Fire Chief Clears the Smoke

A Glendale Fire Department rapid intervention crew was praised in a review of this Jan. 16 blaze, when the team quickly moved to rescue two firefighters who had fallen through the first floor of an apartment building into the basement. One of the rescues is pictured here.
Photo courtesy Glendale Fire Department

As Silvio Lanzas sees it, transparency is a vital part of leadership and professionalism in the firefighting world.
The Glendale fire chief said that’s why he elected to publicly share the department’s summary report of the Jan. 16 response to 140 Carr Drive, an apartment building with a fully developed blaze on the first floor as well as the basement. The response ultimately injured two firefighters, but the four tenants who were inside were rescued — and, most important, there were no fatalities.
“Culturally, one of the things I’m trying to bring to the Glendale Fire Department is one of transparency,” Lanzas said in a phone interview this week. “I’m very proud of our organization, both for what occurred on that day and also equally as proud for their willingness to be open and transparent about what things could have been done differently and what things were done well. That’s really how you make the fire service better.”
The report included several pages of relatively small tweaks and improvements, but two incidents during the response to the fire stood out: It was not communicated that there was a fire in the basement until 17 minutes after the first firefighter observed it, and during a two- to three-minute period in which a team exiting the structure lost contact with a firefighter, the mayday transmission was not sent out.
“There were lessons that we definitely learned from the incident,” Lanzas said.
That being said, there was plenty of praise to go around as well. The first truck on the scene had been returning from a training exercise and quickly adapted upon first observing the smoke. One of the first things that team did was extricate the remaining tenants. Around 40 minutes into the response, two of the responders fell through the first floor, into the basement; the rapid intervention crew, or RIC, deployed immediately, ultimately rescuing both men.
Both of the firefighters were treated for relatively minor injuries and returned to full duty, fully recovered. Lanzas particularly praised the camaraderie displayed toward those two while they remained hospitalized.

Glendale Fire Chief Silvio Lanzas said making public the analyses of his departments’ responses, including this Jan. 16 fire at 140 Carr Drive, represents an important factor in improving performance and building public trust.
Photo courtesy Glendale Fire Department

“It was a complete team effort,” Lanzas said. “Right then — the fire service in general is already a very tight, close-knit family — but I saw firsthand that day the our firefighters really understand that.”
The fire chief shared the report with a variety of firefighting trade publications, two of which published write-ups of the introspective analysis in May — Firefighter Nation and Lanzas said he makes sure to share these stories with his 271 employees, to emphasize the value of the transparency.
“Every time I see it in a different organization or publication, I share it to everyone with our organization to show them what they’ve done and they should be proud of it,” he said, adding, “The military’s really good about doing that. They review their combat for what they could have done differently and better. I have quite a few friends who work in the New York City Fire Department, and anytime they have a fatality, they review and reconstruct what happened in that incident.”
Lanzas took on the role of interim chief in December 2018, and by the following February had ascended to the permanent role. The Carr Drive blaze occurred barely a year after he took the helm.
“I inherited a very good organization and feel that we have only gotten stronger,” he said. “I knew when I applied for this organization that Glendale Fire Department is an organization known for high professionalism and standards. That certainly has not disappointed since I’ve been here.”

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