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Sedona Fire District Fire Inspector Gary Johnson e-mailed a list of the district’s unique buildings to SFD firefighters the morning after nine firefighters were killed battling a blaze in Charleston, S.C.
By Trista Steers
Larson Newspapers

Sedona Fire District Fire Inspector Gary Johnson e-mailed a list of the district’s unique buildings to SFD firefighters the morning after nine firefighters were killed battling a blaze in Charleston, S.C.

Each building listed possesses features that could potentially provide challenges for firefighters, such as collapse, if a blaze were to break out.

Johnson also asked them, “Would you know what to do?”

A fire in a furniture store in Charleston, S.C., killed nine firefighters Monday, June 18. The tragedy forced SFD to look in its own back yard.

“We [firefighters] do our best to go out and inspect each and every commercial

establishment once a year,” SFD firefighter Matt Robertson said. It’s beneficial to walk the floor, examine the ceiling’s height and get a feel for where things are before an emergency.

Johnson identified eight buildings throughout the district firefighters should be familiar with, including Enchantment Resort’s conference center and maintenance facility, Red Planet Diner and Designs West.

“It’s important to be proactive rather than reactive,” Johnson said.

Enchantment’s conference center and maintenance facility is a two-story building built deeply into a hillside. If crews entered on the first floor and had to work in the buried end of the building, they would have limited exit options if needed.

Red Planet Diner, built in the 1970s, has a basement, as does Designs West.

Basements aren’t common in the district, Johnson said, and they can be hazardous if a fire breaks out in one. Few doorways and windows limit access. Storage, a common basement use, creates clutter making it hard for crews to maneuver.

From Tuesday to Thursday, June 19 to 21, SFD participated in an annual national Safety Stand Down to promote general safety in fire service. The Stand Down is sponsored by the International Association of Fire Chiefs, International Association of Firefighters and IAFC Volunteers and Combination

Officers Section.

“Because of the events that occurred in Charleston, that’s become the primary topic,” Johnson said.

SFD Fire Chief Matt Shobert said the district does as much prevention as possible to minimize risk in the line of duty.

“It’s a dangerous business to begin with,” Shobert said.

SFD does everything it can to keep crews safe, SFD Capt. Paul Lindfors said, but the job isn’t anything to be scared of.

“We knew the job before we asked to do the job,” Lindfors said.

There are many occupations that are more dangerous, according to Lindfors, but when firefighters die, it stands out because they were trying to save lives or buildings.

“We’re just working,” Lindfors said. “It’s a profession that we love.”

The risk is there, but firefighters learn to manage it. Firefighters risk a lot to save a lot, Lindfors said. They risk a little to save a little and risk nothing to save nothing.

“I’m sure these firefighters were risking a lot to save a lot,” Lindfors said.

According to news reports, the Charleston firefighters rescued two employees from the burning furniture store.

Along with training, equipment is used to keep SFD firefighters safe on the job, Shobert said. These equipment purchases — most recently a 100-foot ladder truck — sometimes generate questions from the public.

“It’s just a much safer piece of equipment and I think the investment is worth the enhancement to safety,” Shobert said.

Shobert does not want SFD to suffer a loss like the one in Charleston, he said.

“The last thing I want to do as a fire chief is speak at a firefighter’s funeral whose death I could have prevented,” Shobert said.

While Robertson and Lindfors said they don’t dwell on potential risks, it’s in the back of their minds.

“I try not to think too much about the danger,” Robertson said. “I know it’s there.”

Every morning, crews coming on shift meet with their captains to discuss the day’s goals.

“We want everyone to go home” safely at the end of the shift is one thing Lindfors tells them.

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