Vigilance in the New World

We can’t forget that we are firemen first

Two children were rescued from this house fire in Capitol Heights, Maryland. Today’s social changes may lead to more fires and more rescues. Be prepared. (Mark Brady photo)

By Drew Evans and Todd Szelkowski

As we head deeper into the Covid-19 pandemic and economic recession, many things around us will change.  While we are all dealing with this crisis on a personal level, let’s take a look at how it may affect the fire service.  We will, undoubtedly, see vast changes in how buildings are occupied.

Entire households will be occupying single and multiple family dwellings continuously due to self-quarantine, school closures, and mandatory stay at home orders. Those non-essential employees that are lucky enough to be able to work, will be working from home.  Prior to this crisis, those dwellings were likely unoccupied for the majority of the work week.  So, what does this mean for the fire service?  Instead of expecting victims, we’re now almost guaranteed victims.  We must all discard our previous survivability profiles.  For the foreseeable future, every dwelling fire we run has a high potential to have someone trapped inside.  Our searches need to be thorough, fast, and aggressive.  Our hose line work needs to match that.

No one can know for sure but given the above, logic would suggest that both residential and commercial building fires will increase during this pandemic.  According to the NFPA, cooking fires are the leading cause of fires in the home.  Between restaurant closures, and/or stay at home orders, people who normally ate out at a restaurant are forced to stay in and cook.  Children that normally ate lunch at school are now eating at home.  Households that normally cooked one meal a day may now be cooking three.  For theses reasons, we should be prepared to see an increase in kitchen fires and cooking related alarms. 

In the commercial sector, gyms, bars, movie theaters, boutiques and other non-essential stores are being forced to close.  Main street USA may start to look more like a ghost town. These stores that, a few months ago, were bustling with activity are now empty.  When small businesses’ doors aren’t open, they aren’t making money.  When people aren’t making money, they can’t pay their bills. When they can’t pay their bills, they can be driven to do desperate things.  This is a set up for arson.  We should not only expect to see an increase in arson for profit and insurance fraud, but also to cover up looting crimes.  Arson born out of pure boredom is also not out of the question. Now that we are on the downward slope of this roller coaster, we need to stay alert and be prepared to see an increase in this kind of criminal activity. 

The Covid-19 pandemic has created a new world for us to function in.  The most important thing to relay is that, now more than ever, we need to be vigilant.  We should expect fire and victims every time we go out the door.  Stay at home orders and social distancing are going to be the new normal for the coming months.  That should not stop us from working toward perfecting our craft.  We can take what is going on in the outside world, and apply it to firefighting.  We can take any bad situation and learn from it. 

It was said that Capt. Terry Hatton of FDNY Rescue 1 would read the New York Times financial section.  He did this not to see what the stock market was doing, but to see what the financial climate of the city was doing to its buildings.  What do you think Capt. Hatton would make of what’s happening now, as it pertains to firefighting? He would certainly take it as a learning opportunity.

This pandemic isn’t going away tomorrow.  It would be easy to get overwhelmed with the preparations and precautions, but we can’t forget that we are firemen first.  When the bell rings, and we head out the door, be ready.  Be prepared to work.  Remember, we are here for THEM. 

Drew Evans started his fire service journey in 2007 when he began volunteering with the Fairmount Fire Department in upstate New York. In 2010, he moved to Prince George’s County, Maryland to be a live-in member with the Kentland Volunteer Fire Department, where he is still active today. In 2012, Firefighter Evans joined the District of Columbia Fire Department, where he developed a passion for truck work, and is currently a tillerman assigned to Truck Company 16. In 2018, he became an adjunct instructor with his department’s in-service training program. Firefighter Evans has been an adjunct instructor with the Real World Fire Ground Operations group at Fire Department Instructors Conference (FDIC), as well as at the First Due Training Conference.

Todd Szelkowski began volunteering at Chenango Bridge Fire Department in Chenango Bridge, NY in 1992. As a young adult, he participated in the Moyers Corners bunk in program in Syracuse, NY. He then moved to California and attended Allan Hancock Community College, where he completed the California State Fire Fighter 1 Academy in 1998. Between the years of 2000 and 2003, he worked full time as a medic in New York State, while continuing to volunteer as a firefighter. In 2003 he was hired by Myrtle Beach Fire Department, and completed the South Carolina Fire Academy in April of 2004.

In the fall of 2004, he was called by Prince George’s County Fire and EMS, and he saw an opportunity to move to a department were he would gain more experience as a firefighter. Lieutenant Szelkowski has now been with Prince George’s County for over 15 years. He was promoted to lieutenant in 2013, and serves the fifth battalion, riding one of the busiest engines in the county. In 2020 Lieutenant Szelkowski completed training to become an IAFF Fireground Survival instructor. He has served as an adjunct instructor with the Real World Fire Ground Operations group at Fire Department Instructors Conference (FDIC), as well as at The Art of Firemanship Days, and Making the Stretch. Lieutenant Szelkowski holds an associate degree in Fire Science from Columbia Southern University.

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