‘I’m hoping to learn from what they’re doing’: Firefighters from around the world collaborate in DC to keep you safer

The inaugural World Fire Congress hopes to allow firefighters to collaborate to come up with ideas about how to keep people safe.(WTOP/Luke Lukert)

They have come from as far as Fiji and Croatia and as close as D.C. and Fairfax County, Virginia. Firefighters packed a conference room at the Hyatt Regency in Downtown D.C. on Tuesday for the inaugural World Fire Congress to collaborate and share information to better keep citizens across the world safe.

U.S. Fire Administrator Lori Moore-Merrell said 55 countries were represented at the conference. Participants talked about “challenges that we are all facing from a global perspective so that we can see if we can bring together solutions, best practices and find some areas for collaboration going forward,” she said.

The summit will focus on four distinct challenges that the firefighting community is seeing across the world: large structure fires, climate change’s effects on the job, personnel health and fires stemming from emerging technologies like lithium ion batteries in electric vehicles.

“We have too many structure fires, and far too many people dying in structure fires,” Moore-Merrell told WTOP.

D.C. Fire Chief John Donnelly said that he hopes to learn from colleagues in Asia on this front.

“They have environments that are much more condensed than ours, and taller,” Donnelly said. “So I’m hoping to learn from them [on] what they’re doing.”

Donnelly said they also hope to learn from colleagues who see more electric vehicle and lithium ion battery fires. While just a small percentage of cars on the road in the U.S. are EVs, other countries, particularly in Europe, see more of these types of vehicles.

“Lithium ion cell brings everything you need in the fire triangle, it brings its own oxygen, it brings its own fuel, it brings his own heat source. Now, how do we suppress that?” said Moore-Merrell. “We must have ongoing research, we must learn from these nations who have experienced more of these and hear what they’re doing for best practices.”

Firefighters from all around the world came to D.C. for the conference. (WTOP/Luke Lukert)

Firefighters also discussed the effects of climate change on their day-to-day jobs, including increased flooding events, rising sea levels, increased storm intensities and, of course, wild fires.

Fairfax County Fire Chief and President of the International Association of Fire Chiefs John Butler said wildfires have impacted every continent.

“In D.C., Maryland and Virginia, we’ve been affected by both local wildfires, as well as international fires. Not too long ago, we were being affected by the smoke coming out of Canada. And then just recently, in the last month or two, we had wildfires in the western part of Virginia. So it’s a local and international issue.”

The World Fire Congress will run for two days in D.C. and will reconvene in two years, this time hosted by the United Kingdom.

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Luke Lukert

Since joining WTOP Luke Lukert has held just about every job in the newsroom from producer to web writer and now he works as a full-time reporter. He is an avid fan of UGA football. Go Dawgs!

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