As I wrote the article about lithium-ion batteries I could not help but remember the legendary Chicago Fire Department Chief John Eversole.
- It has been 15 years since he passed, but his legacy lives on.
- If he were alive today, you know he would have a lot to say about the safety of firefighters and lithium battery incidents. He would be at the forefront of training hazmat teams and fire departments on how to respond to the complexities of lithium battery fires.
Why it matters: Firehouse Magazine remembers that he was recognized as one of the nation’s leading authorities on hazardous materials and the threat of terrorism. In the early 1990s, Eversole and other chiefs began warning that the nation was not prepared to respond to a major hazmat attack by terrorist groups.
As a member of the Chicago Fire Department for 38 years, he was among the pioneers in the hazmat field when fire departments began organizing specialized hazardous materials response teams. He served as chairman of the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) Hazmat Committee and became a strong advocate for many of the protocols and techniques that are used today in hazmat operations. He served as a consultant to industries, the military, and universities concerned about the danger of hazardous materials.
He frequently went to Washington to testify before congressional committees on the nation’s state of readiness to meet a terrorist attack; Eversole and his fellow chiefs didn’t pull any punches in letting Congress know that the nation was woefully unprepared. Among the problems they cited were unrealistic planning, not enough money and resources, ineffective communications, inadequate training, turf wars, and a lack of coordination at the federal level. Long before the 9/11 attacks, they called for a single agency to direct the federal effort and provide more support for local fire departments, who would be the first responders in every disaster.
Many military and congressional leaders came to respect Eversole’s knowledge and common sense.
- He believed that the more incidents a hazmat company ran, the more skilled it became. “In hazmat, you learn something from every incident, large or small,” Eversole explained.
- He had a way of reassuring people.
- A recently retired CFD district chief said: “I always felt better when John showed up on the scene.”
A lot of people felt that way about John Eversole, which is why he will always be missed. But his living legacy will be more and better hazmat teams, staffed by firefighters who believe that casualties of any kind are unacceptable.