We take them for granted. We might see them working around a fire station, or we might see them at an open house. And we often see them speeding down the street, lights flashing, siren blaring, on their way to answer an alarm. And there are thousands of those each year in this community of around a hundred thousand residents.
This past week the Midland Fire Department participated in the nationwide third annual Fire Fighter Safety Stand Down in which they suspended all non-emergency activity and instead focus totally on firefighter safety. Good timing, given that early in the week nine firefighters lost their lives in a fiery disaster in Charleston, South Carolina.
How did that happen? The final investigation will tell us details. In the meantime, the coroner's office said they died from a combination of smoke inhalation and burns. [Link .] But it was a 50 year old building for which city boards had granted a variance which would have required a firewall when an addition was added in 1996. Also, sprinkler systems weren't required 50 years ago, and the building didn't have them.
See a long news roundup at Charleston.net, beginning with West Ashley Sofa Super Store ablaze, roof collapses, smoke visible for miles and including articles titled: Fire began at store's loading dock and Super Sofa Store building had long history which contains this sentence:
Of the 22 firefighter deaths that occurred nationally in 2006, all perished in buildings without sprinkler systems, according to the National Fire Protection Association.
The major fire disasters from the history books have all led to new regulations addressing the problems that led to the loss of life and property in those particular cases. And there will surely be some new regulations arising from the Charleston fire.
Within the last few years the two-in, two-out rule has been implemented locally, meaning that firefighters are trained to go into a burning structure in pairs and then only when there are two more firefighters outside available to come in and haul the first two out, if necessary.
But in spite of the rules, training exercises and practice, firefighter deaths still occur too frequently. And hopefully, events like the Fire Fighter Safety Stand Down will help to eliminate future tragedies like the one that occurred in Charleston. But they need our support.
Firefighters are a courageous and dedicated bunch. We should all be grateful, and here's a short message from the heart to firefighters in Midland and everywhere. Thanks for all you do. And be safe out there, ok?