Articles by Larry Anderson
The International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) is promoting awareness of the danger of heart attacks in the fire service. A toolkit provided by the IAFC includes information and resources to assist members and fire departments when responding to on-duty or duty-related cardiac events. The international campaign, titled ‘If You Don’t Feel Well, Don’t Make It Your Farewell,’ offers standard operating procedures (SOPs) including an example policy that departments can use to outline their actions and processes, and the department’s response to on-duty injuries and illness. Acute coronary syndrome An administrative checklist enumerates areas of concern and highlights a standardized approach to cardiac events. It is important to be proactive and put thoughtful guiding documents in place so that members of an organization know the ‘rules of the game.’ Existence of proper processes, policies and procedures can reduce stress, improve morale, and encourage members to speak up when they experience an event of if they know someone who does. The most common warning sign for men and women is chest pain or discomfort Among the training tools is a PDF that lists ‘the heart attack warning signs.’ The most common warning sign for men and women is chest pain or discomfort, but a heart attack may not be sudden or very painful. Information is also provided on ‘acute coronary syndrome,’ a term used to describe conditions associated with sudden, reduced blood flow to the heart. There is also information on treatments for a heart attack, which may vary according to the type of heart attack (i.e., whether a complete or partial blockage of a coronary artery). Identifying risk factors Other information includes ‘assessing cardiovascular risk’ and screening to identify risk factors and lifestyle habits that can increase the likelihood of cardiovascular disease. A survey by the IAFC of firefighters who have experienced a cardiac incident provides interesting insights: 47% of firefighters said they experienced a symptom that is not among the typical signs of a heart attack. 20.67% of firefighters took themselves to the hospital; 41% were taken by emergency medical services. 63.3% of firefighters returned to work (full duty). 40% were between the ages of 46 and 55. 68% were career firefighters; 22.67% were volunteer firefighters. “Almost half of all firefighter deaths each year are cardiac-related,” says Fire Chief Gary Ludwig, IAFC President and Chairman of the Board. “Many who have experienced but survived a cardiac incident have reported not feeling right, not feeling well, or that something is wrong,” added Ludwig, fire chief of the Champaign (Illinois) Fire Department. Changing a culture “The best way to change the culture of ignoring warning signs, which are not always chest tightness and shortness of breath, is through education and awareness. If you’re a first responder and your body is signaling to you a feeling that you have never experienced before with extreme fatigue and other symptoms, you need to act and those around you need to act,” said Ludwig, who has worked in the fire and emergency service for more than 42 years. “If a firefighter tells you ‘something is wrong’ or ‘I don’t feel right’ or any similar statement, do not tell them to go home or lay down in the bunk hall. Their body is sending them a signal that something could be seriously wrong.”
The COVID-19 pandemic presents new economic challenges to county and municipal governments. Fire departments are likely to be impacted as local governments respond to the economic downturn with spending freezes, hiring freezes and spending cuts. Some local governments are hoping for help from the state and/or federal level. Although some governments have “rainy day funds” to address economic downturns, not all of them do. Furthermore, the extent of the current economic crisis may exceed our worst fears. Proposed budget cuts for some fire and EMS departments are in the 10% to 25% range. As the new fiscal year begins in July, many local governments will need to approve a spending plan for next year by June 30. public safety agencies Although public safety agencies have historically been protected by local governments during economic downturns, the severity of the current downturn may change the approach. Lower sales tax collection is expected to be a major impact, although actual information on revenue levels can lag for three months because state governments collect the taxes and then return a share to cities and counties. The Southern California city is like many others around the United States that rely on sales tax and hotel taxes For many, the numbers for April will be available in July. For example, Hemet, California, estimates it has lost 34% of its sales tax revenue during the COVID-19 pandemic because consumer spending is down, and many businesses are closed to the public. Loss of hotel taxes is another hardship. The Southern California city is like many others around the United States that rely on sales tax and hotel taxes. replacing ageing fire engines The League of California Cities says COVID-19 will rob the state’s 482 cities and towns of about $6.7 billion in revenue over the next two fiscal years. Michael Pagano, Director of the Government Finance Research Center at the University of Illinois at Chicago, says that municipalities that depend on sales tax revenue are being hit hard and quickly. In contrast, those that rely on property taxes will not feel an immediate impact, he says. The fire service in Hemet is being affected. Last year, the city paid $1 million in overtime. Belt-tightening will eliminate such expenditures this year. The city will also likely delay filling some open positions and will replace only one aging fire engine rather than two. They will be buying less safety and radio gear. Victoria, Texas, is another city among the many feeling the impact of lost sales tax revenue. fire fighter unions “It’s not an option for people to not get their trash picked up,” Victoria City Manager Jesus Garza told the Victoria Advocate. “It’s not an option for our police and firefighters to not work." With no definite end in sight, there are no easy solutions. Some scenarios, such as a salary freeze, would impact members of fire fighter unions. The president of the Baltimore’s International Association of Fire Fighters Local 734 says such discussions are premature. We know that the city has to balance their budget by July and that everyone is being hit hard by this global pandemic" “We know that the city has to balance their budget by July and that everyone is being hit hard by this global pandemic,” Richard Altieri II, president of the local fire fighters union, told the Baltimore Sun. “But to suggest this sacrifice of our members, who are on the front lines every day, is unacceptable and disheartening.” Baltimore has considered about $11 million in total reductions that may affect first responders. Coronavirus Relief Package California Gov. Gavin Newsom has warned that layoffs for police and firefighters could happen unless Washington provides financial help to state governments. The U.S. House of Representatives approved a $3 trillion coronavirus relief package that included $875 billion in state and federal aid. However, the Democratic-authored bill is going nowhere in the U.S. Senate. “[There will be] fewer firefighters and police officers to answer emergency calls, reduced garbage pickup frequency, and limited staff for required inspections, processing business license, and permitting,” Nicolas Romo, a League of California Cities representative, told the Sacramento Bee.
Protests and riots spread throughout the United States in response to the death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis policeman. Firefighters are on the front lines as rioters set fires and even attack firefighters seeking to do their jobs. In Richmond, Virginia, rioters blocked a fire truck from responding to a burning home. Protesters had intentionally set the fire at the home, and there was a child inside. In Philadelphia during a 24-hour period, the fire department responded to dozens of fires, including a two-alarm fire in North Philly after a weekend of looting. crowd control In Sacramento, California, crews battled a fire that spread through the back of a business; while fighting the 5-alarm fire, 200 personnel worked to keep the flames away from small propane tanks and dozens of cars. When Grand Rapids, Michigan, firefighters arrived to put out a dumpster fire, someone threw a large firecracker or other explosive toward a firefighter as he jumped out of a truck. The explosive knocked him to the ground, and he clutched at his ears. In Minneapolis, firefighters raced from one blaze to the next, often with police along for crowd control. One night during the protests, the Minneapolis Fire Department responded to 30 fire events including at least 16 structure fires. Department vehicles were damaged from thrown rocks and other projectiles. The level of the unrest prompted the International Association of Fire Fighters to issue a statement. interrupted by violence Throwing rocks, fireworks and directing violence toward fire fighters, paramedics and EMTs is never acceptable" “Peaceful protests by our neighbors exercising their First Amendment rights across America are being interrupted by violence and unrest,” said Harold A. Schaitberger, IAFF General President. “In the middle of the challenges and turmoil, I am proud of our IAFF fire fighters, paramedics and EMTs who are once again proving their dedication to keeping their communities safe when they are needed most.” “Throwing rocks, fireworks and directing violence toward firefighters, paramedics and EMTs is never acceptable,” he added. “As always, the safety of our members Is our top priority. So, it was with disappointment and outrage that I witness our members – who are integral to keeping everyone, including protesters, safe – attacked over the weekend.” keeping People safe Schaitberger citied incidents in Atlanta, Austin, Cleveland, Minneapolis and St. Paul in which members were subjected to having bricks and large fireworks hurled their way, simply for doing their jobs. “This is inexcusable,” said Schaitberger. “Firefighters will continue to respond when needed; it is their job and their calling,” said Schaitberger, who offered a plea on behalf of the 320,000 IAFF members: “Please allow your fire fighters on the frontlines to do that job, keeping everyone safe, without violence or incident.” He added: “To our members, stay safe and know that this IAFF has your back.”
Fire stations are unique environments with conditions that could be conducive to the spread of the novel coronavirus/COVID-19. Firefighters live in close quarters for 24-hour shifts, and then return home to their families. Reports about “hot” firehouses have helped to emphasize the need to follow best practices to avoid the spread of the disease. The Fire Department Safety Officers Association (FDSOA) has compiled a list of guidelines that departments can put into practice to reduce and/or avoid cross-contamination of on-duty staff. Shift Change Interaction Firefighters live in close quarters for 24-hour shifts. Reports about “hot” firehouses have helped to emphasize the need to follow best practices to avoid the spread of the diseaseStaff should use a designated entry point, and comply with requirements of a Self-Screening checklist, which includes factors such as fever, uncontrolled cough, prolonged sore throat, a flu-like illness, or diarrhea. Firefighters should remove and store their own PPE and personal items from the apparatus at shift change. Personal belongings (bags, bedding, etc.) should be moved to a privately owned vehicle early to facilitate expedited bunkroom/office transfer. Interaction between oncoming and leaving shifts should be limited. Roll call should be conducted in a large space, such as an apparatus bay, that facilitates a minimum of 6-foot distancing. Station Socializing While in quarters, firefighters should not congregate in small spaces (such as the watch office or kitchen) and should adhere to 6-foot minimum spacing. Fewer chairs should be located in common meeting spaces to deter people from gathering in the same space. Training should be conducted in a manner that maintains 6-foot minimum spacing. Off-duty members should not be allowed into the stations to work out or visit. Station Captains should develop a practice if a member needs to arrive the evening before his/her shift that will limit contact with others. Station Meals Eating should occur in shifts to reduce staff interaction, and eating locations should be varied to alternate places in the station to create spacing. Shared food containers and communal items should be disinfected, and stations should consider supporting local small businesses in the district by ordering takeout. Department Mail Department mail routing should be modified to minimize the potential for staff interaction. Mail pickup/dropoff should be moved to a location, such as an apparatus bay, that minimizes traffic flow through station living areas. Documents should be scanned and emailed whenever possible. When mail must be handled, it’s best to wear gloves and wash hands immediately thereafter. Department Facilities Visits to fire department facilities should be limited to urgent department business. The number of guests should be limited, and they should make appointments when possible. Battalion Chiefs should communicate with Battalion members via phone or video conference. If a Battalion Chief needs to go to a station, he or she Self-monitoring stations should be set up near designated staff entrances and should provide a self-screening checklist and thermometer screeningshould maintain social distancing. Bedding A washable base layer should be used on beds (e.g., sheet, blanket, etc.) to create an additional barrier between the bed and personal bedding. Base layers should be washed after each shift. Self-Monitoring Self-monitoring stations should be set up near designated staff entrances and should provide a self-screening checklist and thermometer screening.
Among volunteer fire departments, spring is a prime season for fundraising. But not in 2020. Concerns about the spread of the novel coronavirus have ruled out the possibility of large public gatherings. A consequence of the coronavirus shutdown is cancellation of hundreds of volunteer fire department fundraisers across the United States – from fish fries to bingo to hog roasts to chicken barbecues. No more carnivals or spaghetti suppers or gun raffles. And departments are losing thousands of dollars. The resulting financial burden is a momentous and imminent threat to the operation of volunteer fire departments, some of which do not receive any government funding. With two months or more of fundraising lost forever, the economic stability of volunteer fire departments is called into doubt. Underlying the problem is another sobering reality: Fires don’t stop just because of coronavirus. However, overall calls are down for some departments, which provides some level of relief. Virtual And Online Fundraising Hope springs eternal that some variation of fundraising can resume if things get back to “normal” in June or later this summer. If not, in a worst-case scenario if stay-at-home orders remain in place for several more months, some volunteer departments could be forced to shut down. Raising money may not get any easier for months to come. Underlying the problem is a sobering reality: Fires don’t stop just because of coronavirus Some departments have experimented with virtual and online fundraisers, with mixed results, although the efforts are unlikely to replace the lost revenue from events canceled because of social distancing and stay-at-home orders. Examples include Facebook Live raffles and various types of electronic donation collections. Some volunteer departments operate social halls and rent them out for a variety of public events. With those events cancelled, too, another possible source of revenue is eliminated, at least for the near term. Volunteer Fire Department Costs Some departments have experimented with virtual and online fundraisers, with mixed results Department costs are unrelenting – and varied. They have to pay basic utilities such as electricity, heat and internet, as well as buy fuel for their trucks. Some have loan payments on fire trucks and other equipment, and various maintenance costs, not to mention insurance on equipment and supplemental insurance for firefighters. Just as many households are reeling from the economic impact of the pandemic, many fire departments also find themselves suddenly thrust into uncertain times facing a downwardly spiraling budget and little way to make up the deficit. Rather than living paycheck-to-paycheck, they are accustomed to working fundraiser-to-fundraiser. In general, donations dwindle in a down economy. Some departments are having to slash up to half their spending, addressing the dilemma with a brutal reevaluation of their department’s finances. They are separating “needs” that can’t be ignored from “wants” that can be delayed or eliminated. For example, purchase of replacement equipment may need to be delayed for a period of time. Navigating Uncharted Waters Volunteer fire departments were already facing challenges such as recruitment and retention declines, and a dearth of funds aggravates the existing challenges. State and municipal governments provide funding to volunteer fire departments in some locales, but can those funds be counted on as governments face their own shortfalls? Tax support and municipal funds may not be a sure thing in the era of COVID-19. The fact is, we are all in uncharted territory.
Because the physical challenges take a toll, firefighters tend to retire at earlier ages than other occupations. There is also a greater likelihood of workplace disability. Firefighter pension plans are often more generous to offset a lack of Social Security eligibility for some public safety employees. Also, more years of retirement translate into an overall increase in medical care costs for fire service retirees. Therefore, pension benefits for public safety workers are more expensive than those for other government employees, according to an analysis by the Center for State and Local Government Excellence (SLGE). Even so, retirement costs for firefighters and police officers represent only a small percentage of total expenditures for city, county and school district jurisdictions – around 2%. Even if you focus on jurisdictions in which public safety costs are most significant—the city and county levels – the burden is still small, averaging only 4.9% of aggregate spending for cities and 1.9% for counties. Pension Changes Could Impact Firefighter Recruitment Pension benefit generosity is about 25% greater for police and fire employees Any changes in retirement or medical care plans could negatively impact efforts to recruit enough firefighters, which are already a challenge. For example, shifting the retirement age would reduce total employee compensation, which could negatively affect retention. A wage increase to offset the change would maintain total compensation at previous levels. In 2016, the costs of pension benefits earned for police and fire personnel made up 15% of the payroll, compared with only 8% for non-public safety local employees. Annual retiree health care benefits made up 6% of payroll, compared to 4% for other employees. Analyzing Retirement Benefits Earlier retirement ages translate into longer retirement periods for these workers, which impact higher pension costs. Public safety employees are eligible for their benefits at younger ages than other groups, even though the average expected lifespans at retirement are similar. Pension benefit generosity is about 25% greater for police and fire employees, a difference that offsets the lack of Social Security coverage for some public safety employees. Any changes in retirement or medical care plans could negatively impact efforts to recruit enough firefighters, which are already a challenge “Local governments across the country are continually analyzing the retirement benefits provided to the public safety workforce, along with associated costs,” says Joshua Franzel, PhD., President and CEO of SLGE. “This research provides government leaders and policymakers with a national snapshot so they can make informed decisions.” Outdated Assumptions? Some evidence suggests that assumptions about earlier retirement ages for police and firefighters may be outdated. Despite the physical demands of the jobs, some local governments have sought to retain experienced employees using a Deferred Retirement Option Plan (DROP), which allows employees to claim pensions while continuing to work. Higher DROP participation rates – with some public safety employees working five years longer – suggest that employees may be able to stay on the job until later ages. Also, the U.S. Army (whose jobs can also be physically demanding) has raised its mandatory retirement age for active duty soldiers from 55 to 62. emphasizing employee health and fitness Use of technology can help to ease the physical burdens of public safety jobs, and an emphasis on employee health and fitness can also improve the picture. The analysis was conducted by CPR researchers Jean-Pierre Aubry, Associate Director of State and Local Research; and Kevin Wandrei, Research Associate. The research assesses the size of public safety retiree benefit costs using public safety employee data from the Public Plans Database, the U.S. Census Bureau, and government actuarial valuations.
Wellness, mental toughness and psychological self-care for firefighters are available in the palms of their hands; that is, in a smart phone app. Fire and police agencies can provide their officers access to these and other self-help tools in an app that reflects each agency’s identity and design choices. Employees can be assured that use of the app is totally confidential. Cordico, Gold River, California, west of Sacramento, provides confidential support for firefighters and other employees through an app that incorporates comprehensive and trusted wellness resources. The CordicoFire app is easy to use, available on-demand, and only requires the push of a button. Firefighter wellness tools The app is designed to reinforce and strengthen a fire agency’s existing wellness culture The app is designed to reinforce and strengthen a fire agency’s existing wellness culture and is updated continuously. The app includes firefighter wellness tools, such as self-assessments and a therapist finder. Peer support resources are built into the app, and psychological first aid helps firefighters know when help is needed – and what their options are. There are also sections on the app addressing healthy habits, making marriage work, mindfulness, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Specific to firefighters, there is information on cancer awareness, exposure to hazardous materials, and heart health – among more than 40 topics firemen can scroll through. Self-assessments can identify the sources of stress and how to address them, and/or identify problems with alcohol abuse. Physical fitness videos demonstrate exercises for stress release and injury prevention, and there is a section on nutrition. No additional authentication required Each firefighter is provided a link and password to download the app. Posters promoting use of the app are available, including a QR code that employees can scan to download the app. There is no additional authentication required, and no personal information is shared with the app. Around 90% of employees typically download the app. The app is hosted on Cordico’s server rather than the agency’s server, so there is no tracking of information, which would defeat the purpose of an anonymous app. Anonymity is important to overcome the perceived stigma that could make firefighters hesitate to ask for help. The app is also made available to spouses, significant others and even retirees, who may find that cumulative trauma catches up with them years later. Employee assistance programs People use their smart phones all the time, so it’s easy for anyone to get on the app" “People use their smart phones all the time, so it’s easy for anyone to get on the app, click on a section and read for 10 minutes if they need information, help or emotional support,” says Kevin Dacy, Operations Manager, Cordico. “There is a generation of people comfortable with using apps. We provide them with privacy to look at topics and get the self-help they need.” The app dovetails with an organization’s employee assistance programs and peer support team and/or leaders. Cordico works with agencies to include information about therapists, clinicians and chaplains who are available to help. When an agency decides to use the app, Cordico’s chief technology officer organizes a product launch meeting, and Cordico’s client care team works with the agency until the app has been successfully launched. Pre-Employment psychological evaluations Agencies have flexibility in terms of the graphics and illustrations used on the app and also the information provided, which could include traffic, weather, etc., in addition to other services. (Southern California agencies include a surfing report because the activity can help to relieve stress.) Updates to the app are done on the back end as new information is added. The app password can be changed to limit use of the app to current enrollees. The company evolved to providing pre-employment psychological evaluations for first responder jobs Dr. David Black, CEO of Cordico, shifted his psychological practice to first responders after 9/11. The company evolved to providing pre-employment psychological evaluations for first responder jobs. The app grew out of that service, and now most of the largest agencies in California use the app. Cordico has worked with small and large agencies – five to 22,000 employees – although the average department size using the app is 150 to 200 people. Consulting clinicians and therapists In addition to a concentration in California, the company also does business throughout the United States, with customers in most states. Cordico has around 15 employees, in addition to consulting clinicians and therapists. Although Cordico does not share specific data with an agency about who uses the app, they can provide activity counts. For example, usage of the app could spike after a dramatic incident, which could alert the agency of a higher level of trauma that might need additional education and/or comfort. During the coronavirus pandemic, Cordico’s phone lines and emails have lit up with agencies looking to consider the app to help manage the added stress of dealing with the pandemic. Even during the economic downturn, Cordico is busier than ever.
Working to organize events around the world in the music industry, Chris Sheldrick struggled with the challenge of bands and equipment constantly getting lost on the way to venues and festival locations. It became clear that street addresses were not good enough, and there needed to be a better way to communicate locations. GPS coordinates are hard for people to input into devices and nearly impossible to give correctly over the phone. Sheldrick sat down with a friend and devised a solution as accurate as coordinates, yet concise and memorable. what3words That solution – what3words – is an easy way to identify precise locations using a unique combination of three words. The benefits of what3words for fire and emergency services agencies are already being realized. what3words addresses are shorter, easier to understand over the phone, and built-in error prevention technology allows emergency services to immediately verify the location and correct mistakes. what3words is an easy way to identify precise locations using a unique combination of three words Founded in 2013, what3words has divided the world into a grid of 3m squares and given each square a unique combination of three words: a what3words address. For example, TheBigRedGuide.com’s London office has an address of ///soaks.buddy.decent. It means that anywhere in the world – from a specific building entrance to a remote point in a field – can be communicated using just three words. Around 80% of emergency services in the United Kingdom accept what3words addresses from 999 callers. Receiving a precise location means they can dispatch crews to the scene faster, saving precious time, resources and lives. Fire and rescue services in the UK that accept what3words addresses include Avon, Derbyshire, Essex, Greater Manchester, Lancashire, North Wales, South Yorkshire and Suffolk – among dozens more. An Advanced Mobile Location Solution Around 80% of emergency services in the United Kingdom accept what3words addresses from 999 callers For services that use Advanced Mobile Location (AML), what3words is helpful in situations where there’s a lack of confidence in the information being presented, or in cases where the caller is not on their “home” network (i.e. an emergency roamer). AML gives the location at the time the call was started and cannot be used to locate an emergency in a different place than the caller. In these instances, what3words is an extra tool that can work alongside AML. Many emergency services in the UK do not have access to AML and, for them, what3words provides a useful solution to getting a caller’s location. “Throughout all services, regardless of access to AML, we’ve seen that what3words has an additional benefit in multi-agency response to a single location, as what3words can be written down, passed and shared easily among different systems and teams,” said Sheldrick, who is Co-Founder and CEO of what3words. Assisting Emergency Services In an emergency, a caller can find the what3words address for their current location by opening the free what3words app (which works offline) or visiting the link: map.what3words.com. Successful rescue stories include a rural road accident, walkers lost in a forest and people stuck in cars on flooded roads They then tap the “current location” icon on the screen and read the three words displayed to the 999 call handler. “From speaking to emergency services around the United Kingdom, we know that in incidents where they are struggling to locate callers, they can often be dealing with a search radius of multiple kilometres,” says Sheldrick. “what3words is a tool they use to narrow this down.” Some agencies in the United Kingdom have their control room systems enabled to allow the call handler to send the caller a text message with a link to map.what3words.com in case they do not already have the app installed. The caller is then prompted to open this link and follow the steps above. Successful Rescue Stories Herts Fire Service was one of the first emergency services to use what3words to help members of the public describe the location of fires. Recently, a fire crew from Knaresborough assisted Yorkshire Ambulance Service in a rescue of a male casualty with a leg injury in woodland near Nidd Gorge. His exact location was provided using what3words to help the fire crew reach him, and the story was shared by North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service via Twitter. Other successful rescue stories include a rural road accident, walkers lost in a forest and people stuck in cars on flooded roads. Raising Awareness For Widespread Implementation The #Help999FindYou hashtag has become synonymous with services around the country sharing stories and videos on social media and with local press about successful response operations what3words is easy to build into existing processes both in the control room and operationally. It can be integrated into any Computer Aided Dispatch system, or the online map can be used immediately without any development work required. The #Help999FindYou hashtag has become synonymous with services around the country sharing stories and videos on social media and with local press about successful response operations To get a what3words address from a caller, an operator can send an SMS with a link, which displays the what3words address for the location on the caller’s phone, so they can read it out to the operator. Response teams can use the free app, or the location can be sent directly as a map pin to the Mobile Data Terminal for navigation. With many UK fire services already using what3words, training is ongoing in more control rooms around the country. The focus of training has been with 999 call handlers, who are the people who receive and use a what3words address. Internal awareness of the benefits of what3words is a crucial focus for widespread implementation. The company’s emergency services training toolkit is regularly updated with the latest internal and external communications templates, posters, leaflets, training webinars and how-to videos. #Help999FindYou Services are seeing the benefit for themselves, and many are running effective public communication to encourage people in their region to download the free what3words app. The #Help999FindYou hashtag has become synonymous with services around the country sharing stories and videos on social media and with local press about successful response operations involving what3words. Many also build what3words awareness and education into their community engagement activities such as school visits, rural crime workshops and events. There is also a what3words supporter community, The Squares, who are spreading the word to their organisations and communities. Many also build what3words awareness and education into their community engagement activities such as school visits, rural crime workshops and events “Being in need of urgent help and not being able to describe where you are can be very distressing for the person involved and a really difficult situation for emergency services,” said Sheldrick. “Today, people nearly always have their phone on them. We need to use the tools at our disposal to improve public services and potentially save lives. Just as you may have your emergency contacts set up on your phone, we encourage everyone to download the app to make sure they are ready to share accurate location information quickly, should the worst happen. It’s free, it’s simple to use, and one day it might make sure help finds you quickly.” Emergency Services Embracing Technology what3words continues to work with emergency services across the United Kingdom to get what3words enabled in their control rooms and to encourage the public to understand how to find and share their what3words address so that they can be found quickly when they need it most. “It’s been incredible to see UK emergency services embrace our technology to respond effectively and quickly to people in need,” said Sheldrick.
Ensuring the health and wellness of firefighters is a burden shared among equipment manufacturers as well as the fire departments and individual firefighters. Thoughtful design of equipment and other products used in the fire service can be a positive factor as firefighters and other first responders face dangerous situations every day. We asked our Expert Panel Roundtable: What steps can we take to better ensure firefighter health and wellness?
A new report highlights FirstNet’s progress in its goal of enhancing public safety communications using a nationwide interoperable broadband network for first responders. The report provides an update after three years of a public-private partnership between AT&T and the First Responder Network Authority, which oversees the development of FirstNet. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the need for FirstNet is more critical than ever. The report comes from the First Responder Voice project, a source of information, news and analysis that seeks to ensure that FirstNet serves first responders effectively. First Responder Voice is a project to the Communications Workers of America (CWA), a labor union. AT&T is the country’s only unionized wireless carrier. First responder network deployment and subscriber progress FirstNet’s subscribers are on the increase: The number of public service agencies and organizations subscribed to FirstNet has increased tenfold in less than two years. As of February 2020, 11,000 organizations have subscribed and connected 1.2 million devices to the network Between January and July of 2019, the monthly levels of device connections to FirstNet outperformed expectations at approximately 196% of projected targets. In May 2019, a majority of agencies and nearly 50% of FirstNet’s total connections were new subscribers (not AT&T migrations), suggesting that first responders are seeing FirstNet as a credible value-add proposition. As of March 2020, FirstNet network deployment is 80% complete. The achievement was accomplished in just two years and a year earlier than expected. The First Responder Network Authority gave AT&T the go-ahead in March 2018 to deploy the network’s Band 14 spectrum across dedicated radio access networks in all states and territories. AT&T was given exclusive access to Band 14, which is 20 MHz of spectrum in the 700 MHz frequency band. So far, Band 14 spectrum has been deployed on existing cell sites in more than 675 markets nationwide. AT&T added more than 170,000 square miles to its LTE network coverage in 2018 and 2019 “The current pandemic is magnifying the need for our country’s first responders to have access to an interoperable broadband network, and FirstNet provides that solution,” says Bianca Garcia, CWS’s FirstNet Project Coordinator. Professional and volunteer fire departments are among the long list of FirstNet subscriber agencies and jurisdictions. Career fire departments in Las Vegas, Miami-Dade, and Seattle are subscribers, as are volunteer departments in Snyder County, Pa.; Allegany County, Md.; and Delaware. The Georgia and Rhode Island emergency management agencies are subscribers, as are law enforcement agencies in Anchorage, Baltimore, Chicago, Kansas and New Mexico. Federal agencies who are subscribers include the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), U.S. Coast Guard, and the Department of the Navy. Impending innovations for FirstNet subscribers High-powered user equipment (HPUE) will be available in coming months and will almost double the coverage range for FirstNet subscribers. The equipment is currently being certified, and early deployment will likely be in devices such as in-vehicle routers. AT&T is working with Assured Wireless to develop the devices. The technology increases the range of a cell sector by about 80%, especially useful in rural areas. Mission critical push-to-talk (MCPTT) service is available on FirstNet during the first quarter of 2020 According to the First Responder Voice report, FirstNet’s innovations include unthrottled connectivity; a separate, purpose-built network core with end-to-end encryption; priority and preemption capabilities; local control of users and applications; and more than 75 deployable solutions such as land-based Satellite Cell on Light Trucks and Flying Cells on Wheels. Operational benefits of public-private partnership The future roadmap of the First Responder Network Authority will be shaped by nurturing a deep and shared understand of public safety’s operational needs and by collaborating with public safety to realize the operational benefits of the FirstNet experience. The public-private partnership model that drives FirstNet will ensure that financial resources are invested based on agreed-upon priorities. The First Responder Voice report also finds that AT&T could provide greater transparency about its progress on state-specific buildout commitments and should detail the states that are seeing lower-than-target-level FirstNet subscribership.
The COVID-19 pandemic is disrupting every aspect of our business lives. But buried among the disruption might be an opportunity. Newly idled workers could see this as an opportune time for training to expand their career options. Meanwhile, employees still on the job may find that a cancelled or postponed project means they have time on their hands. Training can enable them to make the most of that time. In-person training has come to a halt, of course, because of social distancing requirements. Filling the gap are new online learning opportunities. Tavcom Training reacts to COVID-19 Previously, Tavcom Training, part of the Linx International Group in the United Kingdom, provided technical fire and security training delivered in person by expert tutors. Given the practical nature of the courses, the majority were delivered in a state-of-the-art training center through interactive workshops. The situation has changed: In order to best protect staff and learners, and following government guidelines, Tavcom has closed their training center for the time being. (Learners are still able to book into classroom courses for later in the year.) Given the situation, Tavcom has seen an 86% increase in demand for online courses over the last several months “Given the situation we are all in at the moment, our online courses have seen an 86% increase in demand over the last several months,” said Jerry Alfandari, Group Marketing Manager of Linx International Group. “All our online courses offer the same level of support as the classroom courses, catering to professionals of varying skill levels and experience.” “It’s more important now than ever before that our learners are able to access our online learning programmes and continue in their professional development,” says Alfandari. “To help facilitate this we have discounted 25% off our entire portfolio of eLearning courses.” Introducing e-Learning Tavcom is also introducing new interactive ways of teaching traditionally classroom-based courses with the aid of Zoom virtual classroom courses, led by tutors. From the learners’ own home, they are able to undertake their chosen training course, and then return to the training center later in the year to complete the practical assessment. Even the most well-prepared organizations with extensive contingency plans have been stunned by the scale and speed of the situation we all currently face. However, even during a global pandemic, the drive for learning doesn’t diminish. “We’ve seen unprecedented international demand for our portfolio of online training courses ranging from small installation companies to the largest organizations, across a wide range of sectors,” said Alfandari. From the learners’ own home, they are able to undertake their chosen training course “More than ever, businesses are looking to ensure they have the skills in-house to coordinate their response to the changing situation,” he added. “Individuals are also taking this time to upskill themselves for when we return to ‘normal’ by bringing something with them they didn’t have before". Professional and personal development Perhaps unsurprisingly, people are still seeking to better themselves for what will be, eventually, a competitive market. More than ever, businesses are looking to ensure they have the skills in-house to coordinate their response to the changing situation. “We are here for our learners,” said Alfandari. “Our team are working hard behind the scenes to facilitate the best possible learning experience during this time, and we encourage all potential learners to really use this and make the most of it. Whether you want a refresher in the basics or finally start on that qualification you’ve been putting off, we are here to help you in your professional development.”
Why do gas engineers need to become Gas Safe Registered? Why do heavy goods vehicle (HGV) drivers need to have an advanced driving license? We all know the answers to these questions: To determine competency and reduce risk. Because they are mandatory, it is simply expected. Premises managers expect the same competency from their fire safety providers; however, there are no mandatory measures in place to ensure a particular level of competency is met. But there should be, says Stephen Adams, Chief Executive of BAFE, an independent registration body for third party certified protection companies across the United Kingdom. Advocating certification of fire safety competency Third party certification (or any system to monitor competency) is not mandatory in the fire safety industry at present, which presents unnecessary risk, says Adams. Third Party Certification (or any system to monitor competency) is not mandatory in the fire safety industry at present, which presents unnecessary risk There is a benefit to the customer of using a provider that is independently and regularly assessed by a UKAS Accredited Certification Body to ensure they are competent to deliver the specific required service. Sourcing a provider who holds the appropriate third-party certification will also provide strong evidence of acting with due diligence in following fire safety legislation. “Certainly for high-risk premises, not just those above a certain height but those where the occupants or function demands strong fire protection, there needs to be mandated third party certification of the competence of all those involved,” says Adams. “This is not just at the initial construction stage, but throughout the building life cycle as use, occupancy and technology change. The end user and those responsible for building safety have the key responsibility, together with input from the Fire and Rescue Services, providers and public authorities to ensure ongoing compliance and recording of actions.” Determining competency for fire safety services BAFE was first established in 1984 within FETA (Fire Extinguishing Trades Association) and the British Fire Protection Systems Association (BFPSA). Since 2009, however, BAFE has been independent and has evolved into developing and monitoring schemes to determine competency for multiple fire safety services. BAFE develops schemes based on defined quality standards and industry best practice for fire safety service providers to achieve and become Third Party Certificated. These assessments are performed by UKAS Accredited Certification Bodies (licensed by BAFE). Only when a company holds appropriate and valid Third Party Certification are they permitted to become BAFE Registered and appear on the national register available free to view at on their website. BAFE’s competency schemes BAFE offer competency schemes for the following areas: Fire extinguisher servicing/maintenance (BAFE SP101) Fire risk assessment (BAFE SP205) Kitchen fire protection systems (BAFE SP206) Dry and wet riser/falling installations servicing/maintenance (BAFE SP105) The SP203 suite of schemes is modular and offers competency criteria for the design, installation, commissioning and/or maintenance of: Fire detection and alarms systems (BAFE SP203-1) Fixed gaseous fire extinguishing systems (BAFE SP203-3) Emergency lighting systems (BAFE SP203-4) BAFE has dedicated monitoring groups for each scheme that meet regularly to ensure they continue to represent the highest levels of competency within the industry. Supporting UK fire safety BAFE has been active in efforts to influence and support fire safety for the UK. This includes work with the appropriate Competence Steering Group (CSG) working groups established since the publication of the Hackitt review (“Building a Safer Future”). Chris Auger, Head of Schemes – BAFE, is currently Secretary to WG2 (Installers) and WG4 is continuing to develop competence standards for Fire Risk Assessors to meet the requirements of high-risk residential buildings (HRRBs). BAFE also has close working relationships with organisations including UKAS (United Kingdom Accreditation Service), FSF (Fire Sector Federation), FIA (Fire Industry Association), FPA (Fire Protection Association), IFEDA (Independent Fire Engineering and Distributors Association), Construction Industry Council (CIC) and multiple Certification Bodies. Raising the bar BAFE exists to help raise the bar of competency within the fire safety industry across the United Kingdom, says Adams. Their ethos is in a strong belief in Third Party Certification. BAFE exists to help raise the bar of competency within the fire safety industry across the United Kingdom “Whilst we strongly believe the BAFE schemes offer a quality, independent method of determining competency for a specific service though a range of Certification Bodies, we purely want Third Party Certification to be the baseline absolute requirement for any fire safety work (where it is available),” says Adams. BAFE stands with FPA Managing Director Jonathan O'Neill’s request to Government to mandate Third Party Certification. The more providers that hold Third Party Certification, and the more end users that request it, the stronger the argument to Government to mandate this requirement for a better regulated industry. Addressing the misconceptions A misconception about fire safety Third Party Certification from end users (e.g. premises management) is that it covers all fire safety services offered. BAFE this year have launched a new campaign, “Don’t Just Specify, Verify!,” to highlight this issue. “Before awarding any contract, we are trying to educate people to verify their chosen contractor’s Third Party Certification to ensure it is appropriate for the work they require,” says Adams. Whilst most customers understand that they should have fire protection systems, they do not adequately understand the need for a full and competent Fire Risk Assessment. There are still “assessors” who will offer one for ridiculously low prices, often without even entering the building. The need for fire risk assessments The Fire Risk Assessment is a mandatory requirement and forms the basis for all other activity – and must be kept up to date. By not using a competent provider, the responsible person is leaving themselves open to prosecution and serious loss of life and property. The horrific Grenfell fire that unfolded on 14th June 2017 raised interest and awareness of fire safety measures, their relationship to the whole construction and what should be in place to keep any premises safe. The horrific Grenfell fire that unfolded on 14th June 2017 raised interest and awareness of fire safety measures Adams says BAFE saw an increase in companies gaining Third Party Certification, especially to the Life Safety Fire Risk Assessment (SP205) scheme. “This is a skill that needs greater emphasis and some mandatory measures introduced to ensure competent persons are completing this vital action,” says Adams. “We welcome any stronger measures following the Hackitt Review to introduce robust methods of logging activity across the whole building life cycle (the ‘Golden Thread’ of information) in the interest of acting will due diligence creating safer buildings from fire.” The Fire Risk Assessment is a mandatory requirement and forms the basis for all other activity – and must be kept up to date “A year from now, we anticipate that the Hackitt requirements will be built into legislation and the Building Regulations across all parts of the UK,” says Adams. “By 2023 BAFE and the industry would like to see mandatory measures in place to monitor and determine competency of providers offering specific services. Most notable are services such as fire risk assessment, both commercial and domestic fire detection and alarm systems plus multiple other areas including many passive fire protection design and installation services. Certificated services should extend across all aspects of fire safety, passive and active, and include greater monitoring of individual as well as company competence.” Trade associations such as FIA and IFEDA demand third party certification as a core membership requirement, and other important professional bodies such as the FPA are calling out to Government to mandate third party certification, says Adams. “It would shake up the industry dramatically, leaving only the evidentially competent able to provide these works,” he says.
The third stimulus package passed by Congress and signed into law by President Trump on March 27 includes funding earmarked to help fire and EMS services deal with the burgeoning coronavirus emergency. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act provides $2.2 trillion in all to help the nation deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. Among the provisions of the law is $400 million in grants that can be disbursed for firefighters, emergency managers and providers of emergency food and shelter. Of the total, $100 million will be used to assist firefighters by providing personal protective equipment (PPE), supplies and reimbursements. Another $100 million will be used for Emergency Management Performance Grants to ensure emergency preparedness. The other $200 million will pay for an Emergency Food and Shelter Program administered through local service organizations. $100 Million - Is It Enough? $100 million will be used to assist firefighters by providing personal protective equipment (PPE), supplies and reimbursements Gary Ludwig, President of the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC), says the $100 million earmarked for firefighters is inadequate, given the gravity of the disaster. “The lack of funding in the CARES Act to protect our firefighters made it very clear that our U.S. Congress and the President of the United States orphaned our fire and EMS chiefs in their mission to protect their firefighters and emergency medical service (EMS) personnel who are on the frontlines in every community in the United States – providing life-saving treatment and emergency transportation to the hospital of the victims of this insidious virus,” Ludwig said. “There are hundreds of firefighters and EMS personnel nationwide who have contracted the virus, while thousands are being quarantined after being exposed,” Ludwig added. “Proper funding is absolutely required and needed to win this war and keep our communities safe. I call on Congress and the President to fully fund the needs of fire and EMS personnel in the next stimulus bill and ensure that [payments provide] immediate and direct funding to fire departments.” CARES Act To Provide Widespread Relief The CARES Act also provides economic stabilization and assistance to state and local governments, including $454 billion to provide loans to eligible businesses, states and municipalities. Another $150 billion is available for states, territories, Indian Tribes, and local governments to respond to the COVID-19 emergency. The $45 billion provided to the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) Disaster Relief Fund will pay for federal response operations across federal departments and agencies, as well as reimbursements to state, local, territorial and tribal governments and private non-profit organizations. $150 billion is available for states, territories, Indian Tribes, and local governments to respond to the COVID-19 emergency Under the CARES Act, “private non-profit organizations” are eligible for Small Business Administration (SBA) Economic Injury Disaster (EIDL) loans (up to $2 million). Volunteer fire departments with IRC 501(C) exemption can apply online for an emergency loan and a grant/advance of $10,000. To access the advance, organizations must first apply for an EIDL and then request the advance. The advance does not need to be repaid under any circumstance (i.e., even if the loan is denied), and may be used to keep employees on payroll, to pay for sick leave, meet increased production costs due to supply chain disruptions, or pay business obligations. The Paycheck Protection Program Volunteer organizations may also be eligible for the Paycheck Protection Program, an SBA loan program providing an incentive to keep workers on the payroll. Division A of the CARES Act focuses on keeping workers paid and employed, on health care system enhancements, and on economic stabilization. Measures include $1,200 cash payments to taxpayers, additional deductions allowed for charitable contributions, and measures to strengthen the supply chain of drugs and medical devices. A temporary Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program will provide payments to self-employed, independent contractors and others who are not traditionally eligible for unemployment benefits. The law also provides an additional $300 per week payment to unemployment benefit recipients.
Refrigerants used in cooling systems for homes and businesses are being replaced with alternatives that have less potential for global warming. But the transition comes at a risk: Some of the new refrigerants are flammable. Although less flammable than gases such as propane, for example, new refrigerants can still ignite and burn with a high intensity under ideal circumstances. The new materials have low-flame velocity and are less easily ignited; however, one byproduct of combustion is toxic hydrogen fluoride. Flammability risks of non-toxic refrigerants Non-toxic refrigerants are categorized by flammability risks. A1 designates no flame propagation; A2 indicates lower flammability; and A3 indicates higher flammability. Hydrocarbons such as propane have higher flammability (A3) and are restricted to a lower charge limit that does not address refrigeration needs of large systems. Hydrofluoroolefins (HFOs) are mildly flammable, have a low flammability limit (LFL) and have been categorized as an A2L refrigerant. They tend to burn slowly and give off little heat. Hydrocarbons such as propane have higher flammability NFPA (National Fire Protection Association) offers online and instructor-led training to educate firefighters about flammability and toxicity risks associated with new refrigerants. The training also covers asphyxiation challenges, jet stream fires, transportation issues and other life-safety considerations associated with flammable refrigerants. The training covers how to adapt response tactics to mitigate consequences from refrigerants in various types of emergencies. Strict adherence to standard operating procedures (SOPs), personal protective equipment (PPE) and self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) protocols and decontamination practices are also covered. Categorising refrigerant flammability The Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA) provides funding to NFPA to develop training on the emerging technology. According to an ASHRAE report, refrigerant flammability can be characterized by three factors: Likelihood that a refrigerant leak would result in a concentration range that reaches the lower flammability limit; Presence of a sufficient energy ignition source; and Likely severity of a combustion event, and probability of a secondary fire. ASHRAE is the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers. The Air-Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration Technology Institute (AHRTI) and the U.S. Department of Energy (DoE) are researching the flammability of refrigerants, including factors such as refrigerant charge size, release height, leak rate, humidity, and room size and temperature. When choosing the best refrigerants, it is likely a tradeoff will be required among global warming potential, flammability and efficiency. Codes and standards Codes and standards are being modified to address the use of new materials Currently, codes and standards are being modified to address the use of new materials, although risk mitigation concerns of the fire service have historically not been considered. One issue is the risk of using large amounts of flammable gas in a refrigeration system to cool a larger room. Additional safety measures are needed to make the risk acceptable. Detection of leaks is another issue, especially the need for repeated calibration of leak detectors to ensure accuracy. More than 200 countries will be ushering in the new class of refrigerants.
Some insurance carriers delay or deny a patient’s medically necessary care, despite recommendations by doctors or other health professionals, in order to reduce costs and increase profits. A delay or denial can happen to anyone with a health care plan. However, firefighters are particularly vulnerable because, as government employees, their plans are not protected by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) in the United States. Protections for firefighters Without the protections of ERISA, insurance carriers can more easily get away with delaying or denying claims without significant pushback – which can ultimately harm the patient and lead to exacerbated injuries. However, some states, such as Florida, have protections in place so that firefighters and other similarly situated workers can seek legal recourse. We discussed the issue with Leslie M. Kroeger, a partner at the law firm Cohen Milstein Sellers and Toll. She serves as co-chair of Cohen Milstein’s Complex Tort Litigation practice. Kroeger has also led several managed care abuse cases, spoken at conferences on this topic, and currently serves as President of the Florida Justice Association. TheBigRedGuide.com: What is "managed care abuse" and why is it an important topic? Kroeger: Managed care abuse occurs when your medical insurance provider or HMO breaches its fiduciary duty or contractual responsibilities to you by denying you access to medically necessary care or medication in violation of its healthcare policies and the law. It is often the result of the company prioritizing cost-cutting and profit-making over patient care. This obviously puts the health of the patient at risk. Cohen Milstein has extensive experience litigating managed care abuse claims against insurance companies and HMOs. The result of the company prioritizing cost-cutting BRG: How are firefighters particularly at risk? What are the solutions? Kroeger: The health and welfare of firefighters is paramount as they need to be physically fit to perform their life-saving duties. Firefighters also have a dangerous job that can result in physical and emotional injury. They should be able to get any and all medically necessary treatment allowed by the terms of their health insurance policy without having to fight for them after being wrongfully denied by their insurance carrier. BRG: How should firefighters seek proactively to address the issue of managed care abuse (short of filing a lawsuit)? Kroeger: If a firefighter believes he or she has been wrongfully denied medical care or medication, the first step is to follow the appeal process outlined by the health insurance policy. This will usually require placing a call or writing a letter challenging the decision within 30 days of the denial, but one should check the terms of the policy to follow the procedure that applies in a particular situation. It’s important to keep notes on all action taken during the appeal, including who you spoke with, when, and the details of the conversation. It’s also vital to work with healthcare providers to insure they too are following through with the insurance carrier. BRG: What are the legal remedies available to address the problem? Kroeger: If your appeal to the insurance company is denied, you may be able to file a lawsuit against the company. You should call an attorney to discuss your particular situation. Firefighters are increasingly exposed to chemicals and other toxic materials BRG: What other potential issues/challenges do you see related to medical care for firefighters, especially those injured in the line of duty? Kroeger: Firefighters are increasingly exposed to chemicals and other toxic materials while doing their jobs. This will continue to place them at risk for additional medical problems, thereby increasing the need for medical care.
The T-band radio spectrum provides critical communications for firefighters and other first responders in large metropolitan areas. However, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is currently required by law to auction off the spectrum for other uses in February 2021. Congress will need to pass legislation in the next several months to stop the auction, which is a provision of the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012. In the last several years, various bills have been introduced to repeal the mandated auction of the T-band spectrum. In February, House Energy and Commerce Committee Leader Rep. Greg Walden introduced legislation to repeal the auction, and last December five Senators reintroduced the “Don’t Break Up the T-Band Act” to preserve the Ultra High Frequency (UHF) spectrum (470-512 MHz). Public safety agencies The T-band was assigned in the 1970s because of the high density of communications in heavily populated metropolitan areas to support critical public safety communications and provide regional interoperability among first responders. Public safety agencies have spent hundreds of millions of dollars of federal, state and local funds to plan and build out T-band networks. The T-band is used in Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston, New York and Philadelphia. In those locales, there are no workable alternatives. In addition, the T-band is used in San Francisco/Oakland, Dallas/Fort Worth, Houston, Miami, Pittsburgh and Washington DC (and surrounding areas of Maryland and Virginia). Together, the areas cover more than 90 million Americans. The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) has recommended that Congress pass a law The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) has recommended that Congress pass a law to allow public-safety users to continue to use the T-band spectrum for emergency communications. A GAO report examined the challenges first responders and local governments expect in relocating communications from the T-band. The GAO conducted case studies in four cities, and reviewed statutes and regulations, FCC documents, and T-band studies by the National Public Safety Telecommunications Council (NPSTC). Reallocating and auctioning The FCC is required to reallocate and auction the T-band by law. The independent federal agency has taken limited actions to address challenges and to assist public safety users of the T-band with mandatory relocation. However, they have not begun planning the auction. The FCC is required to reallocate and auction the T-band by law The FirstNet broadband network is designed for public safety; however, it is not ready to support mission-critical voice systems, according to NPSTC. “The safety of our city depends on our use of the T-band, and taking it away would be unconscionable,” says New York Mayor Bill de Blasio. “The city has invested millions of dollars [to ensure] our first responders can communicate in all types of emergencies, and this resource is key to our ability to keep our communities safe.” In New York, losing the T-band spectrum would require billions of dollars be spent to replace existing radios and infrastructure and would devastate operations at thousands of emergencies each day. the gAO study The GAO study said the cost of relocating T-band users to other bands would be between $5 billion and $6 billion. For many users, alternative bands are limited or non-existent. The International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) has launched a “Voter Voice” campaign The Middle Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012 both created FirstNet and directed the auction of the T-band spectrum. Proceeds from the auction would be made available to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) to develop and administer a grant program to help cover costs associated with relocating public-safety users’ radio systems. Numerous business/industrial licensees are also in the T-band spectrum but are not addressed in the legislation. The International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) has launched a “Voter Voice” campaign to support preserving public safety’s access to the T-band. The campaign encourages citizens to send a letter to their representative supporting repeal of the T-band auction.
First responders are on the front lines of the latest health crisis that involves spread of the novel coronavirus COVID-19. Around the country – and around the world – EMS departments are facing the uncertainties of a rapidly-spreading virus. One problem is a shortage of face masks. As cases surge, it will also be harder for ambulance companies to get other needed supplies. In King County, Wash., an epicenter of COVID-19 cases in the United States, Kirkland, Wash., firefighters and Kirkland police officers were placed under quarantine after an outbreak at a senior care facility. Firefighters were either quarantined at home or at a local fire station. These first responders came in contact with the coronavirus at Life Care Center of Kirkland, where dozens of residents and staff were infected. Quarantine for IAFF members Some members of the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) in Washington state were under quarantine for possible exposure to COVID-19.It is not the first time EMS has acted as the canary in the coal mine to protect the public" The heightened role of fire and EMS professionals is playing out everywhere. “It is not the first time EMS has acted as the canary in the coal mine to protect the public,” Oren Barzilay of the New York EMT union told the New York Daily News. “And it won’t be the last.” FDNY Not Sending Firefighters to COVID-19 Calls The Fire Department of New York (FDNY) has stopped sending firefighters to answer medical calls that describe symptoms associated with the coronavirus. Instead, calls for asthma attacks, fever, coughs and difficult breathing are being handled by the Emergency Medical Service. Fire companies with certified first responder (CFR) training, which would ordinarily accompany ambulances on such calls, are being asked to “stand down.” The order refers to “Segment 2” calls, although firefighters will continue to respond to higher priority “Segment 1” calls. Union complaint in Boston When coronavirus testing began taking place at Faulkner Hospital in Boston, Mass., the EMS union complained because paramedics working at the facility were not notified of the possible workplace contamination. The EMT substation at the hospital includes a bunk room and contains equipment and supplies. The union complained to the Boston Public Health Commission, which provided assurances they were doing “everything in [their] power to protect EMTs and paramedics.” East Pierce, Wash., Fire and Rescue Assistant Chief Russ McCallion created a checklist for medics and fire crews to consider when responding to a potential coronavirus patient. He reminds crews to perform “doorway triage” of patients to decide when to wear protective equipment and when to use special entryways at the hospital reserved for people in isolation.Complicating the decision-making processes is the fact that flu symptoms and COVID-19 symptoms are similar Complicating the decision-making processes is the fact that flu symptoms and COVID-19 symptoms are similar. “We have to maintain the high index of suspicion on every call [if] the patient presents with fever, coughing and other flu-type symptoms,” McCallion told National Public Radio. Fire crews are now instructed to wait outside when responding to such calls. They wait while a few medics enter, suited up with personal protection equipment such as gowns, gloves and masks. Dedicated ambulance in San Antonio In San Antonio, a dedicated ambulance is used to transport patients suspected of COVID-19 infection. The interior walls of the dedicated ambulance are covered completely with plastic sheets. The vehicle will be dedicated to the COVID-19 mission “throughout” and will not be used on the streets of San Antonio. Congress has approved emergency funding for states. The money will be used for testing, to track those who are sick, and for awareness campaigns to slow the spread of the virus. Public health emergency A public health emergency has been declared by the U.S. Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) as of Jan. 31. The declaration enables state, tribal and local health departments to request funding, supplies and resources from DHHS to respond to COVID-19.The declaration enables state, tribal and local health departments to request funding, supplies and resources China alerted the World Health Organization in December to several cases of an unusual pneumonia in Wuhan, a port city of 11 million people in the central Hubei province. In January, officials identified the new virus as belonging to the coronavirus family, which includes SARS and the common cold. It was named COVID-19 and has since spread to all of mainland China and later throughout the world.
Research is a Congressionally mandated mission of the U.S. Fire Administration, although their activities are limited by funding and staffing challenges. “A lot of what we do is work with other agencies and organizations that are conducting research,” says G. Keith Bryant, U.S. Fire Administrator. “We have the data to help them with their research.” Research partners include Underwriters Laboratories (UL), the National Institutes of Standards and Technology (NIST), the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and various institutions of higher learning. The U.S. Fire Administration also collects data from a variety of sources to provide information and analyses on the status and scope of the fire problem in the United States. The fire service can use this data to increase awareness, set priorities and/or motivate corrective action. The data can also help to target public education programs and create a baseline for evaluating programs. Collecting the data “We do a fair amount of reports that go out nationally, on firefighter fatalities, for example, or fires at educational institutions,” says Bryant. One recent report covered health and wellness issues specific to female firefighters. Streamlined systems are needed at the local level to maximize data input Local fire departments provide data to the National Internet Fire Reporting System (NIFRS), and streamlined systems are needed at the local level to maximize data input and ensure accuracy. “The system could use modernization, but that takes funding,” says Bryant. “The software might not be as detailed and accurate as it could be.” A big challenge facing the fire service is collection and analysis of accurate data. The need for data extends to issues such as occupational-related cancer among firefighters: Is there accurate data about how bad the problem is and where resources should be focused? Another issue is mental health: Data is needed to confront the issues in a positive way. The challenges of data collection Working with the fire service leadership at the local level can help to meet the challenges of data collection. “We get into those discussions – honest, frank discussions – about what they can do in their agencies to provide more oversight,” says Bryant. “Everybody understands there is a huge need for it.” Local participation ensures maximum value of data collected nationally, and compliance among departments is a “mixed bag,” says Bryant. Data collection is also a tool to help local departments to get the funding they need. Accurate data is needed about the amount of property, dollars and lives that are lost Related to firefighting, accurate data is needed about the amount of property, dollars and lives that are lost. Specific to the growing problem of wildfires, data is needed about which areas are at risk and the nature of the challenges. More information is also needed on occupational-related cancer, for example, which is a serious concern among firefighters. “We need to do a better job of collecting and recording data, and using it in a better way,” says Bryant. “And we need to do it on a more consistent basis nationally.” User conscientiousness User conscientiousness is also an issue: “In some cases, firefighters just want to get through that incident report ASAP, so they may not be as detailed, or fill in all the fields,” says Bryant. During the 45 years of the U.S. Fire Administration’s existence, there has been a significant reduction in reported fires, reflecting a gradual positive trend. The 1973-74 “America Burning” report, which led to establishment of the U.S. Fire Administration, noted that there were more than 3 million fires annually then, compared to the current yearly average of around 1.3 million. Fire fatalities were counted in the tens of thousands several years ago, but there are only about 3,000 a year now. Firefighter fatalities have been cut in half, and there are fewer firefighters injured, too. “These are huge successes, but it doesn’t mean we’re there yet,” says Bryant. “We still have work to do. We don’t take direct credit, but the improvements are based on us working together with the fire service industry.” Location of communities adjacent to areas prone to wildfires, the so-called wildfire urban interface (WUI), has impacted how wildfires are controlled and managed. At one time, the approach was to control a wildfire rather than to extinguish it, but not anymore. “People have moved into those areas,” says Bryant. “Now you have to take a different approach.” Recent tragedies in Paradise and Santa Rosa, Calif., reflect the problem. In the last eight years, there have been resulting increases in property losses and fire fatalities. In the last eight years, there have been resulting increases in property losses and fire fatalities Fires, injuries, deaths, and property loss Specifically, statistics show there were 1.3 million fires in 2017, down 6.2% from 2008, and injuries were down 15.8% to 14,670. However, there were 3,400 deaths in 2017, up 9.6% from 2008; and property loss amounted to $23.0 billion, up 12%. Also contributing to the problem is a trend toward lightweight construction and reliance on different materials, such as chemicals, plastics and particle board as examples. These materials burn much hotter and faster, thus reducing the possible time to escape. And in spite of campaigns to increase use of smoke alarms, there are still some properties that are not protected. “There is still a lot of work to be done,” says Bryant.
The mission of the U.S. Fire Administration is to support and strengthen fire and emergency medical services (EMS) and to help stakeholders prepare for, prevent, mitigate and respond to all hazards. It is an entity of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). G. Keith Bryant was sworn in as the U.S. Fire Administrator in 2017. Prior to his presidential appointment, he was the chief of the Oklahoma City Fire Department (OCFD). Experience as a firefighter Bryant says his former experience as a firefighter and fire chief informs and directs his performance as U.S. Fire Administrator. Coming from Oklahoma City, a major metropolitan area, Bryant has faced issues and challenges – staffing, resources etc. – that are common among departments on the national level. His involvement with the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) also provided a broad view of issues across the country. The scope of duties that fire departments are asked to respond to has expanded Bryant has been in the fire service since the 1970s. During that time, he has watched the industry evolve from a “trade” to a “profession.” The scope of duties that fire departments are asked to respond to has expanded, also, and continues to grow, now including medical emergencies, Hazmat, weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) and natural disasters. “We have become ‘all-hazards,’ and it takes a higher level of training and education to handle all these issues,” Bryant says. The U.S. Fire Administration is focused on helping the fire service at the local and state levels. One element of that work is the National Fire Academy (NFA), which provides training, education and professional development for firefighters through live, online, off-site and/or self-study programs. They also provide funding for state training agencies, which conduct NFA courses at the state level. NFA Courses “We make sure our courses are geared to those who will be managing issues at the local level, to ensure they have the training and skillset,” Bryant says. Leadership in the fire service today needs both business and political acumen to manage their agencies effectively, and training must address leadership and management concepts as well as emergency training, he says. The need for higher education is also changing The need for higher education is also changing. At one time, a high school diploma or general equivalency diploma (GED) would suffice as an entry-level requirement for the fire service. In this day and age, a higher level of education may be required, especially for those seeking to manage a fire department. The National Fire Academy offers the Executive Office Fire program and the Managing Officer Fire program to help develop managerial and executive skillsets. Many National Fire Academy programs are aimed at helping smaller departments, including public education programs. Some programs are geared toward volunteer agencies that might not be able to attend a program on campus. In addition to online options, there are also programs on weekends and condensed courses. “We see the needs of different agencies reflected in our course offerings, from smaller, rural agencies to major metropolitan departments,” says Bryant. Issues of concern Another issue of concern is a shortage of firefighters, especially among volunteer fire departments. “We know the volunteer service has a big challenge with recruitment and retention, and we have seen it for a long time,” says Bryant. The gravity of the problem varies by locale. Some volunteer agencies have folded because they could not serve the needs of the community. The U.S. Fire Administration is seeking answers: What are the issues and what programs can make sure volunteer agencies have adequate staffing? What are the issues and what programs can make sure volunteer agencies have adequate staffing? Sometimes the problem is money, contingent on the financial fitness of a community and what they are willing to invest. Traditional commitment to providing fire services and responding to emergencies may be taken for granted by some communities, which may not be adequately funding, staffing and training their departments. “There are communities that invest very well in public safety, and they see the need for that, but it runs the range from bad to adequate to good,” says Bryant. The U.S. Fire Administration also spreads the word about the availability of federal fire service grants using social media, fire service publications and other channels, emphasizing application periods and eligibility. The grants are managed and administered by the FEMA grants directorate, and the U.S. Fire Administration has an oversight role in addition to publicizing the various grants to local departments.
When a fire or other emergency occurs in a building or facility, first responders depend on every available resource to ensure a safe and orderly evacuation and response. One element in any response plan is the facility’s physical security systems, including access control, video surveillance and intrusion detection. How can these systems contribute to an orderly response to a chaotic situation? We asked this week’s Expert Panel Roundtable: What is the role of security systems in the event of a fire or other emergency evacuation?