Chesterfield fire department response to severe storm emergencies executive analysis of fire department operations in emergency management



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CHESTERFIELD FIRE DEPARTMENT RESPONSE TO SEVERE STORM EMERGENCIES

EXECUTIVE ANALYSIS OF FIRE DEPARTMENT OPERATIONS IN EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT

BY: Robert P. Avsec

Chesterfield Fire Department

Chesterfield, Virginia

An applied research project submitted to the National Fire Academy

as part of the Executive Fire Officer Program

January 2000


ABSTRACT
The United States experience some of the most severe weather in the world. Every year storms unleash strong winds, torrential rains, lightning, and hail that kill hundreds of people, injure thousands more, and cause property losses in the billions of dollars. Chesterfield County, Virginia experiences severe weather every year in the form of strong thunderstorms during the spring and summer months. The county also has a pertinent history of small tornados, hurricanes, and the remnants of tropical weather systems passing through the county with significant adverse impact. When such weather does strike, it creates a rapid escalation in emergency calls for service that put a severe strain on the emergency response resources of Chesterfield Fire Department. Presently, the department does not have a comprehensive response policy that enables its personnel to manage the extraordinary problems and demands for resources that severe weather can cause.

The purpose of this applied research project is to develop a model policy and standard operating guidelines for the department using the information presented in the Executive Analysis of Fire Department Operations in Emergency Management course. This study used the historical, evaluative, and action research methods to answer the following questions:




  1. How vulnerable is Chesterfield County to severe weather, i.e., thunderstorms, hurricanes, tornados, etc.?

  2. How does severe weather affect the number of calls for service received by the department?




  1. What policies and procedures does Chesterfield Fire Department currently have in place for response and emergency operations during severe weather?

  2. What training do Chesterfield Fire Department officers receive for response and emergency operations before, during, and after severe weather and how well prepared do they feel they are for such operations?

  3. What are benchmarks for response to severe storm emergencies exist that could enable Chesterfield Fire Department to make its operations more safe, effective, and efficient?

This study used a survey to assess the attitudes of company officers (lieutenants and captains) and middle managers (senior battalion chiefs, battalion chiefs, and senior captains) regarding their ability to manage problems and resources during severe weather operations. The survey was distributed to 86 fire officers of those ranks.

The study findings indicated that a majority of officers have a high level of confidence in their training and ability to manage the consequences of severe weather. Those findings seem to be at odds with the department’s lack of a policy, and the necessary training, that covers such key area of severe storm response as: (1) situational assessment, i.e., “windshield surveys”; (2) development of formal incident objectives; (3) comprehensive resource management; (4) safety issues related to severe storms; and (5) an expanded ICS structure.


The recommendations of the research were for the department to: (1) adopt a comprehensive and systematic policy for emergency operations at severe storm emergencies; (2); (2) provide severe storm response policy training to all personnel; (3) provide basic training on the use of Doppler Radar imagery and visual weather forecasting techniques to all personnel; (4) identify a better methodology for the recall of off-duty personnel; (5) make improvements to the department’s current ICS policy; and (6) equip reserve fleet apparatus for rapid deployment during storm response when off-duty or staff personnel have been recalled.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

APPENDICES

FIGURES


Figure 1. Risk/Frequency Analysis of Policy and Procedure (Graham, 1997). 41



Figure 2. Risk Management to ensure proper conduct at incidents (Graham, 1997) 41

Figure 2. Risk Management to ensure proper conduct at incidents (Graham, 1997) 42

Figure 3. Incident Complex Organization (FEMA, 1994, p.3-22) 51

Figure 4. Area Command Organization (FEMA, 1994, p. 3-22). 51

Figure 5. Battalion Command Team. (Palm Beach Fire Rescue, 1999). 53

Figure 6. Department Command Team. (Palm Beach County Fire Rescue, 1999). 53
Figure 7. Tornado of August 6, 1993. Comparison of calls for service vs. 6-day average for time period 1330 hours to 1730 hours. 76

Figure 8. Micro-burst of March 8, 1995. Comparison of calls for service vs. 6-day average for time period 1730 hours to 2330 hours. 77

Figure 9. Tropical Storm Fran, September 6, 1996. Comparison of calls for service vs. 6-day average, 0100 hours to 1900 hours. 78

TABLES

INTRODUCTION

Fire Departments in the United States form the backbone of the nation’s ability to respond to emergency incidents caused by severe weather and other natural phenomena. From earthquakes in California, to tornados in the Midwest, to hurricanes in Florida, firefighters are there to manage the consequences of severe weather. Even before the wind stops blowing or the rain stops falling, firefighters begin working on the tasks necessary to help their communities recover from the devastation wrought by “Mother Nature.” From searching destroyed buildings for survivors, to clearing streets and roads of trees and debris, to treating the injured, firefighters start taking care of the critical tasks long before other resources can arrive.

Though the fire service has accepted this role, and the public has come to expect such disaster response from fire departments, most departments receive very little additional resources to help meet the extraordinary challenges presented when severe weather strikes. In most communities, the same level of resources, that are in most cases only adequate for daily response requirements, must somehow be “stretched” to meet demands for services that encompass an entire community at once.

Severe weather does not need to be of the magnitude of a tornado or hurricane to have a significant impact on a fire department’s operation. Spring and summer thunderstorms packing strong winds, lightning, torrential rains, or any combination of the three, can create a significant increase in calls for service in a short period of time. This rapid influx of calls puts a severe strain on a fire department’s resources as fire officers and firefighters try to manage multiple incidents occurring simultaneously, or several significant incidents.


Severe weather can create conditions that make response too hazardous for responders (strong winds, lightning, downed powerlines, etc.); block ordinary response routes with trees and building debris.

Experience has shown that fire departments must recognize the special operations that they must employ when responding to emergencies caused by severe weather. Departments that respond safely, effectively, and efficiently to emergencies brought on by severe weather do so because of preplanning, specialized training, and standard operating guidelines that clearly delineate the different methodologies that will be used to manage hazards and resources.

The problem examined in this Applied Research Project is that Chesterfield Fire Department has no system for managing the extraordinary demands for service that a severe storm can enact upon its resources. The department’s present adverse weather policy is inadequate and provides no strategic direction to the department’s middle and upper managers to aid them in conducting fire department operations during such events. The purpose of this applied research project is to develop a model policy and standard operating guidelines for the department using the information presented in the Executive Analysis of Fire Department Operations in Emergency Management course. This study used the historical, evaluative, and action research methods to answer the following questions:


  1. How vulnerable is Chesterfield County to severe weather, i.e., thunderstorms, hurricanes, tornados, etc.?

  2. How does severe weather affect the number of calls for service received by the department?




  1. What policies and procedures does Chesterfield Fire Department currently have in place for response and emergency operations during severe weather?

  2. What training do Chesterfield Fire Department officers receive for response and emergency operations before, during, and after severe weather and how well prepared do they feel they are for such operations?

  3. What are benchmarks for response to severe storm emergencies exist that could enable Chesterfield Fire Department to make its operations more safe, effective, and efficient?

BACKGROUND AND SIGNIFICANCE

Chesterfield County, Virginia

Chesterfield County is a suburban county that borders Virginia's capital city, Richmond, to the south. The County encompasses 446 square miles and has an estimated population of 260,000 residents. The governing body is a five-member Board of Supervisors with each member representing one of five magisterial districts. A County Administrator, appointed by the Board, manages the daily operations of the County.



Chesterfield Fire Department

Chesterfield Fire Department provides emergency and non-emergency services to the public using a combination career/volunteer system. The Department provides a full range of emergency responses services to County citizens including: fire suppression, emergency medical services, hazardous materials response, water rescue, and technical rescue. In addition, the Department also provides non-emergency services such as injury prevention education, fire safety inspections, building code reviews, fire brigade training to local industry, etc.


The Department uses a career staff of 370 officers and firefighters and a volunteer staff of 250 officers and firefighters to operate seventeen engine companies and five truck companies from seventeen fire stations. Six stations are staffed entirely by career personnel, and one by volunteer personnel; the remaining ten stations are operated by a career/volunteer staff. Each platoon has eighty-six firefighters and Company Officers assigned for fire station staffing. The Deputy Chief of Operations provides management and leadership to a three-platoon system that has a Senior Battalion Chief responsible for each of the three platoons.

Each Senior Battalion Chief has two Battalion Chiefs (North and South Battalions) and a Senior Captain that make up their battalion staff for daily operations of the platoon. The Senior Battalion Chief also has battalion level responsibilities for the Central Battalion, the smallest of the three battalions with three stations.

The Deputy Chief of Support Services is responsible for management of the Training and Safety Division, the Fire and Life Safety Division, the Maintenance and Logistics Division, the Information Services Division, and the Administrative Services Division.

Vulnerability

Chesterfield County is in the coastal plain and Piedmont sections of east-central Virginia. It is bounded on the north by the City of Richmond (the fall line that separates the Piedmont and coastal sections of Virginia) and Henrico County. The County is bounded on the east by Henrico and Charles City counties; on the west by Amelia and Powhatan counties; and on the south by Dinwiddie, Prince George, and Amelia counties. The James River forms the northern boundary and the Appomattox River forms the southern boundary.


The Central Virginia region, and Chesterfield County, have a history of severe weather. The presence of two major eastward flowing rivers provides a strong conduit for severe weather that typically approaches from the west. According to the National Weather Service Office in Wakefield, Virginia the region has a thirty-year average of 36.5 days per year with thunderstorm activity. The most favorable time of year for thunderstorm development is early spring to late summer. (William Sampler, personal communication, October 14, 1999). For the Central Virginia Region, Table 1 illustrates thunderstorm incidents that produced damaging winds (Chesterfield County Emergency Operations Plan, Basic Plan, Part I, August 5, 1997).



Windspeed

40-49 MPH



50-59 MPH

60-69 MPH

70-79 MPH

80-89 MPH

90+ MPH





# of Incidents

2230


278

102


36

12

6







Fatalities

9

0



0

0

0



0





Injuries

135


5

15

6



0

8


Table 1. Incidents of Damaging Wind, 1/1/55 through 12/31/95

For the same region, Table 2 illustrates thunderstorm incidents that produced significant hail (Chesterfield County Emergency Operations Plan, Part 1, Basic Plan, August 5, 1997).




Hail Size

0.75"

1.0"

1.5"

2.0"

3.0"

4.0"

Total



# of Incidents

297

191

223

66

4

1

782



Fatalities

0

0

0

0

0

0

0



Injuries

0

0

0

0

0

0

0



Table . Incidents of Hail-Producing Storms, 1/1/55 through 12/31/95

Table 3 illustrates the number of tornado segments that the region experienced from 1950 through 1995 (Chesterfield County Emergency Operations Plan, Basic Plan, Part I, August 5, 1997). A tornado segment is a term used to describe the often “spotty” or “segmented” path that a tornado may take. Each time the funnel cloud “drops down” and creates damage constitutes another segment. Each segment may create damage that falls into a different category on the Fujita-Pearson Tornado Scale used to rate the destructiveness of a tornado (Tim Armstrong, personal communication, November 16, 1999).

Tornado Scale

F0

F1

F2

F3

F4

F5

Total



# of Incidents

117

184

87

31

9

0

428



Fatalities

0

2

4

25

6

0

37



Injuries

18

76

90

152

278

0

614


Table . Tornado Segments, 1/1/50 through 12/31/95

As part of the Central Virginia Region, Chesterfield County has experienced its share of this severe weather over the years. Table 3 contains a listing of the significant weather events that have resulted from thunderstorm activity in the county or in the region that affected the county, i.e., flooding on the James or Appomattox rivers due to rain upstream in their respective river basins (Chesterfield County Emergency Operations Plan, Basic Plan, Part I, August 5, 1997).


Date

Event



1969

Hurricane Camille



1970

Flooding from hurricane remnants



1972

Hurricane Agnes



1984

Flooding from hurricane remnants



1985

Flooding from Hurricane Juan



1989

Microburst



1990

Tornado



1990

Tornado



1993

Tornado



1995

Microburst



1996

Tropical Storm Fran



1999

Hurricane Floyd



Table . Severe Weather History, Chesterfield County, 1969-1999

The county has been relatively fortunate in that the consequences of these storms have, for the most part been minimal. With the exceptions of Hurricane’s Camille and Agnes, the impact on life and property has been very small when compared to the devastation that a tornado or hurricane is capable of inflicting on a community. For the most part the small tornados and microbursts (small, powerful straight-line windstorms) have struck only small portions of the county.





When severe weather does strike the county it has a significant impact on the number of calls for service that are received by the county’s Emergency Communications Center. Table 5 shows the call data for five selected storms that have occurred in the past ten years (Computer Aided Dispatch System Archive Records, October, 1999).

Severe Weather Event

Area Affected

# of Fire Calls

# of EMS Calls

Hazardous Condition Calls

Public Service Calls

Fire Alarm Activations




Micro-burst, 5/6/89, 1600-2300 hrs.



Dale and Matoaca Districts

63

12

39

16

2



Tornado / Thunderstorm, 8/6/93, 1330-1730 hrs.

Matoaca District

29

16

13

6

3



Micro-burst, 3/8/95, 1730-2330 hrs.

Cloverhill District

75

15

23

34

5



Tropical Storm Fran, 9/6/96

County-wide

325

30

116

127

22


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