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Working together: Fire protection specialists teach OPWDD staff safety survey skills


PEF members from different agencies recently came together to improve the safety of some of New York’s most vulnerable population.

Fire protection specialists from PEF Division 179 conducted a specialized training for personnel from both the Fire and Life Safety Branch of the Office of Fire Protection and Control (OFPC), and for standards compliance analysts from the Office for People with Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD).

“Following a fatal fire in a group home in 2009, where four individuals perished, fire protection specialists and OPWDD have partnered to conduct life safety surveys at certified group homes,” said Division 179 Steward John Buttino, a fire protection specialist 1.

The 2009 fire occurred at the Riverview Individualized Residential Alternative (IRA), operated by the Sunmount Developmental Disabilities Services Office (DDSO) and administered by OPWDD. In addition to the deaths, one resident and two staff members were injured.

In response to the tragedy, OPWDD requested OPFC conduct an independent review of the design, construction, code applicability and operational features of the IRA to ensure it met applicable fire and life-safety codes and to verify operation of fire protection systems.

The collaborative training program grew out of that incident.

“We conduct trainings for those that go out and do life-safety surveys,” he said, “both within the OFPC and other agencies, including OPWDD. The training prepares inspectors for surveys at OPWDD group home facilities throughout New York state.

“We develop the curriculum with guidance and approval from the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services,” he said. “Our instructors are trained and they deliver the programs.”

Buttino, who has done hundreds of group home inspections, said life safety is crucial. “It’s something that’s very important to our mission and what we do,” he said.

The statewide training program is offered as needed, Buttino said. A large class was just held due to an influx of new hires.


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