riverside Park -- a spot where FDNY members have gathered in remembrance of that tragic day for years now.

The fire service lost two legends this year in Hal Bruno and Bob Barraclough.

Bruno died on Nov. 4 at the age of 83.

The original columnist for Firehouse Magazine, former political director for ABC News and chairman emeritus of the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation was remembered fondly at his funeral.

Barraclough died on Jan. 21 at the age of 70.

The fire apparatus pioneer touched virtually everyone in the industry and was remembered at both the FDOSA Apparatus Symposium in Orlando and at FDIC in Indianapolis.

Firehouse.com Senior Staff Writer Susan Nicol was in Emmitsburg, Md. in October for the 30th annual Fallen Firefighters Memorial Weekend and provided coverage of many of the events held to honor the fallen.

If things stay the way they currently are this year, the U.S. Fire Service could see another decrease in line of duty deaths. As of Dec. 26, 84 firefighters had died as a result of doing their jobs. This is a decrease from the 87 lost in 2010.

It would signify the third-straight year the number of firefighter fatalities has dropped. From 2004 to 2009, an average of 112 annually lost their lives.

The manpower and equipment at a department's disposable often has a lot to do with how its firefighters are prepared to handle potentially fatal situations. In the current economy, many cities across the country have made but staffing and budget cuts.

Thanks to federal grants, many of those departments -- both big and small -- have been able to fill those gaps and in some cases bring back firefighters who were previously laid off.

Unfortunately, many departments may not be able to rely on grant funds as they previous have following a bill passed by Congress late in the year.

The AFG and SAFER programs would be funded at $337.5 million each, which is a cut of $67.5 million for each program.

CFSI Executive Director Bill Webb told Firehouse.com: "(2012 is) going to be a tough year, no question. It appears all funding programs are in Congress' cross hairs."

Under the bill, the USFA is poised to receive $44.04 million -- approximately $1.55 million less than it received the previous year.

One official from that agency told attendees at the opening of the annual symposium of IAFC's VCOS (Volunteer and Combination Officers Section) in Clearwater, Fla. in November that the fire service must learn to adapt to change.

"If you think life is going to be the same as it was 20 years ago, it's not," Ken Farmer, chief of the agency's Prevention and Leadership Development Branch, said. "Things are going to change."

Farmer was not only talking about financial change but also about fundamental changes to the way firefighters do their jobs.

"We have to shift from the response and the exciting part of fighting fires -- which I love -- and focus on prevention and mitigation," he said. "We have to stop thinking that we are 'cleanup on aisle 7' and start analyzing these incidents."

The Charleston Fire Department has been quickly changing the way its firefighters respond to and fight fires.

This year marked the fourth year since nine firefighters were killed in the Sofa Super Store Fire.

As part of Firehouse.com's coverage of Fire/EMS Safety, Health & Survival Week, the department's safety officer, Battalion Chief Bryan Kleskie, talked about how firefighters responded after the first Mayday sounded since the 2007 tragedy.

A Chicago firefighter's invention could soon help FDNY crews battle high-rise fires without putting themselves in unnecessary danger.

Lt. Michael Wielgat's HEROPipe -- which can be used to attack high-rise fires from the exterior between floors -- was purchased by the fire department this year.

The FDNY is making other strides in the way they use technology with its new Electronic Fireground Accountability System, which keeps track of firefighters within a building when a Mayday is called.

The new system uses the existing radios and sends information through software to a device controlled by the incident commander.

EFAS has made big strides during the course of this year and is currently operational at fire companies throughout the city.

One technology that could soon be available to all fire departments is the "Slim System" SCBA. Previously known as the "FlatPak," the air tanks used in the device consist of pressure vessels made from a polymetric plastic core braided with ballistic Kevlar and wound with carbon filament.

Not only have there been changes in technology, but also in personnel.

This year, Los Angeles appointed a new fire chief and Boston named a new chief of department.

The U.S. Fire Service as a whole received a new chief as well this year.

Former IAFC president Ernest Mitchell Jr. was nominated to the post of U.S. Fire Administrator by President Obama back in August and was later confirmed.

Firehouse.com recently spoke to Mitchell about his plans for the USFA.

A lot went on in the fire service this year and the staff of Firehouse.com thanks you for joining us for the ride.

Have a happy holiday, a great new year and stay safe!