Defending the FDNY.

Author:Fleming, Joseph

Dear City Limits,

I read your recent investigative series on the FDNY with great interest. I would appreciate the opportunity to make the following comments.

1. The article states, "But a crude look at statistics suggests that New York does not stand out for firefighter safety. Since 1990, Los Angeles has lost 17 firefighters in operations, Chicago 11, Houston seven. Not counting Sept. 11 or deaths from acute medical causes like heart attacks, New York City lost 32 firefighters in that period:' However this comparison fails to take into account the size of the various fire departments: New York--11,000 firefighters, Los Angeles--3,600 firefighters, Chicago--4,300 firefighters and Houston--4,190 firefighters. One firefighter fatality is too many, but at least when this is accounted for, the FDNY numbers are placed in their proper perspective.

2. The article compares the opinions of fire safety experts with little experience in large urban environments, e.g. NIOSH, with the opinion of experienced FDNY chiefs. Given the complexities of firefighting in New York when discussing possible errors in command or risk benefit, this may not be appropriate. Even when the IC (incident commander) concludes correctly that the risk is small and the gain is large, there will be a certain percentage of times that the firefighters may get seriously injured. It seems in many cases that NIOSH is defining errors by the consequences and concluding that an incorrect risk-versus-gain decision was made. In my opinion, NIOSH is committing the error of hindsight bias--the inclination to see events that have already occurred as being more predictable than they were before they took place. If a decision is based on experience, how can someone without that type of experience determine if it was correct?

3. When discussing adequate staffing the article states, "Dunn's test, Scoppetta said, was too limited. 'You really have to do a more controlled set of tests to see what the difference is,' he said. 'There are many fire departments that operate with three firefighters: While some fire departments do operate three-person engines--Houston's does--national standards call for at least four, which is what Chicago generally uses, and the National Fire Protection Administration has written that 'progressive' fire chiefs believe five is the minimum." Perhaps Chief Dunn's test was too limited, but what Commissioner Scoppetta failed to point out is that extensive testing conducted recently by the...

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