Goldfeder Comments on NIOSH Vacant Structures Draft Alert

(See my earlier post on the draft alert.)

Firefighter Nation had a chance to talk with Deputy Chief Billy Goldfeder about the recently released draft alert on vacant structures. Chief Goldfeder, who served as a technical reviewer on the document, and is Chair of IAFC Safey, Health and Survival Section, noted that this is a draft—not a final document—and input to NIOSH from the fire service is very much encouraged.

“While I agree with so much that’s covered in the document, I do not agree with the ‘flavor’ that some may read into this, that unless there is a life hazard, firefighters should ‘never’ commit to an interior attack,” Goldfeder said. “If people are interpreting it that way, we will make the needed adjustments so it’s more clearly understood.”

Goldfeder acknowledged that the fire service must combat the freelance type of careless, aggressive mentality to “go in no matter what” that gets some firefighters in serious trouble-by taking extreme risks for “stuff.”

“We aren't talking about risking your life for a person, we’re talking about needlessly doing it for stuff in a building that may have been predictably lost from the start,” he said. But he noted that in the great majority of fires that most fire departments respond to, an interior attack is certainly appropriate.

“It absolutely depends upon resources, size-up (including a 360 as applicable) and the fire problem and its related conditions,” he said. “There’s no hard-and-fast ‘always’ rule we can apply. It takes well trained, experienced and simply good company officers along with command officers completing these actions to determine what level they want to commit their firefighters. The first-arriving, company and/or command officers can make or break the particular fire based upon the size-up and related decisions.”

Put simply, Goldfeder says: “Show us the fire and we will show you what should generally be done with an appropriate level of risk to firefighters—it’s all dependent upon conditions. Firefighters absolutely have to take extreme risks at times—and still must go in when there are indications of people trapped—no one else can do that but us. Sometimes, albeit rare, our risk and related injury or even death is necessary in order to attempt to save a life. It is, however, the goal of this document to help firefighters, officers and chiefs better determine when it’s worth it, and when it isn’t.”

Goldfeder says the key to getting this message across will be to work with NIOSH, using case studies and input from fire service veterans, as well as allowing for public comments. “When the final report is done,” he said, “this will be an excellent document that will contribute to the saving of lives and reducing unnecessary death and injury.”

Significant input will be provided by the IAFC Safety, Health and Survival Section which includes experts and highly seasoned fire officers in the field of firefighter survival. Several chief officers from the IAFC SHS, who work in large metro as well as smaller departments with first-hand knowledge and personal experience directly related to fires where firefighters have lost their lives, will provide valuable and expert input. "If you want to understand the real issues related to operating in unoccupied buildings, talk with firefighters or chiefs who have lost some of their firefighters in those kinds of fires," Goldfeder advised. "They are the experts and they don't want others to go through what they have ... and they have no problem making it clear how they feel to any rookie or old timer."

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Comment by Paul Montpetit on February 14, 2009 at 8:37am
I agree...the mentality of just go blindly in has had its day and its share of Firefighter's lives.....its now....size up the structure AND the riskd involved in fighting THIS fire...the rewards HAVE to justify the risks.....Paul

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