I am writing this letter with hope that my message could be spread further with your help than it could be on my own. I was born at Hartford Hospital and have spent my entire life living in East Granby, Hartford, West Hartford, and Windsor. I am 30 years old and at this point have spent half of my life formally involved in the fire service. My father and his father were both firemen. I earned a Fire Technology Degree from Capital Community College and have spent the last eight years as one of the many proud, passionate, and dedicated members of the Hartford Fire Department. I am telling you this because although I am far from being an expert, I have picked up a couple things during my journey thus far.
As almost all of you are aware, the city is in a bad financial place. The Mayor said, “The financial condition is dire”, and “we are in a state of fiscal emergency”. The debt is beyond my comprehension, and I will never understand how the people voted into office could let this happen. Surely there were many contributing factors that led us down this path and some key players have since been removed from office. I am not the guy to run the City nor would I want to be. I have no plan to offer to right the ship. What I do know is that the America’s fire service is in a very delicate place, and the Hartford Fire Department is no better off.
I would venture to guess that the majority of people don’t really know the intricacies involved when the Fire Department responds to a call and goes to work. My goal is to provide you with a better understanding of the life of a Hartford fireman and also bring to your attention the dangerous decisions Mayor Luke Bronin is willing to make to save money. There is a great deal of information that will help you better understand the fire service and I have only included the bare minimum. So let’s talk about fire, the history of firefighting, the Hartford Fire Department in particular, and the health and safety of a fireman.
Harnessing fire and its great power was arguably the single greatest revolution in the history of mankind. Once early man began utilizing fire as a tool the entire dynamic of human life changed. For the first time ever, fire was being used as a heat source to cook and destroy bacteria and toxins. Early man could now extend daytime with light from fire and keep predators away. Over time, controlled burning became the focal point for cooking and conversation. Man would gather around fire to tell stories and pass on important skills. Time spent by the fire was an early example of school, and by bringing people together societies began to form. Fire has been the key survival instrument for mankind for a million years.
I find this important to note because if you look at civilization today things have not changed. Heating your home, cooking, traveling in your car, and many other activities still rely on fire and combustion. Technology and the use of fire have evolved over time but will never disappear. With the ability to harness the power of fire and heat the inevitable is bound to happen, uncontrolled burning. Uncontrolled fire has been a danger to mankind since the beginning and for as long as we live we will be faced with this dangerous phenomenon.
The History of Firefighting
The concept of combating fire has been in existence since ancient Egyptian times, but really took hold during the Roman Empire. Paid fire brigades would respond to and extinguish fires and patrol the streets enforcing early fire codes. Even early civilizations knew the importance of fire protection. It didn’t take long for fire to become a major concern in the New World when America’s early settlers had to deal with fires in the Jamestown settlement that destroyed apparel, lodging, and provisions. So as you can see, the history of accidental fires dates back quite some time and continues to occur to this day.
As cities began to grow, the need for fire suppression became more obvious. A line of people filling up buckets and tossing water on a fire was an early method of suppression. When insurance companies were established many of them would have their own fire protection companies to protect their investments. The New England region fireman should be especially proud of his heritage. Modern firefighting across the World has developed from innovations brought forth from these northeast fire departments, including the Hartford Fire Department. Like everything else in life technology is ever changing and the fire service continues to adapt and develop techniques to keep up with modern fire behavior.
The Hartford Fire Department
It should be noted that the brevity of this information should be taken into account. Pages and pages of details have been omitted, but keep in mind that there are countless other details that could be added. Many important events have occurred in Hartford’s rich history, which have brought the Fire Department to its current place. In 1783 the roof of the wooden State House was burned off when citizens with fireworks were celebrating the end of the American Revolution. The first half of the 19th century saw major changes to fire protection in Hartford when early hand powered fire engines and hose were purchased, firemen were given a wage increase to $5.00 per year, and large cisterns were built to supply water throughout the city.
Many costly fires occurred leading up to 1864 when the Common Council passed an ordinance establishing the paid Hartford Fire Department which has been in continuous operation ever since. In 1867 we were the first New England department to install a fire alarm system in the street. In 1876 Hartford put into service the first self-propelled fire engine in the United States. In the late 1800’s a new water supply system was created and even today is among the best in the nation.
Over the years massive, deadly, and catastrophic fires continued to destroy prominent businesses, schools, buildings, and even the bridge crossing the Connecticut River. The tragic Hartford circus fire in 1944, the Hartford Hospital fire in 1961, and the Greenwood Convalescent Home fire in 2003 are three fires that gained national notoriety because of the changes they brought forth to national laws. This organization has continued to provide gallant service over and over again for the city of Hartford. Fires will not suddenly stop tomorrow; our service will always be needed. Sprinklers, smoke detectors, fire alarms, and fire prevention education will only do so much; they will not completely eliminate the need for the fire department.
The City of Detroit was walking a tight rope for years, and when the economy finally came crashing down the city couldn’t survive. In arguably the most technologically advanced time in human history, fire protection devices couldn’t protect the city from an epidemic of fire. Hard times are real and they are here in Hartford too. The city is 18 square miles of densely populated and closely packed neighborhoods of buildings, many of which are at least 100 years old. Vacant property scattered throughout the city has become the norm. The perfect storm of terribly unfortunate events that occurred in Detroit are not that unrealistic from happening right here in Hartford.
We not only respond to fires but any other problem you may have we show up. We are first responders for medical emergencies, consistently arriving on scene to render aid prior to any ambulance arriving on scene. Hazardous materials incidents, gas leaks, car accidents, people trapped in elevators, a boat capsizes in the river, shootings, stabbings, air plane crashes, railroad emergencies, water leaks, bomb-threats, power line emergencies, a kitten with its head stuck in a desk, I have been to them all with only 8 years on the job. The list could go on quite extensively. The Hartford Fire Department shows up for people in their time of need no matter what the problem is. I’ve been on multiple calls where people flat-out say, “I didn’t know whom else to call”.
When the blizzard of 2013 hit, firefighters worked 48-72 continuous hours rendering aid throughout the city. Our families were at home snowed in, while we were doing what we do best. And when the shift ended and we made the drive home there was a nice driveway waiting for us, ready to be shoveled. When the DPW trucks stopped plowing where were we? We were shoveling our trucks out when they became buried in snow on every call. We were walking block after block to get to people trapped in their homes who were in need of medical care. I’m not looking for an award; we were doing our job because that’s what we do. This letter is not about being recognized or getting a pat on the back, this letter is about protecting the members of this organization.
So here we are in 2016. Today’s firefighter is being challenged now more than ever to do more with less. Not only are we here to provide a laundry list of services to the citizens of this community, we are here to deliver a professional product backed by hours of training and experience to get the job done. The training never stops. At the bare minimum we annually refresh our training on our certifications just to stay current with the curriculum and State of Connecticut mandates. All of the disciplines that this job entails involve hours of training for each member.
This is a typical day in the life of a Hartford fireman. You arrive at work by 0800 at the latest and square away all of your personal protective equipment. At anytime a call could come in where a civilian’s life rests in your hands. Once you have your personal equipment in order its time to gather with the crew and hear the agenda for the day. There is no set schedule, no set breaks, no lunch hour; you will be here for at least 24 hours. No two shifts are the same. Your company officer has arrived early to review the reports from your days off. New e-mails, and notifications are read aloud.
Its 0830 and you’ve looked over the apparatus and made sure all of the equipment is in proper working order. You’re in the middle of cooking a couple eggs and the first call of the day comes in, it’s a fire alarm at the vacant YMCA building downtown. The elevator is shut down so you take the stairs to the top floor and start checking all the other floors on the way back down. Don’t forget your not wearing a pair of running shoes holding a bottle of water. If you normally weigh 200 pounds you are now pushing 300 pounds with all of your gear and equipment. Once you hit the 10th floor your really starting to feel the leg workout you did on your off day. This time it’s a false alarm, some water leaked into a smoke detector which set if off. Maybe next time you get to the top floor and find out there is a fire burning; your climb up those stairs was just a warm-up.
On the way back to the firehouse you get a call for a medical emergency so you respond and take care of business. Once you get back to the firehouse you replace the medical supplies you just used and run upstairs to eat some cold eggs. The news is running a story about last nights fire and you try and see how everything went. The TV you’re watching, the cable bill, the newspaper, and the ketchup on your eggs were all purchased with your own money. The city is not responsible for these expenses.
Every member is assigned an area to clean so you spend the next hour or so trying to get that looking good. It is Friday and that means its lawn day. You mow the grass and clean up the trash that has blown onto the lawn. You pull a couple weeds and hose down the front ramp. Just when you think you have finally knocked out your daily chores the boss comes down and says its time for drill. If the training division has not already assigned a drill for the day the company officer has some tricks up his sleeve. Of course another call or two interrupts the drill. Once you’ve sweated through your second shirt for the day you give up on putting on a clean one. It may not seem like a big deal but you will have to bring your dirty uniforms home to wash, the city does not provide any washing machines. Being exposed to nursing homes, hospitals, and sick people on a daily basis means you may be bringing home some unwanted germs.
The rest of your day goes by quick. You grab a sandwich from the local deli, go to the fuel pumps to refuel the apparatus, and go on a few more calls. While you are out of the firehouse you notice a situation that looks to be violating fire code so you contact the Fire Marshals Office. A night when you get through dinner uninterrupted is a welcome treat.
By the way, the firehouses in the Capital City are occupied 24 hours a day. There is a constant rotation of members in and out of them. Some of the firehouses are over 100 years old. Horse stables are now locker rooms, and in one house the hayloft has been converted into a gym. We, not the city, put the gym equipment there. Don’t think that the firehouses are some state of the art buildings. Steel radiators, and window unit A/C’s are still alive and well. One day a retiree visited the firehouse and said to me, “That’s the same sink that was here when I came on the job”. The man was over 90 years old and served as a fireman at the end of World War 2. I want you to know that when we go to work we are not exactly working at some multi-million dollar massive firehouse with all the bells and whistles. Rats and mice are welcome visitors to these buildings.
A big topic that a lot of people like to comment on is sleeping at work. Yes it is no secret that there are beds in firehouses. And you know what sometimes you get a few hours of continuous sleep at night. But tonight is not the night for that because the City is still awake and the calls don’t stop. More medical calls, fire alarms, car accidents, you name it, they will happen at any time of the day. The West Hartford Fire Department has a fire going on and all of their resources are tied up so they need some help. You and the crew will spend the rest of your shift covering a firehouse in West Hartford taking in their calls.
You are proud of the work you did over the last 24 hours and you can’t wait to get home. Your mentally drained and physically exhausted, a nice shower and warm breakfast are on your mind. For the single guys this will be easy to accomplish, but for those who are married and have kids to take care of, good luck. The family is happy to see you come home and they are fired up. The dog needs to do his business and the kids are shot out of a cannon today. You’re trying your best to be there for your family but you still have that one call on your mind. You are having trouble forgetting about the infant child you saw who drowned in a bathtub. That’s a tough one to get over but you do, because you have to. The people in your life depend on you. Family, friends, and perfect strangers depend on you to be on point and do your job.
If you are the company officer the burden placed on your shoulders is a heavy one. The life safety off your crew is on you. Every call requires extra attention and oversight. You have the final say over the course of action your crew will take on all of their calls today. Your crew is relying on you to provide guidance and have their back. The Hartford Fire Department is currently in a massive transition phase. 48% of the workforce has less than 10 years of experience, and 25% of the department is currently eligible to retire. The younger generation of firemen are well trained, excited to be at work, and are willing to learn; but nothing replaces experience and we are losing knowledgeable veterans of the workforce at a fast rate. Company officers are well aware of this and must take it into consideration.
I have talked to people who believe that the fire department just shows up, sprays some water, breaks some windows and then goes home. I refuse to believe that they honestly think that, but the mindset for many people isn’t far off. I want to give you a run down of what occurs when a call comes in for a report of a building fire.
Every fireman must size up each incident they respond to in order to prepare themselves for the call. This size up practice is crucial for an operation to be successful. The company officer will be performing a size up as well and will transmit vital information via a radio to all of the other incoming companies that are responding. The point I am trying to make is that everything we do, on every single call is a well-calculated move. Nothing is happening by accident, certain things that go unnoticed by a passer-by are likely to be well thought out and pre-determined, well before we arrive on scene. Something as trivial as the position of a fire truck at a scene has to be done deliberately. There’s a reason for the location of the apparatus, and the exact position it is parked. This is just one example, there are countless others. Here is an example of the size-up procedure a company officer will have to make for a report of a building fire.
Once you get dispatched for a building fire the clock is ticking. Your size up of the incident has begun. Many different things need to be considered in a very short period of time. Incredibly vital decisions will need to be made in a matter of seconds, especially when you arrive on scene. Variables of all kinds are rapidly assessed and the best course of action is quickly chosen and put into work. There is no time to sit around a table to watch what’s going on and discuss it over amongst your coworkers. The first arriving company officer is about to rely on his training and experience to set the tone for the rest of the incident.
Here is a list of some of the things that must be considered before putting your company into operation.
What type of building construction am I dealing with and how will the spread of smoke and fire damage the structure that I am about to operate in?
What type of occupancy is the building? Is it a store, a single-family home, or a high-rise building?
What do I know about the apparatus and crews that are responding? Maybe there is another call happening at the same time and the rest of the responding companies are coming from the south end of the city, this could lead to a delay in operations.
Considerations need to be made about the likelihood of there being a life hazard involved. It is critical to note the type of occupancy and time of day when determining life hazards in a building.
What type of water supply do I have? The water we bring with us in the truck will only last so long. I need to know where fire hydrants are located before arriving on scene.
Street conditions and other special considerations need to be known before over committing. A street may be closed due to construction. Responses around Trumbull St. and Pleasant St. need to be approached differently right now because of the baseball field construction project.
Weather is a major size-up consideration that should be assessed. Hot temperatures fatigue firemen very quickly requiring more resources than normal and cold temperatures may cause ice to build up. Wind can be a dangerous contributor to a fire. Recently two Boston firemen gave their lives battling a fire that was seriously affected by windy conditions.
What types of exposures are in danger of being damaged by the fire? Many times a car fire next to a house will start off small but the house will be exposed to heat and flame and next thing you know the incident becomes more complex.
What is the location of the fire in the building and what extent has it developed? Tactical decisions will be made differently for fires located on different floors of a building, especially in a basement. This information needs to be assessed and transmitted to other companies quickly, so they can formulate their game plan.
The time of day, week, month, and year all have different meaning when performing size-up. Is it rush hour? Are we responding to a school fire at 11 A.M. on a weekday or is it midnight on Sunday? Christmas time could mean that there is a dried out Christmas tree with additional combustible items inside a home.
What hazardous materials could potentially be involved? If there is a fire in an auto repair store or manufacturing building there is a good chance that some form of hazardous material will be involved.
All of these size-up considerations are equally important and must be assessed. A company officer must perform this size-up with-in seconds, and notify the other responding companies what the situation is and the course of action that will be taken to mitigate the incident. Every other fireman responding to the call will be performing their own size-up with regards to their specific job on the fire ground. The job of being a fireman is not to be taken lightly and the stakes are high.
I want to briefly touch on the topic of building construction. A fireman must look at building construction with a different approach then everyone else. We must consider the building as our enemy, and different enemies will try to hurt and kill you in different ways. The city of Hartford has quite the variety of building types. No fireman will learn them all and most often we don’t have the luxury of knowing a buildings layout before we enter it. However, trends in building construction techniques, state and federal law, and pre-planning a building layout has taken some of the guess work away.
Understanding building construction is a valuable component of this job and is an ongoing process. Buildings come and go, and building modifications and new construction are always in the works. A lot of the new light-weight wood construction (The new Nelton Court area) found in these buildings will not hold up to fire conditions very long and gives us only a matter of moments to operate inside the structure if necessary. Another challenge we face is that of illegal building conversions. These illegal conversions can prove deadly if members operating inside become lost or disoriented. In New York City in 2005, a fire proved to be fatal when members were caught in a dangerous and undocumented illegally converted apartment fire. The fire was in a building very similar to one typically found in Hartford. These situations are very real, and could happen at anytime.
As previously mentioned many of the buildings in this city are aging, pushing 100 years old or more. The most common type of residential fire that we face requires some well-placed resources in order to stop the spread of fire throughout the buildings unique structural design. A typical response to a fire in this type of building will almost always exhaust the resources that respond and will require additional resources to the scene. Every member arrives on scene and performs a job. Not a single fireman is unused. And this is for a typical fire. Throw in some unforeseen circumstances and even more resources will be needed to combat the fire. Before you know it a fire in the north end will quickly exhaust a majority of the cities resources and has left the remaining few companies quite a workload.
As I sit here writing this letter to you, considerations are being made to make cuts to the manpower of this department. This decision will have drastic consequences both for the safety of firemen and citizens. I urge you to please consider the consequences.
Mayor Bronin delivered a speech to a group of firemen on Monday and provided an opportunity for a Q and A forum. What struck me as odd was the fact that he stated that the police department was in need of adding new recruits to the force. He then stated that, “there are impending retirements and the vacancies should be refilled, and the hiring process would take upwards of one year”. I’m not too familiar with the inner workings of a police department so I can’t comment on the necessity of their staffing and the need for new recruits.
Here is what I do know; the Hartford Fire Department has the same need as the HPD, manpower. Ask any member of this department and he will tell you that the hiring process doesn’t happen overnight. The application period, written examination, oral interview, background check, a second interview, and recruit school will probably take the better part of one year. It seems to me that the Mayor has made his decision and I’m not feeling his support.
Right now the fire departments manpower is barely over minimum staffing, and 25% of the membership who have committed a lifetime to this department is eligible to retire. When staffing is this low you constantly have members working a 72-hour workweek. Working this many hours in not sustainable long term and dangerous results will follow. Although we are all trained to the same standard there is something to be said about crew integrity. Members from different firehouses across the city are now more than ever working together. These ever changing crews are just another piece of the puzzle that needs to be considered when going to work. Knowing your partners every move and how they operate is a valuable tool, and lately that crew integrity has become increasingly absent.
Over the years the fire department has lost resources. Companies that used to ride with seven and six man crews dropped down to five. And now we currently operate four man companies. Ladder Company 1 has been disbanded; Engine companies 3, 4, 6, and 12 no longer exist and two rescue companies have merged into one. This membership for far too long has been asked to do more with less and here we are again. In a time of crisis the city has come to us again asking us to do more with less. Well this time it can’t happen, there is nothing left to give. The members are being burdened on all fronts, and I don’t see relief coming.
Inadequate staffing has contributed millions of dollars to lost-time injuries, and dozens of Line of Duty Deaths. Tests conducted with the Houston, Texas Fire Department indicated that staffing below a crew size of four could over tax the operating force and lead to high losses. A 2009 study released on Fire Engineering’s website will provide greater detail on the subject. A quick Internet search for “Fire Engineering, staffing a need not a want” will get you the article. If the Mayor has his way we will be dangerously understaffed.
Health and Safety
One gripe that I hear from people is that firemen have a cushy job with undeserving benefits. People think that the schedule is easy and the medical benefits are outrageous. I would like to dispel a few rumors.
The schedule is a rotating one that requires constant fire protection for the city. Four different groups work a 24-hour shift. Each group works one day on and has three days off. During the course of the month you only have one full weekend off. Three weeks of the month you are scheduled to work Friday, Saturday, or Sunday. By the way, those Saturday and Sunday shifts are normal pay; don’t think that you’re working the weekend and getting paid extra. So, for the people out there who think the schedule is great and “cushy” you may want to keep that in mind. The typical Monday through Friday employee can look forward to being home with the family to make plans every weekend, firemen won’t experience that comfort. School recitals will be missed, kids sporting events will be missed, birthdays and other special events missed. Your family will stop in to see you on Christmas and share pleasantries in between going on a couple calls.
The three consecutive days off come as a nice break after working 24-hours straight. We have already discussed what a typical day in the life of a Hartford fireman could be like. That wasn’t an exaggeration, and you could very well go into the station tomorrow morning and see that exact day play out. Lets dive into this some more. If the shift following yours is in need of some additional manpower because members are on vacation or out sick it is more than likely that the vacancies will need to be filled with overtime personnel. Since the department’s manpower is at a very low point right now it is almost a guarantee that these vacancies will need to be filled with overtime members on an almost daily basis.
Members are eligible to work overtime on an equitable rotation. If you choose to work the overtime shift, it is another 24-hour tour immediately following your normal tour of duty. So now we are talking about a 48-hour shift with two days off. Overtime pay is straight pay, no time and a half or double time like many other jobs. All of the above information leads me to my first major health and safety concern, which is sleep deprivation.
A great resource can be found by searching for a report conducted by the International Association of Fire Chiefs titled “Effects of Sleep Deprivation on Fire Fighters and EMS Responders”. Here are the main points worth considering.
Sleep deprivation studies have shown that chronic sleep deprivation leads to increased risk for work-site injures, heart disease, and cancer. Interestingly enough firefighters average five times the number of work-related injuries as other trades, and we have the highest percentage of on-the-job heart attacks.
Many people in a typical workplace go home each night and have the opportunity to develop some form of a consistent sleep pattern. Fireman won’t have that luxury. We will spend at least 25% of the next 30 years away from the comfort of our own bed.
Even if no calls occur for your company during the course of the night, you haven’t really slept. Your mind and body are in a constant state of preparedness, waiting for that alarm to sound. When the alarm does sound and the lights automatically turn on you disrupt your natural circadian sleep rhythm. Constant disruption of this rhythm will break you down physically and mentally. Ongoing research shows that this disruption has been linked to cancer.
After completing your 24-hour shift, or maybe even 48-hours straight your time has come to go home. Consider this, you could have very easily just responded to anywhere from 10-40 calls or even more depending on what station you work at and other factors. The nature of these calls range in complexity. Some more demanding than others, but even the simplest and routine calls require physical exertion and/or exposure to people experiencing medical emergencies. Those calls have you exhausted and now you are ready to recover. Now instead of three days off you only have 48 hours to recover. Those next 48 hours will be seeking your attention from all angles. How well prepared are you to give your un-divided attention to being a good husband, taking care of your kids and pets, cleaning your house, mowing the lawn, cooking, and the rest of your daily routine? Most firemen will tackle this challenge head on and be great at it, but I want people to have a better understanding of exactly what it is we deal with on a consistent basis. It seems obvious now that the demand placed on a fireman and his intimate relationship could have a debilitating impact, i.e. Divorce.
The job of being a fireman is a very self-rewarding one, but it sure has its drawbacks. Studies show that the divorce rate for firemen is three times that of the general population. Lets say you work for a local company. You drive to work in the morning, have a coffee break at some point, break for lunch, and get back home for an evening with the family. I’m not saying your day doesn’t have its challenges, but the daily routine for a Hartford fireman probably looks a little bit different. The constant grind of coming to work has proven to be a contributing factor for many divorces.
If the Mayor chooses to cut man power, close firehouses, and change the shift schedule to work more hours per week I caution you that we will be treading dangerous waters. The load that will be placed on the members of this organization will be difficult to withstand, and it’s not because we are a bunch of cowards who can’t do the job. It is scientifically proven that sustaining that lifestyle will be detrimental to the safety of fireman and in turn the citizens we swore an oath to protect.
The amount of firemen being diagnosed with cancer is on the rise. Take a look at these statistics provided from the Fire Engineering article “What Every Firefighter’s Spouse Should Know”.
- Brain cancer: 3.5 times more likely in firefighters with 10 to 19 years of experience.
- Leukemia/lymphoma: three times more likely.
- Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma: two times more likely.
- Multiple myeloma: 2.25 times more likely; after 30 years, 10 times.
- Bladder cancer: three times more likely.
- Kidney cancer: four times more likely.
- Prostate cancer: two times more likely.
- Testicular cancer: 2.5 times more likely.
- Colorectal cancer (large intestine): two times more likely.
- Liver cancer: two times more likely.
- Skin cancer: two times more likely.
Breathing smoke, and absorption through the skin are the common ways to be exposed to deadly toxins. A typical fire can expose a fireman to Carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, nitrogen oxides, ammonia, phenol, benzene, hydrogen chloride, hydrochloric acid, methane, and hydrogen cyanide. Many reports document a direct correlation between firefighter exposures with these toxins and the increased risk of cancer. I will stop this very short but just know that there is increasing research out there providing a lot of good information about this topic.
Some other risks we are exposed to on any given day include operating in adverse weather conditions, exposure to extreme heat and cold for extended periods of time, heavy lifting, performing work with cumbersome and heavy equipment, exposure to hazardous materials and terrorist threats, dehydration, heat exhaustion, constant exposure to diesel fuel exhaust, trip and slip hazards, contact with sick and contagious patients, operating on ladders, electrical shock hazards, weapons violence, exposure to depressing and traumatic events, and exposure to traffic and distracted drivers while operating on roadways especially I-91 and I-84.
We know that firefighting is a strenuous job and can be very physically demanding. During firefighting operations studies show that our heart rate can reach almost 100% of its maximum. 164-183 beats per minute is common, and for a 31-year-old fireman this correlates to about 86.8%-97% of our maximum heart rate. We can measure another way. One MET (Metabolic equivalent of task) is the amount of energy/oxygen that your body uses while sitting quietly. Expect to see firemen expending an energy level of 12 METs while performing normal firefighting operations. This is just about the equivalent of running an 8-minute mile while at a 1% incline.
While performing firefighting operations you can expect the conditions to raise your anxiety level substantially. Every fireman will react differently and it takes experience and willingness to remain calm under pressure. Increasing your heart rate due to anxiety-induced moments can have devastating effects. At 60-80 BPM your heart rate is normal, but as it increases to 115 BPM and then to 145 BPM you will see fine motor skills deteriorating and then complex motor skills, which are required of you to perform normal firefighting functions. At 175 BPM cognitive processing deteriorates and tunnel vision sets in. Loss of depth perception and near vision is setting in. Your are in a dangerous place now because above 175 BPM irrational flight or flee, freezing-up, submissive behavior, and even uncontrollable bowel movements and vomiting may take place.
A combination of the topics covered in this letter and even more that weren’t discussed all contribute to the number one killer of firemen, heart disease. Heart attacks occur at an alarming rate in the firefighting community. Some contributing factors of heart disease and heart attacks are exposure to traumatic stress, exposure to toxic fumes, sleep deprivation, and fatigue. A decrease in manpower will expose the remaining members of this department to even more of these contributing factors. On average 100 firefighters in United States will die in the line-of-duty every year. The leading cause of death is heart attacks. If the Mayor is serious about protecting the safety of his firemen he needs to reassess his game plan. The Hartford Fire Department is already close to operating at its minimum staffing level, cutting manpower and closing firehouses is not an option!
This letter has no official support from the Hartford Fire Department or I.A.F.F. Local 760. I wrote this letter on my own without their blessing. However I am certain that the other members of this organization are passionate and dedicated to this profession and are willing to stand up and fight for their rights. Mayor Bronin is considering making changes that will directly impact my safety and the safety of Hartford citizens and its guests. We will be at the front line prepared for battle at 1100 Hrs. on March 21st. Come join your Hartford firemen at the Legislative Office Building where Mayor Bronin begins his pursuit to cripple our rights as a collective bargaining unit. If Mayor Bronin succeeds in this endeavor the consequences will have a harsh impact.