Saturday, February 13, 2010

When Fire Service instructors Give bad advice

When Fire Service Instructors get it wrong, Firefighters will become their own victims

by Nick Markowitz Jr.

Having been an active firefighter I attended many different classes over the years to hone my skills. Too many times certified Pennsylvania fire service instructors have given bad and dangerous information. Many have also omitted necessary information to firefighters. These men and women should have known better than to make certain statements during training sessions.

Take a friend of mine who recently took several courses on rope rescue and additional high plus angle and tower rescue courses. He told me he was now qualified to climb towers and asked me to use his new climbing rig on my 2- 185 ft. directional radio towers I maintain for WAVL Praise, 910 KHz on the AM dial, located in Apollo Pa. I agreed as there had been a bad wind storm and appreciated the inspection.

Upon getting to the site and discussing the mandatory safety and lockout briefing before he started climbing, he asked me where on the tower to avoid high energy radio frequency (RF) fields. Looking at him, I ask what antennas, this is an AM broadcast facility. The entire tower is the antenna as the entire structure is hot with RF power feeding at 5,000 Watts. That's 10 Amps of electrical power going through it. If you step over and touch it, you will get a powerful zap as it knocks you to the ground. His eyes went wild with amazement, then he said that the tower instructor never told us this could happen.

Well at this point I had to go through the whole lesson in how AM is broadcast and describe the different types of setups on them including towers which switch power levels and directional arrays. We covered how signals are sent, in what pattern, and I explained Duplex AM towers where two AM radio stations run through the same tower
structure. We have two such arrangements here in Pittsburgh: 1550 AM and 770AM. Both run on a single stick set up in the Braddock area. We also have 1320 and 1360 on a directional in the Swisshelm section of Pittsburgh.

So then we also had to go through the various precautions you must take before even grabbing onto and starting up an AM Tower. This includes making sure that power to the transmitter is totally turned off. When contract tower climbers come to the site to change beacon bulbs they want them off totally. The power must be locked out so no timer etc can start the transmitter by accident.

We followed all the protocols and he was able to inspect the towers for me. Luckily no visible damage was found, but then I have to wonder who is teaching this class. Is this individual a professional tower climber that knows about these radio broadcasting towers, or is this someone who only works on a particular type of tower or someone who works on them for a cellular carrier.

Obviously I made a phone call to local fire academy and of course no one ever answered my questions on this course. I have since made the Pennsylvania State Fire Commissioner aware of this incident.

Then take the incident where I am sitting in class and the topic is Sprinkler Fire Suppression Systems. The Instructor makes the erroneous statement that stand pipe connections for Fire hoses are a separate piping system from the building's sprinkler system. As a matter of fact, they are not. The 2 ½ inch hose fittings on each floor level that firefighters tap into in order to fight fires are on the same piping system as the sprinklers.

If firefighters are not properly told this they could easily over pressure the FDC or Fire Department Connection on the outside of a building and blow the sprinkler pipes apart when providing an assist from a fire engine pump because they think they're supplying just the stand pipes. There are dry stand pipes, but these are found mostly in non sprinkled buildings.

Then this same instructor, when it came to safety around electrical items in a building, made the very dangerous statement that all electrical capacitor banks have shorting bars which safely discharge them. Wrong again!

Many, but not all, capacitor banks have resistors which slowly discharge the power to the bank after power is turned off, but it takes 15 to 20 minutes, and personally, I do not touch them until one hour has passed as an added precaution. I do this just in case something goes wrong inside.

Then I attended an Elevator Rescue Course where the instructor never worked in the elevator industry, and again bad information was being given out and OSHA rules and regulations where not being followed. When I brought up about OSHA regulations, you get this entire lie from instructors that fire departments are exempt from OSHA as Pennsylvania is an EPA-enforced State.

Wrong again! It is OSHA that comes in and enforces laws. In fact, the Charleston, S.C., fire department was cited by OSHA after several firefighters died in a furniture warehouse fire, and they're an EPA state.

Now the worst part of these instructors giving bad information is one of them now actually was promoted to be the director at one of the Fire Academys. So now any questions or concerns go into file 13--the circular trash can. As the saying goes here in Pennsylvania for the fire service, "Everyone goes home." However, this is not going to be the case as more than one may not because of fire service instructors that give out bad advice.

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