Articles by Larry Anderson
Last month, a fire raged across land in Swansea, in southern Wales, spreading 6 hectares (about 15 acres) and injuring a firefighter. Weeks earlier, flames raged across 20 hectares (almost 50 acres) in nearby Fairwood Common, Gower, in a fire that may have been deliberately set, and another 30 hectares (74 acres) of grassland and forest burned in Maesteg, Bridgend. Almost 4,000 miles away in northwest Minnesota, crews battled a grass fire that briefly closed a highway in the area. Low humidity levels and strong winds created dangerous fire conditions across the state. Effective prevention strategies The vast majority of brush, grass and forest fires are caused by human activities, according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). Leading causes include intentional fire setting, open burning of waste, smoking materials, and electrical power or utility lines. Grass fires take a toll on fire department resources, can spread to homes, vehicles and other property, and cause injuries, according to NFPA. Grass fires can start and spread quickly and are extremely dangerous Fire departments can use Information about the causes and circumstances of these fires to develop more effective prevention strategies and campaigns. When the conditions are right, grass fires can start and spread quickly and are extremely dangerous. They can travel up to 25 km (15 miles) per hour and pulse even faster over short distances. Grass provides a fuel that burns faster than bush or forests. Creating fuel breaks Grass fires may be less intense and produce fewer embers than bushfires, but they still can produce enormous amounts of heat. The taller the grass, the more intense the resulting fire; shorter grass height yields fires that are easier to control. Grass dries more quickly, so fires can start earlier in the day. Living in an area with dried brown or golden-colored grass more than 10 cm (4 inches) tall is a fire risk. To manage the risk, homeowners should reduce the height and proximity of grass to their homes and other buildings by slashing, mowing, grazing, or spraying herbicide. Creating fuel breaks at least 3 meters (10 feet) wide can stop a fire and create a ‘defendable space’ around assets to be protected. Narrower fuel breaks may slow down fire spread but are unlikely to stop it. Internal combustion engines Use of machinery with internal combustion engines can increase the risk of grass fires Use of machinery with internal combustion engines can increase the risk of grass fires. Tractors and other machinery should be free from faults or mechanical defects and equipped with an approved spark arrestor. Small actions can help to avoid grass fires, such as disposing of cigarettes in a responsible manner, not leaving campfires and barbecues unattended, and clearing away bottles, glasses, and broken glass that can magnify the sun and start a fire. Providing eye protection Grass fires create a lot of radiant heat and can kill anyone caught in the open. The safest place to be during a grassfire is far away from the threat. In case of a grass fire, protective clothing should be available to cover up exposed skin, including a long-sleeved shirt and pants made from natural fiber. A face mask or towel can be used to cover the mouth and nose. Smoke goggles provide eye protection. Other useful items are sturdy boots with woolen socks, tough leather gloves, and a wide-brimmed hat. A solid structure such as a building can provide shielding from radiant heat.
There is a long tradition of canines in the fire service, from Dalmatians riding shotgun in the fire truck to mixed breeds rescued from fires that later become the fire company mascot. The tradition has taken a hit recently in Chicago, where dogs are no longer allowed at firehouses after one station dog killed a smaller breed canine near a firehouse in the Englewood neighborhood. The incident The firehouse dog in Chicago, named Bones, was a mixed breed stray rescued off the street that was living at Engine 116 at 60th Street and Ashland Avenue. A neighbor was walking her smaller breed dog past the firehouse and watched in horror as Bones attacked and killed her small dog. After the incident, Chicago’s Acting Fire Commissioner Annette Nance-Holt issued a department memo: “Any and all prior permissions for dogs in the fire stations or on fire apparatuses are hereby revoked … effective immediately.” Chicago Firehouse dogs Most of Chicago’s firehouse dogs are strays that were picked up and brought to firefighters by the public. Fire crews and paramedics care for the dogs, train them, feed them and get them inoculated and spayed or neutered, then ask formal permission to keep the dogs on site. Historically, permission has been granted, in effect saving the dogs from being euthanized. Breed of choice The tradition of dogs and the fire service goes back centuries, to the 1700s, when carriage dogs first trotted alongside horse-drawn fire carriages. Dalmatians were the breed of choice, given their good temperament, calming effect on the horses Dalmatians were the breed of choice, given their good temperament, calming effect on the horses, and grace under pressure. The Fire Department of New York (FDNY) began utilizing Dalmatians as early as the 1870s. Dalmatians as firehouse ambassadors When motorized vehicles came on the scene, Dalmatians were already associated with firefighters, who continued to keep them on-site as firehouse residents and mascots. Increasingly, Dalmatians and other dogs became public ambassadors for firehouses and were involved in public education about fire safety and emergency preparedness for school and community groups. For example, Sparkles the Fire Safety Dog, a Dalmatian from Clarksville, Ark., was a character in her own set of children’s books about fire safety and traveled around the country teaching children about fire tips. reduce stress, provide comfort Currently, firehouse dogs are other breeds, too, many rescued from house fires or other tragedies. Firehouses often adopt dogs, who become symbols of resiliency, bravery, fortitude – and provide comfort and companionship for firefighters who face high levels of stress on the job. After the 9/11 attacks, two firefighters from Rochester, N.Y., gifted the FDNY Ladder 20 company a Dalmatian puppy, appropriately named Twenty. The dog served as a source of comfort to the firefighters, who lost seven members of the company in 9/11. Dogs recognize signals Taken in as a stray in 1929, a dog named Nip served 10 years with New York’s Engine Company No. 203. During his service, the dog was injured by broken glass, falling debris, scalding burns, and bruises from falling off the fire engine. Nip could recognize all bells and signals. On fire scenes, Nip could alert firefighters if he knew something was wrong and sometimes run into burning buildings to look for victims. Unfortunately, Nip was killed by a hit-and-run driver in front of the firehouse in 1939 (and was stuffed by a taxidermist and displayed at the firehouse until 1974). Dogs promote fire safety Dogs promote fire safety outside the firehouse Dogs also promote fire safety outside the firehouse. For example, accelerant-sniffing dogs are trained to detect minute traces of accelerants that may be used to start a fire, according to the State Farm Arson Dog Program. The special bond between firefighters and dogs is the stuff of legend, despite the recent unfortunate events in Chicago – an ignoble scar on a long, colorful history of dogs in the fire service. Hopes remain that the decision can somehow be reversed, based on social media postings. “This is the first tragedy I have heard of in … 25 years,” said the administrator of the Firehouse Pups group.
Fire and EMS departments are eligible for reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA) of their costs, related to the COVID-19 pandemic. A streamlined project application process eases the burden of applying for the program, but support documentation is required. Tracking costs For COVID-19 recovery Many departments do not apply for the money because they perceive reporting requirements as too difficult, and record-keeping as too big a challenge. To help, the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA) provides simple Excel worksheets for tracking costs related to COVID-19 response and recovery. Customizable worksheets capture common reimbursable costs as they are spent. Departments seeking reimbursement should submit a project application online at the FEMA Public Assistance Grants Portal (no paper submissions are accepted). FEMA’s Public Assistance Program The mission of FEMA’s Public Assistance Program is to provide assistance to State, Local, Territorial, and Tribal governments The mission of FEMA’s Public Assistance Program is to provide assistance to State, Local, Territorial, and Tribal (SLTT) governments, and certain types of private nonprofit (PNP) organizations so that communities can respond quickly to and recover from major disasters or emergencies declared by the President. A submission request for public assistance must provide complete and accurate documentation of expenses and usage, including standardized Incident Command System (ICS) forms, Public Assistance Grant forms, verifiable receipts, personnel costs sheets and apparatus sheets. Applications submitted via jurisdiction serviced Applications are submitted through the jurisdiction serviced. Additional documents include supporting plans, assignments, activities and shift records (payroll), pay policy receipts for purchases and rental equipment, and a copy of the service agreement/contract with the jurisdiction. Some activities may be eligible for funding through both FEMA and other federal agency funding sources for COVID-19, including the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR). Public assistance cannot duplicate funding from another federal source. Public Assistance program Some activities may be completed through direct federal assistance. If an applicant does not have the capacity to directly complete the activity or oversee activity completion through contract or mutual aid, the Applicant may request that FEMA or another federal agency directly conduct the activity. The assistance FEMA provides through its Public Assistance program is subject to a cost share, with the federal share not less than 75% of eligible costs.
Hundreds of sensors and devices operating across an entire city – all connected via the Internet of Things (IoT) – combine to provide useful and actionable information for a variety of functions – including public safety and fire protection. Even as IoT sensors and devices monitor buildings to provide vital information, computer systems transform sensor data into intelligence. Communication advances are ensuring that intelligence is shared when and how it is needed. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) divides smart firefighting technology into three categories – environmental (smart buildings or robotics), operational (communications), and personnel (PPE sensors or biometrics). Fire departments in smart cities can fuse and apply data captured from various smart sensors, computing technologies, building control systems, municipal grids, firefighting equipment, mapping information, and apparatus systems to inform budgeting, planning, operations, tactics, and outreach, says NFPA. Here are some ways that smart cities can provide information and insights to enhance fire safety and protection for residents. Perpetual monitoring of building conditions, including temperature sensors, to alert to possible fire dangers Intelligent building platforms can use artificial intelligence algorithms to analyze building systemsIntelligent building platforms can use artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms to analyze building systems, track fire inspections, gather pre-incident data, etc. Smart building intelligence (SBI) platforms can also share and analyze municipal data records for new construction project permits, fire hydrant malfunction, street closures, and event planning, among other information. Faster notification of fire events, which contributes to faster response IoT devices that monitor buildings in smart cities can detect fires more quickly, compared to traditional smoke detectors. Heat-proof sensors communicate where and when a fire starts, its intensity, nature, and patterns of spread. Providing more information to enable firefighters to be more effective Improved information flow enhances the capabilities of incident command centers, expands computer-aided dispatch, and provides better situational awareness for firefighters working on the scene. Knowledge of what’s happening on the ground enables streamlined approaches to firefighting and evacuation, enabling “Know Before You Go” smart firefighting. Routing traffic to clear the way for fire and emergency personnel Correlating response plan information with intelligent traffic management systems and collision avoidance technology can help prevent accidents involving emergency and civilian vehicles. For example, all civilian vehicles in a given area may be rerouted to avoid traffic mishaps. Protection and monitoring of fire personnel, including in dangerous environments Integration with personal safety devices and fire suit technology enables tracking of firefighters to provide incident commanders better visibility into where individual firefighters are working to battle a blaze. Radio-frequency identification tracks firefighters’ locations in real-time. Acoustic transmitters provide locations of firefighters who have not moved for a predetermined period of time. Sensors may soon provide additional information, such as oxygen and carbon dioxide pressure, volume flow rate, heart rate, gas pressure, body temperature, etc. Smarter fire prevention equipment, such as smart sprinklers, that can facilitate fire response Sensors interface with a sprinkler device and wirelessly transmit status information to a database used by facility managers and inspectors to identify problems. Sensors even enable sprinklers to spray high-pressure mist into flames at the hottest point in a room. Measuring the volume of water that has been flowing through a sprinkler system reflects real-time progress in fighting a fire and informs when and how to send in fire personnel. Automating fire response, including use of drones A drone could be launched as soon as an incident response is dispatched, and then fly to an incident site to provide real-time situational awareness via video streaming from the sky. Communicating vital intelligence to firefighters, when & how they need it Fire safety and protection is just one aspect of the many uses that can benefit from the connectivity and intelligence of smart citiesInnovations in technology such as Next Generation 911 and the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) public safety network ensure effective communication among firefighters. Low-power Wide Area Networks (WANs) and wireless networks transmit a wide range of data to firefighters as needed, using mobile data terminals, tablets, smartphones, or computers. Systems provide more data-rich information in real-time, such as closed-caption video streams or data from IoT devices. Public safety answering points (PSAPs) provide access to cloud-based computer-aided design (CAD) platforms, advanced location information, and data from devices such as phones, wearables, connected cars and homes, and transportation apps. Fire safety and protection is just one aspect of the many uses that can benefit from the connectivity and intelligence of smart cities, although its impact on saving lives is among the most profound.
There are more than half a million homeless people in the United States, including many who deal with mental illness, drug addiction, and other problems. At homeless shelters where some of them are housed, attention to fire prevention may take a back seat to other concerns, such as adding capacity. More troubling are fire hazards at makeshift housing sites and homeless camps. Fire calls to homeless encampments run the gamut, including many of the same types of emergencies as other calls. Because homeless people often use fire for cooking or warmth, there are brush fires or abandoned building fires. Inside the makeshift tents in homeless encampments, residents may use or store propane, butane, car batteries, or other hazards. Fire hazards in homeless encampments Responding to fires at homeless encampments requires additional training for firefighters Homeless persons often run extension cords from nearby power poles that provide jerry-rigged power systems that can create additional fire hazards. Nearby fire hydrants may have been tapped for drinking or bathing and therefore are not available in an emergency. Responding to fires at homeless encampments requires additional training for firefighters, especially in issues such as mental health, addiction, de-escalation tactics, crisis resolution, etc. More personnel are often needed on a call; for example, someone may be needed to keep watch on equipment that might otherwise be stolen. EMS calls to homeless encampments also run the gamut from minor strains and sprains to overdoses, behavioral health issues, or shortness of breath. Causing Widespread damage Fires that start in homeless camps can obviously go on to cause widespread damage beyond the confines of the camps. For example, the Skirball wildfire in Los Angeles in December 2017 started in a homeless camp and later destroyed several homes. After the fire, Mayor Eric Garcetti had firefighters map out the locations of encampments in high fire danger zones, including in the dry, brush-covered canyons in the Hollywood Hills next to residential areas. In 2018, a 30-acre fire in Griffith Park was traced to a homeless encampment. Another fire in a homeless encampment started along Burbank Boulevard in the Sepulveda Basin. A fire in the Hansen Dam recreation area in Lake View Terrace also began in a homeless encampment. Nearby homeowners reported seeing people in the camps smoking and lighting fires for warmth and to cook in the midst of dry brush. Fire-safety education Fire hazards prompted a campaign to educate homeless individuals about fire safety, especially in the winter Fire hazards in homeless encampments drew attention in 2014 in Taylors, S.C., after emergency responders saw smoke coming from under a bridge and later found a homeless man with third-degree burns. The incident prompted a campaign to educate homeless individuals about fire safety, especially in the winter. Precautions to prevent fires among the homeless population include making sure campfires are confined to dug-out pits and/or are surrounded by rocks or other non-combustibles. Dos and Don’ts Furniture and other combustibles should be kept a minimum of 15 feet away from fire, and highly flammable items such as tents and tarps should be kept a minimum of 25 feet away from fire. Kerosene or other portable heaters should be kept a minimum of 3 feet from combustibles. Candles should not be left unattended or used near curtains or bedding. Gallons of water should be kept nearby in case of emergency to extinguish a fire. Smoking in bed should be avoided, and lit cigarettes should not be left unattended.
Drone usage by public safety agencies is at its highest level to date, with nearly 4,000 agencies now having drones or drone programs. Leading the implementation of drones in law enforcement with 42%, followed by fire service at 37%, emergency management with 12%, and the remainder by other categories such as search-and-rescue and EMS. Some of the primary fire missions for drones are structural fires, wildfires, hazmat responses, fire forensic investigations, swift water rescues, floods, tornadoes, search for lost persons, and hurricane damage assessment. Using Thermal imaging A thermal image camera is a key payload for drones in the fire service as it supplies heat signatures that provide valuable information as to fire spread, structural integrity, and location of firefighters while operating around the fire. Thermal images see through smoke to direct elevated streams effectively onto the fire and identify hotspots Thermal images see through smoke to direct elevated streams effectively onto the fire and identify hotspots from a lightning strike, hotspots during overhaul, hotspots from wildfires, and liquid levels in hazmat tanks. Applications of drones Drones in hazmat can be deployed to do remote monitoring, substance identification, pre-entry evaluation, overwatch during the hazmat operation, and drop needed tools nearby. They can also identify spills and direction of flow, pollutants on or in waterways, and more. For wildfires, drones can quickly identify the direction of fire spread, the distance between the fire and firefighters, hotspots remaining, and can drop incendiary devices to start backfire operations. Drones are also used before and after the fire to determine the fuel load present. Pre-fire analysis of the fuel load can be used to mitigate and/or minimize hazardous situations before the fire. fire-service training The fire service is also using drones for training. Roof operations and other training can be observed and captured to review later. Also, drones can capture facility pre-fire plans as well as complex building projects. Every fire department will deploy a drone to enhance safety, operational effectiveness, and real-time awareness “As fire service (and public safety) leadership fully understand the potential of what drones offer, every department will be deploying a drone (or two) for significant incidents as a part of the initial response to enhance safety, increase operational effectiveness, and real-time situational awareness,” says Chief Charles L. Werner (Emeritus-RET), Director, DroneResponders Public Safety Alliance. Non-profit Program The DroneResponders Alliance is the largest and an award-winning non-profit program to advance the use of drones in public safety (for all disciplines). While focused on the United States, DroneResponders has more than 3,800 members and representation from 47 countries. On its website, DroneResponders hosts the largest Online Resource Center (more than 600 documents – standard operating procedures, policy manuals, Certificate of Authorization/Waiver Guidance, etc.) and has a discussion forum with many topic threads. Increasing drone programs Drone programs (free flight and/or tethered) will continue to increase exponentially for the fire service. There were over 17 public safety use cases identified on the DroneResponders Spring 2020 Research Study, and even these case studies can be broken down even more. “One thing that we have found is that if a single agency has a drone program, they usually fly other missions as well as their primary mission set,” says Werner. “So if a fire department is the only agency flying, they will usually cover fire missions, police missions, and emergency management missions. The same is true if it were a single police agency flying.” Having real-time awareness “Real-time 360 situational awareness is a game-changer with visual optics, thermal imaging, and streaming video on structure fires, wildfires, hazmat incidents, lost person searches, floods/swift-water rescues, hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes and more,” says Werner. “I ask agency leaders if they would ever make command decisions with their eyes closed because, without that aerial view, many hazards or critical information are not known,” adds Werner. “I do believe as the numbers of drones increase, prices will fall and there will be a more competitive marketplace.” Limitations of drones One of the main obstacles of the drone is the current length of flight is limited by battery life The main obstacles that remain are regulatory limits on Beyond Visual Line of Sight (which are changing) and one remote pilot operating multiple drones. Other obstacles include a need for competitively priced drones with comparable payloads, and the current length of flights is limited by battery life. In France during the Notre Dame Cathedral fire, a drone was used to identify the best position to attack the fire to prevent further spread to the remainder of the cathedral. Initiatives taken by DroneResponders Other DroneResponders initiatives include: Monthly Public Safety UAS Webinars in partnership with the FAA; Monthly Podcasts that highlight Public Safety UAS programs, successes, emerging technologies; A Major Cities Working Group (cities over 500K) headed up by Capt. Michael Leo (Fire Department of New York); A Drone as a First Responder Working Group headed up by Capt. Don Redmond (Chula Vista [Calif.] Police Department); Legal/Policy Working Group led by Dawn Zoldi, Founder and CEO of P3 Tech Consulting; Public Safety/Media Working Group led by Mickey Osterreicher (National Press Photographers Association); Training Curriculum Standard Working Group facilitated by Katie Thielmeyer (Woodlawn [Ohio} Fire Department); National Public Safety UAS Database Project headed up by Charles Werner in partnership with NASA Ames Research Center; and National Public Safety UAS Database Mapping Project headed up by Brandon Karr (Pearland Police Department) in partnership with Esri [mapping and software provider].
The COVID-19 pandemic has had ramifications for almost every industry, some more than others. With the pandemic stretching well into a second year, the non-medical consequences continue, and many are wondering about which of the required changes might become permanent. As regards the fire sector, we asked our Expert Panel Roundtable: What impact has COVID-19 had on the fire industry?
Mental health wellness is a requirement for firefighters and emergency medical responders. Seeking to address the need is the Helping Emergency Responders Overcome (HERO) Act proposed by the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF). In the current 117th Congress, a bipartisan group of 31 legislators led by Rep. Ami Bera (D-Calif.) and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.) reintroduced the HERO Act into the House of Representatives. The proposal had previously been passed in the House but not in the Senate during the 116th Congress. HR1480 is vital to address the real need for increased mental health resources within the fire service. The Senate companion bill is to be reintroduced by Sen. Jackie Rosen (D-Nev.) Detecting, Treating, And Preventing Mental Health Challenges Tragic experiences on firefighters and emergency medical responders can lead to psychological injuries and even suicides “Firefighters and emergency medical responders repeatedly witness human trauma and scenes of devastation over the course of their careers,” says IAFF General President Harold Schaitberger. “The cumulative toll of tragic experiences on firefighters and emergency medical responders can lead to psychological injuries and even suicides,” he adds. “The HERO Act will help ensure emergency responders receive necessary resources to assist in detecting, treating, and preventing mental health challenges,” says Schaitberger. IAFF’s Commitment IAFF, a labor union representing paid full-time firefighters and emergency medical services personnel in the United States and Canada, has served as a leader in mental health and wellness. The HERO Act bolsters the IAFF commitment in four ways. Establishes a new grant program to train firefighters and peer counselors Directs the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to develop new guidance for fire departments on identifying and preventing post-traumatic stress disorder Directs the CDC to provide information to mental health professionals on the culture within fire departments and evidence-based therapies to treat psychological issues common to firefighters Creates a database to compile statistics on suicide among public safety officers Post-Traumatic Stress (PTS) Up to one-third of firefighters and emergency medical responders will demonstrate some or all of the criteria used to diagnose Post-Traumatic Stress (PTS). The rates of diagnosed PTS among firefighters and emergency medical responders vary due to inconsistencies in data collection; however, reported rates are between 16% and 37%. Peer-support behavioral health and wellness programs within fire departments will allow trained peer counselors to conduct outreach to firefighters and their families to assist with issues associated with PTS, substance abuse, and co-related conditions. Database And Guidance Establishing a specialized database to capture incidences of suicide among firefighters and other public safety officers will provide scientists information to examine PTS more fully and to understand broader mental health concerns. New guidance for departments will provide education on how to better identify and prevent PTS and co-occurring disorders in public safety officers. Meanwhile, new resources for mental health providers will promote understanding of the culture of fire departments and evidence-based therapies for common mental health issues.
The extremely cold winter this year is a reminder of the need for firefighters to be prepared and trained to fight fires in extreme conditions. Extreme environments tend to elevate the hazards of firefighting, which already include trauma, thermal injury, and smoke inhalation. The additional hazards range from minor inconveniences to extreme danger. One element that increases risk during the depths of winter is the increased incidence of fires caused by the additional use of (possibly hazardous) temporary heating equipment, such as space heaters. In this year’s deadly Texas cold wave, wintry conditions knocked out power to around 4.5 million homes at one point. Power outages, combined with freezing conditions, sent Texans scrambling for home heating alternatives, such as generators and fireplaces, which can present their own fire hazards. Interactive training opportunities With cold weather also come additional challenges for firefighters trying to get to the site of a fire, possibly including downed power lines and other infrastructure challenges. Hydrants may be frozen. Training is a key element in preparing to fight fires in extreme conditions, providing opportunities for hands-on experience and to meet with industry peers to share useful information. The low student-to-instructor ratio for courses allows for repetitive skills applications and solid engagement For example, the Illinois Fire Service Institute (IFSI) Winter Fire School, held in January, provides first-class, interactive training opportunities for all skill levels. Participants can choose from hands-on and/or classroom training programs that meet individual professional needs. The low student-to-instructor ratio for courses allows for repetitive skills applications and solid engagement with a dynamic and knowledgeable instructor team. Creating slippery hazards When it comes to keeping firefighters safe in extreme environments, here are some elements to consider: Beware of the hazards to firefighters of rapid cycling from working in the extremes of hot and cold. Be aware that the need for extra insulation in clothing layers can impair mobility. Look out for frozen water on hard surfaces that creates slippery hazards. Icing on ladder rungs, especially, can become slick and dangerous, as can the surfaces used to stabilize ladder positioning. Remain vigilant lest breathing apparatus becomes obstructed by freezing moisture. Adjust duration of work to offset the additional stresses. Firefighters will need to reduce their working time during inclement weather, which impacts scheduling. Be aware that body temperatures and condition are a concern when working in extreme heat or cold, including hyperthermia, hypothermia, frostbite, dehydration, etc. Impacting extreme temperatures Ensuring that infrastructure and equipment is made ready is also helpful when preparing to fight fires in colder temperatures, including Installation of in-floor heating systems in apparatus bays or other areas, or adding an extra bay equipped to rinse salt from apparatus. Addressing possible damage of salting to apparatus, concrete and building surfaces. Ensuring additional needed maintenance of valves, hoses and appliances to ensure they are cold weather-ready. Freezing water can render some equipment inoperable. Be aware that snow creates greater loads and strains on a firehouse roof. Keep in mind that, during extreme cold, water must continue to flow through hose lines to avoid freezing. Consider the impact extreme temperatures can have on mechanical components such as hydraulic lines, steering components and drive trains. The pending arrival of spring provides relief from the additional hazards of fighting fires in cold temperatures but should not provide leeway not to prepare for next year. Departments should think ahead and prepare for the challenges of firefighting in whatever environmental conditions may present themselves. Lives may depend on it.
The Thermite RS3, manufactured by Howe & Howe Technologies, is a wide-chassis, industrial firefighting robot that is remotely operated using a belly-pack controller to provide high-definition video feedback for easy maneuverability, even in difficult conditions. The Los Angeles City Fire Department was the first to buy the bright yellow firefighting vehicle, as announced last fall. Thermite RS3 robot Decon7 Systems has teamed with Howe & Howe Technologies to pioneer the delivery of D7 disinfecting formula The robot is also being used in a new way during the COVID-19 pandemic. Decon7 Systems has teamed with Howe & Howe Technologies to pioneer the delivery of D7 disinfecting formula, using the RS3 to spray the disinfectant as foam, in order to ensure large areas are free of the coronavirus (COVID-19). The configuration is another way that a variety of items are being repurposed for new uses in the time of the pandemic, ranging from scarves used as face masks to kitchen tables that double as desks in a virtual schoolroom. In this case, a robot, which costs upwards of US$ 300,000, is providing a new way to carry out large-scale disinfecting operations of public places. Combination of D7 disinfectant and Thermite RS3 As COVID-19 pandemic restrictions ease and more public events are contemplated, the combination of D7 and the Thermite RS3 to disinfect and clean large areas will be relevant to communities and facilities across the country. “The combination of Thermite RS3 technology and D7 foam opens the door to new methods of quickly and safely deactivating the COVID-19 virus in public spaces,” said Decon7 Systems’ Senior Vice President, William Joe Hill. Thermite and D7 provided a demonstration of the new capabilities. “We hope to show the significance of this capability to facility maintenance operators and first responders, including firefighters, law enforcement and emergency services teams, all across the country,” adds William Joe Hill. Positive pressure ventilation (PPV) ventilator The RS3’s modular design and wider stance allow additional equipment to be incorporated, including positive pressure ventilation (PPV) ventilator. In the disinfectant use case, two nozzles spray the disinfectant from the robot. One is controllable and can spray a sidewalk as the robot travels down the road, for example. The second nozzle feeds into the airstream of a PPV ventilator fan system, where it is jetted at 20 gallons per minute to get the right foaming action of the solution. A tow-behind trailer includes a pump to provide pressure without connecting to an outside water source. Large-scale disinfection operations When used in firefighting, the Thermite RS3 avoids having to deploy firefighters into extreme conditions When used in firefighting, the Thermite RS3 avoids having to deploy firefighters into extreme conditions. The RS3 enables firefighters to respond at a safer distance from danger, while using the robot as an extension of their own senses. The same advantages also drive new usage arenas such as COVID-19 disinfection, toxic chemical remediation, and biohazard disinfection. Large-scale disinfecting operations can be achieved without putting personnel in harm’s way. The RS3’s hose attachment enables users to spray large areas with disinfectant efficiently. D7 broad-spectrum antimicrobial disinfectant D7 is a broad-spectrum antimicrobial disinfectant that is versatile for a host of applications. It capitalizes on the power of hydrogen peroxide, penetrating and disarming toxins at the molecular level. The D7 formulation is made up of mild ingredients, which gives it low toxicity and corrosion properties. Fabricated using industrial-grade steel and reinforced rubber tracks, RS3 can navigate rugged terrain and withstand exposure to the extreme elements. Its 36.8 hp diesel engine can run 20 hours without refueling. The control device, strapped around the waist of the operator, has a range of a quarter mile away.
Prisoners have played a role in firefighting since 1915 when the first “Conservation Camps” trained incarcerated firefighters with the backing of the Department of Forestry. Especially in the realm of fighting wildfires, incarcerated individuals have in recent years provided low-cost labor amid the dangerous environment of a spreading wildfire. The numbers of incarcerated persons in the United States expanded threefold during the “War on Crime,” which increased the pool of available prisoners and their role in firefighting. Incarcerated firefighters work at least 3 million hours per year to protect homes and cities. So-called “inmate crews” are trained and available to respond to wildfires and other emergencies, such as floods and search-and-rescue. In the case of wildfires, prisoners clear brush, cut out roots, conduct controlled burns and perform any other duties of wildland firefighters. Concerns of incarcerated firefighters The use of incarcerated firefighters has been disrupted recently by several factors. In the wake of COVID-19, many prisoners were released to slow the spread of the virus, thus providing a smaller pool from which to recruit firefighters. Early release of prisoners decreased – by about a third – the laborers the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL-FIRE) could use to tackle the wildfire season.The use of incarcerated firefighters has been disrupted recently by several factors Concerns have also been expressed about the fairness, from a human rights perspective, of prisoners putting their lives on the line for low pay, which ranges from $2.90 to $5.12 per day. Finally, former prisoners who have firefighting experience are finding it difficult to re-enter the outside workforce because their previous criminal conviction makes them less likely to get a callback from a potential employer. It is hard for former prisoners to get a job, even in a time of labor shortages that threaten the supply of adequate personnel to respond to the current wildfire season in California. Fire and Forestry Recruitment Program FFRP builds bridges between formerly incarcerated wildland firefighters and California’s forestry fire labor forceThe Fire and Forestry Recruitment Program (FFRP) was founded by Brandon Smith and Royal Ramey, both formerly incarcerated firefighters, to help train firefighters and find them employment. The organization works with trained firefighters inside and outside the criminal justice system who have the skills and experience to help address California’s wildfires. FFRP builds bridges between formerly incarcerated wildland firefighters and California’s forestry fire labor force, supporting individuals’ transition into professional fire and fuel reduction work. Finally, FFRP works with the State of California and local community partners to provide support and additional services to individuals currently and formerly experiencing incarceration and participating in Fire Camps. Laws to help incarcerated firefighters Participation in firefighting has given more than one incarcerated person a renewed sense of purpose. Firefighting has provided a “pivot” to recenter lives, offering a new outlook for people who were previously discounted and disregarded.Additional help for formerly incarcerated firefighters is available from California legislative initiative AB-2147 Additional help for formerly incarcerated firefighters is available from California legislative initiative AB-2147, which enables the expunging of prison records and a pathway to a new life. The law creates a new Penal Code section 1203.4b, designed to make it easier for inmates trained in firefighting in the Conservation Camp Program or on a county hand crew to gain employment as professional firefighters after release. In partnership with CAL-FIRE, the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation operates 44 minimum security Conservation Camps, where inmates who volunteer for the program receive the same entry-level training as CAL-FIRE’s seasonal firefighters and ongoing training during their time in the program. Inmate firefighters in the Conservation Camp program have assisted in fighting the Pocket, Tubbs, Atlas, Camp, and Kincade fires. Penal Code section 1203.4b, which took effect January 1, 2021, allows certain persons with criminal convictions who have been released from custody to file a petition for relief in court. If the Secretary of the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation or the appropriate county authority certifies the defendant has successfully completed the firefighting program, the court may, at its discretion and in the interests of justice, issue an order expunging the conviction, with certain restrictions.
New tools and technologies are emerging that augment the efforts of the fire market to prevent and fight fires. Modern firefighting is benefiting from an ongoing sea change in technological capabilities, spanning equipment, electronic components, greater connectivity and firefighter monitoring, to name just a few. We asked our Expert Panel Roundtable: What technologies will have the greatest impact on the fire industry in 2021?
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is seeking to address fire dangers from electric vehicles that use high-voltage lithium-ion batteries. At risk are first responders who may be injured by electric shock or uncontrolled increases in temperature and pressure that can reignite the batteries. The risk of shock and fire arises from the ‘stranded’ energy that remains in a damaged battery, says the NTSB. A safety report from the U.S. federal agency documents their investigation into four electric vehicle fires that involved high-voltage, lithium-ion batteries. Emergency response guides Three of the batteries were damaged in high-speed car crashes, and then reignited after firefighters extinguished the vehicle fires. The fourth occurred during normal vehicle operation and did not reignite. NTSB noted inadequate emergency response guides from vehicle manufacturers, and gaps in safety standards and research related to high-voltage lithium-ion batteries involved in high-severity car crashes. Crash damage and resulting fires may prevent first responders from accessing the high-voltage disconnect Crash damage and resulting fires may prevent first responders from accessing the high-voltage disconnects in electric vehicles. The instructions in most manufacturers’ emergency response guides for fighting high-voltage lithium-ion battery fires lack necessary, vehicle-specific details on suppressing the fires, says the agency. Mitigation measures are needed for thermal runaway and the risk of battery reignition, and for the risks of stranded energy during emergency response and before a damaged electric vehicle is removed from the accident scene. Damaging battery modules Guidance is also needed on how to safely store an electric vehicle with a damaged battery. The investigated crashes caused damage that extended into the protected area of the cars’ high-voltage battery cases, rupturing the cases and damaging battery modules and individual cells. The non-crash fire was caused by an internal battery failure. In each case, emergency responders faced safety risks related to electric shock, thermal runaway, battery ignition and reignition, and stranded energy. On the basis of its findings, the NTSB makes safety recommendations to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), to the manufacturers of electric vehicles equipped with high-voltage lithium-ion batteries, and to six professional organizations that represent or operate training programs for first and second responders. Applying extinguishing agents In late 2011, NHTSA began working with the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) to assist first and second responders in handling lithium-ion batteries after a crash and was working with vehicle manufacturers to develop post-crash protocols for dealing with vehicles powered by lithium-ion batteries. The guidance also highlights the difficulty of applying extinguishing agents directly onto burning cells The NFPA emergency field guide states that large, sustained volumes of water are required to extinguish a high-voltage battery fire: “It could require over 2,600 gallons, depending on the size and location of the battery.” The guidance also highlights the difficulty of applying extinguishing agents directly onto burning cells because of the batteries’ protective cases. High energy density It further states that applying a large volume of water might cool the battery enough to prevent the fire from propagating to adjacent cells. A high-voltage lithium-ion battery is designed to resist water, but water is critical for cooling overheated cells to stop thermal runaway and further combustion. As the NTSB concluded its investigations, international incidents concerning other vehicle manufacturers came to light, including three high-voltage lithium-ion battery fires in Europe. Lithium-ion batteries have been chosen for battery electric vehicles (BEV) because they have high energy density (allowing them to store large amounts of energy for a given volume), a low self-discharge rate (allowing them to retain a charge), and excellent electrochemical potential (allowing high-power discharge).
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has approved deployment of fully automated commercial drone flights, paving the way eventually for new and expanded uses of unmanned automated vehicles (UAVs) in a variety of applications - including the fire market. The approval is narrow in scope and applies to a single company - American Robotics Inc., which petitioned the change. Reese Mozer, the CEO and Founder of American Robotics, has predicted a $100 billion market to provide drone services in a variety of industries. However, FAA restrictions have historically limited their use. Among other benefits to the fire service, drones can provide situational awareness, guide emergency response, and perform dangerous duties while keeping fire personnel safe. unmanned aircraft system Line-of-sight operation with an operator on the ground nearby - typically within less than a mile - have been a requirement for flying any drones. Allowing expanded operation beyond the line of sight and remotely from an offsite location “is critical for the industry to truly take off,” says Lisa Ellman, Executive Director of the Commercial Drone Alliance and a lawyer for petitioner American Robotics. Drones will be allowed to fly along planned routes, limited to altitudes below 400 feet (122m) and in rural areas Under the exemption granted to American Robotics, drones will be allowed to fly along planned routes, limited to altitudes below 400 feet (122m) and in rural areas. The FAA will allow them to have a maximum takeoff weight of 20 pounds (9 km). The petitioner asserts it will only use remote pilots who hold a Remote Pilot Certificate with a Small UAS (unmanned aircraft system) rating to conduct operations. The petitioner will designate a remote pilot in command (PIC) for each flight. reduce environmental impact The FAA will gain insights from observing the operations under the newly granted exemption. Specifically, American Robotics’ proposed operations will provide the FAA with data for use in evaluating operations beyond the visible light of sight (BVLOS) from offsite locations. Once adopted on a wider scale, such a scheme could lend efficiencies to many of the industries that fuel the economy such as agriculture, transportation, mining, technology, and non-durable manufacturing, according to the FAA. Moreover, the operations will achieve a reduction in environmental impact, as they will involve a small aircraft carrying no passengers or crew, rather than a manned aircraft of significantly greater size. Given these considerations, the small UAS operation the petitioner will conduct under this exemption is in the public interest, says the FAA. visual meteorological conditions American Robotics’ Scout drones feature advanced acoustic Detect-and-Avoid (DAA) technology American Robotics’ Scout drones feature advanced acoustic Detect-and-Avoid (DAA) technology that enables them to maintain safe distance from other aircraft. Drones are housed in base stations that allow for autonomous charging and to process and transmit the data they collect from aerial surveys. The company proposes to station the Scout drones in fields at pre-surveyed sites for extended durations, performing flight operations without the need to have a pilot co-located on the site. Operations under the requested exemption would only occur in Class G airspace (1,200 feet or less from the ground) in areas having light air traffic, in daylight visual meteorological conditions (VMC), and would be limited to 400 feet above ground level (AGL). Individual missions would occur within the boundaries of controlled access farmland (or similar rural, controlled access environments) owned or controlled by American Robotics’ customers. permissible deployment of drones It's not a stretch to see how such a configuration could be expanded to wider use of drones to perform missions in areas that are prone to wildfires, for example. Broadening the permissible deployment of drones will drive further implementation of the technology in a host of applications, including those within the fire market.
The COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on the fire service will continue at least through 2021 and possibly for years to come. Specifically, several aspects of the pandemic have impacted the fire service long-term and have possibly changed it forever. More awareness of Health Issues For one thing, the pandemic has heightened awareness about issues of health and wellness of firefighters. In this regard, COVID-19 has been just the latest in the series of health and wellness issues surrounding the fire service. However, a global pandemic is difficult to ignore or neglect, unlike some other perpetual health concerns, such as physical exhaustion, cancer risks and mental and emotional burnout. Ideally, the urgency of addressing the health concerns surrounding the novel coronavirus will translate into better management of longer-term concerns about the more enduring and ultimately, less retractable health concerns. In the end, concerns about health should be broad-based and intrinsic. Heightened awareness of the broad spectrum of health issues should be ingrained in the fire serve to engender more action, which is much needed and a long overdue. Greater focus on Personal Protective Equipment Another positive of the COVID-19 pandemic is a greater focus on personal protective equipment (PPE) Another positive of the COVID-19 pandemic is a greater focus on personal protective equipment (PPE). Might emphasis on the use of masks during the pandemic translate into broader and long term awareness of the important role of PPE and more consistent usage to protect fire personnel? Concerns about PPE supply during the pandemic also point to a need to manage usage levels of the equipment to ensure changes in the market do not leave a department’s personnel unprotected. Financial and budget challenges for fire departments The COVID-19 pandemic has also emphasized the fragile nature of fire department budgeting at all levels. Departments across the board were negatively impacted as tax revenues and fundraising funds decreased. And it’s not over yet. Financial struggles will continue through the final phases of the pandemic. Addressing the budgetary impact will extend into future budget cycles and fire departments will continue to feel the impact. More than ever, departments will need to look for additional funding sources, such as government and foundation grants. Imminent manpower crisis and concerns The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the rates of retirement among firefighters, not to mention the likelihood of lower head counts because of budgetary cutbacks. The stresses of dealing with COVID-19 could discourage possible recruits from joining the fire service. The bottom line is an imminent manpower crisis for the fire service; or, I should say, a hastening of a manpower crisis that already exists. Furthermore, volunteer departments are finding it harder than ever to attract personnel and recruiting paid firemen has its own set of challenges. A legacy of the pandemic might be even more difficulty recruiting manpower for fire service. Training fire service personnel As the public health and safety environment has evolved, so too has the role of the fire service The COVID-19 pandemic stretched the resources of many fire departments as they sought to help out in myriad ways during public health emergencies. For example, more departments were called on to fill in the gaps in emergency management, community safety, etc. As the public health and safety environment has evolved, so too has the role of the fire service. To the extent that those changes persist into a ‘new normal’, fire departments will be struggling to fulfill their expanded roles. Departments will need to invest their scarce resources in training fire service personnel to respond to community needs in new and different ways. Fire services need to do more with less Taken together, these factors point to a need for fire departments to do more with less and fire departments need to up their game when it comes to addressing health concerns, managing PPE supplies, recruiting new personnel, and expanding services to meet the changing needs in the community. However, less funding and fewer other resources reflect an operational environment that may be changed forever. In general, the fire service rose to the occasion during the global COVID-19 pandemic. The aftermath will also require fire service volunteers and professionals to work even harder than they already have to deliver on a challenging and expanding mission.
Translation in an emergency setting is a challenge that first responders face on a daily basis. For example, London Luton Airport’s Fire Service would previously have to find a member of staff or a passenger that could help them translate, which is not always possible. As a last resort, the service would carry around a large flipbook containing numerous medical questions in a multitude of languages, but this did not solve the problem of understanding any responses. AI-Powered Language Translation Device Now they have a more instant device to provide a faster and easier way to communicate. It’s called Pocketalk, an AI-powered language translation device designed for instant and accurate two-way conversations at the touch of the button, even in noisy environments. Pocketalk supports 82 languages, addressing 90% of the world’s population. It has been used as an emergency communications tool to break down barriers between first responders like fire service staff and healthcare practitioners and their service users/patients. Quick, Easy, Calm Firefighters can use Pocketalk to communicate quickly, easily, and calmly with people at the scene of an emergency. It helps them to overcome language barriers and achieve a range of goals – from assessing injuries of people who don’t speak English as a first language to asking them for more information about an emergency situation. Organizations face a growing challenge to meet changing communication needs. For example, among the United Kingdom’s increasingly diverse population, around one in ten people do not speak English as their first language. In areas like London, this figure is around one in five people. Emergency Services Donations Healthcare providers including five UK ambulance services received donations and are using Pocketalk Following an announcement earlier in 2020 that 500 Pocketalk W devices were being donated to emergency services providers in Europe to help them deal with COVID-19, London Luton Airport’s Fire Service was one of the organizations to apply for units. Healthcare providers including five UK ambulance services - North West Ambulance Service NHS Trust, Avon Valley Community Responders, St Johns Ambulance (Norwich), St Johns Ambulance (Greater Manchester), and Special Ambulance Transfers – also received donations and are using Pocketalk. The parent company, Sourcenext, has an interest in language learning, which is where Pocketalk came from. The product vision was simple –to make it easy for people who speak different languages to understand each other. Pocketalk is now helping to break down language barriers all over the world. Awareness & Usefulness The best way to increase awareness of Pocketalk and its usefulness in an emergency situation is to get the devices in the hands of service users, the company says. “During the start of the COVID pandemic, we wanted to help people by donating devices to emergency services teams,” says Tomoaki Kojim, Senior Managing Director of Sourcenext Corp. “This, in turn, has helped these teams to understand exactly how it can be of benefit in an emergency —namely, by providing quick and accurate language translations, without the need for an interpreter (in person or on the phone).” Two-Way Communication Pocketalk helped to open up two-way communication quickly and save time for medical emergencies For the London Luton Airport Fire Service, Pocketalk devices have helped to open up that two-way communication quickly. In medical emergencies, time can be crucial – Pocketalk not only helps them to save time but also to get a detailed account from the patient or any witnesses to an incident. It has also helped with general communication from the passengers, some of whom are distressed when trying to find the correct gate or which bus to catch as they leave the airport. No Language Barrier London Luton Airport Fire Service has not had to change any of its procedures after implementing Pocketalk, but they have been very happy to retire their translation book. It also reassures them that language is not the barrier it used to be when dealing with people during their working day. For them, implementing Pocketalk devices has been easy, and all operational members of staff at the fire station have had a short training session on how to operate the Pocketalk devices. The fire service has also loaned its spare device to passenger services assistants at the airport to help them with any potential communication issues. One challenge to implementing the device could be getting staff to learn how to use it and practice with it in training situations, so they can really rely on it in an emergency. That said, “Pocketalk is easy to use and does not take long to master,” says Kojim.
COVID-19 dominated the headlines in 2020, and it had a profound impact on the fire industry. TheBigRedGuide.com published many articles about the pandemic and its impact, some of which were among the most-read articles of the year. This retrospective will highlight some of those pandemic-related articles, including links to the original content. The Fire Industry Association (FIA) in the United Kingdom 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. rapidly-spreading virus 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%). First responders were on the front lines of the latest COVID-19 health crisis. Around the United States - and around the world - EMS departments faced the uncertainties of a rapidly-spreading virus. One early problem was a shortage of face masks. As cases surged, it was also harder for ambulance companies to get other needed supplies. Around the United States - and around the world - EMS departments faced the uncertainties of a rapidly-spreading virus In King County, Wash., an early epicenter of COVID-19 cases in the United States, Kirkland, Wash., firefighters and Kirkland police officers were placed under quarantine after an outbreak at a senior care facility. Firefighters were either quarantined at home or at a local fire station. Fire stations are unique environments with conditions that could be conducive to the spread of the novel coronavirus/COVID-19. municipal fire departments Firefighters live in close quarters for 24-hour shifts, and then return home to their families. Reports about “hot” firehouses have helped to emphasize the need to follow best practices to avoid the spread of the disease. The Fire Department Safety Officers Association (FDSOA) compiled a list of guidelines that departments can put into practice to reduce and/or avoid cross-contamination of on-duty staff. Among other impacts on the fire industry, the COVID-19 global pandemic played havoc with the industry’s trade show schedule, with major events canceled or delayed. County and municipal fire departments were impacted as local governments respond to the COVID-19-induced economic downturn with spending freezes, hiring freezes and spending cuts. Some local governments are hoping for help from the state and/or federal level. address economic downturns 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. A consequence of the coronavirus shutdown was cancellation of hundreds of volunteer fire department fundraisers across the United States - from fish fries to bingo to hog roasts to chicken barbecues. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the trend toward working from home accelerated No more carnivals or spaghetti suppers or gun raffles. And departments lost thousands of dollars. Firefighters are used to wearing protective gear, but one U.S. locale exempted first responders from adhering to a mask mandate to address coronavirus risks. The City Council of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, proposed an amendment to exempt first responders from complying with the city’s face mask ordinance. ensure social distancing 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.” During the COVID-19 pandemic, the trend toward working from home accelerated. New technologies made it possible for 911 dispatchers to work from home, 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. blocking firefighter access Adapting workspaces to operate safely during a pandemic presents complications, not least of which is making sure that the measures taken to protect employees from infection do not undermine fire safety. In the course of altering a building to prevent infection spread, there are risks of introducing new life safety hazards and compromising emergency preparedness. It is also important to avoid blocking firefighter access and facilities As buildings adapt to new occupancy standards and requirements, it is critical that any protective measures do not interfere with operation of life safety systems. Might temporary partitions or barriers block escape routes during a fire emergency? Social distancing measures might entail blocking emergency exists and disrupting the flow of occupants looking to vacate a building. It is also important to avoid blocking firefighter access and facilities. career options The COVID-19 pandemic is disrupting every aspect of our business lives. But buried among the disruption was an opportunity. Newly idled workers could see this as an opportune time for training to expand their career options. Meanwhile, employees still on the job may find that a cancelled or postponed project means they have time on their hands. Training can enable them to make the most of that time. In-person training has come to a halt, of course, because of social distancing requirements. Filling the gap are new online learning opportunities.
Wildfires represent extreme instances of the deadly destructiveness of fire. There seem to be more wildfires every year, and there are certainly larger and more deadly wildfires all over the world than ever before. Wildfires dominate the public perception of the most extreme consequences of fire. This look back at 2020 will highlight some of the articles about wildfires published by TheBigRedGuide.com, with links to the full-length original articles. The wildfire season in 11 Western U.S. states started out slower than last year. In the first half of the season, wildfires in the Arctic reached new levels, especially in Alaska and Siberia. Larger fires burning Wildfires in the West killed 160 people and caused $40 billion in damage in the past two years, according to the National Centers for Environmental Information. The trend is toward larger fires burning more acres – especially in years that are warm. Early in 2020, Australia was the epicenter of a wildfire disaster. Persistent heat and drought exacerbated the wildfires, and there have been fires in every Australian state, although New South Wales has been hardest hit. Strong winds have spread smoke and fire rapidly and led to fatalities. Big cities like Melbourne and Sydney have been affected; large fires have damaged homes in the outer suburbs and smoke has destroyed air quality in urban areas. Whole towns have been engulfed in flames. Active wildfire season Another cause of recent wildfires was lightning with more than 10,000 lightning strikes sparking 376 fires In the context of wildfires, even seemingly minor events can have a very large impact. For example, an explosion of blue-colored smoke on Sept. 5, 2020, in Yucalpa, California, was the beginning of a large wildfire in El Dorado Ranch Park. The pyrotechnic device was essentially a smoke bomb designed to send plumes of pink or blue smoke rising into the air, designating the gender of an expected baby. Another cause of recent wildfires was lightning with more than 10,000 lightning strikes sparking 376 fires on Aug 16 and 17, 2020. The global pandemic presented complications for firefighters during what will the active wildfire season. Firefighting manpower could be diminished by the pandemic; training sessions have been canceled, 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. Addressing forest management 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. Drones are a tool to address forest management and wildfire prevention. Drones are finding multiple uses when it comes to fighting and preventing wildfires. One application is to drop self-igniting ‘dragon eggs’ that spark smaller fires to trim back overgrown forests and help prevent more destructive megafires. The dragon egg system is made up of self-igniting plastic spheres – about the size of a ping-pong ball. Dragon eggs have been an industry standard for years, usually dropped from planes or helicopters. Burnable plant material Researchers are looking to apply new approaches in address the risk of wildfires The spheres are filled with potassium permanganate powder and injected with glycol as an igniter just as they are being dropped. The reaction sets the balls ablaze after about 30 seconds, which is enough time for them to bounce to the ground through a forest canopy. 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. Damaging impacts of wildfires Science shows clearly that the way to reduce the damaging impacts of wildfires and threats to life and property is to proactively manage ecosystems that evolved with fire. This means reintroducing fire in the right ways and places combined with mimicking the effects of fire on forest structure through mechanical treatments. “Rocky Mountain Research Station's Fire, Fuel, and Smoke Science Program (RMRS) focuses on the science of risk management from ways that they can treat fuels and mitigate risks to helping communities assess and mitigate risk and be more resilient,” says Thomas C. Dzomba, Deputy Program Manager and Director of the Fire Modeling Institute. Understanding the underlying causes of wildfires enables us to control them better over the long haul. Enhancing fire science With a primary goal of enhancing fire science, the lab also impacts operational fire response One element is climate change, which has created conditions prone to wildfires by increasing heat, changing rain and snow patterns, and shifting plant communities. But there are also other contributing factors in the growing scale and intensity of wildfires. One is the condition of the forests in Australia, California, and other areas where the incidence of wildfires has increased. In California, for example, it is well known that the forests are unhealthy and in need of more prescribed burns and other thinning efforts. On the front line of turning data into useful information to advance fire science is the WIFIRE Lab at the University of California San Diego. The WIFIRE lab grew out of a project funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF). With a primary goal of enhancing fire science, the lab also impacts operational fire response, increasingly in real time. Wildfire risk monitoring The tragic Camp Fire in November 2018, which burned for 17 days in Butte County, near the city of Paradise, Calif., has prompted research to improve risk management and monitoring of wildfires in the future. 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. In Australia, new resources are addressing the growth of wildfires. Preventing and controlling wildfires Andrew and Nicola Forrest have committed 50 million Australian dollars (US$35 million) to the Fire and Flood Resilience initiative through Minderoo Foundation, with a goal of raising an additional 450 million (US$320 million) in direct or in-kind support over the life of the program. The goal of the ambitious investment is to make Australia the pioneer in fire and flood resistance by the year 2025 The goal of the ambitious investment is to make Australia the pioneer in fire and flood resistance by the year 2025. It is an audacious vision that requires an innovative approach, and the organization takes inspiration from the U.S. Apollo mission of the 1960s. In effect, it will be a ‘moonshot’ to advance the cause of preventing and controlling wildfires. Specifically, the first mission, Fire Shield, seeks to ensure no dangerous bushfire in Australia will burn longer than an hour by 2025. Local fire departments 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. 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.
Technology and innovation are shaping the future of the fire industry. During 2020, TheBigRedGuide.com published many articles touching on research, development, and new technologies. This roundup will review some of the most popular articles, including links to the original content. Thermal Imaging & Augmented Reality (AR) Combining thermal imaging and augmented reality (AR) enables firefighters to see through smoke, in effect enhancing their vision in the life-threatening environment of a fire. AR capabilities can be deployed in a visor attached to a helmet, and an affixed thermal camera captures the images. The most recent prototype of such a product is a robust helmet design that withstands rough treatment. The system also includes software processing that augments thermal images to enable firefighters to see the outline of objects more clearly, thus enabling their detection in the field. Rocky Mountain Research Station (RMRS) The fire research program at the Rocky Mountain Research Station (RMRS) in Missoula, Mont., enhanced firefighter safety by improving metrics for determining firefighter safety zones and escape routes, improving and modernizing determination of fire danger, and developing systems and applications such as the Wildfire Safety Evaluator (WiSE) and WildfireSAFE to facilitate the use of these metrics by wildland firefighters. The program has also pioneered the development of metrics for scenario planning and assessing wildfire risk to communities. Internet of Things (IoT) 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. Crowd Management & Fire Protection Research Foundation (FPRF) Fire Protection Research Foundation (FPRF) has developed a computerized tool to provide data 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 the 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. Complexity Of GPS Coordinates A solution to address the complexity of GPS coordinates in an emergency situation, “what3words” is an easy way to identify precise locations using a unique combination of three words. The benefits of what3words for fire and emergency services agencies are already being realized. what3words addresses are shorter, easier to understand over the phone, and built-in error prevention technology allows emergency services to immediately verify the location and correct mistakes. Drones For Firefighting And Fire Prevention Drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), are expanding their usefulness in the arenas of firefighting and fire prevention, whether in a downtown business district or in fire-prone wildlands. Among other benefits, drones can provide situational awareness, guide emergency response, and perform dangerous duties while keeping fire personnel safe. Drones provide a new solution for extinguishing fires in high-rise buildings, which can occur beyond the reach of fire nozzles and rescue ladders. Artificial Intelligence & Machine Learning Students and faculty at Hongik University are developing AI and machine learning (ML) algorithms 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. Firefighters Health Wellness, mental toughness, and psychological self-care for firefighters are available in the palms of their hands; in a smart phone app. Fire and police agencies can provide their officers access to these and other self-help tools in an app that reflects each agency’s identity and design choices. Employees can be assured that the use of the app is totally confidential. Tracking Exposure Tracking firefighters’ exposure to smoke and cancer-causing materials is important when it comes to assessing liability claims, worker's compensation, and coverage for occupational health claims. 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 holiday season is fraught with possible dangers from fire. Ranging from dried-out Christmas trees to overloaded electrical circuits, the dangers are high in a season when awareness may be at a low point. Fire departments are well positioned to communicate these dangers to citizens. Social media makes it easier than ever to spread “messages of good habits” when it comes to fire prevention in homes and businesses. A Look At The Statistics The dangers are high in a season when awareness may be at a low point According to the latest statistics, covering 2013-2017, fire departments respond to an average of 160 home fires each year that start with Christmas trees, according to NFPA Applied Research. Electrical distribution of lighting equipment was involved in 44% of home Christmas tree fires, and another 25% were caused by some type of heat source, such as a candle too close to the tree. Excluding Christmas trees, U.S. fire departments responded to an average of 780 home structure fires per year that began with Christmas decorations (between 2013 and 2017, according to NFPA Applied Research). On average, 22 home candle fires are reported each day, with the two peak days for candle fires being Christmas Day and Christmas Eve. About 10 percent of fireworks fires occur between Dec. 30 and Jan. 3, with the peak on New Year’s Day. Help From The U.S. Fire Administration U.S. Fire Administration provides a series of holiday, candle and Christmas tree outreach materials to enable fire departments to increase awareness of holiday fires in their communities. A social media toolkit contains content that a department can easily share on Twitter, Facebook or other social media channels. Content may be copied or customized to reach any audience. Messages from the U.S. Fire Administration that departments can share on social media platforms include: The top three days of the year for home candle fires are Christmas, New Year’s Day, and New Year’s Eve. Residents should only use decorations that are flame-retardant or not flammable. Holiday lights should be checked each year for frayed wires or excessive wear. A limit of three strands of holiday lights should be linked. Burning candles should not be left unattended. Battery-operated flameless candles are a safer alternative. Christmas trees should be kept away from heat sources and room exits. Watering a Christmas tree daily keeps it from becoming dry and flammable. Care is required to ensure that the festivities of the season do not come at a cost of lost property and/or lives Care is required to ensure that the festivities of the season do not come at a cost of lost property and/or lives. Fire prevention can lessen the burden on firefighters during a season when spending time with family is at a premium. The sadness of a fire tragedy, especially during the holiday season, can be unbearable. The holiday season is also an appropriate time to acknowledge the hard work that departments and other fire professionals dedicate to preventing and fighting fires. We at TheBigRedGuide.com salute the work of the fire service and the fire industry to keep residents and businesses safe from fire and other emergencies, both during the holiday season and throughout the year. Happy holidays to all our readers, and we look forward to providing even more useful information on our site in 2021.