As you may recall this time last year we were touting the fact that firefighter line of duty deaths had plummeted to their lowest levels in years. We also said that although this news was encouraging one year a trend does not make. Well for the second time in as many years the firefighter line of duty death rate has dropped significantly to their lowest levels since statistics started to be kept in 1977. In preliminary data that was just released 85 firefighters died in the line of duty in 2010. As in past years heart attacks/stress once again were the leading cause of firefighter fatalities accounting for 61.1 per cent or 52 deaths. Motor vehicle collisions ranked second accounting for 12.9 percent of firefighter fatalities or 11 deaths. However as in past years this number could have been even lower had all firefighters worn seatbelts. Most of the firefighters who died were 50 years old while 20 firefighters were between the ages of 51 to 60 years old and 25 firefighters were 61 years of age or older. Perhaps the work of so many to make a difference in firefighter safety which reduces deaths and injuries are finally starting to pay off and this includes individual firefighters who have finally started to take their own personal safety seriously. But whatever the reason may we all keep up the good work so that this downward trend continues.
Certainly two individuals that fit the aforementioned category of promoting firefighter safety and reducing line of duty deaths and firefighter injuries are my bosses at the F.D.N.Y. Fire Commissioner Salvatore Cassano and Chief of Department Edward Kilduff. Both men seem to work tirelessly promoting firefighter safety not only in the F.D.N.Y. but nationally as well and have had a huge impact on both fronts.
In the latest attempt to increase not only firefighter safety but the safety of the civilians within the City of New York the F.D.N.Y. is piloting a new modified response policy. This policy was originally started last late last year for a three month trial period, in Queens that was just extended for another three months so far so good.
In 2009, there were 148 accidents involving F.D.N.Y. Fire Apparatus that were responding to calls for water leaks, gas leaks, toppled trees, foul odors false alarms, faulty sprinkler and alarm activations. Calls for non-life-threatening emergencies are expected to reach 230,000 calls this year after steadily increasing from 41,054 in 1969. In October of 2009 a second due ladder company flipped onto its side and skidded into a tree after colliding with a third due engine company responding to a report of an odor of gas in Brooklyn, pinning the driver of the ladder truck and injuring many more(See Photos 1,2,3,). These statistics caused Commissioner Cassano to act by initiating the Modified Response Policy in Queens.
This F.D.N.Y. pilot program changes the response to the following alarms. All Single units responding to Group 1 Calls which include water leaks, trees down, lock-ins, Salvage operations, and ERS no contact street boxes between the hours of 2300-0800 will cause these units to response on a signal 10-20 which is defined as: Responding units are to proceed at a reduced speed. No warning devices are to be used and all traffic regulations are to be observed. When a single unit responding to a Group 1 call receives additional information, or the dispatcher fills out the assignment, the officer or the assigned battalion chief may direct an emergency response, if warranted.
For Group 2 responses which would normally require a full first alarm assignment of 3 Engine Companies, 2 Ladder Companies and a Battalion Chief only the first due unit pair (Engine and Truck) would response in the emergency mode with lights and siren all other units would respond on a 10-20 signal. Group 2 responses include Odors of gas or fumes, Sprinkler/Valve Alarms, Automatic alarms, Electrical Emergencies, and Manhole Emergencies.
As with any new program training and changing the culture will be the key to the success of this program. Training Programs have been developed to accomplish this goal.
What are the anticipated benefits of this policy?
a) Accident reduction
b) Avoiding disruption of traffic by pushing civilian vehicles into traffic
c) Reduce fuel consumption and maintenance costs
d) 2nd and 3rd due units will remain closer to the center of their response areas and not depleting response neighborhoods of the closest units needlessly.
e) 2nd and 3rd due units will be available for priority reassignment, if necessary for structural fires, cardiac conditions, etc.
We will continue to monitor and report the department’s progress in the weeks and months ahead with this initiative.
As the United States is experiencing one of the worst winter seasons in recent memory remember you do not do any good if you do not get there!
By Michael Wilbur