Fire service leaders from Houston, Miami, Orlando, and the United Kingdom spoke about some of the biggest emergency response incidents of the last 15 months during the Urban Fire Forum (UFF) held at NFPA headquarters in Quincy, Massachusetts. The UFF brings together fire chiefs from some of the world’s largest urban centers to discuss relevant emergency response issues. Members also endorsed important papers on violent incident response, cancer awareness, field decontamination, and the opioid crisis.
Weeks after Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma devastated Texas and Florida, Houston Fire Chief Samuel Peña, Miami-Dade Fire Chief Dave Downey, and Orange County Fire and Rescue Chief Otto Drozd talked with fire leaders about how they prepared and responded to the recent natural disasters.
Houston’s Peña talked about proactive steps taken before Hurricane Harvey, and detailed how his department and others responded to more than 5,500 emergency calls due to the Category 4 hurricane. The powerful storm delivered more than 50 inches of rain, affected 6.8 million people in 18 counties, and killed 82 people. According to Peña, the deluge of rain, compounded by two local dams being opened, created unprecedented flooding. Despite having plenty of staff available, Houston Fire’s recovery efforts were limited because they did not have enough equipment suitable for high water emergency response.
In Florida, Miami-Dade Chief Dave Downey dodged a bullet when Hurricane Irma switched paths sparing Miami from the worst of the storm. Downey’s department helped South Florida and the Keys, areas that were hard hit. Both Downey and Chief Otto Drodz from Orange County spoke about the lessons they learned from Hurricane Andrew in 1992. That hurricane prompted Florida fire departments to be well-prepared for Irma’s wrath. Emergency responders in that state collaborate, communicate and develop critical response strategies beginning in the spring so that they are ready when mother nature strikes later in the year. Orlando was not initially in harm’s way but when the hurricane shifted, that area of the state sustained substantial damage.
Fire leaders across the pond have also been contending with major incidents that have put great demands on the fire service. There were three terror events this year that created havoc and loss of life; then there was the devastating Grenfell Tower fire in June. CFO Roy Wilsher, Chair of the United Kingdom’s National Fire Chiefs Council and CFO Peter Holland, the UK’s Chief Fire and Rescue Advisor spoke about the West London fire that took 80 lives. The hi-rise façade had insulated exterior cladding and the building was known for having persistent fire and life safety issues. NFPA’s Robert Solomon, division manager for Building Fire Protection, also provided technical insight on exterior cladding to the group.
Chief Drozd from Orange County shared lessons learned from the Pulse Nightclub tragedy in Orlando too. His department responded when a gunman opened fire and killed 49 people. He encouraged fire leaders to train; develop hostile incident response plans; work with other organizations; practice roles and responsibilities; and establish communications protocol.
To learn more about the UFF, its members, the topics discussed this year and in the past, and to access key Forum documents, please visit the Urban Fire Forum page.