This reporter has attended several St. Louis Area Fire Department fire board meetings over the last year, and the best things about them are Chief Rich Apps’ verbal reports.
Here’s an account of what Apps said at the Nov. 13 fire board meeting. If you want to hear it from Apps himself, click the play button below for a recording.
Apps spoke of attending a windmill emergency drill with firefighter Carl Eyer that was put on by Invenergy and DTE in Breckenridge. “They know their equipment,” he said. “They know what things are about. It was time well spent.”
Apps is grateful to Invenergy and DTE for donating $5,000 each toward the purchase of an electric JAWS spreader and cutter. Apps hopes to get the rest of the money needed for that purchase from the Gratiot Community Foundation.
Apps briefly mentioned that surplus equipment has been sold. That would be two thermal imaging cameras and a stabilization set sold to Coble Fire Department of Coble, Tennessee for $184 and seven self-contained breathing apparatus sold to Eldorado Fire Department of Eldorado, Illinois for $450.
Alma Chrysler Fire
Apps spoke of the Nov. 3 fire at Alma Chrysler on M-46, where four departments and 50-60 firefighters took part. “It was a very good operation,” he said. “All the departments worked together very effectively. It was almost a thing where each department had their own sector to work on. Everything was coordinated well; good communications. I can’t say enough good about how the departments functioned. We were able to preserve all of the showroom area which had all the vital records. It doesn’t look like we saved much, but in the end we really did. We saved what was critical for these people to get back into business quickly. And they will probably be open for business by the end of next week at the latest.”
Lights and Sirens
On another subject, Apps asked the board to rescind a policy allowing volunteer firefighters to install lights and sirens on personal vehicles.
“This is a policy the board approved about 25 years ago,” he said. “It’s been some years since any number of firefighters have used those. The officers have discussed this. We really don’t see any particular advantage to them on a personal vehicle. And probably there is more risk and liability to having them than not. We don’t see how it’s going to make our responses to a scene any faster, any better. I would ask that the board consider suspending that policy.”
South Carolina Fire
Apps then spoke of a program he and Bill Coty attended six weeks ago where Dr. David Griffin, a Charleston, S.C. firefighter who was on the scene of a 2007 fire that put nine firefighters in the morgue, spoke of the event and lessons learned. Griffin packed a room with 230 emergency responders for the Saginaw presentation.
“It’s an extremely challenging presentation,” Apps said. “It is not entertainment, but it makes you as an individual involved in the fire department look at how you do your job, how serious you are about it, how you can do your job better. It also makes you look at the department as a whole and say, ‘What are we doing good? What are we doing we need to approve on? What are we doing that stinks?
“In all honesty, there were times during his presentation I was literally sick to my stomach because I realized if that can happen to a full time crew in Charleston, bad things can happen to us just as easily.”
Griffin was assigned that day to a station he had never worked at and to a fire engine he had never operated, Apps said. But instead of trying to familiarize himself with the equipment he watched TV. “He’s very frank about his own failures in that fire,” Apps said.
“When they got to the fire he couldn’t supply a line because he didn’t know how to operate the truck. And he’s profoundly frank about the fact, ‘I did not do my job. I was not prepared to do my job. I found sitting in front of the television more important than preparing to do my job.’
“(Griffin) is clear about who is to blame for different issues, and it is not finger pointing. It’s just saying ‘This person did not do this, and this is why, and this is what it lead to.’”
The tragedy spurred Griffin to get a doctorate degree and write a book about the fire. “Following the fire he pursued education,” Apps said. “He’d never seen a lot of need for education before that. He pursued education through a doctoral degree to be able to understand why things happened as they did that night, why people perform as they do, why they act as they do, to try and get a handle on everything that occurred at this fire.
“The night at Alma Chrysler I frequently heard Dr. Griffin talking. We could have killed people so easily there trying to approach this fire like we approach a structure fire, a house fire. Some of Dr. Griffin’s points compelled us to keep our people safe.”
Apps urged fire board members Kevin Beeson of Pine River Township, Carmen Bajena of Jasper Township, Don Long of Bethany Township and St. Louis City Manager Kurt Giles to attend another of Griffin’s presentations on Jan. 26 at the Masonic Home in Alma. (The event is NOT open to the general public.)
“This is an extremely important presentation,” Apps said. “This would offer you some insight into the fire department that are difficult to convey. I beg you, please consider attending this. This is too important a program to have empty seats.”