Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Monday, December 06, 2021

Firefighter vaccine refusal as a reorganization opportunity

In the past I've written about how fire departments these days mostly respond to medical calls, but most departments haven't reorganized to reflect this fact, in part a result of labor contracts which mandate stasis.

-- "Rationalizing fire and emergency services," 2011
-- "Fire department issues in municipalities," 2014
-- "DC's fire department is in the same situation as WMATA in terms of the necessity of a redesign of culture and behavior through a human factors approach," 2015

A column in the Los Angeles Times, "To anti-vax firefighters, bye-bye. Now let's build back better at the LAFD," suggests that the Los Angeles Fire Department has an opportunity to do some reorganization in view of the likelihood that 300-400 firefighters will be put on permanent leave for refusal to get vaccinated.  From the article:

That’s why Andrew Glazier, a former member of the Board of Fire Commissioners, sees a potential mass departure as an opportunity rather than a problem. 

“If you lose several hundred people, and you refuse to change your operating model, then, yeah, you’ll have a big problem,” said Glazier. “But … if they were willing to add single-function paramedics to the department, you can hire them up and have them in the field in six weeks or less, and you can continuously hire them as needed.”

About 85% of the calls for the fire department are medical.  The Firefighters Union represents firefighters not paramedics, and firefighters get paid more.  So the union continues to advocate for firefighters being cross-trained as paramedics, rather than hiring paramedics specifically and reorganizing services to focus on paramedics.  

Although cross-training makes sense too, the reality is that fewer firefighters and related equipment are required to serve the average city today than in the past.

And as it is, comparable to crime analysis approaches in police departments, if fire departments put some resources into "fire suppression" by providing assistance to communities and households where buildings have characteristics indicating the potential for catastrophe, house fires especially would be less of a problem.

As I wrote in 2017, in "I get tired of all the talk about rewarding "failure" because it shows people are trying, and won't be penalized for it":

... [the] article ("Cities Are Having a Data and Analytics-Driven Moment, and It's Likely to Stay") in Government Technology [describes] an initiative in  New Orleans, where the firefighters decided to be proactive in distributing smoke alarms in neighborhoods with a higher rate/risk of fires. From the article:

In New Orleans, the city has been saving lives by using data to predict which of the city’s buildings need to be equipped with fire alarms. Using data collected by the Census and New Orleans Fire Department, the city identified building age, building inhabitant income, and building inhabitant occupation length as strong predictors for determining if a structure may not have a smoke alarm installed. It then mapped this information along with fire risk calculated from resident age data and fire data over the previous five years. The program’s results now inform NOFD’s door-to-door program to install free smoke alarms.

To me the issue isn't big data, but first, the decision (1) to be proactive in distributing smoke alarms, (2) not willy-nilly, but in those neighborhoods with a higher risk for fires.

I find it hard to believe that the Fire Department doesn't analyze runs and fires already to know what types of properties and situations are high risk.


I do note that DC Fire Department has recently undertaken such an initiative ("Neighbors offer support for family of 7-year-old who died in D.C. rowhouse fire," Washington Post).  But likely such efforts could be more systematic.  From the article:

As the investigation continued into what caused the blaze, D.C. fire officials and firefighters returned to the neighborhood Wednesday morning in hopes of preventing future fires. They arrived with free smoke alarms in hand and printed sheets of fire safety tips, and were welcomed by neighbors, who said they are making efforts to help the family moving forward. 

 “Any time something happens to any of the neighbors, it affects all of us,” said Geoffrey Tate Sr., 65, who has lived in the community for nearly 50 years.... 

Visiting nearly 200 homes Wednesday, groups of fire officials talked to residents on Quebec Place, Rock Creek Church Road, Princeton Place and Warder Street NW. Fire Inspector Celina C. Primus went door-to-door on a block of homes, making sure residents checked for working smoke detectors and had a fire escape plan. 

“When a tragedy like this happens, they want to know someone outside of immediate family cares for them,” Primus said. “We care.”

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At 1:07 PM, Anonymous charlie said...

Firefighers are one of the most powerful public sector unions. Like pilots, they have a lot of time off due to their night schedules, which mean they can spend a lot more time on the politicking.

And yes the point that we need more paramedics, not firefighers is very true.

DC is of course already outsouring that to AMR. I'm not sure it's working out that well.

At 1:35 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Chief Donnelly lives about a block away from our house. We used to communicate via email, sparked by postings on the Takoma e list. He said the AMR thing was working, but this was a few years ago. And no question that moving in that direction was a function if the existing system not working.

He also wrote me when they hired nurses, to case manage "frequent flyers."

2. I hadn't thought if the time aspect as an element of the strength of firefighter unions, although I know for many, that schedule allows for second jobs or living far away.

As you know, police unions have been historically strong too. But their optics aren't as good these days since they tend to reflexively support cops, even in the face of egregious acts.

At 6:21 PM, Anonymous charlie said...

Yeah, I think the AMR contract is just transportation. Not actual EMS services, which are still done by the DCFEMS.

At 11:30 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Yep. It means more uptime for the EMS units and personnel.

At 3:43 PM, Anonymous charlie said...


At 2:33 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Thank you for this piece, very very interesting. Really great in fact, but kinda short.

It does get at why I was originally somewhat skeptical of the collective efficacy school of thought. You have efficacy, organized citizens, but things still languish.

But what I didn't realize at the time that it is not either/or, but you need both. (At a talk by Robert Fishman at AU I made this point, that I had been stuck on either/or, not thinking about and/and.)

The community organizing and engagement part of community efficacy + systematic investment and support in building pan-neighborhood organizations and initiatives.

Your point about capital.

It does prove the point I made about the need for systematic neighborhood revitalization programs.

Maybe I'll get a chance to push this in SLC. I did meet the mayor a few weeks ago and talked with her for quite a bit.

The end of the article has a link to another piece about the demise of black business and inferentially, black business districts.

One of the downsides of integration is the diminishment of the critical mass of black capital and business districts. Alongside general "chaining up" of America.

At 10:06 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

High rise fires are still an issue. Grenfell, etc.

This is an article about a high rise fire in Toronto in 2010 and how it led to major changes in process and procedures. The fire on the 24th floor, was driven by high winds from the balcony, in a building constructed before sprinklers were required.

"Good luck can teach you bad habits"

"Fire in the Sky"

When I came on, 30-odd years ago, you were under the tutelage of your crew, and they taught you a lot from experience,” said Geoff Boisseau, operations division commander, training and continuous improvement, Toronto Fire Services.

To a large extent, that’s still the case — firefighters still learn from one another. After every major fire in Toronto, Boisseau puts together a team to dissect what went well and what didn’t go well. Interviews are conducted with the crews and incident commanders. The resulting reports and recommendations, if any, are required reading for firefighters across Toronto Fire’s 84 stations. “It’s a self-critique — it’s let’s take an honest look at ourselves — how did we do,” said Boisseau.

Boisseau believes that firefighters are now more open to change. Today’s recruits have more education and a different attitude, which Boisseau sums up this way: “You can’t just tell me how to do it — you gotta tell me why.”

... The fire changed the course of Brooks’s career. “I remember the fire was finally knocked down after five and a half hours. And I thought, we can’t do this again, it was way too dangerous, this is nothing that anyone that was there had experienced,” said Brooks.

He threw himself into studying highrise fire fighting, attending conferences around the world, visiting London to study the Grenfell Tower disaster. He’s been to Spain, England, France, New York City and Chicago. “I try to hit four conferences a year,” Brooks said.

He joined the Council of Tall Buildings, headquartered in Chicago, and has become one of the experts in highrise fire fighting for Toronto Fire Services. He will represent Canada at the 7th annual International Tall Building/High Rise Conference in London in May, to speak about highrise fire fighting techniques. Brooks and Baker designed the two new highrise trucks now in use in Toronto. The goal is to have one in each of the four quadrants of the city.

At 10:07 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

In Toronto, because of the number of high rises, they need more firefighters. And they've changed the response procedures for high rises in many ways, including more personnel, but also significantly different types of equipment.

At 12:42 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

The Philadelphia Inquirer: How to get free smoke detectors in Philadelphia.

At 6:02 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Articles about fires at a duplex in Philadelphia and a large apartment building in the Bronx:

The New York Times: Why a Closed Door Can Save Lives During a Fire.

The Guardian: Why is New York City’s mayor blaming tenants for the deadliest fire in decades?.

NBC News: Pa. Legislature ignored bill that might have prevented deadly Philladelphia fire.

NBC News: ‘Tenants have no choice’: Racism in urban planning fuels high rate of Black fire deaths.

Faulty safety doors at Bronx high-rise were repeatedly flagged before deadly fire, officials say

Owners of burned Bronx building held billions in real estate, reaped housing subsidies


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