BY BARRY WARNER
Firefighters are exposed to the most hazardous of situations and greatest risk activities during emergency scene operations. To ensure that firefighters don’t become victims, volunteer Fire Safety Officer Raphael Ziegler engages in the operations, recognize the hazards of different types of construction, address them in a proactive manner and maintain communications with the Incident Commander.
He also serves as Monsey Fire Dept. administrative president. “Firefighting is a dangerous job and at the fire scene, I look at the ‘big picture.’ I make sure that the firefighters are using the proper equipment and warn them about unsafe conditions that could lead to trip and fall hazards,” Ziegler told the Rockland County Times. “In the event of a house fire, I walk around the building to see if there are people trapped and whether there was a heavy smoke condition that would be difficult for the firefighters to gain entry. I know what to look for and instruct the firefighters to get water on the fire, to get out of the building or warn them of imminent dangers behind.”
“An important job is the accountability of firefighters by using a tag system to keep track of who went into the structure, who came out and who was being serviced by the EMTs on the scene,” Ziegler continued. “By using radio communications, I can monitor all operations by listening 99 percent of the time and not talking. The firefighters at the Monsey Fire Department or the Brewer Fire Engine Company No. 1 are all cross-trained for everything. The rule is to follow safety factors and not harm oneself or others. If a firefighter is weak in some areas, then it’s not safe for others, so the firefighter must not be shy and arrange for additional training.”
“We’re a volunteer service and the volunteers must follow orders,” said Ziegler, who also serves as liaison to the Fire District. “Here in Monsey, there are a lot of multi-family dwellings that are complicated by new types of construction that involve lightweight materials that burn hotter and faster. During a fire attack, there has to be an initial search followed by a secondary search for victims in the upper floors. A lightweight timber roof truss that’s made of compressed wood and glue loses the ability to maintain structural integrity and may collapse, therefore all firefighters have to be ordered out, so they’re not put at risk.”
Radio communication skills are critical for effectively conveying information at the incident scene. One of the most critical of these skills is being a good listener. Although it’s often difficult to listen to radio traffic while performing fire ground tasks, it’s an important skill to develop. Firefighters then can avoid rebroadcasting non-urgent messages that have already been transmitted and maintain awareness of the overall situation. Listening skills also help firefighters recognize when potentially urgent information has not been broadcast and ensure that urgent messages are effectively communicated by the Fire Safety Officer to the Incident Commander.
Multiple family dwellings are apartment buildings, garden apartment buildings and townhouses. These structures can be anywhere between a single story to four stories tall and can be identified by a single address or multiple addresses in a complex. Life safety is the highest priority at all structure fires. The potential for life loss and rescue of multiple civilians is prominent in multi-family dwellings. There’s a high chance of fire extension that makes the objectives of interior fire containment and primary search a very high tactical priority. The rescue problem should be addressed by a thorough interior primary search for life that focuses on the bedrooms and means of egress. Once those areas have been checked, then searching above the fire and adjacent apartments have to be performed. The conservation of property without undue risk to firefighters must be a strategic goal throughout the entire incident is determined by the Fire Safety Officer.
The Accountability Officer/Fire Safety Officer will have the hardest task on the fire scene because he has to constantly track individuals throughout the call. As everyone arrives on the fire scene, they should check in with the Incident Commander. Then the Accountability Officer will then be able to control and track personnel movements by monitoring all radio traffic, making sure firefighters give in their tags when checking in and taking their tags when checking out of the fire scene, wearing a reflective accountability vest in order to be identified, not leaving the accountability post for other tasks and using the system on every run from small-scale to large-scale incidents.
The types of building construction are based on the amount of combustible materials used in the structure:
1 Type V or wood frame has combustible materials anywhere in the structure, including load-bearing and non-load-bearing walls, floors roofs, trim and furnishings.
2 Type IV or heavy timber has combustible, but not easily ignitable, columns, beams floors, roofs, trim and furnishings. The load-bearing and exterior walls are masonry.
3 Type III or ordinary has combustible interior partitions and load-bearing walls, floors, roofs, trim and furnishings with exterior walls of masonry.
4 Type II or non-combustible has combustible trim and furnishings, may have combustible non-load bearing partition walls. It may have combustible blocking to support cabinets, railings and inside walls that are otherwise non-combustible.
5 Type I or fire resistive is permitted combustibles as trim and furnishings.
Today, these five construction types are no longer clear-cut because of lightweight and manufactured lumber materials. Building code officials consider these to be ‘hybrids.’ For instance, a lightweight truss and wood frame building supported on structural steel is considered to be a ‘hybrid’ and will be classified as Type V.
“Volunteering for the Monsey Fire Department for the last 22 years has been very rewarding and important, “Ziegler concluded. “With training, I’ve been able to do things at the fire scenes that others are not able or willing to do. It takes a lot of effort to balance family life with my wife and two sons and my volunteer life.”