Posts Tagged did staffing cuts affect the outcome of a fatal fire

Elgin Fire Department news (more)

Excerpts from the

An engine ran out of water before a second engine crew was able to re-establish a water supply to fight a fatal fire in Elgin this year. Elgin Fire Chief David Schmidt said that, according to radio communications, firefighters at the scene were without water for 77 seconds while trying to extinguish the blaze in a mobile home in which a 63-year-old man died.

 “There are multiple variables happening on each and every call that affect the outcome of an incident,” Schmidt said.

Department guidelines recommend the first engine use the water it carries, and when the second engine arrives, it connects a line from a hydrant to the first engine, creating a continuous flow of water, Schmidt said.

According to Elgin Fire Department documents, a neighbor called in the fire just before 6:42 p.m. Jan. 21. Records state it took 77 seconds from dispatch for Engine 5 to bring a crew of three to the burning home along the 400 block of Sadler Avenue. The dispatcher also sent an ambulance from Station 5, a truck and battalion chief from Station 1, and engines from Stations 4 and 2. The second engine arrived 7 minutes, 29 seconds after the dispatch.

Both Schmidt and Joe Galli, president of Elgin Association of Firefighters Union IAFF Local 439, said it is unusual for an engine to run out of water before a second source has been established. Galli told Elgin city officials this month that recent shift staffing cuts contributed to a delay in response to the incident.

Ken Willette of the National Fire Protection Agency said it sounds like the department followed accepted protocols in attacking the fire. He also said mobile homes are some of the worst fires to attack because of their construction materials.

After that first engine arrived, its three firefighters attached a hose to the engine and began putting water on the blaze. The two-man crew from Ambulance 5, the second unit on the scene, attached a second hose to the engine.

The reports note that when firefighters from Station 1 arrived, they assumed they were going to be responding in Engine 1, but CAD/Communications dispatched Truck 1. Truck 1’s firefighters were assigned to enter and search the home with Ambulance 5 firefighters as Engine 5 firefighters worked to extinguish the fire underneath the home and around the entrances.

“Because this was early in the new deployment, it appears there was a little uncertainty on the apparatus recommendation,” Schmidt said. “Our philosophy for the deployment change was to get two engines and one truck on the scene as quickly as possible.”

Firefighters ran out of water, though the fire continued to burn under the home and through the floor, vents and a wall, the report states, and that delayed crews from entering the building.

When Engine 4 arrived, some of its crew worked to connect a hose to a hydrant at Olive Street and Sadler. Engine 4 crew members also assisted in putting out the fire underneath the mobile home after the water was connected.

“There is no way of telling if the resident would have survived had we been given the opportunity to get inside sooner. Running out of water stalled the rescue effort,” Galli said.

Schmidt said Station 6 on West Chicago Street normally would have sent the second engine, but that crew was responding to a medical call. That put Engine 4 from the firehouse near Elgin Community College next in line to respond.

The fire was declared under control 13 minutes, 10 seconds after the 911 call.

Galli said the $700,000 cut to the department’s budget affected how events played out that night. Schmidt disagreed and said Galli was politicizing the death.

“Safety remains a top priority of the city, not only for the community but for our firefighter personnel as well. The city is and remains safe, and to suggest otherwise is misleading,” Schmidt said.

While the National Fire Protection Agency recommends four-man crews on a fire engine, having three on an engine and two in an ambulance is acceptable, based on the organization’s “1710” standard. Elgin also arrived well within the agency’s standards, he said.

“The first arriving engine and ambulance is making the determination to go with an aggressive attack with two hose lines. … They were addressing it as taught at the national fire academy,” Willette said. “The first thing is life, the second thing is incident stabilization, and the third is property conservation.”

The first engine on the scene could have chosen to immediately attach to the hydrant, but Willette noted that making that choice when another engine is en route is hard to make.

“The fact of the matter is we responded quicker to the incident on Sadler Avenue than the industry guidelines provide for an effective response force,” Schmidt said.

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Elgin Fire Department news

Excerpts from the

The Elgin fire union president says overtime staffing cuts caused a delayed response and gap in water supply to a fire in which a 63-year-man died last month.

David Moncatch died Jan. 21 when heating tape caused a fire at his trailer home on the 400 block of Sadler Avenue. Officials at first said Moncatch died of smoke inhalation, but an autopsy showed he died of a heart attack, International Association of Firefighters Local 439 President Joe Galli said. Moncatch was found in the kitchen, apparently trying to get a fire extinguisher. Two dogs also died.

Fire Chief Dave Schmidt defended the department’s response, saying the first engine arrived two minutes after the call, and 15 firefighters arrived within eight minutes of travel time, the standard set by the National Fire Protection Association. A total of 23 firefighters responded.

At the center of the dispute is how long it took the second engine to arrive and hook up to the hydrant about 150 feet from Moncatch’s home. When the second engine arrived, nearly nine minutes after the initial call, the first engine had run out of water — the first time in recent memory that’s happened, Galli and Schmidt agreed.

The radio recording shows a one-minute gap between firefighters reporting they were out of water and saying water was beginning to pump from the hydrant. Galli said firefighters told him the actual gap was longer. “We are in a business where seconds count,” he said. Firefighters were about to enter the trailer when the water ran out, so they opted to enter after they had water.

The staffing cut enacted Jan. 11 means there are 31 firefighters — two fewer than last year — and a battalion chief on duty at all times across the city’s seven fire stations.

A structure fire calls for three engines, one ladder truck, one ambulance, and more vehicles based on the severity of the fire. The first engine arrived from Station 5 at 804 Villa St. and started fighting the fire. Moncatch’s home is behind the station.

Before the staffing cut, the second engine and ladder truck — if not on another call — would have come from Station 1 at 550 Summit St., two miles away. The staffing cut, however, makes it so crews there jump between the engine or truck. The truck Jan. 21 came from Summit Street, and the second engine came from Station 4 at 599 S. McLean Blvd., nearly four miles away, because the next-closest engine at Station 6 was out on a call.

If the second engine had come from Summit Street, it would have arrived in time to have a continuous water supply, Galli said. “We weren’t able to send the closest engine because of our staffing model. And because of that, we will never know what could have been.”

Firefighting entails juggling the unpredictability of calls, such as the one the engine from Station 6 was on when the fire at Moncatch’s home took place, Schmidt said. “It’s not an exact science, because in any given day, in excess of 50 percent of the time we are running multiple calls,” he said.

Schmidt also pointed out the ladder truck from Summit Street arrived just one minute before the second engine. The second engine that day “was still close enough. It was a respectable response time,” he said.

The cuts are estimated to save $750,000 per year. The union argued the cut would affect the safety of firefighters and residents, and the matter is expected to be decided in arbitration.

thanks Dan

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