Police in China’s northern Inner Mongolia have launched an official investigation into the beating of five newly-recruited firefighters in Wuhai city after a video that showed them being abused by senior soldiers went viral over the weekend, reported China’s Southern Metropolis Daily.
The 16-minute-long clip that recorded the beatings received millions of views and shocked China’s online community, who called it a disgrace and demanded authorities get to the bottom of the scandal. Yet many bloggers, after viewing the clip, said it was just the tip of the iceberg of the corruption-riddled People’s Liberation Army (PLA).
The clip showed five young soldiers who were made to stand next to each other and take beatings from what appeared to be senior soldiers. The seniors took turns torturing the new recruits, hitting them in the face, kicking them in their stomach, and banging their heads into a concrete wall. Several of the recruits collapsed onto the floor after being attacked. Yet the torture resumed as the new soldiers were immediately asked to to stand up and take more beatings.
Well this sure is a different kind of story. I am starting to see it as reverse 911 abuse. Last Saturday 27,000 people who signed up for Alert SCC, Santa Clara County California’s emergency alert system via text, email and phone messaging received alerts from the Palo Alto Fire Department. The emergency: the fire department’s community pancake breakfast.
The fire chief says there was a perfectly legitimate reason for the alert. But some citizens aren’t buying it and the use of the system in this way is now being reviewed.
It really is a bait and switch. Like most of these systems across the country Alert SCC has a clear mission:
AlertSCC is a free, easy, and confidential way for anyone who lives or works in Santa Clara County to get emergency warnings sent directly to their cell phone, mobile device, email, or landline.
It doesn’t advertise itself as a community event alert. Just like you don’t want your 911 system bogged down with frivolous calls, I am sure the public doesn’t want its lifeline in an emergency sending out what many will view as spam. This is one where the chief would be better off saying we clearly screwed up and it isn’t going to happen again rather than trying to find justification for the error in judgment.
Fire Chief Eric Nickel said the reason for the alert was to inform nearby residents the event included a life-flight helicopter landing at a local school, something that has prompted 9-1-1 calls in the past.
But, because the message started with “Pancake Breakfast,” at least ten residents had complained that it was a misuse of the county’s alert system.
After receiving the complaints, the city of Palo Alto was looking into its use of the alert system.
“We’ll take a look at utilizing some of those other technologies, and possibly reserving the alert SCC for that emergency notification only,” Chief Nickel told KPIX 5.
Last nigth at 11:00 PM, WRC-TV/NBC 4 in Washington did another story about EMS problems in the Nation’s Capital. This one is about an engine company transporting a stroke victim to the hospital because no EMS transport units were available for a while yesterday evening. As we relayed to you yesterday, Chief Kenneth Ellerbe has been quiet about the latest incident involving his department. That apparently will change at 2:00 this afternoon according to a notification sent out from the department’s communications director a short time ago:
Kenneth B. Ellerbe, and other public officials will hold a press briefing in front of the Department’s headquarters, 1923 Vermont Avenue, NW, to address concerns that have evolved regarding EMS response times.
District firefighters were forced to take a man suffering from a stroke to a hospital in a fire truck Thursday evening because the closest ambulance was seven miles away.
The incident comes just two days after an injured police officer waited almost 20 minutes for an ambulance.
Now, a top city leader is calling for immediate action, reported News4′s Shomari Stone.
The latest case involved a man in his 80s at a home in the 600 block of Atlantic Avenue SE. His wife called 911, saying the man was suffering from a stroke, said deputy fire chief Demetrios Vlassopoulos.
A fire engine staffed with paramedics responded to the scene within four minutes, and an ambulance was dispatched at the same time, Vlassopoulos told News4.
The closest ambulance, however, was coming from seven miles away — too far away to respond quickly in rush hour, Vlassopoulos said. A paramedic on the scene assessed the patient and decided he needed to go to a hospital immediately, so emergency personnel transported him in the fire truck.
This is the third time that an ambulance has been too far away to respond to a medical emergency in Southeast Washington this year.
District Councilman Tommy Wells told Stone that he would call a hearing into why it’s taking so long for some ambulances to respond in the Southeast part of the city. “We do not expect that there are any delays” in ambulance service, he said.
Meanwhile, the investigation into the delayed ambulance response for an injured D.C. police officer is focusing on 10 ambulance units that were out of service at the time of the call. The man in charge of the investigation told News4 he’s trying to find out why the units were unavailable and why they were all out of service so close to the end of their shifts.
The initial calls for a pedestrian down came about 6:30 p.m. Tuesday night — just 30 minutes before the shift change.
“I want to make sure that in fact no one took themselves out of service without the proper authorization and especially when it came time to ending their shift early,” Deputy Mayor Paul Quander said. “That’s unacceptable.”
Thirty-nine ambulance units were on duty at the time of the accident, Quander said, and some of the 10 that were out of service had legitimate reasons for not being able to respond to the call.
“One of the things I need to find out from this internal review is what happened to 10 of the units that were not available at that critical time,” Quander said. “Some of them may have been on runs to hospitals. Some of them may have been being cleaned. There are others I need to focus on to see whether or not they took themselves out of service without authorization.”
The officer, identified as Sean Hickman, was eventually transported by a Prince George’s County ambulance with life-threatening injuries. He suffered multiple fractures to his left leg and has had two surgeries so far.
His recovery will be long, D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier said.
“He’s pretty badly injured,” she said. “He underwent 7-8 hours of surgery the first night and he has additional surgeries today.”
D.C. Council member Tommy Wells, who has oversight of the fire department, called the delay “unacceptable” and launched his own inquiry.
Last Friday, La Cienega Fire Department (Santa Fe County. NM) firefighter Samantha Nottke was with another firefighter talking to students at Santo Nino Regional Catholic School about fire safety and prevention. After meeting with the 4th to 6th graders the firefighter noticed her wallet was gone. Apparently in her mind that meant the kids must have taken it.
After telling school officials of her concern, principal Teri Vaisa brought the kid to the cafeteria for a meeting with the firefighter. According to reporter Alex Goldsmith at KRQE-TV, Nottke, who also works at the county jail, became upset when a few kids giggled during the meeting:
“[She] started yelling at our kids, telling them they’re stealing from taxpayers,” said 4th grade parent Amy Ortiz. “That she keeps thieves like them locked up.”
An official fire department memo cites the comment as: “We lock up bad kids!”
But the wallet wasn’t with the kids or even at the school. A couple of hours later it was found back at the fire station.
Chief (James) Valencia says Nottke was absolutely out of line and fired her on Friday, but has since lessened the punishment and allowed her to re-apply after six months. Both Nottke and Valencia apologized in person and with letters distributed to parents.
“I am sorry for what we have done,” Valencia said. “Not only for the firefighter but myself because I’m her leader.”
Parents are upset with both the firefighter and the principal for allowing this to happen.
In our presentations around the country we have been pushing the fire service to be a trusted and valued source of information for the community by using social media on a daily basis. And we always add that they should be an instant source of information when things hit the fan. On the East Coast they hit the fan yesterday in a very big way.
Hurricane Sandy proved there are plenty of fire chiefs and other government officials who get that one of the most efficient ways to reach the community (and the traditional news media) during a critical incident is through Facebook, Twitter and the Internet. Especially when the power is out and the smartphone, which seems to be the primary source of information for the masses, is the ONLY line of communications.
I know I am will be missing some, but here are few in my region I followed that seemed to be doing a very good job of keeping the public informed via Twitter: Alexandria, VA (@AFDCHIEF200), Arlington County, VA (@ARLINGTONVA), Fairfax County, VA (@FAIRFAXCOUNTY), Howard County, MD (@HCDFRS, @HCDFRS_CHIEF, @KENULMAN), Montgomery County, MD (@MCFRS, @MONTGOMERYCOMD), Prince George’s County, MD (@PGFDPIO, @PGPDJULIE, @COUNTYEXECBAKER ), Washington, DC (@MAYORVINCEGRAY, @IAFF36).
Again, this is not an exhaustive list, just some local jurisdictions I noticed that had people (in some cases elected officials), communicating timely information on a regular basis as Sandy created serious problems. Many of these folks also understand that social media is two way communication and answered a lot of questions from the people they serve.
“I was just tweeting to people who were not able to get through to 911,” Rahimi told Yahoo News.
Rahimi posted updates to the official FDNY Twitter account urging those facing emergencies to dial 911. Because the response effort was divided among city government agencies, calling 911 allowed dispatchers to filter out assignments instead of every request going to the fire department.
“*Do not* tweet emergency calls,” Rahimi wrote as the storm hit.
But for those unable to access a phone or who could not get through, Rahimi was there to help.
Sandy once again proved there is also a lot of information on Twitter and Facebook that can’t be trusted. In some cases the mainstream news media took these social media rumors and misinformation as gospel and spread the information on its own platforms. I am not sure at exactly what point it was decided that journalists no longer need to verify the information they report. It’s one thing to report as gospel what Emily Rahimi is tweeting on @FDNY and something else completely when @JoeSchmoe is telling you the New York Stock Exchange is underwater or workers are trapped in a Con Ed plant.
No doubt, those wanting social media in emergency management to go away and leave them alone are finding plenty of fodder for their arguments. False information is rampant. Incredibly, some use it for evil purposes. But, if you need arguments to counter these, consider this:
- communication resilience–nothing stays up and running like the Internet and these social media channels
- self correcting nature of the Internet (I heard about the false picture circulating by email through social media at least one day before it showed up)
- because this is where citizens and media get info, both true and false, it is incumbent on every official communicator to monitor and respond to the false info …
I would add that proving yourself by providing good and timely information when it is most needed will make you that valued, trusted and instant source of information the public once believed only came from radio, TV and newspapers.
As for my friends in the mainstream news media, if you want to remain relevant during this type of breaking news, you have to stop helping spread rumors. Practicing good journalism with social media will set you apart from the other crap that will always be out there during a major emergency. If not, there are a lot of government officials who seem to be ready to fill that role.
Want to learn to fight fires the Detroit way? Interested in riding-along and being put to work in a department that has lost firefighters due to layoffs? Willing to pay money for this privilege?
WJBK-TV reporter Charlie LeDuff says such a plan was outlined in an internal memo from Detroit Executive Fire Commissioner Don Austin. The commissioner’s idea gets the full LeDuff treatment with Austin telling the reporter he will call him back with a comment, but doesn’t. Instead the mayor’s office called the reporter claiming there was nothing to discuss publicly about the internal memo.
Since Mayor Bing gutted the fire service, the department has been forced to close down rigs and layoff men. What to do? Here’s a firecracker of an idea. Because Detroit for years has been a magnet for firefighter tourists riding along on the rigs, Commissioner Don Austin, according to his “ride-along training program” memo, is thinking, hey, why not put them to work and charge them for the privilege.
“What about when the roof falls on the guy that’s out helping. Who’s going to take care of his liability part?” one firefighter said.“That’s not the answer, no. We need firefighters, our laid off guys back. That’s what we need,” said Darnell McLaurin with DFAA Local 344.How does one of the laid off guys feel about being replaced by tourists?“Tourists? Wow. Do they know what to do?” said Sam Shack.
In the video above LeDuff refers to a story he did on Tuesday where firefighters couldn’t get police to stop by the firehouse to pick up a confessed murderer. Click here to watch that story:
Seeing as the police precincts were closed, the self confessed murderer came to Engine 40 to turn himself in. He begged them to call police, which they did.
“He shot four people and killed two,” said a Detroit firefighter. “No cop ever came here, and this is supposed to be a priority call when you call Central and say, okay, we need a scout car at the fire station.”After three or four hours, firefighters say they put him in a cab where he went to a police precinct and turned himself in.
Those who have heard me speak or read my columns about social media the last few years know that I rarely fail to mention words of wisdom from two people, Gerald Baron and Bill Boyd. It was Baron’s book Now Is Too Late2 that put everything I learned as a reporter about news coverage and the impact of the Internet and social media into perspective. The book also took me into the world of Bill Boyd, a fire chief in Washington State.
Since reading the book I’ve gotten to know both men and stay current on their thoughts of the evolution of social media in the public safety/ emergency management arena through emails, phone conversations, Tweets, Facebook posts and their blogs (Bill’s It’s Not My Emergency and Gerald’s Crisis Blogger).
Bill Boyd is one of a very small number of fire service leaders who “gets it” when it comes to the crucial role of social media in emergency management. More important, Chief Boyd is constantly looking at some of the every day practices of the fire service and public safety and how they must evolve to include social media, not only to get the job done, but to stay relevant to the people you serve.
If you are a leader who is still hesitant about making SM a part of your department, or one who is looking for guidance and trying to understand what you got yourself into with Facebook, Twitter and all of the other platforms, let Chief Bill Boyd be your guide. Chief Boyd, along with Gerald Baron and Agincourt Strategies, have produced this video training series to give you what you need to know to understand how social media is changing emergency management and how you can leverage its power to protect both the public and your agency’s reputation.
I am honored to team up with these two as part of STATter911 Communications continuing efforts to help fire service leaders and others communicate effectively, whether it is part of the daily routine of serving the public or during a critical incident. In addition to these videos, STATter911.com will be running guest columns on social media from both Chief Bill Boyd and Gerald Baron.
Remember the controversy last Memorial Day weekend over the drowning in Alameda, California when firefighters weren't allowed to go into the water after Raymond Zack because of a lack of training and/or certification by the firefighters? A somewhat similar incident that happened before the Alameda drowning is making headlines in the United Kingdom as part of a coroner's inquest this week.
It happened at Walpole Park in Gosport, England last March. Forty-one-year-old Simon Burgess drowned.
Testimony indicates the firefighters who arrived to see Burgess face down in the water decided from a distance there were no signs of life and waited 11 minutes for a water rescue team. They cited health and safety rules that prevent firefighters from entering water more than ankle deep. The firefighter in charge also ordered others not to go into the water.
A fire chief ordered a policeman and a paramedic to leave a drowning man in a 3ft deep lake 'because they thought he was already dead', an inquest heard.
Police Constable Tony Jones and paramedic Robert Wallace volunteered to jump into the lake but were given strict orders not to do so by fire station watch manager Tony Nicholls.
Adhering to force policy not to enter water more than 'half a boot' deep unless in a life-critical situation, he ordered his crew not to retrieve the body and to wait for the water rescue team, based at Fareham, which arrived at 12.31pm.
Deborah Coles, the control room manager at Hampshire Fire and Rescue, told the inquest that she took the call from Hughes at 12.17pm and, within a minute, had sent a fire appliance, a water rescue trained crew and a water support unit. She told the inquest, "The specialist teams are there to deal with water which is over half a boot in depth. At 12.20pm, the fire crew confirmed attendance and at 12.25 they told us a male was floating face down." She went on, "The water support unit arrived at 12.31pm. At 12.46, we received a message requesting our press officer attend the scene. At 12.52, an update came in saying a male had been recovered, and at 12.58 he was taken to hospital." Burgess was pronounced dead at 13.42.
After the hearing, Mr Burgess's father, David, said: "We will never know if Simon could have been saved, if he had been pulled from the water as soon as the emergency services arrived on the scene or if it was already too late for him.
"When a loved one is involved in an incident like this, you can only hope that everything possible is done to save them regardless of how small the chances of success are."
While the overall issue of a strict "pay for spray" policy is still very much alive in Obion County, Tennessee and an important subject for debate, a local chief now says the widely reported facts about Monday's incident are not accurate. Union City Fire Department Chief Kelly Edmison says the South Fulton Fire Department was never on the scene of the house fire. Edmison tells STATter911.com the woman whose home was burning saw a fire engine from Kentucky which did not have the authority to act.
According to the version of events supplied a short time ago by Chief Edmison, unlike last year's incident, South Fulton firefighters were not on the scene refusing to douse the flames. It is unclear why South Fulton's mayor or fire chief previously did not, or were unable to, make this clear to the local news media.
Still, even in this latest version of events, firefighters did respond to the call and came within two blocks of the burning home. Following the South Fulton policy, firefighters did not attempt to put the fire out. As we posted earlier today, this is something Chief Edmison and other municipal chiefs in Obion County are trying to change. Below, Chief Edmison explains the details, as he knows them, from Monday's incident and provides more background about the battle over the subscription fire service:
South Fulton NEVER made it to the scene of the fire! I just talked with Chief Wilds moments ago. The call came in as a city run. Fulton, KY shares the state line with South Fulton Fire Department. they have Auto-Aid between the two of them for CITY calls. The call was dispatched to South Fulton as though it were a city run. They were told fire on "Cavitt." Cavitt St. is in the city. Cavitt Lane, is in the county. SFFD responded to Cavitt St. Fulton, KY Fire Department caught glimpse of a South Fulton Police car heading towards E. Cavitt. They in turn followed. SFFD after getting to Cavitt St, they could see the fire (fully involved) and realized the call was in the county, they also knew those trailers were not covered under the policy. They radioed Fulton to stand down as it was a county non covered property. Fulton's truck stopped two blocks short of the actual fire. It was their truck that was seen by witness's NOT South Fulton. I also talked with the Fulton Chief. It bothered them that they couldn't help but them being from out of state and only having authority by South Fulton could not respond after SFFD standing them down. Both departments then returned to quarters. NO one went on scene regardless what any area news media claimed or even what the local paper reported.
Now, as I have said, I don't like the subscription program. However Union City has operated this way since the early 60's. Currently with a 73% participation in our district. It was the hopes of the 8 city fire chiefs (because there "ain't no COUNTY fire department) that the county commission could be convince to go with a fire tax and contract services from the 8 city departments. They didn't want to pass one and apparently the county residents have choose to remain quiet and not force the issue. The ONLY reason I and the other departments have agreed to go along with the county wide subscription at this time is that it is providing funding for 5 other departments now that have been getting nothing in the past except revenues from their respective cities. Our hopes are that with a 70% collection county wide the commission would favor a tax. Politics now comes into play. We are told that by state law, a county fire tax would place too high of a fee on the farmers. Obion county is mostly agriculture based. Many of the county commissioners are farmers. I'll not say more.
Another note, in fairness to the county, the not responding to non-subscribers is NOT a county policy. That is left up to each city to make that decision. They are only collecting the money for the individual departments.
Until the county residents rise up and demand a county fire tax, I don't see the problem being solved. With 70% county wide supporting the subscription program, you would think they would support a tax which reduces that fee.
Bottom line, the cities are not going to provide fire protection to the county for nothing. We as chiefs have to carry out the policies of our individual governments or we can choose to "go elsewhere." I currently am committed to protecting the City of Union City taxpayers AND the 73% of the county customers in our district.
As was stated above, all cities pulling back to their city limits would probably force the issue. But I believe in my case, our "city fathers" aren't quite willing to do that to the 73% who have supported us for so many years.
We'll get through this; we chief's haven't given up. The fires remain hot; but sometimes the politics burns hotter.
You may recall in October, 2010, when the world became familiar with Obion County, Tennessee and learned about something much of the general public was unfamiliar with, subscription fire service, one person spoke up right away on behalf of the firefighters who protect county residents. He is Union City Fire Department Chief Kelly Edmison.
Chief Edmison wrote a column for STATter911.com and made it clear that the firefighters aren't happy with the system either and have been trying to change it. (During last year's incident we pointed out, instead of trying unsuccesfully to chase the TV news crew from the scene, South Fulton FD should have explained this fact from the start so the public fully understood who was responsible for this system.)
Union City FD also protects part of Obion County through a subscription fee and has policies similar to South Fulton. But Chief Edmison indicated last year his department, once on the scene of a burning home, would have had a different outcome.
Even before last year's fire that the South Fulton FD watched burn, the chiefs had submitted a proposal to Obion County officials to implement a fire tax. Instead, the county went in the opposite direction and expanded the subscription service.
In addition, Wednesday night we showed you the story of Randy Evans with the Obion City Fire Department who also is trying to make it clear the firefighters want this system changed. Obion City firefighters, while not involved in the fire on Monday, have been receiving death threats because of mistaken identity, due to the name of the department (click here for that story).
As for Chief Edmison, he sent STATter911.com the following email Wednesday and asked me to share the latest efforts to get firefighters out of the middle and allow them to do what they are supposed to do. Here's Chief Edmison's update:
First off, the call that SFFD received initially was for an in town structure fire. The particular street has both a “Street” and a “Lane”. The “Lane” portion ended up being in the county. Not the city limits.
Where the County is at this time, is that the whole county has implemented a subscription program (July 1, 2011). As you may remember, South Fulton, Kenton and Union City were the only ones with such a program. The county is now doing the collection of the subscription fees for the departments (with the exception of South Fulton who has decided to continue to collect their own). Countywide right now we are seeing almost 70% participation.
The “Chiefs” hope that this figure will encourage the county at some point to pass a county fire tax and be done with this problem. The current subscription fee is $75 per year. If it were a tax and 100% compliant that fee/tax would probably be down around $55 or $60. How often does a politician have the opportunity to pass a tax, when 70% of the populace are in favor of it AND save them $15 or $20 per year?
Our Chief’s aren’t looking at the subscription program as the “Goal.” It’s merely a step in what we hope will eventually “fix the problem.” Meanwhile, our fellow firefighters continue to take a beating for something they truly aren’t in control of.
For those interested in how fire departments and other public agencies communicate with the press and the public there was a fascinating exchange (above) at yesterday's regularly scheduled press briefing by District of Columbia Mayor Vincent Gray. The press was in somewhat open rebellion about a couple of policies of the DC government that seem to contradict Mayor Gray's pledge of an open and transparent administration.
It started with a question by WJLA-TV reporter Suzanne Kennedy about two recent moves by city officials. One was the encryption of all radio communications for the Metropolitan Police Department (DC Police) and the other, the halting of a very active and popular Twitter feed by the DC Fire & EMS Department that alerted the press and the public to fires, accidents, shootings and other emergencies that fire and ems crews responded to.
The Twitter account had almost 10,000 followers and had provided more than 11,000 Tweets. It had become a primary alerting source for the news media and private citizens. The last Tweet was on August 30. Shortly after the Tweets stopped the police department began encrypting its radio traffic with the justification that smart phone apps allow criminals to listen in on the department's communications much in the way radio scanners have done for decades.
So, the news media and the public lost two important sources that helped them provide oversight of city officials and operations.
Let's make it clear that the best we can tell these both are legal and lawful policies of the District of Columbia government. It is within the rights of city officials to take these actions. There is no law that requires them to maintain a Twitter account or keep their radio communications open. But is this a smart route to go if you want to have transparent and open government in the 21st Century?
Then there is the reaction, not just from the press, but by the public, via Twitter, over the loss of Tweets from @dcfireems and the comments made by the DC Fire & EMS Department's Director of Communications Lon Walls (click here and scroll down). Many blasted Walls for believing that "social media is for parties". In the Washington Times and DCist.com articles you will see Walls is not a fan of Twitter.
Here's my brief message on this to the administration of Mayor Gray and anyone else who has the responsibility of communicating with the public for routine every day events and in times of crisis. That little thing in everyone's hands that always seems to be a part of their body is how most people get their news these days. It's also how they share news with others, whether it's taking pictures with the camera that is a part of it or using the applications on it like Twitter and Facebook. Those people who are constantly holding and operating these devices are the people you serve and the people who pay your salaries. They want and expect to know what's going on almost instantly via that device. The city has the opportunity to be a valued, trusted and instant source of information that their citizens can rely on every day and in times of major emergencies. And a source that reaches directly to the public without first having to go through the news media. Don't deride it, don't confiscate it, don't ignore it. Instead, embrace it and the reality of how people now communicate.
But enough from me. Here are some words on this subject from a real expert::
It's really quite bizarre. Every after action report of any consequence of major events highlights the need for interoperable communication and by encrypting all radio messages they certainly have sent interoperability concerns into the closet. Maybe there is sufficient safety justification, I hope so, because if this trend continues the history of major event management shows that lives will be lost because of interoperability issues.
But my primary concern is shutting down Twitter. @dcfireems has been a very popular means of communicating in DC about emergency events. With nearly 10,000 followers it is very clear that it has become the primary means used by DC media to keep the public informed, but equally important is the fact that the public itself is kept informed through those tweets.
In talking with a source close to these matters in DC, it appears that the encrypted radio decision and putting the brakes on Twitter are related and both coming from DC Police. As DC Police moved toward keeping their communication under wraps, it was troubling them that Fire EMS service was tweeting openly about things–some of which involved police. So they felt they couldn't keep the wraps on their communication and allow a sister agency to keep talking. This move by DC Police is in addition to their apparent policy of confiscating the phones of citizen journalists documenting arrests for the apparent purpose of capturing evidence. This is deeply troubling.
Needless to say, those following the Twitter account are not happy–both reporters and the public. The Twitter conversation gives an indication of their thoughts on this.
However, the announcement about this compounded the problem by being less than transparent and honest. The last tweet from Fire/EMS as I understand it was August 31. Initially it was explained that this was because the tweeter, Pete Piringer, had gone on vacation. Then in the press conference it was explained that it was shut down because it had imperiled the operation of another (apparently federal) agency. The real explanation, provided by my source, was only hinted at–that police want to keep the wraps on things.
What absolutely amazes and appalls me coming from communicators in our nation's capital are comments like these:
"After the press conference, Lon Walls, the department's communication director and a former journalist himself, said that accuracy was vital. "I'd rather be slow and right than fast and wrong," he said.
"Social media is for parties. We ain't givin' parties," he added, arguing that safety and sensitive issues had to be considered before tweeting out information on emergencies."
Social media is for parties? I'd rather be slow? Break out the clay tablets, boys and girls. No doubt there are operational concerns with tweeting, no doubt policies and controls need to apply, no doubt mistakes can easily be made with serious consequences. But because cars cause accidents doesn't mean we go back to horses and buggies. I certainly hope DC gets their inter-agency disagreements under control and some leadership is shown about today's realities of public communication.
Above is a June 19 story about a camera confiscated by DC Police after a citizen took pictures of an arrest on a public street.
Above is a story about a July 3 incident where DC Police confronted a man taking pictures of a traffic stop.
After long, hot day on top of a more than 750-foot communications tower in Burlington, Texas on Wednesday, Mike Howard was sick and couldn't get down. He found a platform at the 760 feet level where he went in and out of consciousness while rescuers devised a plan and came after him. But it was a rescue operation that took more than six hours.(In December, I ran a video from a helmet-cam from a guy working at the top of a more than 1700 foot tower asking the question who rescues this guy when he was in trouble. As if I didn't know.)
"I was cramping," he said. "I had to stop, but I had to keep pushing on through."
Two more firefighters joined him at the top. Their arms, hands and legs burned in pain while the wind blew their ropes sideways. Since they couldn't get to the stricken worker out onto the platform, they tossed him a bag of saline intended for an IV, which he drank.
They started their climb at about 8 p.m. and the rescue lasted nearly seven hours.
A crew of about 20 people conceived a plan to tie a rope to a harness and then use a pulley to lower him down through the middle of the tower — which began just after 1 a.m. Thursday.
Crews climbed the tower and found that Howard, while still lying on the platform, had removed his safety gear because he felt claustrophobic. Complicating the issue further was Howard's stature he was said to be at least 6 feet 5 inches tall.
By 2:30 a.m., they had successfully brought Howard back down to the ground. He was transported to Huguley Memorial Hospital in Burleson and is in stable condition.
Steven Lowery says he was on an emergency run Monday evening. A report of a dog that had been struck at Preston and Cooper Chapel. To get there he turned on the lights and sirens of his ambulance that is part of his firm called Metro Medical. Here's what Lowery told WDRB-TV about Metro Medical:
"It's Metro Medical. We do drug testing. We also do emergency critical care, pet transportation,"
Behind the drug testing mobile/pet ambulance (wouldn't it be nice if he added pet detective too?) was someone authorized to use lights and siren. But Officer Dale Elliott says he couldn't get Lowery to stop and gave up … for the moment. The officer eventually caught up with the ambulance at Lowery's home where he arrested Lowery and impounded the rig.
As for the call that Lowery was on, pet ambulances suffer the same problem that the ones carrying humans do. Lowery says it was a false call.
Let me say from the outset of this critique (or, if you prefer, Dave's Monday morning quarterbacking), what I saw in news coverage (and that is my only source of info for details on this story), gives me a great deal of respect for Chief Lynn Johnson of the West Platte Fire District in Missouri. The chief had a couple dozen angry citizens and a gaggle of TV reporters demanding answers at a City Council meeting a week after a July 4th fire where a business owner died. The main allegation by the citizens is that it took 14 minutes to put water on the fire and they have video to prove their point.
Chief Johnson didn't run or hide and appeared to keep her cool at the Monday night gathering. That's not always an easy thing to do when your department is under attack. In addition, the chief admitted to a reporter there was a water problem and promised to investigate. I have seen situations like this handled much, much worse by even big city chiefs (not that they necessarily have a lock on doing things correctly).
That said, I think this sticky situation could have been handled in a manner that would have been much better for the chief, the department, the political leaders and, most important, the citizens. My goal here is not to blast anyone, but use this incident as a reminder that extinguishing the type of fires that spread raw emotion through a community, can be almost as important as putting out the ones that require you to place the wet stuff on the red stuff. It is crucial for the well being of your department's reputation that you have pre-plans and SOPs/SOGs for both type of fires.
As I have long advocated, the guiding principle behind such planning is to get the facts out, get them right and get the issue behind you as rapidly as possible so you can work on rebuilding your image in the community.
West Platte Chief Lynn Johnson at Monday's meeting from KSHB-TV.
As we have pointed out before, bad news doesn't get better or smell better with age. By all accounts the chief had enough information to express concern over the loss of life, answer the allegations made by the citizens, acknowledge they were correct in their complaint about a delay in getting water on the fire, correct misinformation about the length of time it took to fix the problem and explain the steps being taken to make sure this doesn't happen again on her watch.
Instead, it is clear to me the very measured response by Chief Johnson to the citizens, via the press, is just delaying the inevitable and letting this story live for another day. What is unclear is if the way it was handled was the choice of Chief Johnson or if she was following the orders of her bosses.
The chief refused to go on camera and apparently did not make a statement in front of the council (if she did, it was not covered in the accounts I viewed). But Chief Johnson did make statements to reporters off-camera:
Lynn Johnson, the Fire Chief, did not feel comfortable talking about the tape on camera until she got a chance to see it. But she did say they did not wait 14 minutes to use water to fight the fire and that they had received conflicting reports about whether or not a person was trapped inside.
The fire chief of the West Platte Fire Protection District now has a copy of the video. She told (reporter Dan) Weinbaum that there was a delay in getting water at the fire scene, but it did not hinder the firefight.
I just can't imagine, a week after the fire, the chief didn't have a pretty good idea what the issue was with getting water. Whether the chief determined it was mechanical or a training problem she should have been able to explain it in more detail (even without the video) by Monday and gotten this behind her.
In other words, cut your losses and do so quickly. It is the same thought process you might use on the fireground. What's burned is burned, I can't change that fact, but I can prevent it from taking out the next building or the block.
Your quick action in a time when reputations are destroyed at the speed of light, thanks to the Internet, is crucial. How deep seated the damage is to your department's image can be directly related to the speed and depth in which you respond when bad news happens.
Consider the image of your department in the digital age as a neighborhood of lightweight constructed homes on a very windy day, with the houses built six feet apart, with no sprinkler systems and no real fire resistive barriers in the outside walls. If you don't get to a room and contents fire in this neighborhood very quickly and put it out you will be chasing the flames from home to home. Failing to decisively and rapidly attack a reputation issue can turn a fire that slightly chars the department's image into a conflagration that wipes out your standing in the community.
Remember, people will often forgive you for your mistakes if you have given them a reason to trust in you. But it makes it much more difficult to earn their forgiveness when they don't feel you have been honest and open and you aren't answering their questions in a timely manner. Just as in the Alameda, California drowning story, this story in Weston, Missouri is ultimately about the public's trust and confidence in their fire department. If they have questions, no matter how wrong-headed they are, you don't look good when those answers aren't provided as soon as the information is known.
In addition, if Chief Johnson did say, as the reporter paraphrased, the delay "did not hinder the firefight", that was probably not a well thought out statement. The fire service telling the public on one hand that every second counts when fire breaks out and then indicating an eight minute delay in getting water did not negatively impact operations doesn't wash. You are not going to win that, especially when there is video of the incident that shows otherwise.
I believe this story would go away a lot faster and the department would look a lot better if the chief had been able to get up at the council meeting and and say something similar to this:
"It was very clear to anyone who saw us in the initial stages of this fire that we had difficulty in getting water at the proper pressure into the hose firefighters first used to attack the flames. For eight minutes we struggled to correct this problem. It was a mechanical (or human) failure. I have taken the following immediate steps to correct this problem as we investigate further … . I will keep our citizens and council informed every step of the way during this investigation.
Each member of this department expresses their sincere sorrow over the loss of life. We can not tell you if the water issue had an impact on the death of the owner of the store. But in many ways that is irrelevant because this water problem just shouldn't have happened and my job as chief is to prevent it from occurring again".
The chief should have also released any known facts about the fire and the problem.
Now, I would ask any of you to tell me what this chief or any other chief or department would lose by making a statement like this and then answering the questions of the citizens and the press?
With such a statement you have responded to the concerns of the people you serve in a timely manner, with facts, transparency and compassion. I believe it would buy you a world of good in a bad situation. What would be the downside? Why do so many leaders avoid doing this?
Stuff happens. Deal with it and move on. Don't prolong your agony or theirs.
It was May 1 of this year at 3:00 in the morning when Orange County, Fire Rescue Engine 58 was responding to a reported car crash with entrapment. Along the way the fire engine came quite close to a Cadillac that didn't yield to the emergency vehicle. After doing so the fire engine hit the median and was damaged. Chief Carl Plaugher told WFTV-TV he had no choice but to discipline the driver and officer after being alerted to video from the rig's Drive-cam.
Lt. Thomas Veal, who was called a hero after his actions at a Christmas Day fire, has been demoted. Fire officials say Veal, now a firefighter, was reduced in rank because he failed to properly supervise the driver, was not wearing his seatbelt (reported to be a second infraction for Veal) and he flipped the bird to the driver of the car.
Engineer David Jordan was fired for putting the community and the firefighters on his rig at risk.
Speaking to WESH-TV, Felix Benitez, an IAFF Local 1365 trustee, said, "We have to be the professionals and the calm ones. We need to be cautious when getting to an emergency, so we don't create another emergency."
According to Division Chief Vince Preston, "We felt it was so egregious that ah, the driver really in an act of road rage really was unacceptable so he was dismissed and the Lieutenant was demoted".
On May 1st, a drive camera positioned on and in the Fire Engine No. 58 shows the driver of the fire truck getting close to a vehicle in front of him. Officials say the fire truck engineer who was driving made an aggressive move, pushing the car almost off the road, then taking the fire truck up a median.
Investigators said Jordan nearly hits the car several times, even though he has room to go around the car.
The car then gets into the left turn lane, which investigators said, by law it should have pulled off on the right shoulder and stopped for the emergency vehicle. Still, the right two lanes are clear for the fire truck to pass. Instead, Jordan swerves left, cutting off the car, so the lieutenant can flip off the driver, fire officials said.
Fire officials said the fire truck hit a curb after nearly hitting the car, which could have caused a crash and injured or killed the four firefighters on board and people nearby.
“It's a very strong case of we're not going to tolerate that here,” said Morrow.
Jordan had been with the fire department for 22 years and Veal had been with the department for 10. To make matters worse for Veal, officials said he wasn't wearing his seat belt and that was the second time the cameras caught him without one in a year's time.
The firefighters have until Monday to appeal the firing and demotion, officials said.
A reporter for KTVU-TV said in his live report last night that a city staffer asked him to put a positive spin on the story of a man who drowned along the beach in Alameda on Monday while police and firefighters watched (click here to see that report). Maybe the most positive thing you could say is that the island community is very lucky this only happened once in the two years its fire department has been without a water rescue program.
As many of you have written in comments, now that someone has died and the public and the press are scrambling for answers, suddenly the political leaders care. The KTVU report also indicates the interim police chief is still defending the actions on Monday. Concerned about safely dealing with a suicidal man in the water, Chief Michael Noonan thinks they would still have had to wait to rescue Raymond Zack telling KGO-TV. "Could we have done more when the gentleman became unconscious? Certainly, there's that opportunity for us to have gone out and do more. We're looking at that."
The police chief's words are probably not what the citizens want to hear right now and won't do much to restore confidence in public safety. There are fewer excuses from the interim fire chief. Michael D'Orazi took over just a week ago and has made it clear this shouldn't have happened. But even Chief D'Orazi told reporters that while they are moving ahead with training for firefighters, buying a boat may be out of the question considering the city's serious budget problems (KTVU-TV's article details the money issues in Alameda).
You can't help but wonder if it will take another tragic situation before the elected leaders of Alameda realize it might be a priority for an island community to have a rescue boat.
In years past, the fire department had a comprehensive water rescue team, interim Fire Chief Michael D'Orazi said before the City Council tonight, a program that included shore-based and surface-based tactics.
But after several years of struggling to balance budgets and making sacrifices, D'Orazi said, the program deteriorated to a state that left firefighters unable to respond Monday, when Raymond Zack, 53, waded neck-deep into the frigid water at Crown Memorial Beach and remained there until he lost consciousness.
"We are absolutely going to do an investigation," Mayor Marie Gilmore said. "And we are planning to do it in as transparent a way as possible."
The death of Zack comes as city officials are considering axing up to nine police jobs and five positions at the fire department to make up a $7.4 million budget deficit.
"Obviously, we need to review any decisions that have been made in the past (about training) as we look at our current budget," Gilmore said.
D'Orazi said the fire department's water rescue program was shelved in March 2009 due to cuts. The loss of overtime also led to fewer training hours for firefighters, he said. As a result, department policy prevented firefighters from entering the water to help Zack, D'Orazi said.
In the public's eyes this story is simple. A man stood fully clothed in the neck deep frigid surf for more than an hour on Memorial Day off Crown Beach in Alameda, California. On shore are police and firefighters from Alameda. They did nothing but watch the man drown.
Sounds cold, but this is what the public saw and it's the truth.
Both the fire department and police department told reporters, that despite being an Island community, the firefighters and police officers aren't equipped or trained to conduct land-based water rescues. They rely on the U.S. Coast Guard. In this case the water was too shallow for the Coast Guard boat and the chopper arrived too late.
Here's what the fire department said to KGO-TV:
The Alameda Fire Department says budget constraints are preventing it from recertifying its firefighters in land-based water rescues. Without it, the city would be open to liability.
" Well, if I was off duty I would know what I would do, but I think you're asking me my on-duty response and I would have to stay within our policies and procedures because that's what's required by our department to do," Alameda Fire Div. Chief Ricci Zombeck said when asked by ABC7 if he would enter the water to save a drowning child.
First, most of us, in our hearts would say the right answer to this problem is you go in and get the guy or aynone else, including a child. It seems to be the overwhelming position of most comments I've read. If all works out well, it doesn't make the news (or you become heroes) and the chief officer gets a reprimand for violating policy.
But if things go wrong and a firefighter drowns, watch out. When it is learned the firefighter lost his life because of a lack of training and improper equipment, you have another big public relations problem on your hands and serious liability issues.
From an image standpoint, there are a lot of similarities to the Obion County, Tennessee story where the fire department arrived on the scene and refused to put out a fire in a home because the homeowner did not pay his subscription fee. Similar situations have happened for decades. So why did that one become such a big story? Because the fire department was actually on the scene and stood around doing nothing while a TV camera was rolling. The fire department also took the hit and failed to to tell the story of how it had been working with other departments to try and change the subscription system. Besides putting water on the fire they should have made their case, putting the blame where it belonged, on the political leaders. In addition, the Internet amplifies these stories in a way that didn't previously occur.
Alameda is also a case that is making its way around the world via the Internet because, once again, the firefighters were standing there doing nothing. The outrage is just beginning.
In my opinion, the solution to this problem in Alameda should have happened long ago. Without funding for training and equipment, the fire department (and police) should have made it known to the community they are not in the water rescue business. Period. And since that is not part of their duties they shouldn't have been dispatched to this call. At the most, a chief officer could have driven by and determined if this was something within the department's capabilities. If not, move on. Without proper training and gear the firefighters are no better than civilians. In fact, a civilian nurse, who is apparently a rescue swimmer retrieved the body. In this case, the public had the skills the fire department didn't.
Instead, the fire department was set up to fail by those who hold the purse strings.
What can the Alameda Fire Department do now from an image standpoint? This one will be tough to turn around, but here are my suggestions.
The division chief told the truth, which is a good start. But it should have been stronger. The fire chief should come out very clearly this is a situation we hate as much as the public and I am going to do everything in my power to change it (this should have happened immediately).
The only thing the fire department can hope for that might lessen this blow is that there is a long paper trail and concerted efforts by the chief to have firefighters trained and equipped to handle these hazards. This needs to get into the hands of reporters NOW so they can ask the questions of the people who made these decisions. If that paperwork doesn't exist, then the department and its chief are in for an even rougher ride. Good luck.
Twenty-years-ago this evening I had one of the more interesting and educational moments of my life. I was in the middle of a riot in Washington, D.C. While I was far from thrilled it was happening, or that rocks and bottles were flying by my head, it was still fascinating. Fascinating because I was there before it started and had a front row seat as it developed. It was clear to me it grew out of misinformation, rumor and the inability to communicate. There are some lessons from this episode that are important not only to law enforcement, but for anyone in government or business who deals with the public.
The scene was the Mt. Pleasant community in Northwest Washington. A neighborhood with a large Hispanic population adjacent to Adams Morgan where a Cinco de Mayo celebration had been held that Sunday evening. Some of the celebrating had spilled over to Mt. Pleasant. Rookie DC Police Officer Angela Jewell had a confrontation in a small park with Daniel Enrique Gomez. Gomez, who later admitted he was drunk, had come from El Salvador two years earlier. While Officer Jewell tried to arrest Gomez, he broke free. The officer said Gomez then came at her with a large knife. She shot him.
I arrived on the scene with photographer Greg Guise as Gomez was loaded into a DCFD ambulance. A crowd had gathered and there was a great deal of tension.
We soon learned that many of the people believed the man had been shot while he was handcuffed. While there was no official word from DC Police, Greg and I were very quickly able to determine, from talking off-the-record with some cops and on-the-record with witnesses from the community, that the crowd was misinformed. The video above, shot by Greg and Mike Flynn, shows how this soon developed into a situation where police had lost control and were on the defensive. Before long, it was a riot.
A young girl who had seen the shooting up close, and did some translating for us, helped me understand what had really happened. The crowd was operating on information from people who ran up to the scene immediately after the shooting. They heard the gun shot and by the time they got to the wounded man he was, in fact, on the ground in handcuffs. They spread the word and the anger soon grew.
What those witnesses missed, that the girl and some others had seen, was crucial to understanding the truth of the situation. They told me Officer Jewell had gotten one side of the handcuffs on when the man broke free. When he came toward the officer and was shot, the handcuffs were dangling from one wrist. The other arm was free. It was only after the man was wounded and on the ground that officers followed standard operating procedure and properly handcuffed him. That's when the other "witnesses" arrived and told anyone who would listen that a handcuffed man had been shot.
That we saw, there was only one Spanish speaking officer on the scene in the early stages of this incident. It was never clear to me if he was trying to explain the misunderstanding that had developed. Either way it was too little and too late.
Some of the government generated reports that followed cited a lack of trust of the police by many in the Spanish speaking community. There were also many news reports of a poor relationship between community leaders and the police and the District of Columbia government in general. That's an important lesson for anyone trying to communicate during a crisis situation. You are going to be much more effective in getting your message across if you already have a good working relationship with key stakeholders such as those community leaders.
I have mentioned building reputation equity many times on this forum and in talks that I give. If you already have standing with the people you serve, and they know on a daily basis you communicate openly and honestly, they are more likely to give you the benefit of the doubt when times are tough and others are tearing you down.
None of this is meant to excuse lawbreakers and those who attack police officers and other first responders. But many times, your jobs can be made easier by communicating effectively on a daily basis. If you wait until it hits the fan, it may be too late.
Some other notes from the Mt. Pleasant riots: I have been in many, many situations where people play to the camera. News crews see it all of the time in demonstrations. And there is no doubt in my mind there are occasions when the presence of TV cameras can incite a crowd. It is something I always tried to be conscious of when I did my work as a TV reporter.
I can tell you, without question in my mind, during the first night of rioting in Mt. Pleasant, it was as if the few TV cameras on the scene were invisible. We were all but ignored. The anger and focus was solely directed at the police and I am confident the outcome would have been the same whether we were there or not.
But there was a second night of rioting and I have long believed TV played a somewhat significant role. My impression was the live evening TV coverage on Monday from the riot area, which had been quiet during the day, attracted people from all over the city. Many appeared to be there to take advantage of an already tense situation.
The first confrontations that evening happened in front of the live TV cameras on Mt. Pleasant Street and quickly spread to adjoining streets and neighborhoods. Many of the people I talked to weren't from the area and confirmed they came because they saw it on TV.
Short of not covering the story or not covering it live, I am not sure how TV news could have lessened its influence on what happened Monday.
WTXF-TV is reporting an investigation over how the water supply was handled last week at a warehouse fire in Bensalem Township, Pennsylvania (Bucks County). According to the TV station, there is bad blood between volunteer and career firefighters over funding that was taken from the volunteers' budget and used for salaries of the career firefighters. Here is what the TV station is reporting about the specifics of the investigation:
Vincent Troisi is chief of the Union Fire Company in Bensalem and he told Fox 29 on the phone Tuesday that he's under orders not to talk while an investigation is happening.
Troisi would not say what he's being investigated for.
But a source tells Fox 29 that Troisi is being investigated for refusing to supply water to a paid fire company that arrived first on the scene of a ware house fire.
The source says instead Troisi supplied the water to the volunteer fire company that was the second to get there.
Click the image above to see the whole series of photos from Zhengzhou, Henan province, central China carried by the UK's Daily Mail. The unidentified firefighter made the grab of a lifetime, using one hand to snag the clothes of a 33-year-old woman as she jumped from a bridge. He then pulled the woman to safety.
Chinese firefighters are apparently adept at bringing such people back from certain death. Check the video below.
It is interesting how two different news stories that came across my computer screen today show opposite conclusions on the same issue. One story is about the ruling of a judge in Rhode Island who found no connection between the safety of firefighters and the browning out of Woonsocket Fire Department's Ladder 1. The other is a study by the University of Georgia that discovered under-resourcing is among the four major causes of firefighter fatalities.
Superior Court Judge Bennett R. Gallo ruled that there was no public safety risk to firefighters or residents in Woonsocket as a result of the removal of Ladder Truck 1 and the reduction of the minimum amount of firefighters on duty from 26 to 23 on Wednesday afternoon.
"On the evidence presented,” said Gallo, “I’m unable to discern any measurable decrease in the firefighting capabilities of the Woonsocket Fire Department or any increase risk to the firefighters of Woonsocket or to the public regarding,” the removal of Ladder 1 and the reduction in manpower.
Daniel Kinder, the primary lawyer for the city, stated in his closing remarks that the experience of the past three months proved that safety was not a concern. He said that since the policy to remove Ladder 1 from service whenever less than 26 firefighters reported for duty was implemented on January 30, there has been no firefighter injuries, no change in firefighter response times, no harm to the public and no harm to any mutual aid firefighter.
In Georgia, what is being called a comprehensive UGA study, has revealed patterns in firefighter fatalities. According to a press release from UGA, "Researchers in the UGA College of Public Health found that cultural factors in the work environment that promote getting the job done as quickly as possible with whatever resources available lead to an increase in line-of-duty firefighter fatalities."
The four major causes identified in the study are "under-resourcing, inadequate preparation for adverse events during operations, incomplete adoption of incident command procedures and sub-optimal personnel readiness."
Here is what the release said about under-resourcing:
Many of the recommendations can be traced to a lack of finances, said (co-author David) DeJoy. Not only does under-resourcing affect the ability of a fire department to acquire innovative technology, it can lead to a shortage of personnel at a fire, compromising rapid intervention and the ability to maintain command and control functions during operations, he said.
The study is published in the May edition of of the journal Accident Analysis and Prevention. It examined data gathered from 189 NIOSH firefighter fatality investigations for five years beginning in 2004.
So who are you going to believe, the judge or the professor?
Sometime in the late 1970s Winfield Kelly decided it was an insult to refer to Prince George's County as "PG County" or just "PG." County Executive Kelly was the first of many to try and get us to stop saying "PG". To this day I can't understand why the shorthand is a slight to the people who live in the county.
Being a somewhat rebellious county employee I always made sure I used "PG Fire" and not "Prince George's" when talking on the mutual aid channel as a dispatcher.
I couldn't get away with it in my TV job starting sometime in the late 90s, almost 20 years after Winfield Kelly left office. Someone convinced management that it was politically incorrect to call it "PG". If that is so, why does the fire department to this day use the logo "PGFD"?
Is it also an affront to the residents of the District of Columbia to hear the Nation's Capital referred to by people all across the country as "DC"?
Which is a roundabout way to bring you the story by my friend Melanie Alnwick at WTTG-TV (having watched the station since the days of Captain Tugg I can't bring myself to say or write the more recent "Fox 5"). The story is about an identity crisis for the District of Columbia Fire & EMS Department.
I think it was sometime in the late 1990s (could have been later) that those on the EMS side of the house convinced me I was not being very accurate in my reporting when I talked about the "DC Fire Department" or the "DC Fire Chief". The issue wasn't "DC". The agency's name had been changed to include "EMS" and I wasn't keeping up with the times in my reports. I tried to ignore the complaint because it was easier to say "DC Fire". I was also somewhat of a traditionalist. And I could argue "DC Fire" was the term most people, including the citizens, used and understood. But in the end, I realized they were right and I was wrong. It was the correct name and it described accurately the role of the agency.
Melanie's story is about the a more recent name change. At some point after the move to the "District of Columbia Fire & EMS Department" the bureaucrats in the District government started referring to the agency by the acronym FEMS. It made it easier for the government's internal communications and has been slowly creeping into its external communications like the city website.
I never once said "FEMS" on the air or wrote it in my copy for the Internet, even though people like City Council member Phil Mendelson use it all of the time in public hearings. The reason I never used it is because those watching the TV report would be scratching their heads asking what the hell I was talking about. I'd be willing to bet good money that if you stopped 100 people randomly on the streets of DC almost no one could tell you what FEMS is.
That hasn't stopped the new administration in the city from starting to push the name FEMS. That's what Melanie's story is about.
Good luck to them. I think the city will need a giant advertising budget if they want the public to understand FEMS and start identifying fire and EMS services by that name. It might be real confusing for tourists. But that is just my opinion after covering the department and the city for more than three decades. For all I know the administration of Mayor Vincent Gray has done focus groups that indicate FEMS is the answer and is a short way to communicate the mission of the agency. (After this column was posted, the unsolicited reaction I've received from those not associated with fire and EMS has been consistant. All believe it may a better name for a product associated with women than a way to identify first responders. It would be interesting to learn whether an unbiased focus group produces similar results.)
Still, I can't imagine when we will hear the first citizen say, "Call FEMS I'm having a heart attack" or "Call FEMS the house is on fire". The public understands "fire", "ambulance", "911" and possibly "EMS". FEMS will probably take a lot of training. Just remember, 35-years later and many of us are still calling it "PG".
A natural gas line exploded in south Minneapolis near 60th St. and Nicollet Ave. on Thursday, sending flames shooting high into the sky, scorching nearby vehicles and forcing authorities to close a busy freeway until officials could inspect it for damage.
Assistant Fire Chief Cherie Penn told reporters that authorities shut off the gas in the area late Thursday morning. There were no fatalities and no injuries as a result of the explosion.
A major trunk gas line for that section of Minneapolis exploded, and state pipeline safety officials spent much of Thursday afternoon on the scene, according to Rebecca Virden, a spokeswoman for CenterPoint Energy.
The blast left a large hole in the road. The flames died after authorities shut off the gas line a little more than an hour after the explosion.
Surveillance video from the nearby Cub Foods store shows three cars driving on 60th St. directly over the road just before the explosion.
Gas levels in the air had reached 80 parts per million but were back down to zero within a few hours, Penn said, adding that people were still being evacuated from the area as a precaution.
“I think the situation is as under control as it can be,” Mayor R.T. Rybak told reporters.
The blast happened around 8:45 a.m. on the street in front of a Cub Foods supermarket located at 5937 Nicollet Ave. S., in a residential and industrial area near the interchange of Interstate 35W and Highway 62. Penn said there was a secondary explosion shortly after the first. Cars in the parking lot were scorched in the blast.
Deal reached in Deale blown engine controversy: Glenn Usdin provided some interesting insight a few weeks ago on blown engines during pump testing after a 1991 pumper owned by the Deale (MD) VFD suffered such a fate while in the hands of the Anne Arundel County Fire Department shop. Deale and the county went back and forth for a while over who was financially responsible in this case. Now an economical solution has been found. FireTruckBlog.com has the story. Click here.
Threats & other verbal attacks are now a way of life for Clark County, Nevada firefighters: The long and nasty battle over compensation for firefighters in Clark County that resulted in a probe of sick leave abuse has taken its toll. Scott Wyland in the Las Vegas Review-Journal spent time with firefighters, including some named in the probe, and describes the less than warm reception firefighters are often receiving. Here’s the article.
More image problems as the Bee stings Sac Metro FD: An editorial in the Sacramento Bee on Sunday has the title “Sac Metro salaries are a disgrace”. Overtime seems to be responsible for the high salaries. And the Bee thinks this is the problem – “Either by contract or policy, set staffing levels are maintained. If a firefighter calls in sick, another is called in on overtime. Generous overtime boosts already generous salaries.” The Bee fails to discuss or seem to care why those staffing levels are in place. Then there is this shocker – “It’s worth noting that a part of the firefighter’s work day is spent sleeping, watching TV, cooking or relaxing in the firehouse.” It should also be noted the chief of the Sacramento Metropolitan Fire District, Bill Sponable, announced his resignation on Friday citing the current economic woes. Click here to read the editorial.
Fireworks cache takes out home: Firegeezer has the story from Blue Springs, Kansas of a man handling some of the large amount of fireworks he stored in his home. The Fourth of July came very early and the man is lucky he was left with only minor injuries. The house is a different story. Click here for the story.
Firefighters dressing in drag, showing their butts & dancing with college girls, all in the name of charity: Of course that headline can only mean one thing. Cincinnati firefighters are back in Fort Myers Beach, Florida for spring break. News-Press.com’s Chris Umpierre looks at this 28-year tradition that has on occasion raised some eyebrows. The picture to the right is by Amanda Inscore, News-Press.com. Click here for the story.
Houston’s fire chief stood up this afternoon amid the accusations going back and forth between his department and the Harris County District Attorney’s Office to say mistakes were made in the handling of the investigation of last Thursday’s day care center fire that left four children dead and three injured. Chief Terry Garrison told reporters he owes the families of the children an apology after the owner of the day care center Jessica Tata fled to Nigeria. Investigators determined that Tata has gone to the store at the time the fire broke out leaving the young children without supervision.
While earlier in the day HFD released a timeline showing investigators difficulty and frustration in trying to get an arrest warrant and a search warrant from the DA’s office, Chief Garrison said they put too much trust in Jessica Tata and her attorney and did not put her under surveillance:
Garrison said instead of keeping tabs on Tata’s whereabouts, the department was gathering more information to try to get an arrest warrant from the DA’s Office by interviewing the parents, witnesses and watching surveillance video from a store where Tata allegedly had been shopping around the time of the fire.
“At the time, we weighed our decision on a few things — we felt like she was a person who made a mistake and we trusted her attorney who said she was going to talk to us,” Garrison said. “We believed Ms. Tata and her attorney that she was going to be made available to talk.”
Chief Garrison says if had to do it over again, he would personally follow Tata to make sure she didn’t leave. They, after all, had a Crime Stoppers tip she was a flight risk. They thought they had probable cause to arrest her. While they debated with the district attorney for days over charges, no one was watching Tata to make sure she kept her word.
The district attorney said they could not file charges until they determined Tata did in fact leave the children alone. Witnesses told investigators the children were home alone when the fire started.
Garrison deflected any suggestion that he was frustrated with the DA’s Office for not filing charges against Tata earlier than Sunday.
“When I said I was frustrated — I’m frustrated that Ms. Tata is not here to answer to these charges,” said Garrison. “I think the DA’s office is as frustrated as any of us.”
The fire chief stated that he is proud of the fire department and that the department will evaluate its actions during this investigation.