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Editors Column

Our 108th CVVFA Convention

Saturday, August 8, 2009
It was convention time once again for the Cumberland Valley Volunteer Fireman’s Association, the parent organization for and the Emergency Response Safety Institute (ERSI). We met for our 108th Annual CVVFA Convention in Newark, Delaware. We worked hard to continue a tradition which was begun a long ago in order to address two simple needs: One was the creation of a common thread for use on fire hose within the Cumberland Valley area, and the other was the creation of a better mutual aid program within the Cumberland Valley region.

I would like to share a couple of important events which occurred during the time of our conference. The first was a special webinar held by the Congressional Fire Services Institute at the Aetna Hose, Hook, and Ladder Company Station #8 in Newark. The topic of the event involved a discussion with Mr. Lou Amabili about the history attached to President Nixon’s National Fire Prevention and Control Commission.

Lou was one of President Nixon’s appointees to this important group. Their efforts led to the creation of the watershed document, America Burning, which was published in 1973. The commission outlined their findings about the manner in which fire protection and prevention should be delivered to the citizens of the United States.

It was my privilege to be able to ask my dear friend Lou about his feelings as to how fire prevention and public fire safety education have fared over the last 40 years? His answer did not surprise me. He stated that things would probably have gone a lot better if the original public education office within the U.S. Fire Administration been diluted and then put out of existence. Bravo my friend. I could not agree more.

I have known Lou for more than 35 years, and he has always been a standup guy, willing to tell you exactly what he thought. It was really neat being a part of this important event. It is just one more example of the important interactions which are occurring between the CVVFA and the National-Level Organizations. We have assumed an important role within the American Fire Service.

Our association was also able to continue its tradition of delivering quality educational offerings in concert with our annual convention. Assistant Chief Allen Baldwin of the Gettysburg, Pennsylvania Fire Department, and Director of Emergency Response for the Pennsylvania Turnpike system conducted another pilot offering of our Public Safety Flagging Course at the Aetna Hose, Hook, and Ladder Company's Station #9. This course is being developed with our partner the MD State Highway Authority. It is designed to train public safety responders with the skills necessary to control traffic at highway incident scenes safely.

The final event which took place in Delaware during our convention was bittersweet indeed. It was my privilege to represent the Emergency Response Safety Institute and at an important legislative ceremony which was held in Delaware City, Delaware, on the morning of July 31, 2009. A bill- signing ceremony was held for an important new piece of legislation for the emergency service in the First State. The bill was created to address a loophole in the existing laws regarding paramedics and emergency medical service people who are struck, injured, and killed on the highways of the First State.

There is an important reason behind this particular piece of legislation. As is often the case, this law came about as a result of tragedy. It took the loss of a young, single mother to stimulate the actions which led to this new law.

Michelle Smith was an active member of the Delaware City Fire Department. She initially joined the Middletown Fire Department back in 1996. In May of 2003 she moved her membership to the Delaware City unit. Back on December 20, 2008, she was part of a duty crew which responded to a motorcycle accident on U.S. Highway 13 in New Castle. Her ambulance crew was part of a cover assignment for a neighboring community which was holding their annual banquet.

While operating at this incident, Michelle was struck by a car driven by a paraplegic driver who was operating that vehicle while using a stick to operate the brake and accelerator. It should also be noted that he was operating on a suspended license and convicted of a similar driving offence in Maryland. She was transported to the Christiana Medical Center where she died of her injuries two days later.

It was in the midst of their investigation into this incident that the police reviewed the applicable traffic laws in order to charge the individual responsible for her death. They were shocked to discover a glaring omission in the law. Since she was operating as an EMT, the law did not allow for the most severe charges to be lodged in her death. This angered a great many people and efforts begin in short order to address this lapse in the law.

The Delaware Fire Community kicked into gear to get this oversight corrected. In a short period of time, by government operating standards, this legal oversight was corrected. House Bill 204 was passed in both the Delaware House and Senate back in June. The new law, “… amends Title 11, relating to the crime of Murder in the First Degree and adds paramedics, emergency medical technicians, fire marshals, fire police officers into the Title. The bill will be known as the ‘Michelle Smith Law’ in honor of the sacrifice she made back in 2008.”

It was my privilege to be in Delaware City to witness the official billing signing by Governor Jack Markell. The sponsor of the bill was Representative Earl G. Jaques, Jr., from Newark. There were members of both houses and political parties in attendance. The Governor stated that this was, “…not a partisan issue. Both parties were behind it.”

I should point out that this ceremony was broadcast on the Fox 29 news channel in Philadelphia. They have a weekly feature on the fire service. The visit area fire stations and tell the stories of the people providing this critical service to their communities. You too can view this ceremony by going to the station’s website, which is located at

One of the people with whom I spoke was Mike McMichael, of the Delaware City Fire Department. As it turns out, Michelle was Mike’s EMS partner. He spoke of his love for her as a friend, as well of his feelings of loss and sadness because of this tragedy. “She was like a little sister to me,” Mike said. “I shall miss her.” Mike took me in to see her memorial locker, where her gear remains on duty in her memory. I was moved to tears by his love for a lost partner.

You and I need to work hard to insure that our people are trained to operate out there on the highways of our nation. It is dangerous out there. You have to remember that the people zipping along the road. It is up to you to keep your people safe. That is just one more way to commemorate the sacrifice of people like Michelle Smith.nn

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