Tragedy in Baltimore – but could it happen here?

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Racheal M. Wilson, an academy recruit, died of thermal injuries and asphyxia, the medical examiner’s office said yesterday. She was 29 and had two young children. Her family said that she was covered with burns and was in pain before she died at Maryland Shock Trauma Center.

Italicized = taken from the story
Basically, it seems as though Recruit Wilson died because of a breakdown of the standards relied upon for safe training scenarios. I assisted with two of the live burns at the last recruit school. They were the first of which that I was able to instruct with. The instructors, to my knowledge, including myself are all required to have Instructor I and the NFPA 1403 class.

I would like to comment on how Roanoke Fire-EMS trains and how events such as FF Wilson’s unfortunate death are prevented here in Roanoke. Are we perfect? By no means. While reading through the article, I notices many highlighted events which are being investigated in this case and realized what we do and why we do them. My comments on how we do recruit schools are based on the last recruit school in Roanoke, which I was a part of. I cannot comment on all recruit schools or future ones.

I also realize that this report/article was based on one reporters interviews; that the events are still being investigated; and that the parties who are being portrayed as guilty are indeed innocent until proven otherwise.
  • Binetti said the way the blaze was started and whether a “walkthrough” was held to inspect the building before setting the fires are two areas investigators are scrutinizing.
We do a thourough walkthrough of the burn building to show the recruits/trainees where the fires will be, where the doors and windows are, and to give them a sense of the layout.
  • When putting out fires, the department is supposed to make sure a secondary team of firefighters – a Rapid Intervention Team – is suited up to replace firefighters who are tired, injured or in trouble. At the South Calverton Road fire, the head of that team, Broyes, did not have a hose charged and did not have proper equipment, union officials have said.
We use a charged hose line and a 2-3 person RIT (rapid intervention team) who are ready in full PPE (personal protective equipment) to go in and assist if needed.
  • And, union officials said yesterday, BroyesRIT was not composed of real firefighters, but of cadets from Wilson’s class.
During the recruit schools we use recruits paired up with at least one instructor as the RIT.
  • Union officials also said that the “instructors” used in the training exercise were not certified teachers from the academy. They were regular firefighters pulling extra shifts. This means they were not properly trained to teach in a live fire, Fugate said.
I am not sure of Baltimore’s standards on instructors teaching at their recruit schools. I believe that all of the instructors teaching Roanoke’s recruit schools are at least Instructor I and NFPA 1403 certified.
  • Sledgeski said only one hydrant was tapped for the exercise. When a house is on fire, the department will typically connect a “pumper truck” to a hydrant and then run multiple hoses from the truck.
We use two engines (pumpers) each on their own water source. One supplies the interior crews and the other supplies the RIT line.
  • Fires were set on each floor of the three-story rowhouse on South Calverton Road, Sledgeski said. Safety standards limit training exercises to one fire. Sledgeski said recruits were told that they would face only two fires. The third was essentially a “surprise” fire.
Roanoke has a three level burn building, which is used for all live fire training during recruit school. There is never a fire in the third floor, although it can be used for training (searches, etc.). We set two fires, one on the first floor and one on the second floor. There is only one team of recruits inside at a time.
  • The instructor in charge of the third-floor team did not have a radio to find out what was going wrong.
Every team has a radio in Roanoke, and often every instructor ends up with a radio while inside. This might mean that some instructors work in a group of two and share a radio.
It seems as though many of the “events” being investigated into recruit Wilson’s death are followed by Roanoke Fire-EMS. This is a good thing. So what if it takes a couple extra minutes to show everyone the floor layout, so what if we can’t burn three fires, so what if we have to follow the rules. There are reasons why we do these things.
Many of the reasons why NFPA 1403 was developed was because of the incident in Lairdesville:
  • In Lairdsville, a tiny town in upstate New York, a volunteer fire chief was convicted of negligent homicide and served jail time for his role in a fatal training exercise that involved a set fire in a century-old farm house. But in that case, several recruits were ordered to go upstairs and lie down so they could pretend to be victims.No fire hoses were charged before the fire was set and the lines were not in position. Also, plywood boards were nailed over the windows, leaving a small hole in one wall as the only escape route.The deputy chief, who later went to jail, set a sofa on fire directly below where the recruits were playing victim. “The fire raged out of control, raced up the staircase, and the entire place became an inferno,” said Michael A. Coluzza, who prosecuted the case.
Roanoke is starting another recruit school on Monday. So for all you instructors out there, remember we can prevent these incidents through proper training and following the rules.
Be safe and have fun.

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