When presented with the question of what does Brotherhood (specifically in the fire service) mean to me, the more I thought about it, the more I realized how difficult it was to describe. I attempted to define it but found that also was difficult to do. A good analogy for me goes something like this; What is air? I can’t see it, but I can’t live without it. If I am under water, I can’t breathe it without SCUBA gear. If I’m in a fire, I need SCBA to breathe it. For something that is so vital to my existence, it really is very transparent. I have come to appreciate cold weather because at least then I can see my breath, if only for a moment. Brotherhood is like that. You can’t see it, but you can experience it, and in the fire service we definitely need it.
Antoine De Saint-Exupery said this about brotherhood, “One can be a brother only in something. Where there is no tie that binds men, men are not united but merely lined up.” Globally we are all in a brotherhood. We all breathe the same air, we all see the same stars, and we are all warmed by the same sun. So we are in a brotherhood, a brotherhood of man, if you will. But what about the firefighter Brotherhood? I have researched the term and find that we are very good at having tattoo’s and t-shirts espousing “Our Brotherhood” and some very nice designs to go along, but we really aren’t very good at describing it. “I’ve got your back?” It has to mean more than that.
I did find this quote which comes closer to the meaning I was looking for. “You cannot see brotherhood; neither can you hear it nor taste it. But you can feel it a hundred times a day. It is the pat on the back when things look gloomy. It is the smile of encouragement when the way seems hard. It is the helping hand when the burden becomes unbearable.” Peter E. Terzick Regardless of what we say, we really do appreciate the pat on the back, especially if it comes from one our fellow firefighters. And sometimes it is just a smile or a nod. But we know it and feel it when we see it. And sometimes, because of a family death, a divorce, serious injury to a loved one, or any number of events that bring us down, yes sometimes we all need that helping hand. That’s the brotherhood I’m trying to describe. Our Brotherhood is like the air we breathe. We can’t see it, but we know when we’ve got the good stuff going on.
There were many times when I would go outside the firehouse, sit on the bench facing the street, and just have a big grin on my face. Maybe it was the great job we just got finished with, or a really good extrication, or a cardiac arrest we brought back. But just thinking of how we all worked together as one and performed so well, it was like a breath of fresh air that brought a smile to my face.
For sure there were bad times. The children who did not make it, the person we could not extricate fast enough to save, or the 21 year old female who overdosed and we just could not get a heartbeat. But we still all worked as one. We did our best.
It was the best of times; it was the worst of times, Charles Dickens. For my career, it was the best job I could have ever had. Even the worst day on the job was still a good day. But I didn’t do it alone. I had my Brothers at the firehouse, as I am sure all of you do.
That’s how we make it through. Because we care about each other. We help each other. We become concerned for each other. We spend time with each other.
That’s brotherhood for me. Like a family away from home, or better still a family at my second home. As a family, We are not separated by our differences but are united by our passion. It can’t really be defined, it can only be experienced.
We Lucky Few, We Band of Brothers, William Shakespeare
By the way – In my book, female and male firefighters are all my brothers!
Stay Safe – Remember, all of our Brothers go home.
Just mention staffing or manpower in a room of firefighters of any rank and heads will turn. It is something we are all concerned with and that very few departments are happy with. If you were at a firefighters conference and asked for a show of hands how many were satisfied with their staffing on engines and truck companies, very few if any hands would go up. If you asked the same question at a fire chief’s conference the answer would be close to the same with a few more hands going up. So yes, it is a concern for all firefighters. For this article I will concentrate on engine company staffing although the same principles could be applied to the truck companies.
So what is the ideal number of firefighters that should be on an engine for fire responses? I am not sure anyone can state without argument what the ideal number is, but I’m pretty close to certain that a two person engine company is not it. I can only speak for paid departments although I would think there is not much two people can do as a first arriving unit. If the department always has two engines responding from the same station on every fire call with two personnel on each unit would put four personnel on the fire scene until more help arrives. But if a department had that set up, why not put all four on the same engine? And I am sure there are reasons why you would keep two engines responding, but I can’t think of any. So a two man engine crew can stop at the plug, wrap the hydrant, lay a line and wait for the next unit to connect to the hydrant, but once on the scene entry should not be made except in extreme lifesaving circumstances. But who would go in? Okay I beat that dead horse. A two man crew will get a unit on scene and can take command and perform size up and a quick walk around. But confine, control, extinguish, and maybe rescue will have to wait for another unit.
A three man crew is a little better and is what I am accustomed to in the department I worked for. We also had a EMS unit with firefighters responding so that for the most part, there were five personnel on scene with an average response time of about four and a half minutes. And of course there were two more engines and a truck company responding. Within the first eight to ten minutes from alarm time there were usually 14-16 personnel on scene. Yes, it is a good system for three man engine crews. You can leave a man at the hydrant who can then charge the line when ready, walk to the scene and usually arrive at about the same time as the second or third engine. Plenty of personnel to perform the basic firefighting operations required. Did I mention this is in a mostly residential city, and most were single story. So the system worked very well. I certainly can see where that same three man engine crew would not be ideal depending on the demographics of the community. One size does not fit all. With three people you can grab the hydrant and charge it, but you still only have two people at the scene. I feel comfortable in saying that a three person engine crew works well dependent upon the demographics and needs of the individual department or municipality.
Four personnel on an engine? All the time? Now that would be great. In my work experience with an EMS unit responding at the same time, you could catch the hydrant, the officer could take command without going in, and still have enough personnel to comply with the two in two out rule. Ideal? As I said, an argument can be made for any number one may think is ideal, but it does make some sense that the more personnel on an engine translates to getting more of the important stuff done when you get on scene. So we can agree at least in concept that four is better than three and three is better than two.
A five person crew as minimum staffing? I am sure there are some out there but I don’t know where. It would be interesting if there are any to know the demographics of the community, the size of the department, and how the department came to have five on the engine.
At the end of the day, I would submit that ideal staffing on an engine company would depend on your community, the size of the department, response times of other units, and the risks your community leaders are willing to take. These risks certainly should be explained by the fire chief along with his recommendations so that the community leaders can make an informed decision, whether we think it is right or not. When it is all said and done, they make the decision.
As firefighters we all believe we know what would be ideal staffing for our engines. As leaders, and as fire chiefs, we probably have the same number in mind but have to weigh that number with what we know the budget will pay for and what we know the community leaders will be comfortable with. Rarely do the numbers match, but as firefighters, we make it work and for the most part done in a safe manner.
I have really only touched the surface on this somewhat sensitive subject. But maybe it will start some people thinking.
Remember to stay safe – Everyone Goes Home
Last year, I had the opportunity to present a training on impalements and removal incidents. I had the opportunity to take the P.L. Vulcan class a few years ago and it got me thinking outside the box about using different tools to take care of certain types of scenarios. One of the most important takeaways was the portable bandsaw and what it is able to accomplish compared to other tools like hydraulic cutters and sawzalls. As Mark discussed in his class, some of the best pros include less heat production on the material being cut as well as the smooth transition of the material once cut. A hydraulic cutter will cause the material to pop due to the fracturing of the material. In the case of rebar the material will violently pop and displace compared to little to no movement when cut with the bandsaw. Rescue situations are focused on patient care. It is important to focus on medical elements in conjunction with rescue operations. Being able to determine the severity of injury is vital in determining how much time (the golden hour) and resources may be allotted on scene to get the patient the best chances of survival.
We developed our station using our homemade hose manikin, steel pipe, gate valves, and 1/2″ rebar. Using Mahwah Company 4‘s
ladder bailout simulator we set up two station on the existing prop. On the side we had a single gate valve to allow members to become aware of how the bandsaw will work during a basic cut of rebar.
Under the window we set up another gate with fitting to manipulate the angle of the rebar. The first scenario depicted a patient impaled through his back. Then the patient was stabilized on the window sill via a scoop. The scoop allowed for the patient to be supported while working around the rebar due the center opening of the equipment before being locked in. After EMS took care of packaging the wound and further securing the patient. At that time the rescue crew began the cut on the rebar using the portable bandsaw. As mentioned this created no movement and almost no heat. After as in many EMS scenarios the patient was moved through the window and “transported”.
The second scenario of the night involved a patient being impaled through their leg with the rest of the hips and upper body already through the window. This was done to create a limb impaled on a fence situation. Once again EMS stabilized and padded the rebar in the thigh area. Additionally a basic tourniquet was applied to mitigate a severed femoral artery in the evolution. After the upper body of the patient was supported, the rescue crew began working on the rebar. The bandsaw made the cut with no heat and no movement. This is vital on these types of situations because it creates less potential for further injury.
Ventilation could be defined as the removal of smoke and hot fire gases from a burning structure. There are several situations where ventilation should be used and include fire attack, fire control, search and rescue and overhaul. As officers we have a choice of basic ventilation techniques to remedy each of these situations. This paper will be discussing vertical ventilation and its pros and cons, the resources needed to carry it out, and the best application to use.
Vertical ventilation allows heat and smoke to travel upwards and out of a structure. In a single family residence of one story the effects are noticed immediately. The vent crew (usually two men on the roof for a residence) begins by removing any existing vents or chimneys that may already exist. If this is not enough, then cutting a hole is needed. Fully protected, these firefighters also need cutting equipment, ladders, a charged hose line, and two means of escape. Firefighters should make cuts as close to the seat of the fire as possible. Once the cutting is done and venting has begun, it’s time to vacate the roof and get back to the ground and safety.
Vertical ventilation works because as we all know, heat rises. This is a natural movement and as the heat rises, it will take the smoke and hot gases with it out of the vent hole. It could be said that this is the most effective type of ventilation because it speeds the natural process along. When done properly, vertical ventilation reduces, prevents, or stops the mushrooming of gases and smoke and makes interior conditions clearer and safer.
There are, of course, drawbacks to using vertical ventilation. As the officer, you are placing at least two firefighters in a dangerous spot to accomplish a needed task. There is the risk of structure or roof collapse, disorientation from heavy smoke conditions, and or stepping off the roof by accident. Vertical ventilation is time consuming and many times impractical. If it is a multi-story structure and the fire is on the first floor, it may be better to use a different type of ventilation. Some roofs are extremely difficult to open up, which takes a long time and exposes your men to more risk. Not only having at least two men on the roof is required, others are needed for ladder placement, hose line work, and extra tool retrieval if needed. So it is easy to see that vertical ventilation takes extra resources. By comparison, breaking windows from the outside to effect horizontal ventilation takes one firefighter.
With adequate personnel, a department can perform vertical ventilation and other operations at the same time. Fire containment and extinguishment is most effectively accomplished with vertical ventilation. Search, rescue, and overhaul have other ventilation options that departments with limited personnel can perform. The goal in controlling the fire is to stop the horizontal and or vertical spread of the fire and vertical ventilation is best at doing this.
Stay Safe – Everyone goes Home
When it comes to keeping yourself safe in a fire, there’s never a point when you’ve done enough. You can always do more to keep yourself in top shape and training to brave the danger that facing a fire involves. You can always use more training in the upkeep and maintenance of firefighting equipment.
Keeping Up With Fire Equipment Blogs
Take advantage of the age of the internet by keeping your eyes out for new knowledge and news regarding firefighting equipment. Search around the websites of a few trusted firefighters and fire equipment dealers to make sure you don’t miss out on anything. L.N. Curtis & Sons has a blog where you can stay up-to-date on the newest equipment and learning ways to maximize the tools and equipment you already have.
There are also a number of books and pamphlets you can find that outline good ways to keep your fire equipment in working order.
How to Maintain Personal Protective Equipment
There’s one simple rule of thumb that answers a lot of questions about equipment upkeep and maintenance. Some people try to find a good weekly or monthly schedule to check all their equipment, but that’s not enough. The fact is, if you go into a fire site, you have put your equipment in the hazard zone. Even if you didn’t touch anything and don’t think anything needs to be checked out, you could be wrong. That’s why the number one rule is this: if you wear it, clean it. Or, for tools: if you touch it, clean it.
This may seem too strict, but the fact is, you are risking a lot by going back into a fire with equipment that you haven’t cleaned or checked. All it takes is one time for you to go into a fire with a suit you didn’t know was damaged to wake up to the importance of always checking and double-checking your firefighting turnout gear.
Taking Care of Your Tools
Make a regiment of testing your masks, oxygen, and the batteries of all your tools. Remember, half of firefighting is being prepared for whatever is out there. You can never be too prepared for a fire. Imagine going in with a faulty flashlight or a damaged gas mask or turnout gear with a hole in it. You probably won’t notice the problem until it’s too late. Think of checking and cleaning your firefighting gear as an insurance policy.
There are probably no more terrifying words at an emergency scene than these three. Firefighters immediately look around, or feel around, to see if everyone is there that’s supposed to be. Company officers check to see if their entire crew is present and where they are supposed to be. After the initial shock of hearing the call, the Safety Officer and Accountability Officer begin going through mental checklists to make sure they have everything covered. The assigned Rapid Intervention Team (RIT), (you do have one assigned right?), begins checking equipment and prepares to enter the structure. The Incident Commander (IC) knows from the second he hears the call that he has to remain calm, cool, and maintain a good command presence as this shows confidence in his actions. After acknowledging the MAYDAY, the IC will begin to follow the departments SOG’s and begin to manage the MAYDAY call..
After the initial actions, the IC should request a Personnel Accountability Report (PAR) to ensure everyone is accounted for. It is a good idea to get another alarm responding to the scene. If it’s not included in the next alarm, request another EMS unit also. We all know it’s better to turn units around than to call for them. It is also a good idea to assemble a second RIT to back up the first. The IC has to also maintain operational continuity. Fire suppression operations must continue as those very actions may be keeping the troubled firefighter alive. One important step for the IC is to delegate the RIT functions to another command officer. There are those who believe they can perform both operations, but in this type of emergency, one should not attempt to serve two masters.
History shows that MAYDAYs normally occur in the first ten minutes of fire scene operations. What this shows is that it is typically (not always) a firefighter(s) from the first arriving units on the scene or one of the first crews to enter a structure. This illustrates the importance to listen and maintain radio communications at the scene or while enroute to the scene.
The IC should perform a face to face with the command officer in charge of the RIT. Make sure all of the information that is needed by the RIT is transferred to the RIT command officer. If possible designate a separate radio channel just for the RIT and have someone at the Command Post monitor that channel while the IC continues suppression operations. Hopefully, in the end, the RIT will communicate good news and everything will return to normal chaos.
The single most important step in the MAYDAY process is training and planning before a MAYDAY happens. It should always be taken seriously and the importance of a RIT should be reinforced at every opportunity. Because of the training you have had, if a MAYDAY call comes across your radio, your first thought should be, “We can handle this”!
Remember to stay safe and “Everyone Goes Home”.
Someone once said that a person’s perspective is their reality. That is true to a point because that perspective, or reality, in some instances can be changed. For example, if you ask anyone which way a hurricane rotates, the first answer you will get is “Counterclockwise, of course”.
And that is true. But only if you look at the formation from above, which is where we see it from, a satellites perspective. However, if we were able to look at that same hurricane rotation from below, from ground level, the perspective changes. Now it is rotating clockwise. A simple lesson on perspective and how your viewpoint can change how you see the same thing.
As leaders, we have learned that to be effective we have to be good listeners. How many times have we listened to someone with an idea or a complaint, no matter how sincere it is, and somewhere in the listening phase we begin to form a viewpoint and start listening from our perspective. If we are honest, it probably has happened more than we want to remember. This is not really listening, this is what I call selective hearing.
A better and more effective way of listening is to first clear the mind and atmosphere of all clutter. When someone comes to my office to talk about an issue or an idea I do two things first.
First, I close the laptop or turn away from the computer screen. If you don’t have one at your desk, then go to step two.
I make a point of taking my phone out and turning it off. Let the other person see you do it. Then I put it in a drawer.
With those two things out of the way you no longer have to think about an email popping up or your phone ringing. Now you are ready to listen and listen good. Take notes so you can go back to important points and bring them up again. Don’t interrupt, keep eye contact, don’t look at your watch or the clock on the wall, listen like you mean it. Whoever is sitting at your desk expects you to listen to them and respect their viewpoint. Remember that you are trying to gain insight as to where the person is coming from, what is driving them to bring the subject up in the first place. If we can do that, then it helps us to see the issue or idea from their perspective. And if we can do that, then it is a win-win situation for you and the person sitting in front of you.
Sometimes, when the dance floor is crowded and it’s hard to move, you have get on the balcony to get a good view of what is happening. It is still the same dance, but certainly a different perspective. See the big picture and remember that your view is not the only view and it is not always right. Even in group settings try to see where others are coming from. It makes for better meetings, better classes, and certainly more interesting and meaningful communication.
How do you see it?
Remember, Stay Safe – Everyone Goes Home
Franklin and four friends founded the Union Fire Company on December 7, 1736. There were 26 members of this first brigade. Each member agreed to bring six leather buckets to carry water (1st Engine?) and two stout linen bags (1st Salvage Covers?) to rescue endangered property to every fire upon first being alerted of the emergency. In addition, members had pre-assigned roles;
Water management (Driver Engineer?)
Property protection (Truck Duties?)
Putting lights in neighboring windows to ensure an organized and prompt reaction
The Union Fire Company was immediately popular and they soon had more volunteers than they needed. When they reached 30 members, they refused new volunteers and instead told them to organize a new brigade. The more brigades, the more city could be covered. It worked.. Philadelphia has never had one of those massively destructive fires like the Chicago Fire of 1871.
Since that time and up to now, neighbors, farmers, local merchants, and the general public handled firefighting duties because their communities could not afford a paid firefighting force. If you lived in a big city then there were the necessary larger paid departments.
In the last 20 or so years the number of volunteers in each volunteer department has dwindled or recruitment and retention has become extremely difficult. This has forced fire department leaders to find creative ways to meet their missions while balancing increased demands, diminishing rosters and inadequate funding.
The reasons for the diminishing volunteers are many and include;
These are just a few reasons and each town most certainly has other issues because of demographics.
Many volunteers come to the job with a strong sense of community dedication, but they often burn out. Yesterday’s volunteers learned on the job. Today, they’re required to meet minimum training requirements. It’s a matter of personal safety for the volunteers.
In addition, they’re asked to deal with so much more than a burning building. Today’s volunteer is proficient in first aid, chemical spills, house fires and wildland fires. The bottom line – it’s a lot to ask of a volunteer.
The U.S. Fire Administration has seen the decline since the 1970s. That’s when economic pressures brought a surge in dual income families. Wage earners became hard pressed to find time for work, families and household chores. Volunteer firefighters began leaving. In 2007, The Fire Administration commissioned a study to define the problem and search for a remedy. Lack of time ranked right at the top of the reason why volunteers are falling away. The study’s conclusion: “From a management perspective, there’s not much the organization can do to address this issue.”
Really? That’s the best conclusion they could reach? Wow! And they get paid. Where do I sign up to make these brilliant statements for money?
I was never a volunteer. Okay, I said it. But I have always respected the largest firefighting force in the United States. In 2011, there were 1,100,000 firefighters serving in 30,145 fire departments nationwide and responding to emergencies from 55,400 fire stations. Of those firefighters, 31% or 344,000 were career firefighters and 69% or 756,000 were volunteers – over twice as many volunteers. Somewhere along the way paid departments began calling themselves professionals. I agree with that, but the same people looked down on volunteers as if they were something less. With the required training and certifications and expectations from the citizens they serve, I believe every firefighter in the U.S. is a professional. So the question remains, how do we turn around the decline?
Volunteer chiefs need to refer to their men and women as professionals’ everytime they get a chance, and then say it again. If they say it enough and explain the reasons why, people will begin to believe it. Probably harder is to get with local paid departments and offer to take part in training exercises. This allows more firefighters to be in the training exercise. As the paid firefighters realize the volunteers are just as good as they are, respect should follow.
Physical fitness – In Haines City, there was a physical fitness policy before I got there. And it showed. When we trained with other departments we were always out-performing them and lasting longer because we were in shape. This only helps in building mutual respect.
As I said, I was not a volunteer and do not claim to know all the reasons for the decline in recruits. But as a firefighter, I wanted to be respected and appreciated. I believe that is a great starting point to begin to turn things around. 756,000 firefighters can’t be all wrong, and there has got to be a lot of good ideas out there.
Stay Safe – Everyone Goes Home
As leaders, sometimes we don’t realize how closely we are being watched by our administrative staff, our line officers and firefighters, and by our superiors. Many organizations publish information on their mission, vision, and values – perhaps on the web, perhaps in other published materials. These tenets drive the organizations culture and put forth expectations.
The leader’s job is to set the organization’s vision. In other words, it is the leader’s job to put the coordinates in the organizations GPS so that everyone will know where they are going and that there is a map to get them there. So, how important is an organizational vision?
When Abraham Lincoln was elected President, he was immediately faced with the crisis of southern states wanting to leave the union. From the beginning, Lincoln’s vision was simple; Preserve the United States as one Country. From his inauguration speech to the last speech he made, and every person he talked to in-between, he explained why his vision was important, and how he believed we as a nation could achieve the goal of preserving what had been laid out almost a hundred years earlier.
When George McClellan won the day at Antietam, He was quoted as saying he had driven Bobby Lee back to Virginia and out of the Union. President Lincoln was furious that McClellan just didn’t get it. We were all one union, one country, and to preserve it the southern armies had to be defeated, not just merely driven back to Virginia. In the End, Lincoln found Grant and the southern armies were defeated and the United States remained as one.
How important was Lincoln’s vision? Most historians would say that President Lincoln’s vision of preserving the Union is why we still have a United States today.
One of the first things I developed when I became the Chief in Haines City Florida was to develop a vision statement to give the department a goal to work towards.
It was a pretty simple one: “Haines City Fire Department will be widely recognized as one that demonstrates best practices in the delivery of fire and emergency medical services to our community”.
It doesn’t seem like much, but for a department of 31 personnel with a previous five year 60% turnover rate, it really was a bold statement. So the question would be how did we make the department stand out with so many other departments in the county?
First we developed a strategic plan for the department. We did this at no cost (except overtime for 15 people for eight hours) by getting the assistance of a professor from Polk State College. We accomplished this at a time when other departments pay upwards of $10,000 for the same service. We completed the plan in a four month period. It was the first one the department ever had, and the first one any department in the city had. I think you could count on one hand the number of departments in that county that have one today.
A second project involved one of our firefighters who is an avid (50 – 70 miles a day on days off) bicyclist. He asked about the possibility of starting an EMS bike team, as no one else in the county had one. After a few phone calls, we acquired the use of two EMS bikes from another department in another county and tried them out at one of the city’s popular lake side events. They worked like a charm. From there the firefighter did his research, recommended two bikes, and found all of the other accessories needed. We found some money in the budget, made the purchases and in no time at all had the first EMS Bile Team in the county. It was a BLS team, but they carried AED’s and other BLS supplies. Today there are at least two other teams in the county and they came to our department to get information and all take part in training together. We were being recognized for our “Best Practices”.
These two examples were just the start. As the firefighters took more pride in their job and their work, the turnover rate dropped until it was 0% in my last year there. I believe it was all about the vision I had for the department and getting the personnel involved enough until they started coming up with ideas to make the department better. After that it’s a cycle that feeds on itself.
Vision – Does your department have one? Do you as a leader or one of the line personnel know what the goals for the department are? Someone once said “if you don’t know where you are going, you just might get there”.
“Nothing stops an organization faster than people who believe that the way you worked yesterday is the best way to work tomorrow.” Jon Madonna Vision is like a snapshot of the future for which your personnel are willing to work.
Take the blinders off.
Remember to Stay Safe. Everyone Goes Home.