Whether it’s responding to a grisly accident, working to save the lives of others, being in a life-threatening situation or dealing with constant alarms, IAFF members face challenges that are virtually unknown to the public. The fact is, one in five fire fighters experiences post-traumatic stress at some point in their career.
“As I travel across our two great countries, I hear first-hand about the struggles some of us face with post-traumatic stress,” says General President Harold Schaitberger. “It’s a condition that affects our members at double the rate of the general population. But there have been few programs to address it.”
As more members are experiencing post-traumatic stress, the IAFF has undertaken an intensive effort to remove the stigma associated with behavioral health issues and provide resources for treatment and recovery.
Developed by the IAFF in partnership with the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA) and supported by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate, First Responders Group, Office for Interoperability and Compatibility, this second edition provides the fundamental awareness of radio communications technology and human resource issues, and covers basic radio technology, digital and analog technology, conventional and trunked radio systems, portable radios, system design and implementation, interoperability and spectrum licensing.
Fire Fighters and Cancer Risks
Fire fighters are exposed every day to harsh toxins and chemicals that increase their risk for contracting some form of cancer. This emotional video, which features Boston, Massachusetts fire fighters, is a sobering reminder of the dangers of working in the fire service.
Occupational carcinogens include diesel exhaust, benzene, formaldehyde, asbestos and various combustion byproducts found in smoke. Exposures can occur through inhalation of smoke or diesel exhaust, and skin exposure can occur through contaminated personal protective equipment and turnout gear.
Remember these tips to help reduce your overall risk of exposure:
• Shower after returning from a fire
• Use SCBA during overhaul activities
• Perform gross field decontamination of PPE to remove as much soot and particulates as possible
• Clean your PPE (i.e., gloves, hood and helmet) after a fire
• Store PPE in dedicated storage areas and not in living quarters
IAFF Fire Fighter Burn Injury Notification Protocol:
1. Local President will notify the appropriate District Vice President.
2. District Vice President will then notify the Assistant to the General President for Health, Safety and Medicine Division and/or the Chief of Staff as well as the IAFF Burn Fund Coordinator and the District Burn Coordinator.
3. District Burn Coordinator notifies the Local point of contact.
Burn Fund Assistance Burn Fund assistance may be awarded for the purpose of providing financial assistance for temporary emergency expenses when an IAFF member and/or a member of their immediate family (spouse and children) suffer a burn injury which requires admission to a burn center, resulting in a financial hardship. Disbursements shall only be granted for immediate travel, housing, food, medical supplies, services, and other similar assistance as deemed necessary.
Burn Fund Assistance Eligibility Requirements
1. The applicant must be current IAFF member at the time the burn injury occurred.
2. The burn injury required admission to a burn center. Funds are NOT awarded for minor injuries that do not require admission to a burn center.
3. The member's and/or a member of their immediate family's (spouse and children) eligibility shall be based solely on need as determined by the Chair of the IAFF Foundation after review of the information provided by the Local President and the District Vice President.
Burn Fund Assistance Application Process
1. All applications for Burn Fund assistance must be submitted within 14 days from the date of the burn injury using the IAFF Burn Fund Assistance application form.
2. All applications shall be submitted through the IAFF member's Local Affiliate President. The IAFF Local Affiliate President shall verify the accuracy of the member's claim for Burn Fund assistance.
3. Verified applications for Burn Fund assistance shall be forwarded to the IAFF District Vice President.
Burn Fund Assistance Approval Process The Chair of the IAFF Foundation, after review of the submitted application from the District Vice President, shall provide assistance.
Burn Injury Peer Support Working in conjunction with the Phoenix Society for Burn Survivors, the IAFF has developed the Survivors Offering Assistance to Recovery (SOAR) program specifically for firefighters and their immediate family. This peer support group links a trained fire fighter burn survivor with the fire fighter and the family to assist in the recovery process. A children’s program is also available to focus on the child’s well-being and comfort.
Application Form Burn injury application form can be accessed here.
If you need further information, or cannot access the application form on our website, contact the IAFF Division of Occupational Health, Safety and Medicine Burn Fund at 202-824-1621, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
NIOSH Study Reinforces Link Between Fire Fighting and Cancer
A new study conducted by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) on mortality and cancer incidence in career fire fighters shows an elevated risk of several types of cancer - and of all cancers combined - compared to the general U.S. population.
The just-released study, published in the Occupational & Environmental Medicine, is among the largest examining cancer risk in career fire fighters, with a study population of 30,000 fire fighters from IAFF locals in Philadelphia, Chicago and San Francisco.
The study identified higher incidence rates of cancers of the respiratory, digestive and urinary systems, which suggest that fire fighters are more likely to develop these cancers compared to the general U.S. population. The incidence rate of mesothelioma was two times greater among fire fighters compared to the general population, indicating likely occupational exposures to asbestos, the known cause of mesothelioma.
These findings are consistent with previous, smaller studies assessing the cancer risk in fire fighters. The large study population and follow up for the NIOSH study strengthen the evidence for the relationship between fire fighting and cancer, and provides further support for the IAFF position that fire fighters are at increased risk of cancer due to occupational exposures to carcinogens. The data also supports the ongoing need for cancer presumptive legislation, which entitles fire fighters diagnosed with certain cancers to disability retirement benefits and workers compensation benefits.
This study will serve as a foundation for ongoing analyses of fire fighter cancer risks. The next phase of the study will look at employment histories to learn more about the relationship between occupational exposures and cancer risk.
Fire fighters can be exposed to carcinogens during fire suppression, overhaul activities and in the firehouse. Occupational carcinogens include diesel exhaust, benzene, formaldehyde, asbestos and various combustion byproducts found in smoke. Exposures can occur through inhalation of smoke or diesel exhaust, and skin exposure can occur through contaminated personal protective equipment and turnout gear.
To reduce your overall risk of exposure:
Shower after returning from a fire
Use SCBA during overhaul activities
Perform gross field decontamination of PPE to remove as much soot and particulates as possible
Clean your PPE (i.e., gloves, hood and helmet) after a fire
Store PPE in dedicated storage areas and not in living quarters
For more information about cancer presumptive legislation efforts, click here.
The authors of the study presented preliminary results at the 2013 IAFF John P. Redmond Symposium/Barbara Symposium in Denver, Colorado. To view the presentation, click here.
This important work by NIOSH is another example of its efforts to improve the safety and health of fire fighters. These efforts, along with the efforts of the Fallen Fire Fighter Investigation and Prevention Program and the National Personal Protective Technology Laboratory, warrant the full support of the IAFF.
NIST Report Shows Crew Size Matters Study compared how long it took crews of three, four and five to handle the same tasks.
FIREHOUSE.COM- For years, firefighters across the nation have touted the importance of having enough crew members when they start to attack a fire.
Now, they have scientific research to back up their claim that size does matter when it comes to saving people from fires as well as making sure they go home after their shift.
On Wednesday, the National Institute of Standards and Technology released the results of an extensive study that used technology to determine how long it took for crews of two, three, four and five to handle the same 22 tasks.
"Four- and five- person crews were able to complete the 22 essential firefighting and rescue tasks in a residential setting 30 percent faster than the two-person crew and 25 percent faster than the three-person crews," said Jason Averill, NIST fire protection engineer and the project manager.
NIST announced the findings of the study to members of the fire service attending the annual Congressional Fire Services Institute event in Washington, D.C.
Tasks included stopping at the hydrant, positioning the engine, conducting scene size-up, engaging pump, establish 2 in/2 out etc.
The data also showed that the largest crew was able to apply water to the fire 22 percent faster than two-person crews.
The small crew also encountered a much larger fire upon arrival than the five person team.
NIST also used its fire dynamic simulator to determine slow, medium, and fast-growth fires and estimate how the crew sizes would affect the exposure of occupants to toxic gases.
"Two-person crews arriving later (than the larger ones) would also likely find a significant portion of the general public incapacitated by the time of the rescue," Averill said about his findings.
IAFF General President Harold A. Schaitberger lauded the research, saying it will be used as a tool for fire officers across the country as they educate public officials.
"This is an extremely important document," he said. "Now, we have the technology and research to back up what we've been telling politicians who are cutting budgets..."
He said the research validates NFPA recommendations regarding crew size. Schaitberger said while he understands the tough economic hardships, reducing the number of firefighters, stations or apparatus is not the answer.
In addition to firefighter safety, the public welfare is at risk, he said, when small crews are involved.
NIST received a federal Assistance to Firefighters Grant to fund the project that involved only career firefighters. Researchers said the results could be similar for combination or volunteer fire departments that have crews in their stations.
USFA Administrator Kelvin Cochran said the document will be utilized by those who need justification for additional personnel, equipment or training. This will give officers something to back up their requests.
"We now have the technology, the science to prove what we've known for a long time -- it's very dangerous for a small crew to attempt an attack," he said.
A 2,000-square-foot, two-story building was specifically constructed for the study on the grounds of Montgomery County, Md. Fire Rescue training center.
Rooms contain cameras as well as instruments to measure toxic gases and temperatures The data is recorded on computers and other monitoring equipment located in a separate section of the building.
Each assignment included a truck and three engines.
"Our study is the fist to quantify fire service lifesaving and firefighting operations for a low-hazard residential structure including the effects of changes in crew size, arrival time and stagger on rescue and suppression effectiveness," Averill explained to the crowd.
Dennis Compton, chairman of the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation, called it a landmark study. "This can really help everyone," he said.
"It will benefit local decision makers tremendously as they work to determine and provide the resources necessary to adequately protect their communities from fire and other life safety emergencies," Compton said.
Watch some footage from the experiments.
Credit: International Association of Fire Fighters
International Recalls Fire Trucks After Deadly Crash The drivetrain failure locked the wheels, causing the fire truck to crash head on with an SUV, killing the fire chief and five civilians A company that manufactures drivetrains for International fire engines has issued a recall after Montana authorities concluded a faulty drivetrain was responsible for a fatal crash that killed six people outside Helena.
The recall notice says the driveshaft may separate and cause the axle to lock if a double Cardan joint seizes up.
IAFF Briefing on Interoperability and Communications Issues One of the most important pieces of safety equipment is a functioning, mission-critical-voice portable radio. Effective and reliable two-way voice communications is essential for both overall fire ground operations and for individual fire fighter safety.
Over the past several years, the IAFF has worked diligently on issues ranging from interoperability, to spectrum, to improving the reliability of portable radios. This union has consistently maintained that the most important function in emergency communications is ensuring basic operability on the scene. While the IAFF supports efforts to improve interoperability and data communications, nothing supersedes mission critical voice capability in terms of importance.
The IAFF's efforts have succeeded in obtaining a large block of spectrum real estate known as "D" Block, which is dedicated for public safety use. However, the passage of this legislation created some negative unintended consequences, the most notable of which is a threat to large cities operating on the T-Band spectrum for voice communication.
A quasi-public entity known as FirstNet was established to manage this new range of “D” Block spectrum and construct an interoperable system for digital (data) communication. Unfortunately, this effort has led to a great deal of confusion about the First Net, the new “D” Block Spectrum and moving public safety from the T-Band to the “D” Block.
Firefighters have higher rates of cancer than the rest of us, according to a recent study by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health. Cancers of the respiratory, digestive and urinary systems account for much of the reported cases, the study found.
Results were recently released of a new federal government study conducted by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) that scientifically documents the effects of crew size in responding to fires in high-rise buildings.
Information and materials are now available online to help affiliates better understand the study and potential ways to use it with local press and decision makers based on their jurisdiction and situation. The toolkit includes sample press releases and sample op-ed that can be modified/customized to submit to local newspapers, radio stations and television stations.
Whether your jurisdiction is contemplating cuts to crew sizes or you need additional evidence to document why crew sizes need to be increased for public safety and fire fighter safety, this groundbreaking study is an invaluable resource for IAFF affiliates to use to educate policy and decision makers about why having too few fire fighters on each apparatus can cost lives and property in high-rise building fires.
Additional information, including a video description of this landmark high-rise fire study is available here.
Gore Issues Firefighter Product Safety Alert for Fire-Related Seam Tape
W.L. Gore & Associates, Inc. has issued an important firefighter product safety alert, along with information about enrollment in a product remediation program. The alert is in response to isolated incidents of seam-tape separation observed in turnout gear in North America – utilizing both Gore and non-Gore moisture barriers – that has been stored in its original packaging for three or more years before being issued and worn. Gore’s alert identifies the affected GORE® products and a course of action for proper product remediation. No seam tape separation has been observed for turnout gear utilizing GORE® moisture barriers that had been removed from its packing before being stored.
The page is a quick reference showing cylinder assemblies which are authorized
components of NIOSH-approved self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA).
This posting lists the SCBA models commonly used in the fire service and the corresponding
approved cylinder and valve assemblies based on the information in the NIOSH data
base and provided by the manufacturer. Currently two manufacturers are listed,
Draeger Safety and Biomarine. Other manufacturers will be added as their
information is submitted to NIOSH for posting to this web page.
In general, this list contains the configurations thought to be most common, it
may not be comprehensive. The definitive source for information on the components
which make up an approved SCBA remains the approval label included in its user
instructions. You should refer to this label if there is any question.
Any questions or comments, please contact us at 412-386-4000 or 1-800-232-4636.
Click Here - Important Safety Notice
Concerning SCOTT HUD Quick Disconnect Hoses.
Here - Important Safety Notice for all users of Scott NFPA 1981,
2002 Edition Self Contained Breathing Apparatus who received their SCBA or replaced
the low pressure hose on their SCBA after June, 2005
CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL OF PENNSYLVANIA AND HORIZON BC/BS, PENN MEDICINE REACH AGREEMENT
After months of difficult negotiations, The Childrens Hospital of Philadelphia has just signed a contract extension through June 30, 2014 with Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey. This means that New Jersey families who are insured by Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey will continue to have uninterrupted access to CHOP, and to our physicians at all of our New Jersey sites as well as our Philadelphia campus.
Since the surprising news of Horizon cancelling their contract with us last September, weve heard from hundreds of New Jersey families who were devastated to learn their ability to access CHOP after March 2009 was in question. We heard from many employees, too, and from scores of physicians, community coalitions, and even New Jersey legislators that Horizon needed to keep CHOP in its network of providers.
Many CHOP patient families offered their personal stories in newspaper articles and print advertisements. Hundreds of CHOP employees and New Jersey families wrote or called their legislators and wrote letters to their newspapers. There was an overwhelming groundswell of support, all of which contributed to this most positive outcome.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) is issuing this notice to inform respirator users that Global Secure Safety Products., Inc. is no longer producing NIOSH- approved respirators or replacement parts and is not planning to resume production in the future. Global Secure Safety Products, Inc. stopped production of respirators in April 2008 and has ceased doing business.
Global Secure Safety Products, Inc. (formerly CairnsAir Inc. or Neoterik) Respirators will be listed on CEL as Obsolete and Certificates of Approval will be Revoked
NIOSH will revoke the approvals of these respirators on December 31, 2009. Revoked status means that the respirators in question will no longer be listed as NIOSH-approved respirators. Once revoked, respirators bearing these approval numbers may no longer be manufactured, assembled, sold, or distributed as NIOSH-approved respirators. Furthermore, they may not be used where NIOSH-approved respirators are required regardless of the current state of maintenance.
NATIONAL FIRE PROTECTION ASSOCIATION (NFPA) SETS NEW NATIONAL STANDARD FOR CO SCREENING BY PULSE CO-OXIMETRY 2008 NFPA 1584 establishes the routine use of Pulse CO-Oximetry
as a way to protect the lives of the nation’s firefighters from the dangers of CO Poisoning
IRVINE, CALIFORNIA – February 14, 2008– Masimo (NASDAQ: MASI), the inventor of Pulse CO-Oximetry and Measure-Through Motion and Low Perfusion pulse oximetry, announced today that the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) has made Carbon Monoxide (CO) screening by Pulse CO-Oximetry a new national healthcare standard for firefighters potentially exposed to Carbon Monoxide poisoning. NFPA’s consensus codes and standards serve as the worldwide authoritative source on fire prevention and public safety—with virtually every building, process, service, design, and installation in society today is affected by NFPA documents.
The new standard, which became effective December 31, 2007 and was published on January 31, 2008, establishes that “any firefighter exposed to CO or presenting with headache, nausea, shortness of breath, or gastrointestinal symptoms” must be measured for CO poisoning by Pulse CO-Oximetry or other available methods. It also requires every fire department to establish Standard Operating Guidelines (SOGs) that outline uniform rehabilitation procedures for firefighters at incident scenes and training exercises.
Too often, even the most skilled first responders miss the chance to treat carbon monoxide poisoning early because, until Masimo invented Masimo Rainbow SET Pulse CO-Oximetry in 2005, there wasn’t a noninvasive way to detect elevated levels of CO in the blood. With the Masimo Rad-57 Pulse CO-Oximeter, fire fighters, EMS professionals and ER clinicians can easily detect carbon monoxide poisoning by applying a noninvasive LED-based sensor on the victims or themselves, allowing for prompt and possibly life-saving treatment that can also limit the likelihood of long-tern cardiac and neurological damage.
Studies have shown that even a single high level exposure, or prolonged exposure to low levels of CO, has the potential to cause long-term heart, brain and organ damage. Long-term effects of CO include: cardiac arrests, Parkinson-like syndromes affecting motor skills and speech, dementia, cortical blindness, acute renal failure, and muscle cell death.
“Often cited by attorneys within the legal system, NFPA standards represent complete industry consensus and are supported by a substantial amount of scientific or medical evidence,” said Mike McEvoy, EMS Director, Board of New York State Association of Fire Chiefs. "This new national standard adds considerable weight to growing industry guidance calling for CO screening by leading EMS, EMT and firefighter associations nationwide, including the National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians (NAEMT), the International Association of Firefighters (IAFF), and the National Association of EMS Educators (NAEMSE).”
A worldwide leader in providing fire, electrical, building, and life safety to the public since 1896, NFPA’s mission is to reduce the global burden of fire and other hazards on the quality of life by providing and advocating consensus codes and standards, research, training, and education. NFPA's 300 codes and standards influence every building, process, service, design, and installation in the U.S. and many other countries. With a membership of more than 81,000 and over 80 national trade and professional organizations, NFPA is the authority on fire, electrical, and building safety. Copies of the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) Section 1584, Standard on the Rehabilitation Process for Members During Emergency Operations and Training Exercises, are now available through the NFPA.
Joe E. Kiani, Chairman and CEO of Masimo, stated “We applaud NFPA for making CO screening for firefighters a national standard with this latest revision of NFPA 1584 and for taking the lead in healthcare reform for all of North America’s firefighters. Establishing uniform standards is crucial to ensuring that the nation’s firefighters receive the proper care and attention required to help keep them safe, healthy and in peak condition to be able to meet the demands of their life-saving work. We are proud that our Pulse CO-Oximetry technology can play such a vital role within this standard and in the lives of our nation’s most heroic public servants.”
Masimo (NASDAQ: MASI) develops innovative monitoring technologies that significantly improve patient care—helping solve "unsolvable" problems. In 1995, the company debuted Measure-Through Motion and Low Perfusion pulse oximetry, known as Masimo SET, and with it virtually eliminated false alarms and increased pulse oximetry's ability to detect life-threatening events. Masimo SET is clinically proven in more than 100 independent and objective studies to provide the most trustworthy SpO2 and pulse rate measurements even under the most difficult clinical conditions, including patient motion and low peripheral perfusion. In 2005, Masimo introduced Masimo Rainbow SET, a breakthrough noninvasive blood constituent monitoring platform that can measure many blood constituents that previously required invasive procedures. Rainbow SET continuously and noninvasively measures Carboxyhemoglobin (SpCOTM) and Methemoglobin (SpMetTM), Pleth Variability Index (PVITM), in addition to Oxyhemoglobin (SpO2), Perfusion Index (PITM) and pulse rate, allowing early detection and treatment of potentially life-threatening conditions. Founded in 1989, Masimo has the mission of "Improving Patient Outcomes and Reducing Cost of Care by Taking Noninvasive Monitoring to New Sites and Applications." Additional information about Masimo and its products may be found at www.masimo.com.
Forward Looking Statements This press release may include forward-looking statements. These forward-looking statements are based on current expectations about future events affecting us and are subject to uncertainties and factors, all of which are difficult to predict and many of which are beyond our control, including: risks related to our assumption that inclusion in the new 2008 NFPA 1584 as a national standard will serve to substantially increase sales or revenues for the company and risks related to our assumption that the Masimo Rad-57 Pulse CO-Oximeter will deliver a sufficient level of clinical improvement over alternative CO monitoring devices to allow for rapid adoption of the technology at hospitals, fire and rescue, EMT and EMS units, as well as other factors discussed in the "Risk Factors" section of our quarterly report on Form 10-Q for the quarter ended September 29, 2007, filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission on November 1, 2007. Although we believe that the expectations reflected in our forward-looking statements are reasonable, we do not know whether our expectations will prove correct. You are cautioned not to place undue reliance on these forward-looking statements, which speak only as of the date hereof. We do not undertake any obligation to update, amend or clarify these forward-looking statements or the risk factors contained in our quarterly report on Form 10-Q for the quarter ended September 29, 2007, whether as a result of new information, future events or otherwise, except as may be required under the federal securities laws.
IAFF - A presumptive disability law is a law that links a particular occupation with a disease or condition that has been shown to be a hazard associated with that occupation. As a result of this linkage, if an individual employed in the occupation covered by the presumption contracts a disease or condition that is specified in the presumptive law, then that disease or condition is presumed to have come from that occupation. In this case, the burden of proof shifts from the employee to the employer to demonstrate that the condition was not in fact associated with the occupation but with another cause.
In the case of fire fighters and emergency medical responders, scientific evidence has demonstrated an increased risk for heart disease, lung disease, cancer, and infectious diseases. At this time, most of the U.S. States and Canadian Provinces have some form of presumptive law that applies to fire fighters and emergency response personnel. These laws vary greatly between different states and provinces.
The IAFF Division of Occupational Health, Safety & Medicine has accumulated a database of the current presumptive disability provisions in the US and Canada. To view the presumptive disability provision in your state or province, click on the link below then click on your particular state or province.
MSNBC - MSNBC.com's Bill Dedman takes an in-depth, two-part look into serious questions about firefighter safety equipment and the lack of attention the federal government paid to the problem. Part one focuses on PASS alarms, a device that emits a 95 decibel beep when a firefighter stops moving for 30 seconds. In the year 2000, government officials were warned that some PASS alarms might be failing and firefighters were dying -- but did nothing. More than 1 million professional and volunteer firefighters across the U.S. rely on PASS alarms as their last line of defense.15 Firefighters have died in situations where their their pesonal safety alarm either failed to function or was inaudible. NBC's Peter Alexander reports on the fallourt from an MSNBC.com investigation.
FLAWS FOUND IN FIREFIGHTERS' LAST LINE OF DEFENSE U.S. waited 5 years to heed expert’s warning on ‘man down’ alarms
When New York City firefighter Thomas Brick was lost in this 2003 fire in a mattress warehouse, it took 30 minutes to find him. When he was turned over, his PASS alarm emitted a faint sound. Brick had been in the first class of recruits after Sept. 11.
MSNBC- February 9, 2007 - Worn by a million firefighters in the U.S., the PASS device is a motion sensor that makes an awful racket if a firefighter stops moving for 30 seconds while battling a blaze. It flashes its lights and lets loose a series of ear-splitting beeps — an urgent call to help a fallen comrade.
It’s a call that hasn't always been heard. Tests by federal and independent labs show that some PASS alarms can fail to perform as intended if they get too hot or wet — a serious problem for people who rush into burning buildings with water hoses. And federal investigative reports reviewed by MSNBC.com show that 15 firefighters have died since 1998 in fires where a PASS, or Personal Alert Safety System, either didn't sound or was so quiet that rescuers weren't given a chance to find the firefighter quickly.
Documents made public under the Freedom of Information Act reveal that nine of those deaths came after the federal government blocked an investigation by its own expert into possible failures of PASS alarms and other firefighting equipment. A manager for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the federal agency that is charged by Congress with investigating firefighter deaths, ordered an agency fire safety engineer on Feb. 14, 2000, to "minimize your fact gathering during investigations" and to restrict his investigations to issues relevant "for the prevention of future similar events."
On the same day that the CDC manager instructed the agency's fire safety engineer to scale back his investigation, Houston firefighter Kim Smith had become lost in a pre-dawn fire in a McDonald's restaurant.
Hearing no beeps from her PASS alarm, and seeing no flashing lights, her comrades searched for two hours before finding her body.
If a firefighter dies, it's a good funeral’ Nine more times, the rituals of a firefighter's funeral — a fire truck bearing the flag-draped casket; the bagpipers playing "Will Ye No Come Back Again?" — were re-enacted before the CDC took action, calling finally in April 2005 for higher standards for testing PASS alarms.
Kim Smith and a second firefighter, Lewis Mayo, didn't emerge from the blazing McDonald's when the evacuation order was given. She died on Feb. 14, 2000, the same day that the CDC engineer was told not to waste his time on equipment problems.
“Fire departments give good funerals," said Richard M. Duffy, the health and safety chief for the International Association of Fire Fighters.
"We never did investigations to the extent that they were needed … but we did some very, very good funerals. If a cop dies, it's a crime scene. If a firefighter dies, it's a good funeral."
After the CDC’s warning, tests quickly demonstrated that temperatures commonly encountered by firefighters could hurt the performance of at least some PASS alarms.
Tests in a convection oven at the National Institute of Standards and Technology found a problem with the two models it tested: The volume of the beeping diminished substantially at temperatures as low as 300 degrees Fahrenheit — the sort of temperatures that firefighters encounter in a room next to a fire. Researchers said they believe that all of the half-dozen or so brands of PASS alarms on the market would be similarly affected.
In addition, some PASS devices made by at least three manufacturers have had problems over the past decade with water leaking into the electronics or battery compartments, causing them to either beep continually or stop working altogether, according to interviews and documents reviewed by MSNBC.com.
Later this week, a tougher new standard for testing PASS devices in heat and water will be issued by the National Fire Protection Association. But manufacturers say it will be months before an improved device is on the market. And even when new models are available, there is no plan for recalling the old ones, so fire departments may have to bear the cost of replacing them.
Meanwhile, the approximately 1 million professional and volunteer firefighters across the nation will rely on the older PASS alarms as their last line of defense.
Precise role in fatalities is unclear
No one can say for sure that a PASS device caused any of the 15 deaths in which the alarms weren’t heard. And it's impossible to say that any firefighter would necessarily have survived if the PASS alarm had been seen and heard.
James Cheng / MSNBC.com
The controls for a PASS device
Firefighting is dangerous even when done right. But firefighter fatalities usually involve a series of mistakes: inadequate staffing or training; firefighters working alone instead of in pairs; an incident commander's mistake in evaluating the risk. The PASS device is intended to give firefighters who are injured, trapped or just lost in the smoke a chance to survive such miscues.
It is required to shriek for an hour at 95 decibels so it can be heard over the roar of the fire and the cacophony of chain saws cutting, exhaust fans blowing, glass breaking and water flowing.
"It sends a chill up your spine," Kenneth R. Willette, the fire chief in Concord, Mass., said of the alarm’s piercing cry. "You know that means someone is in trouble. So until you can locate that person, your heart is racing and all you can think about is finding that person."
The first generation of PASS alarms, which were introduced in the early 1980s, had a human problem: Annoyed when the device started beeping when they stood still on a break, many firefighters would just not turn them on.
So the National Fire Protection Association set a standard requiring that the device be armed automatically when a firefighter turns on the air supply. These so-called "integrated PASS devices" are built into the self-contained breathing apparatus. When the firefighter is motionless — usually for 30 seconds — they first sound a gentle beep, the pre-alarm signal, then ramp up to the full alarm. That's why, at a fire, bystanders will often see firefighters waggling their hips. They're not dancing. They're telling the PASS, "I'm still alive."
In exchange for that annoyance, firefighters rely on the devices to work when they need them. And they usually do. Manufacturers say that hundreds of firefighters have been saved by PASS devices.
Devices silent, or just too quiet
The stories of the 15 who were not saved are contained in reports by the CDC's Fire Fighter Fatality Investigation and Prevention Program. Each firefighter was wearing an automatic PASS alarm. In 12 of the 15 cases, nothing was heard; in three cases, the sound was muffled by the firefighter lying on the device and could be heard only when rescuers found the victim and rolled him over, according to the CDC's reports.
In November 2000 in Pensacola, Fla., firefighter Maurice Bartholomew got lost trying to leave a house fire. Firefighters searched for an hour before finding him in a kitchen at the back of the house. His PASS alarm wasn't heard or seen at all.
In March 2002 in Jefferson City, Tenn., volunteer firefighter Shane Murray was trapped in a house fire. He was found after 18 minutes just 5 feet from the door. His PASS device was beeping, but not loud enough to be heard while he was lying on it.
And in May 2002 in St. Louis, firefighter Rob Morrison's PASS alarm was not heard or seen for 20 minutes while he was injured inside a refrigeration company fire. Firefighter Derek Martin went looking for Morrison at the wrong end of the building and got lost. Both men died.
"I just can't believe that this was happening a number of times and no one was told about it," said Morrison’s widow, Laura. "I mean, Rob didn't know. None of the firemen knew."
Eric R. Schmidt didn't know for sure that PASS devices were malfunctioning, but he suspected that there was a recurring problem with the alarms.
Engineer's warning ignored
Schmidt went to work for the CDC in 1999 as the first fire protection engineer in the firefighter fatality program in Morgantown, W.Va. In 1998, Congress gave the CDC the responsibility for investigating firefighter deaths and searching for lessons that could prevent additional fatalities. The CDC's National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, or NIOSH, was given responsibility for the program.
Documents provided by the CDC show that Schmidt was investigating a December 1999 fire in Keokuk, Iowa, where three firefighters died along with the three children they had been trying to save. The firefighters had been wearing two PASS devices apiece — one that is armed only if a firefighter turns it on, and the integrated alarm that is switched on automatically. Schmidt thought it was strange that none of the dozen other firefighters on the scene recalled hearing the alarms, so he wanted to collect the tape recordings from the dispatch center to see if the sounds could be heard there.
“I’m saying, the math here is astonishing," Schmidt told MSNBC.com, describing his conversation with his supervisors at the CDC. "The chance of having a dozen deaf firefighters is astronomical."
Schmidt also knew that in New York City in 1998, no one had heard the PASS alarms of two firefighters who died in a high-rise apartment fire. A third firefighter died in the same fire, but his PASS sounded. That information was in the CDC unit's investigative report on that fire, issued in August 1999.
"I can’t tell you I understood what the failure pattern was,” Schmidt said. “All I could tell you is, something is not adding up. This needs more attention. Let’s go back and listen to the tapes. They said, ‘We don’t want to listen to the tapes.’”
On that Valentine's Day morning in 2000, the head of the firefighter program, Dawn Castillo, gave Schmidt a memo labeled "performance guidelines."
First, she reminded Schmidt that he was still on probation as a new employee, and would need to improve his performance to keep his job.
Then she urged him to stop wasting his time asking for evidence such as dispatch tapes.
She criticized his "persistence in gathering complete autopsy reports"; just getting the cause of death by phone was sufficient, she said.
And she told Schmidt he didn't need to gather details such as the measurements of a fire hose that had burned through, or information on firefighters' protective jackets, which he thought had been recalled by the manufacturer.
‘Minimize your fact gathering’ Castillo offered four reasons for Schmidt to scale back his investigations:
"The collection of detailed information not of likely use in an investigation is an inefficient use of your time."
It's "a burden on those who help us in gathering the facts of the case."
It's "a potential liability to the program if those who spend their time helping us to understand the case are upset by the absence of information that they helped provide in the summary report."gu
Any information that is gathered could be requested from the CDC by others. The agency does not identify individuals in its reports.
"You need to minimize your fact gathering during investigations," Castillo wrote, "to those pieces of information which are needed to summarize the chain of events or that have direct implications for prevention recommendations."
The memo was hand-delivered just as fire departments around the country were lowering their flags to half staff.
Earlier that morning, in southwest Houston, 30-year-old Kim Smith had been about to end her 24-hour shift. She planned to spend the rest of Valentine's Day with her fiancé.
But at 4:33, a fire alarm awakened the crew in Fire Station 76: There was a fire at a McDonald's.
She was one of the first firefighters to rush into the restaurant. Attached to her air supply was a PASS device made by Scott Health & Safety, the U.S. market leader in self-contained breathing apparatus.
She and firefighter Lewis Mayo, 44, took a hose line into the kitchen for a "fast attack" on the fire. She'd done this many times, and had won regional competitions for her firefighting skills and endurance.
Inside the McDonald's, the heat became intense and 30-foot flames were shooting out of the roof. At 4:52 a.m., the chief ordered everyone to evacuate, but Smith and Mayo didn't emerge from the inferno. They had been buried by a ceiling collapse.
A PASS device was heard. It was Mayo's, and he was found alive, though he later died at the hospital.
But Smith's PASS was never heard, the CDC found. It took two hours to find her body in the debris, just 6 feet from the door. Police discovered later that burglars had set the fire.
Fired for ‘marginal’ performance
Four months after the double-fatality fire in Houston, Schmidt was fired by Castillo in June 2000 for "marginal" performance. Castillo wrote in his termination letter that he was not a good team player, was inefficient, and spent time gathering information "of questionable utility and necessity." She cited especially the delay waiting for the dispatch tapes in the Iowa fire. The program didn't replace him, and hasn't had a fire engineer since, she told MSNBC.com.
But Schmidt didn't drop the equipment issues. He wasn’t just an engineer, but also a former fire captain in Prince George's County, Md., with 20 years of experience in the fire service. On Oct. 2, 2000, he wrote to Dr. Linda Rosenstock, the director of the CDC's NIOSH agency.
Schmidt asked Rosenstock to look into the issues of firefighter equipment so more firefighters wouldn't die. He highlighted three instances where he was told not to investigate: the fire hose that failed; the firefighter coats that may have been recalled; and the PASS devices, which he called "another issue that warrants further investigation."
"This is but only one example," he wrote of Castillo's performance guidelines, "where the managers of this program in Morgantown repeatedly instruct staff to omit critical facts because of ‘potential liability to the program.’ These managers have shown little, if any regard, for the fact that fire fighters will continue to actually suffer injuries and death in part because NIOSH fails to document critical aspects of these incidents."
Rosenstock is no longer at the CDC. She was in her last month in government when Schmidt's letter arrived. Now the dean of the UCLA School of Public Health, she declined to be interviewed by MSNBC.com, but sent word through a spokeswoman that she doesn't remember Schmidt’s letter.
Castillo told MSNBC.com that the CDC took no action in response to the letter, because Schmidt didn't provide any new information beyond what they had already discussed.
"Although PASS devices were one issue that he addressed in his letter, in passing, that letter did not provide any additional documentation to substantiate his concerns," Castillo said.
She said no additional documentation was requested.
"No, no one acted upon it," she said, "because there was nothing substantive to act upon."
Manager: No valid areas of inquiry blocked Castillo said she had not blocked any valid areas of inquiry, but didn't want Schmidt to get sidetracked by nonessential issues. To be able to investigate deaths with limited funds, she said, investigators had to limit themselves to the factors that led to deaths, not to follow trails on other safety issues of uncertain value.
In the Iowa fire, she said, the firefighters wouldn't have survived the extreme heat of a flashover, or sudden ignition of a room — even if their fire hose had held, or their coats had not been recalled, or the PASS alarms had been heard.
"We reported that the PASS did not appear to be heard," Castillo said. "Did we follow up and do additional testing? We did not. Do we have the resources to go down every single path? We do not. Do we generally tell people not to follow up on promising leads? Absolutely not."
Citing a computer simulation of the Iowa fire, Castillo said the temperatures reached 1,100 degrees F, which she said was not survivable and in which no PASS device could be expected to operate. The national standard for PASS devices, however, has since 1998 included a flashover simulation: 1,500 to 2,100 degrees for 10 seconds.
After Schmidt was fired, the CDC released its investigative report on the Iowa fire in April 2001. One of its recommendations is curious: Instead of recommending that PASS alarms be tested, it stated that firefighters should use PASS alarms. But as another section of the report makes clear, all three firefighters were wearing their automatic alarms, and they were not heard.
Schmidt said he thinks one cause of his disagreements with Castillo was a difference in perspective. He is an engineer and a firefighter. She's an epidemiologist and specialist in child labor, who won her agency's top award in 2004. He said she just didn't respect the value of personal protective equipment, because child workers aren't allowed in jobs where such gear is used. But firefighters can't control their work environment -- they go where they're called. That's why they rely on helmets, hoods, gloves, boots, bunker pants, coats and face masks.
"She would say, 'The room flashed over. How could anybody have survived?'” he said. “I said, 'Well, firefighters have survived flashover. You're going to be in the burn ward for a period of time, but firefighters have survived flashover.'"
Other opportunities missed
As the years passed, the CDC missed other chances to look into PASS alarms.
In May 2001 in Passaic, N.J., firefighter Alberto Tirado was hunting for children in a fire. Rescuers entered the building three times trying to find him, and only when they turned him over could they hear a faint PASS alarm.
Back at the CDC lab, Tirado’s PASS device wouldn't sound its alarm, but the technician who ran the test didn’t pursue the matter, because the agency does not certify the alarms.
Nor did he send it to the Safety Equipment Institute, which does certify that the devices meet the standards set by the fire prevention association.
"The PASS device did not function," the technician wrote in the final report. "I made no attempt to determine why the device failed to activate. Because NIOSH does not test or certify PASS devices, no further testing or evaluations were conducted on the PASS unit."
One reason the CDC didn't focus on PASS alarms, Castillo told MSNBC.com, is that its mission is to focus on the factors that get firefighters into trouble — more than the factors that might help get them out of trouble. She called the PASS devices "tertiary," or of third rank or importance.
"When we are doing our investigation, we are focusing on those things that we feel — that we find, through our investigation process, have the greatest role in resulting in that firefighter's death," Castillo said. "The PASS device is a last resort."
Schmidt argues that it’s impossible to determine what's important without investigating. In agreeing to discuss his personnel file, he said, he doesn't want all the focus to be on PASS devices.
"My point for doing all this is, I want to make sure there’s a process in place to identify sentinel events, so investigators don’t have to fight tooth and nail to identify something, which may be a hunch.
"In 2000, when I wrote my letter, it was something that was odd, that I was trying to tell them. They said, ‘Don’t worry about that.’
"If you’re doing a scientific investigation," Schmidt said, "you have to write down these hunches, because if you get them two or three times, you’ve got a problem. ... Within 90 days of documenting a sentinel event, put something out to the fire service."
2003 death triggers a warning
It wasn’t until after a 2003 death, Castillo said, that the CDC concluded that PASS devices had a problem.
Even then the CDC took more than a year to issue a warning to the fire prevention association.
New York Daily News
Firefighter Thomas Brick of Ladder #36 of the Inwood section of Manhattan, who died in December 2003 while fighting a four-alarm fire. His PASS alarm appeared to have shorted out.
In the Inwood section of New York City on Dec. 16, 2003, firefighter Thomas Brick was lost in a fire in a mattress warehouse. It took 30 minutes to find him. When he was turned over, his PASS alarm emitted a very low sound of the sort associated with an electrical short.
Brick had been in the first class of recruits after the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Brick's death, Castillo told MSNBC.com, "was the first in which our investigators had direct evidence that typical exposure to heat at the scene of a fire might adversely affect a PASS device."
Although the CDC team made its visit to the fire scene on Jan. 26, 2004 — 41 days after Brick's death — the agency waited another 450 days — until April 20, 2005 — to ask the National Fire Protection Association to consider toughening the tests for PASS alarms.
In that period, two more firefighters died in fires where rescuers couldn't find them:
Baytown Fire Rescue
Firefighter Nito Guajardo died in 2004
in Baytown, Texas. His PASS alarm wasn't heard.
Firefighter Steve Fierro died in Carthage, Mo., on Feb.18, 2004. Unaware that Fierro was near the front of the building, the rescue team was searching at the rear. It took about 43 minutes to find him.
Firefighter Nito Guajardo died in Baytown, Texas, on Dec. 20, 2004. He was found after a 15-minute search, about 15 feet from the door.
"It was gut wrenching," said Schmidt, the former CDC engineer. "I mean it was very difficult to hear that additional firefighters were dying."
To try to figure out what was going wrong, the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Gaithersburg, Md., put two models of PASS alarms into its oven.
When heated first to room temperature, about 73 degrees F, both PASS devices beeped at about 86 decibels, roughly as loud as a Mack truck driving past at a distance of just 3 feet.
But when heated to 392 degrees, the PASS devices sounded at only 72 decibels, only as loud as a busy restaurant. (The decibel scale is logarithmic, so a drop of 14 decibels represents a substantial decrease in volume.)
"One of the tricky things is, the volume decreases, but when it cools down, it comes back," said Nelson Bryner, leader of the firefighting technology group that oversaw the tests.
"If a firefighter goes down, the noise generator may not have worked. But once the fire is out, now it's working. One is led to believe that the PASS worked the whole time."
The scientists won't reveal which companies made the two PASS devices that were tested, but in fire protection association committee meetings, manufacturers agreed that all the PASS devices now on the market use essentially the same technology to sense motion and sound the alarm.
But heat is only part of the problem.
The hair dryer treatment Under the national standard since 1998, PASS devices must be able to withstand immersion in water for two hours, and even work after a dunk for 5 minutes with the battery compartment left open.
Since 2000, however, Dallas firefighters have been using hair dryers to dry out the battery and electronics compartments of their PASS devices, according to the department's safety officer. The water causes the devices to beep constantly, and firefighters fear that it might cause them not to sound at all when needed, a Dallas fire chief said.
"I'm embarrassed to say that's how we were addressing the problem, but the hair dryers worked," said the safety officer for Dallas Fire-Rescue, Battalion Chief Ray Reed.
He said the city is pressing the issue with the manufacturer, Scott Health & Safety, which is a division of Tyco International Ltd.
If he didn't serve on a national committee for the fire protection association, Reed said, he wouldn't have known that other departments were having similar issues.
A spokeswoman for Scott said the company is working closely with Dallas to resolve the problem, but wouldn't give any details.
A second manufacturer, Mine Safety Appliances, sent out a user advisory in November 2001 describing a problem that caused about 2 percent of its PASS devices to beep continuously. Some of those incidents were caused by water, the company said. The advisory attributed the problem to screws that have become loosened over time, and said it could be fixed by using different screws and adding waterproof glue.
Company remained mum on water leaks No such alert was sent out by a third manufacturer, Survivair Respirators, although executives have testified that from 5 percent to 20 percent of its PASS alarms suffered from water leaks.
That information emerged in response to a lawsuit filed by the families of St. Louis firefighters Rob Morrison and Derek Martin, who died in the refrigeration company fire in 2002.
Morrison’s PASS alarm was not heard, and he was found only when a searcher stepped on him.
Martin's PASS alarm did work, but he became lost while searching for Morrison. Both firefighters were alive when they were found, but died within a day.
In the two-week trial of the Morrison family’s lawsuit in September, attorneys for Survivair disputed the claim that his PASS failed. The company argued that there were three innocent possibilities: Morrison had been moving the entire time he was lost, or for some reason he might have reset his PASS — in effect turning off the alarm — or it could have sounded but not been heard.
None of the firefighters hunting for Morrison testified that they heard his PASS alarm during the 20 minutes he was lost.
Executives of Survivair of Santa Ana, Calif., a company founded by Jacques Cousteau that is a division of the French company Bacou-Dalloz, testified that the problem of "leakers" was identified in 1997 or 1998, before its PASS device moved from preproduction to its first sale. Changes to address the problem continued at least until 2003, or a year after the St. Louis fire.
Complaints poured in from dozens of fire departments, the executives testified. About 300 out of 1,500 PASS devices sold to the Los Angeles Fire Department were returned to the company, determined to be leaking and replaced, testified James Beckstead, the company’s Western regional sales manager.
There was conflicting testimony from Survivair on the effect of the water leaks. Senior executives said that the device was designed with a fail-safe feature that would cause it to sound constantly if water got inside, making firefighters aware of the malfunction. But two company engineers testified that sometimes the devices wouldn’t sound an alarm at all if water got into the electronics.
‘We don't deem it a safety issue’ "No sound, no lights ... nothing," testified Duane Decker, the former Survivair mechanical engineer in charge of fixing the leaks. "It was determined that if water got in, sometimes they would not work."
Decker described making a series of changes: the cover was redesigned, to reduce the number of places where water could enter; a sealant was added to the cover gasket during assembly; then designers tried only the sealant with no gasket; as well as extending the coating on the circuit board to provide more protection. The company also began dunking every PASS device in water, not just a sample of them as before. But it did not call back the ones in the field for a dunking.
The St. Louis Fire Department, which bought its Survivair PASS devices in 1999, received no warning of the problem.
From the testimony of James Beckstead, the Western regional sales manager:
Q. You've said there was no recall. You've also said that there was no calling the PASS devices in for testing that were out there in the field. Was there any kind of a warning sent, a warning letter or call made, to fire departments that had the devices that were not water tested — about, "Hey," along the lines, "we've found a leakage problem, and be on the lookout," or anything like that?
A. Not that I recall.
Q. Any particular reason why not?
A. The only reason we would not do that is we don't deem it a safety issue.
Q. This is a life-saving device, isn't it?
A. It's a component of a life-saving device.
Executive: ‘The word was out there’ Survivair's senior executive, Jack Bell, testified there was no need for a warning, because firefighters knew about the water problem: "The word was out there, whether we formally told everyone — rumors or some way."
The lawyers disagreed on whether the CDC tested Morrison's PASS device, and what that test showed. The company said that the CDC tested Morrison's PASS device more than 100 times, and it worked perfectly. The CDC report on Morrison’s and Martin's death says that both PASS devices worked in a simple test, but that they were not subjected to more rigorous tests to determine if they met the national standard — again, because the CDC does not certify that equipment. Even in the simple test, the lawyer for the Morrison family argued, the video shows 3 minutes when the device failed to alarm.
And when an independent lab dunked Morrison's PASS device in water during testing to determine if it met the national standard, and then opened it in front of lawyers and a video camera, water spilled out of the electronics compartment.
"There isn't strong enough language to condemn how they handled this," the lawyer for the Morrison family, Daniel Finney Jr., of St. Louis, told MSNBC.com. "They were selling their products as lifesaving devices when they knew they were fatally flawed. They were selling them as a firefighter's lifeline, and they knew they could very well fail him in that situation, and they didn't tell anyone. It would be like selling parachutes when you know that they don't open one out of five times, and not telling anyone."
The company's vice president and general manager, Jack Bell, sent a statement to MSNBC.com in response to Finney's statement: "Survivair completely and unequivocally denies his false, factually unsupported and reckless charges. The evidence supporting Survivair’s position in this litigation is compelling. … Survivair’s equipment was not at fault."
A secret 11th-hour settlement The jury never reached a conclusion. It was deliberating when Survivair and the Morrison family agreed to a settlement. The company admitted no fault and did not agree to make any changes or send out a warning, but it did pay an undisclosed amount to the Morrison family. A separate lawsuit by Derek Martin's family is headed to trial in April.
Meanwhile, St. Louis firefighters are still wearing the same model PASS device that Morrison wore.
Armed with the oven tests, and with testimony from the widows of Martin and Morrison, the National Fire Protection Association approved a tougher standard for PASS alarms in December. The standard, which is scheduled to be published on the association’s Web site on Friday, requires a series of tests showing the PASS alarm can withstand being heated, dunked in water, and tumbled in a dryer, according to a summary provided by the association.
The maximum temperatures the devices are required to withstand in the new test are no higher than in the old test: 500 degrees Fahrenheit for five minutes, then 1,500 to 2,100 degrees for 10 seconds in the flashover test. But it does require that the PASS device produce a sound after some of the torture tests; the old standard just required it not to melt or catch on fire.
The new standard also adds a "muffle test." The alarm will have to be more powerful so it can be heard if a firefighter falls on it.
Some manufacturers told the association that the new heat standard can't be met.
But the largest manufacturer of PASS alarms, Scott, says it will have a device to meet the new standard by this summer, when old inventory can no longer be sold.
Who will pay for replacements?
As for the more than one million U.S. firefighters with the old devices, their fire departments may have to pay for new ones, which cost about $200 apiece. It's not clear that any agency has authority to order a recall of the old ones:
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission says it doesn't have a role, because a firefighter's equipment isn't considered a consumer product.
The National Fire Protection Association says that its standards are voluntary, that responsibility to enforce those standards rests with the Safety Equipment Institute, or SEI, another nonprofit, which certifies devices as meeting the standard.
And SEI says that only the manufacturers can decide whether or not to recall the old devices.
"From what I understand, the manufacturer is the only one who can pull the trigger on a recall," said Stephen R. Sanders, the institute’s technical director. "We can influence whether or not a manufacturer does a recall. But they might look at us and say, ‘You're crazy.’"
The institute raised concerns several times about Survivair PASS alarms failing its random tests, but accepted the company's assurances that it was an isolated problem, or had been fixed, documents introduced in the Morrison trial show.
For Rob Morrison's widow, who comes from a firefighting family in St. Louis, the lack of accountability is baffling.
"I just couldn't figure that out," Laura Morrison said, "when firemen are giving their lives everyday to help the community and save people — and companies knew about this and never told anybody what the problem was, and let them, still today, go into a burning building not knowing if their PASS device is going to work or not."
FIREFIGHTERS FACE NEW HAZARD
KDSK - December 6, 2006 - Firefighters put their lives on the line day in and day out, but now there's a new hazard that's putting them even more at risk.
It's a type of floor construction that burns and falls apart faster than traditional floors, and it's found in more than half of all new homes. The structural components often burn through so quickly, firefighters can't get out in time and end up falling right through the floor.
That is exactly what happened during a house fire on March 30 in St. Charles. A woman was trapped and there was a problem.
Firefighter Chris Blackwell says just a few feet inside the doorway, the floor was actually gone.
A small section burned, and the rest began to cave. Firefighters carrying the victim actually tumbled eight feet to the basement below. Fortunately other crews were waiting.
"They noticed us coming down and more or less broke our fall -- one of my crew member's fall and our victim's fall, and they removed her through a basement window," says Blackwell.
Firefighters falling through floors in happening in newly constructed homes across the country. The problem, they say, is the manufactured floor support, which thanks to technology, is much different than it used to be.
"Our experience is the manufactured flooring systems do prematurely fail even after they've experienced a small volume or small duration of fire," says Blackwell.
This is becoming a fact of life for firefighters. They say this type of flooring construction is becoming more and more common. In fact it's now found in more than half of all new home construction.
They are constructed using engineered or pre-made components, and often held together with metal plates or adhesive.
One of these floors supported by a wood truss system belongs to Fire Battalion Chief Harry Fry.
"They're easy to put up, they're lighter, they're strong, but they don't hold up in direct flame," says Fry.
In response to growing concerns, there have been studies done about these floors. One study conducted by the Engineered Wood Association fire-tested pre-made supports called I-joists and compared them to traditional timber supports.
They burned in half the time. Part of the problem with the joists and trusses appears to be that they have more exposed surface area and less wood to burn.
"Once this type of construction is involved in direct flame contact, it's five minutes or less and we could have a serious collapse," says St. Charles Captain Dan Casey.
The National Wood Flooring Association based in Chesterfield says it's important for homeowners to know how their floors are supported.
"Your trusses, they let them go wider and longer spans without support and then you add a little bit thinner sub floor and thinner floor and someone's going to go through it quicker I would assume," says instructor Steve Seabaugh.
Still the materials are extremely popular. Builders say they're stable, lightweight and environmentally friendly.
"They're a better performing product, more durable product as far as building a home," says home builder Matt Belcher.
Belcher is also a former building inspector. He says he understands the firefighters concerns. He hopes local government will try harder to regulate their safety.
"The technology is growing so fast with these better built and more advanced products, the building codes are actually struggling to keep up a little bit," says Belcher.
For now firefighters are taking safety into their own hands.
"We have to adapt to what's around us," says Casey.
That means keeping rescue teams at the ready and using infrared cameras to look under the floors in new homes.
"That's why we go in with these thermal imagers. If we see that there's some flame involved in the truss construction, we know we've got to get out or get done what we're doing and evacuate," says Casey.
The victim in the St. Charles fire did not survive. Firefighters can't help but wonder if the outcome would have been different if the floor held up.
Is there a way to make your floor safer? One study found putting a layer of gypsum wallboard underneath the joists seemed to help. That floor held up for nearly 33 minutes in a controlled fire.
But each fire is different and unpredictable. Firefighters say the best thing you can do is have smoke detectors and an exit strategy.
Centers For Disease Control
& Prevention Offer Tips on Preventing Heat Related Illness
The Centers For Disease Control and Prevention
web site has tips on preventing heat related illness.
We have included important information about heat
stress, including preventative measures fire fighters can take to avoid heat
injuries and keep hydrated.
Heat stress is an increase in human body temperature
and metabolism caused by physical exertion and/or a heated environment which
can lead to exhaustion, mental confusion, disorientation, dehydration, loss
of consciousness, heart attack, stroke and other fatal illnesses. Performing
strenuous tasks in the heated environment of a fire scene or in warm or humid
weather can also increase the risks of heat stress.
Professional Firefighters Association of
AND SAFETY ALERT
PLEASE FIND A COMMUNICATION
JUST RECEIVED TODAY FROM THE NJ DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND SENIOR SERVICES
PEOSH DIVISION, OUTLINING CRITICAL FIREFIGHTER HEALTH AND SAFETY ISSUES
RELATING TO THE USE OF CERTAIN "LAST CHANCE" PERSONAL ROPE BAIL
- OUT SYSTEMS." PLEASE BE ADVISED OF THIS INFORMATION PASSING IT
ALONG TO YOUR EMPLOYERS CONSIDERING SUCH PURCHASES. ANYONE RECEIVING THIS
MESSAGE PLEASE SEE THE ATTACHMENT FOR DOWNLOAD PURPOSES. SPECIFICALLY
THEY ARE LOOKING AT THOSE AFTER-MARKET SYSTEMS ATTACHING TO THE SCBA THAT
MAY EFFECT STANDARD, CERTIFICATION AND WARRANTY CRITERIA.
See the attached
file containing a letter from Heinz Ahlers, Acting Chief,
Technology Evaluation Branch, NPPTL.
Also, 29 CFR 1910.134(d)(2)(i)
states "The employer shall provide the
following respirators for employee use in an immediately dangerous to
or health (IDLH) atmospheres:" 29 CFR 1910.134(d)(2)(i)(A) states
"A full facepiece pressure demand SCBA certified by NIOSH for a minimum
service life of thirty five minutes". If an employer provides
a NIOSH approved SCBA with a last chance bail out system added to the
SCBA after it received approval from NIOSH, then the SCBAs NIOSH
approval would be void and the employer would be in violation of 29 CFR