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

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