During many types of emergencies in the City of Elmira, the Elmira Fire Department is the first to respond to the scene. The Chemung County 911 Communications Center dispatches the Elmira Fire Department after collecting information from the caller and passing it on to the responding units. The Elmira Police Department secures the scene to allow for the easy and unrestricted access of EFD personnel in potentially hazardous situations. Each on duty apparatus is equipped with a semi-automatic defibrillator, airway kits, trauma kits, and other vital emergency medical equipment. Firefighters are also trained in certain advanced life support techniques. No matter what the emergency, the EFD and its personnel are trained to deliver the high quality medical and rescue services that the City of Elmira needs.
Any time the Elmira Fire Department responds to a reported structure fire, all available on-duty resources are dispatched to the scene. This often includes two pumper apparatus, one aerial apparatus and the incident commander; with personnel response of approximately ten firefighters. If some resources are tied up at other emergencies, they respond as soon as they are relieved at the scene. In worst case scenarios when resources are tied up, additional companies are called in from off-duty. The Elmira Fire Department will also utilize mutual aid from surrounding volunteer departments.
The Fire Department will use information from the 911 Communications Center at the time of the alarm and en route to the structure to decide how to respond to the situation. If there is an occupant reported trapped in a structure fire, the first arriving company may not hook up to a hydrant but instead proceed directly to the structure to attempt a rescue. This is the one instance in which firefighters are allowed to enter a structure without backup support on the scene. Firefighters would then advance a hoseline using water from the 500 gallon tank on the pumper to attempt to rescue the victim. The next arriving units would then establish a water supply from a hydrant.
As with any occupation, firefighting has its share of regulations that have to be followed. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has mandatory rules that firefighters must adhere to when fighting a structure fire. One of the most important regulations is the “two in, two out” regulation. This means that before two firefighters can enter a structure, there must be two firefighters on the scene as backup. The only exception is for the purpose of saving a life. Another rule requires that anytime a firefighter enters an IDLH (Immediate danger to life and health) atmosphere (such as the poisonous atmosphere inside a burning structure), they must use what’s called the “buddy system”. You and your partner must remain in visual or voice contact with one another at all times while in the IDLH atmosphere. In certain circumstances, heavy smoke conditions, zero visibility and high background noise levels may require that firefighters be no more than a few feet from each other.
Firefighters can encounter several hazards while searching for victims or advancing hose lines. Firefighters typically move through a structure on their hands and knees. This is done for stability and weight distribution. It’s also much cooler at this level. Even using this technique, firefighters have fallen through holes in floors, down unprotected open elevator shafts and stairwells. The best way to avoid these obstacles is to improve visibility by removing the windows.
Conditions on the fireground can deteriorate rapidly. Rapid fire progression, roof or wall collapse, back draft or flashover can occur. Every firefighter is responsible to recognize and report these conditions to the Incident Commander or the Safety Officer. Under such conditions the Incident Commander will order the building evacuated by contacting all interior crews by radio followed by sounding three long blasts on the air horn. This is the signal to get out and get out now. At that time an accountability check will be performed to ensure everyone is out. The attack on the fire then becomes a defensive operation with hose streams being applied from outside of the building. If conditions improve an interior attack may sometimes be resumed.
Many factors enter into the decision on how to fight a fire. These decisions are made by the Incident Commander (IC). The IC is normally a Deputy Chief and is identified by the white helmet. You can normally find the IC at the front of the building. There, the IC will coordinate all activities on the fireground through either direct supervision or delegation. The IC will, assess the incident by considering such things as: “What is the life safety hazard?” “What are my exposures?” “What is the risk to the firefighters fighting the fire?”
Firefighters will assume a lot more risk when attacking a fire involving several occupants versus an abandoned or unoccupied building. Economical impact on the community can also enter into the equation. No one will be out of work if your garage burns down, however a fire at a business that employs a large number of people could prove devastating. All fire department tactics boil down to essentially: what is to be gained by what is to be risked? Sometimes the Fire Department is faced with a no win situation. In these instances sometimes doing nothing is the best decision. Firefighters will lay their life on the line for you, but not for your building.
When the fire has been brought under control and extinguished, the Fire Department will begin salvage operations. If the building is uninhabitable, it will be posted by the Fire Marshal and the individuals who live there will be assisted with finding temporary housing. Oftentimes, the Salvation Army Disaster Response Vehicle and other community agencies will be called in to assist families who have lost everything they own. Finally, the IC will clear the scene and the apparatus will return to duty. Fire investigators will come in and attempt to determine the origin of the fire and refer the case to the Police Department when a fire has been intentionally set.
Recovering from the aftermath of a fire can be very difficult. The Elmira Fire Department has prepared the booklet, After the Fire, to assist you in recovering from the tragedy of your losses. It provides information about insurance, cleaning up, and explains ways to recover precious photos and memories.
Download the After The Fire booklet
All Elmira Fire Department apparatus are staffed with Emergency Medical Technician – D’s. They are often dispatched to emergencies such as:
Fire Department EMTs perform basic life support measures either prior to an ambulances arrival or simultaneously with advanced life support measures from Erway Ambulance. EMTs can perform defibrillation of a patient in cardiac arrest along with other supportive treatment such as CPR with the delivery of 100% oxygen via a bag valve mask. EMTs are trained to stop bleeding, splint fractures, assist ventilations, perform emergency child birth, remove foreign body airway obstructions, perform basic airway management techniques and other life saving procedures.
The Elmira Fire Department is dispatched for motor vehicle accidents (MVA) with injuries. The 911 Communications Center will usually dispatch one apparatus with three firefighters for a standard MVA. The dispatcher will continue to provide information regarding the accident while the fire department is in route to the scene of the accident. The Elmira Police Department works hand in hand with the fire department assisting with traffic management, accident documentation and manpower if the situation dictates. If the situation is serious or involves incidents such as rollover, entrapment, vehicle into a building, or multiple vehicles involved, the fire officer on the scene will call for additional companies to respond. At the same time the Fire Department is responding to a call, Erway Ambulance Service is also dispatched to provide additional medical treatment, and if necessary, transport to the hospital.
Once on the scene of an accident, firefighters will secure a scene by neutralizing fuel spills, isolating downed power lines, and taking care of any other potential hazards. Once a scene is safe to operate in, firefighters will begin extrication if necessary with the use of hydraulic tools and treat patients until the arrival of an ambulance. Many times some or all of these operations can occur simultaneously.
If you smell the presence of natural gas in your home or business report it immediately by dialing 911 from a phone other than one in the affected structure. Evacuate the building immediately taking care not to do anything that could cause a spark. Windows and doors that are left open will help keep the gas from building up to explosive levels. Meet the fire department several houses away from where the problem is. Flag them down as they arrive. The apparatus will usually park several houses away from the building. Every year people and firefighters are injured or killed across the country as the result of natural gas explosions. Due to the inherent high risk of responding to this type of emergency, necessary precautions must be taken.
Advise the officer on the scene of anything you know about the situation including: severity of leak, location of leak, location of gas meter, whether the building has been evacuated and if everyone is accounted for, and whether or not windows were left open. Natural gas is lighter than air and will exit out of open windows at the highest level of the structure making it difficult for the gas to reach its explosive limit.
The Fire Department will use specialized equipment to measure the amount of natural gas and whether it is close to its explosive range. A minimum number of firefighters will proceed into the structure wearing turnout gear and self contained breathing apparatus (SCBA). Firefighters will attempt to shut off the gas, eliminate ignition sources, and ventilate the building. If the situation requires, firefighters may instead choose to abandon the building and evacuate occupants of nearby buildings until the arrival of the utility company.
The Fire Department will be dispatched to reports of “wires down”. These wires may be cable lines, phone lines or power lines. The Fire Department treats all wires as if they were energized until it can be ascertained that they are not.
You should stay as far back as you can from any wire that has fallen from a utility pole. Electricity can travel quite a distance through the ground and across other materials. If you are in a vehicle that has struck a utility pole, stay in the vehicle until the wires can be safely removed by authorized personnel unless there is an immediate hazard from staying in the vehicle. The fire department will never attempt to remove power lines without the assistance of the utility company. If the vehicle is on fire and you must exit it, do this by jumping clear of the car in the opposite direction of the wires and make sure you do not make contact with the car and the ground at the same time. In other words, jump with both feet at the same time, then shuffle away, don’t run.
In instances where there is no immediate threat to life the Fire Department will normally secure the area around the wires with caution tape until the utility company arrives. In some instances, wires will arc when the wind blows and they contact tree branches. In this case when there is no immediate threat to life, the Fire Department will notify NYSEG and may clear the scene in order to respond to other emergencies.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration defines a confined space as a space that is large enough and so configured that an employee can bodily enter and perform assigned work and has limited or restricted means for entry or exit. Examples of these would be tanks, silos, storage bins, hoppers, underground vaults and pits to name a few. Workers enter these spaces each day throughout the city and county to perform various activities such as the repair and maintenance of water and gas mains, telecommunication lines and other equipment. Prior to entering these spaces, workers use sophisticated monitoring devices to test for atmospheric hazards such as carbon monoxide, hydrogen sulfide and decreased oxygen. With the exception of hydrogen sulfide, many of these hazards are not readily detectable by sight or smell. Entering a confined space without proper pre-entry monitoring can prove to be fatal. When accidents occur, emergency services are typically summoned. Whether vertical or horizontal rescue is needed the Elmira Fire Department is trained and equipped to handle most confined space emergencies.
The Elmira Fire Department is always prepared to provide assistance to the people of the City of Elmira. Our professionally trained and highly dedicated staff is always ready to put their lives on the line for the greater good. If you know or meet one of our heroes of Elmira, please remember to say “Thank You”. It will mean the world to us.