Fifty-six years ago today, Mohawk Airlines Flight 121 crashed upon takeoff at the Rochester Airport, killing 7 people and injuring 36 others. Airport firefighters responded immediately and were able to rescue a number of people from the aircraft with help from other airport workers and outside fire companies. To this day, it remains the worst aviation accident in local history. While many things have changed in both the firefighting and aviation industries, one thing that has not is our members’ reliance on outside agencies in the event of a major disaster. In spite of our constant training to maximize our crews efficiency, with just five on-duty members there is only so much we will be able to do without help from other agencies.
Last night, the City of Rochester implemented the first fire station closure under its “dynamic staffing” plan, which chooses a company to close during the overnight hours, when residents are most at risk. These closures - also known as ‘brownouts’ or ‘firehouse roulette’ - arbitrarily choose a neighborhood to receive reduced protection for a specified period of time. It’s a tactic that hasn’t been used much locally, but has seen tragic results when implemented elsewhere. In Philadelphia, a 12-year-old boy died in 2010 while the closest engine company was ‘browned out’. In 2017, three people were killed in a Holyoke, MA fire in which the closest engine company was closed. In Wilmington, DE, 2016 saw two children and three firefighters killed in the course of eight months. At least two other firefighters were forced to retire due to injuries sustained at a fire. These are just a few of the many stories one can find by briefly searching the internet.