Posts Tagged National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health

Cancer in the fire service

Excerpts from

PFAS chemicals help protect firefighters by repelling water and oils off their gear. They’re also used to make fire-suppressing foams “extremely effective.”

Firefighters were found to be more likely to get diagnosed with cancer and more likely to die from it, according to research by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

Lawmakers and researchers believe the presence of PFAS class of chemicals in their gear is likely a key reason for this disparity. PFAS have also been linked to other health issues.

Several bills this session aim to help Indiana draw attention to this harmful class of chemicals’ impact on firefighters – but alternatives aren’t available.

“What we’re finding out is that same piece of equipment that we think is helping us is also hurting us to a certain degree,” South Bend Fire Chief Carl Buchanon said in an interview.

South Bend’s fire department lost several firefighters to cancer in recent years. In early January, Firefighter Mike Brown retired from the department after 20 years. Weeks later, he was diagnosed with stage 4 esophageal cancer and then died on Feb. 9.

“So that hit home more so than even some of our other previous firefighters that have succumbed to cancer,” Buchanan said. “We all understand what our risk is in this profession and we dedicate our lives faithfully and willingly.”

Firefighters should be able to expect not to have the dangers of work follow them into retirement.

READ MORE: Bill would require labels for firefighting gear with PFAS, even though none are PFAS-free

House Bill 1219 would create a pilot blood-testing program that up to 1,000 firefighters can volunteer to participate in. The House passed HB 1219 with unanimous support Tuesday.

There currently aren’t any manufactured alternatives to firefighter moisture barriers with PFAS in them. The legal safety standards for firefighter gear may be getting in the way of manufacturers’ ability to use a different chemical.

HB 1219 originally appropriated $200,000 from the state’s general fund for this testing program. But that funding was stripped out by the House Ways and Means Committee., but the pilot should be fully funded as the legislature hashes out a new state budget in the coming days. There are also opportunities for federal grants to support the state’s efforts.

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Researcher blasts lightweight fire hose

The has an article which discusses a safety problem with fire hose:

A leading fire safety researcher is sounding the alarm over faulty fire hose, warning that the popular lightweight version — similar to the one that burned in a Beacon Street blaze that killed two Boston firefighters — are failing nationwide.

“This is a problem that has just bubbled to the surface. It’s a tsunami,” said Kathy Notarianni, an associate professor in the Fire Protection Engineering Department at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. “We’re finding more burn-throughs around the country of fire attack hoses. This knowledge needs to get out there so firefighters can buy thicker hoses.”

WPI, one of only three fire safety research centers in the nation, was recently awarded $75,000 from the Last Call Foundation to study fire hose and develop one that will be more fire-resistant. The foundation was started by Kathy Crosby-Bell — the mother of Boston firefighter Michael Kennedy, 33, who died March 26 along with colleague Lt. Edward Walsh Jr., 43, in a nine-alarm fire at 298 Beacon St.

But three weeks into her research, Notarianni said she’s already spotting flaws in attack fire hoses.

“My phone started ringing and my inbox started going crazy when everyone learned we were looking into this,” she said. “I’m now alarmed we have a bigger problem than we first thought. “I’m very afraid of what’s happening and we’re only seeing hints of what could be out there,” she added. “The hose is failing where we don’t expect it.”

Dennis LeGear, a nationally known firefighting consultant from California, said the WPI research has hit on a problem that can be partially traced to fighting fires in high-rise buildings. The lighter attack lines are easier to carry, fold up quickly and cost less than larger hoses. And many fire departments are buying them and using them at routine house and apartment building fires.

“Lightweight hoses were designed only to be used for firefighters carrying hoses into high rises,” LeGear said. “To me it’s like a disease. If you get a hose into a high-rise system, someone in your department might suggest it go into your rigs.” Finding a fix for the flammable light hoses, LeGear said, is a gargantuan undertaking.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health is investigating the Beacon Street fire, with a final report due in the coming year.

Boston Fire Department spokesman Steve MacDonald defended the use of lighter hoses, which meet national safety standards.

Notarianni said the WPI team will test hoses on the market, study national standards that date to 1961, collect data on hose burn-throughs around the country and identify materials for a “next generation” product. The school hopes to bring everyone involved in the manufacturing and the use of fire hoses together in March.

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Chicago double LODD 12-22-10 (update)

The Chicago Tribune has an article about a short prison term for the owner of a building that collapsed December 22, 2010 which resulted in the death of two Chicago firefighters: FF Edward J. Stringer and FF/EMT Corey D. Ankum.

A Chicago building owner pleaded guilty to contempt of court and was sentenced Thursday to six months in Cook County Jail for failing to make court-ordered repairs to the abandoned structure before it collapsed in a fire, killing two Chicago firefighters in late 2010.

At the time of the charges, an attorney for Chuck Dai had been critical of the unusual criminal prosecution, but on Thursday, the attorney, Gene Murphy, said Dai pleaded guilty in part to spare the families of those killed and injured in the fire from sitting through a trial. Criminal Court Judge James Obbish also ordered that Dai, 65, of South Holland, pay $5,229 in fines.

Edward Stringer, 47, and Corey Ankum, 34 were killed and 19 other firefighters were injured when the rotting truss roof of the former South Side laundry collapsed three days before Christmas.

Civil lawsuits brought against Dai and others by relatives of Stringer and Ankum are still pending in Cook County Circuit Court.

In a statement issued after Dai’s guilty plea, State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez acknowledged that administrative sanctions would typically be sought for failing to comply with building codes but that the deaths of the two firefighters warranted criminal penalties.

In 2007 city building inspectors had issued 14 citations against the vacant building at 1738-1744 E. 75th St., pointing out that the roof leaked and its trusses were in disrepair. Over the next year Dai failed to show up for numerous court dates, racking up fines of $14,000 for not fixing the problems, prosecutors said. With city attorneys cracking down in 2009, Dai had sought to reduce his fines by signing a court order to make the required repairs by November 2010, but prosecutors said he never completed the improvements. Records show city building inspectors had not yet followed up to make sure the repairs had been made before the fatal fire.

Following the fire, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health faulted the fire department for poor communications – not all the firefighters had radios – as a contributing factor in the deaths of the two firefighters. The city’s Building Department was also cited for not flagging the building as hazardous.

As part of the changes instituted following the fire, the city began marking hazardous abandoned buildings with a red “X,” and the fire department no longer sends firefighters into abandoned buildings without evidence that someone is inside. Firefighters had entered the abandoned building in search of homeless squatters. Officials determined a trash fire was the cause of the blaze.


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NIOSH report released on LODD of CFD Captain Herbie Johnson (more)

The Chicago Tribune has an article about the NIOSH Report on the LODD of CFD Captain Herbie Johnson:

Chicago firefighters failed to properly coordinate and communicate their strategy for extinguishing a blaze that killed a 32-year veteran of the department last year, a federal investigation found.

The report marks the second time in as many years that the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health has cited poor communications as a contributing factor in a Chicago firefighter’s death. Though not as scathing as the findings from a December 2010 blaze that killed two firefighters, the latest NIOSH report indicates there are still questions about how the department communicates while battling fires.

The report also describes the harrowing scene inside a burning Gage Park neighborhood two-flat on Nov. 2, 2012, where Capt. Herbert Johnson repeatedly ordered his men to safety after suffering severe burns to his hands, face and the inside of his mouth.

“He was trying to get us out but he couldn’t get himself out,” said firefighter-paramedic Mike Imparato, who yelled “mayday” — he had no radio — after Johnson fell to the floor.

Both the Fire Department and the firefighters union have reviewed the report, which does not specifically state which, if any, issues had a direct bearing on Johnson’s death. Instead it lists a series of “contributing factors” that include poor communication, staffing shortages and inefficient coordination at the scene.

A union official said the report, while an important learning tool, also shows that fires are filled with hidden dangers beyond anyone’s control.

“They got on the scene and there was minimal fire showing from the first hole in the roof,” said Thomas Ryan, president of Chicago Fire Fighters Union Local 2. “It looked as though they had it under control, then all hell broke loose. Johnson’s first instinct was to tell the members to get out. He looked out for the safety of his fellow firefighters. Unfortunately he didn’t make it out.”

Johnson, who had been promoted to captain that summer, was in the house for only six minutes when things went terribly wrong, according to investigators. As Johnson carried a hose inside, the scene commander announced over department radios that other firefighters were ventilating the building and blasting water into the attic.

Johnson, who was carrying a radio, never confirmed that he got that message. But the plan proceeded anyway. The report specifically chastises scene commanders for failing to confirm that Johnson knew the plan to attack the fire.

“Everyone has to know the strategy that is being implemented and understand their role by acknowledging via radio their position and role,” the report states.

The federal investigators also took issue with the strategy employed that day, saying that firefighters on the scene failed to consider that horizontal ventilation — doors were opened on either end of the building, and there was a hole in the roof — would cause the fire and heat to intensify and become dangerous, federal investigators said.

Around the same time as the ventilation plan was enacted, Johnson ordered firefighters on the second floor to get out of the building. His order was followed by a loud noise, as Johnson collapsed on the second floor.

The report confirms that the firefighter-paramedic who found Johnson did not have a radio and was reduced to screaming “mayday” to call attention to Johnson’s injuries, according to federal investigators. The report notes that on the day of the fire the city was still awaiting a shipment that would have provided a radio to every member of the department.

Those additional radios were recommended by NIOSH after an investigation into a December 2010 fire in a vacant South Side building that killed two firefighters. The lack of radios was cited as a contributing factor in that blaze.

Chicago Fire Department spokesman Larry Langford on Monday initially insisted that all firefighters involved in the Gage Park fire had radios. After reading the report Monday, he conceded that some firefighters at the scene did not have radios but said it would have made little difference.

“That had nothing to do with this incident,” Langford said. “Communication was not the issue in this incident from what I determined.”

Every Chicago firefighter now has a digital radio, Langford said. Most were distributed on Nov. 18, 2012, about two weeks after Johnson’s death.

Imparato, who made the mayday call without a radio, told the Tribune he yelled for about 10 seconds before help arrived. He tried to grab Johnson’s radio to call for assistance but couldn’t reach it, he said.

“Ten seconds seemed like an eternity,” he said. “I could hear footsteps on the stairs, so I knew others were coming. I was screaming ‘mayday’ the entire time.”

Imparato said he doesn’t believe a radio would have changed Johnson’s fate.

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