Preparedness a Common Theme at Firehouse World

SAN DIEGO -- A common theme has emerged from many presentations at Firehouse World -- preparedness.

Coverage of Firehouse World 2012

Reno Fire Chief Michael Hernandez touched on three disasters his department has faced recently.

It started with the fatal crash at the Reno National Championship Air Races last fall. Impact was so intense crews found part of the engine block nearly a mile away.

Hernandez praised personnel from mutual aid companies for their efforts to treat the injured spectators. "Regional EMS did an absolutely phenomenal job."

Patients' injuries ranged from chemical burns, amputations, fractures to lacerations.

Hernandez said the incident went well because just weeks before they'd held a drill based on the same scenario. Crews on standby at the air races as well as those dispatched to respond knew their roles.

He said it's imperative that crews not only conduct drills but to make them realistic and plan for things that have a high probability of occurring.

In addition to fire and rescue personnel, others such as police and the Red Cross need to be included. There need to be plans to handle the media and establishing an information line for families.

Cell phones went down almost immediately after the crash due to the number of calls, texts and videos, he said.

It's also important to have CISM counselors available to crews after the incident.

Hernandez also reviewed to major wildfires in the Reno area, one in Caughlin last November and in Washoe recently.

Each claimed a life. In the Caughlin fire, 30 homes were destroyed and 10,000 residents were evacuated. "We saved 4,000 homes."

In the most recent fire, 29 homes were engulfed, and 500 were saved.

Again, Hernandez said the department depended on others to help control the blaze. While in planning mode, he said it's essential that chiefs recognize their capabilities, and have a plan to supply the resources necessary.

"Always have a Plan B," he added.

Another chief speaking about the importance of planning was Las Vegas Fire Capt. Robert Shannon.

It's important for firefighters to know and understand building construction and fire behavior, he told people during a session on close calls.

Shannon said there should be a 360-degree size-up of every building every time before people are sent inside. "It's also important to get a safety officer on the first alarm."

He played a tape from a man calling 911 to report a warehouse fire. Vital information he told the dispatcher, however, was not relayed to the firefighters.

After showing a helmet cam video of the fire and subsequent roof collapse, students discussed tactics and operations.