IAFC conference hardly mentions radio communications, yet cites its importance
The International Association of Fire Chiefs, Fairfax, Va., presented its Fire-Rescue International Conference and Exposition in Kansas City, Mo., Aug. 23–26.
Billed as IAFC’s 129th annual meeting, FRI 2002 boasted more than 70 general and concurrent sessions. The educational workshops and seminars covered emergency medical services, HazMat, wildland fire, leadership, staffing, crisis management and diversity. Only one session focused on radio communications. Conference attendees included chief fire officers, firefighters, company level officers, arson investigators, training officers, EMS chiefs, EMS directors, EMS providers, special rescue team personnel and military fire officers. The exhibit floor included 550 exhibits in four meeting halls.
President Buckman — Speaking to the opening general session, outgoing IAFC President John M.. Buckman, chief of the German Township Volunteer Fire Department, Evansville, Ind., said that the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, have caused changes within fire departments, the nation and the world.
“We are under a microscope. People want to know what the fire department does and why. They want to know, is the fire department doing things the same way and expecting different results? Are our people trained and equipped to meet new challenges? At IAFC, we want to make sure you are trained. We want to give you information and resources so you are capable of doing what you need to do,” he said.
“How many have had an operational exercise since Sept. 11 for a chemical or biological attack? That’s our business. We have to be prepared. Have we tested our relationships with our partners? How do we get a long with law enforcement? Have you decided who will be in charge?” he asked.
Buckman said these matters are not settled at the firehouse table. They require agreements with police chiefs, sheriffs and the state police.
Buckman said that the first IAFC conference in 1873 was called to discuss was “how to communicate with the nozzle person. Some wanted to run a phone line along the hose. So, in 1873, we talked about communications problems. We’re talking about communications today.”
Buckman said that IAFC is working at federal level to secure enough radio spectrum.
Buckman said that IAFC has been increasingly successful in making sure that legislation is pushed through Congress to give the fire service more money. He cited the Fire Act as a success achieved by IAFC together with other organizations.
Buckman said that next year’s federal budget is expected to include $3.5 billion to improve first responders’ capability to respond to terrorists. He said that the fire service has opportunity to get its fair share.
- President’s Awards.
Buckman presented the IAFC President’s Award to each of the following recipients:
Fire Marshal R. Tracy Boatwright, Office of Indiana State Fire Marshal
Michael Byrne, White House Office of Homeland Security, for representing fire service interests
Chief Gary Scott, Campbell County (Fla.) Fire Department, for issues affecting volunteer fire departments
Steve Austin, International Association of Arson Investigators, for traffic safety awareness efforts
Brian Cowan, U.S. Fire Administration, for leadership and administration of the fire grant program
Alan Caldwall, IAFC, for excellence on legislative work
International Benjamin Franklin Fire Service Award for Valor — Lt. Randy Smelz, an 18-year veteran of the Arlington (Texas) Fire Department, received an award for valor that IAFC has co-sponsored with Motorola for 33 years. Mike Worthington, a Motorola vice president and former Pitt County, N.C., fire marshal, made the presentation to Smelz.
“In the history of the fire service, equipment and technology have changed. But the danger that fire poses to each of you as you do your job doesn’t change for the better, it changes for the worse,” Worthington said.
He said that the Franklin Award recognizes the spirit of courage and heroism that is a tradition among the world’s fire services. It is presented to an individual whose actions epitomize the training, service and dedication to the duty displayed in the saving of human life.
“The idea behind the award is easy. The hard part is selecting one recipient when selfless bravery is the norm for all firefighters. How do you determine the exceptional, those who overcome obstacles that others think are too difficult? Who makes a difference when the odds are against success?” he asked.
Smelz rescued a 13-month-old boy trapped in an Arlington house fire after the boy’s mother and 2-year-old brother escaped with the help of workmen.
“As the engine rolled from station, the smoke could be seen from a mile way. When the firefighters arrived, the woman was hysterical. Smelz ran to the mother and shook her,” Worthington recounted.
“ ‘Show me where the child is.’ Smelz said to her.
“She pointed to a window spewing thick black smoke. Flashover was imminent. The only thought going through Smelz’s mind was how to tell the mother that there was no hope to save the child. He didn’t know what to say. He looked at window again and saw that the only path was through kitchen full of smoke. He went in.
“The extreme heat forced him rescuers onto his stomach. The screen on the thermal imager showed white. He pressed on, knowing that every second counted. He forced his way through the house in search of the child’s room,” Worthington said.
Smelz felt for the crib, found the child, picked him up and ran out. Although the child was burned, he survived, and Worthington said that the boy’s parents now celebrate two birthdays—his biological birth date and that date he was rescued.
Smelz accepted the award from Worthington but offered no remarks.
Larry Brawner, assistant chief for operations at the Arlington Fire Department, accepted an additional award on behalf of the department, the International Benjamin Franklin Departmental Leadership Award, in recognition of the department’s professionalism, service to the public and contribution to the fire service.
United States Fire Administrator R. David Paulison — Working within the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the U.S. fire administrator, R. David Paulson, formerly was the chief of the Miami Fire Department. He spoke to the general session about terrorism and about the loss of life in fires.
“The sovereignty of the country is under attack. We have this new thing that we’re dealing with now called terrorism that brings new chemical and biological issues to be faced. And what we saw on Sept 11 is that the fire service is part of homeland defense. We have to take on this task, but can’t lose sight of our core mission,” he said.
- Fire prevention.
Paulison said that the collapse of the New York World Trade Center towers as a result of fires started when hijackers crashed two jetliners into their upper floors cost the lives of more than 2,800 people. But he said more than 3,000 people lose their lives in fires in a typical year.
“We need to focus on education, fire prevention, and such a simple thing as a smoke alarm in every home,” he said.
- Firefighter protection.
Paulson said that the 343 firefighters who were killed in the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, were “some of the bravest I’ve seen. We owe them a debt that we can’t repay. But we can honor them by protecting those firefighters we now have.”
Paulison said that more than 100 firefighters lose their lives during a typical year in the United States.
“That simply cannot continue. We must insist on health and wellness programs in every fire department, on driver training and mandatory use of IC procedures. We need an accountability system so chiefs know where their firefighters are, every minute,” he said.
Paulison said that fire grants awarded by his agency totaled $100 million in 2001 and would total $360 million for the calendar year in 2002. He said that the U.S. Senate version of the 2003 budget (which begins Oct. 1) recommends $900 million.
Paulison said that FEMA has given $32.4 million to the urban search and rescue program to bring USAR teams up to master trust capability with equipment, training and exercises. FEMA has $75 million in next year budget for search and rescue, in addition to the program’s normal $6 million budget.
Paulison said that FEMA isn’t focused only on radio communications when it comes to interoperability issues.
“We know what happens when you have a lot of departments respond to an emergency. Their radios can’t talk to each other. The president has mandated that the homeland security effort solve the problem,” he said.
“But we also have to deal with other equipment issues. I can buy a scuba tank in Alaska and a regulator in Australia and make them fit. But I can’t take breathing apparatus from one fire company to another. We can’t exchange air bottles,” he said.
- Mutual aid.
Paulison said that sometimes the mutual aid that flows from one city to another can be overwhelming and has to be controlled.
“This the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Andrew. In Miami, we were overwhelmed with responses from around the country. The same thing happened in New York City last year. That’s unacceptable. We must have mutual aid that is robust, but you need to know who is coming in and helping and what qualifications and capabilities they have,” he said.
International Association of Fire Fighters — Where IAFC represents management, IAFF represents labor. Lori Moore, assistant to the IAFF general president for technical assistance and information resources, spoke to the general session. Moore has served as a negotiator between IAFC and IAFF.
“On behalf of General President Harold Schaitberger and the 255,000 members of IAFF, we wish you the best for this meeting,” Moore said.
- No memorial boycott.
Moore dispelled the notion of a possible boycott by IAFF of a ceremony scheduled for Oct. 6 in Washington to honor fallen firefighters. She said that there had been a rumor of such a boycott, and that IAFF never had any such plans.
She said that the rumor may have been drawn from IAFF’s plans to protest President George W. Bush’s veto of antiterrorism legislation that included $340 million for first responder radio communications, for health monitoring for emergency workers at the World Trade Center site and for equipment and training grants to fire departments.
“We won’t conduct any activity that ever would dishonor the memories of our fallen brothers and sisters,” she said.
- NFPA 1710
Moore spoke about the National Fire Protection Administration’s standard No. 1710 that covers equipment, training and procedures for various tasks handled by firefighters.
“You are interested in what we say to our members. We are teaching them about 1710. We say that they should work with their chiefs, public officials and the public to move toward implementation. There will be a labor, management, political and public implementation campaign,” Moore said.
She said IAFF wants to go slow and build emergency response systems that will last.
“Many of you thought NFPA 1710 would be a labor effort to increase staffing. Maybe you need more staff. But we don’t want to put in staff only to be laid off. We want to put in systems that will last without breaking the budgets,” she said.
- IAFF-IAFC cooperation.
Moore reminded the general session audience that IAFF and IAFC have worked together successfully, citing a joint resolution on fire-based EMS, cooperation on OSHA requirements, and wellness and fitness programs.
“General President Schaitberger believes it is critical for us to work together in efforts to pass the SAFER (Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response) Act to add 75,000 more firefighters nationwide and to protect and grow the FIRE Act grants to your departments,” she said.
Moore said that although labor and management sometimes must disagree, they must agree not to let unresolved issues disrupt an entire operation.
“We must move toward labor-management cooperation when we can. But that’s difficult for us when we have affiliates contacting us about chiefs who are issuing gag orders or demoting or threatening to terminate firefighters for affiliating with IAFF. There have been many cases this year when it has happened,” she said.
“We know that this kind of behavior is the exception to the rule. The majority of chiefs cultivate the relationship between IAFC and local affiliates and IAFF,” Moore said.
“We will defend the constitutional rights of members to speak freely and to assemble. We will be there when members are fired and harassed. We also will be there to applaud you for making stands on behalf of our people. We recognize those who lead with honor, dignity and professionalism. This is the hallmark of IAFC leadership,” she said.
Debra Norville — The host of TV’s Inside Edition and former NBC-TV News at Sunrise anchor and Today co-host, Debra Norville, delivered a keynote speech that was largely biographical and motivational.
She said that leaders are characteristically persistent and confident, but that “persistence in ignorance is pig-headedness. You have to be informed. Most of us are appallingly uninformed.”
Norville said that 61 percent of Americans believe their chances at job advancement are poor or fair. She said that fire chiefs have to address ways to motivate their employees and offer advancement opportunities.
“Look at your operation to see where it can be streamlined and enhance the sense of job satisfaction for yourself and those who work for you. The attrition in your industry is 5 percent per year. Employees are asking themselves whether the reward justifies the risk of the job. ‘I’m sworn to protect the public, but is that pledge important enough for the sacrifices?’ they ask themselves. Make sure the answer is yes,” she said.
Technology at the exhibits — Several radio communications equipment manufacturers, including Kenwood Communications, JPS Communications, M/A-Com, Vertex Standard and Motorola, exhibited at FRI 2002, where firefighting and safety products took most of the booth space.
The fireground communications system introduced at FRI 2002 by Motorola is intended to improve the ability of incident commanders to communicate with and monitor on-scene emergency responders.
Its components include the XTS 5000 portable radio, incident management software, a ruggedized command terminal, a digital RF modem and a portable repeater. Future plans call for the system to deliver rescue and location tracking, and a wireless self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) feature.
Each fireground communications system radio automatically reports the user’s radio ID, which can be configured to display name, riding position and sector assignment on the commander’s mobile command terminal. If for any reason a user turns off the radio, the incident commander is automatically informed and can relay that information to the response team. If a critical situation arises with a firefighter, the firefighter can push an emergency button that activates an alarm on the incident management mobile command terminal. In addition, an integrated evacuation feature allows a commander to wirelessly transmit a signal to all radios on the scene alerting the presence of immediate danger.
Motorola will roll out the system in phases, starting in 2003 with features that improve on-scene and in-building communications coverage and personnel accountability. The second phase will include solutions for location tracking and a wireless SCBA.