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Firefighters Killed in I-Zone....Homeowner to blame?

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  • Firefighters Killed in I-Zone....Homeowner to blame?

    Just something I have been thinking about over the last week or so. We had the five Firefighters killed in the "I-zone". (interface) The word was that they were actually going back to "check on a house" or "defend the structure".

    I dont know what the exact tactic or order was or if it even matters. But over the last 10+ years, Firefighters have been begging residents/homeowners to please clear their brush around their homes. Some do, most dont.

    Me- I am kinda wondering and somewhat buzzing over the fact that if the resident of the home did clear their vegitation, that maybe these 5 people would still be alive today? Maybe they wouldnt have gotten burned over?

    What do you think?
    Last edited by CALFFBOU; 11-05-2006, 03:07 PM.

  • #2
    Using your logic, People should be held accountable for bad wiring, cooking accidents, candle mishaps, children with matches, not keeping their property secure enough to keep fire starting bums out, and 90% of the other reasons fires start. They are all preventable, therefore homeowners are to blame for every firefighter death. C'mon, it's a dangerous business and short of arson it's hard to start pointing fingers. We don't live in a fireproof world.
    I am a complacent liability to the fire service

    Comment


    • #3
      Actually Chicago ... in most of the world, people are held accountable for bad wiring, cooking mishaps, candles igniting fires, fires resulting from chimneys not being cleaned, children playing with matches or any other causes that are deemed preventable by the culture. The standard is simple - would a prudent man forsee a fire occuring by thier action, such as leaving the kitchen while food is cooking or leaving matches out with kids around, or through thier inaction such as not cleaning a chimney or replacing bad wiring . In Japan and Europe, homeowners can be denied claims on thier insurance payments, be forced to pay out of pocket for damages caused to the property of others by thier fires and go to jail is the cause of the fire is deemed preventable. Homeowners and employers can and do go to jail if they are found the fire was preventable or known fire safety hazards were not corrected and deaths occur. This includes the deaths of firefighters. And in those cultures, most of the fires are deemed preventable, because quite honestly, most can be prevented if firesafety is a cultural priority, which it is not in the US. And you know what - fires in these cultures occur much less frequently than in the US and thier fire deaths rates are lower than ours. In some cases .... 1/8th of our fire death rate. So maybe there is something to holding folks responsible for deaths caused by fires. Until our culture makes firesafety a priority, our numbers will be still be horrific and we will need to spend more per capita on fire protection than any other country in the world.

      Though not a wildland firefighter, it's my feeling that any structure without a definsable space provided by the homeowner should not be protected and allowed to burn in any situation that is close to marginal. Only in situations where the homeowner has made the effort to protect the property should we risk our lives to defend it. The same goes for situations where the homeowner has built the structure of non-fire resistant materials. This should be made public knowledge. That may cause many more folks to take the time to do what needs to be done to increase our chances of protecting thier propety with a minimum of risk to ourselves.

      As far as this case, I'm waiting for the report on the fire conditions at the time of thier death. Did they hold on to long before retreating? Should they have abondoned the operation and allowed the residences to burn freely? Was this a case of a truly rapid change in situation where they had been operating with a mimum of risk or a was it case of firefighters trying to do to much in marginal conditions where they were so close to the "edge" (safety-wise) that even a slight change in the situation left them without escape/self-protection options? Did the crew recognize the marginal conditions, if they existed, and if they did, why did they not evacuate? Was command aware of the marginal situation (if it existed) and did they consider pulling them out? If not, why? If the wind was shifting, and command was aware of it, should they have been operating at all in that area? These are questions that need to be openly discussed.

      I know this may sound critical, but it's a question that needs to be asked in any LODD and need to be honestly answered. Often, we attempt to remain in situations, for a variety of fire culture or personal reasons, which should have been abandoned long before the deaths occured. As a service, we need to identify if this mistake was made so that we can treat it as a learning experience, and use the incident to change the culture of that particuliar company, department, organization or fire service as a whole if they are found to be overly aggressive or not safety concious during thier firefighting operations. These questions do not lessen the bravery of these firefighters. They do not make thier sacrifice less noble. However, we owe it to them to honestly determine if thier sacrifice was in vain. Answering these questions honestly and recognizing any mistakes these firefighters may have made may allow other firefighters to live in future situations by either changing the "aggressive mentality culture", such as after Storm King, or recognizing additional training firefighters may need to survive similiar future situations.
      Last edited by LaFireEducator; 11-05-2006, 09:02 PM.
      Train to fight the fires you fight.

      Comment


      • #4
        ChicagoFF- Great point. I guess I just get frustrated when our agencies out here beg people over and over again to please clear their brush and they dont do it. And now 5 Firefighters are dead when it could have been avoided?

        Here is what I am talking about-

        http://www.fire.ca.gov/php/education_100foot.php

        Comment


        • #5
          Defensible Space

          In California there is a law requiring 100' of "Defensible Space" this means it is all of our responsiblilties the land owner and the fire control personnell. While we are out and about meeting the public and promoting fire prevention we should be thinking about how we can protect our selves while in an I-Zone situation, take a look at the access, the turn around and the vegetation clearance, make suggestions and enforce the rules.
          With the proper clearance a house can stand on its own allowing firefighters to concentrate on the job of putting the fire out. If there is not enough "Defensible Space" you or your fellow firefighters will be at risk trying to defend a "Looser". Be proactive not reactive!

          Stay Safe

          Comment


          • #6
            my 2 cents

            Originally posted by DoubleG13
            In California there is a law requiring 100' of "Defensible Space" this means it is all of our responsiblilties the land owner and the fire control personnell. While we are out and about meeting the public and promoting fire prevention we should be thinking about how we can protect our selves while in an I-Zone situation, take a look at the access, the turn around and the vegetation clearance, make suggestions and enforce the rules.
            With the proper clearance a house can stand on its own allowing firefighters to concentrate on the job of putting the fire out. If there is not enough "Defensible Space" you or your fellow firefighters will be at risk trying to defend a "Looser". Be proactive not reactive!

            Stay Safe
            It is a catch-22 situation for firefighters. Laws are only as good as the enforcement. Enforcement can only be as good as the available manpower. Homeowners want protection but they do not want to pay more property taxes. Firefighters can only do so much with limited resources. The homeowners who live in areas that are known to have high winds and a high fire danger need to exercise some common sense and realize that they have a responsibilty to maintain their property. As LAfire pointed out, our culture does not make fire safety a priority. People need to get out of their self-absorbed bubbles and realize that what they do or don't do does affect other people.

            Comment


            • #7
              Defensible Space

              I should have slid the word "Education" in some where into my comments and I would have to agree that staffing levels are important but education is not looked highly upon by fire control folks, the trend is to say that the Fire Prevention proram should handle the "Enforcement" part of the problem.

              I really don't believe that to be the case, especially in the rural settings that most CDF engines and stations are in. On any given day while out doing hose lay training (for the bazzionth time) that engine opperator could stop in at the house on the hill and ask to do I-Zone training around the house, make some suggestions to the home owner as how to tidy up some, show the firefighters what a "looser house" looks like.

              Be a good neighbor and educate the home owner instead of turning them in to the fire cops or watching thier house burn up next week.

              That's what I mean by being proactive, it easy to do and yes I do stop in to homes that look like they need some help, I even stop in at new homes under construction to show the new FF's what construction looks like and how it effects us.

              Stay Safe

              Comment


              • #8
                Originally posted by DoubleG13
                I should have slid the word "Education" in some where into my comments and I would have to agree that staffing levels are important but education is not looked highly upon by fire control folks, the trend is to say that the Fire Prevention proram should handle the "Enforcement" part of the problem.

                I really don't believe that to be the case, especially in the rural settings that most CDF engines and stations are in. On any given day while out doing hose lay training (for the bazzionth time) that engine opperator could stop in at the house on the hill and ask to do I-Zone training around the house, make some suggestions to the home owner as how to tidy up some, show the firefighters what a "looser house" looks like.

                Be a good neighbor and educate the home owner instead of turning them in to the fire cops or watching thier house burn up next week.

                That's what I mean by being proactive, it easy to do and yes I do stop in to homes that look like they need some help, I even stop in at new homes under construction to show the new FF's what construction looks like and how it effects us.

                Stay Safe
                This is exactly what should be happening and it can be done. I've taken my crew out before and done a structure protection drill. On several occasions we have assisted an elderly home owner with their clearance, I discuss what we will do and get permission to do it then I bring in the engine and we set up for structure protection, cut brush away to make the home defendable, move patio furnature away from the house etc. It is good training for the crew, good public relations and at least one house has clearance for a couple of years. The home owner gets the work done and just has to have the debris hauled away, a pretty good deal in my opinion.

                Obviously this can't be done for every home but its a start.

                Comment


                • #9
                  Originally posted by superchef
                  It is a catch-22 situation for firefighters. Laws are only as good as the enforcement. Enforcement can only be as good as the available manpower. Homeowners want protection but they do not want to pay more property taxes. Firefighters can only do so much with limited resources. The homeowners who live in areas that are known to have high winds and a high fire danger need to exercise some common sense and realize that they have a responsibilty to maintain their property. As LAfire pointed out, our culture does not make fire safety a priority. People need to get out of their self-absorbed bubbles and realize that what they do or don't do does affect other people.

                  Its not just enforcement, some of this is caused by the PR machine in many departments. If fire departments would just be blunt and explain that homes with no clearance won't be saved under any circumstance that might wake them up. I'm not talking about homes that take some work, or every home with wood siding but those nightmare homes, you know the one, wood shake shingles (but you wouldn't know it because of the 6" of leaves on the roof), wood siding, and brush so think you don't even know there is a house in there except for the overgrown driveway leading into it.

                  Most homes can not get the 100' clearance now being required, for a home to achieve that it would have to be sitting dead center of a 1+ acre lot (actually a little bigger since the house takes up a fair chunk of that space, an acre is 208x208' so to have 100' clearance on an acre lot the house could only be an 8x8' Ted Kazinsky shack). How many homes sit on 1 acre lots in your community?

                  There is no excuse not to at least make a decent effort to clear to the property line. Also this is not just a home owner issue, why are fire prone communities still allowing highly flammable construction methods, why do some communities actually encourage poor home placement (mid slope, in draws etc) putting a "natural" setting over fire protection? Why do you think you find homes where the owners did make a good effort sitting on streets that it is obvious the local government has not trimmed a tree within the past 6 years?


                  There needs to be a major adjustment in alot of peoples mind set regarding the WUI. One of the first is the idea that it is just a California thing.
                  Last edited by NonSurfinCaFF; 11-06-2006, 04:26 PM.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    People should be held accountable for bad wiring, cooking accidents, candle mishaps, children with matches, and 90% of the other reasons fires start.
                    Yes, I editted a little bit, because I agree. People should be held accountable for their (and their children's) actions. Do I think they should be held criminally liable if a FF is hurt/killed fighting their fire? Most times I would say No.

                    That California law "Defensible space" sounds like a good start, though I am fairly willing to bet there are those that ignore it.
                    "This thread is being closed as it is off-topic and not related to the fire industry." - Isn't that what the Off Duty forum was for?

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      6% humidity 50mph winds is what I heard the conditions were, with those conditions our brothers never had a shot.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Then why were they in such a vunerable position?

                        If, and I stress if, conditions were that bad why were they still envolved in close-up operations? Again, I am not a wildfire expert, though we have them here frequently, but not with nearly the intensity, speed and power of those experienced in CA, but if conditions were that intense and unpredictable due to the materials burning, weather/humidity, terrain or the potential for shifting winds, I can't help but wonder why either the crew themselves, the sector commander or the incident commander didn't pull them out before the overrun took place.

                        It just bothers me, with the information that I have gathered from the initial information available, that this seems like another example of the often overly aggressive fire service culture rising it's ugly head and uneccessarily killing our brothers. This is not meant as a disrespect to the brothers as this is how they may have been trained and this may be how they may have been expected to operate within thier company, division or organization as a whole. And I might be wrong, but if conditions were that close to marginal, why would you stay to protect a few homes? Maybe I just don't understand. Maybe I am coming to the wrong conclusions based on the information I have seen. Maybe I just don't buy into the "put the wet stuff on the red stuff all the time" mentality.

                        I just hope this incident is closely scrtunidized and lessons learned. Well it's an unfortunate event, it's not a sacred event, and if the crew or supervisors made incorrect decisions, that needs to come out and lessons need to be taken away.

                        Its not just enforcement, some of this is caused by the PR machine in many departments. If fire departments would just be blunt and explain that homes with no clearance won't be saved under any circumstance that might wake them up. I'm not talking about homes that take some work, or every home with wood siding but those nightmare homes, you know the one, wood shake shingles (but you wouldn't know it because of the 6" of leaves on the roof), wood siding, and brush so think you don't even know there is a house in there except for the overgrown driveway leading into it.

                        When I talk about bad risk-benefit decisions that get firefighters killed, this is what i am referring to. We are smart enough as firefighters to look at situations and think "it isn't worth it". But then, in some firefighters, a little voice kicks in that says "but if I don't work it, what will my peers think". Or that voice may be your crusty old captain telling you or implying that you are a coward because you aren't pushing deep enough or fast enough into a situation that you just know could go very bad very fast. Peer pressure is a powerful force. The fear of not looking tough enough or macho enough to our peers is a powerful force. Those fears and desires to look "tough enough" often kill us. There honestly needs to be much more focus, IMO, in the fire service on risk/benefit, and we as a service need to come to grips with the fact that we can't save everything, and there are times that we need to back away and let it burn.
                        Train to fight the fires you fight.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Departments need to be more proactive, and educate the community. Home owners don't realize the dangers, and think all the pretty trees and brush is good. Our department sends flyers out to the community about being firewise, and offers free home evaluations. We give them ideas on things they can do to improve the chances of their home being defendable during a fire. We also have a lot of open house events during the season, getting the community to come to the station and learn about wildland fires. I think to an extent the homeowners need to be held acountable. In the very least they need to know that if they fail to provice the minimum defensable space, their home may not be protected during a fire. Fire crews need to make it clear that if the home owners fail to comply, the fire department is not going to risk their people to protect that home.
                          Anyone involved in wildland fire in the interface should try and take the S215 (NWCG) class Wildland in the Urban Interface. It is a great class, it isn't about tactics, you should already know that. But it covers the liability, preplanning and safety concerns that are unique to interface fires. It is a 4 day class, and depending on the instructors you can get a lot of field trip time, looking at houses and subdivisions, thinking about what you could and would do, and what your concerns would be.
                          The deaths in California were devastating, and when the official reports come out I am sure there will be lessons learned. But as someone put it earlier, the emotional values/concerns during an interface fire are greater than a brush fire. You are dealing with people who are losing everything, and you might even be working to protect your own house or a friends house. People (without thinking about the risks) tend to stay in those situations longer than they normally would, and they place them selves in greater risk because they thing the values at risk are worth it. It is hard to understand until you are in that position. The things that we can do to reduce the chances of things like this happening are community and firefighter education.
                          "Hard work spotlights the character of people: some turn up their sleeves, some turn up their noses, and some don't turn up at all"

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            clean ups

                            Local governement in Aust inspects properties and fines you for not cleaning up. Normally require for a 7 yd break around the perimeter of the property. This is not very usefull to protect buildings and homeowners are asked to reduce fuel 30 mtrs around buildings.
                            Some property owners use a fire cleanup notice to clear bushland as it overides conflicting conservation laws.
                            Victoria and NSW fire services advise what to do in a bushfire prone area. In my area your adjacent neighbour is really going to get the benefit of your clean up as the fire will already have done its damage in your property.

                            Some buildings and properties are designated in bushfire prone areas.
                            Many of these cannot and will not be defended when threatened by a bushfire. It is just too dangerous. The crew leader needs to be aware of risks and is responsible for crew safety. Fining the resident after the event is of little value.

                            http://www.cfa.vic.gov.au/publications/research.htm
                            Linton report and Ash Wednesday fire reports are a good read and contain many safety notes.

                            I am saddened by your loss as we will undoubtedly face similar situations in the coming months.
                            Disclaimer
                            These views are my own and not of either my brigade or any other organisation.

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              I wouldn't blame an individual homeowner based on the limited information I have about the incident. It's more a cultural issue to work on -- you expect to find these poorly prepared properties, and you have to use your best judgement to size up the risk. And you work to have fewer and fewer like it.

                              Sometimes you can have situations it's reasonable to hold a homeowner accountable for creating an exceptional situation that the Fire Department had no reason to expect. Although no firefighters were injured, an incident that leaps to my mind was several towns over. Following up on a basement explosion, the FD found around 1000 gallons of gasoline stored in the garage of a single family residence. Don't know about you, but I'm pretty sure my tactics on a residential garage fire anticipate something like that! Imagine rolling up on a garage fire there at zero-dark-thirty and beginning a fire attack just as the tanks let go...

                              As far as preparing properties, it's not just a California issue although their conditions tend to see the situations much more regularly than much of the country.

                              We have houses that are difficult to impossible to access with apparatus -- one I can think of will require 500' stretches just to reach the front door and carrying in all the equipment...because the homeowners like the privacy of having hemlocks surrounding the driveway that are cut just big enough for a car to drive under.

                              We also do virtually no "Fire-Wise" education except for a link off the State DEP's website. And most years, it's a non issue. But one dry, windy October a fast moving woods fire will claim many houses as burning leaves roll underneath decks.

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