Category Archives: Safe Staffing

Safe firefighter staffing – we’ve broken down this critical but complex topic into easy-to-understand chunks. Hopefully, we can help reverse the nationwide slide further and further below safe levels.

On FiOS1: A Safe NR Future Means More Firefighters

Thanks to FiOS1 Reporter Ariana Lubelli for a great story highlighting why now is the time to shore up our unsafe staffing.

New Rochelle firefighters: Population boom calls for increase of emergency services

Department officials say city’s development and expansion has led to upsurge in calls

New Rochelle’s “great financial condition” marks the end of the decades of economic hardship that have left our staffing far below safe levels. To kick off the march toward our bright future, let’s restore industry standard minimum staffing as soon as possible, and start the conversation about how to go from there to safely protect the special firefighting hazards and increased population of the downtown development.

NFPA Industry Standards: More Than “Nice Ideas”

While not all National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) standards are law in New York State, they are not simple recommendations either.

A Special Organization

How wonderful it is to be a firefighter! In what other industry would the most respected minds donate their time for over a century distilling consensus standards to keep firefighters and citizens safe? That’s the NFPA for you. Most notably, their process of “consensus decision-making, openness… and fairness “bring[s] to the table the point of view of… a balance of affected interests”, not just firefighters. They sit down, look at every side of an issue, and come up with the best solution for all parties involved.

Professional Standard of Care

NFPA Standards are similar to the accepted standards of the legal and medical professions. While there may not be a law specifically requiring a surgeon to take proper precautions to ensure operating on the correct limb, or a prosecutor to follow up on leads pointing to a different suspect, there is obvious liability when violating these standards:

Fire Department Case Studies

Let’s bring it closer to home:

What the Experts Have to Say

“A common excuse for failure to comply is that that NFPA standards are voluntary and up to the authority having jurisdiction. However, [well-known products liability attorney Jim] Juneau is quick to point out that in a court of law, NFPA standards rule.” (firefighternation.com)

Robert Barraclough, a member of the NFPA 1901 mobile fire apparatus committee… said “The first thing a good lawyer, any lawyer, even a bad lawyer, will do is pick up [a copy of] the NFPA standards,” to suggest liability, he said. (firefighterclosecalls.com)

Liability Statistics (llrmi.com)

  • In 82% of the fire service related civil cases, a fire department and/or the municipality is named as a defendant
  • 85% of the suits filed by firefighters are against the fire department and/or municipality
  • The most likely type of incident to give rise to a lawsuit: A structure fire (11% of all civil suits)
  • Over 60% of the lawsuits arising out of structure fires are filed by firefighters against either the fire department or the building owner(or in many cases both)

But Isn’t Staffing Different?

Here’s what the experts have to say specifically about NFPA 1710, which lays out the minimum standards for staffing:

“Donna Aversa, an attorney that represents a number of fire districts… felt that there could be the likelihood of damages awarded if it could be shown that the fire district could have met NFPA 1710 response times but chose not to.” (usfa.fema.gov)

According to Curt Varone, an attorney with 30 years of practice who is in the unusual position of also being a 40 year fire service veteran, there are two ways that the standard “can potentially become a legal problem for a fire department” (firelawblog.com):

  • OSHA’s “general duty requirement”… requires employers to be aware of industry-wide safety standards… If a given industry has… adopted safety standards…, then violating those standards can be the basis for a general duty clause violation.”
  • Negligence – “NFPA standards such as NFPA 1710 can be used as evidence of the applicable standard of care in a negligence suit. Of course, the reasonableness of the staffing and response times required by NFPA 1710 could be rebutted by expert witnesses, but just as easily they can be supported by expert witnesses as well.

Conclusion

Besides being the minimum “right thing to do”, NFPA standards have liability implications whether or not they have been incorporated into the law. Released in 2001, the staffing standard for professional departments (NFPA 1710) is relatively new. Let’s get ahead of the curve and protect our city from liability, instead of waiting to be a national test case.

Update: 5 Injured Firefighters Doing Well

Wood Pl Fire

Wood Pl Fire

Thank you

We are touched by the outpouring of concern and support for our 5 brothers who were injured at last week’s fire. You’ll be happy to know that they all confirm they are doing well. Initial reports varied from

“I couldn’t breathe”

to

“I felt fine, but when they tested me at the hospital, I had the most Carbon Monoxide in my blood – and other guys looked way worse!”

It just goes to show that, with all the synthetics in today’s homes, inhaling smoke is a big risk, for civilians and firefighters alike.

So many of you asked great questions about why this happened and what can be done to prevent future injuries. It dawned on us that, while there are plenty of educational resources for us firefighters, we’re not aware of any place where the public can go to get straight, unemotional, simply-presented answers about what really affects the safety of firefighters and civilians during emergencies.

Naturally, we created one for you!

Acceptable Response Times

There Should Be Enough Fire Companies to Arrive within Industry Standard Response Time Objectives

Getting proper resources to emergencies can be broken down into two parts:

  1. Distributing Enough Fire Companies to Arrive In Time
  2. Ensuring Every Fire Company Has Enough Members

Here we will analyze the first part.

What is “In Time”?

Modern synthetic materials are like solidified gasoline, causing rapid fire growth, and making this question more critical today than ever before. In the video below, you will see an example of the dramatically larger fires we encounter, even after just a few minutes of burning. Rewind the video and you will be amazed to see that these fires were set at the same moment!

New vs Old Room Fire Final UL

This video, made by NIST (National Institute of Standards and Testing) shows the danger of “modern” fires compared to the danger of fires occuring 40 years ago. Keep your eye on the clock! The room on the left is furnished with old fashioned furnishings, made mostly with natural materials (wood, cotton, wool, silk, etc).

What the Experts Have To Say

Now you see why we say “seconds count”. But how fast is “fast enough”? Luckily, our industry standards, developed by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), make this clear:

  • The first engine company must arrive within 4 minutes
  • All companies initially dispatched must arrive within 8 minutes

“(3)*240 seconds or less travel time for the arrival of the first arriving engine company at a fire suppression incident and 480 seconds or less travel time for the deployment of an initial full alarm assignment at a fire suppression incident” (NFPA 1710 4.1.2.1, p. 7)

What About Medical Calls?

According to the National Institutes of Health, “permanent brain damage begins after only 4 minutes without oxygen”, leading to the same 4 minute standard for medical emergencies:

(4) 240 seconds or less travel time for the arrival of a unit with first responder with automatic external defibrilla- tor (AED) or higher level capability at an emergency medical incident” (NFPA 1710 4.1.2.1, p. 7)


Next PriorityDedicated Heavy Rescue Crew

Proper Supervision for Every Crew

Problem

When firefighting, each crew has its own job to do, and must operate independently and simultaneously – engines drag hoses in to put the fire out, truck crews crawl in to search for fire and victims. While these crews are laser-focused on their mission in an often rapidly deteriorating environment, it is critical that a qualified supervisor is there to ensure their safety and effectiveness.

Right now, 2 of our three ladder companies operate unsupervised about 70% of the time. This forces members to make decisions for which they are uncertified, uncompensated, and at times too inexperienced.

What the Experts Have to Say

NFPA 1710:

“5.2.2.2.2 Each company shall be led by an officer who shall be considered a part of the company.” (p. 9)

Dedicated Heavy Rescue Crew

Heavy Rescue Crew (Currently Unstaffed) Should Have a Dedicated Crew of 4 Members Ideally, At Least 3

SONY DSC
A heavy rescue is a vehicle with specialized equipment for less common, but extremely dangerous, emergencies

Problem

Our heavy rescue is rarely staffed. It is only available if the crew of Tower Ladder 11 happens to be in quarters, and must delay their response while moving all of their personal gear over to the rescue. On numerous occasions, they have been unavailable or significantly  delayed because they were committed to another call. Once they move onto the rescue, we face the opposite problem – if a fire comes in, the most important truck in the department, the tower ladder, may be sitting back at the station. Finally, even when we’re above the minimum manning, the priority is to get the engines and trucks to NFPA minimum staffing, so practically there is currently almost no scenario when it is/should be staffed.

What the Experts Have to Say

NFPA 1710:

“5.2.2.2.2 Each company shall be led by an officer who shall be considered a part of the company.”

New Rochelle Fire Study:

“desired… staffing… 4 [members on the]… Heavy rescue squad” (pg. 54)

“the City should consider staffing … the well-equipped heavy duty rescue squad to at least three” (p. 68)


Next: All Current Recommendations

 

Minimum Company Staffing

To Safely Fight Basic House Fires, Every Fire Company Must Have a 4 Member Crew

Problem

Putting aside all of our high-hazards, we do not even meet the minimum industry standard staffing for a basic house fire!

What the Experts Have to Say

Providence FD Staffing Study showed inadequate staffing is “penny wise, pound foolish”:

“four-person staffing led to a 23.8 percent reduction in injuries, a 25 percent reduction in time lost injuries and a 71 percent decrease in time lost due to injury when compared to three-person staffing”

FD Funeral

New Rochelle Fire Study:

“the City should consider staffing engine and ladder companies to four as provided in the NFPA 1710”  (p. 68)

NFPA 1710:

“[For] a 2000 square-foot, two-story, single-family home without a basement and having no exposures” (§ A.4.1.2.5.1), “[engine] companies shall be staffed with a minimum of four on-duty personnel (§ 5.2.3.1.1)… led by an officer who shall be considered a part of the company (§ 5.2.2.2.2)”. And § 5.2.3.2.1 says the same for truck companies.


Next PriorityProper Supervision for Every Fire Company

Downtown Development

Prosperous and Safe: That’s Our Vision of New Rochelle’s Future

So, what is a DGEIS?

With New Rochelle’s exciting development plans, our heads are spinning with all the acronyms that have been flying around! DGEIS stands for “Draft Generic Environmental Impact Statement”, which is an analysis of the impact which the new development will have on our city – including the fire department, police, schools, traffic, and the Department of Public Works.

“Draft” denotes that this statement is an initial version, which may be revised after the public has had a chance to comment. “Generic” means that, unlike many impact statements that refer to a single building project, this one is about all the potential projects made possible by the new zoning.

We’re Off to a Good Start

We are pleased that the current DGEIS addresses the needs of the New Rochelle Fire Department. However, its analysis was necessarily superficial, because it could only devote a fraction of its attention to the Fire Depatment, because, understandably, all the other agencies had to be considered.

The Experts Come to the Rescue

Thankfully, we do not need much analysis, because two years ago the city paid for a thorough analysis of the fire department by independent experts, which clearly and thoroughly laid out the path to a fire department capable of protecting the inspiring New Rochelle projected in the developers’ vision, which is a continuation of our administration’s admirable goals.

What We Need

To ensure the safety of New Rochelle’s residents, visitors, and firefighters, here are some of the most important recommendations to prepare the New Rochelle Fire Department for our future, taken from national industry standards and the 2013 fire study:

  1. Raise Crew Size to Safely Fight All Fires
  2. As a First Step, Raise Crew Size to Safely Fight House Fires
  3. Proper Supervision for Every Fire Company
  4. Ensure Acceptable Response Times
  5. Dedicated Heavy Rescue Crew

A Unique Opportunity

While financial considerations prevented these recommendations from being implemented in the past, given the City’s “great financial condition”, and impressive development plan, we look forward to beginning the conversation to get our fire department safely staffed and prepared as soon as possible!

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Fire Study

In 2012, our political leaders called for independent experts to analyze the state of our fire department and make appropriate recommendations.

After their extensive investigation, we were delighted that their ideal recommendations confirmed many of our long-held positions. While financial considerations seemed to prevent these recommendations from being implemented in the past, given the City’s “great financial condition”, and impressive development plan, we look forward to beginning the conversation to get our fire department safely staffed and prepared as soon as possible!

Key Recommendations and Considerations

Conclusion

After reading the study many times,  the highlights above are those we feel will be most beneficial to the safety of New Rochelle’s citizens and firefighters. But have a look for yourself! The full 439 page document can be viewed and downloaded (in parts) from the city website. Which improvements mentioned in the study do you think are most important?

5 New Rochelle Firefighters Injured Battling Raging House Fire

Wood Pl Fire
Wood Pl Fire

NEW ROCHELLE, NY, October 15, 2015 — Faced with an advanced fire ripping through a large home, New Rochelle firefighters pushed in aggressively. A senior officer on the first hose team reported, “it was the hottest fire I can remember… fire in every room on the third floor”. “Smoke was pumping out of [the underside of the roof]” as firefighters arrived, according to one of the first on the scene. It wasn’t long before fire, which had already jumped from the first floor to the third, had burned “through the roof”. Luckily, the homeowner got out safely.

Three injured firefighters had to be rushed to Montefiore New Rochelle Hospital for smoke inhalation and exhaustion early on. By the end, the fire had injured five of our brothers. Among the injuries were elevated carbon monoxide levels and smoke inhalation. With all the toxins in today’s smoke, these exposures often add up to cancer, and any single one can be potentially devastating. There have been cases around the country where firefighters have gone home with similar symptoms, and sometimes died days later. Usually we get lucky…

While many factors contribute to the outcome of any fire, it is important to note that almost every fire company in New Rochelle is one firefighter short of the industry standard minimum staffing to effectively fight house fires. This allows the fire to grow as each task takes 20% longer, as proven by National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) experiments. A Providence FD study showed that adding the missing firefighter to each company reduced injuries by 24%, which would equate to 1 or 2 fewer injuries at this fire.

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