Child Killed in Chatsworth Mobile Home Fire

Texas Firefighter Dies after Completing Smoke Diver Training

Atascocita volunteer captain succumbed to heat-related injuries after advanced SCBA training
CINDY GEORGE, Houston Chronicle Published Tuesday, September 18, 2012

An Atascocita volunteer firefighter has died from heat-related injuries sustained during weekend training in Beaumont that also hurt a Georgia fireman.

Capt. Neal W. Smith, 46, passed out Sunday at the conclusion of a "smoke diver" session at the Beaumont Emergency Services Training Complex. He was rushed to Christus Hospital - St. Elizabeth.

He died Monday of heat exhaustion, according to Atascocita Volunteer Fire Department spokesman Anthony Turner.

Beaumont's KBMT (Channel 12) reported on its website Monday that Smith and 34-year-old Otis Alford were injured in separate, unrelated events, according to Dennis Gifford with the East Texas Firemen's and Fire Marshals' Association. Both firefighters received immediate treatment by paramedics on standby for the intense training.

Alford was near recovery at a hospital Monday morning, according to the television station. He was not listed as a St. Elizabeth patient late Monday.

Turner said he did not have details about what went wrong in the training or how Smith was overcome by heat.

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The training, offered by the East Texas Firemen's and Fire Marshals' Association, is an advanced survival course designed to help firefighters and their crews emerge from interior structural infernos alive, according to the course website. The two-day session is described as "extremely challenging, intensely physical and will take the student to his/her limit. Because of the difficulties some may experience, paramedics are on hand to monitor students before, during, and after each exercise."

Gifford said symptoms of heat illness can emerge quickly.

"We as firefighters have to become more aware and put our pride away and be willing to understand we are human," Gifford told the station. "We just need to become more in touch with our physical capabilities."

Smith, who was Station 1 captain, had been with the department for five years and previously served on the Atascocita Volunteer Fire Department's board of directors.

"He was the hardest working guy I ever met," said friend and fellow firefighter David DeMartino, adding that Sunday's exercise was another example of Smith going the extra mile in all aspects of his life. "He had gone to better himself as a firefighter."

Smith was a district manager with the Zale Corporation. He leaves a wife and two elementary-school-age children, department officials said.

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Capt. Neal W. Smith, 46, passed out on Sunday at the conclusion of a "smoke diver" session in Beaumont. (Houston Chronicle photo)

Retired Female Firefighter Mentors Rookie

New firefighter says the former firefighter gave her pep talks when she felt exhausted from the eight-week intensive training at rookie school
KAREN J. ROHR,The Rockdale Citizen Published Thursday, September 13, 2012

CONYERS, Ga.— It's not uncommon for people to express surprise when Melissa Larson pulls off her face piece, a protective fire mask, after she's responded to the scene of an emergency.

"They say 'That's a fire lady.' We get that all the time," said Larson. "That's neat. You get a sense of pride."

Larson joined the Rockdale County Fire Department two years ago and is the only female in the department to be assigned to fire suppression, out of 140 who hold that position. Her career has overlapped with that of Juli Moncrief, who worked for 24 years as a firefighter in fire suppression for Rockdale and retired in July.

According to the most recent statistics from the U.S. Department of Labor, in 2010 less than 4 percent of firefighters were women.

On a recent Tuesday, the two women met at Rockdale County Fire Station No. 8, where they embraced and shed a few tears. For Moncrief, returning to the station brought back lots of memories; Larson missed her friend and mentor.

"The first time I met Juli, she grabbed me in a big hug and said 'I'm so happy you're here.' It just felt right from the beginning," said Larson of their friendship.

Larson called Moncrief "awesome" and said the former firefighter gave her pep talks when she felt exhausted from the eight-week intensive training at rookie school.

"On the summer days when I came home and was worn out and mentally broken down from it all, Juli would say, 'You got it, just keep with it,'" said the 29-year-old Larson, mother of Ansley, 7, and Billy, 12.

Like Larson, Moncrief began her firefighting career as she raised her two school-age children.

"My husband (Randall Moncrief) put the idea in my head. He said, 'You love to work outdoors, you like to help people, you like physical type work, you ought to look into that,'" said Moncrief, who had met several Rockdale firemen while working construction clean-up jobs.

"I thought 'A woman doesn't do that. That's a man's job,' but I did some research and called around to different counties and talked to other women. It just really piqued my interest."

Moncrief applied for a Rockdale firefighter position and passed the agility test but failed the written test because she wasn't familiar with the equipment. She studied hard for the second try, and made it clear she wanted the job.

"I told the chief, if I don't make it this time, you'll see me again and again and so you might as well just hire me," said Moncrief. "He told me later that that stuck in his mind."

The Rockdale Fire Department hired her in 1988, the only female firefighter in the county.

"There were times when I'd walk in amongst them, I felt like a lamb in a lion's den. It was quite intimidating at first. You didn't know how they were going to accept you," she said.

Moncrief said the men took a wait-and-see approach, giving her time to prove her abilities.

"That is something I have always appreciated. They never snubbed me. They always encouraged me," said Moncrief.

"They accepted me and let me be a part of their team. I never wanted to be separated out. I'm a firefighter and I happen to be female."

Larson said public service runs in her family -- an uncle is a retired fire captain and her late grandfather served in law enforcement.

A 2001 graduate of Newton High School and a Covington resident, Larson earned her emergency medical technician certification from DeKalb Technical Institute, now Georgia Piedmont Technical College.

Visiting the fire stations while riding with the ambulances, she decided to be a firefighter. Rockdale County Fire Department hired her in April 2010.

Larson said the fire station, where she works 24 hours on and 48 hours off, has become her second home, her co-workers like family.

"At first, I didn't know what to expect. I wasn't sure how I would be accepted but once I got on, I'm just one of the guys," said Larson.

Larson said when she can't use brute force to get the job done, she re-thinks the situation.

"Everybody has a different task and we all have to come together to get the job done," said Larson.

Moncrief, who is 5-foot-5-inches tall, ran, lifted weights and did aerobics to stay in shape for her job.

"Because I was female, it was very important to me that I did my part. I didn't want them to think that they needed to take up my slack," she said. "I felt like I had to do 110 percent just to be on even keel with them."

Moncrief described being a firefighter as a "jack of all trades" -- crawling in burning buildings, prying open automobiles; driving the fire truck.

"You've got to rely on your training, keep your eyes open and watch each other's back. There's just so much going on at once -- you're watching other people, you're watching yourself, you've got the hose to pull and the equipment and it's all got to happen right then," she said.

Moncrief said her first trauma call was a head-on collision, a gruesome scene.

"The next day I could see the accident over and over again and I cried for days. That's when I had to make my mind up, 'OK, you can handle this.' I made my mind up right then that somebody's got to do it, if I wasn't there, somebody's got to do it, so it might as well be me," she said.Larson said it can be a job of extremes, helping people at their worst times, such as when their house has burned down, or at their best, such as when they've given birth.

"I'm always excited to go to work and see what the day will bring because it's never the same thing," she said.

Moncrief's career choice influenced that of her children -- son Randy Moncrief is a firefighter in Newton County and son Jacob Moncrief worked as an EMT and is now a nurse for the Shepherd Center in Atlanta.

Now that she is retired, Moncrief devotes more of her time working in a local doctor's office, a second job she's held since 1993.

She admits she'll probably never get firefighting completely out of her system. Sirens get her blood pumping and adrenaline going.

"I still get goose bumps," said Moncrief.

Larson said she'd like to retire from the Rockdale County Fire Department, and she wouldn't mind having some female company at the fire station.

"There's always opportunities for women. We need more good women to be around," she said.

"The biggest thing I had in my mind that's kept me going is I had to believe I could do it. I think you have to have something that you are working for and for me, it was my children. I wanted every day for my kids to be proud of me."

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Associated Press
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Raw Video: Fire at Tyler Perry Studio

Video: Georgia Firefighter’s Bailout Reportedly Due to SCBA Malfunction

DeKalb County firefighter has to bailout of second floor window after air supply is cut off.
APRIL HUNT, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Published Friday, July 6, 2012

A DeKalb County firefighter had to jump out of a second-story window last week when his air pack suddenly cut off his air supply as he battled a house fire in south DeKalb.

Draeger's Response to NIOSH Investigation

NIOSH Report on Equipment from DeKalb County Fire Rescue Department

An Atlanta Journal-Constitution investigation this spring revealed years of failures with the same air packs, breathing devices that provide firefighters with clean air while battling fires.

Records show that shortly after DeKalb began using Draeger Safety air packs in 2009, firefighters began reporting serious problems: Their air supply would occasionally cut off and pieces would sometimes fall off the packs.

The firefighter suffered a cut to his leg from the broken glass and smoke inhalation in the June 26 incident on Woody Court, said Deputy Chief Norman Augustin. The firefighter, a veteran of several years whose name was not released, was treated for both injuries at a local hospital and released.

"The firefighter did have to exit rather quickly," Augustin said. "The incident is still being investigated, but we know there was an issue with the pack."

There have been at least 29 incidents in which firefighters were put in immediate danger, according to county records. Prior to the June 26 fire, at least two firefighters had been taken to the hospital for treatment of smoke inhalation.

DeKalb is in the process of putting together a bid request to spend $2.4 million of taxpayer dollars to buy new packs later this year, even though the Draeger gear was supposed to last a decade.

No other major department in metro Atlanta uses that brand.

The slow bid process and latest incident alarms union officials, who united with fire Chief Edward O'Brien earlier this year in pushing for new gear.

"Every day we don't have new packs, it's a day we are taking extra risks we shouldn't," said Nathan Leota, president of DeKalb Professional Firefighters Local 1492. "All this near miss does is highlight that this is still happening."

A federal agency is investigating whether the Draeger product's problems stem from faulty design or user error.

DeKalb had already sent parts of several malfunctioning packs to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and this week sent the entire device that failed last week.

An investigation is ongoing, according to a NIOSH spokeswoman.

The outcome could determine whether DeKalb can get back any of the $1.87 million it spent on the gear. Draeger sticks by its original conclusion that the string of complaints and problems are unrelated.

"In what world is it acceptable [that] a firefighter is bailing out of a second floor window because the equipment is not functioning properly," asked Commissioner Elaine Boyer. "Before a tragedy occurs, I really hope we can get new equipment."

O'Brien said his department is meeting next week with purchasing officials to get a request for bids out before potential replacements are field tested.

An in-house committee from the fire department will then test potential packs at the training academy, and the results will be used to decide which replacement to recommend.

The original timeline, which called for having that work done this summer, will be pushed to early fall. In the meantime, technicians are working to try to keep the existing packs in the best shape possible to avoid more problems.

"We are working on it," O'Brien said. "It is a priority for us."

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Lexis Nexis
Copyright 2011 Lexus Nexus. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Georgia Fire Department Blames Latest Bailout on Recurring SCBA Malfunction Fire Engine Causes Georgia Firehouse Collapse

Ex-Firefighter Accused of Arson Escapes Prison Time

Marvin Chase was a volunteer firefighter paid per call
Joy Lukachick / Chattanooga Publishing Company Published Thursday, June 7, 2012

A former firefighter who was once called a serial arsonist and accused of lighting dozens of fires two years ago won't have to serve time in a Georgia prison.

Marvin Chase pleaded guilty to seven counts of first-degree arson and one count of second-degree arson earlier this week and was sentenced to 15 to 18 months at a minimum-security detention center.

Chase's attorney, David S. West, said the sentencing was a victory because Chase didn't go to prison. The sentence also shows that the former LaFayette, Ga., firefighter wasn't responsible for 20 to 30 arsons that were originally pinned on him, West said.

"The case was never what [authorities] were making it out to be," West said.

But police say they still believe Chase set dozens of fires at abandoned houses during the five years he was a firefighter, but they couldn't prove all the cases.

Georgia law requires police to find the property owner of a burned structure and have the owner prove the property is theirs, said LaFayette police Sgt. Stacey Meeks. But many of the property owners for the burned homes had died, and taxes hadn't been paid in more than 20 years on several of the buildings.

"Yes, it was as big as we claimed, but we couldn't locate the property owners," Meeks said.

Chase was 33 years old when he was arrested in December 2010 on one count of arson but, during a news conference, authorities said they would be able to prove he was responsible for years of fires set mainly in the Linwood area of LaFayette.

Before his arrest, a witness came forward saying that, while working at his job for the city's water and sewer department, Chase bragged that he had set the fires, Meeks said.

When the state fire marshal investigated the arsons, he told police that most of the fires were started in a similar manner. Some similarities included entering the house through a back door, lighting the fire in a back room such as the kitchen and using flammable liquid to light the flames, Meeks said.

But police believe Chase got better at starting the fires and eventually had it timed. One strategy was to leave a cigarette on a magazine so it would start a flame within an hour, police said.

During questioning after he was arrested, Chase admitted to lighting the fires, saying: "I pretty much did all of them," Meeks said, reading a confession letter Chase later signed.

But West said that statement doesn't mean anything. Chase only admitted to lighting about four of the fires and gave specific details about only one fire, he said.

After Chase is released from a detention center, he will be on 20 years' probation, court records show.

And if he completes probation without another felony, he won't have a record, his attorney said.

Meanwhile, several people at the hearing on Monday speculated about why Chase lit the fires, such as he had a fascination with fires or deliberately wanted to get rid of dilapidated houses, West said. But Chase gave no explanation for why he did it.

"He made a mistake," West said.

Police assume he lit the fires for the financial benefit since he was a volunteer firefighter and would be compensated for putting out the flames on a pay scale that depended on the type of fire call.

"He was getting paid to fight fires, and making the most money for structural fires," Meeks said. But he added, "[Chase] was basically a likable guy, he just made a bad decision."

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Lexis Nexis
Copyright 2011 Lexus Nexus. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Draeger Responds to SCBA News Story

Draeger Denies Georgia News Report on SCBA Malfunction

Company claims improper maintenance is to blame, not design.
PR Newswire Published Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Draeger Safety, Inc. this morning issued the following statement from CEO Ralf Drews:

"We truly do not appreciate the misleading news report broadcast last night by WSB-TV in Atlanta. The report suggests that our Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA) used by firefighters and other first responders is faulty and is prone to breakdown and that we have been somehow insensitive to the safety of firefighters.

"Nothing could be further from the truth.

"We serve more than 1,500 fire departments in the United States and thousands more around the world. The safety of Draeger breathing equipment is demonstrated every day by first responders, mine rescue teams, U.S. Navy SEALS, U.S. Army and others, and we would not want anyone to use it if we believed it to be unsafe. We are deeply committed to each and every firefighter who relies on our SCBAs for their protection and safety. WSB's sensationalistic approach to its broadcast report last night could cause fear and anxiety among our users, and therefore impact their ability to do their jobs. We simply cannot allow that to go unchallenged.

"Our major concerns with the WSB story are, firstly, how it lumps different categories of product care together to create the false impression that our equipment is not safe and, secondly, how the interview with one of our executives was edited to create the impression that he made an admission that he in fact did not make - because there was and is nothing to admit.

"Concerning the issues reported in DeKalb County (Georgia), we have attempted to replicate the alleged instances of product malfunction by DeKalb firefighters but could not. Technicians analyzed our equipment but could find nothing wrong with its engineering or design.

"The only conclusion we can draw is that the reports of product malfunction in DeKalb County stem from improper product maintenance and care.

"As with all manufacturers serving the Fire Safety market, we give our customers detailed instructions for the proper maintenance and care of our equipment. Fire departments using our breathing equipment must have procedures in place to insure that proper maintenance and care are carried out on a routine basis. In our investigation of the alleged incidents in DeKalb County, we have determined that the fire department did not follow proper maintenance and care policies. It seems that some in the fire department's leadership have chosen to blame the manufacturer for difficulties created by the failure to take proper care of the equipment provided to DeKalb firefighters.

"Concerning the allegations that fire departments in Phoenix (Arizona), Anchorage (Alaska) and Vancouver (British Columbia) also experienced potentially disastrous problems with our SCBAs, we believe that the problems experienced in those fire departments were noncritical, low-order issues that may happen with any product and are not in any way dangerous or life-threatening to firefighters, with two exceptions.

"The two exceptions we are aware of arose in Phoenix, where we did a thorough investigation of the incidents and found that the cause stemmed from improper field use of the equipment. Again, no design flaws were at issue.

"We don't question WSB's right or duty to cover newsworthy events potentially impacting firefighters in the Atlanta area. But we specifically refute the false impressions that WSB's story conveys.

"At Draeger, we take our responsibilities to the firefighters we protect with the utmost seriousness. We would never do anything to put firefighters and other first responders in harm's way.

"Indeed, we are compelled by our commitment to firefighters, in Georgia, across the country and around the world, to speak out unambiguously now. The report last night on WSB-TV was misleading and over-sensationalized. We stand by the integrity of our equipment. And we will mount a strong rebuttal initiative to counteract the false impressions created by the report."

Draeger will post a rebuttal website at approximately noon (eastern U.S.) today that includes a video presentation from a hands-on Draeger product expert. The URL for that site will be

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Lexis Nexis
Copyright 2011 Lexus Nexus. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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