Term Paper: Fire Fighter Safety Keeping Our Own

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Firefighter Safety

The job of a firefighter is to do everything professionally possible to protect lives and property. And while the safety of the public is a primary concern, a firefighter's own safety is also of great importance, since his or her effectiveness in responding and putting out fires is paramount in terms of protecting communities and forests. Getting safely to the scene of the emergency, and using techniques and strategies that are well-grounded while at the scene, are concepts that are addressed in depth in this research paper. The recent tragic deaths of five firefighters in southern California brings to the table a whole host of questions about the safety of firefighters in wildland fire situations, and this paper addresses some of those.

One of the tools that firefighters working in wildland fire environments are trained to use and depend on are fire shelters; why weren't those life-saving tools used by the five firefighters who died on October 27 in California? And how effective is the new generation of fire shelters that are currently in use? Those issues and other issues that are germane to firefighter safety are presented in this paper as well.

Abstract

Introduction

Background & Significance of This Paper

Literature Review

Procedures & Results

Discussions and Recommendations

Works Cited

Bibliography

INTRODUCTION

This incident reminds all of us that firefighting is a dangerous business. Our firefighters' and the public's safety is and always will be our first priority." - Dale Bosworth, Chief U.S. Forest Service on the deaths of five firefighters near Palm Springs on Oct. 27, 2006

Is firefighting one of the most dangerous professions in the world? The families of the five firefighters who were consumed by flames on October 27 in southern California will certainly testify to the extreme danger and risk that firefighting entails. It can be stated without equivocation that firefighting per se is perilous and hazardous - and along with the bravery one needs to possess, the risk of death of serious injury is always present.

In this paper, issues pertaining to the safety of firefighters in wildland fires, and in urban fire settings, will be reviewed and analyzed. There are numerous publications and organizations that provide substantial research information in the field of firefighting safety, and this paper will utilize the valuable information those publications and organizations offer.

BACKGROUND and SIGNIFICANCE of THIS PAPER

The background of past firefighting and firefighting safety strategies is germane to the general subject of today's public safety, and pertinent to the ways in which fire fighters can safely carry out their duties and responsibilities in the 21st Millennium. The significance of fire fighter's safety is directly linked to the safety of citizens; if the men and women who battle blazes are not safe that means doubt and uncertainty for the citizens who count on professionals to keep homes and businesses safe from fire.

Indeed, humans have been putting out fires for as long as there have been threatening fires to put out. As far as the United States goes, firefighting began in Jamestown, Virginia, in 1608, according to an historical-based article in www.Firehouse.com (Hashagen, 1998). A "devastating fire destroyed most of the colonists' provisions and lodgings" in Jamestown in 1608, according to Hashagen's article; and the leader of the colony, Captain James Smith, was obviously frustrated, and was quoted as saying, "I begin to think that it is safer for me to dwell in the wild Indian country than in this stockade, where fools accidentally discharge their muskets and others burn down their homes at night."

As the population of the colonies grew, and villages became towns, and towns turned into cities, more and more homes were built, of course, and the main product on hand to build those homes was wood. The forests were cleared as wooden houses sprang up in other communities too, including Boston, New York, and Philadelphia - cities that were blessed with some of the best harbors in the new world. These growing cities brought with them new problems, including the danger of fire. It all began - in terms of official firefighter duties - in 1648, as New York Governor Peter Stuyvesant "stood firmly on his peg leg and appointed four men to act as fire wardens," Hashagen writes. Their duties included inspecting chimneys and reporting violators of existing rules.

It is interesting that New York had a "Rattle Watch" for fires in its early days; eight "prominent" citizens walked the streets in the evening, carrying large wooden rattles; and if they spotted a fire, they "spun the rattles," which called citizens to duty, to form bucket brigades. It was pretty crude, but it showed that there was a growing awareness of the danger from fire, and the need to train citizens to be prepared to help put out the fires.

In 1631, the Governor of Massachusetts, John Winthrop, outlawed thatched roofs and wooden chimneys, and after a series of serious arson fires in 1676, Boston ordered a crude fire engine from England, which was in reality a three-foot-long, 18-inch-wide box with handles and a "direct-force pump" that fed water through a small hose. Then, the first engine company in the young American colonies was formed on January 27, 1678, with its captain, Thomas Atkins, the very first "firefighting officer in the country," Hashagen writes.

New York City got its first fire engines in 1732, and their first fire official was Jacob Turck. The most "notable" American who also contributed to the service of fire fighting was Benjamin Franklin, who was of course a leader in the colonies leading up to the Revolution, and he was an inventor of lightning rods and bifocal eyeglasses, a philosopher and intellectual leader. Franklin actually founded the Union Fire Company in Philadelphia, in 1736, which became the standard for future volunteer fire companies in America.

The origin of fire insurance was also helped along by Benjamin Franklin, who put together the "Philadelphia Contributorship" which provided insurance for houses that might catch fire; when a house had "fire marks" on the front of the building, it meant it was insured.

Most of the firefighting in the 18th Century was done by volunteer fire departments, with more modern equipment available; and a hundred years later, "the volunteer fire departments began to give way in the cities..." To professional departments (Golway, 2005). But even today, according to the American Heritage magazine, up to 70% of the one million firefighters in America are part of volunteer departments.

LITERATURE REVIEW

Danger is always part of fighting fires, but when fighting a forest fire in stiff "Santa Ana" winds where tinder dry brush and trees make ideal fuel for the fire, the hazards of this occupation are clearly magnified beyond those experienced while battling a house fire in a residential neighborhood. This not to minimize the dangers of city firefighters, but rather to point to the extraordinary dangers present in the wildland fire environment, where weather and topography and available fuel can come into play with deadly suddenness.

The five courageous firefighters who perished in the Esperanza fire in southern California's San Bernardino National Forest when they got caught in a fierce and sudden firestorm; they could not outrun it, nor could they get to their machine to grab their life-protecting devices.

They died while trying to protect a home; the flames attacked them with such fierceness they did not have time to retreat to their portable fire shelters. And while their demise was tragic and heartbreaking for their families and friends, it was, for all the world to see, a dramatic example of the terrible dangers that forestry service firefighters face every time they jump on that "fire engine red" truck and head into the forest.

The men who were killed: Capt. Mark Loutzenhiser, 44; engine operator Jess McLean, 27; assistant engine operator Jason McKay, 27; and firefighter Daniel Hoover-Najera, 20. A fifth firefighter, Pablo Cerda, 23, died on October 31 fighting while for his life in intensive care, with burns over 90% of his body.

There is a reward of $500,000 for information leading to the arrest of the person or persons responsible for setting the blaze - which was declared the work of an arsonist shortly after it roared through dry forests on October.

What safety measures could have been used to safe those five lives? The preliminary report from the U.S. Forest Service investigators notes that fuels in the area of the fire were "Fire Behavior Fuel Model 4"; and at the time "of entrapment" the firefighters were protecting an unoccupied home. The Santa Ana winds "with a notable increase in velocity contributed to extreme fire behavior" contributed to "extreme fire behavior..."

The engine was a Model 62, Type 3 vehicle, and it was parked facing "out on a dead end dirt driveway next to an out building, between two significant drainages. "All firefighters were outside the engine at the time of the entrapment and no fire shelters were deployed," according to the USFS… [END OF PREVIEW]

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