I remember sitting in our living room and telling my wife I wanted to join the Fire Department. I’d seen the look she gave me before. Married guys know exactly what I’m talking about. I told her “I like helping people, and it sounds like fun.” She had reservations, but after a few days and more conversation she agreed that I should apply. A few weeks went by and eventually I got a call from the chief to schedule an interview. I was told to be at the station at 7:00 PM and I would sit down with a few of the officers and discuss the position. To say I was excited was an understatement. After the interview and discussion with the Chief I accepted an offer to join. After the discussions with the chief and other officers I thought that I knew what I was getting into, but there are so many things that no one told me.
NO ONE TOLD ME that when I walked through that station door and saw those huge intimidating trucks and smelling that strange aroma of wet fire hose it would become a part of me in such a short amount of time. I never participated in high school team sports; it didn’t interest me. I was content to hang out with friends or spend time outdoors hunting; however, shortly after joining, something inside me switched. I felt a part of a team. These strangers that I had only known for a few short weeks made me apart of them. They spent their free time showing me how to don my gear, where tools and equipment were located on the trucks, and how the department operated. I had long time company officers and members just off probation take me aside and mentor me. They answered my endless number of questions, taught me about the command structure, and were patient with me during training sessions. They took notice of my enthusiasm and steered me away from trouble, but most of all they made me free welcome. Even as a new member that had no formal training I never felt as a second-class member. It is safe to say that I had become a part of the family. While I am only 3 years into this challenge, I try to be approachable. I want new members to feel comfortable coming to me with questions or concerns. We have a duty to train and mentor the newer firefighters so the department continues to grow and develop into a first-class organization.
NO ONE TOLD ME that when I joined the department my family also joined the department. I may have been naïve about the challenge I was about to undertake, but I thought I was the only member in my home that was going to spend time at the fire station. It became apparent very quickly that firefighters and their families spent time outside of the station together. They went out for dinner, had movie night at the station, celebrated birthdays together, and helped each other when needed. In a very short time my wife and I were invited into these activities. I think getting to know the other members and their families help put my wife’s mind at ease. It helped her feel more comfortable when I left to go to someone’s emergency. She developed confidence in the rest of the department and gained a support group in their families. Unless you are a part of emergency services no one understands what, it’s like to have the pager go off at 1:00 am for a structure fire or see a Facebook post about a bad MVA and know your loved one is involved, but after getting to know the other families she knows she isn’t alone. She knows she isn’t the only one tossing and turning waiting for her firefighter to return from a serious call. She has new friends that appreciate the time the fire department requires. She has people that understand what it’s like to be stranded at the gym because your husband’s pager went off. While she is my support network, she also knows that she has a support group as well. I feel it’s important for fire departments to include the whole family not just the responder. Without the support of the family most wouldn’t or couldn’t volunteer.
NO ONE TOLD ME that I would enjoy EMS as much as I do. When I spoke with the Chief about joining, the topic of EMS came up. I was apprehensive about being a first responder. I envisioned myself fighting fire and cutting cars apart; never did I think about band aids and blood pressure. It became obvious that if I wanted to be a member and be involved I needed to become an EMR. I went through the training, passed the national registry and started running medical calls. I quickly realized how much I enjoyed it. It is a completely different feeling helping someone in this way. I tell people that fighting fire is a huge rush, indescribable, unless you can experience it firsthand, but providing medical care gives me an immediate sense of satisfaction. People are generally grateful when you arrive at a medical call. Sometimes the reason they call isn’t what you or I consider a true emergency, but to them on that day it’s their emergency. Occasionally a reassuring voice or a hand to hold is all that’s needed, but those are the times when we have the most impact on people’s lives. We have a 50+ year member on my department who has had a profound impact on many of us, he has a saying, “compassion never goes out of style.” That simple saying is something I try to keep in mind every time I go to a medical call. I have tried to impress my feelings on the newer members that come into the department, letting them know that very few calls have the immediate impact on people’s lives that a medical call does.
NO ONE TOLD ME that the more I train the more I realize I need to train. I will admit that when I started I was eager to finish my training so I could just run calls. It didn’t take long to realize that the required training was the bare minimum. I learned right away that being certified doesn’t make you qualified. I also realized the value of attending classes/seminars put on by outside groups or agencies. The knowledge that these experienced instructors bring to these opportunities is mind blowing. I’ve had instructors that were involved in the events of 9/11/01, presenters who are the expert on their field, and trainers who were so passionate about the fire service you couldn’t help but be inspired. I personally try to attend 2 to 3 extra conferences or seminars each year, not only do these skills make me a better firefighter but I also network with other firefighters. Talking shop with other firefighters, you learn about new techniques, tools or even additional class opportunities. Attending these opportunities not only made me a stronger firefighter but also help the entire department by putting more knowledge tools in the toolbox. The adage that “irons sharpen iron” is very true in the fire service.
There are so many things that no one told me. I think it’s important to pass the things I have learned by experience onto the members who come after me. I try to be a mentor to the new members the way I was mentored. Hopefully by doing this, I make my department better and the brotherhood as a whole, stronger.
Hardly a week goes by when a story doesn’t pop up on my Facebook news feed or show up on some news agency page talking about the shortages of volunteer firefighter, EMS or rescue personnel. All these news agencies report the one thing we all know, volunteer firefighters are a dying breed, but very few reporters print any solutions. It seems the burden of finding new recruits always seems to fall on the shoulders of the department. We’ve all heard the reasons people don’t volunteer: It takes to much training…. I can’t afford to take time from work…My employer won’t let me respond…. I live to far from the station. Many of these reasons are valid and understandable. While I don’t think that lowering the training requirements is the answer, working together we can find solutions to the other reasons. It is well known that 69% of all Firefighters nationwide are volunteer and save taxpayers $140 billion annually. Many if not most communities cannot afford to provide fulltime paid responders. While the emergency services providers need to ensure that they do their part to provide professional and well trained responders they are not the only ones responsible for recruiting. I feel that the local community, state and federal government can all do their part to help fill those empty lockers.
There are things that local municipalities can do help give incentive for volunteering. While most department do not have the budget to pay responders the local government can things to show their gratitude to those that give up their time. Developing a property tax credit is one way they can help…. most everyone you talk to complains about paying taxes. Local municipalities can provide a tax credit to property owners who volunteer, after all those volunteers are saving the rest of the local taxpayers’ money.
The State government can do things to help provide incentives as well. They can reduce or eliminate vehicle registration fees for volunteers. In my state, they charge a higher registration fee for having firefighter, EMT or rescue plates. Lowering the registration fee will have a small impact on the State fund but will significantly help the volunteer. Providing tax credits to employers who allow their employees respond to emergencies during the work day is another way to help with department recruitment. It used to be a source of pride for companies to have their workers on the fire department but due to economic changes it is harder for those companies to be productive when being shorthanded. A tax credit could help soften that and encourage volunteering. Another potential idea to help volunteer departments is having the state set up retirement programs for long term volunteer responders. Wisconsin has a program where the state matches department contributions. Then after a predetermined number of years of service the volunteer becomes vested and upon reaching retirement age them money is played out.
I think the Federal government can step up and help the volunteer responder as well. A program like the GI bill could help provide incentive to volunteer serving the community. If a person dedicates a minimum number of years to the community the federal government could help pay for college via grants, interest free loans, etc. It would encourage young people to serve their local community and give them real life perspective. The federal government could also provide tax credits to people who buy homes in areas that have been identified as needing responders. I know there are already urban revitalization programs in existence but very few apply to areas protected by volunteers. Tax credits could also go to employers who encourage and allow employees respond to emergencies. The federal government already funds departments thru grants and other staffing programs but once again many volunteer organizations don’t qualify for staffing grants. Instead of funding the department to hire people we could encourage companies to have their employees volunteer.
I feel our society would be better off with a renewed sense of community and patriotism. I think you become more compassionate when you help someone from a different walk of life. Bringing more people into the fire services family will make for stronger, more understanding, healthier communities. Perhaps if we encourage young people to serve the community some of our countries other issues will work themselves out. I think that by the government investing in these ways it would be a win/win…. volunteer emergency services will be able to secure people and society would be better.
I recall a house fire I responded to many years ago. A gas leak in the garage got to the gas water heater pilot light and before long the garage was well involved. The owner opened the garage door to try to get his car out but couldn’t. Going from the back of the house (on the main road) to the front, the sequence of rooms was;
Oversize two car garage
A breezeway (same width as garage, all windows, doors on either side, a door into the garage which the owner closed before exiting, and an open doorway into the kitchen,)
A Hallway with stairs to the second floor
The breezeway and the kitchen ceilings were tongue and groove wood and varnished.
The first engine on scene was directed (by the battalion chief) to pull two 1 ¾” lines and attack from the open garage side using straight streams. My engine arrived two minutes later and it looked as though the two lines in use were not making any headway. From the officer seat and where we were parked, I could see the side door to the breezeway. I directed my firefighter to pull our 1 ¾” line and we proceeded to the breezeway door to find the fire had come through the door to the garage and the breezeway was now involved. We got low, opened the door, and hit the upper area of the room with a wide angle fog for about 10 seconds. Perfect, the fire blacked out. The two lines from the outside were causing the flames in the garage to “Push” into the breezeway. We stayed low, put the nozzle through the door into the garage and again hit the fire with a wide angle fog. Thirty seconds later the fire in the garage was knocked down. After ventilation cleared the smoke, we got the hot spots.
Now I have read that you can’t push the fire into another room, however, after all the work was done, we went into the kitchen, the hall way and stairs and noticed that wherever there was varnished wood, the heat from the garage had caused the finish to bubble. Probably within a minute flashover would have occurred and into the second floor. I can’t say 100% sure that the exterior lines directed into the garage pushed the fire into the house, but it sure looked like it.
So, was this a transitional attack? Not in the traditional sense. My point is that directing lines into a room that’s involved appears to push the fire through any opening. I’m not a science guy, but I am observant. So for this article, we will define a transitional attack as one that starts with a hose line(s) being directed through exterior windows/doors/openings into an involved room(s) before making entry to extinguish the fire from the interior.
There are a lot of articles already on the subject. On one side are those that espouse a transitional attack on all fires and on the other side are those that still cling to using an interior attack to effect extinguishment. Both arguments are good and one can believe both as being effective means of extinguishing fires. So if they are both good and effective extinguishing techniques, why the argument?
Three reasons. Firefighters, fire officers, fire departments. All contribute to the debate. From personnel experience, I witnessed a presentation on the use of straight streams in lieu of fog in some instances. Another tool to use in some cases. What happened? Every officer switched to pulling the solid or straight stream nozzle first at all fires (Recall the 3 reasons). This is what firefighters typically do. Something new comes out and we have to use it on everything, forgetting what has worked so well in the past. Remember when the halligan tool came out so long ago? Do we still use it on every door? No, because we remembered that the axe and or pry bar worked just as well.
As I said, I am no science guy, and I don’t know all the formulas that make a straight/solid stream directed from the exterior seem to work. I do know that the wet stuff on the red stuff works, and that is probably why this method works. Effective? I am sure it is. But if we are going interior any way to complete the transitional attack, why not just start there. And I accept that water streams do not push a fire into another room or other parts of the building. But it sure looks that way when you are watching it.
At the end of the day, if you are an officer who believes that a transitional attack works, then you will probably use it more often, or always, than one who does not. I believe it is another tool in our bag that we can use in certain situations. Defining or recognizing those situations is something else again. If you like it a lot, use it a lot. If you don’t think it works, use it when you think it will.
I am not a believer in one method to fight all fires, except for the safe method.
Be safe – Everyone Goes Home
This article started off as a What’s In Your Pockets Wednesday? Facebook post but there was just too much good advice to cut it down so we turned it into a full article! Thanks to Chris Puzzanghero and Clint Cardinale for their input and advice. The article covers both a truck company firefighter’s and an engine company firefighter’s point of view. Keep in mind there are many types of chocks and while they can be all be used for similar tasks they also can have specific uses. Take for example the aluminum chock is a better fit for using as a wedge during forcible entry. While it is a good start to throw a bunch of chocks in your pockets, take the time to think about how you use them, where you keep them in your gear and if each chock has a specific use or not.
The wooden door wedge or “chock” as it is commonly labeled, is one of the simplest and most effective tools we as firefighters can carry. They are cheap, easy to make at the fire house and versatile. Whether you are running the line on an engine company or carrying the irons on a ladder company, the wooden chock’s usefulness is limitless. It’s two main functions though are to help force a door open and then to keep it from closing on a hose-line.
I spend the majority of my time at work on a ladder company and carry several wooden chocks in my gear, mainly for forcible entry. I have found that carrying two large wooden chocks in the radio pocket on my turnout coat to be the best place for them. I wear my radio on a strap under my coat which frees up the coat pocket to carry my two large chocks and my cable cutters. By having two large chocks in my radio pocket they are easily accessible and securely stored until needed. I like keeping them here because I can easily grab the chocks with a gloved hand and pull them straight out of the pocket for use and put them right back when done.
This is extremely effective for forcible entry, as the two large chocks can be quickly deployed to capture progress while forcing a door. The chocks can also be quickly put back after the Halligan bar has been re-positioned on the door to continue the force. This frees me from worry about the chock falling out of the door and having to pick it up off the ground. I may need it to continue the force. Having to hold the Halligan in place, get down on the ground, pick the chock back up and hold on to it while forcing the next lock that is holding is not efficient nor easy, especially in lower to zero visibility. The chocks can be taken in and out of the radio coat pocket gloved up with ease.
Another reason why I keep the large chocks in my radio pocket is our coats are a longer cut. They extend well over the turnout pant cargo pockets which require the bottom of the coat to be lifted up in order to access the Velcro flap on the pant pocket which is not ideal. The turnout coat pockets can present a similar challenge with the SCBA waist belt getting in the way of the pockets opening. Try storing a large chock in the radio coat pocket and see what you think.
Door chalks, door chalks, door chalks! I can’t say it enough, door chalks. They are cheap (free) light and have countless uses. If you are riding an engine you should have a pocket full of door chalks and 1 chock in each pocket. This insures that your hand line is not compromised or inhibited by free moving doors. But how many is enough? I always go with some advice my old boss told me, as a line firefighter you need 5 door chalks. His logic: the most doors you are going to need to chalk will be in mid-rise commercials and/or apartment buildings: 1 for the front door, 1 one for the other side of the vestibule, 1 for the bottom of the stairwell, 1 for the top of the stairwell, 1 for the apt/fire room door. All told 5 door chalks.
My ninth grade social studies teacher would put a quote of the day up on the chalk board every morning. One of my favorites which would make a recurring appearance was “Excuses are the nails that build the house of failure.” Now I don’t know if it was an original quote or if he borrowed it from someone else but it for sure had an impact on my life and for that I thank him!
“Excuses are the nails that build the house of failure.” Think about that for a moment. Think about how many excuses you have heard today or maybe even how many you’ve given to others today, both in life and at work. “It’s too hot to train today.” “It’s too cold to train today.” It is always too “something” to train everyday if we allow it to be.
We run fewer fires per person today than in generations past and the fire-ground has sometimes become overly complicated. The fire service has taken on a role of being problem solvers. We handle all types of emergencies and many times the training for the High-Risk, Low Frequency events takes priority over the High-Risk, Medium Frequency events. This means we should be training more than ever. But training how?
Sitting at a computer 4 hours a shift droning through PowerPoints or even articles like this are helpful but not the solution. The fire service is still a hands on environment. Which means most of our training should be hands on.
Now I know our whole day cannot be dedicated to training. We have calls to run and life situations to handle. What we can do though is keep our eyes open for the training opportunities that we pass up all the time. When I was a newly appointed volunteer lieutenant I asked my father for some advice. He has spent the last 42 years of his life as a volunteer firefighter, fire-line officer and chief officer. I asked him how he, as a young officer, was able to accomplish his training goals. He told me to keep my goals reachable. He mentioned how he would run short, quick drills on the way back from calls. They were quick and efficient, as simple as finding a building of opportunity and running a line or throwing a ladder. I took this advice and put it to use both at work and at my volunteer house. The beauty of this technique is you won’t have to spend as much time motivating individuals to train because they are already out and riding around.
One other great training opportunity is on actual calls. How many times have you watched crews downplay their actions on a fire call? Not stretching a line on a box because it’s dinner time and it smells like burnt food. Not laddering all windows because it’s just a small contents fire. I was always taught that we play it as a fire until we prove it’s not because as someone once told me, and science has proven, we don’t rise to the occasion we sink to the level of our training. If we don’t practice going all out then when the time comes we won’t be ready to go all out.