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Firefighter Life Safety Initiatives: 10 Years Later

It’s hard to believe but it has been 10 years since fire officials from across the nation descended upon Tampa, Florida, for a summit to discuss prevention of firefighter line-of-duty deaths (LODD) and injuries. The result of the summit was the 16 Firefighter Life Safety Initiatives, which has had a positive effect on the way that fires are fought today and the culture of the fire service, thereby decreasing the number of LODD over the last decade.

To mark the tenth anniversary of the summit, 350 delegates from the fire service met from March 10-12 for TAMPA2: Building for the Future, hosted by the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation.

The TAMPA2 website says the purpose of the event is to “reaffirm our commitment to the Firefighter Life Safety Initiatives, to identify future directions of LODD prevention efforts and to help nurture the development of a new generation of fire service leaders.” Breakout sessions among the delegates analyzed the impact of the Firefighter Life Safety Initiatives and determine how efforts need to be refocused going forward.

While the original Firefighter Life Safety Initiatives from 2004 have resulted in many successes, there is still much more to be done nationally and specifically here in Wisconsin. In fact, according to United States Fire Administration statistics, in the 10 years since the April 2004 summit there were 18 fire officials that died while on duty in Wisconsin — only a decrease of two from the previous 10 years.

Dan Gengler, regional manager for the Wisconsin Chapter of the National Fire Sprinkler Association, says that Firefighter Life Safety Initiative #15 is of particular interest: “Advocacy must be strengthened for the enforcement of codes and the installation of home fire sprinklers.”

The states of California and Maryland have each adopted statewide legislation to require fire sprinkler protection in newly built homes and many local jurisdictions across the United States have done the same. But Gengler says that not much has been done in Wisconsin, noting that the state has fallen behind other areas of the country in terms of home fire sprinkler protection.

“Our neighbor Illinois is nearing 100 communities that require fire sprinklers in new construction homes. Meanwhile, Minnesota is making advances toward statewide legislation that would require fire sprinklers in homes over 4,500 square feet,” says Gengler.

Gengler explains a fire without fire sprinklers when he was deputy chief of the Milwaukee Fire Department: “On Christmas Eve 1994, I was coming on duty to command the shift of 284 personnel when I was told that a firefighter had fallen through the second floor of a building and landed in the basement. He was termed ‘gravely injured’ when instead of going to relieve the Incident Commander, I went to pick up the firefighter’s wife and take her to the hospital where he was transported. When we arrived, we were taken to his body as he had died.  I knew him well and this was traumatic for the entire department, city and family. The sad thing was that if the building had fire sprinkler protection, he would not have even responded to what had become a multiple-alarm fire as the fire sprinkler system would have isolated the fire to a small area of the building. The building later had to be raised as it was a total loss.”

“It’s now time that our Wisconsin state officials take note of the nationally recognized Firefighter Life Safety Initiatives and look at how many of our firefighters and residents are being injured or dying in preventable fires,” adds Gengler. “They must see the urgency of the fire problem and adopt the latest national model building codes, which all require fire sprinkler protection in new homes.”

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