Firefighters responding to an emergency call by 55-year-old Lauren Brown complaining of chest pains in Suwanee, Georgia found themselves taken hostage at gunpoint as part of a three and a half hour standoff that ended in violence on Wednesday. He then proceeded to demand that the phone, cable, and Internet service to his home be turned back on, as they had been turned off due to nonpayment. He also demanded that police board him up in the house and fetch him a meal from a fast food restaurant. Police eventually became convinced that Brown had no intention of releasing the hostages and stormed the home. Police report that Brown opened fire as they entered, wounding one officer, but that they returned fire, killing Brown. It is still unclear as to why Brown decided to take hostages in the first place, although his substantial debts and the foreclosure of his home and termination of services seems to be the most likely motive.
The National Fire Protection Association recommends that each piece of firefighting equipment sent to a fire be manned by a four man team, and that each town has a system in place to get fifteen firefighters to a fire scene in less than twelve minutes. Unfortunately, politically motivated budget slashing and austerity measures such as forcing volunteer firefighters to pay for their own equipment and fuel for fire trucks has had a major impact across the country, and even here in New Jersey.
ON May 5th, 2011, a six-alarm fire broke out that completely gutted Ferraro’s, a landmark Italian restaurant in Westfield, NJ. The Westfield, NJ fire department’s main firehouse is located just one hundred yards away from Ferraro’s, but its ladder truck, capable of pumping 1,100 gallons of water per minute, was not usable due to understaffing. The first ladder truck on the scene came from neighboring Cranford, NJ, and took a full twelve minutes to arrive.
Earlier this year, a house fire broke out in Westfield when only six firefighters were on duty; worse, three of them had gone to provide support to Springfield’s fire department. The three firefighters available could only fight the fire from outside because of New Jersey’s “two in, two out” rule, which states that two firefighters must remain outside for every two who enter a burning building, excepting to save a life. Without being able to enter the building and attack the blaze directly, extinguishing a fire can take significantly longer.
On May 23rd, the Westfield Fire Department was forced to wait fifteen minutes for firefighters from Plainfield, NJ to arrive before providing assistance to Ellen DiIorio and her husband, who had to be rescued by neighbors from a fire that destroyed her home. An emotional DiIorio later spoke before the Westfield Town Council, asking them to restore the town’s firefighting team to full strength. “I’m here to plead with you that we could have enough firefighters in Westfield to avoid a possible loss of human life,” she said. “I love the town of Westfield, and I loved my home, and I can never go home again.”
Vice Chairman of the Westfield Public Safety Committee Councilman Keith Loughlin (R), however, sees no problem. “I don’t consider us to have a manpower shortage,” he said. “We are adequately staffed.” Westfield Mayor Andy Skibitsky (R) agreed, pointing out that the town receives plenty of help from its neighbors. According to Loughlin, it costs the city $100,000 per year to hire a new firefighter, including training. This, along with declining revenue from taxes and decreases in state aid, has resulted in a hiring freeze and a 25% cut in the number of public workforce jobs in every role from firefighters to crossing guards to police officers to town hall custodial workers.
Westfield is currently applying for a Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) federal grant that would allow the town to hire four more firefighters for at least two years. However, presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney has expressed his opinion that funding for firefighters, police officers, and teachers be cut in campaign speeches; it is unclear how, if elected, his presidency will affect the SAFER grant system, and the town of Westfield, NJ.
While the firefighters that work for public safety agencies are responsible for quenching many of the blazes that occurred on June 23rd in Colorado, the ten-man crew led by firefighter Eric Morris is one of a growing trend — private firefighting companies hired by insurance companies to protect homes with high-end insurance policies.
During the wildfire that destroyed over three hundred homes and caused the deaths of two people, Morris and his crew of nine helped to protect 35 homes within Colorado Springs. Morris and his crew worked for Chubb Personal Insurance, which provides fire protection coverage for homes typically valued between $400,000 and $3 million.
Insurance companies see the investment as highly advantageous, as paying thousands of dollars for federally rated and professionally equipped firefighters can save them millions of dollars in claims from homes that need to be replaced after a fire.
These private crews work closely with federal firefighting teams, reporting to incident commanders on the scene so that other firefighters can focus on other structures. In addition to providing direct support, they also focus on limiting the areas where fires can take hold around an insured structure.
Morris’ crew, employed by Wildland Defense Systems, deployed to the Colorado Springs area hours after the fire erupted, armed with three brush trucks capable of holding 450 gallons of water, a tanker truck capable of carrying 1,200 gallons. They focused on clearing flammable materials such as patio furniture, shrubs, and other ignitable materials away from insured homes, closed doors and windows, wet down houses and surrounding areas, and coated homes with a thin layer of fire-retardent gel mixed with water to provide additional protection from flying embers.
While all of the insured structures survived the blaze intact, neither Chubb Personal Insurance, Wildland Defense Systems, nor Morris would take credit, pointing out the efforts of over 1,500 firefighters in fighting the blaze and saving hundreds of homes from destruction.
This interests me both as a citizen and as a retailer, and I thought that it might interest you too: apparently, there’s a debate in Logansport, Indiana regarding administrative oversight of the stipend provided for officer uniforms and firefighter personal protective equipment. The current system pays a yearly stipend in compliance with IRS regulations on taxable fringe employee benefits; however, Indiana Code requires cities to provide active members of police and fire departments with the arms, equipment, clothing, and uniforms to adequately perform their duties, and to provide an annual allowance to servicemen to furnish and maintain said equipment after one year of service.
We at Anchortex Corporation always appreciate the opportunity to work both with the individual public safety officer and the department buyer to help them maintain their budget goals and keep themselves adequately protected. It has always struck me as peculiar that someone should be taxed for the uniforms and tools required and expected to do their job, though. Hopefully, Logansport’s fire and police departments are keeping their equipment well-maintained, regardless of what the city council decides.
(Information courtesy of the Pharos Tribune)