Friday, September 26, 2014

How Many Firefighters Does It Take…

No, this isn’t the opening line to a bad joke…

Someone recently asked me how many firefighters it takes to put out a fire.

The answer is, of course, “It depends.”

Structure fire.
(Photo courtesy of
How big is the fire? Is it a structure or wildland fire? What kind of structure is involved (house, apartment complex, strip mall, factory) and what kind of materials were used to build it? What kind of wildland (grasses, heavy timber) is involved? What are the weather conditions? Firefighting is labor intensive in the best of circumstances, and crews try to rotate through tasks and take breaks when possible for safety and health reasons. Extra crews may be needed on extremely hot or cold days simply to relieve other firefighters.

In Colorado Springs, local news reports said that 68 firefighters responded last weekend to fire at a large hotel/condominium complex. Not every firefighter was directly involved in fire suppression; some of these personnel operated in a support capacity (safety, firefighter rehab, refilling SCBA bottles, etc.) or as part of the command staff. But an incident like this involving a large number of occupants and a high-rise building is going to require a lot of resources, even in a best-case scenario.

A recent house fire prompted the response of 24 Colorado Springs firefighters. Again, some of the firefighters were on scene to provide support.

But it’s important to remember that many fire departments, especially small and/or all-volunteer agencies, are limited in resources. A few weeks ago, a house fire in the small town of Walsenburg, Colorado (population around 3000 people) was handled by 16 firefighters, which probably stretched the capabilities of the departments responding to that blaze.

Even if the fire involves a huge warehouse or a bunch of railroad tanker cars, there may be only so much the local department can throw at it. Additional personnel and equipment will have to come from neighboring jurisdictions.

For writers of all kinds, it’s important to understand that numbers only paint a small portion of any fire picture. Fires of all kinds require “as many firefighters as it takes” to put them out.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

9/11: Never Forget

Millions of people can recall with astounding clarity exactly where they were and what they were doing on September 11, 2001. For firefighters, the date is especially meaningful because it signifies the largest number of firefighters lost in a single incident. They may not have known any of the 343 FDNY firefighters who died trying to save others in the Twin Towers that day, but they still feel the loss. Firefighters are a very large, extended family that believes in the meaning of brotherhood and sisterhood.

Across the country, firefighters have already completed or will participate in an annual event known as the 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb. From the website

Each participant pays tribute to a FDNY firefighter by climbing or walking the equivalent of the 110 stories of the World Trade Center. Your individual tribute not only remembers the sacrifice of an FDNY brother, but symbolically completes their heroic journey to save others. Through firefighter and community participation we can ensure that each of the 343 firefighters is honored and that the world knows that we will never forget. The proceeds of these events help the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation create and maintain programs that support fire service survivors. Your support of the 9-11 Memorial Stair Climb events provides assistance to the surviving families and co-workers of the 343 firefighters who made the ultimate sacrifice on September 11, 2001.

Firefighters need to be in top physical condition, as this is an extremely demanding event. Firefighters wear full bunker gear, air packs, and carry a piece of equipment used for high-rise fires (e.g. 2.5” hose pack or a forcible entry tool) as they ascend the stairs of a high rise building or other venue such as Red Rocks Amphitheater in Morrison, Colorado to simulate 110 stories.

Other memorial events include a ceremony at the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial located at the National Fire Academy/National Emergency Training Center complex in Emmitsburg, Maryland. I was privileged to witness this moving ceremony firsthand in 2013. It is my sincere hope that these tributes continue long into the future to tell the world:

We Will Never Forget
9/11 Memorial at the National Fire Academy/
National Emergency Training Center, Emmitsburg, Maryland.
Photo by R. Widmar. Copyright 2013.