|Four Days In December
Chief Billy Goldfeder
Wednesday, 12-22-04- was the anniversary
of the Line of Duty Deaths of three firefighters in Keokuk, Iowa.
December of 1999 was a tragic time for
the nation's firefighters as we also know that we also lost six Brothers
in Worcester, Mass. Worcester firefighters Paul A. Brotherton, Jeremiah
M. Lucey, Timothy P. Jackson, Joseph T. McGuirk and fire lieutenants Thomas
E. Spencer and James F. Lyons III were killed on December 3, 1999.
In Keokuk, Assistant Fire Chief Dave McNally,
48, Firefighter Jason Bitting, 29, and Firefighter Nate Tuck, 39 were killed
while attempting the rescue of three trapped kids-who also perished. The
three firefighters left eight kids of their own behind.
The firefighters died when a flashover
occurred while the three were doing their search. The fire started in the
kitchen of an old wooden two-story b/f home that had been converted into
apartments. Staffing is a major issue in Keokuk, and that morning, four
of the five on-duty firefighters arrived on scene and upon hearing the
mother screaming that her children were trapped inside, they immediately
went in after them. When "Mom" screams that her kids are inside-we go in.
The three were inside, the assistant chief
and two pump operators. A Lt. who was on the hydrant-couldn't see the building,
and one firefighter was on side "A", starting to pack up to back the interior
members up. The Chief made the terribly difficult decision to leave the
scene for three minutes to personally transport a non-breathing rescued
child because there were no other resources available. None. The hospital
was a minute away. When he returned, the flashover had occurred with only
the Lt. and the one firefighter outside.
There are several reports out on the fire
from both NIOSH and the NFPA. You can view the reports by searching the
www for numerous articles related to the fire. There was also a two-part
story on this fire in Firehouse Magazine, Close Calls column, last summer
that you can also refer to.
Time has passed since that fire. Chief
Mark Wessell and the members of the KFD have moved forward with some significant
changes since then. Staffing remains the same as back then. As a matter
of fact, they almost had their budget cut this past year but made it through
with full support from the elected officials. And the KFD catches quite
a bit of work-fires that happen in Keokuk pretty regularly. What they did
do though, is take the lessons learned from the tragic fire and the loss
of their men, and applied that loss to changing the way they operate. The
reports and stories explain all the details.
Probably though, one of the best quotes
I have ever heard came from Chief Wessell. Mark is a good man who has shown
true leadership in taking the KFD forward, I don't know anyone who doesn't
agree with that. Since that fire, Mark and I have become pretty close and
I am continually in awe over how he has made it clear that his fire department
will change, and has. Mark makes it clear that as horrible as this was,
he will do whatever must to make sure it never happens again. To all of
us, he made a statement that sums it up....
"Always remember that we as firefighters
are there to help people with a problem, while also doing ALL that we can
to never become PART of that problem"
It's some good old common Iowa sense that
all of us can use and follow in training, responding, operating and coming
December remains a heartbreaking month.
In 1998, on December 18, 3 FDNY firefighters from Ladder 170 in Canarsie,
Brooklyn, Lt. Joseph Cavalieri, FF Chris Bopp and FF Jimmy Bohan died on
the 10th floor of a "fireproof" multiple dwelling on Vandalia Ave. whose
sprinklers had been shut down prior to the fire. They were doing their
jobs when something suddenly went wrong. The window let go in the fire
room and the wind caused blow torch like flames to engulf the fire floor
raising temperatures in the hallway to about 2000 degrees and burn marks
to the floor. All three died as their internal body temperatures raised
and knocked them unconcious. All of them wore their PPE and full SCBA with
facepieces on and were doing what we are expected to do, everyday.
As Christmas approaches, it's hard for
any firefighter to celebrate the season without also remembering the Worcester
Six, the Keokuk Three and now, most recently Baytown, Texas Firefighter
Nito Guajardo. He was killed in a single family dwelling fire last Monday,
December 20. He will be buried Christmas Eve.
We wish all of you a happy and safe holiday
season with a sincere wish that many more of us "return to quarters" safely,
while not becoming a "problematic part" of any incident.