Water, cancer, and the future of the fire service: Part one of an interview with Chief Mike Duyck, Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue

Mike Duyck lgBy all accounts, the fire service is in the midst of a revolution driven by many factors, such as better risk reduction programs, new technology, changing fire risks, and health concerns. Fire departments must adapt to these changes to fulfill their mission of protecting communities. To get his perspective on the future of the fire service, Community Fire Protection News interviewed Fire Chief Michael R. Duyck, EFO, CFO, MIFireE, of Tualatin Valley (Oregon) Fire & Rescue (TVF&R). As both a long-time member of the fire service and leader of a large, combined district serving 390 square miles, his insights are invaluable.

With more than 30 years in the fire service, Chief Duyck has held positions at all operational ranks and in human resources, logistics, and government affairs. His district includes 26 stations that provide fire suppression, emergency medical, specialty rescue, fire prevention, and preparedness services to about 500,000 citizens in 11 cities and unincorporated communities in four counties. Chief Duyck oversees more than 540 career operations, prevention, training, administrative, and support personnel and 60 support volunteers. A past president of the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) Western Division, he currently serves as international director on the IAFC Board of Directors and alternate board member for the Metropolitan Fire Chiefs Association. He participates in local, state, and national forums on emergency communications, interoperability, innovation, technology, intergovernmental affairs, government efficiency, and economic development.

Community Fire Protection News (CFP): ISO regards water as a major factor in grading a community’s fire protection. As a large district, how do you work with water providers and provide protection to areas without water?

Chief Duyck: For a stand-alone fire district, it’s not as simple as walking to the other side of city hall to chat with the water department. It takes a concentrated effort to maintain an alliance with the 14 water purveyors and several homeowner associations that operate systems in our area. We assigned an assistant fire marshal and several deputy fire marshals as liaisons.

The alliances have brought insights on what it takes for our partners to maintain reliable and resilient service with limited budgets and staff, all while being accountable to citizens and the state for water availability, quality, and environmental impact. This highlighted the need for cooperation. To counteract the effects of firefighting operations on accountability, line personnel notify water purveyors when arriving at working fires. That makes sure there’s adequate fire flow, helps track and account for water loss, and minimizes the effect on customers. We’ve worked closely with these partners to implement the installation of backup water features.

Protecting areas without water or hydrants is multifaceted. We provide input to building officials to ensure firefighting water supply, including which structures require sprinkler systems, need on-site static water sources, or can substitute with alternative construction standards. Our GIS analyst identifies areas without hydrants and coordinates with the dispatch center to make sure correct resources are assigned.

For rural water supply reliability, we implemented robust alternative water protocols and maintain a large water tender fleet. TVF&R has taken a unique approach to water tender deployment. Rather than place individual tenders at several rural stations throughout our service area, we site teams of two water tenders at specific stations that we selected for the best overall coverage and response times. Crews respond with both tenders in tandem, which means more resources on the road quickly. For every working structure fire in an unprotected area, our initial response includes four tenders to begin water shuttle operations. That allows the first engine crews to perform an initial and effective fire attack.

CFP: The IAFC Safety Section, International Society of Fire Service Instructors (ISFSI), National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), and UL used science to develop the SLICE RS system for the initial attack of building fires. Has TVF&R established a plan to adopt this system? If so, how difficult do you think it will be to change the culture of your department as defined by this system?

Duyck: The value of SLICE RS is in the science and application of techniques to improve firefighter safety and rapidly extinguish a modern fire. We don’t use the same acronym for initial fire attack, but TVF&R has a long culture of embracing new technology and science to evolve protocols and practices. We’ve implemented SLICE RS elements for years. Our firefighters receive extensive training in modern fire behavior, size-up, flow path, and cooling. Independent of the acronym, every department should enact training and policy to incorporate and reinforce the elements and science of SLICE RS.

CFP: What are you doing to address the known risk of cancer in the fire service?

Duyck: During 2009 and 2010, TVF&R partnered with the Oregon Office of the State Fire Marshal, the Governor’s Fire Service Policy Council, and several other state agencies to conduct and publish a study on the chemicals present during the overhaul phase of a structure fire. Called A Study on Chemicals found in the Overhaul Phase of Structure Fires using Advanced Portable Air Monitoring available for Chemical Speciation, the report offered best practices intended to reduce firefighter exposure to known carcinogens and was adopted by the Oregon Fire Chiefs Association Safety Section.

We adopted the best practices in policy and protocol and strictly enforce their application at fireground activity during suppression, overhaul, and investigations. We enforce rules for turnout/bunker gear handling, storage, transfer, and cleaning. We issue a second set of turnout/bunker gear to all firefighters, and cancer screenings are part of mandatory annual medical exams. The study pointed to the need for additional research, and TVF&R is involved in early efforts to launch the next iteration.

CFP: What additional firefighting challenges do you foresee that the fire service will have to address?

Duyck: The need to better understand, train, and deploy for the modern fire environment is imperative. We need to study and evolve methods that minimize firefighter exposure to hazardous environmental conditions on the fireground and back at the station. What we learn will help us balance the inherent risks of offensive fire tactics with employing improved and effective defensive tactics.

(Part two of this interview will appear in the next edition of Community Fire Protection News.)

ISO Fire Suppression Rating Schedule

Our Fire Suppression Rating Schedule (FSRS) is free to chiefs and other fire officials. It's a manual containing the criteria Verisk uses in reviewing the fire prevention and fire suppression capabilities of individual communities or fire protection areas. To recieve a copy of the FSRS, contact our National Processing Center at 1-800-444-4554 and select Option 2.

H2O and Verisk

Water supply and distribution systems are important factors in determining a community’s ISO Public Protection Classification (PPC®). We provide complimentary educational training and seminars to water providers and associations throughout the country. Contact Hugh Gibson, national water resources manager, at hugh.gibson@verisk.com for more information.

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