National News

Monday, March 25, 2019

Trump signs Cantwell bill requiring new wildfire technology, smoke forecasts

A new federal law aims to protect wildland firefighters by requiring agencies to outfit crews with GPS locators and deploy drones to scout out and map blazes. The Wildfire Management Technology Advancement Act, sponsored by U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., was signed by President Donald Trump last week after sailing through both chambers of Congress with large majorities. It was packaged with more than 130 other bills covering a variety of natural resource programs. The law also includes provisions related to wildfire smoke, which has choked Eastern Washington several summers in a row. On Wednesday, Cantwell joined fire and health experts at the Spokane Fire Department’s training center to tout the legislation, which was co-sponsored by Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo. “Senator Gardner and I both represent states that have been greatly impacted by wildland fires, so we worked together to bring new technology to the table,” Cantwell said.
The Spokesman-Review

Fire and Rescue Services study in Maryland: Pay, benefits for firefighters behind nearby counties

A recent study revealed Frederick County firefighters are paid less and receive less benefits than those in nearby counties. The study, completed in November and released publicly last week, is an analysis of pay scales, benefit comparisons and how large each county’s fire services division is Multiple county officials this week said that although Frederick County pays its firefighters less, other jurisdictions — like Montgomery County and Baltimore County, both used in the more-than-100-page study — have both larger populations and tax bases to pull money from. Stephen Jones, president of the Career Firefighters Association of Frederick County Local 3666, said he understands the county has limited funds, but added Frederick County firefighters often leave for the Maryland counties included in the study — mostly for higher pay and better post-retirement benefits. “We understand that we don’t have the tax base and the money to pay firefighters the same as Howard County, Maryland,” Jones said. “But is there something we can do to get us more competitive to bring us closer and be competitive in the region?”
The Frederick News-Post

Georgia fire department turns to high schools for recruits

On a mild spring day, Cory Pippen suits up in firefighter’s gear outside Therrell High School as he prepares to climb Atlanta fire Truck 25. No, he’s not putting out a fire or saving someone from a burning building, but with the help of the Atlanta Fire Department, he is one step closer to a dream he’s had since he was a child: being a firefighter. Pippen is one of 19 students enrolled in Essentials of Fire and Emergency Services, a class offered to Therrell High School students as part of AFD’s Delayed Entry program — a recruiting tool for the department currently short about 200 firefighters. The high school course, which has been in the works since 2017, is being piloted at Therrell but will expand to all Atlanta public high schools in the 2020-2021 school year, Atlanta Public Schools spokesman Seth Coleman said. Through a combination of hands-on training and classroom instruction — taught by a former Atlanta fire captain — students learn the core values of being a firefighter and safety precautions.
Atlanta Journal Constitution

California fire department poised to join Orange County Fire Authority, the ‘Home Depot of fire service’

While a couple of cities over the past year have threatened to drop out of the Orange County Fire Authority, Garden Grove is veering the opposite direction – toward membership. If the final steps unfold as expected, OCFA may absorb the 93-year-old Garden Grove Fire Department as early as August. All full-time current employees would stay put. In return for providing fire and paramedic services, OCFA would bill Garden Grove $22.1 million annually for the 10-year contract, plus about $113,600 per year for start-up costs. That’s almost $3 million less than what the city expected to spend this fiscal year to operate its Fire Department. The transition enjoys broad support. City officials say joining OCFA will cut costs, relieve pension liability and fund necessary equipment updates. At a recent workshop, most if not all of the seven City Council members appeared amenable to the idea. And, importantly, the Garden Grove chapter of the International Association of Fire Fighters labor union enthusiastically promotes the move.
The Orange County Register - Metered Site

Bill would set aside $2.5 million for pensions for Maine volunteer firefighters

Attracting and retaining volunteers to fill the ranks of Maine’s many volunteer fire departments has gotten increasingly difficult, but lawmakers hope a bill to fund a pension program for volunteers could change that. The Legislature approved a bill in 2017 setting up the pension program but did not fund it. A new bill sponsored by Sen. Erin Herbig, D-Belfast, would put $2.5 million a year in state funds toward a pension fund. Herbig told the Legislature’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee Friday that 40 other states have similar programs, and the ability to reward long-time volunteers with a small pension when they retire helps keep volunteer departments alive. Herbig said 93 percent of the state’s fire services depend on volunteers but the number of people volunteering has dramatically decreased in recent years in Maine and across the nation.
Portland Press Herald

Friday, March 22, 2019

Tennessee mom, daughter part of first all-female firefighting crew ’hosing down’ stereotypes

VIDEO: In a field traditionally seen as one for men, a crew of female firefighters is hosing down the stereotypes. The West Carter County Fire Department has the first all-female duty in the region. The four women that make up the shift are Ashley Perdue and her mother Carol Jones, Amber Hubbard and Krysten Kelch. As a volunteer fire department, all the women work other full-time jobs outside of their commitment to the station. These women are on the front lines of fighting fire in Carter County, proving that the job is not just for men. "You just have to know what you can do and what you can't do and as long as you know that? The sky is the limit," says Perdue. The four women stay overnight at the station when they are on-call for what they fondly call "girl's night." "It's a different bond. And we've really enjoyed that," says Jones.

Houston firefighters march on City Hall over Prop B ’pay parity’ raises, layoffs

PHOTOS: Kara Rathbone’s story may sound familiar to many firefighters who marched with her Tuesday along Bagby Street in downtown Houston. Rathbone’s husband, Austin, drives to work from their home in Bellville, about 70 miles away. A seven-year Houston firefighter, he has received scant raises since joining the department, and makes ends meet by installing irrigation systems on the side and working for a small fire department near Bellville, where about 4,300 people live. “That pay is everything. We have two kids. I have to stay home with them. I have a part-time job,” she said. “…The small amount that we get every two weeks in pay, it doesn't cover what we need.” Fed up with the pace at which Mayor Sylvester Turner’s administration has carried out Proposition B — the voter-approved November referendum granting firefighters the same pay as police of corresponding rank and experience — the Rathbones joined several hundred others in a march on City Hall where union officials demanded full implementation of the raises and called on Turner to “stop playing games with public safety.”
The Houston Chronicle

City underbills business fire protection fees for 10 years in Illinois

The city of Bloomington has been incorrectly billing businesses for fire protection for nearly 10 years, resulting perhaps in the loss of hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue. The current monthly rate, based on the diameter of the water line that serves a business's internal fire suppression system, is $27.20 per inch. "Due to an oversight (the city) has been incorrectly billing $6.80 per inch for the fire protection charge," said the city in a letter dated March 13 and sent to about 1,200 businesses, including The Pantagraph, to notify them of the recently discovered oversight. The fire protection charge comes from the city's water department, which was consolidated into the public works department in October. Public Works Director Jim Karch said Tuesday he does not know how much the error cost the city.
The Pantagraph

Massachusetts city tests new device to help drivers avoid firetrucks

The city’s fire department is testing out a new device that could help drivers using navigational apps steer clear of firetrucks responding to an emergency, helping improve safety for both drivers and firefighters. The device, a small black box about four inches tall and wide, sends out alerts to drivers about the locations of the trucks to drivers using a navigation app called Waze. The company that makes the device, Chicago-based Haas Alerts, hopes the alerts will eventually be incorporated into other navigational apps as well as heads-up driving displays in cars. The department installed its first Haas Alerts device, which it is testing as part of a pilot program, on a city fire engine on Thursday. Jackson said that keeping people away from an emergency where fire crews are helps keep both first responders and drivers safe. Haas Alert’s chief operating officer, Noah Levens, said the company hopes its technology will help prevent collisions between cars and both emergency vehicles and individual first responders.
The Patriot Ledger

City seeks to overturn Nebraska firefighter’s $1.2M jury verdict, calling damages ’excessive’

The city of Lincoln is asking a judge to throw out the jury’s $1.2 million verdict in favor of a Lincoln firefighter, in part because of how jurors arrived at the amount. Last month, at the end of a two-week trial, a federal jury in Omaha awarded Troy Hurd, a Lincoln fire captain, $1,177,815.43 for retaliation after he reported discrimination against a female firefighter trainee born in Iraq. The bulk of the money was for emotional distress — past ($166,500) and future ($930,472) — plus $44,000 for lost wages and $36,000 in past and future medical expenses. In a motion filed this week, Assistant City Attorney Jocelyn Golden said a city paralegal talked to five jurors and learned that another of the jurors had created a spreadsheet at home and brought his computer in on the second day of deliberations to help them determine damages for future emotional distress. One juror said "the amount of damages the members of the jury believed was appropriate was millions of dollars apart," Golden said.
Journal Star

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