Urban Fire Chiefs Discuss Recent Response Incidents

At the NFPA Urban Fire Forum earlier this Fall, fire chiefs gathered to hear accounts of emergency response to Texas and Florida hurricanes, the Grenfell Tower fire in London, and the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando, FL.

Fire chiefs from the United States, France, and the United Kingdom gathered in Quincy, MA at the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) Urban Fire Forum (UFF) in September 2017 to listen to firsthand accounts of some of the biggest emergency response incidents over the past 15 months, including hurricane response in Texas and Florida, the Grenfell Tower fire in London, and the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando, FL.emergency response

The UFF brings together fire chiefs from some of the world’s largest urban centers to learn from peers and expert speakers, and to endorse important documents for first responders. The program also allows NFPA to stay abreast of current trends so that relevant resources for the fire service can be developed. This year’s UFF meetings were particularly engaging as members heard from leaders who were responsible for emergency response in the wake of recent high profile incidents. Here are some highlights:

  • Miami-Dade Fire Chief Dave Downey and Orange County Fire and Rescue Chief Otto Drozd discussed preparation as weather forecasters predicted a direct hit from Hurricane Irma on Miami. Downey and his team planned for response in Miami-Dade, as well as deployment of resources to the Florida Keys and southwest Florida when the eye of the storm switched directions. He spoke about the importance of preparedness, training, and collaboration in anticipation of hurricane season. First responders in the Orlando area had a much shorter time to devote to hurricane response. The storm shifted directions and headed inland, where many of the residents of Southern Florida had flocked for refuge.
  • Houston Fire Chief Samuel Peña’s detailed efforts as Category 4 Hurricane Harvey slammed his state, delivering more than 50 inches of rain, affecting about 6.8 million people in 18 counties, and killing 82. Firefighters initially were told not to respond, but once the full force of Harvey had passed, Peña and others had to manage local and visiting fire resources and respond to more than 5,500 emergency calls. Houston staffing was plentiful but the department soon learned that despite their best planning, they did not have enough equipment to penetrate high waters and reach neighborhoods that normally were not affected by flooding.
  • CFO Roy Wilsher, Chair of the United Kingdom’s National Fire Chiefs Council, and CFO Peter Holland, the UK’s Chief Fire and Rescue Advisor, provided perspective from the Grenfell Tower fire. The duo were no strangers to chaotic, catastrophic incidents given three terror attacks in the months leading up to the West London blaze that killed 80. The fire took place in a high-rise building with exterior cladding that was plagued with fire and life safety issues. Additionally, the smoke alarm system and the “stay put” advice recommended by the tenant organization were also called into question. NFPA’s Robert Solomon, division manager for Building Fire Protection, provided technical insight on exterior cladding to the group.
  • Chief Otto Drozd shared lessons learned from the Pulse Nightclub tragedy. The Orange County Fire Rescue head emphasized the importance of having emergency agencies train and develop plans on working together; practicing set up, roles and responsibilities of organizations in response to different situations, prioritizing good communication, and investing in an appropriate amount of ballistic vests, helmets, and medical care packs.

“The preparation and response takeaways that these fire leaders shared with us were invaluable,” said NFPA Metro Chiefs Executive Secretary Russ Sanders and coordinator of the event. “To be the first audience to hear how the fire service handled two devastating hurricanes, and to learn more about the exterior cladding fires and hostile shooter incidents that persistently surface on today’s news feeds was not only educational for Urban Fire Forum members, but also for NFPA’s staff. The exchange of real-world, relevant insight is exactly what the Urban Fire Forum is about.”