3-14-2006 No room for error


7:41 PM: "Second structure fire on South Welles Street."--911 to WBFD

I was sitting here taking a Cd-Rom test last night that had a built-in time limit when the tones sounded for the structure fire on Carey Avenue. According to The Citizens’ Voice, that claxon call came at approximately 7:20 or somewhere thereabouts. Being completely distracted at the time, I’ll have to take their word for it. At exactly 7:41, the following urgent update came from the good folks at 911: Second structure fire on South Welles Street!” I reached for the volume knob on the scanner and said the following to wifey: Here we go! This is gonna get the firehouse apparatchiks all lathered up again. At that point, I heard F-6, Tom MXXX, say “..advise Kingston” and one of the wildest scanner events ever ensued.

From The Citizens” Voice:

Blaze in Heights renews argument

To say all hell broke loose over the scanner airwaves would be putting it mildly. Like I said, I was sidetracked with this continuing education gunk, so I’m not sure who, or what apparatus was where when the second structure fire was reported. All that I’m certain of is that F-6 was on scene at the S. Welles fire ground fairly quickly, but I’m assuming he was driving the command car and not an engine. First he reported a kitchen fire. Next he warned that it was close to becoming a working structure fire. Finally, he announced that they had a fully involved structure fire on their hands. He was definitely resonating a sense of urgency, and by the time he warned that the “kitchen fire’ was growing in intensity, he sounded almost frantic. I’ve never heard him sound like that before. I suspect he felt somewhat frustrated and powerless since the bulk of the on-duty fire department was already committed to the first fire. Somewhere in that rapid-fire sequence, someone radioed back that they were close to rolling a reserve engine out of headquarters.

What happened next is a mystery to me. Having finished my continuing studies, I was treated to a mish-mash of 911 folks, F-6, on-duty fire fighters, responding off-duty firefighters, then moments later, Kingston and Hanover fire personnel all talking on Wilkes-Barre’s fire frequencies. It was nuts. At exactly 8:35, 14 minutes after the second fire call came in, F-6 reported that the fire had spread from 81-83 Welles to 85-87 Welles. Who, or what the hell he had at his disposal at that time is totally unbeknownst to me.

Based on what I heard, I was of the opinion that the fire department’s response time to the Welles Street fire was considerably slower than the usual 3-5 minutes we’ve all become accustomed to, but, like I said, I was distracted when all hell broke loose. In their defense, having two structure fires erupt simultaneously is definitely the worse case scenario for any local fire department, so I am in no way suggesting that they performed poorly or slowly.

Last night I heard some guy on the video advertising box rambling on about how he used to have a firehouse 30 seconds away, with the implication being that that f&*king sumbitch of a mayor went and closed it and now look what happened. That he did, but even if East Station was still open for business when this unfortunate sequence of events came about, East Station’s Engine 4 and it’s two firefighters would have been already out of position after responding to the first structure fire on Carey Avenue. Yepper, that’s a fact. So, what it amounts to is that East Station’s closing had no bearing on last night’s events at all. Period.

If East Station was still in operation last night, it’s resources would have been dispatched to Carey Ave, while Engine 9 from North Station would have redeployed to headquarters--a more central position. And when the call for The Heights fire came in, Engine 9 would have then headed for the hills. After hearing the guys at headquarters respond to F-6 about getting a reserve engine rolling to the Heights, I am only left to assume that Engine 9 had previously responded to the Carey Ave. blaze. Either way, the closing of East Station did nothing to make last night’s twin inferno fiasco any worse than it otherwise would have been.

Some selected excerpts from WNEP.com:

Mayor Defends Fire Response Time

UPDATED: Tuesday, March 14, 5:37 p.m.

By Rosa Yum The mayor of Wilkes-Barre is defending the response time of his fire department after two fires broke out Monday night around the same time. Some people were critical that firefighters didn't arrive fast enough.

The Wilkes-Barre fire chief said the fire was caused by a boy playing with matches. Fire victims were going through the rubble hoping to find some precious memories, such as a photo or a religious statue.

"I think it's because the firehouse up the street was closed. Response time was terrible, lacking of men. If it weren't for Kingston and Edwardsville, it would have been twice as bad," said fire victim Bill Maloney.

Residents said the two fires almost at the same time stretched crews too thin. "I'm not blaming the firemen, I'm blaming the politicians for not hiring, for not putting another crew on. We should have an engine on the hill, at least a little alley truck if need be," said neighbor Fred Buss.

Wilkes-Barre Mayor Tom Leighton disagrees. "I must emphasize that with their help, and the professionalism of our fire department we're able to save the entire block both on Carey Avenue and South Welles Street."

"There are four minutes response time to both fires, more than acceptable," said Fire Chief Jacob Lisman.

He added the city, if needed, can also count on getting help from fire fighters in five surrounding communities.

XXXX

I heard a guy on the news tonight say that the city needs to add “a second crew” of firefighters, which is totally absurd and cost prohibitive. The administration and the union have been squabbling back-and-forth about manpower issues for some time now, but I fail to see how the closing of a firehouse with two men positioned therein should now be offered as proof that we need another 12-15 men per shift. And the cry to raise taxes and hire more firemen is a hollow cry when you consider that the very same people would more than likely get to griping about the tax increase they previously demanded if it were to come to pass.

I happen to trust Fire Chief Jake Lisman. If he says they were on scene in a timely manner, I would have to take his word over the people claiming that it took 30 minutes for the fire department to arrive on scene. I may have been distracted early on, but I know that claim is total bunk. But I will say this, while I was listening in to F-6’s rapid-fire updates from the Welles Street fire, it sure as hell didn’t sound as if he thought the fire department’s response was progressing in a timely manner. It didn’t sound like it at all.

One thing that wasn’t passed along by the press was that at 8:20, 911 reported that they had a report of “Smoke coming from the Martz building” on Public Square, which further distracted and divided our firefighters. To what degree I am not certain.

The East Station closing beside, I’ve heard enough on the scanner to know that we’re cutting things a little too close whenever a serious structure fire presents itself. If the entire fire department has to deploy to one near out-of-control event, what is remaining in reserve when a second calamity is reported? As soon as a second alarm, or a third alarm goes out, nothing or no one can respond to anything until the off-duty employees can scramble to the nearest firehouse. In my opinion, we’re asking for trouble that could needlessly get someone killed.

I hate what-ifs, but what if there was an entrapment involved in a second structure fire, while the fire department was already fighting the first fire? What if F-6 gets their first and learns that a child is trapped somewhere in a fire very close to becoming a raging inferno? Does he sprint into the building knowing damn well that it’s probably not a good idea? Should he take added risk on his shoulders and throw protocol out the window? The list of what-ifs is endless. What if we had those two fires raging last night and a school bus full of high school basketball players returning from a playoff game got clocked and rolled over on Wilkes-Barre Boulevard? What then? I know none of that happened, and I know that having to fight two structure fires at the same time is a highly unlikely scenario, but I think our firefighting resources are spread just a tad thin.

Fact is, we did have to fight two structure fires at the same time last night, and even though I think the “Save Our Firehouse” folks worked the Heights into a frenzy over next to nothing, the oft-mentioned worst case scenario did happen last night. And there’s no way you’re going to convince the general public that a ladder truck from Kingston or Edwardsville is going to respond to an emergency in Wilkes-Barre in a timely manner. We may drink all day in our wood-paneled lean-tos, but we ain’t that gullible.

So, what to do about it?

Breaking with the administration of this city, I think we need another fire engine in service and I think we need two additional firemen to man it. Not three, as the union will no doubt demand. Try two just to get that additional engine in service. And that in no way implies that I want that rat-trap in the Heights remodeled at great expense to the city. I want more manpower. This way, when the bulk of the department is deployed to some far-flung section of the city, we’ll have, at least, a fire truck and two men available to race to a second emergency on a moment‘s notice. The question for me is: if my stuff was on fire, would I be willing to wait until the third alarm was sounded, the off-duty firefighters arrived at HQ, threw on their turnout gear, and then got that big diesel rolling n the general direction of my adobe? Nope. I don’t like that scenario.

And I also think this firehouse brouhaha will continue to simmer until both sides--the administration and the union--find a way to come to some sort of compromise that would better provide for the piece of mind of the residents, and the safety of those who run into burning structures. I know we’re talking about significant amounts of added payroll, but something has got to give when damn near every structure fire in the Heights is going to lead to controversy and exaggerated horror stories from the well-coached residents. And I also believe that city council is going to receive some heat from concerned residents and “activists” alike after this incident, which should in turn lead to them applying some heat under the mayor’s feet over this issue. I know we have to balance the budget and whatnot, but I’m sick and tired of all of the uproar.

Do you really want a tax increase to pay for more firefighters? Do you? Then let the city’s administration know all about it.

cityhall@wilkes-barre.pa.us

They‘re back!!! Whoever they are. How lame is this? After a six-month hiatus, the anonymous coward from Save My City has gotten over his, or her debilitating case of writer’s cramp.

Get the title of this drivel:

Told ya so!

You told us so? Who’s “you?” You’d have to be a serious knucklehead to anonymously brag about how your prognosticating is spot-on accurate. And how amazing is it exactly to predict that one day, one day my son, two structure fires will ravage Wilkes-Barre at the same time? Wow! My turn.

I predict…um, I predict that three serious car accidents will happen within minutes of each other and an outside ambulance will have to be called into the city. Ballsy, heyna?

How ‘bout this one. I predict that while our police department is setting up a perimeter in search of a bank robbery suspect fleeing on foot, a second call of a very serious and violent nature will come in. Am I good, or what?

And when they come true, that proves what? That the city’s frayed purse strings should be controlled by the folks making the most anonymous ‘net noise, or the most anonymous ‘net predictions? Get stuffed and jam your anonymous babble up the poop tube.

The coward has spoken. Again.

From Reuters:

McClatchy to buy Knight-Ridder

You just gotta check this out. This is the best pic yet that Kayak Dude captured from the mouth of one of our sewage outflows. And he got it published no less.

USS Mucker makes Paddler Magazine

Outstanding, dude.

Torpedo the dams! Ramming speed!

XXXX

Gotta go.

CYA

PS--The next city council meeting ought to be a real rip-roaring event. Get there early.





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