Are Emergency Responders Safer?
A decade after a watershed moment for firefighter safety, NFPA’s Third Needs Assessment of the U.S. Fire Service report identifies areas of ongoing concern
Released this year, NFPA’s Third Needs Assessment of the U.S. Fire Service report is the third evaluation of emergency responder needs since 9/11. While improvements have been made over the years — specifically, technology used by firefighters and personal protective equipment — certain gaps still exist, due in part to monetary shortfalls.
Since 9/11, programs such as the Assistance for Firefighter Grants and Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response Grants have provided extensive funds annually for community preparedness — particularly for fire department staffing, equipment, vehicles, and training. "In order to sustain the progress we have made, there needs to be a continued level of public and federal support for funding for public emergency services in this country," says Robert Vondrasek, NFPA’s vice-president of Technical Projects. "This is very difficult to do at a time when local communities are seeing declining revenues, and prospects for continued levels of federal support are waning. How will local communities be able to maintain preparedness levels with reduced federal support?"
Most fire departments surveyed for the needs assessment study have some significant need for resources to provide effective service safely, such as the ability to equip all emergency responders on a shift with portable radios or self-contained breathing apparatus, engines and pumpers less than 15 years old, or formal training of all involved personnel in structural firefighting or EMS.
The New York City Fire Department can attest to the importance of training — its response to a car bomb in Times Square last year was a direct result of post-9/11 training procedures. "I saw white smoke rolling through the passenger area, which I thought was odd," says John Kazan, a 16-year veteran with FDNY and lieutenant of Ladder 4 in Times Square. "Then I saw that the car was parked haphazardly, had out-of-state license plates, and looked like it was running. I had a bad feeling in my gut."
Others informed Kazan of popping sounds and sparks emanating from the vehicle. Collaborating with the New York Police Department (NYPD), Kazan was able to quickly learn that the car was unregistered. "When we got that information, we decided not to go near it," he says.
Radiation detectors indicated normal heat readings in the engine, drive train, and brake motors — indications that Kazan and his team weren’t dealing with a standard car fire. NYPD and FDNY immediately evacuated the surrounding area. Using specialized equipment, NYPD’s Bomb Squad discovered an improvised incendiary device that could have injured or killed scores of people, Kazan says. Faisal Shahzad, the man linked to the car bomb, was arrested two days later.
Since 9/11, FDNY has conducted various training exercises for its team. Kazan has attended bus bomb drills, informing firefighters on how to assess a scene, respond to victims, and search for secondary devices or hazards. "The department does an excellent job at keeping the drills up to date," he says. "For instance, they would inform us of how chlorine gas is being used with car bombs in Iraq." Recently, FDNY has begun conducting subway drills and sends a newsletter to its staff outlining worldwide incidents while assessing the situation and response tactics.
Had Kazan not had the training, his response to the incident in Times Square would have been different. "I’ve been to many car fires in my time, but it’s a different game out there today," he says. "I would have thought it was a car fire and put it out. Since we didn’t use water, all of the criminal evidence was preserved."
— Fred Durso, Jr.
In this Section:
|A Decade of Difference
A look at how 9/11 shaped the development of some of NFPA’s most important codes and standards - and how that process continues.
|Are Emergency Responders Safer?
A decade after a watershed moment for firefighter safety, NFPA’s Third Needs Assessment of the U.S. Fire Service report identifies areas of ongoing concern.
|On the Scene
An NFPA investigator recalls his work at Ground Zero.