Molten aluminum dripped onto one firefighter's neck as he sprinted into a burning house to douse a blaze. The force of a gas explosion hurled another fireman through the air. Another accidentally put his hand through a window as he vented a burning house. And a paramedic was bitten by a patient.
These are among the Fire Department's 116 injuries so far this year, up 26 percent over the 92 injuries reported at the same time last year. Bill Gault, president of the firefighters' union, blames "brownouts" and other cost-saving measures.
"They're overworked," Gault said of the city's 1,900 firefighters and 200 medics.
City officials counter that the spike is a historical anomaly. Injuries did dip to just 45 during the first quarter of 2010. But look at the years before, Deputy Mayor Everett Gillison said, and they average 84 for the same time period, which is in line with the 85 injuries reported in the first quarter of 2011.
Gillison blasted Gault, saying he's preying on public fears of inadequate emergency protection in a poorly disguised grab for more overtime money. City officials began the brownouts - in which three stations a week close temporarily on a rotational basis - last August in an effort to save $3.8 million in firefighter overtime.
The argument might be decided by an independent research group recently hired, at a $219,000 price tag, to independently review the Fire Department's efficacy and needs. Results are expected in four to six months, according to the Pennsylvania Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority, which commissioned the study at the department's request.
As for the injuries, Gillison noted that about half happened off the fire ground. Those included firefighters wounded while doing chores, training and other activities at the station and a headquarters staffer who hurt her shin on her desk drawer, according to injury reports.
"I take the fire-ground injuries a lot more seriously," Gillison said.
But Gault noted that fire deaths are up, too. Twenty-two citizens have died in city fires so far this year, up from 15 at the same time last year.
"There is no sour grapes about politics," Gault said. "My job is to make sure my members go home, as it is also Mr. Gillison's job."