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Update: Six Tom Brennan Lifetime Award Winners Speak About Firefighter Air Replenishment Systems

As More Cities Adopt Appendix L,
It Seems the Fire Service is Listening to its Best and Brightest

by Joseph D. Rush III, MS, EFO

This article was originally published in 2017 and was updated and edited by the Firefighter Air Coalition for publication in 2021.

Last summer in Indianapolis, IN, Fire Engineering Magazine chose Captain Mike Dugan (FDNY, ret.) as the recipient of the 2021 FDIC Tom Brennan Lifetime Achievement Award. As a firefighter, Captain Dugan responded to both attacks on the World Trade Center, and was famously pictured hanging the American flag in front of the burning debris on 9-11.  FDNY awarded Captain Dugan two of its highest honors:  the James Gordon Bennett Medal in 1992 and the Harry M. Archer Medal in 1993, the FDNY’s highest award for bravery.

Now retired, Captain Dugan is a popular instructor at FDIC and a contributing editor to Fire Engineering magazine. He is also on the FDIC and Fire Engineering executive advisory boards, and a featured lecturer around the country on topics dealing with truck company operations, building construction, and today’s fire service.

With the 2021 award, Dugan joined an ever-increasing list of Tom Brennan Lifetime Achievement Award winners who have distinguished themselves amidst their peers. Collectively, these fire service icons share a common bond in their desire to improve our profession and their success in pushing the fire service forward, one small change at a time.

And several of the Brennan award winners also share a common cause: each has been a vocal advocate for firefighter air replenishment systems (FARS).  FARS are a standpipe for air, permanently installed in a building, that allow firefighters to refill their SCBA in two minutes or less under full respiration.

Over the past few years, Captain Dugan has spoken passionately about the need for FARS, even joining the board of the Firefighter Air Coalition, an air management advocacy group that promotes the adoption of codes requiring FARS in high-rises and other structures. You can watch him speak to the importance of providing air re-supply in large buildings here.

He’s in good company.

Fire Chief Rick Lasky (ret.) is the 2017 Tom Brennan Award winner. Chief Lasky is a second-generation firefighter and 36-year veteran of the fire service. Starting as a line firefighter and firefighter-paramedic, he rose through the ranks, serving as a company officer, training officer, and command-level officer. He has written more than 200 fire-related articles, two best-selling books, and co-hosts the radio talk show “The Command Post.”  He is also an active advocate for FARS.  Watch Rick Lasky talk about FARS here.

One of the earliest and most vocal champions of FARS is 2014 Tom Brennan Award recipient Ronny J. Coleman. Over his more than 50-year career, the former California State Fire Marshal has only pushed for two changes to the International Fire Code: the requirement of residential fire sprinklers and FARS.

Coleman’s first introduction to FARS came from his fire marshal while he was the interim fire chief of Fremont, CA. Coleman says his first reaction was, “What a great solution to a vexing problem!”

Since then, Chief Coleman spent more than a decade as an advocate for FARS, writing the first FARS training manual and producing the first FARS training video.

Another early supporter of FARS was 2001 Tom Brennan Award recipient Alan Brunacini, the legendary Fire Chief in Phoenix, AZ. Near the end of Brunacini’s tenure as chief, Phoenix firefighter Brett Tarver ran out of air, became disoriented, and died in a fire at the Southwest Supermarket.

FARS technology was relatively new at the time, but Phoenix wrote and adopted one of the first FARS codes in the country as part of the department’s “never again” strategy.

Brunacini says when he first saw the system, he backed it right away. “It was a no brainer,” he said. “What isn’t there to like about it?”

Brunacini found a unique way to communicate the need for air, and a FARS code, to the numerous stakeholders involved in high-rise building codes and health and safety in Phoenix. He told the story during a presentation at the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation (NFFF) Technology Summit.

“In a couple of discussions we had with people who were dragging their feet,” Brunacini said, “my response to them was, ‘It’s going to take us a few minutes to come to a decision here — let’s all just hold our breath. Because that’s what we’re doing, two football fields up in the air.'”

Phoenix was experiencing explosive growth at the time, with larger, taller, and more complex buildings coming to the city.  With Brunacini’s advocacy, a FARS requirement was added to their fire code in 2004. “It wasn’t much more complicated than that,” he said.

A number of cities in the Phoenix metropolitan area followed suit and adopted FARS codes. To date, more than 90 buildings in Maricopa County are equipped with FARS, including mid- and high-rises and large horizontal structures like big-box retail buildings and manufacturing plants.

Lasky’s initial reaction to FARS was similar to that of Coleman and Brunacini: “The concept is phenomenal. Finally, someone has come up with a great idea.” He adds that the reaction to FARS from his colleagues familiar with the system has been very positive.

The 2012 Brennan Award recipient, International Fire Protection Consultant and High-Rise Fire Safety Expert Jack Murphy, stumbled upon the system in Sacramento, CA at the FDIC West Conference in 2000. Murphy’s hotel was equipped with a FARS, and he was so intrigued he contacted the Fire Marshal for an explanation of what the system does and how it works. Murphy has been sold on FARS ever since, writing on FARS technology for numerous publications and lecturing on FARS at conferences across the country.  Watch him talk about FARS here.

A few years later, Murphy introduced FARS to 2016 Brennan Award winner Jerry Tracy at the same conference.

Tracy recognized the value of FARS immediately. As an FDNY Battalion Chief (ret.) he fought more than his share of high-rise fires. He notes that “the majority of fire departments throughout the nation have limited resources,” and they cannot afford to waste time and energy shuttling SCBA bottles up and down stairs and deep into large horizontal structures.

FARS, he says, “alleviates that physical aspect of operations” and in turn “provides additional personnel for the efforts of suppression.”  Watch Jerry Tracy talk about FARS here.

Lasky’s summation is both simplistic and profound. “You don’t have to refill your tools, once you have them up there, you have them there. This is not the case with SCBAs. Their usefulness is limited and often dependent upon the availability of addition resources. Not everybody has the staffing.”

Coleman agrees, explaining that the job of any fire protection system is “reducing a fire problem down to the point where we can handle it with our available staffing and resources.”

After more than a decade and a half since their introduction, FARS have been installed in buildings across 20 states nationwide and is codified in Appendix L of the ICC International Fire Code, which has been adopted in hundreds of jurisdictions. Earlier this year, the North Central Texas Council of Governments (NCTCOG) recommended that all of its 230-member governments adopt Appendix L, the FARS code.  More than 25 cities in Texas already require FARS.

This comes as no surprise to Coleman, who says we in the fire service are notoriously slow to accept change. “It can take 20 years to be an overnight success in the fire service,” Coleman says. He should know. He and Murphy were instrumental in securing FARS’ inclusion in Appendix L of the International Fire Code in 2015, and only now are FARS code adoptions at the tipping point of fire service acceptance. The next generation of visionary fire chiefs and progressive city management are seeing the value of FARS and the number of cities requiring FARS is growing fast.

As Coleman says, “Any built-in technology put in a building to increase the effectiveness of the fire ground operations is a step in the right direction.”

Dugan, Lasky, Coleman, Brunacini, Murphy, and Tracy all agree that FARS fits the bill and they believe FARS should be required in all new mid- and high-rises, tunnels, and large big box-style structures.

And with so many Tom Brennan Lifetime Achievement Award recipients speaking, the fire service is listening.

JOSEPH D. RUSH III, MS, EFO, is a battalion chief (ret.) and 25-year veteran of the Atlantic City, NJ, Fire Department. He holds a bachelor’s degree from LaSalle University, a master’s degree from Saint Joseph’s University and is a graduate of the National Fire Academy’s Executive Fire Officer Program. Rush currently works as an adjunct instructor at the Atlantic County, NJ, Fire Academy.

THE FIREFIGHTER AIR COALITION (FAC) is an advocacy group dedicated to promoting firefighter safety through the use of air management best practices, advanced fireground research, and the adoption of codes requiring firefighter air replenishment systems (FARS). Comprised by leaders from the fire service, industry, and government, the FAC is the nation’s leading advocate for the full implementation of the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) Standard 1404, “The Rule of Air Management,” and the adoption and implementation of International Fire Code Appendix L, which outlines the requirements for FARS.

aircoalition.org

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