Costs slow some changes recommended after FAO Daryl Gordon's death

Posted at 3:52 PM, Aug 07, 2017
and last updated 2017-08-08 08:23:31-04

CINCINNATI -- When Cincinnati firefighter Daryl Gordon died on the job two years ago, officials made lots of recommendations to prevent a similar tragedy.

FAO Daryl Gordon

But two years later only some of those recommendations -- those with little or no cost -- have been put in place. That potentially leaves firefighters at risk.

Gordon died in March 2015 while searching inside a smoke-filled Madisonville apartment building. He was looking for any residents who might have been trapped inside when he fell down an elevator shaft.

Little things going wrong caused Gordon's death. For example, it took 20 minutes to get water on the fire because hoses got caught; Gordon became separated from his crew during the search and rescue and colleagues didn't know he was missing for 10 minutes.

"Our procedures have been reviewed and they've been updated in line with those recommendations," Fire Chief Roy Winston said.

Gordon's death prompted several reports and numerous recommendations from within the department and from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration for ensuring a similar event never happens. Records show some progress has been made in the Cincinnati Fire Department, but there's still a lot of work to do on meeting the recommendations for hiring, training and equipment.

RELATED: Federal report finds firefighter mistakes contributed to FAO Daryl Gordon's death

Winston and firefighters union President Matt Alter both said money is a big concern when it comes to getting everything done. Hiring more trainers and inspectors would cost millions of dollars.

"I think we have to take a step back and realize that we have some critical needs and that we have to do everything possible to keep the firefighters safe and the community safe," Alter said.

Without the money to hire the 11 additional trainer positions -- the department has five -- recommended after Gordon's death, the fire department has been relying on current personnel to help with training, Winston said. And trainers who just finished working with the new recruit class can now focus on incumbent training.

District Chief Greg Potter oversees the training.

"There's new techniques since some of these guys were training 20 to 30 years ago, and we're trying to get everyone back to doing the little things right," he said.

The department also won a $1.2 million grant that will cover costs of training for officers and drivers.

"Without this grant ... I don't think this training would be happening at all," Alter said. "There are just not the funds there to do it."

Other recommendations, like amending standard operating procedures, don't have a high cost, so they have already been implemented.

"I think the fire department, fire administration, has done a good job trying to tackle the ones that are no-cost items, but there are some other ones, whether it's increasing our training staff or even upgrading things that are multi-million dollar projects that -- yes -- there's still a plan in place to deal with them, but they have not come to completion at this point," Winston said.

The department has provided additional radio training for its members and implemented procedural changes for dealing with incidents like Gordon's fall. Operational changes, like sending additional fire engines to "one alarm" responses, have also been made.

Alter blames the budget, not fire department leaders, for the current problems.

"Procedurally, they're working on them," Alter said. "It's working within the confines of our current existing budget -- our current existing fire department."

It's also a challenge to keep the department staffed as firefighters retire. The department has 849 members right now, thanks to a new recruit class. But that barely offsets retirements. Winston said the recruit class of 1984 just retired, taking more than 60 people out of the department. Alter said they expect 30 more retirements next year, and 30 more the year after.

"It's a challenge ... but it's a challenge I think that, if we continue to work with the city administration here, soon hopefully we'll be able to overcome it," Winston said. 

City Manager Harry Black commended the fire department on the steps made so far.

"Ensuring our firefighters have access to enhanced training is of the utmost importance," Black said in a written statement. "I have asked Chief Winston and his team to review and develop a plan to enhance training consistent with the Daryl Gordon report. This may include a phased-in implementation approach as well as identifying and aggressively pursuing grant opportunities along with prioritizing City funding."