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DC firefighters cite new staging policy in death of man in hi-rise fire

Department says new policy implemented after collision of two fire engines

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Watch Paul Wagner’s report

There’s controversy in the DC Fire & EMS Department over a policy in place since last August ordering all but the first two engines, a ladder truck and battalion chief to stage two blocks from a reported building fire. The policy was created after the collision of two rigs last summer. Now WTTG-TV/FOX5 reporter Paul Wagner says some DC firefighters are citing this order as a factor in the recent death of a young lawyer inside his burning apartment at 1245 4th Street, Southwest.

The officer in charge of Rescue Squad 1 wrote superiors in the department that the four or five minutes lost until the first engine could make the 6th floor and determine there was actual fire contributed to the loss of life. The radio traffic from this fire is in the recording at the top of this post. It’s from OpenMHZ.

Paul Wagner, WTTG-TV/FOX5:

The battalion fire chief told the rescue squad and other units to stage blocks away from the scene.

Approximately four to five minutes later – only after the engine company discovered the fire – was the squad told to move in.

According to an action report obtained by FOX 5, the officer in charge of the squad wrote:

“I believe that delaying the on-scene response, by requiring the rescue squad to stage, may have contributed to the death of a civilian.”

He then recommended that the fire department end its policy.

Dabney Hudson is president of the Firefighter Union.

“Nobody wants to come to work, sit on the sidelines when people die, right, and that’s unfortunately what happened that night,” he said. “Nobody wants to be in that position. Nobody wants to second guess themselves after an incident like this occurs.”

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Here’s the response from DC Fire & EMS Department:

After a major accident last summer between two engines that were on their way to a fire, the Department made a change to response guidelines where units responding to a fire would stage two blocks from the incident except the first two engines, ladder truck and battalion chief.  Once on-scene, the initial units would determine if additional assistance was required and assign them to areas needed.  This change was consistent with recent changes to our Standard Operating Guidelines. The issue of staging units and assigning them was implemented to assure the incident commander could deploy resources as dictated by the demands of the emergency, which also allows for quicker access to the fire and to citizens in danger.

We are a traditional organization that strives to be the best.  Anytime there is change there is resistance of some members.  Our labor organization has raised some members’ concerns about this issue. We have reviewed their concerns but do not agree that committing resources prior to understanding the circumstances is the correct or safe way to approach an incident. 

Internally, our message to our members is that we must all work together to achieve a greater level of operational discipline, improve firefighter safety and risk assessment, ensure deliberate decision making and deploy our resources responsibly.

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