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Fire departments to standardize firefighter identifications

By Steve Herring
Published in News on May 23, 2012 1:46 PM

One of the newest pieces of safety equipment for Wayne County firefighters isn't a state-of-the-art truck or turnout gear -- it's a simple identification card.

Actually, the cards have been around for years, but over time a lack of standardization has resulted in a hodge-podge of designs and shapes. Some of the county fire departments don't have any, some have dog tags, some cards are vertical, while others are horizontal, said Randy Gray, Faro fire chief and president of the Wayne County Firemen's Association.

All that is standard are the color codes -- red for support staff who stay outside a burning building, blue for officers and green for firefighters who can enter a burning building.

The association, which boasts approximately 1,200 members, including the association's ladies auxiliary and firefighters from the city of Goldsboro, Seymour Johnson Air Force Base and Forestry Service, will pay for the initial setup cost for the new cards, estimated to be between $9,000 and $10,000, until July 1.

"That sounds like a lot of money, but if it saves one person's life -- accountability is the main thing on a fire scene," said Chris Gurley, Belfast fire chief and association standards committee chairman. "You have got to be able to account for somebody."

Any cards printed after July 1 would be paid for by the individual departments, Gray said.

"But even at that point it is only going to cost $5 a man," said Steve Mozingo, Elroy fire chief and standards committee member.

Several departments have the capability of printing the cards, but to ensure uniformity, it was decided that the cards would be printed by one department only -- Elroy -- Gray said.

Each firefighter will receive two color-coded cards that will have a photo of the firefighter and the department's identification number on the front and personal information on the back.

"Everybody's will be the same," Gray said. "They will have the same card. Their photos will be in the same spot. The fire department's name will be in the same place."

"One card is pretty much to keep in a wallet so if they come up on a scene that we have controlled access to they will have it (card)," Gurley said. "The other is with their turnout gear so that they will have it when they check in (at a scene). It will have a protective coating and chain similar to a dog tags used in the military."

The project was unanimously approved by association members, Gray said.

Another problem has been the color-coded tag-in boards that firefighters attach their ID cards to when they arrive on a scene.

Approximately half of the county's 28 fire departments have the boards that were adopted by the association years ago, but some are different from the others, Mozingo said.

Each department will get a tag-in board as well.

When a firefighter comes on a scene they clip their card to the board. The board is color coded as well -- red, blue and green -- and represents the various sides of a building, including the interior.

"Basically the whole thing behind it is firefighter safety and being able to identify where your people are at any time on a fire scene," Mozingo said. "The biggest reason for this is that on a fire scene you have got to be able to keep up with your people. That is number one.

"If a person goes interior you take that person (card) and place it on the interior (section of the board). If you have a collapse the commander should be able to take a look at that board and say, 'OK. I have got five people inside. This is who we are looking for. If they are not accounted for then we have got to go find them.'"

The issue was brought home several months ago during a a large area search training session the Goldsboro Fire Department held at the old Masons department store on North William Street.

The session included city and surrounding fire departments. The city used the tag-in board it had and borrowed another because there were so many firefighters they could not all be kept up with on one board, Gray said.

"The biggest problem they found, they could keep up with the people, but you had so many different tags that they were really having (problems) reading the tags," Mozingo said. "The dog tag is small. You can't read what department he is with. The system worked. It just had a minor flaw -- the ID tags. The system works. We just need to make it work better."

"User friendly," Gray said. "Safety is our number one issue and to make sure that people go home. Like I am at Smith Chapel and come up on a wreck and the chief down there knows me and say, 'Randy take care of manpower.' Well, I go to his truck and I get his board out and it is just like the one I have at Faro."

The standards committee, and other association committees, are made up of fire departments from across the county, Gray said.

"We have always had standards across the county as far as the Firemen's Association for the fire departments," Gray said. "We are just trying now, as an association, to revamp our standards, bring them up to date."