Man Down: Follow the paper trail

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Minneapolis firefighters say budget cuts have made their jobs more dangerous.
Much of the information in this week's feature, "Man Down," comes from fire reports, national studies, statistics maintained by the city, and various other documents. Sure, some of the paperwork is kinda of boring. It also takes forever to scan. So instead of bogging you with the whole file, here are PDFs of and excerpts from some of the more interesting documents, as well as some other info that didn't fit in the story:

The death of Pearl Gallagher

In 2003, Minneapolis resident Pearl Gallagher died due to injuries sustained in a house fire. Even seven years later, many fire fighters still talk about it. Some wonder whether or not the rescue would have been more successful if they could have gotten to her sooner. Up until just one month earlier, a Ladder rig had been stationed three miles away from Gallagher's house. It was shut down due to budget cuts, leaving the closest rig the day of the fire a 10-minute drive away.

The fire report illustrates the hectic scene as firefighters tried to find Gallagher. Ladder 5 is the rig that had to come from 10-minutes away. From the report (PDF here):

Chief 2 arrived and found the house with heavy smoke coming from the front door. Engine 28 had arrived and laid a tankline to the front door. Captain Erickson told me that the son of the victim met them a[nd] said that his mother was just inside the door. Captain Erickson immediately made a quick search and found no one...

Then the son of the victim pointed to the basement and told Captain Erickson that his other was down there...Ladder 5 and Rescue 1 arrived and continued the primary search. The fire was located in the basement. Engine 22 proceeded to the basement and extinguished the fire. Ladder 5 found the victim in a rear bedroom on the first floor...

After conversing with MFD personnel on scene it appears that the heavy smoke and large amount of storage in the house may have led to the victim being unable to exit the building. The heavy amount of storage also contributed to the difficult of locating the fire and overhauling the basement and first floor. No smoke alarms were heard by anyone on scene.

Engine rigs manned below industry-standard

As noted in the feature, it's become more common in the past decade for Engine rigs -- the trucks that carry the hoses -- to be manned by only three firefighters, one fewer than what national standards define as the minimum. Here's the National Fire Protection Agency standard citation:

5.2.3.1 Fire companies whose primary functions are to pump and deliver water and perform basic fire fighting at fires, including search and rescue, shall be known as engine companies.

5.2.3.1.1 These companies shall be staffed with a minimum of four on-duty personnel.

The minimum is, of course, there for a reason. In April 2010, the National Institute of Standards and Technology released the results of a study that tested the performance of varying fire crew sizes. The study found that everything -- from arrival, to hooking up the hose, to searching for victims, to departure -- takes longer for three-person crews. On average, four-person crews spent 15:44 on scene, according to the study. Three-person crews spent 20:30 on scene.

Click here for more information on the performance problems of smaller crews, straight from the study. Here's a chilling excerpt:

"As defined in NFPA 1710, the 'industry standard achieved' time started from the first engine arrival at the hydrant and ended when 15 firefighters were assembled by the five-person crews three minutes faster than the four-person crews. An effective response force was assembled by the five-person crews three minutes faster than the four-person crews. Based on the study protocols, modeled after a typical fire department apparatus deployment strategy, the total number of firefighters on scene in the two- and three-person crew scenarios never equaled 15 and therefore the two- and three-person crews were unable to assemble enough personnel to meet this standard."

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Let's take a quick intermission from reading and admire this picture of a fire truck. As of Jan. 1, this rig -- called Rescue 1 -- will be unmanned due to budget cuts. It's the only rig that carries certain specialized search-and-rescue tools, some of which you can see here. Now, click "Next Page."

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