Author(s): Ken Willette. Published on January 4, 2016.

Concerns Heard

A mother's loss drives the discussion over possible
improvements to fire hoses.
BY KEN WILLETTE

"DID ANYBODY HEAR ME?”

Those were the words spoken by Kathy Crosby Bell at a meeting last April of NFPA’s Technical Committee on Fire Hose. Kathy had just shared the experience of losing her son, Boston firefighter Michael Kennedy, who died fighting an apartment fire on March 26, 2014, in Boston. Early investigations found that the fire hose that Kennedy and his partner, Lt. Ed Walsh, had brought into the basement to attack the fire had failed to the point where it would not allow water being pumped from the attack engine to reach the nozzle. Despite their repeated radio transmissions to charge the line and get them water, it appears it never arrived. Both Kennedy and Walsh died.

Kathy was determined that the technical committee hear their story, as well as her concern that the current edition of NFPA 1961, Fire Hose, had failed to provide requirements for an attack hose suitable for the environment encountered by her son and Lt. Walsh. Following her comments, committee members briefly discussed the matter among themselves, in keeping with technical committee practice, which prompted Kathy’s question. While the committee’s answer may not have been clear during the meeting, it is in fact a resounding “yes”—Kathy’s passion, loss, and concern were absolutely heard by NFPA and the NFPA 1961 Technical Committee.

I can also assure Kathy that we are responding to her concerns. NFPA published its first fire hose document in 1898, and since then the standard has undergone dozens of revision cycles and provided direction on new types of fire hose. In 2002, requirements were added to test for abrasion and heat resistance, along with degradation from repeated bending. Along with NFPA 1962, Care, Use, Inspection, Service Testing, and Replacement of Fire Hose, Couplings, Nozzles, and Fire Hose Appliances, the technical committee has worked for years to provide the best fire hose and maintenance regimens possible. Despite those efforts, a section of fire hose failed, and two firefighters died. The question before the technical committee is clear: Can fire attack hose be improved?

Following the April meeting, the committee chair established several task groups to address questions Kathy posed. Task groups were assigned to look at attack fire hose standards in other countries; at ongoing research by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) and Worcester Polytechnic Institute; at other testing criteria that might better address the environment firefighters operate in; and at the operating environment in which fire hose is expected to perform, and how it relates to firefighting efforts and the levels of protection afforded by personal protective equipment.

NFPA staff recently guided Kathy through the creation of a Public Input to NFPA 1962, currently in revision, to ensure her concerns would be considered by the technical committee. At its First Draft meeting in October, Kathy appeared before the committee a second time. Before the meeting, she said NFPA wouldn’t like what she had to say—she believed firefighters deserve a better fire hose than what NFPA standards provide them.

Kathy, we pledge to connect your voice to the committee and ensure it is heard and given thoughtful consideration. We will assist you with with every available step of our standards revision process. We hear you, and we will continue to listen.

​KEN WILLETTE is division manager for Public Fire Protection at NFPA. Top Photograph: Shutterstock.