Articles by Larry Anderson
The Fire Safety Event, 9-11th April, at the National Exhibition Center (NEC) in Birmingham, UK, is the fastest growing exhibition for the fire safety industry in the United Kingdom in terms of both exhibitor and visitor numbers, say the organizers. The growth can be attributed to the exhibitor lineup and full program of seminars and features. Visitors can also expect live demonstrations, world-class speakers and a keen focus on the issues most pressing in the industry today. This content is managed in-house by The Fire Safety Event’s experienced team, who are deeply entrenched in the industry and able to respond quickly to developments in the market. Furthermore, co-location with three complementary events provides a more comprehensive offering for visitors, giving them more value for the time they spend on-site. Maintaining The Highest Fire Safety Standards Our continuing partnerships with a whole host of key industry associations reinforce the importance of The Fire Safety Event for the market" The Fire Safety Event is hosting more 50 of the world’s leading fire safety brands in 2019. Notable exhibitors include Kingspan, FirePro, Klaxon, Xtralis and FFE. The full list of exhibitors and partners can be found on their website. “Our continuing partnerships with a whole host of key industry associations reinforce the importance of The Fire Safety Event for the market and the need for an event like ours in the UK,” says Rachel Godfrey, events manager. “Our exhibitors recognize our goal is to offer education and support, filling a gap in the market and helping to ensure their customers maintain the highest fire safety standards,” Godfrey continues. “High-profile incidents in recent years have put a spotlight on the industry, and we recognize our role in providing ongoing education on new standards and legislation, best-practice advice and access to great products that will support the industry.” CPD-Accredited Seminar Program The seminar program has been designed to engage and educate the audience. It is delivered across four areas – Fire Safety Keynote Theatre, Fire & Evacuation Theatre, DSEAR (Dangerous Substance and Explosive Atmospheres Regulation) with a Bang Demo Area, and Tall Buildings Fire Protection Area. The seminar program is CPD-accredited and is delivered by leading industry experts, government officials, lawyers and manufacturersThe seminar program is CPD (Continuing Professional Development)-accredited and is delivered by leading industry experts, government officials, lawyers and manufacturers. Also featured are less conventional seminar formats, with Pinsent Mason welcoming audiences into a mock trial based on real life prosecution under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005. Now in its third year, the show certainly has evolved. “We began with 16 exhibitors and now proudly this year will host over 50!” says Godfrey. “We really value feedback and have taken on board what visitors say, as well as understanding exactly what our exhibitors say worked for them in previous years. We’ve added more elements that aim to challenge and educate audiences and hopefully ensure the event is so pivotal in the fire safety calendar that visitors count down the days until our next show.” High Profile Speaker Lineup As the event grows in stature, it has been able to attract a higher profile speaker lineup, including Dame Judith Hackitt and former New York City Fire Commissioner Sal Cassano as two of the keynote speakers this year. “This undoubtedly has helped attract our highest number of visitors and exhibitors to date,” says Godfrey. With the introduction of The Security Event, we will also see a much greater increase in the number of installers and end users attending"“Our dedication to putting on the best quality content will set us apart from other events, and we believe this will see us continue to grow. With the introduction of The Security Event [this year], we will also see a much greater increase in the number of installers and end users attending, many of whom will also have an interest in fire safety.” Simultaneous Events Taking Place At NEC Also taking place at the NEC between 9-11th April are The Health & Safety Event, The Facilities Event, and, new for 2019 – The Security Event. One of the key benefits for visitors of the co-location of the events is the complementary seminars taking place within the other shows that are relevant to the fire audience. “It also enables visitors to meet exhibitors that cover other disciplines for which they may only have a partial responsibility,” says Godfrey. “We recognize it isn’t always feasible to justify attending individual shows, so having the other shows in the hall just next door is a huge bonus for the fire audience.”
The aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York City highlighted the critical need for dependable communications among first responders during emergencies and disasters. In response, Congress established (in 2012) the independent First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) to deliver a nationwide broadband network dedicated to public safety. AT&T was later chosen as the private company tasked over 25 years with building out the network. This month marks the first full year of FirstNet deployment, and expansion is ahead of schedule, according to Mike Worrell, FirstNet’s Senior Fire Services Advisor. The next few years will see improvements in FirstNet coverage in both urban and non-urban areas, he says. Public Safety Agencies We are pleased with the progress, but there is much more work to do, and we look forward to continuing to move quickly for public safety" This has already begun with LTE coverage for FirstNet increasing by more than 50,000 square miles nationwide in 2018; network contractor AT&T achieved this by deploying FirstNet’s Band 14 spectrum in more than 500 markets. This increases coverage and capacity for the more than 5,250 public safety agencies using over 425,000 connections on FirstNet today. “We are now one year into a five-year build-out plan for FirstNet,” says Worrell. “We are pleased with the progress, but there is much more work to do, and we look forward to continuing to move quickly for public safety. Even after the five-year plan is met, we will continue to evolve this network to meet public safety’s needs over the course of our 25-year contract with AT&T.” TheBigRedGuide.com contacted Worrell for more information on FirstNet and its benefits for the U.S. fire service. TheBigRedGuide.com: What are the specific benefits of FirstNet for fire departments? Are the benefits only applicable to emergency situations, and/or what are the “day to day” benefits of the network to improve fire service operations? Worrell: In the fire service, having the right tools is essential to ensuring successful and safe emergency response and recovery efforts. For firefighters, communications tools are critical to improving response times and providing situational awareness. AVL (Automatic Vehicle Location), ePCR (Electronic Patient Care Reporting), transmission of ECG (electrocardiogram) telemetry, CAD (Computer-Aided Dispatch) Mobile Data, and web-based notification systems all require data connectivity to operate; without them, fire department operations can be negatively impacted. FirstNet users are able to use the network’s priority and preemption features to maintain connectivity and throughput This is why firefighters, and first responders across disciplines, are moving to FirstNet—the nation’s only broadband network dedicated to public safety. With FirstNet available nationwide, firefighters are taking advantage of the network’s services to ensure reliable communications during emergencies, large-scale events, and everyday response. When commercial networks are stressed and saturated by public use, FirstNet users are able to use the network’s priority and preemption features to maintain connectivity and throughput. With FirstNet providing robust bandwidth and high speeds, firefighters can quickly and efficiently access the data needed to respond. Some departments are using FirstNet to share data—such as images of wildfires—download critical building plans, or access traffic data to provide a complete picture of any situation. Having good situational awareness provides responders with the information needed to make informed decisions. FirstNet can also improve responder safety by enabling teams to use real-time mapping capabilities to track assets and personnel, share lookout positions, and plan safe escape routes. BRG: How can you balance the need for greater coverage of rural areas with the need for more capacity in urban areas? What guides priorities about how the network is built out? Worrell: The First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet Authority) is committed to serving all first responders because emergencies can happen anywhere. When Congress created the FirstNet Authority, it included assurances for building out coverage in rural areas at the same time as urban areas. To better serve rural areas the FirstNet buildout includes a commitment to building in places where states and territories and the public safety community have identified a need for improved coverage. FirstNet is the only carrier that has done in-depth consultation with each state The FirstNet Authority and AT&T have worked closely with the public safety community to identify communication needs in rural areas and determine gaps. FirstNet is the only carrier that has done in-depth consultation with each state, territory, and the District of Columbia to identify the key areas where coverage is needed most by first responders. Rural areas that have recently benefitted from the FirstNet buildout include the Black Hills of South Dakota; the farming communities of Tulare County, California; and the tribal lands of the Chickasaw Nation in south-central Oklahoma. In more urban areas where LTE coverage already exists, we are connecting with first responders to build the capacity they need to do their jobs successfully and safely. This is why urban areas such as Dallas, Los Angeles, Miami, New York City, Phoenix, San Diego, and San Francisco saw a boost in Band 14 coverage over the last year. The FirstNet Authority is committed to working with public safety to ensure these goals are met during the buildout of the network BRG: Looking ahead to the next five years, what can we expect from FirstNet in terms of additional coverage, capacity and/or other factors? Worrell: FirstNet’s future is focused on public safety and connecting rural and remote responders, increasing capacity for urban responders, and providing the public safety community with innovative solutions. The FirstNet Authority is committed to working with public safety to ensure these goals are met during the buildout of the network. While there is much more work to do, AT&T continues to hit the ground running for public safety, delivering on time or ahead of schedule, and we are pleased with the progress. We are also seeing the technology gap between large and small agencies closing. Because of low-cost devices and accessibility to public safety applications, technology is getting into the hands of first responders who did not previously have technology at their fingertips. The FirstNet Authority is also continuing to work directly with public safety to identify opportunities to advance the network in future years as we seek to invest back into the network. If there are members of the fire service who are interested in engaging with the FirstNet Authority on how operationalizing public safety broadband can help them on the job and their future needs for mobile broadband, I encourage them to reach out. We have regional contacts who would be happy to speak with them. BRG: Describe the use and availability of the nationwide fleet of 72 FirstNet dedicated deployable assets. How have the assets been effectively deployed in the past (related to the fire service)? Situated in 40 states, these deployables are readily accessible nationwide and can be requested at no cost by FirstNet subscribers Worrell: In 2018, AT&T launched a fleet of 72 deployable network assets, including mobile cell towers like Satellite Cell on Light Trucks (SatCOLTs) and Cell on Wheels (COWs), to provide extra coverage in the event of an emergency or large planned event. Situated in 40 states, these deployables are readily accessible nationwide and can be requested at no cost by FirstNet subscribers. FirstNet deployables have been used to support responders during several fire-related incidents like wildfires, notably California’s devastating 2018 Camp Fire and Oregon’s 2018 Miles Fire. When the ongoing Miles Fire forced the residents and community of Prospect, Oregon, to evacuate, the Fire Incident Management Team called in FirstNet for support. A SatCOLT was deployed at the base camp where nearly 2,000 first responders were gathering to coordinate their response efforts. Before FirstNet deployed the SatCOLT to their base camp, first responders in Tualatin Valley, Oregon, couldn’t send a text message, let alone speak on the phone to their families. Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue Fire Chief Mike Duyck says that, as it stands today, FirstNet is meeting their needs, giving them better situational awareness, and bringing comfort to responders during times of stress and anxiety. BRG: Which fire departments should purchase their own deployable network assets in the First Responders Mobility Zone program? Worrell: Through our consultation with public safety as we planned for this network, they told us of the importance of having deployable assets available to help during large disasters or to secure large planned events. FirstNet subscribers have access to a unique solution through our fleet of FirstNet-dedicated deployables FirstNet subscribers have access to a unique solution through our fleet of FirstNet-dedicated deployables, as well as the option to purchase their own deployable network assets from our First Responders Mobility Zone program. For more information on this and other FirstNet products and services, visit FirstNet’s website. BRG: In addition to expanding network coverage and capacity, please briefly describe FirstNet’s progress creating devices and apps ecosystems to connect first responders to innovative, life-saving technologies. Can you provide any examples specific to the fire service? Worrell: As part of our commitment to providing public safety with innovative tools, the FirstNet Authority works with all public safety disciplines, including the fire service, to deliver applications and solutions to meet their needs. Another unique aspect of FirstNet is the first-ever App Catalog for first responders. It is a dedicated location to find meaningful new solutions that have been specifically reviewed for use on FirstNet. Before any app can be added to the FirstNet App Catalog, it must pass stringent tests for security, relevancy, data privacy, and more. FirstNet subscribers can access more than two dozen apps for first responders through the FirstNet App Catalog As of March 2019, FirstNet subscribers can access more than two dozen apps for first responders through the FirstNet App Catalog. For example, Esri’s Explorer for ArcGIS app is now listed in the FirstNet App Catalog. The app allows first responders to access their agency’s authoritative maps in the field on mobile devices for better situational awareness. We’re excited about the progress being made to bring innovative solutions to first responders through our growing applications ecosystem. For anyone interested in learning more about how to submit an app for the FirstNet App Catalog, find information on the FirstNet Developer Program on the website. The FirstNet Innovation and Test Lab is a focal point for bringing emerging technology to public safety BRG: What is the role of the FirstNet Innovation and Test Lab? Worrell: The FirstNet Innovation and Test Lab is a focal point for bringing emerging technology to public safety. FirstNet Authority staff use the state-of-the-art lab to test the standards-based mission-critical functions and features of the FirstNet network. In the future, staff will use scenario-based tests to assess network saturation during emergencies and large-scale incidents. The FirstNet Authority is also in the early stages of launching a FirstNet experience program that will allow firefighters and other public safety officials to explore first responder technologies through hands-on demonstrations. The program will consist of a future experience center located in Boulder, Colorado, as well as a traveling center so that first responders nationwide can engage with FirstNet on cutting-edge technologies and explore new ways to respond. BRG: Please provide any recent examples of specific emergency situations when FirstNet made a difference, especially related to effective operation of the fire service. Worrell: FirstNet is helping public safety across the country stay connected so they can better protect themselves and their communities. From Hurricanes Florence and Michael to a major flood in Washington County, Maryland, FirstNet is being used every day and in every type of emergency. FirstNet-dedicated deployables were provided to boost communications for firefighters and first responders in the area FirstNet also supported the response and recovery efforts during the Camp Fire wildfire that devastated Paradise, California, in November 2018. During this fire, most of the telecommunications infrastructure was damaged, making it extremely difficult for first responders to communicate. FirstNet-dedicated deployables were provided to boost communications for firefighters and first responders in the area. Las Vegas Fire and Rescue also used FirstNet during the Life is Beautiful Music and Art Festival. In 2018, the festival coincided with a Presidential visit, bringing extra public officials and emergency communications to the city of Las Vegas. To boost communications, FirstNet distributed 30 FirstNet-ready mobile devices to the Las Vegas Fire and Rescue team so that they could use push-to-talk applications and relay voice, text, video, and location-based information in real-time. FirstNet is proud to support first responders across the country, and we look forward to continuing to drive innovation to meet their needs.
Five Wilmington, Del., firefighters and two police officers were hospitalized last September when they inhaled the opioid fentanyl while responding to a drug overdose call. A family member had turned on a fan, which blew white powder onto the firefighters and police officers. Last August at a prison in Chillicothe, Ohio, there were 28 people – guards, nurses and one inmate at the correctional facility near Cincinnati – who were treated for exposure to a mixture of heroin and fentanyl. Creating New Barriers Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid first manufactured in the early 1960s, and small dosages are used by health care professionals to manage pain. The danger to firefighters and other first responders comes from use of fentanyl as a street drug to cut heroin or cocaine. The drug is creating new barriers to make first responder’s jobs more difficult and dangerous. Fentanyl first emerged as a public health emergency in British Columbia, Canada, in spring 2016 Fentanyl first emerged as a public health emergency in British Columbia, Canada, in spring 2016, and it has since spread throughout the United States. Availability of fentanyl smuggled into the United States from China and other countries makes it easy for dealers to create fentanyl-laced street drugs. Addressing The Growing Concerns Because of its extreme potency, even a very small amount of fentanyl (approximately 2 milligrams) can be fatal. Fentanyl is 100 times more potent than morphine, and chemically-similar analog drugs are even a bigger danger. The fentanyl analog carfentanil is reported to be 10,000 times more potent than morphine; inhalation of airborne particles can be fatal. Fentanyl and its analogs are not easily identified by sight, so firefighters require technologies such as ion mobility spectrometers, and infrared and Raman spectroscopy to analyze their presence. The White House and the Office of National Drug Control Policy has released a training video for first responders, designed to address growing concerns. Fentanyl is 100 times more potent than morphine, and chemically-similar analog drugs are even a bigger danger Importance Of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) Respirator masks, glasses and gloves provide a degree of protection. Gloves will shield the skin from exposure, and respirator masks prevent the inhalation of airborne powder. Wearing eye protection can prevent exposure through the mucus membrane of the eyes. Here are some strategies to protect first responders during an opioid-related response, highlighted in a panel discussion at the 2017 EMS World Expo: Assess the scene for exposure risks and to guide decisions about use of PPE (personal protective equipment). Use respiratory PPE for protection against airborne fentanyl. Use nitrile, single-use examination gloves and safety glasses. Employ simulation training to be proficient in opioid patient assessment and care. Wash fentanyl-contaminated skin with soap and water; don’t use alcohol-based sanitizers which can increase the rate of transdermal transfer. Highly Potent Substances The deadly presence of the substances becomes a hidden danger that requires appropriate training and equipment The possible presence of fentanyl and related substances at a response scene has created new safety concerns for first responders, especially at overdose scenes. However, responders may also encounter the highly potent substances on what otherwise might appear to be a routine call. In this scenario, the deadly presence of the substances becomes a hidden danger that requires appropriate training and equipment, and adherence to accepted procedures. Understanding the risks and following protocols are critical to managing the possibility of exposure.
The power of data provides numerous benefits to the fire service, and today’s data collection and analysis software tools are making data more valuable than ever. Data collection and records management have been a core requirement in the U.S. fire service since the Federal Fire Prevention and Control Act of 1974 established a necessity for state and local governments to develop fire reporting and analysis capabilities. The National Fire Information Reporting System (NFIRS) requirements cover incident and casualty reporting, and later versions of the NFIRS format (NFPA Standard 901) have expanded the collection of data beyond fires to include a full range of fire department activity on a national scale. All 50 states and the District of Columbia report NFIRS data, which together represent the world’s largest national, annual database of fire incident information. Benefit The Operation Of Fire Department Effective collection and analysis of data can help fire departments document their performance to various stakeholdersAnd the benefits of data collection at today’s fire departments also extend beyond the ability to meet NFIRS requirements. Collecting and analyzing data from department training records, building and inspection information, document management, and apparatus and equipment maintenance and tracking, among other categories, are additional aspects of data collection that can benefit the operation of a fire department. A variety of commercial data collection software products help to streamline data management in today’s fire service, including suppliers such as Firehouse by ESO, ImageTrend, ZOLL and Emergency Reporting. In particular, effective collection and analysis of data can help fire departments document their performance to various stakeholders, make a stronger case when applying for grants and/or additional funding, and understand strategically how their department can improve. Demonstrating Fire Department’s Effectiveness “Data is driving the fire service, but humans are in the driver’s seat,” says Tom Louis, Business Development Analyst for Emergency Reporting. “Humans must extract data, compile it and communicate it in an effective manner to demonstrate a department’s effectiveness in serving the community.” Collecting data such as daily logs, incidents, maintenance and safety analytics can enable a fire department to tell its story more effectively using numbers More sophisticated management of incident reporting and other data can support departmental requests for grant money and other funding. “Most departments are looking for sources of funding, and they know the firefighter grants are out there, so they need to up their game,” says Louis. “Data collection can bring value locally to meet a department’s need to demonstrate its effectiveness to the community.” “In the fire service, decisions cannot be made on emotion alone, and people are grateful for [data management systems] we provide,” he adds. “Taxpayers require a level of transparency in order to hold those managing the services of a community accountable, to justify and verify the essential reason for their existence.” Promoting Firefighters’ Health And Safety Capturing data points can also serve as a means to analyze the situation and prevent injuries from happening Another benefit of data collection is to promote the safety of firefighters. For example, data collection can enable a department to track firefighters’ exposure to carcinogens, hazardous materials, blood-borne pathogens, and/or “atypically stressful events.” If there is an injury or illness, data documentation can help to demonstrate a firefighter’s qualification for injury benefits or medical care, document any personal protective equipment (PPE) failures, etc. Capturing data points can also serve as a means to analyze the situation and prevent injuries from happening. Louis says records management systems can provide a return on investment (ROI) within a year or less based on the ability to identify areas in a department that need improvement. Better data guides more efficient deployment of manpower and application of resources. Data can also document compliance with national standards to achieve accreditation with the Center for Public Safety Excellence (CPSE), for example. Considering the high cost of equipment and other fire service expenses, the cost of good data management software is “small potatoes,” says Louis, especially considering the benefits. Cloud-Based Data Collection System Emergency Reporting provides a 100% cloud-based system to collect and report fire service data, and annual subscription costs vary depending on which modules are purchased and on the size of a department (number of fire stations). A starter NFIRS-only package starts at under $1,000 a year. Other software companies provide a range of products including both cloud and/or systems installed on-premise. Simplicity of use is one point of differentiation among various products. Data reporting software from companies such as Emergency Reporting is a powerful management tool in the fire service Before the advent and growing popularity of specialized data reporting software systems, fire departments typically used laborious ‘pen and paper’ reporting techniques, or they used ‘home-grown’ computer systems designed using Microsoft Excel spreadsheets and/or Access databases, for example. The next wave of data management systems is providing more robust business intelligence services, including real-time data in the form of dashboards that enable insight into the state of a department at a glance. Application software protocols (APIs) are enabling integration of data systems with scheduling software, response software and other solutions. Data For Fleet Management Systems If you make data easy to use, then decision-makers can extract data that is trustworthy and easily understood"In the age of the Internet of Things (IoT), there will be more integration with devices such as heart monitors or apparatus systems that can provide data for fleet management and maintenance systems. “The data environment will get denser, and the ability to sift through it and pull out useful information will be more of a challenge,” comments Louis. “Beyond compliance, probably the biggest benefit of better data collection is the ability to extract data out of the system to make intelligent, actional decisions,” says Louis. “If you make data easy to use, then decision-makers can extract data that is trustworthy and easily understood.” “It allows you to take an introspective look into the performance of your department, using data that measures what you do day-to-day, incident-to-incident,” he adds. “Measure it and you can tell your story of what you’re contributing to your community.”
Recruiting and training enough firefighters to meet community needs has been a continuing challenge for decades, especially in the case of volunteer firefighters, who make up 70% of the fire service in the United States. In some areas of the country, the problem has reached a critical stage. A recent report by a commission of lawmakers, city officials and emergency service personnel in Pennsylvania, for example, notes that the population of volunteer firefighters in the state has dwindled from 300,000 in the 1990s to fewer than 38,000. In Pennsylvania, around 90 percent of the state’s 2,400 fire companies are volunteer. Challenges Faced By Volunteers There are multiple challenges to supplying adequate personnel to the fire service. One is an aging population. About a third of small-town volunteer firefighters are over 50, and it’s not uncommon for rural firefighters to be in their 60s or 70s. Furthermore, economic challenges today require many households to have two incomes, and increased job and family responsibilities leave little time for volunteering. Commuting patterns make it less likely volunteers work in the local community, which makes them less available in case of a fire emergency. Nationwide calls to volunteer fire departments have tripled in the last three decades Also exacerbating the problem is that fire departments are facing more emergency calls than ever, including a variety of different kinds of calls. The National Volunteer Fire Council (NVFC) notes that volunteer firefighters are summoned to a wide array of emergencies across the country every day including fires, emergency medical incidents, terrorist events, natural disasters, hazardous materials incidents, water rescue emergencies, high-angle and confined space emergencies, and other general public service calls. The shortage of volunteer firefighters is being felt everywhere. Meanwhile, nationwide calls to volunteer fire departments have tripled in the last three decades. The problem is especially serious in small towns and rural areas, which are more likely to depend on volunteer firefighters. About a third of small-town volunteer firefighters are over 50, and it’s not uncommon for rural firefighters to be in their 60s or 70s Some Facts Of Interest From The NVFC Most volunteer firefighters (95%) are in departments that protect fewer than 25,000 people Of the estimated 29,727 fire departments in the U.S., 19,762 are all volunteer, and another 5,421 are mostly volunteer Nearly two-thirds (65%) of volunteer firefighters have more than five years of service Training costs are high, too. The NVFC estimates the cost to train and equip a firefighter at around $27,095. Volunteering can be costly for the volunteers, also, who drive personal cars to and from the station, for example. Even as the fire service embraces new technologies and approaches, the role of firefighters will remain essential Various measures are being undertaken to address the shortage of volunteer firefighters, including an increase in recruiting and marketing efforts to make volunteering more attractive. Given the aging firefighter population, it’s important to make entering the fire service a more desirable option for Millennials. Promotional efforts in Pennsylvania include marketing campaigns, recruitment centers, billboards, commercials in movie theaters and mailers. Need For Trained Personnel Incentives to join the fire service might include high school or college credit to volunteers or even free tuition to community colleges and state universities. Some states provide financial incentives such as property tax breaks or local income tax credits to fire volunteers. Departments are also changing to accommodate the lack of sufficient personnel. Some departments are centralising or consolidating. Others are transitioning to more full-time or paid-on-call firefighters. Even as the fire service embraces new technologies and approaches, the role of firefighters will remain essential. The role may evolve, but the need for trained personnel is a constant. Fulfilling that need will be an ongoing challenge for departments and local jurisdictions.
The immense scope and scale of this month’s California wildfires are a timely reminder of a “new normal” that includes a catastrophic toll in human tragedy and presents new challenges for fire service professionals. Some have pointed to the increased frequency of wildfires as a consequence of global warming, and the resulting higher temperatures, less humidity and changing wind and rainfall patterns. President Trump has blamed “poor forest management” (an assertion the president of California Professional Firefighters has called “dangerously wrong.”) Other theories include population shifts and the proximity of residences near wildlands. There has been talk of a need for better long-term fire prevention. But whatever the cause, the results are eye-opening. Historically, all but one of California’s biggest-ever wildfires have occurred in the last 10 years Rapid Increase In Wildfires In California California’s Camp Fire has been called the deadliest wildfire in the state’s history. Fast-moving and unpredictable, the fire totally destroyed the town of Paradise. At the same time, the Woolsey Fire continued for 10 days and consumed an estimated 96,949 acres in Los Angeles and Ventura counties. Historically, all but one of California’s biggest-ever wildfires have occurred in the last 10 years, whether measured in terms of area impacted, loss of life or damage to property, all suggesting a troubling acceleration. In fact, an increase in wildfires is causing destruction around the world. Firefighters Combating Wildfires Effectively For firefighters, the experience and environment have been compared to working in a war zone, reflected by terms such as “aerial assaults” and “boots on the ground.” Burned-out cars on the side of the road, residents fleeing from their homes and whole areas totally annihilated reflect a level of destruction that is unusual in a peaceful society. Tent cities of displaced residents are reminiscent of war refugees. For the recent California fires, firefighter teams traveled from 17 states to battle the wildfires The California wildfires also bring out the best in humanity. There are tales of neighbor helping neighbor and examples of heroism among residents and firefighters, who also share a feeling of brotherhood and kinship forged in extremely adverse conditions. It’s a job that demands bravery and resilience. For the recent California fires, firefighter teams traveled from 17 states to battle the wildfires, from as far away as Alaska and Georgia. There were around 200 firefighters from Texas, 300 from Oregon, and 144 from Arizona among the extra manpower deployed to fight the fires. Protecting Firefighters From Wildfire Danger Fighting wildfires requires a specific approach and offers new challenges. Water can be difficult to find in an already drought-ridden state. Fires that spring up in wooded areas present difficult terrain for fire-fighting vehicles. Higher heat and smoke levels challenge the best methods of protecting firefighters from injury. As the accelerated pace and larger scale of wildfires continue, the fire service will need to expand its strategies, and fire equipment industry will need to enhance its toolbox to meet tomorrow’s continuing horrific realities. If there is a lesson in this month’s wildfires in California, perhaps it is this: More to come.
From a dozen or more perspectives, the tragic fire at London’s Grenfell Tower was a wakeup call. The shear scope of the tragedy – 72 deaths, 70 injuries in the worst United Kingdom residential fire since World War II – is a stark reminder of the importance of fire prevention, and the catastrophic consequences of its failure. There are additional lessons to be learned from the fire service response to the blaze, which burned for 60 hours and involved 250 London Fire Brigade firefighters and 70 fire engines from stations across London. A stark reminder of the importance of fire prevention, and the catastrophic consequences of its failure In short, the Grenfell fire is the kind of colossal event that shakes aside any complacency that stems from a decades-long trend of decreasing deaths from fire. It takes a tragedy of such monumental proportions to get the full attention of government, regulators, fire professionals, and the general public. In the aftermath of the tragedy, the challenge is to focus that attention in ways that can have a real impact on preventing future tragedies. Building Regulations And Designs A torrent of questions and second-guessing have emerged from the Grenfell experience. How should building regulations change, including the use of aluminum composite material panels that contributed to the rapid spread of the fire? What about building designs? Grenfell Tower had one central stairwell and one exit. Are more sprinkler systems needed in residential buildings, and what obstacles must be overcome to make it happen? Related to the response to the fire, how did officials who advised residents to “stay put” for two hours as the fire was spreading contribute to the death toll? How should practices change, given that “stay put” is often the advice to residents in a high-rise building fire likely to be easily contained? Every action taken in response to the fire is being scrutinised. Will useful new best practices emerge? Are more sprinkler systems needed in residential buildings, and what obstacles must be overcome to make it happen? Sufficiency of firefighting equipment is another concern. In the Grenfell fire, how was the firefighting effort impacted when a tall ladder did not arrive for more than 30 minutes? What was the role of low water pressure? Were there problems with radio communication? The Grenfell Tower Inquiry, ordered by Prime Minister Theresa May on the day after the fire, is examining every detail. The inquiry’s chairman has promised that “no stone will be left unturned.” Meanwhile, it behooves all of us to ponder what lessons we can learn from the tragedy, and to ask how we can apply those lessons to prevent future tragedies.
During the shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., on Feb. 14, the gunman activated a manual fire alarm and shot at students as they left the building. The alarm promoted confusion during the calamity, in part because there had been a fire drill earlier in the day. It's not the first time a fire alarm has played a role in an active shooter scenario. Twenty years ago, a similar tactic was used at the Westside Middle School shooting in Jonesborough, Ark. A fire alarm also was pulled at Columbine High School during the 1998 massacre. The concern is not new. Alternatives To Manual-Pull Fire Alarms Manual pull fire alarms also present other problems, especially nuisance alarms. National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) has addressed the problem for more than a decade in its Life Safety Standards, which allow for the elimination of manual pull alarms as long as there are other measures that provide the same benefits. “We have had a provision to relieve schools from having to install pull boxes in common areas for 12 to 15 years,” says Robert Solomon, Director for Building Fire Protection and Systems at NFPA. “Many school administrators don’t realize we have given them alternatives.”Many school administrators don’t realize we have given them alternatives” Alternatives include use of smoke detectors, automatic sprinklers, and/or locating pull stations in school administration or office areas. NFPA Life Safety Code The NFPA Life Safety Code was created in 1911 and has been updated every three years since then. Committees that include architects, engineers, code consultants, manufacturers, testing labs, and universities meet periodically to discuss what changes are needed. In fact, the committees are meeting this summer in Minneapolis to discuss the next version of the Life Safety Code. NFPA manages the code but has no authority to enforce it. State policy makers and legislative bodies (and some municipalities) adopt various versions of the code as local requirements. Which version of the NFPA Life Safety Code has been adopted in a locality determines how much flexibility there is to eliminate pull station alarms. Allowances to eliminate them have been included since 2006. However, some localities are still using earlier versions of the code, in which case a change in the law would be required to provide the additional flexibilities. The 2018 Life Safety Code allows the elimination of manual pull stations in some circumstances NFPA And Manual-Pull Fire Alarms Sections in the code address issues and concerns related to new construction (Chapter 14) and existing occupancy (Chapter 15). In the case of existing facilities, a school administrator could act to phase out manual pull stations in common areas as long as the move is allowed under the code version (year) that the jurisdiction has adopted. For example, a jurisdiction still operating under the 2000 code could not eliminate pull stations unless the local jurisdiction adopted a more recent version of the code. The 2018 Life Safety Code allows the elimination of manual pull stations if: Interior corridors are protected by smoke detectors in accordance with the code; Auditoriums, cafeterias, and gymnasiums are protected by heat-detection devices or other approved detection devices; Workshops and laboratories with dust and vapor are protected by heat-detection devices or other approved detection devices; and There is a provision at a central point to manually activate the evacuation signal or to evacuate only affected areas. Manual pull alarms can also be eliminated if there is a sprinkler system with a pressure sensor that activates an alarm when the water starts to flow.No student has died in a school fire in the United States since 1958 Another measure schools can adopt is to install a cover for the pull station that sounds a local horn if it is lifted to gain access to the manual fire alarm box. This approach is a deterrent and alerts local personnel before a full-blown fire alarm is activated. A security camera installed near an alarm can also be activated when the alarm is pulled. School Fire Risk No student has died in a school fire in the United States since 1958 when the Our Lady of Angels School fire in Chicago claimed 92 fatalities. (Chicago did not use the NFPA Life Safety Code at the time.) The tragic fire was a wakeup call to pay more attention to school fire risks. Since 1958, the level of planning, training and systems that have been installed in schools (including use of the NFPA Life Safety Code) has paid dividends in student safety. Today, it is more likely a student will die at the hands of an active shooter than in a fire. That reality has driven the need to adapt provisions of the Life Safety Code. For example, door-locking options need to allow for school lockdowns while still enabling safe exit during a fire. Some door-locking or barricade devices on the market do not adhere to code requirements. A section on “classroom door locking to prevent entry” is included in the 2018 edition of the code. Raising Awareness Of Life Safety Codes Awareness is a challenge for NFPA. While code officials or architect/engineers may be familiar with Life Safety Code requirements, that awareness may not extend to busy school administrators. NFPA is working to communicate code requirements to this group, including development of one-page executive summaries that make complex code requirements more digestible. “Policy makers should understand they have an obligation to review code provisions and work toward staying more current on codes,” says Solomon. Alarms activated during an active shooter event are a variation on a problem that has plagued pull-station alarms for years – the issue of nuisance alarms. It’s a scary and potentially deadly new angle on an age-old problem, but one the NFPA Life Safety Code has already been addressing.
The dangers of firefighting make it unfriendly to the concept of the learning curve. Before they put their lives on the line, firefighters should have knowledge and experience. But gaining knowledge and experience in the firefighting environment presents its own dangers. Virtual reality (VR) is an emerging tool for training in the fire service. Recreating the firefighting experience realistically in a virtual world is a useful – and safer – alternative to on-the-job training. It is also less expensive than some other training options, such as recreation of realistic fire rescue scenarios. “For a situation when someone’s life would be in danger, a virtual reality experience can enable them to practice in the safety of their own environments,” says Michael Schreiner, Senior Director of Content for Target Solutions, which is developing VR training for firefighters. “In real life, the building would be on fire and they would have to make life-or-death decisions. With virtual reality, firefighters can make a mistake about how to attack a fire without putting themselves in danger.”With virtual reality, firefighters can make a mistake about how to attack a fire without putting themselves in danger.” Virtual Reality Firefighter Training Target Solutions, a brand of Vector Solutions, Tampa, Florida, has partnered with Pasco County (Fla.) Fire Rescue to develop a lifelike 360-degree VR “smoke reading” training course. Creating the course involved a 360-degree Virtual Reality video shoot using drone technology to film actual firefighters training in real-life simulations. The video was created with expert help from consultants and field insights from subject matter experts, fire service instructors, and paramedics. Learners using the course wear VR goggles and are immersed in a virtual environment where they will receive instruction on how to read smoke and to decide how to attack a fire based on what the smoke tells them. Reading smoke involves judging the color, volume, density and rate of rise. For example, the seat of a fire tends to produce smoke that is thick and dark and has a high rate of rise; in contrast, smoke elsewhere is a burning building might be light and wispy. Firefighters have to make split-second decisions based on the appearance of smoke, and deciding wrong can have dire consequences. Another benefit of virtual reality in firefighter training is lower costs Making Better Decisions The 12-minute-or-so smoke reading “micro-course” uses a story-based approach to emphasize the emotional elements of decision-making. Schreiner says people learn best when emotions are tied into the learning. Elements of the training scenario include exposition, rising action, a crisis and a resolution. Unrelenting “heartbeat” sounds promote a sense of urgency. The course then evaluates whether a learner made the right decision. The course can be practiced over and over. The idea is for firefighters to develop “muscle memory” to make better decisions under pressure in a real fire rescue situation. Vector Solutions chose shooting a video for a real-world effect over computer-generated graphics, which are more expensive but less realistic. For the video training, smoke graphic effects were added in post-production. Lower Training Costs The idea is for firefighters to develop “muscle memory” to make better decisions under pressure in a real situation Another benefit of virtual reality in firefighter training is lower costs. The training session used to shoot the 360-degree video cost around $20,000, which is typical of similar training exercises. Mobilizing a ladder truck, two fire trucks, a fire rescue truck and commander’s vehicles are all part of the costs, as are the costs (including overtime) of 13 firefighters taking part in the exercise. VR is a relatively new learning tool, and Schreiner says feedback from the market will make it clear how effective it is. “We can immerse a person in a situation and it’s a safe environment, but we have to let our learners tell us how effective it is,” he says. “We will get feedback from learners and training administration. It’s another tool in the toolbox, but it will not totally replace real-life training.” VR Training For Dangerous Professions Schreiner says VR is a huge training opportunity for any type of dangerous profession, whether construction workers operating on scaffolding, or educators in an active shooter situation. “Where safety is a risk, VR will really start taking off,” he says. Almost 6,000 clients across the United States use Target Solutions training products, including courses that are specific to the fire service, such as "Cancer Related Risks of Firefighting."
Drones are an important new tool for the fire service and have already proven their ability to save lives. Willingness to embrace drones (or unmanned aerial vehicles [UAVs]) for fire applications varies widely by department, and it’s not just larger departments that are making the investment. Some smaller departments are investing in drones in a big way, even as some larger departments are reticent. Firefighting Drone Programs Departments may start with a small drone just to “try it out” and to prove its usefulness to upper management. Other departments start with a budgeted amount for their drone program and go from there. According to Matt Sloane, CEO of Skyfire Consulting, the average drone program is around $35,000 to $40,000, which provides drones, thermal imaging, cameras, operation costs – all of it. Drone programs are not covered by Assistance to Firefighters (AFG) grants, however. As little as $1,500 can buy an “eye in the sky” drone (without thermal functionality). Sloane says the top question he used to get asked by potential customers was “How do I use this thing?” Now the top question is “How do I sell it to my chief?” Sloane has done hundreds of demonstrations of drone technology to fire departments and has never heard anyone say “I don’t see how that would be useful.” In fact, cost justification of drones is easy if you compare the cost with operating a helicopter, the closest alternative to provide comparable information. Sloane says implementing a drone program is equivalent in cost to “between 40 and 50 hours” of operating a helicopter. “There is still a misperception that drones are toys,” says Sloane. “But people’s lives are being saved so we’re past that stage.” He compares the reception to drones in the fire service to initial resistance to the use of thermal cameras. “Now everyone has one,” he says. A drone can provide a 360-degree view of a single-family house fire within seconds Effectiveness Of Drones In Fire Applications Education is an important element in spreading the word about the effectiveness of drones for fire applications, says Sloane. A fire department might choose to implement a drone program after they experience a situation in which a drone would have been a useful asset. Drones can be helpful for hazardous materials protection, search-and-rescue, and wildfire applications. The value of a drone boils down to providing better information for decision-making. In the case of a hazardous material spill, for example, a drone can provide information much faster than it would take personnel to don hazmat garments to approach an area safely; there is also no risk to life. A drone can provide a 360-degree view of a single-family house fire within seconds. A thermal imaging camera mounted on a drone can provide instant feedback on hot spots and where the fire is moving. Some drones can drop payloads; for example, they can drop a life jacket to a swimmer or a radio to someone who is trapped. Drones can also be helpful in training, providing high-level views to document activity for evaluation after the fact. Communication with a drone is localized between the drone and the remote control. A smart phone or tablet can be plugged into the drone’s remote to communicate images across the Internet. The remote’s HDMI output also allows a drone’s image to be displayed on a TV monitor. How To Start A Drone Program Skyfire Consulting provides a “one-stop shop” for fire and police departments seeking to start a drone program. The company helps with choosing the right equipment, performs on-site training, guides the department to obtain the needed Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) authorizations, and aids with developing standard operating procedures (SOPs) and policies. Implementation of the average drone program takes three to six months. FAA authorization to fly drones comes in two varieties. Drones can be flown under Part 107 rules for commercial use and for video production. The authorization merely requires passing a 60-question written test with a 70 percent score. The certification is good for two years and allows an operator to fly drones up to 400 feet in line-of-site, and within Class G (uncontrolled) air space. A downside is that the permit assigns liability to the operator (and a waiver may or may not be granted). Departments are buying a variety of drones in combinations of large and small Obtaining A Certificate Of Authorization The second variety of FAA authorization is a COA (Certificate of Authorization), which assigns liability to the department operating the drones. It also allows the department to self-certify their operators, perform training, and operate in some controlled air space if a waiver is granted. Earning a COA is more complicated, but offers benefits, including the ability to train new operators in a department that has turnover. Line-of-sight operation is a requirement for flying any drones. Line-of-sight is typically three-fourths of a mile, and drones are equipped with bright lights and anti-collision lights (visible for three nautical miles). Sloane says the FAA is generally very positive about public safety uses of drones and works with departments to get their drone programs in place. Choosing Between Small And Large Drones A popular drone manufacturer is DJI Technology, which has a dominant share of the consumer drone market. A popular model is the DJI Phantom drones, which provide 35 minutes of flight time and a good camera. For other sensors, something larger is needed. Departments are buying a variety of drones in combinations of large and small. Small drones perform tactical missions and can fly through a window, while larger drones can be equipped with thermal and/or zoom cameras. The price tags on individual drones range from $500 to $30,000 or more. Larry Anderson Editor TheBigRedGuide.com