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August 4, 2004
How many is too many?
By Jared B. Goff

Politicians look at daily incidents and try to mitigate them through an analytical approach or by using subject experts.  At what point, though, do lives or the saving of lives come into play.  This article will discuss fire deaths relating to non-sprinklered buildings.

We hear this phrase almost everyday, “someone better put a light up or someone is going to get killed” or “that guy is crazy, he’s going to kill someone someday”.  We hear it in the workplace, in our community or anywhere for that matter.  But what actually gets done?  Usually the politicians, managers or figure head’s take one of two actions.  They either “put the light up” or they wait until someone is killed. 

Let’s look at buildings being built within the last 10 years and relate it to the “light” incident.  Any building that is built without a fire protection sprinkler system has one major problem, human error.  This form of error occurs because we are human and imperfect.  How do we fix this?  Sprinklers!

In Fairfax County, Virginia, we recently fought a three alarm blaze that took the life of three young females.  They were on the third floor of a multi-unit garden apartment and were trapped by a stairwell full of fire and smoke.  Firefighters tried desperately to save them and extinguish the fire in time but it was too late.  In total, 25 units received fire, smoke or water damage from the hose lines and master streams.

Who is too blame for these fatalities?  Right now the fire department is being looked at for its tactics and response times.  But where does the builder hold the responsibility key?  Looking from the outside in, they control the high-rises, garden apartments, houses and any commercial buildings.  They are the ones who make the “code” for building and construction companies.  Their buildings are falling around the firefighters while trying to make rescues or extinguish these weak and unprotected buildings.  Where does it end?

This can be averted with a positive and proactive approach to public fire protection.  Whether it’s through your local fire marshals office or the building department these codes must be overhauled.  That in itself could be another article.

In contrast, let’s look at another fire that I was recently on in Prince William County, Virginia.  This fire was a 4 story, 100 unit senior living apartment complex built by NFPA 13R construction.  Firefighters found heavy fire from the roof and upper floors.  The firefighters entered into an aggressive offensive attack and rescued/assisted nearly 100 senior citizens from their rooms.  The fire was contained to the upper floors and roof assembly because of sprinklers.  Although the roof assembly collapsed, seriously injuring one firefighter, the task in itself was considered a success. 

For those departments who have non-sprinklered multi-occupancy buildings in your district, seek them out and preplan them with your shift.  The only way to save lives (ours and theirs) is to realize the situation, determine the occupancy and construction, and put lines into service.  Your already at a disadvantage if you fail to preplan, your even at a greater disadvantage if the fire is there ready to play.

Now ask yourself, how many is too many? 

Jared B. Goff, a firefighter since 1992, serves currently as a career firefighter with a large Fire & Rescue Department in Northern Virginia.   Mr. Goff is a 2003 graduate from the Northern Virginia Community College with an AA in Fire Science Administration and he is currently working on his Bachelors at the University of Maryland. 
 
In addition to his career job he also serves as a Chief Officer with the Dale City Volunteer Fire Department located just south of Fairfax County.  Jared has been with his volunteer department for just over 10 years where he has served in capacities that include recruitment, special operations manager and the Training Division.  Mr. Goff is a current member of the RIT committee which establishes policy, budget and training efforts. 
Jared has taught locally over the years on topics such as incident command, strategy and tactics, engine and truck operations, technical rescue, communications, rapid intervention and firefighter survival, health and safety, and lower end management techniques.  He spends a lot of time reading and learning from firefighter fatalities and developing new techniques. 
 

 

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