I know there are many of you out there that may not agree with this position, but I feel this is something firefighters and more importantly fire chiefs need to hear. A little background on this article is needed. I was promoted to an officer role early in my career as a firefighter. The captain who later on became our fire chief handed me a red lieutenant’s helmet and boom, I was now sitting in that right front seat.

Now don’t get me wrong I wanted to be promoted, but boy I had no clue what to do. I was that dog chasing a car who really didn’t know what to do with it now that I had it. I felt comfortable as a firefighter and really wasn’t sure what was expected from me or what responsibilities I was in fact responsible for. I thought there was some sort of training or at least some type of guidance to help me be an officer, but there wasn’t.

I’m not sure if you’ve ever been in this kind of situation, but it can be scary to think about. YOU are responsible for the safety of your crew. YOU are responsible for the tactics of battling a structure fire. YOU are expected to train new firefighters. YOU are being looked up to as a leader in your department. It’s a lot to think about and a lot to process.

So, since I didn’t feel comfortable with my role what so ever, I figured I should study up on what I got myself into. I was googling like crazy trying to find any training or advice I could. I took the National Fire Academy Managing Company Tactics Operations and felt it had given me a good tactical foundation but felt there was more to be learned. I stumbled upon the Command Officer Boot Camp (COBC) in Pensacola Beach, Florida. Now this was a training I could get behind, at the time it was just starting and was only $125 for the three day class and was on the beach. It was a win win!

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I go to this training and I am blown away with some of the information! The participation from the local fire departments and people from as far as Massachusetts and more. This was some of the greatest information I had received in my early career. I wrote an entire notebook worth of notes and the classes invigorated me. I was so happy to have taken the chance on the conference and gone.

One of the instructors was a Battalion Chief with the city of Atlanta and he told us in his class that Atlanta requires all their firefighters to attend at least one outside of the state training a year. Now they are obviously a big department and can afford sending people to outside of Georgia to go to training, but felt this was such an interesting policy to have. The more and more I thought about it, the more I thought this was such a great idea.

The US is such a large country and what works in Ohio may not work in Maine or Florida, but that doesn’t mean we can’t learn from one another. So I’ve been taking trainings as I could in different parts of the country ever since. If you can afford it and make it work for you and your family. Do yourself a favor and invest in yourself and your career! It’s well worth the time, money, and effort, it makes you just that much more of a valuable firefighter to your department.

As always stay safe out there and remember, we are and always have been each other’s keeper. Let’s make sure we make it to retirement.

35 years ago, my department had very little to do with Public Education. There was a Prevention Division, but no real accountability on what businesses got inspected or how often. It was not uncommon to have a business go for seven or more years without a visit from an inspector. In the early 1980’s, a Public Education Program was started. First a traveling puppet show to educate children on fire safety practices, and later, involvement with engine companies that assisted the Pub Ed personnel and even did some education on their own. It was a start.

Very soon after we started a Smoke Alarm program and gave away and installed thousands of them. Ten years later we wanted to start over but had no real record of where the first ones were installed. Now, 30 years later, we still do not have a smoke alarm in every residence. And even today you can find officers and firefighters who believe we should only roll out of the station for alarms (And of course for groceries).

So what happened? We started out like gangbusters and after many years it just faded away. There are several reasons.

First, it starts at the top. The fire chief has to have a vision regarding public education and he has to convey that to personnel every chance he gets. He has to live it. And it does wonders to actually show up at some events or education programs. Second, whenever there was a budget cut to be made, the first positions the chief usually looks at is the civilians in Public Education. I have heard this over and over at seminars and at National Fire Academy classes. See #1, it starts at the top. Leaders today have to get creative. Find the money elsewhere, for example, does the department really need all of those secretaries, do we really need all of those reserve vehicles, can overtime be trimmed, can the cost for supplies be trimmed, and how about using three firefighters on a 40 hour workweek whose job it is to do public education. And in between, they could still be available for calls.

Third, apply for grants. Especially now it might pay to hire a part time person to just write grants and probably get most of their salary paid for with a grant. Prevention supplies, safety props and safety trailers can all be purchased with grant money. Fourth, have a real Public Information Officer. Some departments have one but they only report on an event if they are available or something happens when they are on duty. There are so many outlets to publish articles sand photos and these garner valuable support for the department. Other people will not know what your department is doing if you don’t tell them. Other people include the Mayor, City Council, news media, other fire departments, and other internal departments.

I started a newsletter that was published once a week that included only four or five fire or rescue events that occurred in the week prior. This was sent to all other internal department heads, Mayor and council, other departments, and all of the fire stations. After just a few short weeks, if we missed one, council members called to see what happened. This was free to produce, no grant money, just some typing. And now there are two other departments in the county that are doing the same thing.

It doesn’t take much to get the prevention ball rolling. But it does start at the top. Where do you as a leader stand on the issue?  Or are you still sitting waiting for the next alarm? Smokey says “Only you can prevent forest fires”. Modern thinking adds, “Only you as a leader can turn the opinion tide around and get the fire prevention/public education ball rolling”.

Stay safe. Everyone goes home.

Without gaining entry into a structure where a suspected or confirmed fire is, the fire cannot be located and extinguished, searches cannot be made, and extension of fire cannot be checked. There may be one or more firefighters assigned to forcing entry (commercial property), or the first firefighter to the door (residence) is expected to have the tool or tools to accomplish the task.  Once upon a time the pick head axe was used on the majority of forcible entries. Today there are an assortment of tools and techniques that assist in forcing entry and the list continues to grow.

Firefighters should be proficient in the basic forcible entry skills for at least three reasons:

  • The need to quickly gain entry. The majority of fire and emergency operations start at the front door. Before tactics such as search, rescue or the stretching of a hand line to the location of the fire, firefighters must first gain entry.
  • Improper techniques can lead to excessive damage. A firefighter with an axe can gain entry into a residence, but why destroy a perfectly good door for a non-fire emergency?  With proper training, most firefighters can open a door with a small amount of damage.
  • Remember we are all professionals. Pride in our work shows pride in the department. The citizens who trust us also rely on our good judgement.

The firefighters efficiency in forcing entry depends on two factors:

 

–     Choosing the proper tool(s) for the job and

–     Using the proper technique to the component.

 

The need to gain access is determined by several factors.

 

  • Is there active fire or smoke showing? Are there suspected or confirmed person(s) inside? Gaining access in a rapid and safe manner is expected in these cases.
  • Is there only a report of an alarm sounding and on arrival nothing is showing? A slower but deliberate method can be used in this instance. It may even be preferable to wait for the owner to show up and they can gain access for you.
  • In many commercial buildings there are Knox-Boxes installed and these should be used if available.

When the first unit arrives on scene an assessment should be made as to the need for forcible entry. Many times the front door is open already. If it is closed, is it wood or metal, is there a screen or storm door in front of it, does it swing in or out, is there a window in the door, and of course if it is closed, is it unlocked already.  This assessment should be made during the size up. Once entry is made, there should be some method to ensure the door doesn’t close. I have used a smoke fan, porch chair, sprinkler wedge, or a brick from the flower bed to prop the door open.

When we leave the scene the best case scenario is that we didn’t damage the door or lock and the door can be closed and secured for the citizen. If the door had to be removed or is damaged beyond use, we should make every effort to secure the opening in some manner so the owner/occupant can feel safe inside. It also helps with our image which we cannot get enough of.

Forcible entry should not be any more of a challenge than pulling a line from the engine. Training is the first step and goes hand in hand with pre-planning, especially on the commercial buildings. When we pull up on a commercial building we should already know what we need to force entry.

Forcible entry – easy when you are ready, harder when you are not.  The secret to success is to be ready.

 

Be safe – Everyone Goes Home…

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