TheBigRedGuide.com was at FIREX 2011 this year to check out the latest offerings in the fire industry:
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The immense scope and scale of this month’s California wildfires are a timely reminder of a “new normal” that includes a catastrophic toll in human tragedy and presents new challenges for fire service professionals. Some have pointed to the increased frequency of wildfires as a consequence of global warming, and the resulting higher temperatures, less humidity and changing wind and rainfall patterns. President Trump has blamed “poor forest management” (an assertion the president of California Professional Firefighters has called “dangerously wrong.”) Other theories include population shifts and the proximity of residences near wildlands. There has been talk of a need for better long-term fire prevention. But whatever the cause, the results are eye-opening. Historically, all but one of California’s biggest-ever wildfires have occurred in the last 10 years Rapid Increase In Wildfires In California California’s Camp Fire has been called the deadliest wildfire in the state’s history. Fast-moving and unpredictable, the fire totally destroyed the town of Paradise. At the same time, the Woolsey Fire continued for 10 days and consumed an estimated 96,949 acres in Los Angeles and Ventura counties. Historically, all but one of California’s biggest-ever wildfires have occurred in the last 10 years, whether measured in terms of area impacted, loss of life or damage to property, all suggesting a troubling acceleration. In fact, an increase in wildfires is causing destruction around the world. Firefighters Combating Wildfires Effectively For firefighters, the experience and environment have been compared to working in a war zone, reflected by terms such as “aerial assaults” and “boots on the ground.” Burned-out cars on the side of the road, residents fleeing from their homes and whole areas totally annihilated reflect a level of destruction that is unusual in a peaceful society. Tent cities of displaced residents are reminiscent of war refugees. For the recent California fires, firefighter teams traveled from 17 states to battle the wildfires The California wildfires also bring out the best in humanity. There are tales of neighbor helping neighbor and examples of heroism among residents and firefighters, who also share a feeling of brotherhood and kinship forged in extremely adverse conditions. It’s a job that demands bravery and resilience. For the recent California fires, firefighter teams traveled from 17 states to battle the wildfires, from as far away as Alaska and Georgia. There were around 200 firefighters from Texas, 300 from Oregon, and 144 from Arizona among the extra manpower deployed to fight the fires. Protecting Firefighters From Wildfire Danger Fighting wildfires requires a specific approach and offers new challenges. Water can be difficult to find in an already drought-ridden state. Fires that spring up in wooded areas present difficult terrain for fire-fighting vehicles. Higher heat and smoke levels challenge the best methods of protecting firefighters from injury. As the accelerated pace and larger scale of wildfires continue, the fire service will need to expand its strategies, and fire equipment industry will need to enhance its toolbox to meet tomorrow’s continuing horrific realities. If there is a lesson in this month’s wildfires in California, perhaps it is this: More to come.
Recruiting and training enough firefighters to meet community needs has been a continuing challenge for decades, especially in the case of volunteer firefighters, who make up 70% of the fire service in the United States. In some areas of the country, the problem has reached a critical stage. A recent report by a commission of lawmakers, city officials and emergency service personnel in Pennsylvania, for example, notes that the population of volunteer firefighters in the state has dwindled from 300,000 in the 1990s to fewer than 38,000. In Pennsylvania, around 90 percent of the state’s 2,400 fire companies are volunteer. Challenges Faced By Volunteers There are multiple challenges to supplying adequate personnel to the fire service. One is an aging population. About a third of small-town volunteer firefighters are over 50, and it’s not uncommon for rural firefighters to be in their 60s or 70s. Furthermore, economic challenges today require many households to have two incomes, and increased job and family responsibilities leave little time for volunteering. Commuting patterns make it less likely volunteers work in the local community, which makes them less available in case of a fire emergency. Nationwide calls to volunteer fire departments have tripled in the last three decades Also exacerbating the problem is that fire departments are facing more emergency calls than ever, including a variety of different kinds of calls. The National Volunteer Fire Council (NVFC) notes that volunteer firefighters are summoned to a wide array of emergencies across the country every day including fires, emergency medical incidents, terrorist events, natural disasters, hazardous materials incidents, water rescue emergencies, high-angle and confined space emergencies, and other general public service calls. The shortage of volunteer firefighters is being felt everywhere. Meanwhile, nationwide calls to volunteer fire departments have tripled in the last three decades. The problem is especially serious in small towns and rural areas, which are more likely to depend on volunteer firefighters. About a third of small-town volunteer firefighters are over 50, and it’s not uncommon for rural firefighters to be in their 60s or 70s Some Facts Of Interest From The NVFC Most volunteer firefighters (95%) are in departments that protect fewer than 25,000 people Of the estimated 29,727 fire departments in the U.S., 19,762 are all volunteer, and another 5,421 are mostly volunteer Nearly two-thirds (65%) of volunteer firefighters have more than five years of service Training costs are high, too. The NVFC estimates the cost to train and equip a firefighter at around $27,095. Volunteering can be costly for the volunteers, also, who drive personal cars to and from the station, for example. Even as the fire service embraces new technologies and approaches, the role of firefighters will remain essential Various measures are being undertaken to address the shortage of volunteer firefighters, including an increase in recruiting and marketing efforts to make volunteering more attractive. Given the aging firefighter population, it’s important to make entering the fire service a more desirable option for Millennials. Promotional efforts in Pennsylvania include marketing campaigns, recruitment centers, billboards, commercials in movie theaters and mailers. Need For Trained Personnel Incentives to join the fire service might include high school or college credit to volunteers or even free tuition to community colleges and state universities. Some states provide financial incentives such as property tax breaks or local income tax credits to fire volunteers. Departments are also changing to accommodate the lack of sufficient personnel. Some departments are centralising or consolidating. Others are transitioning to more full-time or paid-on-call firefighters. Even as the fire service embraces new technologies and approaches, the role of firefighters will remain essential. The role may evolve, but the need for trained personnel is a constant. Fulfilling that need will be an ongoing challenge for departments and local jurisdictions.
From a dozen or more perspectives, the tragic fire at London’s Grenfell Tower was a wakeup call. The shear scope of the tragedy – 72 deaths, 70 injuries in the worst United Kingdom residential fire since World War II – is a stark reminder of the importance of fire prevention, and the catastrophic consequences of its failure. There are additional lessons to be learned from the fire service response to the blaze, which burned for 60 hours and involved 250 London Fire Brigade firefighters and 70 fire engines from stations across London. A stark reminder of the importance of fire prevention, and the catastrophic consequences of its failure In short, the Grenfell fire is the kind of colossal event that shakes aside any complacency that stems from a decades-long trend of decreasing deaths from fire. It takes a tragedy of such monumental proportions to get the full attention of government, regulators, fire professionals, and the general public. In the aftermath of the tragedy, the challenge is to focus that attention in ways that can have a real impact on preventing future tragedies. Building Regulations And Designs A torrent of questions and second-guessing have emerged from the Grenfell experience. How should building regulations change, including the use of aluminum composite material panels that contributed to the rapid spread of the fire? What about building designs? Grenfell Tower had one central stairwell and one exit. Are more sprinkler systems needed in residential buildings, and what obstacles must be overcome to make it happen? Related to the response to the fire, how did officials who advised residents to “stay put” for two hours as the fire was spreading contribute to the death toll? How should practices change, given that “stay put” is often the advice to residents in a high-rise building fire likely to be easily contained? Every action taken in response to the fire is being scrutinised. Will useful new best practices emerge? Are more sprinkler systems needed in residential buildings, and what obstacles must be overcome to make it happen? Sufficiency of firefighting equipment is another concern. In the Grenfell fire, how was the firefighting effort impacted when a tall ladder did not arrive for more than 30 minutes? What was the role of low water pressure? Were there problems with radio communication? The Grenfell Tower Inquiry, ordered by Prime Minister Theresa May on the day after the fire, is examining every detail. The inquiry’s chairman has promised that “no stone will be left unturned.” Meanwhile, it behooves all of us to ponder what lessons we can learn from the tragedy, and to ask how we can apply those lessons to prevent future tragedies.