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7 Posts authored by: kenwillette Employee

Boston Globe photo


It was great to see that Commissioner Joe Finn of the Boston Fire Department (BFD) was recognized by the Metro Chiefs as Fire Chief of the Year. The honor was bestowed on him during the recent Metro Chiefs Annual Conference in Orlando.


As you may know Commissioner Finn is a passionate and articulate advocate, who has made significant strides in raising awareness about the terrible toll cancer has taken on the fire service. Drawing from his own personal experience where he has seen many of his colleagues fall prey to this dreadful disease at an early age, Finn’s leadership team has taken the initiative to transform the Boston Fire Department. BFD is establishing itself as a nationally recognized leader in the advancement of firefighter health and safety.


Whether it's looking for and securing the latest equipment; revising department operating procedures; holding command officers accountable for fire ground behaviors; or working with top researchers both from Boston and across the globe; Commissioner Finn has left no stone unturned in his push to reduce firefighter exposure.


The Metro Chiefs made a fine choice in selecting Commissioner Joe Finn for this honor; his commitment to the city he has spent his whole career protecting and defending is commendable. Finn is a great example of modern leadership – a veteran with extensive firefighting skills and the command presence to match the most challenging of events.

We look forward to continuing our support of Commissioner Finn as he leads Boston Fire and champions the health and wellbeing of fire service members.

casey grant - nfpa smart firefighting

I-Women highlighted smart firefighting on their recent I-Women Talk Radio Show on Fire Engineering, and invited Casey Grant from the Fire Protection Research Foundation and me as NFPA’s Fire Services Segment Director and NFPA Responder Forum organizer to discuss the virtues of smart firefighting.


Smart firefighting and data were the main focus of the Responder Forum, which brings together forward-thinkers from 13 leading fire organizations. I-Women radio show host Susan Tamme, a district fire chief with Tampa Fire & Rescue, and five other members of I-Women from across the country were highly engaged participants at the Forum in November. They thought the subject would be a great topic for us to share with their blog talk radio listeners late last month; listen and see what you think.

The benefits of smart firefighting and the importance of capturing real time data from sensors and emerging technology is a topic that all national fire organizations, local fire departments, command staff leaders, and line firefighters should be interested in. Smart firefighting technologies enable the fire service to control situational awareness, self-rescue, hazard assessment, victim awareness, fire ground operations, strategic deployment, mitigation, investigation, and health and wellness. The data captured from smart firefighting technology benefits the fire service globally, centrally and locally.


To learn more about the Firefighter of the Future, watch Casey Grant’s full keynote presentation from this year's NFPA Responder Forum.

Watching the videos and listening to the Cambridge Fire Alarm audio  of the 10 alarm fire that occurred in Cambridge, MA on December 3, all personnel at that scene did an awesome job! This was not a room and contents fire that extended to the floor of origin but a massive fireball that exploded from a wood framed, three story residential structure (a three decker), immediately exposing several other structures of similar construction. It also appears the wind played a force in the extension of this fire, accelerating the pace and distance the wall of fire and flaming debris spread.


The wind is something we take for granted, but it has been a contributing factor in many large and sometimes fatal fires.The wildfires that are devouring the Great Smokey Mountains and Gatlinburg,TN Smokey Mountain National Forest have been fed by excessive winds. Not far from the location of Saturday's fire, two Boston firefighters lost their lives while battling a fire in Bostons Back Bay .


Fire explodes from structure during Cambridge MA 10 alarm fire



In 2010, the NFPA Fire Protection Research Foundation as part of a National Institute for Standards and Technology/Department of Homeland security  funded project, studied  Fire Fighting Tactics Under Wind Driven Conditions to guide the development of appropriate tactical options for use under wind driven conditions. Through laboratory experiments and data collection, the goal was to improve the safety of fire fighters and building occupants by enabling a better understanding of wind driven firefighting tactics, including structural ventilation and suppression. The technical information developed through this study increased the fire service's  understanding of the dynamics of fire phenomena and prediction of fire intensity and growth under wind driven conditions. This content of the Firefighter Tactics Under Wind Driven Conditions report, updated 2013, provides a basis to identify methods and promulgate improved Standard Operating Guidelines (SOG) for the fire service to enhance firefighter safety, fire ground operations, and use of equipment.


The Cambridge incident destroyed several buildings, numerous vehicles, and displaced over 100 persons. Luckily, no lives were lost and  responders suffered only minor injuries. The lessons learned at this fire join the earlier Research Foundation report in guiding the fire service on strategies for dealing with such incidents. 

NFPA Responder ForumLast fall, NFPA sponsored its inaugural Responder Forum in Indianapolis. Using information that was shared at the Forum, as well as follow up research that Forum attendees conducted in the ensuing months, three whitepapers were developed so that others can learn about three emerging topics:


  • Unmanned Aerial Systems
  • Data and the Fire Service
  • Civil Unrest


The topic of SMART Firefighting/Unmanned Aerial Systems was explored by one work group with a focus on the challenges that agencies face in deploying this technology. Another team looked at Data in the Fire Service and recommended ways to improve the collection, analysis and use of data. A third group examined the Fire Service Response to Civil Unrest, and assisted in the development of a sample standard operating procedure that was recently included in a white paper endorsed by the Urban Fire Forum. These three white papers and SOP serve as a record of Responder Forum discussions and are available for use by NFPA technical committees and others.


The NFPA Responder Forum brings together representatives from 13 key fire organizations, subject matter experts, industry leaders, and NFPA staff to address emerging issues. It was established to help build a bridge from research into practice by highlighting new technologies that the fire service must understand. Forum discussions inform the fire service community, research efforts, and NFPA codes and standards – and encourage forward-thinking among different fire disciplines.


The 2016 Forum will take place November 7-9 in Charlotte, North Carolina. On November 7, at 10:15 AM (EST), Casey Grant of the Fire Protection Research Foundation will present, The Future Firefighter,  a one-hour presentation on smart firefighting, which will be live-streamed. Register here to view the live-stream.


Learn how the Responder Forum is Impacting the Future of the Fire Service . The three white papers and more information on the Responder Forum can be found here. To discuss first responder ideas and issues, please contact me at

Five years ago, I shared my reflections on how the fire service was impacted by the events of September 11, 2001. This was the tenth anniversary of that horrendous day, when so many lives were lost and millions of Americans saw their lives forever changed.



In anticipation of the 15th anniversary of 9-11, I watched the video to see if my observations still rang true, and the answer is yes, for the most part. The US fire service did take the lessons learned from 9-11 and adapt to this new threat of terrorist attacks on our homeland. Heightened awareness, new training, and improved equipment along with increased federal funding and grants and overwhelming public support for the fire service created a better foundation for the fire service to respond than previously existed.


But that foundation is showing signs of stress. Federal funding and grants have shrunk, leaving some departments unable to maintain equipment previously purchased. Public support has waned, and the fire service is dealing with public policy and budget officials who see the events of 9-11 thru the fog of 15 years, as a one-time event and not an ever present threat.


During the 2011 video, I mentioned the challenge of the long road to normalcy and risk of occupational illness to those who responded. With the construction of a new World Trade Center and rebuilding of the Pentagon complete, some may think normalcy has returned. But for the tens of thousands of responders and their families who have endured post-traumatic stress and debilitating and sometimes fatal respiratory illnesses and cancers, they will never see a return to normalcy.


If you happen to travel thru Logan Airport, you may see two gates/jet bridges that fly the American flag 24/7. American Airlines flight 11 departed from Gate 32 and United Airlines flight 175 departed from Gate 19 on September 11, 2001, each of these later being flown into the World Trade Center. Each time I see those flags, I am brought back to September 11, 2001. After reflecting how much that day changed my life, I say a prayer for those we lost that day and through the years that followed. I remember their families and the struggle they face each day. 

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Last year, NFPA’s leadership team decided to establish a first-of-its-kind program that brings together forward-thinkers from the fire service to proactively address emerging issues and dig deeper on new technology. In October, the collective wisdom of different facets of the fire service came together during  NFPA’s inaugural Responder Forum in Indianapolis.


As we set out to define the goals of the Responder Forum, we turned to our stakeholders for insight and created an Emergency Responder Advisory Committee (ERAC) made up of representatives from the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC), International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF), National Volunteer Fire Council (NVFC), Metro Chiefs, United States Fire Administration/National Fire Academy (USFA), and the NFPA Fire Service Section (FSS).


We then invited thirteen fire organizations to nominate a total of 39 delegates. Participating organizations include the six ERAC organizations, plus the International Society of Fire Service Instructors (ISFSI), The International Association of Women in Fire and Emergency Services (IWomen), National Association of Hispanic Firefighters (NAHF), National Association of State Fire Marshals (NASFM), International Association of Black Professional Firefighters (IABPF), North American Fire Training Directors (NAFTD), and the International Association of Arson Investigators (IAAI). By all accounts, the initial Responder Forum was a successful initiative.


We recently invited a new class of 36 innovators to join the Responder Forum. They will join the 2015  scholarship recipients in Charlotte this November for a deeper dive on timely first responder topics - bringing the number of fire leaders, line firefighters, trainers, fire marshals, investigators, and inspectors to more than 70 this year. This group reflects the diversity of the fire service – career, volunteer, urban, rural area, major cities, small towns, male, female, and different cultural groups. Together, with NFPA staff and subject matter experts, the delegates will learn as much as possible about data, smart firefighting techniques, and the new behavioral insights needed to address today’s challenges.

The Responder Forum in many ways belies its name. Rather than react to day-to-day operational and tactical issues (a difficult job in and of itself), members of the Responder Forum strive to get ahead of real-world problems by developing strategies that are proactive, purposeful and progressive.


2015 forum class.JPG


Firefighters have long used self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) to protect against the inhalation of hazardous contaminants and chemicals. While law enforcement officials routinely enter occupancies and encounter situations that present comparable health risks, certified SCBA protection hasn’t been as well established for the law enforcement community.


With those health and safety concerns in mind - and a commitment to serving the needs of responders – NFPA has been working to develop SCBA standards that meet the law enforcement community’s SCBA needs.


Most recently, a new project request from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) prompted the Technical Committee on Tactical and Technical Operations Respiratory Protection Equipment* to begin developing a standard for combination unit respirators, which allow first responders to switch from supplied air respirators to powered air-purifying respirators once satisfactory air quality has been determined. The committee met at NFPA last week to begin drafting the new document (NFPA 1987, Standard on Combination Unit Respirator Systems for Tactical and Technical Operations), which will specify the certification, labeling, design, performance and testing requirements for such respirators.


This effort builds upon the Technical Committee’s development of NFPA 1986, Standard on Respiratory Protection Equipment for Technical and Tactical Operations, which is scheduled to be issued this fall. While NFPA 1986 is comparable to the fire service SCBA standard (NFPA 1981, Standard on Open-Circuit Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus for Emergency Services) in many respects, it also features safety warnings, indicators, displays and alerts that are visible or audible only to the wearer during tactical operations and terrorist incident response. These features are necessary for law enforcement. While SCBA for the fire service makes a range of sounds and can feature flashing lights, this can prove problematic for tactical operations responders, law enforcement responders, hazmat teams and personnel who work in confined spaces.


To learn more about how these SCBA standards for the law enforcement community are reflective of NFPA’s ongoing efforts to meet the needs of all first responders, check out our online fire service resources.


*- The Technical Committee on Tactical and Technical Operations Respiratory Protection Equipment includes the FBI; end-user representatives from the Interagency Board (the Los Angeles Police Department and sheriff’s departments); National Bomb Squad Commanders Advisory Board; U.S. Department of Defense; fire department hazmat teams and the U.S. Marine Corps.

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