Wanted Dead or Alive – Punxsutawney Phil – described as contributor to “cabin fever”, with small beady eyes, chubby and furry! Seriously…bring on Spring!
The bitter cold temperatures, snow and ice have challenged all of you on a daily basis and I applaud you for your commitment and dedication to protecting those you serve in these adverse conditions.
Since late fall these conditions too have attributed to a notable increase in the number of residential fire-related fatalities and injuries. From November to date, the Division has assisted with the investigation of 28 incidents resulting in 33 civilian fatalities. Many of these incidents were the result of alternative heat source uses and lack of smoke alarms. Once again, I encourage you to take every opportunity to raise the level of awareness and educate the public on the importance of adequate smoke alarm coverage. If we do not commit to this task who will?
The House Budget Committee held their final hearing on the Division’s budget following the Governor’s recommendations. These recommendations included an additional $100K for firefighter training and an increase in the Division’s operating budget. There is an effort underway to add an additional $100K for firefighter training, but it is too soon to tell if that will make it through the process. I appreciate the committee’s work, but more so appreciate the support from key fire service representatives, Chief Russ Mason and Fire Safety Education Chairman Tim Dorsey, who traveled to the Capitol testifying in both House and Senate budget committees supporting additional firefighter training dollars and the Division as a whole. I too must acknowledge Chief Kenny Hoover for his work behind the scenes relating to firefighter training. Our budget now moves to the Senate Budget Committee for consideration and ultimate approval.
A number of fire service proposed legislative bills have surfaced during this session. The following link will allow you to view these proposals. Simply enter key words such as fire, fire department, etc., or the bill number in the “search” space. www.house.mo.gov/billcentral.aspx
Below are notable legislative proposals:
HB1077 – makes changes to the burn ban bill which passed last legislative session in that it removes any fireworks from being discharged during a burn ban order, removes the role of the State Fire Marshal in the decision making process to adopt a burn ban and changes the tool used to determine the conditions under which a burn ban order can be adopted by the county commission.
HB1355 – would allow 3rd and 4th class counties to opt of compliance with state regulations related to childcare and adopt local regulations.
HB1588 – removes the authority of fire and food service inspections at the local level related to nursing homes and solely places these inspections under state authority.
HB1660/SB803 – allows 3rd and 4th counties to adopt building codes upon voter approval.
HB1672/SB561 – creates a state licensing process for hobby fireworks manufacturers, prohibiting the sale or distribution of product manufactured by a hobby manufacturer.
HB1573 – establishes funding avenue for 911 services in conjunction with any device capable of contacting 911.
Let’s talk about training and certification.
Many of you are already aware the Division is statutorily mandated to establish and maintain a voluntary training and certification program per RSMo. 320.202. As you know, at the state level, Missouri does not mandate a minimum level of training for firefighters. However, roughly 75% of Missouri fire departments serving populations of 10,000 or more citizens require fire fighter training and/or certification. This being said, year in and year out the Division has noted annual increases in the number of certifications issued. Since inception of the Division’s training and certification program in 1985, more than 78,000 certifications at various levels have been issued by the Division. One must surmise these numbers related to voluntary certification speaks highly of a much sought after and credible program. I too must acknowledge Division staff for their dedication and commitment in their efforts to meet fire service training and certification demands.
During our current fiscal year 2014, the Division contracted $428,410 to fifteen training vendors who have and continue to provide no-cost training to Missouri’s fire service. This funding is comprised of three fund sources: general revenue provided by the General Assembly/Governor, Fire Education Fund provided by fees generated from fireworks permits/licenses, and finally Chemical Emergency Preparedness Fund provided from fees collected by Missouri Emergency Response Commission via Tier II reporting. For transparency purposes the Division has utilized only $1,188 of these funds for administrative costs which solely was used to support the Division’s expenses which are directly associated with two accrediting entities: IFSAC and ProBoard.
As mentioned above, the Division just completed budget hearings with the House, but await final budget hearings on the Senate side in relation to the Division’s upcoming fiscal year 2015 budget which begins July 1, 2014. This budget includes an additional $100,000 of general revenue added by Governor Nixon for no-cost firefighter training. The increase is now in the hands of the General Assembly to ultimately pass the budget following the Governor’s recommendation. Whatever the amount provided for in upcoming FY15, the Fire Safety Education and Advisory Commission will meet in late Spring to review and identify the contracted funding levels for the various training vendors. The Commission makes a concerted effort to fully evaluate the proposed training for Missouri’s fire service and verify the training offered meets nationally recognized standards as well as ensure the training addresses the needs of the fire service. Over the past several years, this evaluation has been key to ensuring training courses provided not only meet nationally recognized standards, but consist of new and leading edge training curriculums so as to meet the ever-changing fire service needs.
The days of a single training vendor are over. For FY13 the Division contracted with 9 training vendors to deliver no-cost training for Missouri’s Fire Service. In FY14, 15 training vendors were awarded training funds via the Fire Safety Education/Advisory Commission, resulting in each receiving a Division training contract. These contracts contain specific criteria the vendor is required to meet which include, but not limited to class size minimums, minimum instructor criteria, periodic status reports, course schedules/locations, etc. Division staff review documentation provided by each vendor to ensure the vendor meets contractual obligations, full transparency, and is being fiscally responsible with contracted training funds awarded.
April 22 is the annual Firefighter’s Day at the Capitol. This event not only will give you an opportunity to meet with your legislators to let them know your position on current legislation, but too will feature a number of training vendors who contract with the Division. The vendors will be located on the 3rd floor Rotunda where you can meet with them and discover what training they have to offer, along with their various training props around the Capitol’s circle drive.
Once again tragedy struck Missouri’s fire service. Early Saturday morning, February 22, Lt. Bruce Britt of Columbia FD was killed in the line of duty at the scene of a reported structural collapse involving an apartment complex. Lt. Britt was assisting with the evacuation of residents when a concrete and steel balcony walkway collapsed resulting in his death. Missouri’s fire service stepped up as always to honor one of their fallen brothers. We all know the inherent dangers each of you face on a daily basis and this incident is another example of how fragile life truly is. Columbia Fire Chief Chuck Witt’s comments at the memorial service exposed Chief Witt’s exceptional leadership qualities and served as an honorable tribute to Lt. Britt. Chief you are to be commended!
For over a year, I along with Retired Chief Larry Boyle, President of Missouri Association of Fire Protection Districts, have been exploring possible solutions to the escalating cost of worker’s compensation insurance. State law requires an employer with more than five employees to provide worker’s compensation insurance. The question posed to Missouri Department of Labor (DOL) was whether a volunteer firefighter was considered an employee in relation to this law. Based upon state law in Chapters 320 and 321 which relates to volunteer fire associations and fire protection districts, the DOL advises the verbiage dealing with benefits in these chapters state the entity “may” provide the member benefits whereby this exempts fire associations and fire protection districts from being mandated to provide worker’s compensation insurance. This position may be more harmful to our volunteers by DOL taking this position. In no way are we advocating to not provide worker’s compensation insurance. We too have heard from insurance company underwriting who cite the lack of state mandated firefighter training, as well as the void of adopted formalized health and wellness programs, are the risks which are to blame for the higher rates. Based on the above situations, it seems the burden is on Missouri’s fire service to adopt mandated minimum training requirements for members as well as incorporating formalized health and wellness programs. In addition, you are encouraged to explore forming a consortium with neighboring departments in hopes of attaining reduced worker’s compensation premiums.
The annual Firefighter’s Memorial Service is scheduled for May 17 and 18 in Kingdom City at the site of the Firefighter’s Memorial. On Saturday evening, May 17 is the candlelight service beginning at dusk where not only three line of duty deaths will be honored, but a number of firefighters with a minimum of 10 years of service who passed away during 2013 will also be recognized.
The following firefighters, killed while on duty during 2013, will be honored on Sunday, May 18 beginning at 10:30 a.m.
- Asst. Chief Harold Hollingsworth – Ft. Osage FPD – April 7, 2013
- Lt. Matthew Blankenship – Marshfield FPD – July 20, 2013
- Asst. Chief Joe Darr – Chillicothe FD – September 4, 2013
As many of you know I have elected to take advantage of the State of Missouri retirement system effective May 1. With that said this is my last FFAM article. I can already hear some wondering what they are going to do now without the “bathroom reading material” provided by me!
Since my appointment to State Fire Marshal in April 2005, announced by Governor Blunt during the opening of the FFAM Convention in Eureka, I have felt an internal connection to FFAM. I truly have appreciated the many years of support from FFAM and Missouri’s fire service. I hope that in some small way I along with the Division’s staff have made a positive difference for Missouri’s fire service during my tenure. Any successes I may have achieved cannot solely be attributed to me. I have been fortunate to have worked with a truly dedicated and committed staff over the years.
There is no doubt I had and continue to have mixed feelings about retiring. Having devoted 28 years to the Division since hired as a fire investigator in 1986, I feel a real sense of having a vested interest in the Division and Missouri’s fire service. I feel the Division has made positive progress over the years and faces a number of future opportunities allowing the Division to continue moving forward.
I encourage FFAM Directors to have an open mind to change and not to be afraid or apprehensive of stepping out of the box. There are many opportunities for the organization to grow. Target the younger generation who possess leadership qualities; recruit them and get them involved. After all, they are the future of Missouri’s fire service. Open your arms to developing relationships with all of the state’s training partners and contracted training vendors. Take advantage of the outstanding programs available in our state so Missouri’s fire service can be the best prepared. Not doing so is a disservice to Missouri’s fire service.
I truly desire FFAM to be the best it can be for the sake of Missouri’s fire service. In closing I would ask for your continued support to the Division as well as my successor. My final sincere thanks to you!