June 23, 2007
Nearly every time Fort Lauderdale Fire Lieutenant Billy White heads out, one thing is certain. The danger this second generation fire fighter faces will likely be greater than what his father had to deal with.
"In the back of your mind you're going, 'I don't know what's in here. I don't know what I'm gonna expect. I don't know what I'm gonna find," said White.
There are many reasons for the increased risk. Fire fighters will tell you the South Carolina fire is an example of this.
"Fires today are inherently more dangerous than ever before. They're burning hotter and faster."
The reason is because so many of the products in our businesses and homes are made of plastics and resins, polyeurothane and, response time is faster than ever. Why? At the first sign of smoke someone is dialing 911.
"Cell phones. Everybody has a cell phone."
The raw facts bare out the danger. From 1996 to 2005, the number of structure fires declined nationwide by more than 65,000, but the number of fire fighter fatalities has hovered near or above 100 every year. This is despite a wealth of new technologies, including thermal imaging.
"Whites are hotter. The darker colors are a lower temperature," said Fort Lauderdale Assistant Fire Chief Steve McInerny.
When a hasmat team arrives at the scene of a ruptured gas line, vital information is recorded about each person. How much air in the tank and which company he or she is with is continually checked with this monitoring device. If something goes wrong and they are forced to evacuate the scene, each firefighter would get the message loud and clear. Get out!
"Now that is loud. You can't miss that." Said the chief, "They definitely know we want them out."
Preaching, teaching, and constant training is the only way, McInerny says to reduce the risk. Even then, there are no guarantees. Fighting a fire means getting up close.
Fire fighters call it "putting the wet stuff on the red stuff".