September 1999


Fire, rescue gear add to Lab’s margin of safety

Firefighter Marty Stooksbury displays the department's new ambulance and rescue truck. Stooksbury is also the fire crew's chaplain.
Last May a semi truck mishandled the curvy Haw Ridge section of Highway 95 and crashed into a ditch. The ORNL Fire Department, situated only a couple of miles away, responded and extricated the driver from the tangled cab with a rescue tool commonly called the “Jaws of Life.”

The firefighters’ set of jaws is one of several pieces of fire and rescue equipment the Lab’s fire department has upgraded this year. According to the department’s manager, David Baity, “The equipment and necessary training that has come with it enable the ORNL Fire Department to provide the high level of emergency service expected from it.”

The fire hall near the west portal is sporting a new ambulance and a new rescue truck. In addition to the Jaws of Life, the firefighters have new air packs, new fire-retardant uniforms, and even new helmets.

“We’ve improved and updated our services and we’d like for the people here to know that,” Baity says. “Over the past couple of years we’ve had tremendous support from Lab management to improve fire and emergency medical services.”

ORNL’s 31 firefighters (11 share duty during business hours and five are on the evening shift) came under ORNL purview from the central organization in 1998. Since then, the Lab has invested in its fire department to the point that it is a confident and highly capable fire and rescue unit.

The new equipment isn’t sitting idle. Baity says that since taking over ambulance services for the Lab, emergency responses have more than doubled—121 so far this calendar year, a 25-percent increase over the same time period last year. Many are emergency medical responses for chest pains and similar ailments, vehicle accidents and fire responses to calls from the many fire alarm systems on-site.

Being a firefighter at a research laboratory with nuclear materials requires some specialization. An emergency condition involving nuclear materials requires certain steps before actual firefighting begins. “If we have an emergency in any nuclear facility, our initial action is to meet with the facility’s operator or manager immediately upon our arrival,” Baity says. “We rely on their expertise. Our initial role is communications—talk to the people with specific knowledge of the facility.”

Number one is 911

What’s the best way to call for help if you are confronted with a fire or medical emergency at the Lab?

“The quickest way to summon help in an emergency situation is by dialing 911 from an ORNL telephone,” says Fire Department Manager David Baity. “Fire department, security, Lab shift superintendent and medical agencies will pick up and listen to your conversation with the dispatcher.”

Baity says the second best thing to do—for any type of emergency not near a phone— is to activate a fire alarm box. “In that fire response, you would also get emergency medical people,” Baity says.

Fire Chief Harold Rose says that all of ORNL’s firefighters are at the state-certified journeyman level or higher, and the majority are emergency medical technicians (EMTs) licensed by the state. The department reports through the Office of Laboratory Protection directed by Don Stallions. The department also works very closely with the Lab’s medical director, who issues medical protocols for patient treatment by EMTs. The ORNL Health Division is very active in supporting ambulance operations, Rose says.

Aside from the usual perceptions of a fire and rescue unit’s day’s work putting out fires and saving lives, the firefighters handle a number of routine tasks around the Laboratory. They test the Lab’s fire alarm systems and its 275 fire sprinkler systems and coordinate their maintenance. They also inspect and maintain the Lab’s 4,000 portable fire extinguishers and offer fire extinguisher training sessions. (Quick quiz: What type of extinguisher—A, B or C—should be used on an electrical fire?)

The department responds to many nonemergency calls for assistance. On evening shifts they have the equipment to handle almost any special task.

The firefighters are supported by two fire alarm electricians from the Plant and Equipment Division and the Office of Lab Protection’s fire protection engineering staff, which does engineering assessments of all major facilities and provides design, building and acceptance input into all new and modified facilities.

The curvy roads around ORNL, along with the Lab’s many ongoing activities, will likely keep the new fire and rescue equipment in frequent use. So what’s been the worst ORNL fire? The 1996 incident at the In Situ Vitrifcation (earth melting) operation was a significant event relative to equipment loss and cleanup, Baity says, adding that in his 16 years with ORNL he’s not seen a “major loss” fire at the Lab.

“We owe our good record to a strong fire safety program that emphasizes prevention and quick intervention,” he says. “Our goal is to identify problems before they become emergencies. People at the Lab are very knowledgeable about fire prevention and do a good job practicing fire safety on a daily basis.”—B.C.

Where’s the fire, buddy?

Lab firefighter has a world-class memorabilia, equipment collection

You might say ORNL Fire Commander Bill Jones has an interest in things about firefighting. He has collected enough memorabilia to stock a museum; in fact, his Loudon County home is a museum in itself, with carefully assembled arrangements of helmets, hose nozzles, alarm boxes, sirens, extinguishers, toys and countless other antiques and collectibles. His prime showpiece is in his garage: A 1942 American La France firetruck that once served the city of Clinton. He’s well along on a refurbishing project. Jones has been collecting firefighting memorabilia since 1992, which is a short time to have assembled and organized such an incredible collection that is, take our word, very colorful, especially if you like red. --Photos by Curtis Boles