Fire officials meet, share ideas

Safety, training dominate discussion in Baltimore after deaths of recruit, firefighter

March 23, 2007|By Annie Linskey | Annie Linskey,sun reporter

Fire commanders from around the state met yesterday in Baltimore and exchanged ideas about safety and training after two recent fires in the city that killed a recruit and a firefighter.

"We came together because I thought it was important to let them know some of the things we're going through with the back-to-back line-of-duty deaths," Baltimore City Fire Chief William J. Goodwin Jr. said after the meeting.

Baltimore fire cadet Racheal M. Wilson was killed Feb. 9 in a training fire that got out of control in a Southwest Baltimore rowhouse. Fire commanders later admitted that three dozen safety rules were violated, fired the head of the training academy and suspended several others.

Firefighter Allan M. Roberts, a 19-year veteran, died after fighting a blaze in a Greektown rowhouse in October. What happened in that fire is being reviewed.

"We're all vulnerable, unfortunately, to the same types of situations," said Howard County Fire Chief Joseph A. Herr, who attended the meeting at the downtown Baltimore fire headquarters.

Goodwin said he hopes to develop a list of best practices in the areas of training and safety. Such cross-jurisdiction approaches, he said, have been effective in setting guidelines for handling hazardous materials and creating common communications protocols. The group plans to reconvene in several weeks.

The chiefs discussed a wide range of topics during the 90-minute meeting. They talked about having members of their departments do ride-alongs in other jurisdictions to check each other's safety standards, and they considered the pros and cons of disciplinary "time outs" for firefighters who refuse to follow safety standards, a practice used by the Montgomery County Fire Department.

Division Chief Michael W. Robinson, head of Baltimore County's fire academy, offered to help train new fire instructors in the city's academy, which brought in a new set of instructors to finish teaching the current academy class.

The fire commanders said they struggled to enforce safety procedures with rank-and-file members. Caution can dissolve in the frenzied moments before entering a burning house as firefighters' adrenaline kicks in. "That is a lot of energy to harness," Goodwin said.

Herr, from Howard, said the department's culture must stress firefighter safety even at the expense of speed.

Baltimore City's Deputy Fire Chief Theodore G. Saunders said the department has done a good job saving lives of ordinary people but now needs to refocus on protecting firefighters.

"Most national fire codes are the result of a tragedy," Saunders said.

Saunders was the acting chief in February when Wilson died. He had gotten to know her well because she had worked in his office as a civilian before she joined the academy.

"We will get better," Saunders said. "We must get better."

annie.linskey@baltsun.com

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