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MI firefighter alone inside house fire is burned. Incident brings up questions about Benton Harbor’s public safety officer model.

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Benton Harbor, Michigan Lt. Doug Bell is in fair condition after being burned inside a house fire at 1034 Jennings Avenue early Thursday morning. According to news reports, Lt. Bell was the only firefighter on duty in the station when the call came in and was alone in the house when he was injured. In July of last year Benton Harbor began using a public safety officer model where police officers are trained to respond to fires bringing a reduction in the number of full-time firefighters. One of the public safety officers who helped rescue Lt. Bell went to the hospital due to smoke inhalation.

Below is a video of the Benton Harbor Fire Department we ran last year before implementation of the public safety officer model.

John Matuszak, Herald Palladium:

Three Benton Harbor public safety officers were at the scene with Bell when he entered the house, Lange said.

Bell entered the burning house alone, (Public Safety Director Roger) Lange said. Standard procedure nationally is to have two firefighters inside a burning structure, with two outside.

A lone firefighter can enter a building if there is reason to believe someone is inside, which is what Bell might have done, Lange said.

As of Thursday afternoon, Lange did not yet know if one of the public safety officers was on the way into the house behind Bell when Bell was injured, and said that this part of the incident was under investigation.

Above is a video posted in April of last year before the public safety officer model was introduced.

Meghan Schiller, WBND-TV:

Lieutenant Doug Bell responded to the fire on Jennings Avenue by himself.

He got trapped inside the burning home around 1 a.m. and was rescued thanks to the daring efforts of his fellow officers.

He was transported to the Bronson Hospital Burn Unit in Kalamazoo for severe burns to his hands, fingers, back, ears, forehead and neck.

The Director of Public Safety, Roger Lange, says even if there were twenty firefighters on duty at all times, there would still be incidents like this one. 


Comments - Add Yours

  • mark

    I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again. Public safety models only work well where neither the FD or PD run many calls. Not sure about the FD in Benton Harbor, but the PD is very, very busy.

    Personally, I doubt I would support it even in a municipality that is slow, but it can work.

    As for the story, sounds like someone may have been scared to go inside to help out the LT?

  • Anonymous

    “Bell entered the burning house alone, (Public Safety Director Roger) Lange said. Standard procedure nationally is to have two firefighters inside a burning structure, with two outside.
    A lone firefighter can enter a building if there is reason to believe someone is inside, which is what Bell might have done, Lange said”.

    I think they need to go back to Dunkin Donuts and re-read the “2 in – 2 out” law. What a joke. Fire Departments are always sacrificed in this “public safety” BS.

    • Anonymous

      Not a “law,” but still a valid standard.

      So at worst he was alone and at best they had 3 people at a working structure fire – poor either way!

  • Eric Staggs

    This quote is completely untrue:

    “The Director of Public Safety, Roger Lange, says even if there were twenty firefighters on duty at all times, there would still be incidents like this one. ”

    Having worked in 4 different fire departments operating under 3 different response models, not one would allow a crew of one inside a structure alone. There is absolutely no redundancy or safety in it, and this WILL result in firefighter fatalities, without question.

  • the ear

    This Director of Public Safety isn’t interested in public safety. What is he smoking off duty.

  • Chief H. Fartz

    Why do Fire Chiefs and Public Safety Directors hid behind sun glasses. Also if twenty firefighters were on the scene things like that wont occur, because proper hoselines would have been laid and ventilation we have been done, Another useless Public Safety Director, go do traffic control.

  • Apneic

    I chuckled when the director immediately went to work to defend his staffing model, which may be something he pushed for or which he may be afraid of sharing with another chief officer.

    He can say that it “would” happen to any other staffing model, but this game is about likelihood and percentages. Which of these is more likely to keep your employees and citizens safe?

  • slackjawedyokel

    That “safety” director is graspoing at straws. And on the older video -why two guys to operate a deck gun ?

  • ltfd seattle

    April 29, 1998

    J. Curtis Varone, Esq.
    55 Azalea Avenue
    Exeter, RI. 02822

    Dear Mr. Varone:

    This is in response to your letter dated January 16, to Mr. Kipp Hartmann, Area Director of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) Providence Rhode Island, Area Office. The subject of your letter is section (g)(4) of OSHA’s Respiratory Protection Standard, 29 CFR 1910.134, which has been recently revised and published in the Federal Register. You have asked OSHA to provide Information on cases where firefighters who were among the first four members to arrive on the scene of a structure fire, were trapped and unable to extricate themselves.

    The safety of firefighters engaged in interior structural firefighting is the major focus of paragraph (g)(4) of the OSHA Respiratory Protection standard. This provision requires that at least two employees enter the Immediately Dangerous to Life or Health (IDLH) atmosphere and remain in visual or voice contact with each other at all times. It also requires that at least two employees be located outside the IDLH atmosphere, thus the term, “two in/two out”. This assures that the “two in” can monitor each other and assist with equipment failure or entrapment or other hazards, and the “two out” can monitor those in the building, initiate rescue, or call for back-up. One of the “two out” can be assigned another role such as incident commander.

    The two-out provision of the standard is not a change from OSHA’s prior Respiratory Protection Standard, which required standby men (plural) whenever respirators were used in imminent danger situations. The two-in requirement for firefighters, which you do not question, was not required by the prior standard but is consistent with OSHA’s recent enforcement practice. OSHA’s rationale for the requirements is explained in detail in the preamble to the standard at 63 Fed. Reg. 1245-1248 (Jan. 8, 1998). As well as the situations described there, OSHA has received reports of a number of incidents in which the failure to follow two-in/two-out procedures has contributed to firefighter casualties.

    For example, in Lexington, Kentucky, one firefighter died and a second Kentucky OSHA cited the firefighters’ employer for failing to utilize two-in/two-out procedures. In a second case, OSHA has learned about two firefighters who died from smoke inhalation after being overcome by toxic fumes while fighting an accidental fire in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Although two additional firefighters were outside the home, both were engaged in support activities (hydrant hook-up and pump operation), and neither was fully accountable for monitoring the interior personnel.

    OSHA also has had a report of a success story following the adoption of two-in/two-out procedures in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The fire department there implemented an accountability and rescue system after a fatal fire. In one case, four firefighters who were performing an interior attack on an apartment building fire became disoriented and were trapped in the building. The standby personnel were able to initiate rescue operations promptly. As a result, although the four interior firefighters and two of the rescuers were injured, all survived.

    Because these cases involve situations that are typical of those faced by firefighters, we expect there are additional instances of firefighters who either were or could have been saved through the utilization of two-in/two-out procedures. Most firefighters are employed by local governments, however, and their operations are not governed by Federal OSHA, which does not cover state and local government employees. In contrast, states that operate their own OSHA-approved occupational safety and health plans must cover these public employees. Therefore the provisions of the respirator standard relating to firefighters will be enforced primarily by the twenty-five state-plan states. As you know, Rhode Island does not have its own OSHA-approved state plan so no OSHA program will enforce the two-in/two-out requirement in its public fire departments. OSHA does, however, encourage compliance by these employers.

    OSHA also emphasizes that the two-in/two-out provision, like all OSHA standards, states a minimum requirement. Your suggestion that safety would be enhanced if the two inside firefighters are accompanied by a supervisor is therefore not precluded by the OSHA standard. However, because an additional person would then be subject to the extrahazardous and hostile environment created by a structural fire, the need for adequate and attentive standby personnel is even more crucial. OSHA also questions your premise that, in the case of a four-person crew with a two-person interior team, one of the outside members would need to serve as a full-time incident commander. We believe it should be possible for one crew member to operate the pump or perform any other necessary support activities, while the other monitors the inside team. But regardless of the size of the team, the least desirable situation would be to have only a single outside crew member, particularly one whose attention is focused on performing support functions rather than on monitoring the firefighters inside.

    We thank you for your interest in safety and health. We hope this provides you with the information you have requested. If you have further questions, please call Ms. Wanda Bissell of my staff at (202) 219-8036 Ext. 41.


    John B. Miles, Jr.
    Directorate of Compliance Programs

  • ltfd seattle

    Public Safety Director Roger Lange stated, “Standard procedure nationally is to have two firefighters inside a burning structure, with two outside. A lone firefighter can enter a building if there is reason to believe someone is inside, which is what Bell might have done”.

    Director Lange, assuming that you were correctly quoted, you are either incompetent or a liar. Which is it?

  • northchief

    Until the LT tells us what he was thinking when he entered alone, we won’t know the full story. He may have had very good reason, hearing someone inside, who knows. As to why the others didn’t follow, that also will have to wait for comment. I know the 2 in 2 out rule is clear that there must be confirmed entrapment but that is a matter on the on scene evaluation made by firefighters under stress and having incomplete or conflicting information.

  • Mack Seagrave

    Staff the police, fire and EMS departments with the number of personnel required to do the job safely and efficiently. Fire the mayor, the ‘director of public safety’, the city council members and any other ‘elected officials’. The emergency services responders can easily do a better job of directing the operation of the municipality (in between calls and other duties) than the nitwits who made the decision that the best way to save money is to place uniformed and civilian lives in imminent danger.

    • Fire21


  • RS5

    The PSO model is one I have always advocated against! Its a public admission that you cant staff your fire dept. Period! I actually worked in a similar response model, and the only time it worked safely, was when there were no calls. Its only a matter of time until it happens again. Even if they had two FF’s and two PSO’s, its still dangerous. PSO’s were invented to cut fire, and save police jobs in most area’s. Every PSO I ever worked with, hated being at the firehouse. Just because your cross trained, doesnt make you proficient.

  • Jim

    The Director of Public Safety, Roger Lange, says even if there were twenty firefighters on duty at all times, there would still be incidents like this one.

    My question for him would be, “When has it happened in the past?”

  • Fire21
  • Former Chief

    Will the local news media stay on top of this story? I’m not very optimistic based on their initial reporting. Will the residents of this town stand up and demand better fire protection? Again, I’m not holding my breath, no residents died, it was only another Firefighter injured, who cares, right? Sickening. Prayers to Lt. Bell for a speedy and full recovery.

  • haveyouseenmybaseball?

    Something no one has taken into account are the demographics of Benton Harbor. The following is from wikipedia, and while I don’t take anything from wikipedia as gospel the following facts are probably no too far off:
    The city is 4.68 sq. miles of which 4.43 sq. miles is land 0.25 sq. miles is water. The 2010 census put the population at 10,038. The following is truly telling and I paraphrase, the city is across the St. Joseph River from the city of St. Joseph and they are referred to as the “twin cities”. That’s pretty much where the similarity ends. Population is divided as follows, Benton Harbor: 7.0% white, 89.2% black with a median income of $17,301.00. St. Joseph: 88.1% white, 5.3% black with a median income of $49,982.00.
    I’d be willing to bet that Benton Harbor cannot fund a functioning fire department. The city is, however, not without blame. When one reads further under Government and Politics it is discovered that in 2009 the state of Michigan Treasury Department sent a team in to study the city’s finances with the end result being the appointment of an emergency financial manager by the governor in April 2010.
    The point is, there are many, many, many municipalities across the country that are having major trouble providing core services such as Fire and EMS and we all know that in the funding wars Police will win EVERY TIME. I wish I had an answer. What would be nice though would be for these politicians and “leaders” to man up and admit, “Yeah, we can’t do both, if you have a Fire or EMS problem, you’re effed.” Wishful thinking…

  • momdog

    Once again, the news has inadequately reported the complete story. For those of you who follow with your own speculations, shame on you. If you aren’t smart enough to realize there is more than one side to every story – in this case – the media setting out to contrive a greater following, then you have fallen into their trap.
    Benton Harbor is a community in financial distress.
    This however does not mean that it was the reason of this unfortunate outcome.
    For those of you who think PSOs are not qualified…. you must not be looking too hard, because I can guarantee there are several in this community I would put up against any of you nay-sayers any day. There are PSOs that have educated themselves, trained and chosen this profession and were not forced into being cross-trained in fear of losing their jobs. It’s what they love to do…it all!
    Perhaps one of the news media will eventually report the complete story. Until then, keep bashing what you are afraid of!

  • Ric

    I was unaware that Benton Harbor had gone to the PSO model. It is true that the city is/has been/ will forever be broke. Basically, it is a small Detroit, empty buildings and houses, fast becoming a ghost town. I know that at one time they had only a single station house open with 3 or less firfighters on duty and a lone police officer to handle the entire city.

    The chief is clearly, pre-police, making the statment he did is idiotic. Reminds me of the chief from Charleston SC stating we would not change a thing after the loss of 9 firefighters when asked what he would do differently by the media.