Firefighter Kevin Jamerson of the Moneta Volunteer Fire Department
Roanoke Fire-EMS Lieutenant Rhett Fleitz will be on hand signing copies of his new book…

APRIL 28, 2007– 1pm
At First Due Fire/EMS Gear

Kevin is a member of the Moneta Volunteer Fire Department and was involved in a tragic accident on Nov. 4th, 2006. Kevin had just returned to the station from a fire when a platform he was standing on gave way. Kevin fell head first onto the concrete bay floor below and the platform crushed both of his feet. Kevin is married with a young son and has been out of work since the accident. Please stop by and show your support to Kevin and his family.

This is an important article for you all to read about pay and benefits in another department in Virginia. Manassas Park is a city with a population around 12000. The Manassas Park Fire Department has one station, two engines, two ambulances, and one quint.

Manassas Park senior firefighter Roland Hackney likes his job, in part, because it reminds him of the camaraderie he felt while playing football for Mount Vernon High School in Alexandria in the 1980s.
“It’s like your second family,” said Hackney, an 18-year veteran of the Manassas Park Fire Department.
That second family has had its share of divorces lately, though, as the department has lost nine shift firefighters and EMS technicians in the last nine months, including four in the last three months. While all have left on amicable terms, said fire chief John O’Neal, it’s a problem that needs fixing as soon as possible.

Read the whole article, see what the Manassas Park Fire Chief is doing about their turnover rate.
Bear with me here. I need to weight in on some recent news.

Roanoke City Manager Darlene Burcham has acknowledged that compensation for city employees lags behind comparable cities in Virginia. But she has cited lower costs of living in the Roanoke region and previous efforts to recruit and retain police officers as factors influencing the pay and benefits offered by the city to law enforcement officers.

Taken from 404 Not Found Blog on The Roanoke Times website (includes a video).

I see one major problem with the statement mentioned in the above blog by the City Manager. “compensation for city employees lags behind comparable cities in Virginia. But she has cited lower costs of living” I thought that the cost of living index was used to compare cities. Therefore if the compensation lags comparable cities in Virginia, the lower costs of living would have already been factored in. We still lag behind.

Now on to the issue of Pay Parity among Roanoke’s Public Safety

“The starting salary for a city police officer is $31,213, which is less than that of some smaller departments in the area, such as the Roanoke County Police Department, where officers start at $31,825. But ever since December 2004, city officers have been getting bumped up to $34,802 after their first 18 months.”

Taken from Police stage protest over pay on the Roanoke Times.

The Police Department is already above the Fire Department. Our Firefighters don’t get that bump in pay grade after the 18 months. On top of that, the Officers receive the coveted career enhancement pay that the Firefighters have sought for many years. This means that Officers who are FTO’s, K-9, Tactical Team Members, College Graduates, etc. receive an extra percentage on top of their base pay, compounded during raises.

We have guys hired by the Fire Department made to be EMT’s over 15 years ago and they only get $100 a month, not compounded, not factored on any raise, never been reassessed in 15+ years.

Is there pay parity? There has certainly been give and take as far as various public safety departments receiving raises and other departments piggy backing on each other. This process has worked out pretty good in the past considering the pay and benefit obstacles we face in Roanoke.

I have no issue with the Roanoke Police staging a “protest” to wake the city up to the issues facing their department. I think that they got the attention they were looking for.

However, I am not so sure I would have jumped so quick to picket as they did, which has only occurred a handful of times in the last 50 years between the Police and Fire Departments. Actually, I would have gone straight to City Council to sell my ideals and have them force the City Managers hand to prioritize. I like using the analogy of the trash cans downtown. Have you ever looked at those things, man they are nice. I bet the City spent a small fortune on them, only to come back and install custom cut logos on them made only by “Twists and Turns”, not the cheapest place in town. Prioritize I tell you. You could have stuck a $2 sticker on those damn things, they weren’t going anywhere.

I have the utmost respect for Police Officers as I do for all of Public Safety, especially Roanoke’s Finest and Bravest. I have no doubt that the Police Officers deserve the same 9% the entire City is behind in pay including more, as do we.

Danville just had an independent study completed and found out that their employees were 8% behind. So their “Elected Council” decided to give them 4% for the next two years. Hell that equals 8% right. Wrong. When you are 8% behind, you have to give them the 8% and whatever the increase is for that year just to catch up. Every year you neglect proper pay, the farther the employees fall into the abyss.

What happens then? Employees leave for better pay, better benefits, different jobs to be treated properly, morale tanks, people begin to not care as much, etc.

I have news for you, these things are happening. Ever since I have been here in Roanoke I have witnessed an ever tightening collar put on the Firefighters. A once well oiled machine has become a feeding frenzy with an “every man for himself” mentality. The Good Ole’ Boy network of long ago has reemerged with a dangerous cut throat attitude which is a product of needless micro management. Those who refuse to get wrapped up in this tornado are the ones who will walk away with their dignity.

Most of us have stuck with it, some have jumped ship giving up the job they love for ethical reasons, others have left to take the free fire/EMS education to other departments to make more money, and yet there are many Firefighters hoping that they will not lose their jobs due to loosely written policies backing an agenda which was written on a restaurant napkin and put into place for lack of care for a real solution to problems most departments have long put behind them.

Why do you think every ten or so years we get a big raise. Because we aren’t getting the raises we deserve annually during those 10 years. Think about the money that the City saves doing business like that. Now think about how that effects retirees each year the City holds off correcting the pay issues. That could mean the difference in $100′s of dollars a month, which means a lot to a retiring Firefighter who walks with 50% of the average of the last 3 years only after 25 years and reaching the rule of 70 (age + years of service = 70).

OK, enough about that. Now onto another topic today. Sheriff Johnson has been giving her Deputies their birthday off for the past 9 months for free, at no expense to the Deputy. Today she asked permission to do it. In my department, for those of us on the new pay plan there are two types of time off (uninjured); Paid Leave and Holiday, everything else is Absent WithOut Pay (AWOP).


I was sitting there watching the City Council meeting waiting for the magic question “Why are you bringing this up now?” which Councilwoman Mason finally asked. Johnson’s answer was something about how Human Resources had called her about it asking questions.

I have witnessed a lot of issues which I felt that the City was taking liberties interpreting the laws, policies, and regulations on the Local, State, and Federal stage. It seems as though you have to dig deep in your pockets just to call them on the issues and get a straight forward answer from the Courts to rectify the situation. Yet we have an Elected Official handing out free days off.

The City Lawyer stated that the Deputies already get more Holidays than most City workers because they get the State Holidays which the City doesn’t recognize. When asked what the days off cost, Johnson didn’t have an answer. However, she did state that the estimated cost of the remaining 59 Deputies to receive the free day off at $10,000. Therefore, using Fleitz math and the fact that there are around 240 deputies I believe, the total cost is around $40,000. Take it out of her check, you would if it were me.

When asked, the City Manager stated that if they get it everyone will want it. CORRECT. Sign me up. Who the hell wouldn’t want it.

Now for the other side of the coin.

The reason why Sheriff Johnson sited for giving the birthday off was for the low morale in the department. Kudos to Sheriff Johnson for trying to make a difference.

Not that our Chief hasn’t tried get us some extra benefits we deserve to increase morale. Remember the Career Enhancement pay I was talking about earlier. Our Chief has put in for it for several years, only to see it removed from the budget each year. The cost estimated at a mere $128,000. I think nearly a third of that was without permission over at the Sheriff’s Department. Again, the Police Officers get it.

Maybe we should start asking for forgiveness as well, it seems to be easier than asking for permission.

Chief Hoback Addresses the Crowd

Today marked a significant Anniversary for the Roanoke Fire-EMS Department, one hundred years as a completely career Fire Department. (Read More)

According to the Maurice Wiseman Project on Local

March 31, 1907 - The Roanoke City Fire Department became fully paid with uniformed men and the Volunteers disbanded, most of which were hired by the department.

Take a look over at, they posted a story I sent in on a roof over in 13′s first due at the Starlite Motel.
I have some information for all of you out there who might be looking at purchasing a house in Roanoke City. There is some decent assistance available for you if you want it. View the .pdf file here for more information.

Thanks to Kieth over at Roanoke Found for the information.

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.
Breaking News!!

Roanoke Fire-EMS has received a grant in the amount of $432,820 for Operations and Safety. The grant is from the “Fire Grants” which are the Assistance to Firefighter Grants (AFG). I can only hope that this is the grant money we were hoping to get for the diesel exhaust systems. I will do a little more research and update ASAP.

Bargaining Bill Introduced in House

February 12, 2007 – The Public Safety Employer-Employee Cooperation was introduced in the House of Representatives by Representatives Dale Kildee (D-MI) and John Duncan (R-TN). IAFF General President Harold Schaitberger has identified the Cooperation Act, HR 980, as the IAFF’s highest legislative priority.

“This new congress offers the best opportunity we’ve ever had to finally achieve our long-awaited goal of ensuring basic collective bargaining rights for every fire fighter in the nation,” Schaitberger says. “Today I call on every IAFF local to help make HR 980 a reality. We need fire fighters in every community in America to contact their member of Congress to urge them to co-sponsor this historic legislation.”

A Senate version of the legislation is also expected to be introduced in the coming weeks, sponsored by Senators Judd Gregg (R-NH) and Edward Kennedy (D-MA). Both the House and Senate bill will be featured at the upcoming IAFF Legislative Conference in March.

To read a copy of the legislation, click here. For more information about the Public Safety Employer-Employee Cooperation Act, click here.
Shenandoah Life has provided the Roanoke Fire-EMS Department with $50,000 for exercise equipment for several stations in Roanoke City. Stations 7, 8, 10, and the new headquarters station have received equipment this week. You can read about the donation on Shenandoah Life’s website. Eventually all of the stations will receive state of the art exercise equipment. Station 4 and 9 have already gotten the equipment, funded by the City.
David Bocock is heading up the effort to bring the equipment into the stations. He said that the City is continually attempting to allocate funds to complete the purchase for all of the stations.

Thanks to Shenandoah Life for the equipment.

There was an excellent article with pictures in February’s edition of the South Roanoke Circle. A-Shift at Station 8 was featured and basically introduced all the firefighters to the area.

Check out the website where you can download the latest edition in .pdf form.

Yet another article providing positive public relations. Last month, B-Shift was featured in the newspaper. C-Shift is next and might appear next month.

Cook & ladder
At Roanoke’s Fire Station No. 2, often where there’s smoke, there’s good eats.

By Lindsey Nair | 981-3343

* Watch a slideshow with audio

When the alarm sounded in the kitchen at 3:30 p.m., First Lt. Jim Cady was managing a boiling pot of potatoes, a pan of hissing sausages and a mess of cabbage.

The Roanoke firefighter hadn’t even started on his homemade bread yet.

“Whooooooop! Whooooooop! Engine No. 2, Engine No. 10, Engine No. 5,” a crackling voice began.

“That’s us,” said Cady, clamping down lids and switching off burners.

Wait. They didn’t call for the ladder truck. False alarm. (Read More)

It is always great to see Roanoke’s Firefighters in the news. Today, this article in the Roanoke Times featured Station #2 A-Shift. While I am sure the ribbing from the guys across the City has been fun, these types of articles help keep the firefighters in the Public’s eye and provides a positive look into what we are all about.

Be sure and watch the slideshow with audio – this offers a unique view into the kitchen at #2A.

Thanks Lindsey

Massive apartment fire leaves dozens homeless
Five injured in six-alarm fire in Queens

By Patricia Wu

(Queens – WABC, February 4, 2007)

The flames quickly spread between buildings and sent several hundred people out into the street.

It started in an apartment building on Neilson Street in Far Rockaway.

Eyewitness News reporter Patricia Wu joins with the latest.

Kathy Deherrera and her husband are thankful to be alive. They woke up just after midnight. Their apartment building was on fire.

“The more windows popping, more noise, more firemen, more trucks,” one of fire victims, Kathy Deherrera, said. “We decided to leave. We did.”

What a tough job for firefighters. The extreme heat of this six-alarm blaze caused the entire roof of the six-story apartment building to collapse.

It took more than 400 firefighters more than four hours to get this fire under control and they faced one hurdle after another. First a transformer exploded, causing power to be shut off to the building and several others in the area had to be shut off as well to protect the firefighters. (Read More)

Did you read that: there were 400 firefighters on scene. To put that into perspective, that is a small dent in the mere 12,000 or so FDNY firefighters. But if you were to have a fire of that size in the Roanoke Valley; there are only 77 firefighters on duty in the City of Roanoke at a time if no one was off. This is out of 270 total, give or take a few, on payroll. Roanoke County has around 120 career firefighters (I may be off) which would equate to 40 on duty at a time. Salem has around 40 firefighters equating to around 12 on duty at a time. Vinton has around 12 firefighters equating to 4 on duty at a time.

Therefore, on duty the Roanoke Valley has around 134 firefighters on duty at at time totally a total workforce of 442 career firefighters. I realize this doesn’t include the volunteers, which I haven’t the slightest clue on numbers.

So a fire of this capacity might require a total callback of every career firefighter in the Valley. You figure at least 42 of them might not be able to respond.

Just thought I would put that fire into perspective.

Flaws found in firefighters’ last line of defense
U.S. waited 5 years to heed expert’s warning on ‘man down’ alarms

By Bill Dedman
Investigative reporter
An MSNBC Special Report

Worn by a million firefighters in the U.S., the PASS device is a motion sensor that makes an awful racket if a firefighter stops moving for 30 seconds while battling a blaze. It flashes its lights and lets loose a series of ear-splitting beeps — an urgent call to help a fallen comrade.

It’s a call that hasn’t always been heard. Tests by federal and independent labs show that some PASS alarms can fail to perform as intended if they get too hot or wet — a serious problem for people who rush into burning buildings with water hoses. And federal investigative reports reviewed by show that 15 firefighters have died since 1998 in fires where a PASS, or Personal Alert Safety System, either didn’t sound or was so quiet that rescuers weren’t given a chance to find the firefighter quickly. (Read More)