Thursday, June 27, 2013

Journal Entry 26-Safety & Risk Management Start With an Ape!

Risk Management as we use it today refers to programs that help us evaluate what we do and how we do it. We put in to place certain control measures in order for us to operate within particular safety parameters. These parameters help to insure that we injure and kill less people while working. We use controls, the first of which is  “administrative” controls, which consists of standard operating guidelines or procedures, training requirements, safe practices, rules regulations, fire code compliance inspections, industry standards and best practices. The “engineering” controls build in what we need to reduce risk and increase safety. Some examples of these are apparatus design, building construction (codes), thermal imaging, and active and passive fire protection systems. The third is “personal protection” which comes in the form of PPE and is the one we more closely relate to, however is the last item in the process. We must realize however that if the administrative and engineering controls are in place, the need for PPE lessens. As a simple example, take a commercial building fire. If in fact the codes were strictly adhered to when built and the building is outfitted with active and passive fire protection systems, and a good inspection program insures compliance, the fire will be contained to the area of origin by the sprinklers and fire walls and fire doors, and we’re looking at an easy mop up and go home type of job. A failure however in these systems whether mechanical in nature on an active fire protection system, or a breach of passive fire protection (a hole in a fire wall) could lead to unsafe conditions and firefighter injury or death. Back to basic fire prevention and protection principles!      

While knowing that firefighting is inherently risky work and our people are often thrust into situations that are considered “high risk,” having a good risk management plan or program and to know where the lines must be drawn, is critical to the longevity and survival of our people in the field. We as chiefs need to reaffirm when the risk is not worth taking (vacant buildings) and when circumstances allow us to take some risk in the interest of saving another human life. The controls as noted above along with good solid training and experience permits us to take calculated risks with good outcomes. A very small percentage of American FF LODD’s happen due to unforeseen circumstances. It is key that we start looking at a process by which we can evaluate and define risk so we can reduce injury and death on the job and that process is fairly simple:
Ø  Identify what risks are inherent in firefighting, rescue, hazmat, EMS and the other things we do; perform a risk analysis
Ø  Evaluate the risks in terms of how often and how bad the consequences could be; what can happen and at what intervals
Ø  Control the risks through a good risk management program using an APE-Administrative, PPE and Engineering  controls          

Risk management has been a concept that has been in and around public service and private industry for a very long time. It should be regarded as a “system” more than anything else. Looking at the above noted process of identifying, evaluating and controlling risk, we need to use this system so we can minimize risk. Analyses have been performed of the tasks of fire fighting and the associated risks too many times to list, and they still show most of these risks are avoidable. If in fact fire departments use the three phase process as noted above and they are successful, then it’s probable that they are measuring their success rates by their ability to enforce their Risk Management Program (RMP). We also understand that we wield a two edge sword. We know when we arrive too late at an occupied structure fire (we are always late no matter what), we know we may not be able to make a difference in saving lives or property. However with that in mind, we may also tend to drive too fast, run controlled intersections against signals and may cause death and injury to ourselves and others, the very thing we’re trying to preserve. It’s hard to strike a balance but if this was easy, anyone could do it. Risk management takes patience, understanding, training and the ability to analyze and decipher where and when we’ll take chances. In fire service organizations, risk management has to occur at every level however it starts at the top and on the fire ground, with the Incident Commander and has to trickle down to the company officers and the line firefighters, the last two being the most vulnerable to the risks at hand.

The expectation of the American people who depend on the emergency services, is that we will show up in a timely manner and cure their headaches, whether it’s a fire, oil burner emergency, heart attack or a gasoline tanker laying on its side. Although the public expects their firefighters to “lay it all on the line,” they don’t necessarily accept the fact that we get injured or killed for no good apparent reason. May ordinary citizens have often questioned our tactics when firefighters are killed or badly injured in a vacant building for example. Yes, even the lay person knows that an empty abandoned building is not worth the risk. Chief Ronny Coleman of California said that based on the above noted factors, “we’re the most qualified group of individuals to go into a dangerous situation and come out alive.” He’s right.
Good luck, stay well and stay safe.
Ronnie K

Friday, May 3, 2013

Journal-Entry #25-“Killer Show”

I got a feeling that you opened this because we just got home from FDIC. In fact it was a killer show. It was my 23rd FDIC and it simply gets better each year. For me, it’s a family reunion and for one week, it’s the center of our universe. Great training, great expo and great times. Start saving now for next year. It rolls around quick.

“Killer Show” is actually the title of a book (John Barylick, University Press of New England) that was recently released, and chronicles the Station Night Club (West Warwick, RI) fire which took place on February 20, 2003, which took 100 lives and maimed a few hundred others. The author was one of a team of lawyers representing the victims in the many civil suits that followed the fire. His research was impeccable as was his attention to detail. He did background on just about everyone who was in the club that night, staff, owners and patrons alike. Many were there as guests of the band. Others bought tickets, some were guests of ticket holders. Some were on a first date. There were married couples, singles, and just friends hanging out for a fun night. Not so much. Mr. Barylick also has a knack of explaining things in such lay terms that your mom or grandpa could understand pyrolysis. He hired fire protection engineers, fire experts and used nationally recognized fire testing labs to test materials. Very well done. No stone unturned. His attention to detail from the first page to the last was incredible.

Near the end of the book, he discusses what we discuss in our business all the time. First, that for some reason people don’t learn from the past. There have been at least a half dozen similar fires around the world since the Station fire. The most recent was in Brazil where 230 people perished. Second, that it was a series of errors that caused the Station to burn, kill and maim, not just one thing. It was a domino effect. In fact he said that had one of the defendants (owners, band, makers of foam padding, promoters, staff members, pyrotechnic operators, fire department, building department, etc.) had done their due diligence, the dominos would not have aligned and fallen the way they did.

This book should be required reading for all fire service personnel. (I get no royalties. I was just never quite moved by a story out of the annals of fire history.) It should absolutely be required reading for fire inspectors, fire marshals and anyone who does fire prevention work which should be all of us! Read “Killer Show.” It’s guaranteed to move you. It’s guaranteed to make you do your job better than anything else you’ll read.
Fire Prevention saves lives. Citizens and firefighters.
Be well, stay well, be safe,
Ronnie K

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Journal-Entry 24-A Guns and Hoses Funeral

On an icy cold morning in Danielson, Connecticut, the world bid farewell to Connecticut State Police Sgt. Chris Guari. Chris was 47, married with three children and was a dedicated public servant. All the time on the state police, he also served as a volunteer firefighter in Brooklyn, CT working his way to Chief and was a Deputy at the time he was called home. I only knew Chris for 4 years through my affiliation with the local fire marshal’s association. He and his staff of troopers never missed a monthly meeting. He supervised the Eastern District Fire & Explosion Unit for the CSP which is an arm of the State Fire Marshal’s Office. Chris was all the things we aspire to be. Hard-working, honest, kind, community minded and a family man. He coached sports in between his job and being a fireman. He liked to have fun and a cold beer now and then. Definitely our kind of guy. Definitely anyone’s kind of guy.  

Wednesday March 6, 2013 was a cold nasty day in northern Connecticut. The wind was whipping a cold combination of rain and sleet upon us as we waited for the funeral procession to arrive. The CSP Commander in charge of the funeral detail lined his troopers up on one side the entry walk to the church and placed the fire service on the other. The first thing I noted was that we were all in this together. Just folks in uniforms in one group, in one place for one cause. In my mind, I started to recount the number of times I’ve stood in front of a church in Class A uniform for this very occasion whether LODD or not. It was too many to count. (BTW-I did cheat as far as Class A’s go. Wore my uniform winter duty coat. It was no day for a Class A “sport jacket.” Old age I guess.) I looked across the walk way at the CSP. I immediately noted they all looked exactly alike. Each and every person in uniform was wearing the same exact thing, collar brass, medals etc. all in the same exact place. Very impressive. I looked right and left and we were a mix of career and volunteers, it was truly a mixed bag of uniforms and uniform parts as well. Most in Class A’s. A few in winter coats, like me. My thought then was that I hoped the other guys across the walk way weren’t looking back at us thinking “it looks like a mixed bag over there.” I don’t think they did. We were all there for someone else and a greater cause.

The CSP Commander snapped me out of my mental wander as he yelled “ten hut.” We all snapped to attention as if we had all rehearsed for days. As they opened the rear of the hearse and carried Chris inside, we got the “present arms” command. Again, about 300 of us in unison snapped our right hands to our hat peaks. The wind and sleet got heavier but no one moved. It wasn’t about us. As we were dismissed when the family entered the church, someone commented “Chris got us and he’s probably laughing” as we all retreated to the church basement to escape the elements. The service was piped in to the room so we were able to hear the prayer service and the speakers who eloquently spoke about Chris, his family, his friends, his career and his life. Since I only knew him for four years, this gave me the opportunity to really hear about him and what he had accomplished. It was too much to list here. My only regret was that I didn’t know him longer. As the service wound down, a CSP member asked us to all to go outside and line up again. Ironically, the sun had poked through while we were in the basement but as we lined up, the wind and rain started again. The same guy on line standing next to me during the first line-up said “he got us again” and we laughed.

So there we were. On a dark day in Northern Connecticut, the State Police, fire service members from around the state, dignitaries including the Commissioner, the State Fire Administrator and the State Fire Marshal, a detail from the Massachusetts State Police, State Environmental Protection personnel and a host of others came together to honor and pay tribute to one person. A person who made a difference every day whether his “nine” was on his hip or he was wearing a leather helmet while standing in front of a burning structure. I realized then there is no difference between any of us. Those stories of cops vs. firemen, them vs. us, and all the bickering that takes place around the country are a waste of time and energy. Law Enforcement has more LODD’s then the fire service does each year. Three years ago we had 90. They had 160. The police like all of us expect to go to work or an incident and go home afterwards. We all expect that, and our families and friends expect to see us afterwards too. Maybe Chris brought us together to create an example for the rest of the world. There we were, for about 2 hours, talking, chatting, making exchanges and realizing we are the same.             

Chris like a lot of others whom we’ve come to know succumbed to cancer at age 47. As a final unselfish act and in the interest of taking care of those whom he loved the most, he retired last Friday which qualified his wife and family for a host of benefits they may not have seen had he passed while “active.” He passed away on Saturday. He was way too young to retire and way too young to leave our midst but smart enough to take care of business. He gave, right up to the last minute.

Nice meeting you Sarge. Rest in Peace. Till we meet again.

Be safe & see you at FDIC,
Ronnie K        

Monday, February 4, 2013

Journal Entry 23-Doomed to Repeat the Past

By now we all know of the calamity at the Brazil night club “KISS” where 235 people, mostly college students lost their lives. First reports are telling us that there was one way in and one way out. Security hindered the fleeing patrons in fear of folks not paying their bills. The cause appears to be that the band lit flares and set the combustible sound proof ceiling insulation on fire. (Let’s keep our guns holstered and wait for the investigation to tell us what happened so let’s proceed with caution.) This last item should sound alarmingly familiar. If you’re a student of fire (a fire nerd and fire history buff like me) the first thing you thought of when you heard the news, was the Station Night Club fire in West Warwick, RI in 2003. The band (Great White) lit indoor pyrotechnics which ignited the combustible sound proofing on the ceiling. Ninety eight people perished in a matter of minutes as the fire rapidly traveled throughout the club. Two died later in the hospital. (Go to for the follow up investigation, excellent graphics and videos of the fire. They built also the stages in their test facility and recreated the fire with and without sprinklers. One or two sprinkler heads on the stage and the incident probably wouldn’t have made the evening news past the West Warwick, RI local news affiliate.)
My old buddy John Salka (Retired FDNY Battalion Chief) just posted a blog entry on (2/1/2013). He discusses the fact that a city in New York State (Watertown) has told their firefighters to no longer inspect buildings. They will leave all of it to a 4 person city wide code enforcement unit. The City Manager gave this order upon her exit on her last day of work at the end of January. (Nice job coward.) John went on to say “when firefighters make annual visits to the commercial buildings they will be responding to, they become familiar with the layout, the exit and entrance locations, the fire load and just about every other feature of the location. This makes a firefighter more effective and successful and certainly reduces fire losses and firefighter injuries and fatalities. To limit or restrict firefighters from familiarizing themselves with the buildings they will be fighting fires in is insanity. This action by the city is certainly short cited and sets the stage for disaster.” We said my friend.
Here’s a fire department that is taking the initiative to go out, pre-plan their district, pick up and write violations and really get to know their response area. (We know lots of you don’t do this or hate doing it but it really works. “The building is your enemy, know your enemy” -- Francis Brannigan.) We must continue to get out in the district and look around. Ask your seasoned officers if you’re a non-believer. Not enough fire departments today have enough staff in their Fire Prevention Bureaus or Fire Marshal’s office to get it all done. (Inspections, investigations, public education, re-inspections, plan review, etc. etc. etc.)  Even if they have staff, the local company inspections are essential to fire ground safety and survivability and are an enhancement to the work being done by the Inspectors and Fire Marshals.
The fire in West Warwick made international news just as the fire in Brazil did. Many years ago it took a long time to get the word around the world. Now it’s instant. Do people all over the world still have that “it can’t happen here” mentality? Yes. If we don’t learn the lessons of the past, are we doomed to repeat them? We just did. Get out there, take a good look around your district and save some lives. Fire Prevention work saves lives. The lives of your customers, your brother and sister fighters and maybe even your own.
Read more on some of the cataclysmic public assembly fires of the past. Maybe these will motivate you:
Iroquois Theater Fire (1903) - 605 dead
Rhythm Club/Natchez Dance Hall (1940) - 209 dead
Cocoanut Grove Night Club (1942) - 492 dead
Beverly Hills Supper Club (1977) – 165 dead

The body count is high enough. Let’s get going.
Be safe,
Ronnie K

Friday, December 28, 2012

Journal Entry 22-The Next Inventor Is You

For some strange reason our year always ends in tragedy, or so it seems. The Newtown (CT) school shootings, the two brothers gunned down Christmas Eve in Webster, New York responding to a fire, only to be purposely ambushed and murdered, and the two people pushed on to the subway tracks in New York City. These are tragedies any time they happen but I guess they’re just amplified in December. Billy Goldfeder recently published a list of fires with LODD’s all in the month of December. Maybe we petition the government to skip December from now on and go from November to January? Probably not. I’m trying not to hate December but it’s getting hard not to. 

Let’s all go forward with positive thoughts for a happy, healthy, successful and safe New Year.

Been thinking a lot lately about what has transpired within the fire service especially over the last 50 or 60 years in the way of technological changes. (No, I didn’t start 60 years ago. Feels like it sometimes and looks like it most days but no.) Tools and tactics today didn’t just appear by magic. Hard working, thinking firefighters for generations brought these things about. Some have their names forever emblazoned in our minds like the Browder Life Net, the Halligan bar, the Bresnan Distributor, the Hannigan Backwards Spray Nozzle, the Cooper Hose Jacket, the Kelly Cellar Nozzle and the list can go on into Journal Entry 23. The first hose wagon was invented by a Fireman named Reuben Haines in Philadelphia. It cost $96. Good old Reuben like the others listed above saw a need and invented something to satisfy it. It’s true but necessity is the mother of invention. We went from horse drawn to motorized and wood to aluminum for ladders (except San Francisco of course). For those of you who have not been around longer than 15 minutes, just in my lifetime I’ve seen turn-out gear go from rubber to canvas to Nomex, and hand lines go from 1 ½” to 1 ¾” and to 2” as well. Automatic nozzles, composite nozzles, and nozzles that you can break down on scene and go from fog to smooth bore. Large diameter hose, thermal imaging cameras and a device for hi-rise fires called a Hero Pipe that you can set up on the floor below and goose neck the nozzle to the floor above. Did you know that in the early 1980’s two Tampa (FL) firefighters walked in to the Betten Roll-up company and told them they could “put an awful lot of hazmat response crap on than tuck like this?” For the next 25 years, Betten sold more trucks to the emergency services then to Coca Cola and Anheiser-Busch combined. 

These were ordinary guys like you and I who saw a need and put their minds to it. I heard an old chief once say that you can take four pieces of wood and three pieces of metal and leave it in the day room and in a few hours, the guys would come up with something useful. Here’s a quick guide;

  •   If you think it’s a good idea, try it.
  • If it works, share it.
  •  If it’s really good, write about it.
  • If it’s tremendous, patent it.

We will progress only if we keep thinking about what we do and how we do it. You are the next inventor. Now get to work!

Happy New Year and be safe,
Ronnie K        

Monday, November 19, 2012

Journal Entry #21-Embrace Our History, Don’t Erase Our History

As most of you know, we have a rich American fire service history. Each and every fire department (about 35,000 of them) have their own story to tell whether they’ve been organized for 50 years or 150 years. I came upon one recently where they had documented their history over the past 100 years very well. The Raleigh (NC) Fire Department celebrated their 100th anniversary on Saturday November 17, 2012 in spectacular fashion. Members were in their Class A uniforms, others in black tie and tux and women in gowns. I was honored and humbled to be invited to this affair by virtue of the work I do for the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation (NFFF).

It was a small affair. Only 600 people showed up! This certainly was one of the largest fire service dinners I had ever attended. I think it was second to the retirement party of an old friend and college classmate of mine, John J. O’Rourke who upon retiring as Chief of Department of the FDNY, there were over 800 at the party. Back to Raleigh. The cocktail hour was in the pre-function outer lobby of the main ballroom of the North Carolina Convention Center. A great time to mingle and catch up with folks while absorbing adult beverages and munchies and adjusting attitudes. The NFFF had a two-fold secret mission here. The RFD Chief John T. McGrath was going to be personally recognized for the work he’d been doing for the NFFF for over 10 years, with the Taking Care of Our Own program as well as working as the Incident Commander at the last 10 Memorial Weekends in Emmitsburg. (I’ve had the honor to work side by side with John each year as his Chief of Operations for those 10 weekends.) Secondly, the RFD truly tightened their safety programs on the heels of an apparatus accident two years ago, so the Foundation felt it prudent to give them a Departmental Award revolving around the 16 Life Safety Initiatives and the Everyone Goes Home program. (Haven’t heard of the EGH program? 1-Tell the GEICO man you need to get out from under the rock and then; 2) go to The first thing we did was to approach, rush (almost tackle) Chief McGrath as a group. He was overwhelmed with surprise that we were there but still hadn’t known why, other than the fact that the RFD was 100 years old. So, after the hugging, handshaking, adult beverage absorbing and all that good brotherhood stuff, we headed in to the main ballroom. Alas, a horse-drawn steam engine on one side of the stage and a hand-drawn hose cart on the other. Large oversized photos of the RFD from 1912 through 2012 on easels and a continuous power point show on a large screen with photos of the department and its members for the past 100 years. Speeches were kept to a minimum, the committee took a bow and the fire department historian and museum curator gave us a quick thumbnail of the Raleigh Fire Department’s 100 years. Then it was our turn. Chief Ron Siarnicki, Executive Director of the NFFF was called to the stage to present John with a Departmental EGH award. Then the rest of us then rushed the stage as they handed him a replica of the Fallen Firefighter’s Monument to honor him for his service to the Foundation and the fire service at large, particularly the families and departments of the fallen. It was a great moment for all. John was a bit emotional and humbled at the same time. (John is one of those guys who gives until it hurts and then gives more all without taking a bow, credit or photo opportunities. He’s a credit to his fire department, his family and the fire service. Hey, there are not many folks I’d fly down south for one day and back for, but he’s certainly one of them! Well deserved honors Chief!)

As the main ceremonies wound down, things were topped off by an outstanding dinner followed by a delectable dessert bar. The DJ kicked it up and the RFD guys and gals with their partners got busy on the dance floor. All in all, a great night.

OK Ron, why are you telling us all of this? I tell you this because if someone in your department is already doing this, keep it going and support them. If no one is doing it, start doing it. Collect photos, take new ones and preserve the past. A couple of million firefighters have gone before us and set the stage for our current successes. Whether they served as volunteers 200 years ago or retired as a career guy last week, they have all contributed to where we are today.

Benjamin Franklin was proud of what he saw on Saturday night in Raleigh, North Carolina. In fact I may have spotted him sitting atop the steamer in the ballroom. Too many adult beverages? Perhaps. But I think his spirit mingled within the ballroom that night and he was proud that one fire department remembered to embrace our history and not erase our history. Congrats Raleigh FD on a job well done.

Be safe,
Ronnie K