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April 30, 2017
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Updated: Apr. 30 (10:59)

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Articles concerning the importance of Minimum Staffing levels to Fire Fighters and the Public.
Tom Murphy One of the 11.
Jan 21, 2013
Firefighters hopes for secure future snuffed T.J. Murphy took a job with the W-B Fire Department in 2010 after working for Dunmore. Jerry Lynott - - 570-829-7237 - Twitter: @TLJerryLynott   1:47 am Photos Thomas Murphy is one of the 11 firefighters who were laid off from the Wilkes-Barre Fire Department in December.
Rob Burnside's insight on Staffing Reductions
Jan 15, 2013

Of all the physical challenges career firefighters must endure - roller coaster cortisol levels, extreme exertion in hostile environments, and a panoply of occupational injuries and diseases, to name a few -the greatest threat is short-staffing, for the obvious reason that it just makes everything else that much worse. But there are some not-so-obvious reasons as well. Things that need to be discussed openly in cities like Wilkes-Barre in the face of a persistent trend toward fire department on-duty manpower reduction, along with fire stations closing and fire engines being put out of service, often permanently.

Fundamental to any such discussion is the understanding that there are basically two very different modes or styles of fire fighting - aggressive interior attack (firefighters call this "balls to the wall") and defensive containment (firefighters call this "surround and drown" or "putting on a water show") with an emphasis on protecting nearby, at-risk structures (called "exposures") while the fire is extinguished from a safe distance. Ideally, the latter approach is used only for low value, abandoned buildings where no civilian lives are at stake. Some fire departments, typically rural volunteer organizations, must employ the defensive mode more often than they would prefer to because of manpower constraints and equipment limitations (i.e. no fire hydrants). The big advantage of a paid municipal department like Wilkes-Barre is that it can go either way - defensive or offensive - as required, assuming it has the necessary on-duty manpower, debatable as things now stand.

Why, we might ask ourselves, is the style of firefighting used so heavily dependent on manpower? This answer is simple. Despite revolutionary improvements in communications and equipment over the years, firefighting has remained a very labor-intensive occupation. Firefighters call this, "putting the wet stuff on the red stuff." And for this they don't need a 1,500 gallon per minute pump as much as they need another firefighter on the nozzle beside them. Or at least someone close enough to assist should they encounter trouble. And trouble is encountered on virtually every interior fire attack, it's just a matter of degree.

The entire nation witnessed a horrifying example of what can happen in aggressive firefighting on 9/11, with the collapse of the Twin Towers. Many lives were lost, but a significant number were saved, at great cost, by a courageous New York City Fire Department. This potential for disaster, on a smaller scale, exists everywhere firefighters attack fire aggressively, with personal safety taking a back seat to civilian requirements. This is how firefighting has always been conducted in New York, and the end result was probably a foregone conclusion the moment the towers were struck. The Wilkes-Barre City Fire Department is over 100 years old, was modeled after the New York City Fire Department, enjoys a long tradition of aggressive firefighting where it is appropriate, and has made a huge difference over the years. Lives that could have been saved have been saved. Property that could be protected has been protected, and salvaged as well. Many, many rescues have been performed.


Over the years, hundreds of Wilkes-Barre City firefighters have given themselves to this cause and sacrificed for it, one and all. How? Studies have shown that the average career firefighter's lifespan is seven to ten years shorter than any comparable profession, and there aren't many comparable professions, though mining comes close.

Professional firefighters know this, and they accept it. What they will never accept - what they cannot accept - is being hamstrung at the outset by insufficient on-duty manpower, to a point where aggressive firefighting cannot be successful, where it carries all of the risk and none of the reward. And this in the face of potential disasters that aren't losing any of their potential, even as population shrinks. Think of the high rises (Wilkes-Barre has over thirty), the college dorms, the jails, the hospitals, the movie theaters, the nursing homes, the "tight" neighborhoods where rain gutters nearly touch, and you'll begin to get the picture. And make no mistake - every time fire department on-duty manpower is reduced, morale goes down while risk goes up, for reasons already alluded to. Morale, you shouldn't be surprised to learn, is the single most important "tool" every firefighter possesses. Very little can be accomplished without it, yet when morale is high, the impossible becomes possible, the unthinkable thinkable, the inner reserve of necessary strength and courage unfathomable.

But the Wilkes-Barre City Fire Department has already been cut to the bone. The point of diminishing returns has been reached, and perhaps passed. The city's firefighters are already in a desperate situation - before the alarm sounds. They're running on raw courage and not much else. Any additional reduction of on-duty manpower will only bring preventable disaster that much closer, or require a department-wide tactical shift away from aggressive firefighting toward "water shows" which will eventually produce the same result, and may ultimately prove to be the unkindest cut of all.

Rob Burnside, a retired Captain, is a twenty-year veteran of the Wilkes-Barre City Fire Department (1977-97).

High Demand for Services
Dec 05, 2012


High Demand for Services in Wilkes-Barre
Four Medical Facilities:
            General Hospital
            VA Medical Center
            Geisinger South Medical Facility
            Geisinger Clinic
Seven Nursing Homes:
            River View Ridge
            River Street Manor
            Summit Nursing Home
            Heritage House
            Little Flower Manor
            North Penn Manor
            St. Theresa Facility
Three Universities:
            Kings College
            Wilkes University
            Luzerne County Community College W-B Branch
Thirteen Apartment Complexes
            Sherman Hills Garden Apartments
            Interfaith Garden Apartments
            Lafayette Apartments
            Marlboro Apartments
            Interfaith Town Home Apartments
            Mineral Springs
            Mayflower Crossings
            Palmer House Apartments
            Lincoln Townhomes
            Lincoln “B” Units
            Lincoln “C” Units
            St. Johns Apartments
            West River Apartment Complex
Nine Hotels:
            Days Inn
            Holiday Inn
            Red Carpet Inn
            Motel Rt 309
            FairField Inn
            Holiday Inn
Thirty-seven High Rises:
            Luzerne National Bank Building                 13 floors   
            Citizens Bank Financial Center                   13 floors
            City Heights Apartment                                 13 floors
            PNC Bank Building                                        11 floors
            Washington Square Apartments                 14 floors
            University Towers                                           14 floors
            W-B VA Medical Center                                  11 floors
            W-B General Hospital                                    10 floors
            Holy Cross Hall                                              13 floors
            15 South Franklin Street                               10 floors
            B’nai B’rith Apartments                                  13 floors
            Lincoln Plaza Apartments                               11 floors
           Valley View Terrace Apartments                   11 floors
            Provincial Towers Apartments                   12 floors
            Wilkes-Barre Center                                        10 floors
            Blue Cross Operations Center                      9 floors
            Geisinger South Wilkes-Barre                       8 floors
            Luzerne County Correctional Facility           8 floors
            Sherman Hills Apartments                            8 floors
            Ramada Plaza Hotel                                         8 floors
            Sterling Hotel                                                     7 floors
            Genetti’s Hotel                                                 7 floors
            South View Apartments                                   7 floors
            Cumberland Apartments                                7 floors
            West River Apartment Building                      7 floors
            East End Towers                                           7 floors
           Stegmaier Federal Building                           6 floors
            Verizon Building South Main                         6 floors
            Martz Tower (East Market)                            6 floors
            Martz Tower (North Main)                            6 floors
            Little Flower Manor                                      6 floors
            Bi-Centennial Building                               6 floors
             Y.M.C.A.                                                         6 floors
             Park Avenue Towers                                   6 floors
             Heritage House                                            5 floors
             Alleghany Building                                       5 floors
             Luzerne County Courthouse                      4 floors
Five Private Schools:
            Holy Redeemer High School
            St/Nicks Elementary School
            Wilkes-Barre Academy
Little People Academy
Eleven Public Schools:
            Coughlin High School
            Dodson Elementary School
            Dan Flood School   
            G.A.R. School
            Heights/Murray Elementary School
            Kistler Elementary School
            Meyers High School
            Soloman/Plains Junior High and Elementary Schools
            Head Start School on Corlear St.
            U.C.P. on Simpson St.
Hub of several major highway systems
Luzerne County Seat

ICMA Study
Mar 24, 2009

International City Managers Association (ICMA) Study


Understaffing of fire departments is a nationwide problem. So much so in fact, that the ICMA has conducted studies to determine the effectiveness of fire companies based on staffing. This information was published Managing Fire Services, 2nd edition. This international organization of city leaders recognizes the importance of a properly staffed fire department. This publication included this information:
1. Fire suppression operations have three basic functions: (1) RESCUE; (2) work involving ladder, forcible entry, and ventilation; and (3) the application of water. To raise ladders, ventilate, search, and RESCUE simultaneously takes quick action by at least FOUR and often EIGHT or more firefighters, each under the supervision of an officer.

2. If about SIXTEEN trained firefighters are not operating at the scene of a working fire within the critical time period, then DOLLAR LOSS and INJURIES are significantly INCREASED as is fire spread.

3. As firefighting tactics were conducted and judged for effectiveness;

5 -person companies were 100% effective.

4 -person companies were 65% effective.

3 -person companies were 38% effective.

Poor Staffing = Deadly Outcomes
Mar 02, 2009

Another link showing the importance of proper Fire Department Staffing.

The need for Aerial Ladders
Feb 11, 2009

W-B City Bureau of Fire at one time had four Ladder Trucks in service.

Its recent history had at least two Aerials in service plus had another one as a Reserve Ladder.

Now there is only one Aerial Ladder in service for the entire City with no Reserve to take its place when the one is out for service or repair.

Talk about closing your eyes to a dangerous situation.


High Priority Structures Need at Least Two Ladders On Response

Every structure poses unique challenges to those on the line. From a single family dwelling to the storage facility with five levels the challenges are significant. However, in view of the nature of the design or occupancy use of certain structures, a minimum of two ladders should be sent on a first alarm.

One method of identifying these structures is using the name "priority response." What are some of the structures on the priority list? Here are examples but others may appear as a result of aggressive pre-fire planning.

  • Churches, Synagogues, Mosques (Fires in churches are difficult due to their design)
  • All high rises
  • Block long structures. (Ladders will access at different points)
  • Schools and universities
  • Amusement parks/Carnivals
  • Sporting Venues

There are other structures requiring two ladders which should come from each department based on what they have uncovered.

Staffing: 3 compared to 4
Dec 27, 2008

This article highlights the importance of proper Staffing levels on a Fire Apparatus.  NFPA recommends a minimum of four Fire Fighters on an Engine.  Ladders and Aerials are usually staffed with higher numbers.

Firefighter Staffing Decrease "compromises" Fire Protection
Sep 04, 2009

2009 I.A.F.F. Media Award Second Place Winner

Winter Fire Safety
Jan 25, 2011

Besides having a properly staffed Fire Department, here is a link to the NFPA site offering Winter Fire Safey tips.

Staffing vs Workmen's Comp
Jul 13, 2009

An Article relating how Workmen's Comp claims rise as Staffing levels are decreased.

2009 Murray Complex Fire
Sep 25, 2009

Pictures of the 2009 Murray Complex Fire

Page Last Updated: Jan 21, 2013 (16:50:00)
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