Fire Chief Tim Butler

Fire Chief Tim Butler
Thanks for checking out my web log! My radio call sign in Saint Paul is "Car 1." Join me as we go "On Scene" to the fire stations, training evolutions, emergency incidents, and community events in Saint Paul, Minnesota. Let's share perspectives on the issues facing our Department, our community, and the American Fire Service!

Thursday, November 24, 2011


Good Morning, Everyone!

Today as most of our society relaxes and enjoys a long holiday weekend, the Saint Paul Fire Department and I mark the sad occasion of two line-of-duty deaths.

62 years ago today, on November 24, 1949, Fire Captain John Dillion collapsed and died while on duty. John was the Captain of Engine 5.

Tomorrow, November 25, marks the 38th anniversary of the death of Firefighter John Zilliox of Engine 7. John also collapsed and died while on duty.

Firefighting is by far the toughest, most physically demanding job in this City! EVERYTHING we wear and all the tools and equipment we carry are heavy and cumbersome. Heck – even a Halligan Tool (specialized Firefighter crowbar) weights over 10 pounds....and it doesn’t even have any moving parts! Hoses weighing more then 100 pounds per section have to be stretched and moved through snow banks; up stairwells; and over, around or through obstructions. Maintaining balance on narrow ladder rungs, on icy roofs, and in fire-damaged structures is tough enough to do empty-handed, but becomes extremely dangerous when carrying cumbersome power saws and heavy hand tools.

Crews returning from the scenes of fires or after EMS runs where they’ve had to lift 300 pound medical patients over snow banks, down narrow hallways, and down steep stairways can be overcome by exhaustion. Even when it’s freezing cold outside, the temperature INSIDE Firefighter turn out gear can top over 120 degrees, and crews can become dehydrated without even knowing it. Dehydration and the resulting changes to the body’s circulatory system have been shown to be major contributing factors to on-duty heart attacks.

Even just the sound of the alarm bells in the middle of the night can JUMP a Firefighter’s heart rate to over 120 or 130 beats per minute....I know: I’ve worn my heart rate monitor on all my “work-a-longs” with the crews. The sudden wake up from the PA system and the flicker of station lights coming on.....a hurried donning of station boots and uniform....a fast slide down the pole.....a hustle into bunker boots/pants/coat/seat belt.....Just getting a fast “turn out time” can leave you breathless before the truck even leaves the station! An urgent voice on the radio, a near-miss traffic incident while en route, and the sight of a column of smoke rising in the distance only sets the opening stages of a high-intensity “workout” that saps your strength and leaves you sweat-soaked and limp once the adrenaline wears off.

Returning from a call, many Firefighters are unknowingly dehydrated and oftentimes suffering from toxic gas and carbon monoxide poisoning from accidental and incidental smoke inhalation.

It is no small wonder that “overexertion” is found on many on-duty and line-of-duty Firefighter death certificates. In 2010, the National Fire Protection Association reported 72 line-of-duty deaths in the American Fire Service. More than half of those deaths were due to “overexertion” – and the underlying causes were cardiac arrest, embolisms, strokes, and the arduous, physically-demanding work we do. Some Firefighters are found dead in the fire stations after returning from strenuous calls late in their watch. Some make it home, only to die later in the day. Many – like Captain Dillion and Firefighter Zilliox – simply collapse and cannot be revived by even the very best paramedics and hospital staff.

On this Thanksgiving Day, and on “Black Fridays” following each Thanksgiving, I am ever-cognizant of the arduous work we are called to perform while everyone else is celebrating, relaxing, and enjoying time with family and friends. I worry about our crews, and pray that they make it through what is supposed to be a joyous time of remembering our blessings. I hope I never have to visit a family celebrating their blessings, only to deliver the devastating news that a beloved Firefighter has been killed at one of our stations, on a fire scene, or in the streets of a City they fought so hard and sacrificed so much to keep safe and peaceful.

I especially pray for the Zilliox family. I had the distinct pleasure of working with John’s son, Fire Captain Jack Zilliox. This stuff hits home for a lot of us....

At 0800 on this Thanksgiving morning, the members of the Saint Paul Fire Department paused for a moment of silence to honor the memory of Fire Captain John Dillion, Firefighter John Zilliox, and all 58 members of the Saint Paul Fire Department who have given their life in the service of this Department and the Citizens of Saint Paul. Please feel entirely free to join in that remembrance as well, and please take a moment from your busy weekend to THANK a Firefighter you know or the crew of a fire station near your home.

Tim Butler
Fire Chief

Monday, November 14, 2011


Good Morning, Everyone.

Today marks the 2nd anniversary of a Saint Paul Fire Department line-of-duty death.

On November 14, 2009 Saint Paul Firefighter Ramon “Ray” Hain passed away from complications of an on-duty bloodborne pathogen infection.

Ray joined the Department in 1994. He was a talented and enthusiastic Firefighter and a self-professed adrenaline junkie. He was also a talented EMT and a most caring and compassionate care giver. On November 24, 1996, while performing CPR on a patient, he knelt in some of the patient’s bodily fluids. The fluids seeped into an open wound on Ray’s knee, and he developed a massive infection in his leg a few days later. He subsequently was diagnosed with a viral infection that attacked and weakened his heart. Being young and strong and a good candidate for a heart transplant procedure, he was put on the transplant list, and on November 30, 1998, he underwent a heart transplant. Doctors anticipated the transplant would give Ray 10 more years of life.

Although his hope – and ours – was that he would see a return to full duty on the Department, that dream remained unfulfilled. He retired in 2000 to focus on his recovery and spending time with his wife, Gail, and their two daughters, Rachel and Sara. He became the “stay-at-home-Dad,” and was very active in the school activities of the two girls. He was also a talented and creative woodworker.

In 2009, Ray became increasingly sick due to the deterioration of the transplanted heart. It was not an unexpected process – the heart was just wearing it, as the doctors and Ray had known that it eventually would. On November 14, 2009, Ray passed away peacefully at the age of 50.

At 0800 hours this morning, Saint Paul Fire Department members will pause for a moment of silence to honor the memory of Firefighter Ramon E. Hain and all 58 members of the Saint Paul Fire Department who have given their life in the service of this Department and the Citizens of Saint Paul. Please feel entirely free to join us from wherever you may be.

Tim Butler
Fire Chief

Saturday, November 12, 2011


Now you can receive email updates on important events, statistics, and information regarding the Saint Paul Fire Department using a citywide system called GovDelivery. Go to the web-link:

Enter your email address, then click on the link "Add Subscriptions." You can then choose from a list of City reports and electronic newsletters. They will be emailed to you whenever a new version is published! It's a fast and easy way to stay informed and to get emergency alerts and non-emergency updates.

I highly recommend the "Fire and EMS Blotter" and the Fire Department's "Media Releases." Both choices can be found under the "Fire and EMS" category. The Blotter is a weekly publication of the Fire Department, and highlights various emergency incidents and upcoming public information and fire prevention events for you and your family. The "Media Releases" option will enable you to receive Fire Department announcement to the media about various incidents, upcoming events, and important information you can use to keep your family, business, home, and school safer from fires and accidents.

You don't have to be a Saint Paul resident to subscribe to GovDelivery. Please sign up today to stay informed about events in this great City AND this Great Fire Department!

I hope you are enjoying a safe autumn season!


Friday, November 4, 2011


Good Morning, Everyone.

Today marks the 124th anniversary of a Saint Paul Fire Department line-of-duty death.

On November 4, 1887, Stoker Bill Cuniff died after falling down the stairs at Station 6 while answering an emergency call. Bill was assigned to Engine 6.

In 1887, the Department was just 1 decade beyond the volunteer service. It was, however, far beyond the Volunteers in equipment, discipline, and professionalism. It had nine first-class engines, 7 hook and ladder trucks, 7 fully-manned chemical engines, and 93 horses.

Station 6 was a monstrous 3-story brick structure with towering parapets and chimneys. The station was built in 1884 on the City’s West Side at the corner of Delos Street and Clinton Avenue. The station housed Engine 6 and Hook and Ladder 5. Engine/Hose Company 6 was composed of 10 men: Captain and Lieutenant, Engineer and Stoker for the Engine; a Driver for the Hose Cart and one for the Engine, and 4 Pipemen.

Falling down the stairs answering an alarm might seem to some an ignoble way of dying in the line of duty. Yet over the years – even up through the 1950’s - falling accidents on the stairways and fire poles of the City’s fire stations were commonplace. At least 4 LODDs have occurred from those accidents. The latest – in 1959 – led to the construction of safer, single-story fire stations in the 1960’s (51’s, 4’s, and 6’s).

Considering the steep, dimly lit stairways of the stations back in the 1880’s, the lack of railings and safeguards around pole holes and stairwells, and the constant urgency to get out the door quickly and to the scene of a fire, it should be no surprise that accidents occurred frequently. There were no “false alarms” back then – if a report of a fire made it to the station, it was a FIRE! Historic pictures of our stations show as many as 3 people sliding a single fire pole at the same time! Such was the crew’s urgency to reduce “turn out time.”

I think of the crew’s “lounge” area at Station 7. It is just feet away from the tailboards of the truck and engine, and put there no doubt to be close to the rigs and pre-staged for an immediate response. Are we really any different then the men of 1887? Station 18 and Station 17 – with their kitchens also just feet away from the rigs – are also poised for quick response and immediate action. The measure of a department’s “turn out time” (from the time the call is dispatched until the truck is en route) is still an important measure of the efficiency of a department and a source of enduring pride by its personnel....just like it was back in 1887.

At 0800 hours this morning, Saint Paul Fire Department members will pause for a moment of silence to honor the memory of Stoker Bill Cuniff and all 58 members of the Saint Paul Fire Department who have given their life in the service of this Department and the Citizens of Saint Paul. Please feel entirely free to join us from wherever you may be.

Tim Butler
Fire Chief