In April of 2015, I wrote an article on my perspective of women in the fire service. In the article I spoke regarding a local department that recently had harassment charges brought forward by several women. Some of those charges included the fact that there were not separate sleeping arrangements for men and women at a majority of the stations.
In your department, if there is any harassment charges brought forward, we as leaders must respect the person or persons bringing the charges forward. In the article I spoke of earlier, the mayor actually stated that he didn’t believe there were any problems on the fire department and there are always going to be whiners in any job. So, if you are a female and work for that department and believe you are being harassed then the mayor has already labeled you as a whiner and complainer if you bring those issues forward. How likely is anyone to speak out with that kind of attitude at the top?
One year later one of those original females had the,(well you know), to actually file a harassment lawsuit against the department (read the article here – http://www.tampabay.com/news/courts/tampa-firefighter-fired-after-filing-harassment-suit/2272213) and a very short time later she was fired. I guess the mayor stuck to his guns and again labeled her as a “whiner.”
The Chief of the department stated in his memo to the female firefighter that she “violated the city personnel manual, specifically: “falsification, misrepresentation, or material omission of statements, testimony, or any document or record completed in the course of employment or in obtaining employment, including group insurance claims.”
The department spokesman declined to comment. No need. The Mayor and the Chief said it all.
We all know that if there are male and females working in the same environment things are going to happen between them regardless of the policies. That doesn’t make it harassment, but it can provide an opportunity for it. No one can stop it, but we as leaders can address it. We must make it known that this type of behavior is not tolerated and if something is brought to our attention, we have to deal with it appropriately.
As I stated in the article a year ago, the mayor made dollars available to address the privacy issue. Curtains. That’s the solution for now. How many stations have been built in the last thirty years? I am betting it’s more than the number that have privacy cubicles.
It is unfortunate that we still elect and appoint leaders who would fit better in the 1950’s than in today’s world. For those leaders (term used loosely) it is time to wake up, woman in the fire service is not a trend, it’s been here for a long time. Things like privacy issues should have been addressed a long time ago. And certainly termination is not the answer to any of the aforementioned issues. Communication, education, and understanding are what we need from our leaders today.
As I said before, it all starts at the top.
Stay Safe, Everyone Goes Home
Have you ever sat at a red light and in your side view mirror you see someone coming up too fast to stop at the light, and then you realize they have no intention to stop. Immediately you look at traffic coming through the green light and at that moment, what we like to call the pucker factor kicks in, and you cringe as the speeding car barely gets through the intersection without incident thanks to the well timed braking of the oncoming traffic.
If you are first to arrive at a house fire and have a fire showing in one or two rooms, you handle this fairly easy. Establish command, assign an attack crew, assign a vent crew, and have backups in place and as the attack crew makes entry, the vent crew breaks the window out in the room involved just as the attack crew fills the involved room with a fog stream, knocks the fire out and waits for the smoke to clear. Fast, easy, effective and somewhat routine.
Take the same scenario and as you pull up to the scene a woman runs up to you and frantically tells you her baby is in the crib in the back bedroom. You begin a size up and see fire in the room inside the open front door and also in what is probably the front bedroom. Remember that car running the red light? I’m certain you now have the same feeling. While it is never a good time to have some type of failure on the fire ground, even at routine calls, when life is at risk it is really not a good time. So, what do we do to minimize the opportunity for failure?
As the first arriving officer on the scenario above, establishing command at the onset becomes paramount. Establishing command lets other units know someone is on scene, someone is in charge, and that someone is the person all other companies need to get information to and from. The Incident Commander’s (IC) next steps should include size-up, verifying the location and ETA of incoming units, assigning a crew for rapid entry and search once a backup crew is in place, communicate with the mother to verify location of the child and if there are any obstacles or other things you should be aware of before entry.
Other items to consider include ventilation, fire suppression, EMS and transport, water supply if needed, power company, law enforcement and fire investigation to name a few.
So far we have;
This should all be accomplished within the first one or two minutes. As the entry team prepares to enter, the backup crew may need to perform some horizontal ventilation to relieve some of the smoke conditions inside. Notify dispatch when the entry team goes in and also give updates as the entry team reports back. This type of radio documentation could become extremely important at a later date.
If all goes according to the IC’s plan of attack, the search and rescue will be successful without injuries and will be uneventful.
Certainly in this scenario, the search and successful rescue of the child is all important. However, just as I consider fire prevention to be most important in the fight against fires, I also believe the first one or two minutes that the first arriving unit is on scene and assumes command is the most important two minutes to a successful outcome of any fire or emergency incident. Not only do we as fire service leaders want to have successful rescues, we also want incidents without injury to the citizens or our personnel.
We know that our firefighters do effective and exceptional jobs at emergency incidents. And we know it is because of the training everyone gets all the time. How much of that time is spent on training our officers about incident command and all of the things that go with it? I’m guessing it is a lot less. Certainly incident command training can be improved in almost every department. If possible, try some scenario-based training using buildings in your town. Another way is to have an officer bring in a pre-fire plan of a target hazard to your officer meeting, have them make a presentation on the building and why it is a target hazard, then create a scenario about that building. This gives each officer an opportunity to show their skills in public speaking, planning and command. I think you just might be surprised.
Remember, stay safe, Everyone Goes Home.
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!
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.
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”.