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Another abandoned building takes more firefighter lives

We are all mourning the loss of our Brother firefighters in Chicago and our hearts go out to their families and the families of those injured in this event. Yet in spite of this tragedy and several others including the tragic Worcester Mass fire killing six of our Nations bravest, we continue to enter these unsafe structures looking for the homeless and transient populations living in these buildings.

 

Here is a fact –homeless scatter like rats when the buildings start on fire meeting their own primal need of survival. They are standing outside when we arrive and watch as we enter those structures. The fire service has not and does not adequately address abandoned buildings with a comprehensive pre-fire evaluation. These buildings are in a deplorable condition, subject to collapse on any ordinary day AND with a fire inside, consuming much of the remaining structural support, they collapse and kill us.

 

This is not a Monday morning quarterback exercise, but one of concern with our limited staffing and response capabilities, many of these abandoned structures need to be relegated to the “urban master plan for redevelopment” and the fire service response plan should be to confine these fires to the building of origin with a “surround and drown” strategy.

 

Identification and pre-fire planning of abandoned buildings will save many firefighter lives when we make those conscious decisions early; with a well thought out response plan and the global decision NOT to enter abandoned structures looking for someone who is not there.

 

Be safe and be smart.

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-It is a fact that abandon buildings do not set themselves on fire and therefore the only reasonable assumption is that the fire started as a direct result of human intervention meaning the structure is occupied and must therefor be searched.  This condition of the homeless is something large city fire departments must deal with daily and because of this frequent exposure, have a better understanding of.

-Moreover, it is not just the homeless that "use" abandon buildings.  These vacant structures, in many large cities, are frequently anything but vacant.  They have become homes to the homeless, drug dens to the addicted or playgrounds for unsupervised inner city children.  A vacant structure is an ideal location for anyone wanting to do something clandestinely from a drug lab or pawn shops to chop shops, drop houses for illegal aliens and even bookie joints.

-Your idea of surround and drown completely ignores the fact that potential victims may be inside and in need of rescue.   ALL structures must be searched at some point.  The level of aggressiveness for an interior search must be based on structural integrity, available resources and fire conditions; not who the occupants are or whether or not the building is supposed to be occupied. Abandoned, occupied, vacant... it's all irrelevant while the emergency is taking place. 

Leon Mumaw said:
You would think that something was learned from the Worcester Cold Storage Warehouse fire on December 3, 1999. Evidently time has forgotten the six that died there. Firefighters need to rethink going onto these types of occupancies. Owners and municipalities need to be made accountable to keep the structures secure so that the possibility of someone being inside is eliminated. I agree that these types of buildings should be surrounded and drowned. They are not worth the risk associated with fighting them and with identification and pre-fire planning of these types of buildings we can save firefighters lives.

Dave:

I agree.

I will wait until after the wakes.

Good links, by the way.

Art


Dave LeBlanc said:

Why We Search - Boston

 

Why We Search - Houston

 

Why We Search - Vallejo

 

Why We Search - Niagara Falls

 

Why We Search - Baltimore

 

If you go to any of the above links, or this link here:  Backstep - Why We Search You will see examples of how Fire Departments searching vacant buildings yielded saved lives.  Or how supposedly vacant buildings had people inside.

 

When we as a Service decide, based on type of structure, that we are no longer going to enter, we have abandoned one of our primary missions.  The decision to enter has to be based on the conditions found, our knowledge of the structure, and our size up.

 

Brick is right on the mark as usual.  Chris Brennan makes some great points about Chicago in specific here:  The Firefighter's Game and searching in general here:  "We hold these truths to be self-evident...  

 

Sorry for all the links, but this issue has been discussed by many before, and they are far better at making the points than I am.

 

And while this issue does need to be discussed, my personal opinion is that until the whole story comes out of Chicago, that any time spent criticism of their actions is better spent mourning their loss.

 

 
As close as I am to CFD I have not yet heard all the information they had when they were fighting this fire. Out of respect for my friends’ emotions and right to privacy I have not asked to be updated. We declined to publish some photos from the scene because we felt it is too soon. We grieve for all of the family friends and firefighters who will miss these two valiant men forever.

That being said I am absolutely sure that the firefighters in and on this building had very good and very well thought reasons for being there. I am also confident that every possible safety system was being used and being used correctly when this tragedy occurred. The problem in our calling, firefighting, lies in trying to measure and monitor many highly dynamic forces all moving and changing faster than we can sometimes process it, bad things, unusual things, things which never happened before unfortunately are happening all the time. That is the nature of risk management and that is the nature of firefighting, we can’t and never will know everything, we try to manage the risks as we understand them.

I do not know how this collapse happened what I do know is John is a good man and he is not trying to make himself out to be an expert or cast aspersions on homeless people or the CFD. He is an older experienced firefighter who has been to too many funerals and is hoping to reduce danger and threats to us by raising controversial discussions. He constructed a poor and offensive metaphor, no one should be compared to a rat and I know that was never in John’s heart.

While we can take exception to his metaphor, which I do, we should engage the discussion as men and women of principal. There are some who would have us not enter any building without confirmation of potential lives at risk, it is in legislation called 2 in 2 out which is yet another good reason to oppose federalization of our fire service. The self obsessed safety crowd may want to look at todays headline of 8 lives, tragicaly lost, homeless folks who perished in a fire yesterday.

I strongly support the authority of the firefighters on scene at any building to make the decision on site about going in or not going in. I am resolutely opposed to any over arching all encompassing national rule making which is the new cause célèbre among those fire demi-gods who think they are smarter than the rest of us. And who continue to impose rules which prohibit good firefighteres from making decisions on site where they know the risks and the rewards better than anyone.

My friends at CFD felt they needed to be where they were that sad historic day, that is good enough for me, they made an oath to God and to each other. They were true to their word. Now let’s continue the debate as gentlemen and gentlewomen and let’s discuss the larger issue John raises of when to search and when not and forgive our brother John for his offensive metaphor.

Bobby and my Brother and Sister Firefighters:

 

I am offerning an apology to my poor choice of words describing the homeless and thank you Bobby for your thoughtful insight of the issues.



Bobby Halton said:
 
As close as I am to CFD I have not yet heard all the information they had when they were fighting this fire. Out of respect for my friends’ emotions and right to privacy I have not asked to be updated. We declined to publish some photos from the scene because we felt it is too soon. We grieve for all of the family friends and firefighters who will miss these two valiant men forever.

That being said I am absolutely sure that the firefighters in and on this building had very good and very well thought reasons for being there. I am also confident that every possible safety system was being used and being used correctly when this tragedy occurred. The problem in our calling, firefighting, lies in trying to measure and monitor many highly dynamic forces all moving and changing faster than we can sometimes process it, bad things, unusual things, things which never happened before unfortunately are happening all the time. That is the nature of risk management and that is the nature of firefighting, we can’t and never will know everything, we try to manage the risks as we understand them.

I do not know how this collapse happened what I do know is John is a good man and he is not trying to make himself out to be an expert or cast aspersions on homeless people or the CFD. He is an older experienced firefighter who has been to too many funerals and is hoping to reduce danger and threats to us by raising controversial discussions. He constructed a poor and offensive metaphor, no one should be compared to a rat and I know that was never in John’s heart.

While we can take exception to his metaphor, which I do, we should engage the discussion as men and women of principal. There are some who would have us not enter any building without confirmation of potential lives at risk, it is in legislation called 2 in 2 out which is yet another good reason to oppose federalization of our fire service. The self obsessed safety crowd may want to look at todays headline of 8 lives, tragicaly lost, homeless folks who perished in a fire yesterday.

I strongly support the authority of the firefighters on scene at any building to make the decision on site about going in or not going in. I am resolutely opposed to any over arching all encompassing national rule making which is the new cause célèbre among those fire demi-gods who think they are smarter than the rest of us. And who continue to impose rules which prohibit good firefighteres from making decisions on site where they know the risks and the rewards better than anyone.

My friends at CFD felt they needed to be where they were that sad historic day, that is good enough for me, they made an oath to God and to each other. They were true to their word. Now let’s continue the debate as gentlemen and gentlewomen and let’s discuss the larger issue John raises of when to search and when not and forgive our brother John for his offensive metaphor.

Travis

 

Thank you for your thoughts. I appreciate the references to the articles as well as it is important to articulate this discussion based on the facts and experiences and learn from them. As I stated earlier, a poor choice of words on my part but the message remains the same - be smart and be safe

John

Travis W Speakman said:

"Here is a fact –homeless scatter like rats when the buildings start on fire meeting their own primal need of survival."

 

I disagree. 

 

http://newsblog.projo.com/2009/02/providence-fire-6.html

http://www.9news.com/news/article.aspx?storyid=24534 - This was a couple blocks from my firehouse...

http://www.boston.com/news/local/massachusetts/articles/2009/12/14/...

http://www.thefreelibrary.com/Homeless+man+is+rescued+from+shed+bla...

http://www.firehouse.com/news/news/homeless-woman-rescued-burning-c...

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20101228/ap_on_re_us/us_fatal_warehouse_...

http://www.hindustantimes.com/Eight-homeless-die-in-Prague-fire/Art...

 

Experience and conditions on scene will dictate the actions that need to be taken.  I understand your dedication to safety, Chief.  But I
also caution against a blanket tactic that has been proven time and time
again false.  Homeless don't "scatter."  Quite contrary to that.  There
are no fire detection systems in these buildings and anyone left
sleeping in them after the fire started would more than likely need
rescuing, as proven case after case, and in my own city.  This just stresses the importance
of an aggressive search and the need to make very calculated decisions on scene.  Homeless people will get in to ANYTHING, regardless of how "secure" the building may be.  If it sits vacant long enough, expect someone to be in there.  Being familiar with what's in your area and the conditions that you could face if a fire were to occur are really your only defense.  "The building is your enemy.  Know your enemy!" 

 

Please don't ever second guess a scene you weren't on.  Take the facts and learn from them, try not to repeat them.  But to abandon searching for life abandons the reason the fire service exists.  Be careful, be safe, be informed.  Never expect anyone to get killed, but ALWAYS think how someone may be killed.  This will keep you safe.  But, understand, everyone that joins the fire service knows his or her day may come.  It's no different than joining the military.  As a Vet, I know you do everything you can to stay safe, but the mere nature of the job puts you in circumstances you will never imagine until you're in them.

 

Thank you.

 

I attended the funeral for FF Ed Stringer yesterday and as I prepare to attend the visitation for FF Ankum within the hour, I am saddened to read Mr. Murphy's comments.  It is always easy to second guess, to say that no abandoned (insert your favorite term, vacant, unoccupied etc) building is worth a Firefighter's life.  What are you saying?  Do you really think the decision to be inside the structure was made with no regard for the safety of the members? 

It is easy, from a distance, to question the wisdom of entering and searching one of these structures, after the fact.  The members of the Chicago Fire Department deserve more than to be second guessed and "monday morning quarterbacked".  As Brick said, these buildings don't start their own fires.  Further, all human life has value and to diminish the final acts of these members of the CFD by compairing the people they lost their lives attempting to locate and remove to rats is.......... I don't know. 

 

 



Chief,

 

My family lives in Sammamish, where you used to work.  This is really none of your business, but I have a younger sister who was homeless for a period of time, in and around the Issaquah area.

 

I would hope that if there ever was an emergency involving my family, and more specifically my sister, you would not have viewed her as a "rat" or assumed she or they were standing outside when you arrived.  

 

I don't have much time on the job...but luckily I spend a lot of time with many wonderful, respected role models who do have the time, and more importantly the experience...people who really seem to understand the mission of the fire service.  

 

I also spend some time with my family, and my little sister.  They're pretty cool too.  Thankfully she's not homeless anymore.

 

The role models I spend time with tell me:

A) buildings are occupied with living PEOPLE...until proven otherwise and

B) we (hopefully all of us) WILLINGLY [WILLINGLY!!!] sign up for this priviledge with the understanding there might be a time when we are called upon to utilize our training, equipment and courage to put ourselves between danger and those we serve...so they (and us) may live when they otherwise would have perished. 

 

My family tells me:

A)  Money is tight these days, but we will always ELECT to give them our tax dollars, in the event we may have to call them when we need them the most.

B)  If we ever have an emergency, we hope the fire department does their job.

 

 

Good luck with your safety consulting.

Travis

 

Thanks for your commentary. It is a good outcome for your family member and I erred on my choice of words of which I apologize to you.  

 

The point of my commentary is that too many firefighters have lost their lives in abandoned warehouses and buildings. I agree a primary search is in order, albeit limited, but these neglected buildings are inherently unsafe. Until the towns and cities get serious about abating these hazards or prosecuting the owners, the fire department needs to make a hard choice assessment on entering these structures. This is a life safety issue for my firefighters and I would not order my firefighters into a building I knew could collapse and I know that no competent incident commander would do that – even if there was a slight chance of an occupant. It’s called risk management and that is what we do.

 

Thanks for wishing me well in my business. All too often attorneys around the country call me when fire departments are involved in fatal incidents where either civilian or firefighters die. As my business is risk management mixed with an operational and legal slant, I offer a perspective and resource to departments related to their operations and to their attorneys as to how to protect the departments from their error. All too often, I am called as an expert witness to evaluate the failure of departments to protect the lives of their firefighters. Unfortunately business is good.

 

Next time you are in town call me and I’ll buy the coffee

 

Be safe

 

Travis Rask said:



Chief,

 

My family lives in Sammamish, where you used to work.  This is really none of your business, but I have a younger sister who was homeless for a period of time, in and around the Issaquah area.

 

I would hope that if there ever was an emergency involving my family, and more specifically my sister, you would not have viewed her as a "rat" or assumed she or they were standing outside when you arrived.  

 

I don't have much time on the job...but luckily I spend a lot of time with many wonderful, respected role models who do have the time, and more importantly the experience...people who really seem to understand the mission of the fire service.  

 

I also spend some time with my family, and my little sister.  They're pretty cool too.  Thankfully she's not homeless anymore.

 

The role models I spend time with tell me:

A) buildings are occupied with living PEOPLE...until proven otherwise and

B) we (hopefully all of us) WILLINGLY [WILLINGLY!!!] sign up for this priviledge with the understanding there might be a time when we are called upon to utilize our training, equipment and courage to put ourselves between danger and those we serve...so they (and us) may live when they otherwise would have perished. 

 

My family tells me:

A)  Money is tight these days, but we will always ELECT to give them our tax dollars, in the event we may have to call them when we need them the most.

B)  If we ever have an emergency, we hope the fire department does their job.

 

 

Good luck with your safety consulting.

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