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                        

Monday, October 1, 2012

Journal Entry 20: Fire Prevention Week; A Love-Hate Affair

Fire Chiefs, Fire Marshals, Fire Inspectors, Public Fire Safety Educators, Mayors and Councils, teachers and school children all love fire prevention week. Those of us who are “believers” but are not directly involved in the prevention side of the house think it’s a pretty good idea too. If Ben Franklin was around, he’d be standing on the stages in Indianapolis and Baltimore and screaming at the top of his lungs, telling us it’s the real work, the most important work and the work that really counts the most. Perhaps he was right. For me personally, I’m a true believer not only because we can save our customers from perishing in fires but we can save firefighters as well. Fire prevention saves firefighters lives. If you’ve gotten an email from me, it says it under my name and title. It’s pretty simple. No fires, no runs, no incidents, no fires, no accidents; we all get to go home unscathed. Not a bad plan I’d say. I know those who may be reading this under the age of 45 or even 50 who are still riding the BRT’s are still saying “that’s not why I joined.” Bad news. It’s the very mantra of why the fire service was created. The first thousand papers or so that Ben Franklin wrote revolved around fire prevention and preventative measures. The fire companies that were created, following his original writings were really an answer to human failure. Even today, when the oversized doors roll up and the BRT’s are heading to a working fire, that’s a failure in our system. And then we go ahead and put our failures on the covers of national fire service magazines. Does anyone else advertise their failures like we do? I don’t think so. I’ve seen law enforcement magazines and have never seen a shot up/cut up dead body on the cover. Architecture magazines don’t show a collapsed building and the Journal of the American Medical Association doesn’t show dead patients. Getting back to the causes of fire, for the most part (not all) it’s a result of human error (or an “on-purpose” by a mad or sad person) or a failure to comply with a code section (really written to protect people and property……. really they were) or failure to maintain a piece of equipment (e.g. heating, cooking). Looking at this last long sentence, it all seems to point to the human factor.

So I know you the guys and gals riding the BRT’s still hate it (fire prevention activities) anyway. “Hey cap, do we really have to go out to the Halton Public School today and get down on our hands and knees and explain to the kids about fire safety, fire prevention and surviving a fire in their house?” (As I type this, it sounds extremely stupid that anyone in our service would even ask a question like that.) You not only have to, you’re sworn to do it. It’s your obligation as a fire service professional. (I’m addressing any member of every fire department, paycheck or not.) Remember that every fire prevented, is a family not burned out of their home, a person not hurt or worse, a business that is still in business, hope for the economic profile of your town and most of all, no chance of injury or worse to our people. Make sense yet?

So what are you doing this month? What is your contribution to the cause? Sitting and waiting for the next “job” is not quite enough. Getting out and preaching prevention is a contribution we all should and must make. Don’t sit there and say “that’s the Fire Marshal’s job.” It’s all of our jobs from the rookie to the Chief of Department. Sorry to tell you but we’re all in this together.

And by the way, we officially observe Fire Prevention week when October 9th is within the week. For those of you who refuse to look that up, it’s when the Great Chicago Fire started. When President Calvin Coolidge proclaimed the first National Fire Prevention Week on October 4–10, 1925, he noted that in the previous year some 15,000 lives were lost to fire in the United States. Calling the loss "startling", Coolidge's proclamation stated: "This waste results from the conditions which justify a sense of shame and horror; for the greater part of it could and ought to be prevented. It is highly desirable that every effort be made to reform the conditions which have made possible so vast a destruction of the national wealth".

So, hit the off button on the remote for the 52” flat screen, get off the couch and get out and do something good for our customers, our communities and ourselves. You’ll be surprised of the satisfaction you’ll get by doing this work. You’re also saving your own life and those around you in the firehouse. And by the way, make every week, fire prevention week! It’s not seasonal. It’s really a year round sport.

Good luck and be safe,
Ronnie K

P.S.-The National Fallen Firefighter’s Memorial Weekend is this week, October 5-7 with the candle light ceremony at 1830 (EST) on Saturday and the main ceremonies on Sunday, October 7 at 1000 hours EST. It will be streamed live over the internet. Go to the NFFF web site at You can participate from home too. Have your local religious institution ring their bells on Sunday. Go to Don’t forget to set an extra place at the lunch or dinner table for the firefighter who never made it home. REK  

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Journal Entry 19: The Smashed Tactical Box

...And Some Damn Good Advice

Ron Kanterman (September 2012)
Guest Blogger; Deputy Chief Jim Murtagh (Ret.), FDNY

My guest blogger for Journal Entry #19 is Jim Murtagh. I met Jim in 1974 when I was a freshman at John Jay College in New York City and he was an adjunct professor and company offer on the upper west side of Manhattan. Jim has been a friend, advisor, professor and mentor during my entire career and to this day, as in the last 38 years, I welcome his commentary on anything I do. This piece was a note to me, however I modified it for the reading audience so it would look more like an editorial piece.  

Jim spent 35 years in the FDNY and retired in 2000 as a Deputy Assistant Chief of Department. He rose to the rank of Deputy Chief in record time, about 12 years and was a chief officer longer then he was all other ranks put together, over his career. Not an easy feat in the FDNY. Jim is a wealth of knowledge and has taught fire operations, strategy and tactics all over the United States. He is also an accomplished author and has produced an invaluable body of work.

The following are his thoughts and comments on my last feature article “New Fire loads, New Tactics; Smashing the Tactical Box.” Once again, Jim lends his expertise and life time of experience to all of us here. Enjoy the read.

Ronnie K

Bread & Butter-Not So Fast………………….
Under the subject heading of “Bread and Butter” fires, you talked about using 2 1/2 inch lines with a smoothbore nozzle in a house, staffing permitting of course. Then you went on to talk about the fact that maybe we should look at these new residential fires as commercial fires; and that the new fires are producing more BTUs. I agree with the second half of this statement, but not the first half.

I have found in the course of my career at FDNY that a 2 1/2" hose is not appropriate for fighting interior fires in multiple dwellings, housing projects, and tenement buildings. The obvious conditions which make this size hose inappropriate is the weight of the hose when filled with water (the larger diameter making it more difficult to handle in tight spots) and the back pressure at the nozzle due to the greater flow. However what's not obvious is the difficulty moving the line into the desired location once it is charged. Once the hose begins to discharge water it requires a significant effort to control; more than the effort provided by the nozzle person, and often more than a standard nozzle team (nozzle and back up firefighter). The weight of the water and the friction resistance of the hose rubbing along the floor, around the newel posts, corners of the walls and other obstructions makes it too difficult to advance. On a safety note and even more importantly, it’s too difficult to back out (retreat) when that option is required or mandated. My personal experience as well as the experience of thousands of New York City firefighters found that 2 1/2" hose gives you greater "knockdown power" but once you are in a confined space (hallway, doorway, vestibule, etc.) it limits your ability to control and move the hose line in most directions except straight ahead. In addition, because of the weight of dry 2 1/2" hose, there will be some delay in getting the line into its first operating position. This may give the fire time to intensify and expand in to additional areas of the structure. This presents the hose team with a threefold problem; (1) working harder to get the line into position (2) difficulty or the inability to manipulate or move the hose rapidly and (3) while they are attempting to move the line, the fire is getting away from them and maybe presenting new dangers (failure of ceilings, walls, floor or other building systems). (RK-Chief Ken Scandariato, Norwich (CT) FD has said; “Remember that we don’t fight fire fight, we fight time.”) If the building is of light weight new construction, failure under moderate conditions is probable. Structural failure may be also be caused by delays in getting the line into operation or caused by the significant punch of the stream. These are real possibilities.

My career included work in highly residential areas of New York City, 1 and 2 family homes, mid-size multiple dwellings and high-rise multiple dwellings, what we all call “Bread and Butter” areas. (RK-Jim did the 5 Borough tour over his 35 years.) In 1982 I had a fire on the top floor of the six-story multiple dwelling. The fire was in the rear apartment and at that time I was the Captain of Engine 48 in the Bronx. I had four very able-bodied and very talented firefighters stretch three lengths of 1 3/4" hose followed by four lengths of 2 1/2" hose up to the apartment door. When we began to enter the apartment on the sixth floor we opened the line and got a good flow of water and then the pressure dropped significantly. The Motor Pump Operator (MPO, driver, engineer, chauffer) was well experienced and knew how to provide an adequate water supply.  I immediately notified him that we were getting inadequate water pressure and flow as I sent the “door position” firefighter down to check the line for kinks or obstructions which may have been hampering the water delivery. My MPO advised me that he was pumping approximately 150 PSI and that if I want to go higher he could but I would have to order him to do so. The firefighter I sent to get the kinks out reported back relatively quickly and told me there were no kinks in the line and that it was in good condition. I ordered the MPO go to 200 psi.  While we did get a slight improvement it was inconsequential, so I ordered the MPO to go to 250 PSI. At that pressure, we got a reasonably good stream and started to advance. As we advanced, we experienced a burst length and had to back out.  Fortunately for us, the Battalion Chief had ordered a second line onto the floor and they were able to replace us and extinguish the fire. This is, as you know, is standard operating procedure to have a backup line in position when a hose line is put into operation.

The hose that we thought had burst was brand-new and had only been delivered to us the day before.  We had put it on apparatus but did not pressure test it before we used it.  (It was not common practice to pressure test hose when it was delivered by the FDNY hose unit.) I contacted the Hose Unit, Safety Unit and Research and Development and told them about the burst length. As it turns out, it was not a burst length in the true sense and the hose did not break. The butt of the hose blew off the hose from the end where it was connected. They questioned me and asked me about the increased pressures and I told him that my studies had indicated that the hose was rated far beyond the pressures we used that and that there is no reason that the butt end of the brand-new hose should come off. They agreed and also agreed to do some research over the course of the next several weeks. I went out to the Division of Training and met with the hose manufacturers as well as officers from the Hose Unit, Safety Battalion, Research and Development and the Training Bureau.  We all examined the hose and discussed the problem and agreed we should do a test to see if we could repeat what had happened. We stretched hose and forced water through both the old hose and new hose.  We were not able to repeat what had happened at the fire, however one interesting thing did come from our research.  When we took an internal measurement of the butt and the new hose it was in fact 1 3/4"inches just as the manufacturer had said it would be and just as the purchase order said it was supposed to be. However when we measured the old 1 3/4" hose we found that the butt was 1 3/4" but the hose was found to be 1.96" in diameter. This small, slightly less than a quarter inch (21/100's of an inch) difference was significant enough to retard the flow of water and when pushed to achieve the 185 GPM flow, strong enough to overcome the power of the hose retaining ring used to hold the hose on to the butt.  The older hose (1.96") was the size we had been using and, we were accustomed to receiving its larger flow at fires. The fire department returned all the hose it had ordered and ordered new hose at 1.96 inches in diameter. (RK-A good lesson learned for all of us. Do you really know what the true diameter of your hose lines are?)

Several years later I found someone who had worked on the original research that was done in the mid-70s.  They tried to determine what size hose we could go to and get away from using 2 1/2" hose for residential firefighting. The FDNY recognized booster lines were totally inadequate and extremely dangerous in most multiple dwelling or private dwelling fires. It also recognized that 2 1/2" was totally improper for firefighting in residential occupancies. The 2 1/2" hose is appropriate for commercial occupancies and large-scale fires provided you don't have to move the hose around too often or at a rapid pace. (RK-The open floor plan in a McMansion may be one of those residential spaces a 2 ½ may work as mentioned in my article, but that may be it. Try everything first before you engage on the fire ground!)
About six months after the incident with the 1 3/4" we went to a top floor fire in a significantly large H type building with the fire on the top floor and in the cockloft. We  were the fourth engine on the assignment and the chief told me he wanted me to take a line up the outside of the building and then into the top floor. I directed my unit to stretch 2 1/2" hose not 1 3/4".  They of course objected and thought it was ridiculous. We were going straight up the fire escape and then into a vacant apartment, down the hallway  and out to the fire area. It was a relatively easy straight run. The line was pulled up the fire escape and into the apartment by four firefighters, working together to get the line in position relatively quickly.  Once we were in position I called for water and notified the Battalion Chief who was on the fire floor, that I had my line in position and was ready to attack the expanding fire. He looked at me and said "What do you think you are going to do with that?"  I told him I was going knock the ceiling down and put the fire out. To the amazement of my own firefighters and some of the other units that were working with us and who were accustomed to using only 1 ¾  lines, they saw the power of the 2 1/2" line with a  straight bore nozzle to hydraulically overhaul walls and ceilings (open up) and rapidly extinguishing the fire. However when we tried to move the line forward I had to ask the Battalion Chief for additional support. We actually used seven firefighters to effectively move the line to various areas on the top floor. The line operated just as I had expected and just as my past experience had proven. This was the right situation and we had ample and experienced firefighters to do what need to be done. (RK-It looks to me that you have to have the right people, trained and experienced and plenty of them!)

Ron, you can see by what I have written, I'm not in favor 2 1/2" hose in small homes and MD's.  I think it would be dangerous in buildings with light weight construction. However if you use a 2 1/2" hose from the outside it works GREAT; and much better than 1 3/4" which I see often in the pictures in our Fire Service Publications. (RK-Yes, even one of the masters agrees that sometimes transitional attack is the way to go. Another argument for another day, however??)

I began to read what you wrote about foam and I immediately began to think of high expansion foam and all of its pitfalls. Fortunately you did not talk about high expansion foam. Thank you! I believe it would be an absolute disaster in these kinds of lightweight buildings and would result in bigger fires and more dangerous conditions. However the low expansion foam that you're talking about seems to have a good possibility for being a solution to a growing problem. I do not have a great deal of experience with using foam as an attack line in residential occupancies. In fact I have never heard of it until you wrote about it in this article. So let me say "bravo" to your thinking out-of-the-box and your understanding and willing to try things which are not commonly thought about. I'm sure that this will be further looked into and researched and evaluated by many Fire Departments over the next several years. I sure hope it works.

Again, I reiterate that your article is excellent. It is thoughtful, different, and steps out-of-the-box - something we all need to do more often.

Best regards,