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.
This week I was given the privilege of observing The Fire Asylum’s Masters of Mayhem training program. The Fire Asylum is the brain child of Marty Mayes, a retired veteran police officer and firefighter from Texas. I have known Marty for quite sometime and this training program has been building for many years before this moment in time. This was Marty’s second class being ran at the former West Virginia State Penitentiary in Moundsville, West Virginia. The students brought to this class did not know one another and were essentially six strangers.
The prison itself is a daunting structure and really foreshadows what each student is in for during the training. At the beginning of the day of training each student lines up at the front entrance of the prison. Each student is brought into the prison, just as the inmates were when this prison started. The Moundsville State Penitentiary had one of two revolving entrances in the world, and each student goes though this process when they start their day. The students are lead to the cells of the maximum security wing of the prison, the North Hall Block, where they are put into the very location that some of the most notorious prisoners of this penitentiary stayed.
The students are given the expectations of the program and given their uniform shirt for the 25 hour training they are about to endure. Yes, you read right. This training is 25 hours long. The students will train for 25 hours in a row with a few breaks thrown in, but we will get back to this part of the program soon. The students are led to a classroom where they are introduced to their instructors and go over the objectives of the training.
Students are lead back to the lock down recreation yard in the prison complex and introduced to the “Grinder”. The Grinder is where the students are going to spend a good part of their day. The Grinder is a make shift Self Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA) confidence course designed to stress the students and bring them to a point of exhaustion. Students will go through the Grinder over and over again, until they have mastered the skills in the Grinder. This part of the training goes well into the night. The students are tired, but morale is good.
As someone who has never seen or experienced this type of training before, it was amazing to see how the students bonded with one another fairly quickly. These relative strangers had become a cohesive unit working together for a unified goal. It was very inspiring to see these students come to this point in their training.
The students were taken to the second floor of the prison and introduced to the “Snowcone”. The Snowcone is a three level SCBA confidence course, similar to the Grinder, but this is all enclosed and in almost complete darkness. The Snowcone only has one way in and one way out. This is where the students will be put to the test and will find enlightenment.
As I started to observe the students go one by one into the Snowcone, emotions started to bubble up from the students. Some of the students thrived in the Snowcone and some needed encouragement to complete the tasks. It was powerful each instructor of the program took the time necessary to encourage the students to discover their shortcomings and discover new skills sets to complete the tasks before them. It was powerful to see the interactions between the instructors and students. I personally have never seen this type of instruction given to students. If one had a particular problem within the Snowcone, the instructor would go right in with them to help guide them past what was holding them back.
I recall a particular incident where a student left the Snowcone complaining of chest pain. After a medical evaluation, one of the instructors sat down one on one with the student to help guide him to the root of the issue. The student was then allowed to return to the Snowcone, but this time the prop was surrounded by all the instructors. The instructors ensured that the student was able to successfully complete the drill without complications. This indeed happened and the student learned from his incident. The student grew and became more mentally resilient.
The second incident that I observed during the training was a student who found the limits of his body. The student had just exited the Snowcone and was visibly overwhelmed. The instructors brought him to the side and started to medically evaluate him. The student had reached a point of complete exhaustion and was sidelined for the time being until he could be rehabbed. Unfortunately, the student had reached his physical limit and wasn’t able to complete anymore drills, but once he started to feel better you could perceive it was bothered him to not be with the crew. It really showed how much this group had bonded with one another. Eventually he did return to observe his fellow students. It was a true inspiration to see his dedication to the group effort.
As the night progressed, each student learned more about themselves from each drill. They may not have been able to receive these enlightenments without this high-stress training. For me it was a humbling experience to observe this group of relative strangers grow and become a strong unit of brother firefighters. I was truly blown away with the skill, patience, and love the instructors had for this group of students and truly the fire service as a whole. Even though I didn’t participate in the training, I too couldn’t help to feel bonded with these students and instructors. I consider myself truly lucky to be able to observe this training and hope to take it myself at the next offering.
Before I finish this article, I wanted to highlight the most inspiring story of this experience. One of the students I met during this experience was Matt Wander. Matt is an Army Veteran and has worked in the fire service for several years. He was someone who latched on the The Fire Asylum’s mission from the first time he saw it.
In 2013, after serving our country and becoming a firefighter and paramedic, Matt had started to get sick. Matt was found to have a tumor in his abdominal region. In December of 2013, Matt started his chemotherapy treatment, but had to discontinue. Matt was given a medication alternative. In the beginning of 2014, Matt was hospitalized and given one to four weeks to live. After four weeks had passed, Matt was still alive and given another month to live. Matt surpassed that expectation as well and was given a few more months to live. Then, it seemed as if he was beating the odds. However, it was discovered Matt’s cancer had become inoperable and terminal.
Matt reached out to Marty and told him his story that he had always wanted to take the Masters of Mayhem class. Marty obviously found this story heart wrenching, and he felt the need to give Matt his wish. Marty was able to raise the funds to bring Matt and his caregiver girlfriend Emily to Moundsville.
Matt was allowed to participate in the training as he felt up to it. He was monitored the whole time by Marty and Emily, making sure he didn’t over commit himself. Obviously, watching Matt go through the Grinder and participate in other activities in the training was a true inspiration to not only myself, but also to the other students and the instructors.
Matt was able to give it his all during his time in The Fire Asylum, and it was truly amazing to meet him and see him operate on the training grounds. Matt is what firefighting is all about. Despite what is going on with him, he left it behind to accomplish the task at hand. Many can learn from Matt’s example, and it was truly a gift to be able to meet him. I hope Matt is able to defy the odds again and beats his cancer to live a long and healthy life. I am truly honored to call him a friend and brother.
As I conclude this article, I can’t talk more highly of this experience and hope that as you read this it ignites something with you. I cannot recommend this class more highly for any firefighter at any level of their career. If you wants to learn more about yourself or learn your limitations, this is the class for you. The Fire Asylum is a safe place where a firefighter can go to learn about themselves without fear of being chastised or belittled. As Marty says, The Fire Asylum is an asylum for a firefighter to discover him or herself. If you truly are interested in becoming a better firefighter, then you need to enroll in this class. You won’t regret it! I have included links to The Fire Asylum website and Facebook page. Dip your toe into the asylum and see if you can’t find what you are seeking. It’s worth the time and consideration.
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.
As the fire service keeps evolving so do the tactics of company operations. Depending on the department and the respective jurisdiction everyone has their own special needs to better operate within their response area. Some area may require tankers/tenders due to their area lacking hydrants or a quint type of aerial apparatus may be better suited for an area that is isolated from other areas and has the potential to use the ladder for a rescue while a crew is stretching a hose line. The same concept may be applied to how engines are designed to be equipped with hose lines in different locations for better operability including traverse lines that may be deployed of either side of the apparatus, lines racked lines that allow for lines to be deployed off the rear, and lines that are designed in the front bumper. Each type of line location may have a different variation that allows for firefighters to deploy multiple lengths and in various directions.
The front bumper line is important to think about because it allows for multiple advantages when operating at an incident. Every department has their own operating procedure that details how apparatus shall respond and operate at an incident. The location of the line allows for the apparatus to be positioned nosed into the scene rather than pulling past or stopping directly parallel to the incident. This apparatus placement may benefit the operation in situations such as a vehicle incident in a roadway where there must be a constant flow of traffic, an incident at the end of a cul-de-sac where apparatus parking scarce, or at end of a property with an isolated driveway. As always department procedures and constant training with these types of set ups will better develop the skills and thought processes of your firefighters.
There are different ways of packing a bumper line ranging from a triple flat lay with ended loops to a double reverse doughnut roll that allows for one firefighter to deploy the line without much effort. Many departments differ the way they run their front bumper lines, and each department uses it for a different reason. Some departments need to run them as 1st in attack line due to home placement and apparatus positioning, others run them as car/trash fire lines. The photo above of Waldwick First Due Engines shows a 100ft of 1.75″ hose used primarily as a trash line. The hose is flat packed accordion style. This pack allows the department to deploy this hose in a timely matter when the incident does not dictate pulling a true attack line from the cross lays or the rear. This pack also allows the members to break the hose into a 50ft length, when 100ft is not needed. With this style of pack, the nozzle and backup firefighter just simply need to walk straight toward the incident, with little to no mess being made on the ground.
The modified triple horseshoe flat lay allows for the line to broken down into increments of 50’ in the case of this engine pictured . It works in a similar way as the accordion pack however the hose is vertically positioned and allows for a firefighter to either deploy directly out of the tray or pull the deployment loops on the left in order to take out each section out of the tray. The third photo shows a hose line on the front bumper of a quint that is designed for minor fires and incidents. This rack also features the reverse horseshoe with the loop closer to the piping rather than the opposite side. The way in which a line is racked depends on the apparatus, the personnel, and constant training. Every firefighter may have a preference to how and when to use the line but it the responsibility of the leadership to provide adequate training and guidelines on the usage of the dedicated line.
Robert Policht and Michael Ferrara
Establishing a water supply is one of the most important components in any successful firefighting operation. Without a stable water supply, fire suppression operations cannot continue which creates a web of other considerations that cannot continue such as search and rescue tactics. Tanker operations and tactics may be necessary in certain geographical areas due to lack of hydrants. It can also be used in a variety of situations where it makes more sense to set up a tanker shuttle operation in a dead hydrant area rather than dropping an excess of supply line and starting a relay pump operation. It all depends on a department’s standard operation guidelines and understanding the resources available for the incident. Some departments have automatic mutual aid agreements that detail which locations in their jurisdictions require this operations along with what special resources are to be requested to execute this game plan.
There are many different types of tankers out there ranging from tractor drawn rigs that carry thousands of gallons of water to highly developed vehicles that have multiple dump chutes that can be triggered on the fly. According to NFPA 1901 the minimum capacity shall be 1,000 gallons this means a vehicle being labeled a tanker can range greatly. This is why you have to be aware of your surrounding jurisdictions and what resources are available. Tanker operations require consistent training and teamwork among mutual aid. The most important aspect of a successful tanker operation is continuous training. The more you practice, the better you and your department will be at executing the tasks associated with setting up the operation.
Before jumping into training scenarios make sure to work with your mutual aid that would respond to assist with tanker operations. Host a round table discussion going over how everyone sets up their operations and go over the resources each unit has such as pools, tank capacity, and any other pertinent information. Some departments have tankers that carry over a thousand gallons of water however the vehicle only has a single dump valve that has to manually operated compared to a vehicle that has three dump chutes that can be opened from the cab while driving along the pools. This is important because the second vehicle will be able to empty it’s tank quicker and get back into the rotation quicker than the other.
There are a variety of ways that departments set up their tanker shuttle operation at a fire scene however there area a few basic components that are always in play. When a tanker shuttle is called a tanker will set up it’s pool close to the fire scene so that the dedicated engine that will draft from the pool to supply lines being operated on scene. After, multiple tankers will continue to cycle shuttling water from either a distant hydrant or from a static supply where another dedicated engine contains a draft to fill the rotating tankers. The cycle continues throughout the duration of the incident until the water supply can be broken down.
Make sure that a water supply officer (WSO) is appointed during the duration of the incident in order to ensure that the operation is progressing well. The WSO will be able to let incident command know how the operation is going and if more resources are needed. Think about assigning someone to assist the WSO with keeping the roadway clear so that the tankers are able to get to and from the fill site without any issues. Always be prepared for the unknown and call for more tankers. You can always implement a staging officer to monitor tankers in staging in the event you need more water quicker. Make sure that the WSO can maintain communications with all the resources involved in the tanker shuttle. This may require having spare radios available that are assigned to the vehicle when they arrive on scene. Don’t forget your basics and use components of the national incident management system in order to have a successful tanker shuttle operation.
*Photos courtesy of Mahwah Fire Company 4*
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.