Firefighters Have New Awareness After September 11, 2001

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(Sacramento, CA)
Sunday, September 10, 2006
A bright red, rescue engine is backing into Citrus Heights fire station number 21.   In the front seat is Captain Brian Rice, returning safely from another call with his four man crew.  Captain Rice doesn’t know what he’ll find when he gets called out these days.  He only knows he has a new standard to live up to:
Those New York City firefighters certainly stood the full measure of men and women in public safety. I guess that is the benchmark.  If I get called to do something that extreme, I’d want to measure up.
Not only has Captain Rice’s mindset changed, he says procedures and equipment have changed for Sacramento Metro firefighters since nine-eleven. 
For ourselves, we carry, anti-nerve gas antidote.  I mean this is America, this is Sacramento, California, who would have thought we would be preparing for stuff like that.
In fact, Sacramento Metro firefighters are now prepared for a variety of scenarios they never thought they’d have to face.  Fire trucks have special gear to protect firefighters against weapons of mass destruction, says Rice’s counterpart at the station, Captain Walt White:
Each of our engines is equipped with what we refer to as our WMD bag, which provides us some Tyvex suits and some barrier protection, for response to a nuclear, biological or chemical type incident.
And in the years since nine-eleven, White says firefighters have undergone new, disaster training:
We had various scenarios where we had large incidents that would involve a large group of people at an event or a particular gathering, getting contaminated, intentionally contaminated, with some kind of hazard.
Security is also much tighter at the fire station. Rigs are never left unattended and even interns must now go through a rigorous screening process.  White says it’s all necessary, and he’s more aware of the danger of terrorism in his own backyard:
Sacramento is the state capitol and California itself is one of the largest economic areas in the nation, if not the world, so yeah, there’s definitely some concern that Sacramento is a potential target.
But like the firefighters in New York City on nine-eleven, Sacramento Metro Firefighters are dealing with the hazard of an unreliable communications system.
Fire Chief Don Mette says since Sacramento County began an upgrade to the system five months ago, radio communications are so bad, his firefighters can’t even talk to each other at the scene of a one alarm fire:
We still have issues with radios going out – bonking – is what we call ‘em – being busy.  Another issue we have is when we have a lot of portable radios together -- we call it clipping --  when somebody tries to radio out something to dispatch, their communication is kind of garbled, kind of cut.
In response, county officials call the communications set-up a model for the nation.  It includes 10 thousand radios and serves fire, sheriff, police, county, rapid transit, many cities and the airport.  County spokesman Patrick Groff says the communication problems will be fixed within 30 days:
I’m not gonna try to say that we haven’t had some issues, we have.  They’re intermittent, we’ve been identifying them as they happen.  We’re investigating why they’re happening, and working with everybody to get the system back to where it was before we did the upgrade.
Meanwhile, Chief Mette has sent a sharply worded letter to Groff, warning him the situation has become critical to public and firefighter safety.   Mette says he’ll hold county officials liable in court if there are any resulting injuries to firefighters.
Back at Fire Station 21, the firefighters are being called out again -- one of the 12 to 15 calls they answer every day. 
The men pull on their yellow, water proof rescue uniforms, put on their helmets and quickly climb into the truck.
It’s a scene that would have looked the same before September 11th.  But Captain Brian Rice says he and his fellow firefighters don’t feel the way they used to:
It’s kind of changed the way you all, you, think about things.  I’d like to think that September 11th was a once in a lifetime, that we’ll never see that in America again, but I think that’s a naïve thought.
Ellen Ciurczak, KXJZ News.