Wednesday, March 27, 2019

History of the Fire Mark

Fighting fire evolved after the Great Fire of London swept through the central parts of the city from Sunday, September 2nd to Thursday, September 6th, 1666. After this fire, London created an insurance system and fire companies. A fire mark is a metal plaque that was attached to the building after the property owner purchased fire insurance. The fire mark would identify not only which buildings were insured but by which company.
Fire marks were used in the U.S. from about 1750 to around the 1900. There were no municipal fire departments in the early days of the United States, rather fire brigades that were often owned by the insurance companies. The fire brigades only responded to property that were insured but in time, that would change. Uninsured property that would catch fire could threaten nearby insured property and therefore, there was a benefit to fighting the fire of uninsured property.

In other cities, the fire brigades were independent companies and competitors of each other. Whichever brigade was able to claim the fire would receive the insurance payout. One way to stake the claim was to be the first brigade to place a ladder on the burning structure. Fire companies would have specific employees assigned to placing the ladder and to prevent the competing company from doing so. There are stories that brigades would get into physical fights in the front yard as the structure burned.

Communication: Clear, Concise, and Complete

A process by which information is exchanged between individuals through a common system of symbols, signs, or behavior. It can be categorized into four types including verbal, non-verbal, visual and written. The answer? Communication. Firefighters are surrounded by all forms of communication and quality exchange of information can drastically change an outcome of a call. Just the same, miscommunication can have grave affects on the outcome of emergency situations. When picking up take-out food that was previously called in, it has become standard to check the order before leaving the restaurant as miscommunication during ordering is not uncommon. While this example is perhaps insignificant in the grand scheme, the same simple miscommunication of even one word between emergency personnel can be detrimental, causing events to spiral. For example, what could be the difference between hearing pop the door when the message was stop at the door. It should not be a goal to ensure quality communication on the fire-ground but should be viewed as a lifesaving necessity.

A fire scene consists as multiple people, of multiple ranks, and multiple tasks being done simultaneously requiring coordinated efforts and effective communication. To ensure effective communication, consistent training is imperative. One break in the chain, which could be one change in the personnel (possibly a new hire) can alter the communication link. Simple differences in people such as gender, age, and education can alter communication skills – both giving and receiving.

To maximize communication, the sender of information should consider the three C’s – clear, concise, and complete. Using these tactics can simplify personal biases and barriers as mentioned above. Clear communication is establishing words, signals, and gestures that are understood by the person giving the information as well as the person receiving the information. Concise is the amount of words, signals, and gestures in order to relay information. Complete communication emphasizes the message is understood ensuring everyone is on the same page. Parroting the message is essential for confirming the communication is complete; in other words, repeat the message.

The truth is, we all acknowledge communication is imperative and while communication suggestions can be researched, the barriers of personal biases and regional differences will alter suggestions of those communication tactics. The best way to perfect communication within your department is training. The best way to train to improve communication is by playing games of course!  Most training officers focus on the meat and potatoes of training – ladders, ropes, and hoses but communication training should be considered just as important. There are many communication game ideas’ out there but here are a few that have been proven to be helpful as well as fun, and they are at little to no cost.

Communication origami
Hand out a blank piece of paper and have everyone sit in the same room where they cannot see others paper. Give a series of instructions, without allowing any questions to be asked, including but not limited to fold your piece of paper in half, turn it upside down, fold one corner to the opposite corner, etc. After several folds, you will find the papers may look differently. Pass out a second sheet of paper and this time, give very specific instructions, such as fold the paper in half long ways from left to right and allow questions from the participants. The goal is to have all the papers look the same.

Lego Language
This game can be developed from simple and complex. Start by crafting a Lego model and do not allow anyone to see the finished design. Separate into teams of two or three and provide each team with necessary Lego’s to complete the model. The person that constructed the model will them give the teams instructions to build the model by radio, not sharing what the final product should look like. The person giving instructions will realize their instructions, thought of as clean and obvious, can be taken in more ways than one.

Lego Language 2
This time separate into three groups in which one group will be the command center, the second group is logistics and operations are the third group. In preparation for the drill, create a structure using the Legos which will be given to the command group. Provide the logistics group with the same Legos that were used to build the model but in single form. (Option: give additional Lego’s to the logistics group that isn’t used to build the model). Separate into different rooms and only communicate by radios. The command center and logistics cannot communicate with each other. The operations team communicates with command to receive instructions and communicates with logistics to place orders. (Option: only allow 5 pieces to be ordered at once and/or limit the amount of orders). You will find the shapes, sizes and colors of the Lego pieces will cause confusion.

Separate into teams of three or four and identify one team member as the command center, the rest as the entry team. Set up this drill by using duct tape to create 4 symbols on the floor of a room or bay in the firehouse, not allowing anyone to see the design prior. The symbols are a triangle, square, circle and X. Make the symbols at least two feet by two feet and all similar in size. Give the command center a piece of paper and pen and separate them into another room only having contact to the entry team by radio.

Allow the entry team into the space where the symbols have been taped on the floor. Inform the team they are in a building fire with thick smoke and cannot see anything other than the floor where the symbols are. They cannot orient to windows and doors or use cardinal directions. The entry team must describe what they see, and the command center is to draw symbols being described on the paper.

Shape Communication 2
After completing the task above, add location points onto the command centers drawing, one on each symbol by placing a dot on a corner of each. Give the entry team four traffic cones. Request the command center instruct the entry team to place the cones on the location points.

Allow your team to discover what communication style, method and language works for them. You will begin to better understand what does not work, such as using clock positions, left/right or directions such as north/south followed by developing a method that does work.

These games may seem simple but they will emphasize the importance of effective communication. When a situation ends badly, it almost always includes lack of communication. In firefighting, this can be devastating – if not deadly.

Potatoes & Bagpipes

What do potatoes and bagpipes have in common?

It all began when the Irish fled to the New World escaping the Great Potato Famine in the 1840’s. The New World was predominantly populated by Anglo-Americans whom were less than accepting of the Irish; not surprising considering the friction between England and Ireland for centuries. Common in the storefronts and factories was a sign that read “NINA” or “No Irish Need Apply,” making it difficult for the Irish immigrants to obtain work. The toughest and most dangerous jobs were where Irishmen tended to be employed, essentially dominating the firehouses and police stations.

Just as the belongings in their bags, the Irish brought their deep-rooted Celtic traditions, including playing the bagpipes at weddings and funerals. Since the death toll was incredibly high for first responders, a funeral was a frequent occurrence during this time. The families of the fallen Irishman spared no shortcuts when one of their own was killed, including playing the bagpipes. It has also been said the somber bagpipe music served as a reminder to the town who was protecting and serving them. The traditional Irish uilleann pipes were exchanged with the Great Highland bagpipes, a Scottish instrument as they cast a larger sound. Soon enough, families of non-Irish decent asked for bagpipes to be played at their funerals as well.

The tradition spans times as bagpipes are still utilized for fallen first responders today, nearly 180 years later. However, it is without prejudice. St. Patrick’s Day in 1956, the Emerald Society was founded, a group of public safety officers whom carry on the tradition of playing the pipes at funerals. They are represented nationally with nearly 8,000 members, carrying on the traditions honorably.

Refurbishing Rigs

Refurbished 1989 Sutphen. It was a prototype with twin deluge sets and named by Sutphen the " Master Blaster".

It’s incredible to think that there are many apparatuses that cost over one million dollars to build. The tariffs we are currently experiencing are sure to increase those price points, making it challenging for departments to keep their fleet up to speed. In 2009 when the economy was suffering, fire departments chose to refurbish apparatus as an alternative for purchasing new. Manufactures experienced a drastic decline in new truck sales, upwards of 40% and refurbishing rigs became popular again. While new truck sales are bouncing back, refurbishing is still a considerable option as departments are still monitoring their budgets closely.

In short, refurbishment can extend your apparatus ten to fifteen years on a truck that is ten or fifteen years old. The motivation for many departments is to use a still functional and strong body and replace the chassis which typically saves a great deal of money for municipalities. The cost is a fraction of buying new, potentially as high as a 60% savings on a complete refurb compared to a new rig coming off the line.

According to NFPA 1912, Standard for Fire Apparatus Refurbishing, there are two different levels of refurbishing. Level 1 is more in-depth where the vehicle gets a new drive train and the entire truck and its components are brought up to current NFPA standards. Level 2 brings the vehicle up to standards when the truck was built. Often, departments chose to refurb a rig in compliance with Level 2 standards but also include technical upgrades, such as replacing halogen lighting with LED lighting, adding chevrons for safety as well as rebuilding shelves inside the compartments. Refurbs become more complex when referring to aerials which can include replacing all cabling and wear pad. Pumping systems can require values and gauges to be updated if not completely overhauled.

Most refurbishing centers give the department power to chose what your specific needs are regarding upgrades and repairs. The first step is obtaining a full assessment of the apparatus to determine what your needs and wants are, as well as the cost to achieve those goals. Another refurbishing option is to transform an apparatus to another type, for example, repurposing an older pumper to a hazmat unit or even a mobile command center.

To learn more about apparatus refurbishing or to request an assessment on your aging vehicle, contact Legacy Fire Apparatus at

Monday, February 11, 2019

Embracing Traditions in the Modern Fire Service

Article by Tom Warren

Today’s fire service makes use of some of the most sophisticated and technologically advanced equipment available. My short 33-year career witnessed advances that both protected firefighters as made their work more efficient and safer. When I started my career, it seemed that things were very far advanced compared to some of the old trucks and equipment found in the closets and fire stations throughout the city. Yet today’s firefighters may look at the equipment we relied on 30 years ago and wonder how we ever put out any fires.
The advances in equipmenttechnology, and procedures are staggering and modern firefighters embrace this evolution, knowing that there is still more to come in their careers. This latest generation of firefighters was born in the technology era, and these members may expect nothing else but a continuation of technological advances.
Equipment such as thermal imaging cameras can locate victims very quickly and with pinpoint accuracy. When compared to a firefighter searching a room with one hand on the outside wall and swinging an ax or pole on the floor in an attempt to locate a victim, it seems impossible that we ever found any victims. The high-tech fabrics used for our personal protective equipment (PPE) are much better than the rubber coats, aluminum helmets, and three-quarter boots that were once standard issue. Portable radios and PASS devices are now part of every firefighter’s standard equipment, where once the only portable radio on the fireground was reserved for the chief and was the size of a small suitcase.  Fire apparatus is designed with the firefighter’s safety in mind with features like air conditioning, sound proofing, seat belts, powerful engines and braking systems, and communication and computer equipment at the officer’s fingertips.
Through the efforts of numerous safety organizations, labor organizations, and professional organizations, most fire departments operate using specific guidelines or standard operating procedures, avoiding confusion and providing accountability and safer fireground operations. This single procedural development enables every firefighter to understand what is expected of him or her as well as every other firefighter operating on the fireground. Adopting the standard training levels for firefighters (National Fire Protection Association 1001, Standard for Fire Fighter Professional Qualifications) and training to these levels means that firefighters are fully prepared to assume their role in their fire department. Another historic development in the fire service is the adoption of the National Incident Management System. This operational guide provides a systematic structure to achieve operational objectives at any type of emergency. We can now respond to any incident in any jurisdiction and know with certainty where we fit in, what our mission is, and whom we report to. Firefighters and fire officers can enhance their knowledge with professional development through programs offered at the National Fire Academy as well as degree programs at many colleges and universities.
There clearly has been an unstoppable march of progress in the fire service, allowing today’s firefighters to respond to emergencies armed with the best equipment, technology, training and operational guidelines than ever before.
As much as every young firefighter entering the fire service today appreciates and expects the latest in technology, equipment, and operational oversight, it seems that all young firefighters have a thirst for the history and traditions of the fire service and of those who came before them. There is no other occupation that is as steeped in tradition and history. Firefighters cherish this historical connection with the firefighters and fires that came before them. In the movie “Backdraft,” there is a scene where some young firefighters are in the firehouse and on the wall behind them hangs a banner that says, “Chicago Fire Department, 150 years of Tradition Unimpeded by Progress.” This is at the heart of the passion that firefighters feel for their chosen profession, a passion that likely does not exist in any other profession.  Firefighters feel this connection to the past very deeply and wish to carry on these fire service traditions in their careers. As their careers progress and they become mentors to younger firefighters, they are anxious to pass these traditions on to these next generation.  
When firefighters start their career, they begin to see the history of their departments as the instructors begin the training program, which always includes the history of the fire service. The instructors will talk about their experiences, and are usually full of war stories of days gone by and the characters that make up the fire department. It does not take long before new firefighters want to be part of this family of firefighters and hear all the colorful stories of their department and beyond. They are anxious to take their place in the history of the fire department they have joined.
New firefighters are always curious about how Dalmatians became firehouse mascots. At some point, the question will come up and an instructor will tell the young firefighters that when horses were used to pull the steamers and hose wagons, the Dalmatian dogs were used to keep the horses calm while responding to fires. The Dalmatians would run around the responding horses and scare away other animals that would bother the horses. These Dalmatians were friendly dogs and bonded with the firefighters and horses alike.  We all are aware that there is no need for a Dalmatian with today’s fire apparatus, yet we still see them in many firehouses, and they are great mascots when firefighters visit local schools. (1)
Our traditions can be traced to Rome, where the first recognized firefighting force was organized by August Caesar in 23 BC and was called Familia Publica.  This firefighting force was made up of slaves and had limited success. Something every fire department has in one form or another is the Maltese Cross. Every department uses this symbol in some way, either in the design of their department insignia or badge. The origins of the Maltese Cross date back to the time of the Crusades. The Saracens would defend themselves by throwing glass containers filled with naphtha at the attacking Christian Knights. Once the Christian Knights were covered with naphtha, the Saracens would throw flaming torches at the Christian Knights, causing them to be burned inside their armor.  The Christian Knights were awarded a cross to recognize their bravery during these attacks. The crosses awarded became known as the Maltese Cross. This symbol of bravery and honor continues today. (1)
In the time before radios became commonplace on the fireground, orders and direction by the chief were sent via trumpets or speaking trumpets, which is simply a megaphone-type tool. It was the chief who used these trumpets at fires, and they became very ornate and the symbol of authority.  In today’s fire service, the trumpets have been replaced with radio communication, but this symbol of authority is still part of the modern fire service. The trumpets are now used to designate the rank of fire officers. One trumpet designates a lieutenant, two trumpets designate a captain, and gold-crossed trumpets designate a Chief. The Chief of Department is designated with five crossed trumpets. Firefighters and fire officers study long and hard to earn the honor to wear trumpets on their collar.
In firehouses across the country, the walls are covered with pictures of major fires that their fire company responded to and of the apparatus that was assigned to that fire company over the years. One can also find pictures of the members of that fire company dating back many years. Gold- or silver-plated fire equipment used many years ago can be found mounted on a plaque and hanging on the walls. Newspaper articles depicting heroic efforts of the members of that fire company can also be found framed and hanging on the walls.
The fire apparatus, more commonly referred to, as “the rig,” is a moving tribute to the history of a fire company. The rig is always kept in an impressively pristine condition. The company numbers are usually displayed on all four sides of the rig and possibly on the roof for the aerial photographs. Most fire companies have a logo or slogan that defines the heritage of the fire company: “Screaming Eagles,” “The Pride of Federal Hill,” “The Nut House,” “Broad Street Bullies,” or “La Casa Grande” to name a few. These logos are an important part of the fire company and they distinguish it from other fire companies. The logos contribute to the morale and camaraderie found in the best fire companies and can be found on the firehouse itself (inside and outside), the rig, and on patches. Firefighters are fiercely proud of these logos.
I can’t think of another profession that openly displays its history and traditions as the fire service does. Young people line up and take difficult written and physical tests to become part of the fire service aware of all these traditions and deep history the fire service embraces. They are very anxious to become part of it. At the other end of a firefighters career it is equally difficult for firefighters to leave this profession when the time comes.

Tom WarrenThomas N. Warren has more than 40 years of experience in the fire service in both career and volunteer departments. He retired as assistant chief of department of the Providence (RI) Fire Department after 33 years of service. Presently he is a faculty member at Bristol Community College in the Fire Science Technology Program teaching a variety of subjects in the fire science discipline. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in fire science from Providence College, an Associate’s Degree in business administration from the Community College of Rhode Island and a Certificate in Occupational Safety and Health from Roger Williams University.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018


Established in 2003, Unruh Fire, located in Sedgwick Kansas, has been a leader in the fire apparatus industry building brush trucks, quick attach trucks, light rescue trucks, fire training trailers, skid units and rescue trailers. Our parent company, Unruh Fab, has been in business for 40 years and is considered a leader in the custom manufacturing of bulk glass transportation trailers, bodies and racks.

In 1997 Unruh Fab was purchased by an investment group who wanted to expand the business using Unruh’s equipment manufacturing knowledge and skilled craftsmen. As the new owners discussed potential growth opportunities with the Unruh employees they discovered that one of shop foreman was a career firefighter. This led to discussions about idea of building truck for the fire industry. In 2002 Unruh built their first brush truck and displayed it at the FDIC show in 2003 where it was sold immediately. Upon returning to Kansas Unruh built a second truck and displayed it at the FRI show where again it was sold immediately.

The investment group was excited about the reaction to these first two trucks and ultimately Unruh Fire was born. Since the first truck in 2003, Unruh Fire has significantly expanded its product offering to include a full line of fire and rescue trucks.

The expansion began in 2007 when Unruh Fire purchased a company that specialized in the production of high end horse trailers. The knowledge gained from this acquisition gave way to the expansion of our fire line by offering highly specialized fire training trailers and fire command trailers. Also in 2007 a new 20,000 square foot shop facility was built and was dedicated solely to manufacturing of fire vehicles. This new facility allowed Unruh Fire to prepare for further acquisitions and growth. In 2009 Unruh purchased the Mertz/Marco line of high pressure skid units, a leading manufacturer of High pressure/Low volume skid units for ATV’s, trailers and pick-ups. And finally, in 2012 Unruh acquired the Renegade ARFF line of airport rescue vehicles. All three businesses were eventually relocated to the Unruh Fire headquarters in Kansas.

Since 2003 we have stood behind our motto “Built by Firefighters, for Firefighters”. We employ volunteer, retired and career firefighters who are involved in all aspects of the process from the initial product inquiry to the final delivery. By doing this our customers can be confident that the folks they’re working with truly understand the fire industry and the demands of fire service. At Unruh Fire, we are proud of the products we produce and we stand behind everything we build. For more information about the Unruh businesses visit our websites at: and

Sutphen Springfield

Today, Sutphen is comprised of five factories. The main office of Sutphen Corporation is located in Dublin, OH. Sutphen Springfield is located 45 miles west of the main office and is the start of the Sutphen manufacturing line. Celebrating its tenth year, Sutphen invested nearly $2 million in new construction in 2008 to create the Chassis division in Springfield. Sutphen Custom Chassis are assembled here using name brand components. Everything from the frame rails to the drivable chassis is handled here. The Sutphen Chassis Division operates out of a 55,000 sf and employs more than 65. This plant also produces the Commercial line and our Guardian pumpers.
Since 1968, our experience and focus on the fire service have driven Sutphen to build the industry’s most Extreme Duty Chassis.  Every inch of our custom chassis is built to withstand the most severe firefighting conditions.  From the cab construction, heavy wall 6061 T6 aluminum extrusions and heavy duty aluminum plate, to the steel box tube design Subframe under cab, our chassis provides superior crash protection and is fully certified to meet all ASME and ECE standards.  Our standard double frame rails, cross members, and suspension hangers are Huck Bolted with Grade 8 fasteners, and are bead blasted to prep the surface for better adhesion of the Cathacoat primer and durable Imron top coat paint to ensure that it will be long lasting and safe from corrosion. The front and rear suspension work together resulting in superior handling, a smoother ride, and better turning radius.  Interior durability is just as important.  We utilize high quality, extreme duty products to provide a rugged interior.