A Special Post by Deputy Chief Lawrence A. Rude, EFO
Each and every one of us in the fire service has the opportunity to make a difference in a very special way. On September 21st, 2008, Code Officials from the Fire and Building Services came together in Minneapolis, Minnesota to make history. Almost 2,200 gathered in the Minneapolis Convention Center in downtown Minneapolis to vote on a series of building and fire codes requiring sprinklers in newly constructed one and two family homes. (ICC Final Action Code Hearings (http://www.iccsafe.org/))
As a Fire Chief Officer, I have been beating my drum across the country for years, explaining to people how fire sprinklers save lives. These words have been met with mixed response. Some say, “Show me the proof”. Others say, “It is too darned expensive to put fire sprinklers in a home. Builders can’t afford it and the customer will never pay the price”. I even hear, “What about the water damage? My insurance company will never pay to replace everything lost by water damage”.
Hollywood has done more to suppress the existence of home sprinkler systems then any one single industry. I sat in my living room last week and watched one of those action-packed movies. The hero, while trying to get away from his captors, and, saving the heroin, inadvertently set off every sprinkler in the entire building. I am sure you have seen this movie and shook your head as I did. The funny part was that my neighbor and his wife were sitting watching with me. All at once he jumped up and said, “holy %#@! Is that going to happen to my house when the sprinklers go off? “
Thanks a lot, John McLain!
After three more cocktails and about an hour of explanations on fire suppression systems, my neighbor went home happy, with a sense of safety.
We, as Fire Chiefs, are also code officials. Fifty states across the county have adopted the International Family of Codes (ICC). This organization produces 15 codes designed to provide safety in our built environment. Most of you are familiar with the International Building and Fire Code, but you may not know about the International Residential Code, the International Plumbing Code, the International Mechanical Code, and many others.
Fire Chiefs, Inspectors, and Firefighters have an opportunity that many never experience, nor even understand – and that is the ability to change or even modify existing codes, as well as add new codes to these documents. It is a shame we in the fire service are not taking more advantage of this tremendous democratic process. This process is making a difference by improving safety for everyone, including firefighters.
Many years ago as a young firefighter, I didn’t truly understand the reasoning behind company level fire inspection. All I knew was that it allowed us into the building to get a lay of the land. Fortunately I didn’t just follow directions without understanding, but asked questions. My Chief, who was very involved and instrumental in the code process, took me under his wing. Now, many years later, I am testifying before industry, members of congress and code officials from every corner of the US, maintaining safety in our built environment. I find myself sharing the same views given to me with young Officers and Firefighters as they ask the same question, “why?”
All fire service members, including Chief Officers, must take a look at these opportunities and get involved with the International Code Council. We must be involved if we want our voices heard. Building Officials and Industry have been doing this for years. As a Chief, I speak about succession planning and what will happen when we old dogs leave the fire service. Well my friends, it is happening today faster than you may realize. I know of a number of Fire Departments that are doing away with their company level inspections. Some have cut out fire prevention activities and turned the fire code enforcement over to someone else. How do we in the fire service educate our people to take our place if we do not give them the tools and opportunities? There is no better place to develop leadership skills and prepare for executive positions than in the code development process.
Are you a Fire Chief that feels fire prevention is at the bottom of your budget line item account, and the first program that will be cut when money gets tight? Unfortunately, most of us do not keep statistics that show how many fires, deaths or injuries we have prevented just by adopting codes and standards.
Thirty years ago, I heard firefighters say, “I did not take this job to be an EMT”. Man, did that attitude go away. Fire Prevention and Code enforcement is just another leadership path we, as Fire Chiefs, can share with our upcoming leaders. It is all about choices for the future. If you do not make the choice, other code officials will make it for you. I cannot emphasize this strongly enough – the Building and Fire codes protect our members and we must stay active and participate in the code development process, and not just on single issues.
We would not ask our dentist to tune up our car or our doctor to design our fire station. So why would we let industry develop our fire codes? What legacies will you leaving behind? You have the ability to make a difference, when opportunity knocks you either listen or let it pass by. Don’t let this opportunity pass you by.
Deputy Chief Lawrence A. Rude works for Maple Valley Fire And Life Safety which is located in South East King County, Washington covering 55 square miles