BCFD Chief Mark Thomas
Mark Thomas began his career as a firefighter in 1981 at the Bedford County Fire Department. He was promoted to Shift Captain early on before being appointed to the position of Fire Chief in 1987. Since then, much has changed about structure fires and the way BCFD addresses them, says Chief Thomas.
"When I first started my career, less homes had smoke detectors and there weren't as many building regulations," he recalls.
"Taking the population into consideration, we had a much higher frequency of fire-related emergency calls, comparatively. (Structure) fires burned more slowly (at that time) because builders used solid lumber joists to build homes and buildings. It would take much longer for the fire to spread, which gave us more time to respond," remembers Thomas.
In modern construction, building contractors often use engineered-joists made with untreaded oriented strand board (OSB), which combine glue and layers of compressed wood to support structure floors. It is touted as much stronger and slower to experience sagging over time. However, fire experts claim the material is more susceptible to fire damage.
Synthetic materials burn more rapidly says Thomas. He says this creates a potentially hazardous situation for firefighters.
"The risk of falling through floors when fighting fires in newer homes has increased significantly," Thomas explains.
Conversely, many safety improvements have been made in recent years for firefighters themselves.
Some equipment refinements include helmets with special heads-up displays for oxygen-level readings, flame- and heat-resistant materials in turn-out gear and electronic communication devices.
Modern fire engines use special water-flow regulation systems to keep the water supply and pressure at a level of maximum efficiency.
The BCFD acquired 10 new apparatus, including the first 'Heavy Rescue' vehicle with hydraulic rescue tools and 'Arial' fire engine.
These upgrades, along with increased training and public awareness, have helped to neutralize some modern risks for Bedford County residents and local firefighters under Thomas' leadership.Thomas credits better equipment and dedicated firefighters for improved response time, rescue capabilities and safety.
"Technology like we use today was not available in the 1980's," says Thomas.
BCFD Chief Mark Thomas' commitment to fire services continues to positively impact both the BCFD and Bedford County as a whole.