Articles by Larry Anderson
It makes perfect sense that a horrific wildfire season would come in the year 2020 on the heels of a pandemic. Dozens of major fires burned across North America in September, including 85 large uncontained fires and six contained fires across 12 states. Active fires have burned more than 3 million acres already, and 41,417 fires have burned almost 5 million acres year-to-date. The severity of the wildfire season is on track to surpass the 10-year average. Better understanding wildfires Global warming is often mentioned as a contributor to the wildfires, but there are other factors, too. Increasingly, researchers are looking to apply new approaches in address the risk of wildfires. They include tools such as deep learning and artificial intelligence (AI) to better understand wildfires and to control their intensity. The model could be used to reveal areas of greatest risk for wildfires A new deep learning model uses remote sensing and satellite data to trace fuel moisture levels across 12 Western states, in effect tracking the amount of easily burnable plant material and how dry it is. After additional testing is complete, the model could be used to reveal areas of greatest risk for wildfires and to plan the best areas for prescribed burns. Led by a Stanford University ecohydrologist, the research was published in the journal Remote Sensing of Environment. Recurrent neural network The model uses data from the U.S. Forest Service’s National Fuel Moisture Database, which amasses plant water content information from thousands of samples. Using a ‘recurrent neural network,’ the system leverages the fuel moisture data to corroborate measurements of visible light and microwave radar signals from spaceborne sensors that are tasked with estimating fuel moisture measurements. Newer satellites with longer wavelengths allow sensitive observations about moisture content deeper into the forest canopy. Estimates from the model are used to generate interactive maps that fire agencies may one day use to identify patterns and prioritize wildfire control estimates. Researchers are also working to analyze the impact of better and more efficient firefighting on the size and frequency of wildfires. The theory goes: When firefighters extinguish smaller vegetation fires, a consequence is the creation of an environment where wildfires are larger and/or more frequent. Natural cycle of regeneration Older woods will naturally catch fire from the sun’s heat to make way for fresh growth The theory is based on the premise that wildfires play an essential role in the periodic regeneration of forests. Older woods will naturally catch fire from the sun’s heat to make way for fresh growth. However, more efficient firefighting can disrupt the natural cycle and, along with global warming, aggravate the broader likelihood of larger and more frequent fires. Researchers at the WiFire Lab in California and the University of Alberta in Canada are using artificial intelligence (AI) to analyze the environment and provide recommendations for prescribed burns that can save some parts of the forest without interfering with the natural cycle of regeneration. Providing early warning of wildfires Equipment operated by Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) caused 2018’s Camp Fire, the most destructive wildfire in California history. Because of the threat of sparking a wildfire, PG&E this year shut off power to 172,000 customers in Northern California on Labor Day weekend, for example. A concern is the threat of winds tearing down power line or hurling debris into them. Southern California Edison (SCE), another utility, warned that about 55,000 customer accounts could lose power. California utilities SCE, PG&E and San Diego Gas and Electric are helping to fund a network of ALERTWildfire video cameras in California that will help to provide early warning of wildfires. Video cameras keep watch throughout five Western United States to provide early warning, and the number of cameras is growing fast.
Should firefighters and other first responders be exempt from requirements that they wear face masks to prevent spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19)? The City Council of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, seems to think so. They are proposing an amendment to exempt first responders from complying with the city’s face mask ordinance. Amendment to Exempt first responders from face mask rule Specifically, the proposed amendment states, “Exempted from the requirements of the ordinance requiring wearing of face coverings include law enforcement personnel, first responders or other workers, who are actively engaged in their tasks, if wearing a face covering may hinder their performance.” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that everyone wear masks in public settings The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that everyone wear masks in public settings, especially when social distancing cannot be maintained. The CDC does not specify a need to exempt first responders. However, there is a possibility that a mask could interfere with the work of firefighters or first responders, especially when they are performing tasks that require physical exertion. Face masks can inhibit communication among first responders Face masks, covering the mouth and nose, could also inhibit communication by muffling sound and obstructing facial expressions. Obviously, communication is of paramount importance for firemen working as a team in an emergency, or when a first responder is seeking to give clear directions to the public. The issue of face masks has been inexorably entwined with the well-being of first responders, since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Early on during the infection spread, health officials dismissed face masks as a tool to avoid spread of the disease. They said that the masks were ineffective at preventing community spread and that, supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE) needed to be conserved for health professionals and first responders. Importance of face masks in controlling spread of COVID-19 However, the early advice was completely reversed in late March 2020 and masks have been advocated ever since. A mask, worn by an infected individual, reduces the dispersion of virus-laden droplets that spread the disease. Now, experts contend that any type of mask, including cloth or paper, can help to reduce spread of the COVID-19 virus. Expanding the use of masks to include those that are not conformant with the N-95 classification effectively eliminated any concerns about supply and helped to make the widespread use of masks the norm. To some extent, however, mask usage in the United States has been politicized and some see the requirements as an affront to liberty. Need for wearing face masks in public Masks are a useful preventative measure for firefighters working together in a communal area Fire and emergency departments face the same challenges as other businesses and institutions, as they seek to remain safe in a communal workspace. Masks are a useful preventative measure for firefighters working together in a communal area or when training or resting. Wearing masks in public also allows departments to model best practices and promote a positive perception of the department to the public. Disciplined use of face masks demonstrates unselfishness and respect for others. It communicates professionalism and concern for the greater good. Masks go a long way in saving lives of first responders Perception may also be an issue when it comes to the choice of masks, which become a de facto part of a uniform. Masks with political statements should be avoided, for example. Considering that dozens of American fire and EMS members have died of COVID-19 infection, since March 2020, the use of masks is another way that firefighters can work to save lives. However, sufficient flexibility is needed so that the use of masks does not interfere with other lifesaving duties.
The fire service worldwide collects a lot of data, and a university in Seoul, South Korea, is researching how to crunch the numbers using artificial intelligence (AI) to predict the probability of fires more accurately and to direct fire departments’ assets where they will do the most good. Students and faculty at Hongik University are developing AI and machine learning (ML) algorithms into a model that can predict the probability of fires and enable authorities to take action to make the city safer. The project has used the Microsoft Azure Machine Learning Studio, a Web portal for data scientist developers. The researchers ran various ML modules until they were able to predict fires with 90% accuracy. optimize patrol routes Analyzing data held by Seoul’s fire department, the researchers extracted information to identify which parts of the city have a high probability of fire. Data included information about causes of fires, their locations, and casualty numbers. To address privacy concerns about the data, researchers built a Microsoft virtual machine (VM), which keeps data secure and restricted to only a few individuals. The emphasis on privacy built a higher level of trust with the Fire Department providing data to the project. The information has enabled firefighters to optimize their patrol routes and deployments. In addition, the analysis looked at the locations of fire stations and spotted gaps of areas that were not adequately covered. deploy more fire crews The project is an example of how Seoul seeks to use the latest technologies, such as AI, to make the city safer Seoul’s development density makes it difficult to build a new fire station, but the information allowed authorities to deploy more fire crews to underserved areas from other stations located at the fringes. Having more fire crews on duty in neighborhoods more in danger of fire enables fire crews to respond to calls faster and therefore ensures the safety of people and minimizes property damage. One might suspect that older areas of the city are more prone to fire risks, but the ML model revealed that newer districts, such as Gangnam, are more susceptible to fire because there are more shops, more people in the neighborhood, and more illegal parking. The project is an example of how Seoul seeks to use the latest technologies, such as AI, to make the city safer while using resources more efficiently. data-intensive services The predictive model can also be applied to other city problems, such as crime, traffic and even wheelchair accessibility. Accessing data-intensive services in the cloud expands the scale of research processes and enables access to additional data sets to expand the scope of AI and ML projects. In addition to knowledge of statistics and code, students need to understand urban planning and how the city works, which will help them define specific problems and find solutions. Collecting statistics and information about previous fire incidents is a common component in the broader effort to fight fires all over the world. The use of AI and ML in Korea suggests new ways fire data can be leveraged to make firefighting more efficient and highlights an opportunity to apply the approach more broadly.
The biggest risk of property damage and injury from wildfires comes at the wildland-urban interface (WUI), which is defined as areas where structures and the built environment begin to intermingle with wildland vegetation. More and more such areas are being created as humans move near wildland areas to take advantage of their natural beauty and privacy. As a result, fire departments are fighting more fires along the interface, and there is a greater need for citizens living in these areas to be aware of the dangers of wildfires and to be prepared. ‘Ready, Set, Go! (RSG!)’ Program The ‘Ready, Set, Go! (RSG!)’ Program works to increase engagement by local fire departments with residents The ‘Ready, Set, Go! (RSG!)’ Program works to increase engagement by local fire departments with residents that live in areas at risk of wildland fires. A program of the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC), ‘Ready, Set, Go!’ offers the tools and resources for fire departments to provide more understanding of the risk of wildland fires and the actions residents should take to reduce the risk. The program seeks to help residents to be ‘Ready’ with preparedness understanding, ‘Set’ with situational awareness when fire threatens and to ‘Go’, that is, to leave early when a fire starts. Enhancing situational awareness via notification systems The ‘Ready’ tenet focuses on establishing understanding of the wildland fire threat and how it can be mitigated. The ‘Set’ tenet focuses on heightening situational awareness through notification systems and warnings (such as Red Flag Warnings). The ‘Go’ tenet calls on residents to leave early and emphasizes that waiting until the last moment can increase danger and impede response. However, the RSG! program does not supersede state and local practices regarding how and when people evacuate an area. In the end, evacuation is a local issue. Wildland fire education efforts The RSG! program is complementary to and collaborates with Firewise USA and other existing wildland fire education efforts, including Living with Fire, Take Responsibility, FireSmart, Fire Safe Councils, Project Wildfire, and others. RSG! materials include ‘Your Personal Wildland Fire Action Guide’, a national video, PowerPoint presentation template, press releases, media article templates and local meeting handouts. The RSG! program materials can be adapted to local needs. Many states and localities have customized the materials by adding local department and agency logos, landscape pictures, and text about past fires. Wildland-urban interface (WUI) The wildland-urban interface (WUI) is not so much a place as a set of conditions that are conducive to spread of wildfire The wildland-urban interface (WUI) is not so much a place as a set of conditions that are conducive to spread of wildfire. Conditions include the type and distribution of vegetation, proximity of vegetation to other structures, climate and weather patterns, fire history, topography and access. Embers from wildfires can be carried by the wind more than a mile away. They are the leading cause of home fires resulting from nearby wildfires. Embers fall or are wind-driven into receptive fuels and structures, often going undetected. As the fire front passes, embers may ignite fires that spread from home to home in a neighborhood. Wildland fire programs Through the International Association of Fire Chiefs' wildland fire programs, the organization raises awareness of wildland fire risks by educating members, residents, landowners and managers, local officials and planners. The IAFC provides resources and information that support local departments’ outreach efforts and serve as a voice for local government on a national level.
Equipment is an important element in fighting fires, and in keeping firefighters safe. But what new needs are driving the development of equipment? How can equipment expand its role in fighting fires, or in managing building occupancy and traffic flow for that matter? We asked our Expert Panel Roundtable: What are the new trends and opportunities in firefighting equipment?
The Internet of Things (IoT) is expanding the variety of technical capabilities deployed in the interest of public safety, and smart cities are leveraging IoT data to provide insights and improve operations. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is promoting technology development through its Science and Technology Directorate’s SCITI (pronounced “city”) solutions lab. SCITI stands for Smart City and Internet of Things Innovation. SCITI innovations promote public safety in urban environments to expand capabilities of first responders, including law enforcement, fire and emergency medical services, and the associated commercial sector. The initiative focuses on integrating new and existing technologies to serve public safety needs, with emphasis on validation and go-to-market support through industry partners. A streamlined process is aimed at getting new capabilities commercialized and available to users. Supporting first responders The program seeks to provide new capabilities to support first responders and the associated commercial sector in three areas. They are: Autonomous navigation for indoor Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) to support search and rescue missions in difficult environments. Intelligent building sensors to be mounted on fixed indoor building features, such as smoke detectors or exit signs. Sensors provide a mechanism to rapidly prioritize areas for search and rescue. A body-worn interoperable platform (“SmartHub”) that integrates personal network communications with third-party sensors to improve situational awareness. Collaborations for development The program has been instrumental in developing and commercializing a number of products DHS Science and Technology is leveraging a “commercial first” approach by working with technology innovation companies, government public safety officials, infrastructure owners and private sector investment partners to promote the design, development and operational testing and evaluation of suitability for commercial adoption. The program has been instrumental in developing and commercializing a number of products. Improving communication is one area of development. For example, Zello, Austin, Texas, provides a push-to-talk smartphone app that is a low-cost, reliable and secure alternative to traditional radios. Wireless System Solutions, Morrisville, North Carolina, has developed end-to-end multi-standard/band wireless network solutions that provide connectivity from the macro cellular network to the end-point gateway and/or sensor. Emergency situational awareness To provide situational awareness in an emergency, Known Quantity Sensors Inc., Atlanta, offers an IoT edge sensor platform To provide situational awareness in an emergency, Known Quantity Sensors Inc., Atlanta, offers an IoT edge sensor platform that uses AI-backed, image-based processing to quantify and locate human occupancy. CommandWear Systems, Vancouver, British Columbia, provides a simple, secure, mobile situational awareness platform that runs on existing smartphones, smartwatches, tablets, laptops and desktop PC. The system enables users to prepare for events and incidents in advance, know where personnel and assets are, communicate with them securely, and then review and analyze a mission after the fact. Other solutions promote teamwork and collaboration. Mutualink, Wallingford, Connecticut, connect voice, video and information sources so any agency can talk to and share information with partners on-demand, providing instant emergency collaboration, situational awareness and coordination. Coolfire Solutions, St. Louis, Missouri, provides collaboration software that synchronizes data, content and communications to enable people to work together more effectively. Artificial intelligence Providing automation to operate in an emergency, Airgility, College Park, Maryland, provides multi-mission unmanned aerial vehicles that can conduct search and rescue operations or protect the nation’s borders, including onboard artificial intelligence. Thirteen companies in all were selected in the first phase of the program, and additional companies were added in Phase II. The SCITI solutions lab was created in collaboration with Virginia’s Center for Innovative Technology, TechNexus in Chicago, and Smart City Works venture labs in Washington, D.C.
The global pandemic presents complications for firefighters during what will likely be an active wildfire season. Firefighting manpower could be diminished by the pandemic; training sessions have been cancelled, postponed, or conducted remotely. And travel risks undermine the traditional approach of calling on firefighters from throughout the country or around the world to help fight the wildfires. Social distancing is at odds with the teamwork and camaraderie that characterize firefighting units. Communal basecamps where everyone eats and sleeps together are unworkable during the pandemic. Instead, smaller camps are the rule, and packaged meals are delivered to each camp. Smaller teams reduce the need for widespread quarantine if someone tests positive for the novel coronavirus. Daily wellness checks Daily wellness checks ensure everyone remains healthy. Temperature checks, enhanced cleaning schedules and more personal protective equipment (PPE) are the rule. The toll of wildfires on air quality is a negative health factor for anyone suffering from COVID-19, or anyone at risk. Possible spread of the disease complicates the logistics of sheltering evacuees. Health counseling is done remotely, and cots in shared quarters are spaced further apart. COVID-19 Wildfire Guidelines Medical experts, including the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), have developed COVID-19 safety guidelines for wildfire operations and recommendations for firefighter screening, testing and social distancing.COVID-19 also presents some of the same respiratory symptoms as wildfire smoke exposure Exposure to air pollutants in wildfire smoke can irritate the lungs, cause inflammation, alter immune function and increase susceptibility to respiratory infections, likely including COVID-19, according to the CDC. COVID-19 also presents some of the same respiratory symptoms as wildfire smoke exposure – dry cough, sore throat, and difficulty breathing. The overall approach to fighting wildfires is being impacted by the pandemic. Since the early 2000s, the strategy has been to allow some wildfires to burn across large areas as a natural part of rejuvenating the forest. “Smokey Bear” Method Now, more fires will likely be extinguished quickly rather than risk them getting out of control when there may not be enough firefighters. Use of aerial firefighting will expand as a means to minimize the need for firefighters on the groundThis direct-suppression model – also known as the “Smokey Bear” method – keeps fires small enough to be managed by local resources rather than needing additional firefighters from other areas. Use of aerial firefighting will expand as a means to minimize the need for firefighters on the ground. The National Interagency Fire Center predicts that this year’s wildfire season, which extends from June to September, will see more wildfires than usual in the Southwest and Pacific Northwest. Because of coronavirus concerns, the U.S. Forest Service has suspended controlled burns, which are used to prevent larger wildfires. Dry weather this fall will make fires more likely to spread quickly. Wildfires in Urban/Suburban Neighborhoods Particularly of concern are wildfires in areas that border urban or suburban neighborhoods, the so-called wildland-urban interface. These situations are when homes (and lives) are most at risks. Fire officials and volunteers have historically helped homeowners address risks such as yards with dry brush, but this year the help is being offered remotely with video calls, which is a less effective approach. There is some optimism in the firefighting results at the Sawtooth Fire in Arizona in late May. In response to the first wildfire of the season, 399 firefighters were deployed. They practiced social distancing, wore masks, and slept in local hotels. Smaller teams of four to 20 firefighters helped to minimize physical interaction and virus transmissions. Zoom meetings helped with coordination. A medical officer was on site to ensure guidelines were followed. The final report judged the effectiveness of the protections and safety record as “remarkable.”
Crowd management can be critical in a fire emergency – or in almost any other emergency situation. The Fire Protection Research Foundation (FPRF) has undertaken a project to develop a computerized tool to provide data and situational awareness about crowds based on computer vision analysis of video. Crowds have become an unusual occurrence during the COVID-19 pandemic, but sooner or later, life will be returning to normal. When it does, the safety consequences of poor crowd management will again become top-of-mind for many in the emergency response fields. Preventing trampling incidents With AI Crowds can change rapidly during an emergency, and emergency responders must act quickly to respond to changes in crowd density, movement and other behaviors. Crowd dynamics can have tragic consequences in cases such as trampling or crushing incidentsThe FPRF project has developed a proof-of-concept framework for “data-informed crowd management and support.” The low-cost, open-source framework highlights collection, analysis, visualization and reporting of crowd movement to inform and direct crowd and evacuation strategies in near-real-time. Crowd dynamics can have tragic consequences in cases such as trampling or crushing incidents, violence, or if there are insufficient exits. In the worst cases, injuries and deaths can occur. A real-time crowd management tool can help to neutralize these potentially dangerous situations. Deep-learning computer vision and video image recognition (using artificial intelligence [AI]) are the technologies that enable the project. The tools can be applied to live video, to manage an event in real-time; or to recorded video to evaluate crowd activity as part of the event-planning process. The deep-learning capability is called congested scene recognition, or CSR, which both counts the number of individuals in a crowd and identifies their spatial distribution. Algorithms evaluate crowd movement Modern technologies and algorithms evaluate crowd movement over time in high-risk spaces. Users may upload a still image, and the tool will evaluate the crowd count in a given area. For a video feed, the system can capture individual frames at a user-defined interval (1 to 30 seconds) or manually. Crowd counts are then graphed and displayed to identify crowd density trendsThe model then evaluates the frame, predicts the count and provides a crowd density heat map within about 5 seconds. Crowd counts are then graphed and displayed to identify crowd density trends. Early trials have been promising, according to the researchers. The research project is led by the FPRF and the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) with funding through a U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Fire Grant. So far, the proof-of-concept tool has been created, and testing this fall will evaluate how well it works on an array of venues, how well it estimates crowd counts, and the feasibility of full-scale implementation. A final report will include the programming code associated with the tool and guidance on how it can be implemented. Use of open-source platforms and general-purpose programming languages ensures the source code for the crowd management tool is freely available, and thus inexpensive. Anticipating behavior is crucial Researchers on the project note that crowds are not the problem, but rather the problem is incomplete understanding of the anticipated behavior of crowds and the inability to respond quickly. There are many variables, including the venue itselfThere are many variables, including the venue itself, and internal and external factors such as the purpose, organization and emotional nature of the crowd. The NFPA 101, Life Safety Code, includes regulatory requirement for managing large crowds. According to the code, crowd managers are responsible for understanding crowd dynamics, management techniques, and the venue’s emergency response plan, among other factors, according to NFPA. To prepare for large events, crowd managers must evaluate specific actions necessary for various situations, anticipated occupancy levels, the adequacy of ingress and egress, and expected human behavior.
Ignited by a faulty electric transmission line in November 2018, the Camp Fire burned for 17 days in Butte County, near the city of Paradise, Calif. When the blaze was finally contained, it had burned more than 150,000 acres, destroyed 18,000 buildings and taken 86 lives. The question is if the fire could have been predicted and if the damage could have been minimized through greater understanding of risk factors. Also if there is a scientific way to reduce the risk of fires, analogous to advances already made in the areas of earthquake risk assessment and disaster resilience. Those are some of the questions facing new research being undertaken by scientists at several institutions and financed through a five-year, $2 million grant from the National Science Foundation’s LEAP-HI program. LEAP-HI is “Leading Engineering for America’s Prosperity, Health, and Infrastructure.” Diverse Team of researchers The new initiative will bring together a diverse team that includes atmospheric scientists, civil engineers, information systems and technology, fire ecology, weather systems, structural and fire engineering, and computer vision and machine learning. The vision of the research is “a computational platform for multi-level wildfire risk assessment.” The researchers seek to redefine wildfire risk monitoring and management to provide a platform that can be used by wildfire managers, emergency responders and utility companies to plan for, respond to, and mitigate the risk of wildfires. Hopefully, the research can lower the probability the world would suffer from another wildfire of the magnitude of the Camp Fire. The new capabilities could help to offset the growing trend of wildfire danger: Over the last 20 years, on average, seven million acres of U.S. land have burned in wildfires annually. Fire risks at regional and community scales The new computational platform will make wildfire management processes more efficient The “interdisciplinary intervention” will build a digital platform to monitor the risk of wildfire “on a spectrum of spatial resolution and time.” The new computational platform will make wildfire management processes more efficient by providing actionable information to decision-makers. Data will include long-term to short-term pre-ignition fire risks at regional and community scales, and post-ignition fire behavior at near-real-time for situational awareness. Computational modeling will be used to interpret data assembled by the group of researchers applying a variety of expertise to the larger problem. The systematic framework will quantify the risk of wildfires to the wildland-urban-interface communities in terms of total probability of loss, which includes a combination of monetary damage and the change in the quality of life of people. The model will take into account characteristics such as the community, its structure and location; as well as the adjacent wildland, its topography, climate conditions, fuel type and moisture. Principal investigator Hamed Ebrahimian, Assistant Professor at the University of Las Vegas, Reno, Nevada, College of Engineering, will lead the research as the principal investigator. Moved by the tragedy of the Camp Fire, Ebrahimian is seeking a better way to understand fire risk. The project will also involve researchers from the Desert Research Institute (DRI), Reno, Nevada; University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA); University at Buffalo (N.Y.); National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, Colorado (NCAR); and the University of Nevada, Reno, Colleges of Science and Business. Predicting the behavior of fire Tools used in the research will be integrating scientific knowledge across disciplines, data harnessing (collection, processing, fusion, and uncertainty quantification); computational modeling, stochastic simulation, and model-based inference (i.e., making predictions based on calculations). (Stochastic simulation addresses variables that can change randomly with individual probabilities.) Computations that help to predict how active fires will behave and propagate will be instrumental in helping ground-zero firefighting activities.
When the Cardwell, Missouri, Volunteer Fire Department needed to raise money for new equipment and to build a new fire shed, they posted a request online. When the residents of Massapequa, New York, wanted to raise funds to provide food to show their gratitude to the local fire department, they also posted an online fundraising request. Both requests used Fund the First, a new crowdfunding platform for first responders. Unlike other online fundraising tools that can be subject to fraud or abuse, Fund the First verifies each fundraising campaign to ensure donated money goes to the right place. The new secure online platform enables users to create, manage and promote verified campaigns to help verified first responders raise money in times of need. Ensuring support reaches first responders The platform seeks to eliminate fraud and ensure that support reaches first responders in need Raising funds for local fire departments is one use for the platform, which also seeks to provide funding as first responders experience illnesses, surgeries or other catastrophic losses, which are more common among first responders than other occupations. In short, the platform seeks to eliminate fraud and ensure that support reaches first responders in need. Fund the First bills itself as “the first online verified financial contribution platform designed by first responders.” It seeks to avoid risks associated with criminals and scammers who seek to take advantage of people’s generosity and create fake online donation campaigns that might, for example, use the likeness of first responders. The site leverages advanced authentication and identity verification technologies from ID.me to fully confirm the accuracy of first responder credentials. The platform also uses a manual investigative process to ensure that all campaign claims are legitimate. Beneficiary to be verified Any first responder can register and become “pre-verified” on the site for free Because all requests are verified, contributors can have added peace of mind that their money will go to a campaign’s designated beneficiary. Any first responder can register and become “pre-verified” on the site for free, even before they face a need or hardship. Registering now avoids having to complete the process during a more stressful time. If an intended beneficiary is not pre-verified, the platform will send him or her an invitation to sign up. Campaigns do not go live until a beneficiary has been verified. In the case of a line-of-duty or off-duty death, the next of kin of the fallen first responder must be verified manually. This can be accomplished by submitting a manual verification request. The platform’s Campaign Director will work directly with a family member or next of kin to ensure verification. Trusted place for first responders A check will be sent to the verified beneficiary of the campaign after the campaign has run for at least 30 days. The platform says 92% of each dollar contributed to a campaign goes to the beneficiary; the rest goes toward costs of payment processing, verification and operating the platform. The fact is that many of the campaigns seen on larger crowdfunding sites are actually scams. In contrast, Fund the First provides a trusted place where first responders can get the support they need, when they need it. Fund the First’s Founder and CEO is Robert Garland, a New York City Police Department detective with experience developing and implementing business plans. Four co-founders are John Eichhorn, a law enforcement officer in Florida; Michael LaLuna, a Certified Public Accountant; Kevin Darcey, a New York City Police Department lieutenant; and Mitch Weinstein, a retired law enforcement professional with a 40-year business career.
According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), promoting safety comes from a joint effort of knowledge, preparation, oversight and vigilance. The ‘Fire and Life Safety Ecosystem’ includes eight elements, as listed by NFPA, and weakness in any of the eight creates conditions that foster risk. A recent NFPA report includes examples, drawn from current events, that illustrate the importance of each element of the Fire and Life Safety Ecosystem. Government responsibilities Citizens expect their governments at all levels to create a regulatory environment in which laws, policies and spending priorities are dictated by public safety needs. Safety laws were unenforced and/or code violations slipped through the cracks in several recent incidents. Five children died August 11, 2019, when an overloaded extension cord running beneath a couch caught fire in an Erie, Pennsylvania, private home operating a daycare. In Washington, D.C., on August 18, 2019, a 40-year-old man and a 7-year old boy died in a fire. The single-family home was filled with code violations and was likely operating as an illegal rental. Development and Use of Current Codes The latest codes and standards establish minimum levels of safety to protect people and property The latest codes and standards establish minimum levels of safety to protect people and property, and they must evolve to reflect the changing world. Flames consumed Notre-Dame de Paris on April 15, 2019, and it appears the historic cathedral was not following current codes developed to ensure heritage sites can be enjoyed by future generations. There was no layered protection through alarms, sprinklers, and compartmentation, for instance. In another example, data analyzed from the 2018 Camp Fire wildfire, which destroyed much of Paradise, California, demonstrates the value of building codes. Among 350 single-family homes built after a stronger building code came into force, just over half were undamaged. In contrast, only 18% of the 12,100 homes built before the 2008 building code changes escaped damage, according to data analysis by publisher McClatchy. NFPA Referenced Standards Providing guidance to designers, installers, facility operators, and enforcers, referenced standards are a fundamental part of life safety. Fires are a regular occurrence in buildings under construction, renovation and demolition, despite standards aimed at preventing them. From 2013 to 2017, there was an estimated average of 3,840 fires per year in structures under construction. NFPA’s Standard for Safeguarding Construction, Alteration, and Demolition Operations requires site operators to mitigate fire risks. Noncompliance was also a major factor in the 2017 Grenfell fire in the United Kingdom. The aluminum cladding that wrapped the outside of the high-rise apartment building, which did not follow referenced standards, contributed to the disaster. Investment in Safety Money and resources must be allocated to reduce losses from fire and related hazards Money and resources must be allocated to reduce losses from fire and related hazards. A lack of fire sprinklers in a 25-story high-rise apartment building in Minneapolis contributed to deaths and injuries when a fire ripped through the building in November 2019. Five people died and three others were hospitalized. Investment in the form of fire sprinklers would have also made a difference in containing a massive fire in North Shore, Wisconsin, at the Bayside apartment complex in March 2019. One hundred people were left homeless. Skilled Workforce and Code Compliance Ongoing training and professional development maximize skills of people who work in the fire and life safety fields. Personnel lacked familiarity with the fire suppression system recently at a warehouse distribution center for a British online supermarket. Their decision to shut off the sprinkler system for five minutes enabled the fire to grow beyond containment capabilities, costing the company over $120 million and 400 jobs. Fortunately, no one was hurt. The places where people live and work are only as safe as the code compliance in place before, during and after construction. Firefighters in Natick, Mass., had to battle a massive blaze in a strip mall from the outside. They could not douse the fire from inside the building because of ‘hidden void spaces,’ created through multiple non-compliant remodels of the 100-year-old structure. Preparedness and Emergency Response The alert system also lets people know the actions they should take to stay safe Prioritizing and investing money in preparedness and response capabilities before, during and after an emergency helps first responders meet community needs. Australia’s 2019 bushfire season benefited from lessons learned after the horrific Black Saturday fire in 2009, where 173 people were killed. A centralized wildfire alert system now communicates to the public the location of the fire and provides an estimate of when it might reach a new location. The alert system also lets people know the actions they should take to stay safe. The new warning system likely saved lives in the 2019 wildfire season. Informed Public Education People take extra safety measures if they have the information they need and understand the risks and consequences. The Honolulu Fire Department created a provocative ad campaign showing a young child, comfortably in his bed. The narrator explains that he is not sleeping but dying as smoke fills the home with no smoke alarms to wake the family. Such messages help to educate the public about the dangers of fire and needed prevention.
COVID-19 has shaped and altered the fire protection industry in recent months, and the Fire Industry Association (FIA) in the United Kingdom has published a survey report on the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. The survey, conducted by FIA, sought to gain a greater understanding of how organizations have been impacted by COVID-19 and of the impact on the wider fire industry now and in the future. Resilience is a recurring theme in the FIA report. At the time of the survey (when the United Kingdom was just past the coronavirus peak), a total of 81% of respondents expected they could continue operating under current circumstances for three months or more. Roughly a fourth expected their business could continue for six months (23.4%), and another quarter of respondents expected they could last a year (23.4%). alternative learning models Although not offered as an option in the survey, some respondents commented that they could last longer than a year. It is unclear whether answers were provided before or after respondents had made organizational changes to adapt to COVID-19. The companies surveyed by FIA appeared to be adaptable as well as resilient. In short, COVID-19 has changed how organizations work. More than 50% planned flexible working (55.9%) and/or remote working (50%) initiatives More than 50% planned flexible working (55.9%) and/or remote working (50%) initiatives. Other adaptation approaches include restructuring (45.4%), alternative learning models (36.9%), cross-training and knowledge transfer (33.3%), and reskilling or upskilling employees on new ways of working (32.1%). continuous professional development The United Kingdom’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme has allowed companies to keep their staff whilst they assess the impact of COVID-19 and not be forced into premature decisions on redundancies. Outside the survey, the FIA reports seeing many companies within the fire industry demonstrate their flexibility by engaging with the association’s new online training and exams. More than 450 fire professionals have been trained online since April 1, and over 100 online exams were completed since June 1. Over 2,000 fire safety professionals have embraced online continuous professional development (CPD) sessions from FIA as a way to invest time when not on the road or visiting customers. high financial impact The largest group of FIA survey respondents (47.6%) observed that COVID-19 had a high financial impact on their business, and another 39.3% noted a moderate impact. Only 10.7% saw a low financial impact on their business. COVID-19 has also had an impact on the management, retention and hiring of staff. Some 40% of survey respondents said they had placed 25% or less of their staff on furlough. Required access of fire professionals to customer premises was an issue during lockdown, and in the FIA survey However, at the other extreme, 27.7% reported they had placed 75-100% of staff on furlough. In the middle, 13.8% reported they had placed 25-50% on furlough, and 18.5% reported the number at 50-75%. On the optimistic side, 57.6% of respondents expect 75-100% of workers to return from furlough. Another 28.8% expect only 0-25% of employees to return from furlough. Required access of fire professionals to customer premises was an issue during lockdown, and in the FIA survey. fire safety professionals Some 72.5% of respondents reported they require access to customer premises. As the lockdown progressed, 75% saw improvement in access to customer premises. About 46.4% of respondents reported that 50% or more of site visits have been postponed or cancelled due to COVID-19. Arguably, even more site visits would have been cancelled or postponed if fire safety professionals had not been classified as key workers. The survey included respondents from the Fire Detection and Alarm (FD&A) sector (41%), as well as Fire Risk Assessors (26%) and the Extinguishing sector (13%). An “other” category (20% of respondents) included Housing Associations, Local Government, Insurers, and Quality and Competency Approval Bodies. There were 84 respondents.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the trend toward working from home has accelerated. New technologies are now making it possible for 911 dispatchers to work from home, too, whether to ensure social distancing or to supplement operations during evolving emergencies. The computer-aided dispatch (CAD) systems offer web-based interfaces and mobile capabilities that enable public-safety answering point (PSAP) operators to work from anywhere. Other technologies that are paving the way for dispatchers to work from home include the cloud, virtual private networks (VPNs), and faster data speeds. Remote emergency dispatchers An innovative implementation in Alexandria, Virginia, involves remote emergency dispatchers using equipment including a laptop, headset, smartphone, mobile hotspot, mobile router with computer-aided dispatch and other hardware. The city uses the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) network, provided in partnership with AT&T. A dedicated, secure and reliable connection ensures operation for public safety, everyday functions, and/or for emergency communications. In Alexandria, hotspots and smartphones powered by FirstNet enable 911 dispatchers to take calls In Alexandria, hotspots and smartphones powered by FirstNet enable 911 dispatchers to take calls and handle CAD operations from their homes and remote locations. The dependability of the FirstNet connection is critical; relying on a dispatcher’s home Internet service could be risky if it loses connectivity. Initially hesitant because of concerns about the unknown, Alexandria’s Director of Emergency and Customer Communications was spurred into action by the COVID-19 crisis. Emergency Communications Centers They had tested the system in January. During the first month of implementation, remote workers only answered non-emergency phone calls before beginning to handle 911 calls. The approach helped with social distancing in the midst the COVID -19 crisis, during which dispatchers could not work together as usual in close quarters. To ensure social distancing, dispatchers worked from two different Emergency Communications Centers (ECCs) – one primary and one a backup location – in addition to some dispatchers working from home. There was also a fourth ‘isolation’ team, comprised of two fire dispatchers, two police dispatcher and one call telecommunicator – staying and working remotely in a nearby hotel for 10 days in a row. Deciding whether to allow dispatchers to work remotely depends on factors such as employee performance, operational effectiveness and available tools, according to experts. Careful evaluation of these factors ensures a successful implementation. Home-Based operators Technology requirements include a VPN and a dependable, high-speed internet connection In addition to providing flexibility during a global pandemic, remote dispatchers can help departments augment their regularly scheduled staff members more quickly. Dispatchers who can work immediately from home are not delayed by the practicalities of getting to work. Staffing can be augmented immediately rather than several hours from now – an essential consideration during a developing emergency. Technology requirements include a VPN and a dependable, high-speed internet connection. Connectivity might especially be a problem in rural areas, where operators are also more likely to need to travel a long distance to work. There might also be legal issues, such as access to confidential databases. There might also be concerns about discipline of home-based operators and challenges when it comes to working together cohesively as a team. In the end, though, such questions are about ‘how’ a home-bound dispatcher scenario might be managed rather than whether it is feasible. The changing situation during the COVID-19 crisis has demonstrated that the technical hurdles have been overcome.
Tracking firefighters’ exposure to smoke and cancer-causing materials is important when it comes to assessing liability claims, workers compensation, and coverage for occupational health claims. In a broader sense, tracking exposure to carcinogens provides important data for research to evaluate exactly how these materials affect the health and safety of firefighters. Tracking and documenting exposure data for firefighters is easier than ever using the National Fire Operations Reporting System (NFORS) Exposure Tracker App, developed by the International Public Safety Data Institute (IPSDI) as part of the NFORS Analytics Data System. The NFORS Mobile App, available in app stores, works on the iOS and Android platforms. The app helps firefighters, paramedics and officers create a personal and secure Career Diary, capable of logging both physical and mental exposures along with the incident details, in a private, encrypted, and secure online environment. The app enables firefighters to track their health exposure, on the go, prompted by questions that include the nature of an incident, the presence of smoke, fire and flames, soot, and other information, including the extent of on-scene decontamination and gear cleaning. simplifying documentation of exposure at fire scenes The app helps firefighters, paramedics and officers create a personal and secure Career Diary, capable of logging both physical and mental exposures It simplifies documentation of exposure at fire scenes after an incident response, and then maintains the information if verification for occupational cancer claims is needed later. Data is shared in the app indefinitely, and exposures are documented throughout a firefighting career. Every firefighter can even take his or her personal exposure database into retirement so that data are available if needed to document a cancer claim after they leave the job. The app was developed through a collaboration of the International Associations of Fire Chiefs (IAFC), Metropolitan Fire Chiefs Association, International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF), Underwriters Laboratories (UL), National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the Urban Institute, and other fire service experts. The NFORS Exposure Tracker was funded by the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Assistance to Firefighters Grant (AFG) Program and the Ramsey Social Justice Foundation. The Arizona Municipal Risk Retention Pool (AMRRP) is providing the app to its members as a way to remove documentation hurdles fire service members face when seeking health coverage for occupational health claims. “With the app, member firefighters will be able to better assemble their exposure data for evaluation during any claim evaluation process,” says AMRRP President Rudy Rodriguez. The challenges of firefighter occupational cancer claims With the app, member firefighters will be able to better assemble their exposure data for evaluation during any claim evaluation process For municipal risk pools, there are two challenges when it comes to firefighter occupational cancer claims. One is the undue burden of out-of-pocket costs for the firefighter when a claim is denied; and another is firefighter documentation of exposures to support the claim. AMRRP is providing member firefighters access to the firefighter Exposure Tracking App for their phones. After AMRRP is notified of a claim, the primary focus of the claim evaluation process will be reviewing records. Each first responder submits his or her data, including medical information, any previously maintained documentation about the types of incidents in which the first responder had been involved, and the exposure data compiled and stored on the NFORS Firefighter Exposure Tracking App. The importance of preparedness “The hope is that this data is never used, but if the need arises, each firefighter will be better prepared,” says Brian Jefferies, President of Arizona Professional Firefighters and a cancer survivor. The International Public Safety Data Institute (IPSDI) procures, assembles, analyzes and reports information from fire, rescue and law enforcement data. IPSDI provides live dashboards for local public safety agencies to ensure usable information about their operations.
Federal grants are a critical financial component of fire departments and the fulfillment of their mission to protect their communities. The Firefighters Support Alliance is an initiative to help voters understand the local economic impact that fire departments have on their communities; it is part of the Firefighters & EMS Fund, a national political organization. Federal programs such as Assistance to Firefighters (AFG) and Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grants are crucial to emergency preparedness. AFG grants seek to enhance the safety of the public and firefighters with respect to fire-related hazards by providing direct financial assistance to fire departments, nonaffiliated Emergency Medical Services organizations and State Fire Training Academies. The funding helps to equip and train emergency personnel to recognized standards, enhance operations efficiencies, foster interoperability and support community resilience. Increasing the number of trained firefighters SAFER grants provide funding directly to fire departments and volunteer firefighter organizations to help them increase the number of trained, "front line" firefighters available in their communities. Although often overlooked, the economics of firefighting – including what funding and resources are available to fire departments – is a significant aspect of making sure firefighters can effectively and safely do their jobs and protect their communities. Visitors to the web site can manipulate the map to show specific data by region or state, and the map itself is color-coded Part of the awareness initiative is an interactive map that tracks and breaks down data related to the economic impact of firefighters. Data includes the number of fire departments, firefighters and grant dollars in relation to each metric. For example, the state of New York's 2,297 departments received an average of $7512.10 per department, and $200.37 average grant dollars per firefighter. Map for the economic impact of firefighters Visitors to the web site can manipulate the map to show specific data by region or state, and the map itself is color-coded to provide easy understanding of the density of each state. “The data speaks for itself; the fire protection industry is a huge part of the American economy and disturbances to such a wide reaching and essential industry will be felt by all,” says Executive Director Nile Porter. “Rich or poor, we all rely on fire and EMS capabilities in one capacity or another.” The Firefighter’s Support Alliance is the direct grassroots public policy and political engagement arm of the Firefighters and EMS Fund. The project was formed to directly engage the public and voters about issues and solutions that impact America’s heroes. Improving the health and wellness of firefighters The alliance will accomplish this by supporting and sponsoring digital marketing and mass media campaigns using targeted messaging and shining a light on issues that provide grassroots-direct issue, political and public awareness. The Firefighter’s Support Alliance comes on the heels of the organization’s in-depth research from 2018-2019 that revealed a deepening health and wellness crisis among firefighters.
Volunteer fire departments are ineligible to obtain funds from the Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL) program because of their dependence on bingo games and raffles for fundraising. With the COVID-19 crisis destroying the ability of volunteer departments to raise funds, access to the EIDL program could provide needed assistance during a time of economic crisis. Under current rules, the assistance is unavailable. Economic Injury Disaster Loans program As the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) implements the EIDL program to support private entities reeling from the financial impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, the government agency has deemed that entities (such as volunteer fire departments) are ineligible for assistance if they receive more than one-third of their revenue from legal gaming, which the Internal Revenue Service interprets to include bingo games and raffles. “While this determination may not have been intended to preclude volunteer fire departments from receiving this critical assistance, many of the most acutely impacted private non-profit fire departments are unable to request the assistance that they desperately need,” according to the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC). Financial funding for private non-profit fire departments In a letter, the IAFC has urged the SBA to adjust the EIDL assistance program in order to provide greater financial assistance to private non-profit fire departments. In effect, the association of fire chiefs is asking the agency to exempt volunteer fire departments, recognized under Section 501(C) of the Internal Revenue Code (IRC), from the limit on legal gaming revenue. “The unprecedented economic downturn and stay-at-home orders have decimated the ability of these agencies to meet their fundraising needs,” said the letter, adding “The IAFC urges the [SBA] to waive this requirement and support private nonprofit fire departments in their work to answer calls for emergency service.” Over-reliance on volunteer personnel According to the USFA, 70% of U.S. fire departments rely solely on volunteer personnel to respond to emergencies According to the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA), 70% of U.S. fire departments rely solely on volunteer personnel to respond to emergencies. Located in rural communities with limited tax bases, these agencies rely upon community support to sustain their operations. The EIDL program is a mechanism to support private entities staggering from the financial impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. In late April 2020, the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) published an interim rule to waive the cap on legal gaming revenues for public entities seeking assistance through the Paycheck Protection Program. However, this change does not impact fire departments that utilize volunteers and own their property outright. Economic Injury Disaster Loan facility “The IAFC fears that these private non-profit fire departments may be unable to maintain their emergency response operations if a similar exemption is not also made for the EIDL program,” the letter further adds. In response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, small business owners and organizations in all U.S. States, Washington D.C., and overseas US territories are able to apply for an Economic Injury Disaster Loan advance of up to US$ 10,000. This advance is designed to provide economic relief to organizations that are currently experiencing a temporary loss of revenue. This loan advance will not have to be repaid.
Among other impacts on the fire industry, the COVID-19 global pandemic has played havoc with the industry’s trade show schedule, with some major events canceled and other delayed. There are still several events planned for later in 2020 – fingers crossed! UPDATE: The United Fire Conference, Firehouse Expo and Intershutz USA, three fire industry events mentioned in this article, have also been cancelled in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. After canceling the FDIC International show in Indianapolis in April, Clarion Events is planning a new event, the United Fire Conference, September 22-24, at the Indiana Convention Center. The ‘fully immersive’ event will bring the international fire community together to discuss key themes around timely and mission-critical topics, including pandemics, infection control, hazards in blended missions, and preparing for the future. Extensive outreach and conversations “During the FDIC team’s extensive outreach and conversations with the fire service, there was an overwhelming desire expressed by firefighters to come together in the fall to celebrate the unity of the fire service, learn and support ongoing efforts in serving their communities and continue training,” according to a statement from Clarion Events. “At this point it is nearly impossible to predict the status of the pandemic in September; however, we are currently proceeding with plans for the conference,” says Clarion Events. In any case, FDIC International 2021 is still being planned April 19-24, 2021, at the Indiana Convention Center and Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. Utmost concern for wellbeing We have been listening to our stakeholders, some of whom asked us to not hold the event" Also cancelled was the NFPA Conference & Expo in June 2020 in Orlando. “We have been listening to our stakeholders, some of whom asked us to not hold the event and other who encouraged us to move forward.” However, after “Great thought and with the utmost concern for everyone’s wellbeing,” the event was cancelled. Some NFPA (National Fire Protection Association) activities that occur during the event, such as the Association’s Annual Meeting, Election of directors to the board, and the Codes and Standards Technical Meeting, are being facilitated remotely. The 2021 NFPA Conference and Expo will be June 22-25, 2021, at Mandalay Bay Convention Center in Las Vegas, marking the 125th anniversary of the Association. Well attended event Firehouse Expo, managed by Endeavor Business Media, will be October 30-November 1 at Music City Center, Nashville, Tenn. (delayed from July dates). “We are confident that the October dates will result in a stronger, safer and more well attended event where the fire community can come together to train, learn and rebuilt,” says Peter Matthews, Firehouse Expo Conference Director. The INTERSCHUTZ international fire show in Hanover, Germany (which takes place every five years), has been delayed one year and will be June 14-19, 2021 (delayed from June 2020 dates). More than 150,000 visitors from all over the world attend the show. The show organizers state: “The coronavirus directly affects both exhibitors and visitors to INTERSHUTZ and requires them to be available for duty at other locations.” Providing education resources Fire Rescue International (FRI), planned for August 19-21 in Phoenix, Arizona, is going virtual. The virtual experience will provide education resources on timely issues and the insights needed to keep communities safe. Another industry show planned for later in the year: INTERSCHUTZ USA, launched for the first time, is still planned for October 13-17 at the Pennsylvania Convention Center, Philadelphia.
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.”