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In the early-morning hours today January 2nd 2009 57-year-old Elizabeth (N.J.) Firefighter Gary Stephens was killed in the line of duty while backing up an apparatus which was laying a supply line at a working structure fire. Capt. Gary Stephens suffered severe trauma when the apparatus he was backing ran over him this morning around 2 AM. We do not have sufficient information at this time to report on what exactly occurred to cause Capt. Stephens to fall beneath the rig. However we felt compelled to report on his passing and express our deepest sympathies to his family friends and all the members of the Elizabeth New Jersey fire Department. Please remember Capt. Stephens in your prayers.

A full honors fire service memorial service for Elizabeth (NJ) FF Gary Stephens will be held at 1100 hours on Monday, January 5, 2009 at St. John's Episcopal Church on Broad Street in Elizabeth. Here is their link: Firefighter and related emergency services personnel lineup will be at 1000 hours.

This is a personnel only memorial, no apparatus from visiting FD's will be included. Public transportation for those attending is strongly recommended. This will be the only public funeral/memorial event for FF Stephens. The family of FF Stephens will be holding private burial services separately.


posted by Bobby Halton
1/02/2009 02:58:00 PM

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From Fire Engineering Editorial Advisory Board Member Chief Billy Goldfeder,
Billy was kind enough to supply us with the following information please share it widely and pray for Michelle this holiday, remember her friends and family. Pray for all who watch over us and who always have our backs.

Firefighter Michelle Smith Funeral Details & 12 year old Daughter Trust Fund Donation Information
The Secret List
The Delaware City Fire Company has announced the Line of Duty Death services for Firefighter Michelle Smith, 29, who passed away Monday, December 22nd. Services for Michelle are being coordinated by Department Officers and Members, State Fire Chief's Association members, and the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation Local Assistance State Team. In respect for the holidays and the family's wishes, we have scheduled the services appropriately.
The viewing will be held on Sunday, January 4th, from 1500 hours until 1900 hours, at the Delaware City Fire Company Memorial Hall, 815 Fifth Street, Delaware City, DE 19706. The services will be held on Monday, January 5th, at 1000 hours, at the Delaware City Fire Company Memorial Hall, 815 Fifth Street, Delaware City, DE 19706. The firefighters honors and procession will immediately commence and continue to the internment being held at Odd Fellows Cemetery, 420 S. DuPont Blvd., Smyrna, DE 19977.
Michelle is survived by her 12 year old daughter, Emily. A trust fund has been set up in Emily's name for donations. The family has requested that in lieu of flowers, donations may be made to The Emily A. Burge Trust Fund, c/o Delaware City Fire Company, PO Box 251, 815 Fifth Street, Delaware City, DE 19706, or donations may be made directly to the Delaware City Fire Company.
Fire Companies or agencies wishing to participate in the ceremonies should limit their participation to one apparatus. Apparatus and personnel should plan to report to the staging area (to be determined) by 9 am on Monday, January 5th. Details will follow early next week concerning the particulars of the ceremony. Please check their website, , for up to date information.

In what continues to unfold as an absolutely incredible story related to the horrific Line of Duty Death of Delaware City (DE) Firefighter Michelle Smith... the criminal circumstances only gets worse.

As you already know, the motorcycle crash occurred on Route 13 southbound on Saturday evening. The operator of the bike, Edward Reiss, was injured in the incident and was lying in the roadway. A Delaware City Fire Company ambulance (standing by to cover that area for the Wilmington manor Fire Company) arrived on the scene within minutes and DCFC FF Michelle Smith got out of the ambulance, ran over to Mr. Reiss and began to administer care. A New Castle County Police Officer then arrived on the scene and activates him emergency equipment.
Moments later, the 2004 BMW 760 traveling southbound on Route 13 entered the crash scene and sideswiped the county police car causing significant damage. The Police officer leaped back into his car just prior to the impact and avoids injury. The BMW, operated by veteran criminal Joseph Taye, 28, of Bear, loses control and strikes Smith and Reiss. The BMW comes to a stop on the right shoulder south of the crash scene.

At that point, a light colored Honda, possibly an Accord, pulls up to the crash scene. The operator of the Honda, an unidentified black male, ACTUALLY HELPS TAYE into the Honda (Taye is unable to walk himself) and the Honda subsequently flees the scene. Witnesses describe the fleeing Honda and also advised that the operator of the BMW was a black male...with an obvious physical impairment/disability.
Officers, Troopers and New Castle County Police officers, respond to the BMW registered owners address....the car was apparently not Tayes. Through outstanding police investigative practices, the name of Joseph Taye comes up. It is learned that Taye was a black male with a physical impairment. Back at the crash scene, evidence technicians process the BMW and locate a finger print which ultimately proves to be a positive match for Taye.
Tragically, yesterday, Monday, December 22nd, Ms. Smith succumbs to her injuries and is pronounced dead at Christiana Hospital. Her death is Line of Duty.
During the evening hours of December 22nd, detectives complete arrest warrants for Taye. Troopers respond to Tayes home in Bear and take him into custody without incident. Taye is arraigned on the following offenses: Manslaughter, Assault 2nd, Driving while Revoked, Leaving the Scene of a Crash and Failure to Report a Crash. Bail is set at $30,000.00 only (yeah-we know) and Mr. Taye is committed to the Howard Young Correctional Institute. As you know, this case is still very much active. Investigators are seeking to identify the operator of the Honda that fled the scene of the crash with Taye in the car. We have no doubt that they will get Tayes "partners in crime"...

FF Michelle L. Smith has served the Delaware City Fire Company and the
Delaware City Ladies Auxiliary for over 5 years, holding the Secretary position with the Ladies Auxiliary. She also serves with the Volunteer Hose Company of Middletown, DE: . Michelle is survived by her 12 year old daughter. Again, our condolences to all affected, the members of the Delaware City, Wilmington Manor Fire Companies and VHC of Middletown but especially her family, her daughter and her friends.

Kudos to the Delaware State and the New Castle County Police involved in this bizarre case for the outstanding police work done so far as they continue to hunt for Tayes accomplices.
More to follow....


posted by Bobby Halton
12/24/2008 02:43:00 PM

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Two studies published in the September 11, 2008 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) raise some serious questions about the value of arthroscopic knee surgery. One study suggests that surgeons may be a bit too quick to assume that meniscal tears cause knee pain and symptoms of unclear origin (Englund M, Guermazi A, Gale D, et al. Incidental meniscal findings on knee MRI in middle-aged and elderly persons. New Eng J Med. 2008;359:1108-15). Using MRI studies of 991 randomly selected people, researchers found that damage and tears to the meniscus were common and increased with age. Interestingly, the majority of tears (61%) were found in patients who had no knee pain, aches, or stiffness. MRI is often used to evaluate knee problems when a cause is not obvious. When meniscal tears are found, it is presumed the symptoms are related to the tear. No longer, if you take this fairly large population study at face value.

The second study compared arthroscopic knee surgery to medical and physical therapy in 178 patients with moderate-to-severe osteoarthritis of the knee. These researchers found that arthroscopic surgery was no better than optimized physical and medical therapy for osteoarthritis of the knee (Kirkley A, Birminghan TB, Litchfield RB, et al. A randomized trial of arthroscopic surgery for osteoarthritis of the knee. New Eng J Med. 2008;359:1097-1107). Medical therapy provided to 92 of the patients included nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, acetaminophen, chondroitin sulfate or glucosamine, hyaluronic acid injection, weekly physical therapy for three months, and instruction on twice-daily home exercises. The remaining 86 surgical therapy patients received the same medical treatments plus arthroscopic surgery (including debridement of cartilage and/or meniscus and excision or removal of loose bodies and osteocytes). After 2 years, both groups had similar pain levels, physical function, and overall quality of life scores. Arthroscopic surgery is a widely used treatment for osteoarthritis of the knee with no proven (scientific) benefit. This study provides some proof that it often has no benefit.

Some food for thought if you're having knee problems!

Mike McEvoy
EMS Technical Editor
Fire Engineering

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posted by Mike McEvoy
12/20/2008 11:41:00 PM

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Blogger Jean said...

I have been told I need total knee replacement I would like to return to work for three more years after the surgery but can find no results of FF returning to work after such type of surgery Any results available?

Thu Jan 01, 08:45:00 AM EST  

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At the ICC Board meeting today, the decision of the appeal board to NOT overturn the sprinkler code change was upheld by the ICC Board of Directors. The decision on CO detectors so the original decisions stand and the appeal was denied.


posted by Jack J. Murphy
12/19/2008 11:57:00 AM

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Blogger Reskudawg said...

A local building code official brought up an interesting problem concerning residential fire sprinklers. What about those homes that are on a well system for drinking water. We have quite a few homes in the area that are in that situation. According to several installation contractors, well water systems just do not have high enough water pressure to insure a reliable flow to the farthest sprinkler head. I am a strong proponent for residential fire sprinklers and will be retrofitting them to the house that we just moved into early next year but, I'm concerned how to ensure that the citizens are protected to the fullest extent possible. We are on city water so that pressure isn't an issue.

Tue Dec 23, 07:16:00 PM EST  
Blogger Maria Figueroa said...

The example you have cited is covered in NFPA 13D; "a well with a pump of sufficient capacity and pressure to meet the sprinkler system demand" is considered an acceptable water supply for the residential sprinkler system. This will increase the price of the system. Some communities have opted to exempt homes on well water from the requirement. This may not be a good idea as these homes may be found outside of the urban development boundary, and further away from the nearest suppression unit response. I hope this answers your question.

Fri Dec 26, 08:26:00 PM EST  

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This Monday, December 8. an F/A-18D returning to Miramar Naval Air station from the USS Abraham Lincoln encountered some type of engine problem off the coast of San Diego, forcing the pilot to eject seconds before the jet slammed into a neighborhood just outside the airbase. The resulting explosion destroyed two homes and damaged three more. The most tragic result was the death of four members of one family, who were unfortunately home at the time. An additional 20 homes in the area were evacuated because of the smoke and heat.

Shortly after the crash, a politician said he wanted to conduct an investigation to ensure that this type of incident would never happen again. This type of comment, although understandable, clearly illustrates the lack of comprehension on the part of the general public to the dangers involved in high-risk occupations. We know that the United States Navy and Marine Corps provide excellent training, excellent maintenance, and demand all their pilots undergo the most rigorous training. All of this notwithstanding, the United States Navy and Marine Corps understand that failures will occur.

No system, no machine, no individual is perfect, and so one must anticipate the occasional failure, the occasional accident, and the consequences. The consequences are what must be mitigated. Now if this particular politician is going to ensure that no Navy jets ever fly again over a neighborhood in San Diego, then he can in fact have his dream come true. But barring a complete and total ban of naval aircraft over the San Diego civilian airspace, no one can guarantee there won't be another accident.

What can happen is this: The United States Navy and Marine Corps need to investigate this incident and look at all the systemic issues that came together tragically to cause this accident. We would hope that now, with all we understand about the systemic nature of accidents, the pilot is not identified as the cause. Unfortunately, this is all too often the case in air-related events. This represents the easiest way out, and therefore the most common way out, by some unmotivated investigator who is all too happy to say it was simply human error. Any event, especially transportation accidents that involve human beings as operators, pilots, or engineers, generally gets labeled as human error.

In order to understand how errors occur, how failures happen, and what really causes an accident, we need to let go of what Prof. Sidney Dekker, Ph.D, calls the old view. We must adopt what Prof. Dekker calls a new view of human error. Then and only then we recognize that the accident in this case a tragic plane crash is enmeshed in almost spiderweb of complex, interconnected, and yet independent causes. There is no root cause, there is no primal cause, it was not just human error--it was clearly a systemic failure.

In these events, firefighters are the first to be called and we must be ready. From the firefighter perspective, it's our job to be prepared for these events and not to assume that we can make them all go away. In that regard I would suggest that you read the drill on military aircraft located at this link:
Hold the drill this week. Connect the drill in context to this tragic event. Have your folks read the article in Fire Engineering. Have them look at the video, which is still available in our video section from the ABC news report. Bring this event to life in your training. Just because you do not happen to live underneath an airbase does not mean that you should not be prepared. These events can happen anywhere the United States; Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps, Army , and Coast Guard aircraft, fly over every state in the union. You owe it to your residences in your town and you owe it to the outstanding pilots of those fine aircraft to be prepared to respond when they need you. Don't think about it. Do it. To quote Adm. Rickover, it's easy to talk about doing things. It's a whole a other matter to get them done. Firefighters get it done.

If you want to really do more to get prepared, read a great article by John Carr and Les Omans titled "Responding to Commercial Aircraft Hazmat Incidents." In this article, they address some of the issues with military aircraft.

Just a few things to keep in the back of your mind when you're dealing with a downed military aircraft. Stay away anything painted yellow and black. Remember, these aircraft carry ordnance, weapons, and oftentimes have security systems. If you have a military base near your fire department, request training on what to do and who to contact in the event of a downed military aircraft. During my time at the Albuquerque (NM) Fire Department, the members of the Kirkland Air Force Base were always more than willing to put on classes for us at any time as to what to do if one of their aircraft were compromised or had to make an emergency landing.

The fire service is all about relationships. We need to continue to foster good relationships with our partners, particularly with the military bases in our first due. For more good reading on aircraft emergencies, read "Fire Department Response to Helicopter Emergencies" by Jerry Knapp, Christopher Flatley, and Wayne Sutherland, available here:
My thoughts and prayers go out to the family and friends of the family who lost their lives on Monday. My thoughts and prayers and deepest condolences go out to the brave Marine pilot when sure did everything he could to direct that aircraft away from any homes prior to ejecting. Until next time, stay safe and remember, be careful out there.



posted by Bobby Halton
12/11/2008 06:39:00 PM

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Our recent news announcing proposed FAA rule revisions on Helicopter Emergency Medical Services (HEMS) and a public hearing by the NTSB in February 2009 cry out for fire service involvement (see: 2008 promises to end as the most catastrophic year in the history of HEMS. Sound familiar? Any firefighter would feel the deja vu. With a history of grabbing the safety bull by the horns, confronting tough issues, naming problems, and taking opportunities for improvement, I'd say the fire service has a whole lot to contribute to any industry in the throws of safety troubles. But wait, there's more. The FAA suggested last year that ground providers contribute to unsafe HEMS operations. We do this by "helicopter shopping" or calling around until we find a HEMS willing to respond in whatever adverse conditions exist at or around our scene. Is the fire service part of the HEMS problem? Maybe. Can we be part of the solution? Absolutely.

Mike McEvoy
EMS Technical Editor
Fire Engineering

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posted by Mike McEvoy
12/03/2008 09:32:00 PM

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Blogger Kevin said...

The fire service plays a HUGE part in air medical safety, especially when establishing remote landing zones. All to often this task is taken lightly and time and time again complacency is evident. This is often undertaken by people with little to no training and if they are trained, there is no currency. This could be done by a 25 year veteran who was been trained, accountable and is currrent in his training or by an 18 year old who was 6 months on and just won a popularity contest to become a company officer. There are often no set enforced standards at either the State or County level and are often set forth by individual competing air medical providers. This one wants flares, this one wants cones, this ne wants strobes, this is 75X75, this 100X100, etc. Instead of monitoring the LZ for security and problems every single person on the company is watching the helo land like moths to a fire. When accidents and incidents do occur there is often no follow up, no training or retraining and no repercussions. Let me ask you this, with the "safety culture" we claim to pride ourselves in the fire service, just whay type of message does this convey?

Wed Dec 10, 12:20:00 PM EST  
Blogger Jefe, Global War On Error said...


You are spot on with your analysis of becoming "part of the solution" by addressing the issue of "helicopter shopping." We have seen the same thing in helicopter firefighting where the IC will shop until he/she finds someone willing to accept the risk that another has turned down. The use of a "turndown protocol" may be of some use in both environments.

It simply means after one organization (or company) has declined an assignment or request for service based on the risk, all subsequent requests must include the fact that someone else has already turned it down as too risky. At least all facts are on the table then.

Keep up the good work! Tony Kern, CEO, Convergent Performance

Wed Dec 10, 02:03:00 PM EST  
Blogger bill shouldis said...

What is the NIMS recommendation for helicopter operations. It seems that an air Operations is necessary. In the real world a company officer would set up a L/Z .A paramedic that fills the position of a Transportation Group Supervisor would need this information . Operation Section Chief are often not designated when only a few patients need transport to a Burn Center or Trauma Facility. Thanks for any help. Bill Shouldis -Phila. ([email protected])

Sun Dec 14, 02:11:00 PM EST  

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This is a week to recall and reflect on two historic fires; Friday marked the 66th anniversary of Boston's Cocoanut Grove night club fire. The Boston (MA) Fire Department responded 5 alarms to Box 1521 that night, where 492 lives were lost and 166 were injured. Many of the doors to nightclub were bricked up or bolted shut and the entrance was a revolving door.

The night club was filled with flammable decorations, and although it was rated for 500 persons, officals estimated more than 1,000 people were in the building at the time of the fire. Below are photos from our good friend Bill Noonan

This morning, December 1, is the 50th anniversary of the Our Lady of the Angels fire in Chicago. On this tragic day, 92 children and 3 nuns lost their lives. The building was a two-story school with numerous renovations that been grandfathered regarding the codes of the day. Many lessons would come from both of these fires, to include panic hardware and exit requirements, flame retardant furnishing, and surface coatings.

We are extremely honored to have a recording with our good friend Mike Mason, who was a student at Our Lady of the Angels on December 1, 1958, and Fire Engineering technical editor Glen Corbett discussing the fire and what it means to us today. CLICK HERE to listen to this Fire Engineering Radio podcast.


posted by Bobby Halton
11/30/2008 07:10:00 PM

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Blogger Michael H. Reynolds said...

Reflection upon these tragic events forces me to lament the reactive position taken by many governing bodies, in that they only pass legislation and ordinances for public protection when forced by a high profile loss of life and/or property.

Also, I resent the shame and embarrassment brought upon the fire service by the firefighters who have filed suit against El Paso Natural Gas for the distress experienced by them during their response near Carlsbad, NM to the tragic pipeline explosion of August 2000 in which a family of 12 were killed. This litigation has been rejected twice by the courts, but a Board of Appeals in Santa Fe, NM ruled that it has merit and sent it back to the court in Roswell, NM for trial. The "discovery" process is currently under way. This challenge to the Firefightrers' Rule is disgusting.

The responders to the Cocoanut Grove and Our Lady of the Angels fires surely did not consider such disreputable action in pursuit of profit on the coattails of lost innocent lives.

Michael H. Reynolds, Fire Chief
Carlsbad Fire Dept.
Carlsbad, NM

Fri Dec 05, 08:46:00 AM EST  

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