The Syracuse Fire Department Rescue Company proudly displays an ISO Class 1 insignia on its fire truck.
The city of Syracuse is located at the crossroads of central New York State. More than 150,000 people reside within its 25 square miles. The fire department has held an ISO Class 1 Public Protection Classification (PPCTM) since January 1, 1998. Historians of the fire service may remember that the Syracuse Fire Department (SFD) was once known as the “Buck Rogers” fire department — named after a fictional comic strip character who explored space. That’s because Chief Thomas Hanlon turned his vision into reality in the late 1970s using the latest technologies. The department adopted a mini-maxi concept — sending a mini pumper (small size and less equipment) to less serious fires and EMS alarms and keeping the maxi pumper (full size) available for serious fire alarms. The department tried rapid water, radio-controlled hydrant valves and handline discharges, automatic “thinking” nozzles, the “Jet Axe” explosive forcible entry device, traffic preemption devices, and other ideas that were ahead of their time.
With the support of the mayor, Chief Hanlon was able to specify that every frontline engine be a 4-wheel drive, 2,000 gpm tele-squirt. Every truck was a quint with 95-foot-plus aerial bucket. The creation of a squad and rescue company now provides 14 members on the fireground who respond to every fire citywide. The Syracuse Fire Department has been acting as first responders to life-threatening medical emergencies for more than 30 years. In 2009, ISO visited Syracuse for the second time and regraded the community. On July 1, 2009, Syracuse once again received a Class 1.
Some of the concepts from earlier years are still the mainstay of the Syracuse Fire Department in 2010. Every piece of fire apparatus has an automatic external defibrillator, and now there are two fire department ambulances in service. The department hazmat company is close to becoming the regional response unit for the entire Onondaga County. The facilities at the department training division are constantly in use, and the classroom has the latest in audiovisual technologies to meet the demands of today’s generation of tech-savvy firefighters. Those are just a few of the innovations that have earned Syracuse its Class 1 designation.
Chief Mark McLees leads the department. He joined the department in 1985 and has worked on both staff and line assignments. He was the captain of Syracuse Rescue Company #1 in the late 1990s. Chief McLees worked as a civilian fire inspector for the FDNY and also as a field representative for ISO. McLees was on the team that developed both the Firefighter Survival and FAST (Firefighter Assist and Search Team) curriculum for the New York State Office of Fire Prevention and Control.
“As a fire chief, I look to the ISO PPC program as another tool available to me,” says Chief McLees. “Administering a fire/emergency service department requires skills in many fields. ISO’s PPC allows me to use nationally accepted standards in a way that doesn’t require a Ph.D. The program gives all chiefs an opportunity to continually strive for improvement in delivery of services. Wading through all the standards can be overwhelming. The PPC program helps me keep my focus on items that have a daily impact.”