Friday, June 26, 2009
Thursday, June 25, 2009
The International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) is committed to reducing firefighter fatalities and injuries. As part of that effort, the IAFC Safety, Health and Survival (SHS) Section has developed DRAFT “Rules of Engagement for Structural Firefighting” to provide guidance to individual firefighters and incident commanders regarding risk and safety issues when operating on the fireground.
The intent is to provide a set of model procedures to be made available by the IAFC to fire departments as a guide for their own standard operating procedures development.
The direction provided to the project team by the Section leadership was to develop rules of engagement with the following conceptual points:
· Rules should be a short, specific set of bullets
· Rules should be easily taught and remembered
· Rules should define critical risk issues
· Rules should define “go” ‐ “no‐go situations
· A champion lesson plan should be provided
Early in development the rules of engagement, it was recognized that two separate rules were needed –one set for the firefighter, and another set for the incident commander. Thus, the two sets of rules of engagement described in this document. Each set has several commonly stated bullets, but the explanations are described somewhat differently based on the level of responsibility (i.e., firefighter vs. incident commanders).
The draft documents are currently open for public comment until the FRI conference in Dallas (August 25‐29, 2009).
The reader may direct comments to Chief Gary Morris, the project lead, at
The originating IAFC Rules of Structural Engagement, HERE
IAFC Safety, Health and Survival Section Home Page, HERE
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
The Deutsche Bank Building located at 130 Liberty Street adjacent to the quarters of FDNY Engine 10, Ladder 10, was once a 40-story high-rise structure that had been systematically reduced to 26-stories at the time of the fire. Significant building contamination from numerous toxic substances that included asbestos and lead resulting from the destruction of the World Trade Center during the September 11th attacks required the deliberate floor-by-floor dismantling effort as part of the deconstruction process that would ultimately remove the building from its present site.
The two FDNY firefighter fatalities were Fr. Joseph Graffagnino, an eight year veteran and Fr. Robert Beddia a twenty-three year veteran, both assigned to Engine 24 and Ladder 5 in SoHo. The seven alarm fire was being worked with a contingent of over 275 firefighters when the pair became trapped on the 14th floor of the building after being overcome by blinding concentrations of dense smoke after their air supply was depleted during the course of combat fire suppression operations.Post incident investigations, providing insights into fire department operations, physical building conditions, risk profiles, hazards and deficiencies.
The fact that the Deutsche Bank building was being dismantled floor by floor- that it was undergoing “Deconstruction” meant that the building was a primary target hazard containing significant operational vulnerabilities, hazards and dangers posing life threatening risk to unsuspecting firefighting personnel. The fact that this building was undergoing asbestos abatement further compounds the degree of risk present.
Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta today announced that two fire officers have been permanently relieved of their commands and reprimanded, and five chief officers have also received reprimands, in connection with their failure to insure required inspections were performed at 130 Liberty Street prior to the August 2007 fire that took the lives of two firefighters, Robert Beddia and Joseph Graffagnino. All seven officers agreed to accept these penalties in lieu of formal charges and an administrative trial before the city’s Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings (OATH).
Today’s announcement followed the release last week of a report by the City’s Department of Investigations (DOI) on the results of an investigation of the Fire and Buildings Departments’ actions leading up to the 130 Liberty Street fire. DOI’s administrative investigation began after a 16-month criminal investigation by Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau that resulted in indictments against the John Galt Corporation and three of its workers. No criminal charges were filed against any City employees.Once demolition of 130 Liberty Street began, Fire Department regulations required inspections of the building every 15 days. Fire officers in FDNY Division 1, Battalion 1, and Engine 10, who had responsibility for conducting inspections, failed to inspect 130 Liberty Street between the commencement of demolition in March 2007 and the fire on August 18.
Bottom line, buildings undergoing construction, alterations, deconstruction, demolition and renovations can pose significant risk to suppression operations and lead to firefighter injuries and fatalities. This can not be stressed enough. The unique and dangerous elements confronting incident commanders, company officers and operating forces demands a clear understanding that fire suppression operations in buildings during construction, alterations, deconstruction, demolition and renovations present significant risks and consequences, requires a methodical and conservative approach towards incident stabilization and mitigation.
You cannot implement conventional tactical operations in these structures. Doing so jeopardizes all operating personnel and creates unbalanced risk management profiles that are typically not favorable to the safety and wellbeing of firefighters.
Pre-fire planning is a must, What is your department doing in the areas of pre-fire planning? Do you have effective procedures in place to address deconstruction and demolition projects and emergency response operations?
Check out Safety Considerations HERE
Power point program on Operational Safety and Awareness at Deonstruction and Demolition Sites, HERE
Sunday, June 21, 2009
Fire/EMS Safety, Health and Survival Week, 2009 officially came to a close yesterday, culminating a week, a moment in time dedicated to a focus on the mission critical and life sustaining functional areas of our fire and EMS profession.
During this week, there were on average, over 10,173 structure fires in the United States. According to NFPA statistics the following occur on average in the U.S;
• A fire department responded to a fire every 20 seconds.
• One structure fire was reported every 59 seconds.
• One home structure fire was reported every 79 seconds
• One civilian fire injury was reported every 30 minutes.
• One civilian fire death occurred every 2 hours and 33 minutes.
• One outside fire was reported every 41 seconds.
• One vehicle fire was reported every 122 seconds.
During Fire/EMS Safety, Health and Survival Week, the flags over the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial in Emmitsburg, Maryland were flown at half-staff in honor of four (4) Fire Service Line-of-Duty death notifications that occurred during this past week;
June 14, 2009
Firefighter Conrad Mansfield
Delaware Township Volunteer Fire Department
June 16, 2009
Firefighter Lyle Lewis
Osborne County Fire District #3
June 16, 2009
Firefighter Jimmy E. Cameron
South Chester Fire Department
Blackstock, South Carolina
June 18, 2009
Firefighter William Thompson
Dushore Fire Company
These fallen firefighter notifications increases this year’s Line-of-Duty Deaths to a total of Fifty-One (51). Take a moment to reflect upon these firefighters by visiting the USFA fatality notices, HERE or the NFFF, EGH Notifications, HERE.
Not everyone made it home this past week.
In 2004 the culmination of the first proceedings from the National Fire Fighter Life Safety Summit held in Tampa established the objectives of reducing the national firefighter fatality rate by 25% within a five year period and by 50% within ten years. The Tampa Summit produced an agenda of initiatives and formulated the 16 Firefighter Life Safety initiatives that were identified to be addressed to reach those milestones and to gain the commitment of the fire service leadership to support and work toward their accomplishment.
There are clearly defined areas for the fire service to draw its attention and efforts for firefighter safety. The 16 Firefight Life Safety Initiatives provides that clarity, unity and purpose. The responsibility is thrust upon each and every one of us to recognize, we have a duty and obligation to work collectively towards these mutual goals and objectives of fire service and firefighter safety, health and survivability.
There are no days of rest; there is no waiting for “next year’s” Fire/EMS Safety Week. There is only the recognition and realization that we still have a long road ahead of us, and yes we may be running against the wind, but we know we can institute the cultural safety changes necessary to have the wind at our backs.
There are 193 days of opportunity remaining in 2009. There are 365 days of opportunity until the 2010 Fire/EMS Safety, Health and Survival Week. Don't miss these opportunities to make a difference or to influence and change destiny; You have that ability.
Going Forward in 2009 and Beyond-Protecting Yourself: Your Safety, Health and Survival Are Your Responsibility. Take that responsibility and run with it…even if you're running against the wind.
Post Script: Check out Chief Ben Waller's excellent post; "Don't Save Safety for the Critique", HERE
A couple of evenings ago, I had the chance to stop by one of our busier stations. The crew was taking advantage of a little lull in the action to engage in a little team-building discussion. The discussion was pretty interesting. It centered on chief officers - one of the four areas of concentration for this year's Safety Week. The comments were, in typical firehouse fashion, blunt and to the point. One of the firefighters commented that chief officers need to understand the difference between thinking tactically and thinking like a safety officer when they act as the Incident Safety Officer. I asked what he meant. He went on to say that some chiefs focus on how to extinguish the fire regardless of what vest they're wearing, while others understand the Safety Officer's role and how to carry it out without interfering with a properly-run operation. The other firefighters commented on the other extreme, when the Safety Officer attempts to start the post-incident critique while the battle against the fire is still being waged. So where does the Safety Officer draw the line?
The Safety Officer is charged with recognizing unsafe acts and conditions, informing Command, and can take direct action to stop unsafe acts or remediate unsafe conditions. How do you do that without inappropriate interference with the tactical situation? My rule is that if the issue is minor, if I'm the Safety Officer, I correct it and move on. For example, if the pump operator forgot to don his safety vest, I tell him to don it and keep moving. If a firefighter wants to start a mid-fire conversation about the unsafe acts of a different company, I tell him "Save the critique for the critique." On the other hand, if I see a company starting to make entry into a building with collapse potential, not only do I stop the entry, I immediately notify Command that we need to evacuate the building and I start establishing and marking a collapse zone. The trick is to know when to make a big deal out of the problem, when to simply communicate conditions to Command, and when to directly correct a minor problem.
As my good friend and colleague Mick Mayers says..."Don’t try to take shortcuts because you think it is easier. Shortcuts are cheating and cheating ultimately results in a catastrophic failure when someone gets caught." If you're in the Safety Officer role and you see someone taking a dangerous shortcut, stop it.
There are some common sense things that we can all do to make life safer and easier for all of us. If the drivers don't routinely don full gear, then they should have their traffic vest on their seat and don it prior to responding. It won't delay the comany's turnout time, trust me. If you use the Passport accountability system or a similar system that uses helmet identifiers, then the officer should ensure that every company member has their name tags in the system and has helmet identifiers properly attached as soon as they enter quarters to start the shift. In other words, Don't let the little things become big things.
When you get to the critique, if some of us are a little peeved because the Safety Officer made us wear eye protection to operate extrication tools, made us stop to put on a traffic vest, or stopped us from entering that marginal structure fire that we just "knew" we could hit offensively and "get away with it", then remember that you're alive and well to be peeved. After all, we can work out critique points at the critique. We can't, however, go back and unbury a LODD brother or sister at the critique.
In closing, even though this year's Safety Week is over, don't act as if it is. Drive safely, condition, wear incident-appropriate PPE, stay hydrated, get help when you need it, and look out for each other. Rehab as if your life depends on it, especially in the tropical heat wave we're having in the south right now. Make every week Safety Week.
Saturday, June 20, 2009
Thursday, June 18, 2009
Protect Yourself: Your Safety, Health and Survival Are Your Responsibility
Today is June 18th, the fifth day in the Fire/EMS Safety, Health and Survival Week. Today also commemorates the anniversary of the Sofa Superstore fire in Charleston, South Carolina, in which nine firefighters lost their lives while engaged in aggressive interior operations at a commercial building, occupied and operating as a furniture store and warehouse.
On the evening of June 18, 2007, units from the Charleston Fire Department responded to a fire at the Sofa Super Store, a large retail furniture outlet in the West Ashley district of the city. Within less than 40 minutes, the fire claimed the lives of nine firefighters and changed the lives of countless others. The incident galvanized the nation’s fire service and to this day, continues to generate commentary and observations within a wide latitude of functional areas.
Take a moment to honor and remember the Charleston Nine. If you haven’t taken the time to read the authoritative reports, now is the time to do so. Make it one of your Safety Week task activities.
I still find it surprising during my travels around the country lecturing and presenting programs on building construction and command risk and safety, that when the audience was asked, “What do the 1978 Walbaum’s Fire and 1988 Hackensack fire share in common?”, the response typically were blank stares. The more seasoned and experienced veterans (translation; Older firefighters) when present, were able to convey some information on the subject. But yet, the true essence of the basic incident particulars and the lessons learned fail to be fully conveyed. We’re not remembering the past!
I recently spoke about History Repeating Events (HRE), and the common themes related to LODD. Events that resonate with common issues, apparent and contributing causes and operational factors that share legacy issues that the fire service fails to identify, relate to and implement. In other words, we fail a times to learn from the past, or we make a deliberate choice to ignore those lessons due to other internal or external influences, pressures, authority, beliefs, values or viewpoints. We make choices and we determine our direction, path and destiny.
When you look over these LODD events and reports over the years (NIOSH, NFPA, USFA ,EGH Reports), it doesn’t take long to identify that many LODD events share similarities, and that specific incident events, deficiencies, outcomes and recommendations are identical in every way, except for the fire department name and geographical location. In other words, we have History Repeating Events (HRE).
- What have we learned from the past?
- What is it that we’re passing down to each incoming recruit class and probationary firefighter?
- What are Company and Commanding Officers recalling and considering in their dynamic risk assessment, size-up and decision-making (IAP) process when looking at a particular building, occupancy and fire?
- Are mission critical operational elements & HRE factors being recollected? (Naturalistic/ Recognition-Prime Decision-making).
The reality is, we, the present generation of veteran firefighters and officers at times neglect or fail to recognize the importance of passing along the lessons of our life’s journey through our fire service careers, the events of our day and the profound tough lessons and sacrifices learned the hard way. We sometimes need a receptive, sympathetic and compassionate audience that is willing to listen, hear and comprehend the messages conveyed. There needs to be a high degree of empathy related to these past History Repeating Events. For each event, each and every line of duty death has a message and a Legacy of Operational Safety.
Throughout the past thirty-two years (1977-2009), a total of 3998 firefighters have lost their lives in the course and conduct of their duties as firefighters and officers within the fire service. Make the time to research, learn and understand the factors of these events, read the LODD reports from NIOSH, USFA, NFPA and state investigative agencies, the lessons and opportunities that are borne from each and how they relate to the theme, message and initiatives that make up Fire/EMS Safety, Health and Survival Week and beyond. Learn and Educate Yourself. Protect Yourself: Your Safety, Health and Survival Are Your Responsibility.
Each LODD incident involving fire suppression, rescue or other field operations also have significance as they relate to the building, occupancy, use, construction features, inherent structural systems, fire behavior and fire dynamics; coupled with interrelated elements of strategic and tactical fire suppression operations and incident management . Again, “Building Knowledge=Firefighter Safety”.
Honor and Remembrance- The Charleston Nine
• Bradford Rodney "Brad" Baity – Engineer 19
• Theodore Michael Benke – Captain 16
• Melvin Edward Champaign – Firefighter 16
• James "Earl" Allen Drayton – Firefighter 19
• Michael Jonathon Alan French – Engineer 5
• William H. "Billy" Hutchinson, III – Captain 19
• Mark Wesley Kelsey – Captain 5
• Louis Mark Mulkey – Captain 15
• Brandon Kenyon Thompson – Firefighter 5
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
Today is June 17th; the fourth day in the Fire/EMS Safety, Health and Survival Week. But today is much more than that. June 17th marks the anniversary of two significant fire service incidents that resonate with the values, doctrine and philosophy that define the principles of Fire/EMS Safety, Health and Survival Week.
Both of these incidents resulted in firefighter line-of-duty deaths at seemingly routine fires, in relatively ordinary structures and occupancies, each with unusual building construction features and conditions that would contribute to the adverse circumstances of the incident operations, and ultimately contribute to the LODD events.
Hotel Vendome Fire-1972
On June 17th, 1972, a typical routine day was unfolding for the Jakes in the Boston Fire Department. At 14:35 hours, Box 1571 was received at Boston Fire Alarm Office. It would be the first of four alarms required to extinguish an intense fire at the former Hotel Vendome on Commonwealth Avenue at Dartmouth Street, City of Boston, Massachusetts. It took nearly three hours to contain the blaze. The four alarm fire required a compliment of 16 engine companies, 5 ladder companies, 2 aerial towers and 1 heavy rescue company, with all companies operating with a full complement of personnel staffing.
Following extensive and strenuous suppression operations, the BFD commenced routine overhaul operation. Then, at 17:28 hours, without warning, all five floors of a 40 by 45 foot section southeast corner of the building collapsed, burying a ladder truck and 17 firefighters beneath a two-story pile of brick, mortar, plaster, wood and debris.
More than any other event in the three hundred year history of the Boston Fire Department, the Vendome tragedy exemplifies the risk intrinsic to the firefighting profession and the accompanying courage required in the performance of duty. Nine firefighters were killed on that day, eight more injured; eight women widowed, twenty-five children lost their fathers; a shocked city mourned before the sympathetic eyes of the entire nation.
The Hotel Vendome fire and the Nine Line-of-duty deaths, two Company Officers and seven firefighters
Lieutenant THOMAS J. CARROLL, E-32.
Lieutenant JOHN E. HANBURY, JR., L-13.
Firefighter THOMAS W. BECKWITH, E-32.
Firefighter JOSEPH E. BOUCHER, JR., E-22.
Firefighter CHARLES E. DOLAN, L-13.
Firefighter JOHN E. JAMESON, E-22.
Firefighter RICHARD B. MAGEE, E-33.
Firefighter PAUL J. MURPHY, E-32.
Firefighter JOSEPH P. SANIUK, L-13.
Built in 1871 and massively expanded in 1881, the Hotel Vendome was a luxury hotel located in Boston's Back Bay, just north of Copley Square. During the 1960s, the Vendome suffered four small fires. In 1971, the year of the original building's centennial, the Vendome was purchased. The new owners opened a restaurant called Cafe Vendome on the first floor, and began renovating the remaining hotel into condominiums and a shopping mall.
Although the cause of the original fire was not known, the subsequent collapse was attributed to the failure of an overloaded seven-inch steel column whose support had been weakened when a new duct had been cut beneath it, exacerbated by the extra weight of water used to fight the fire on the upper floors.
References and Documents
Boston Fire Department, HERE
Vendome, Wikipedia, HERE
Building Photos and the Firefighter’s Memorial, HERE
Gendisasters, Historical Perspective, HERE
Boston Globe, HERE
Boston FD Ladder 15, HERE
FDNY Father’s Day Fire-2001
The relative calm of a quiet Sunday, Father’s Day, June 17th , 2001 was broken at 14:19 hours with a phone call to the FDNY Queens Central Office reporting a fire at 12-22 Astoria Blvd, in the Astoria Section of Queens, New York. For almost 80 years, the Long Island General Supply store has been a fixture in the Long Island City section of Queens serving local contractors and residents with all of their hardware needs. Unfortunately, that included propane tanks and other flammable liquids.
Two structures were involved in this incident. Both buildings were interconnected on the first floors as well as the cellars.
Both structures were built prior to 1930 of ordinary (Type III) construction, and were two stories in height, each with a full cellar.
Building 1 measured 2035 square feet and was triangular in shape.
Building 2 measured 1102 square feet and was rectangular in shape.
Building 1 and Building 2 shared a common or party wall and were interconnected on the first floor and the cellar.
Building to building access in the cellar was through a fire door. The fire door was blocked open to allow free movement between the cellars which were used for storage. The hardware stored occupied the first floor and cellars of both buildings. Building 1 had two apartments on the second floor. Building 2 had an office and storage space on the second floor. Note: A third uninvolved building was attached to the west side of Building 2. The flat roof system sheathing consisted of 5/8-inch plywood covered by felt paper and rubber roof membrane. The foundation was constructed out of stone and mortar. The support system was a combination of steel masonry posts/lolly columns and wooden support beams.
FDNY Units arrived within 5 minutes of the dispatch and gave the signal for a working fire. Fire fighters were making good progress but at 14:48 hours something went terribly wrong. Witnesses on the scene report hearing a small explosion followed by a huge blast. The shock wave from the blast blew down every fire fighter on the street and knocked down the exposure 1 wall onto the sidewalk, right on top of fire fighters venting the building.
As members started sifting through the rubble, the chief ordered a second alarm followed almost immediately by a fourth alarm when a radio transmission was received from FF Brian Fahey from Rescue 4. He was in the basement under tons of collapsed material."I'm trapped in the basement by the stairs. Come get me." This was a battle cry to everyone on the scene. Every capable member frantically began removing debris to try and get to Brian and the others. The chief ordered more help. Numerous special calls were made.There were 144 pieces of apparatus at the scene: 46 engines, 33 ladders, 16 battalion chiefs, 2 deputy chiefs, all 5 rescues, 7 squads, and many more. In fact, with the exception of the fire boats, the JFK hose wagon, the Decon unit, and the thawing units, every type of special unit was at the scene.Even with the vast resources of the Department, the task took several hours. The members that were on the sidewalk were quickly recovered.
Fire fighters Harry Ford (R4) and John Downing (L163) were removed in traumatic arrest and brought to Elmhurst Hospital were they succumbed from their injuries. Back at the scene members still were trying to get to Brian while others were trying to put out the smoky fire. The battle went through the afternoon and into the evening. The fire was being fueled by some of the flammables in the building. After about four hours they finally reached the basement, but again, it was too late. FDNY Firefighter Brian died in the Line-of-duty.
Subsequent investigations revealed that two local kids were in the rear yard of the building when unbeknownst to them they knocked over a can of gasoline. The gasoline ran under the rear door, into the basement eventually finding an ignition source in the form of the water heater.
When the water heater kicked in, it ignited the gasoline. As fire fighters began working in the building the fire caused the explosion of a large propane tank illegally stored in the basement. The resulting blast leveled the building and caused what will be forever known as the worst Father's Day in FDNY's history. (Excerpt of the event description published in http://www.fdnewyork.com/).
The supreme sacrifice was made that day by;
· FDNY Firefighter Harry S. Ford, Rescue Co.4
· FDNY Firefighter Brain D. Fahey, Rescue Co. 4
· FDNY Firefighter John Downing, Ladder Co. 163
Take the time to read the NIOSH Report, and learn the lessons from that event
NIOSH Report F2001-23, HERE
Steve Spak, Photos, HERE
FDNY Firefighter Andy Fredrick’s Account, HERE
Online Service Accounts and Coverage, HERE
In support of the two (2) incident events discussed in this posting related to the Hotel Vendome and the Astoria Queens Hardware Store Explosion. Both of these structures were Type III, Ordinary Construction. This is a good opportunity for you to introduce yourself to or refresh yourself on the Safety Considerations for Operations involving Ordinary or Heavy Timber Type Construction.
A comprehensive power point program is available for download from the Near Miss Reporting System web site, HERE
An accompanying narrative report and its alignment with a Near Miss Report related to a type III occupancy and incident response and close call support the power point presentation, HERE
Don’t forget, the Near Miss Reporting System, HERE, has exemplary resources, case studies, close calls and lessons to be learned and institutionalized. The same is true about the resources at the NFFF Everyone Goes Home Program, HERE and the IAFC Fire/EMS Safety week web site HERE.
Take the time to learn something about Ordinary or Heavy Timber Type Construction.
As I’ve stated before, Building Knowledge = Firefighter Safety. Remember this week’s Safety, Health and Survival message: Protect Yourself: Your Safety, Health and Survival Are Your Responsibility
Tuesday, June 16, 2009
And in a 'letter from the chief', Chief Isaac Abraham Fudpucker shares wise words:
"The use of "Probie Canaries" is to be limited to investigation of suspicious smells in firehouse bathrooms and refrigerators only. On all real calls, everyone, probies included, is expected to wear the appropriate personal protective equipment. We've lost half of this year's recruit class already, and it's only June."
Last year's letter is worth a read, too.
Here on TKT, you can find discussions about safety here and all Safety-Week related posts here, and share your thoughts in the comments: what does your department talk about most during Safety Week?
Saturday, June 13, 2009
How many firefighters will continue to die unnecessarily because we run into Born Losers...because we've always done it that way? How many of us will refuse to use new tactics and tools because we like the old ones...because we've always done it that way? How many fire and EMS personnel will die because we are too busy donning SCBA or performing patient care to ensure our own safety...because we've always done it that way?
Let's commit to safer, healthier firefighters and emergency operations. If we don't, then we're really not any smarter than the monkeys.
Thursday, June 11, 2009
Technology and it's impact are being felt more and more with each passing day. Sometimes cognitively, other times without realization. We need to stop for a moment and fully grasp and comprehend where we are and more importantly, where we're going AND how we're going to get there. A bigger question is what are we going to do when we do arrive. Are you prepared, now? How are you assimilating within your own organization with the current generation of firefighters. The future impact is even more unimaginable, But Did You Know?.....
The bigger Question is..."Are You Prepared?"
Wednesday, June 10, 2009
Tuesday, June 9, 2009
My department, a small fire district in upstate New York, barely has the resources and manpower to operate on a day to day basis, much less take the time to develop an application for grant funding. What may seem to be "free money" requires considerable writing expertise, knowledge about the grants application process, soliciting bids and projects costs, and timely filing of required information. And it doesn't end there. The same volunteer labor pool that files the requisite applications must then administer the grant and assemble the necessary documentation for payment of awarded dollars.
Clearly these resources are available in larger departments and those with grant writing expertise. Some of the places where grant monies would be most beneficial are so mired in trying to keep their organizations afloat that they will be the last to apply.
Saturday, June 6, 2009
An interesting topic was selected for the first Kitchen Table roundtable discussion - the 2009 Fire and SAFER Grants. With the Obama Administration's decision to cut the traditional FIRE (AFG) grant funding, that's bad news for fire departments despite the corresponding decision to increase SAFER grant funding and to eliminate the local matching fund requirements for the 2009 and 2010 SAFER grants. If your department hasn't applied for a FIRE or SAFER grant, you might want to check out the basics for how to apply.
Mick Mayers and I were involved in discussions about this a while back, as our department turned down a SAFER grant worth nearly a million dollars. That grant was intended to fund the start-up personnel costs for an additional truck company. That truck company has been deferred for the forseeable future by our Town Council. We've also been advised that there will be no pay raises for any Town employee this year, including Fire & Rescue. Our operating budget for FY2009 had two rounds of mid-year cuts, based on declining revenues as well.
We have applied for a FY2010 FIRE grant for some additional equipment, but won't be surprised if we don't recieve the award. We know that many other departments are in the same relative shape, probably won't get grant money, and are struggling with reduced revenues.
Federal stimulus dollars have been noticeably lacking in terms of supporting fire-rescue infrastructure and equipment. Hiring personnel with SAFER grants is great, but what is the dollar source to fund the turnout gear, uniforms, training, SCBAs, and other equipment that those new firefighters must have? When billions of dollars are being used to buy the federal government into GM, Chrysler, and banks, fire services are going to take a back seat. Politicians simply will put the needs of commerce and the overall economy ahead of the needs of someone who is unfortunate enough to suffer a vehicle accident, heart attack, or house fire.
Where does this leave us?
1) Focus on what is truly important. When you have three projects and can fund only one of them, it forces the leadership to determine absolute priorities and to fund those priorities...and only those priorities.
2) Live within your means. That forces leaders to make hard - and often quite painful - choices. The rash of layoffs, company disbandings, brownouts, and unpaid furloughs acdross the country are ample evidence.
3) You must be able to compete. The government budget process is a competition for scarce dollars. Master planning and Center for Public Safety Excellence Accreditation are quite helpful in developing the budget as a planning and standard of cover document, and not just as a funding source. When the police, sanitation, parks and recreation, education, and public works systems are competing for those same scarce dollars, if you don't have a plan, you're not going to be successful. Having a plan and previous elected official buy-in strengthens the fire department's position at budget time, no matter the relative amount of available budget dollars.
4) Focus on what you can do, as opposed to what you can't do. If you don't have enough manpower and can't fund it, consider a sprinkler initiative to reduce community risk.
If you can't support enough units to handle your call volume, consider a load-shedding plan to reduce call volume.
My department's training division has a lot of similarities to a travel agency. Our past practice was to let firefighters and officers travel to classes, seminars, and off-site training on a frequent basis. Budget cuts have greatly restricted this ability. This forced a re-prioritization of training and professional development needs in all four of the above areas. This led to a plan to develop more of our firefighters and officers as instructors in order to be able to deliver more and better training without the concurrent travel expenses and coverage overtime and backfill. By implementing change, we were able to substantially raise our prerequisites for promotion for several ranks while reducing operating costs. That means that future candidates for promotion will be better prepared and better qualified prior to sitting for promotional exams while actually reducing operating costs.
Due to reliance on an existing Master Plan and Standards of Cover, replacement of two aging quints to partially compensate for the cancellation of the planned truck company looks likely.
We have been able to obtain smaller grants for EMS equipment such as a RAD57 pulse carbon monoxide monitor and temporal thermometers, both of which improve firefighter rehab. We have also been able to fund some additional CPR manikins and rescue equipment through non-FEMA grant programs.
At the bottom line, no one - elected officials, fire-rescue leaders, or the troops is really happy about the situation. It's safe to say that we'd all prefer to be able to throw money at every problem. Unfortunately, that's not a realistic solution when you don't have the money to throw.
Friday, June 5, 2009
I find myself a bit perplexed and emotions mixed as it relates to the recent news that President Obama wants to cut AFG while increasing SAFER grant funding. The line fire fighter in me says yea for increased staffing! My alter-ego, fire and injury prevention guy, is very concerned as to how the cut to the AFG may impact prevention and education programs across the country.
My department, Montgomery County (MD) Fire and Rescue, has benefited from both grants over the last several years. We have addressed just about every need that is related to both grant processes. The SAFER Grant will help us as we just opened a new fire station and have another new one opening later this fiscal year.
But my dilemma comes from the fact that fire and injury prevention education programs are taking big hits here in the Washington-Metro area and across the country. A Blue Ribbon Senior Citizen Fire Safety Task Force Panel recommended that we hire a Senior Citizen Fire/Injury Prevention Specialist to provide education and outreach to our most vulnerable population. That has been cut out of the budget. Several departments in the area have either significantly reduced or entirely cut out public education staff.
I can not imagine they are going to use the SAFER Grant to ask for public education staffing – which I believe you can use it for that purpose. Preventing fires equals preventing fire fighter deaths. Seems pretty important and a no brainer that public education should be a priority for everyone! Thankfully it is for our new Chief!
However, many departments seem to forget the following from the Everyone Goes Home Program. It is something we like to call initiative number 14 and it says: Public education must receive more resources and be championed as a critical fire and life safety program.
With the vast reductions in budgets across the country and now the potential reduction in the AFG, I feel that #14 becomes somewhat of a hollow and unrealistic goal for the national fire service. Does this really make our fire service SAFER?
Wednesday, June 3, 2009
Fire grants have been in the news a lot in recent months, with President Obama announcing plans to cut AFG while increasing SAFER grant funding. Do you agree with this decision? Did your department apply for AFG or SAFER this year? Why or why not?
Fire station construction is also set to receive $210 million in federal stimulus funding. What are your departments’ current funding priorities? Do you plan to apply for the upcoming Fire Station Construction grant?
Is your department being hurt by a lack of funding in the current economy? If so, how? How are you trying to fund projects besides applying for grants?
Were you successful at applying for any grants in the last year? What tips do you have? Were you unsuccessful in any applications? Did you learn anything worth sharing from the process?
Share your thoughts in the comments below and check back to hear from The Kitchen Table bloggers.