11 McMansion challenges for firefighters

Posted on Sun, 7 Sep 2014 19:11:36 UTC

The size of the average American home has more than doubled since the 1950s; it now stands at 2,349 square feet. Whether it's a 5,000- to 10,000-square-foot mega home — or McMansion — in a wealthy neighborhood, or a bigger, cheaper house in the exurbs, the move toward ever-larger homes has been accelerating for years.

The continued growth in large residential structures has created overwhelming challenges for fire departments that are unprepared, untrained, understaffed, and underestimate the operational demands of a rapid developing fire in one of these residential structures.

This single-family mega home was destroyed on March 19, 2011 in Huntington, Md. and resulted in a mayday situation with nine firefighters injured after fire spread rapidly from a basement level chimney void into the 10,000-square-foot attic space.

Large home fires cannot be treated with the same conventional mind-set as a home built decades ago. Fires involving today's residential structures demand a strategic and tactical approach that is focused on training, pre-incident planning, and well-defined tactics based on current technology.

Plan and plan some more
Pre-incident planning is essential. This is especially true when it comes to access, water supply, and hose lay distances. Large residential structures are not bound by the same code requirements for sprinklers and draft stopping of void spaces as similar sized commercial structures.

Essentially, a fire involving a large wood frame home should be treated like a commercial building fire.

In addition to the lightweight construction concerns, and rapid fire spread potential, here are 11 unique challenges of large home fires.

  • Large open floor plan design.
  • Very large void spaces created.
  • Concealed rooms built within attic voids.
  • Fire scene staffing.
  • Lack of adequate road surface.
  • Water supply issues.
  • Large sections of unsupported brick veneer.
  • Extended hose lay distances.
  • Limited access.
  • Large and complex search areas.
  • Long driveways and gates.

How prepared is your department to adequately and safely respond to this unique and growing challenge?

Looking Is Not Always Seeing

Posted on Fri, 10 Jul 2009 11:06:28 UTC

A few years ago, I gave a patient assessment lecture to a group of EMTs. Early in the lecture, I announced that my assistant would be coming around with a handout. The assistant was a portly gentleman sporting a wide, ugly tie with yellow splotches. After standing in front of each student to distribute the material, he left the room.

Midway through the lecture, I asked the participants to describe his tie, thereby emphasizing the importance of observation to patient assessment. Most participants could not describe the tie or my assistant with any degree of accuracy. About 15 to 20 percent gave a fairly precise description of the tie, generally including the term 'ugly,' and a few must have been asleep as they wanted to know, "What assistant?"

The term for this aptly demonstrated phenomenon is 'inattentional blindness' because while we look, we don’t see. The information doesn’t register because our brains are focused elsewhere and ignoring the visual input. This may not pose a huge problem during a lecture, but can prove to be quite a predicament in the field.

How does our vision work?
Light waves (electromagnetic waves) are continuously bouncing off every object around us. Those light waves in the visible range (we can’t process ultraviolet or infrared waves) that get past the cornea and pupil then hit the retina in the back of the eye. The retina creates electrical signals that are transmitted to the brain, which in turn interprets the information and produces the vision that we 'see.' Don’t believe me? Close your eyes. What do you see?

Signal interpretation
Do we 'see' all the visual signals we receive? From where you are right now, stop reading and take a 180-degree or half-circle view of your surroundings, then close your eyes and recall what you just 'saw.' Now repeat the scan slower, paying attention to details and taking note of what you do not 'see.' All of the light waves bouncing off the objects in your visual field hit the retina and produce visual signals for the brain. Why did your brain fail to give you the total picture of what you saw? Information overload in any system can decrease performance, including your brain. To a significant degree, you determine what you see by the extent of attention you apply to what you are looking at or looking for. A lot of the visual input from the eyes to the brain never gets to perform on your brain's visual screen because you do not pay attention to the content. This can be both a blessing and a curse.

Can you imagine trying to start an IV in a nice fat vein but as you start to insert the needle your vision is overwhelmed with mental images of surrounding objects such as the patient’s clothing, the cot, the blood on the floor, etc., etc., etc.? You would likely be hard-pressed to hit the vein. Our ability to concentrate visual signals on the task at hand helps us select the visual information we need to get the job done.

But what happens when we fail to recognize important visual input? Think about the last time you were providing patient care and asked yourself, "Where did THAT come from?" It might be when the visual input about your patient’s cyanotic lips and weak respirations were sidelined by the visual input of the bloody, deformed open femur fracture, or when you did not 'see' that large pool of blood on the floor before you kneeled down. Or perhaps you found yourself in such a situation after your failure to notice a weapon on the ground. All these events occurred within your field of vision, but failed to register with your brain.

Inattentional thinking
Inattentional blindness has a partner called 'inattentional thinking.' Dispatch sends you to the third intoxicated, unresponsive individual of the day or to the chronic back pain patient that you have visited too many times before. The danger is thinking that the problem is going to be the same as before, or that the scene is as safe as it was the last time you were there. If we fail to consciously evaluate the scene every time, or assess the patient every time regardless of presentation or how many times we have previously seen the patient with the same complaint, we may miss scene hazards or fail to benefit from an accurate patient assessment. What if the intoxicated patient noted above is not just drunk this time, but has a subdural hematoma that occurred from an unwitnessed fall, producing a dilated pupil that we did not think to check? What if the chronic back pain patient on this trip has an expanding abdominal aortic aneurysm that we failed to find because we did not think to examine the abdomen for a pulsatile mass? How many other 'what if' scenarios could feasibly exist?

We all fall victim to unwanted inattentional blindness and thinking. Decreasing the frequency of its occurrence requires awareness, and awareness is fueled by knowledge. If this is your first look at inattentional blindness, I would encourage further study. Resources include Blink, a book on this topic by Malcolm Gladwell, as well as print and video resources readily available by searching the Internet. In the mean time, keep your eyes open and pay attention out there.

1. Rensink RA, O’Regan JK, Clark JJ. To See or Not to See, The Need of Attention to Perceive Changes in Scenes. Psychological Science. 1997:8; 368-373.
2. Simons DJ, Chabris CF. Gorillas In Our Midst: Sustained Inattentional Blindness For Dynamic Events. Perception. 1999. 28; 1059-1074.
3. Rensink RA. When Good Observers Go Bad: Change Blindness, Inattentional Blindness, and Visual Experience. Psyche. 2000:8.
4. Rensink, RA. Seeing, Sensing, and Scrutinizing. Vision Research. 2000:40; 1469-1487.

Firsthand account: 10 lessons from a massive flood

Posted on Tue, 15 Oct 2013 06:52:02 UTC

One of the largest disasters I have ever been involved with started in the middle of a plate of rigatoni when I heard our south units in Erie, Colo., speak of significant volumes of rain.

It was 17:30 on Sept. 11. I was in Longmont, Colo., just to the north of Erie. Mountain View Fire Protection District covers a large area, so I pushed the pasta aside and headed south in case things got interesting.

While driving, I noticed that all the irrigation and run-off ditches in the area were running high, but had not over-topped just yet. That was not surprising as it had been raining for the past two days.

The most recent rain event had caused localized flooding south of our Station 6 near Coal Creek. Blocked storm grates had increased the flooding, damaging many houses in that area.

I wasn't too worried that this would happen again. As I drove through a downpour, calls started coming in for downed power lines along a main artery into the town from the local interstate.

Multiple storm-related calls
We blocked traffic in both directions for about a mile to prevent shock while waiting for the power company to repair about six separate line breaks. We lost power to the area around 18:15 as rain continued.

As crews waited for power company reps, the volume of water running down the road increased to the point where soil from local field was being washed downstream and starting to flood Coal Creek and run into the local high school. Normally our crews would assist, but another call to the middle school's fire alarm systems had thinned out our resources.

At about 18:30, I coordinated with local police, who had set up an emergency operations center, to establish any rescue necessities in the areas that had flooded before. The storm drain that had caused issues a week before was working well at this point.

But water continued to flow into Coal Creek; the rising water had overtopped the road, effectively trapping smaller vehicles and stalling others. No rescues were called and by 20:30 the rain subsided and vehicles were able to cross the Coal Creek Bridge. Power returned around 21:00 and the local EOC stood down.

Mutual aid
I made it back to my station around 22:00 and got ready for bed. Around 02:00 I received a call from our dispatch center asking if we had any water-rescue resources that we could send up the canyons, as there were multiple collapsed structures and swiftwater rescues.

Our department has limited water rescue resources, but I called the number given me to inquire about specific needs prior to sending personnel to an unknown situation. The individual I called said that water rescue capabilities of all levels from all the surrounding fire districts had sent to Lyons or Boulder.

It quickly dawned on me that there were significant water-related disasters occurring along Boulder Creek, Lefthand Creek in Jamestown and most importantly the Saint Vrain River in Lyons. All three converge in our district.

I had to refuse to send our limited capabilities out of the region as there were no other resources left for what could be significant water rescues in the near future.

Preparing for the worst
I contacted our chief of operations who was engaged in incident management at the Boulder EOC and set in motion a plan to staff extra apparatus and ensure we could deliver service to both sides of the district once the flood waters divided it.

I also called back swiftwater-rescue certified individuals to staff another specialized rescue apparatus. Our district had recently completed surface, flood and swiftwater training to include the use of a personal watercraft (Kawasaki Jet Ski) for water rescue scenarios.

I drove the district to assess the water levels at all the bridges that crossed the two creeks and one river. At 05:30, water was up to the bridge girders and rising quickly.

About this time came emergency traffic from the incident teams in Lyons and Jamestown advising all personnel downstream to evacuate due to collapses in multiple dams. Six dams had collapsed, 20 had overtopped and that a weather system parked over the area had dumped 14 inches of rain in four days.

In some areas the sheer volume of rainwater run-off caused walls of water 20-feet high to rush down canyons that had no vegetation due to recent wildland fires. And our district was in its path.

People trapped
Water that normally running around 200 to 300 cubic feet per second had spread a half mile wide and was running 10,000 cubic feet per second. It spread out over the banks of the St. Vrain, flooding farm fields, destroying greenway paths and uprooting trees and utility poles without difficulty.

Our first call, around 08:30, was to rescue a couple trapped on their second floor as floodwaters washed through their first floor. When we arrived, the swiftwater training we recently completed had not prepared us for this level of impact.

Every few minutes, you could hear loud cracks as 12-inch circumference trees struck the bridge and shattered. You could also hear trees breaking as they fell into the creek or other trees.

Our first structure was the one with the highest risk and the greatest danger to the civilians. This home had beautiful stucco covered fence structures that funneled the water into and around their home. Horse trailers had been picked up and wrapped around trees. A pick-up truck sat abandoned 30 yards from the home with water up to its hood.

Dangerous 'rescue'
Our plan called for a three-person team to cross the torrent to reach the couple who were using their phones to video the rescue. The first team member struggled but made it across. The second and third members lost their footing, forced to use the water rescue rope to swing them into the far side of the rushing waters.

Once reached by the team, the couple was ready to leave until they saw how they were going to have to cross the water. At this point they refused and would wait until the water lowered. We advised them that the rain was expected to increase, not decrease, but they refused.

Our team reluctantly left them in their home to continue the remainder of the mission. Three other homes in the area were contacted and all persons we talked to were perfectly fine with staying in their homes.

We advised them that staying was not be the best option as the water would be constant for a few days, may increase significantly and more than their homes could be lost. Later that day, a military six-by-six had to be brought in to rescue them; the six-by-six was almost lost to the volume of moving water.

Chin pinned to the car ceiling
Over the next few days, our team rescued people stranded in homes, cars and trees. Most rescues were simple, putting personal flotation devices on our evacuees and guiding them through the water.

One rescue required using our watercraft to help extricate a young woman from her vehicle. The water had risen to her chin, pinning her head against her roof. We broke a window, pulled her out, put a PFD on her and moved her on the personal watercraft.

Our team was also tasked with accessing a gas line in a flooded field breached from repeated assaults from rushing debris. We found and secured the valve.

As we ran from call to call for water rescues, our district was evacuating areas in the flood's path. Getting from point A to point B was no longer a straight-line proposition. Road closures became required knowledge to reduce already extended response times.

Water moving at 10,000 cfs punishes structures, especially bridges. While many bridges withstood the pounding, often the water diverted around both ends of the structure and washed out the road base, collapsing the roads leading to the bridge.

Strained resources
In most cases, evacuation just required going door to door. However, those with limited mobility needed assistance being evacuated. Teams of two helped move them to a patient collection point for evacuation on busses.

To make matters worse, on day two we were advised that the water supply systems had failed. There was no water pressure and the water was considered contaminated. The pipes supplying the water district had been washed away; in some areas missing pipe sections were 300-feet long.

Associated with the no-water issue, some areas were crippled with a no-flush directive as sewage systems failed. The district had portable toilets and pallets of drinking water delivered to all stations. Our command team worked with the FEMA resources through local EOCs to hand out water to residents in our area.

During our evacuation of the mobile home park we noticed that a large amount of water reaching this area was from a failed irrigation ditch. This was the second time in two months a wall in the ditch had failed.

An excavation company hired to dig a new flow path dug through three metal pipelines. As all the gas wells in the area had been shut down for prevention, no leak occurred. All energy companies were contacted to ensure that they would assess their local wells prior to turning them back on.

Once the ditch was diverted, we used four, 12,000 gpm pumps to remove the water from the mobile home park. After approximately 18 hours, the task was completed.

As the water recedes, significant challenges lay ahead. At this time, there are only eight known fatalities and 60 unaccounted for across the entire state. Estimates put losses at more than $2 billion dollars with the number of damaged homes at 17,500. More than 11,700 individuals were evacuated.

10 lessons learned
With the event largely behind us, it is time to reflect on what went right and what went wrong. Here are the top 10 things we learned.

1. One cannot have enough water rescue equipment at a time like this. We rapidly used PFDs for the water rescues. In some cases, we forgot to retrieve them. By the time the local EOCs were able to order and replace them, we were about out.

2. Personal watercrafts work well in deeper water, but in water only a foot deep they can scoop mud into the impeller. An inflatable boat would work better in a shallow draft and has pinpoint access using ropes connected to the raft for stability and steering.

3. Swiftwater rescue training does a great job preparing an individual for water running around 500 cubic feet per second. This event was projected to be about 10,000 cubic feet per second, forcing rescue personnel to be slower and more careful.

4. During rescues our personnel were pelted with debris ranging from trees, railroad ties and barrels to colonies of prairie dogs. We also had to anticipate health impacts from failed sewer treatment plants, septic systems and collapsed or displaced oil storage battery tanks.

5. That people want to see you in times like this, doesn't mean that they want to leave with you. Some will assume they are fine under the circumstances until water or food run out, or until the level of water continues to rise as you said it would.

6. Most fire districts around us sent their water rescue capabilities into the mountains to assist areas with significant flooding. When that water ran into the foothill areas, there were very few water rescue capabilities left.

7. Emergency operations centers had to deal with looting, road closures, oil tank failures, water line breaks, electrical systems collapsing and all that water. While they faced their tasks as gracefully as possible, they were unable to meet the request for logistical needs in the field in a timely manner. Look for alternative means to gain resources or pre-negotiate contracts for equipment and services. We were lucky to be able to provide for the basic human needs of our stations early in this event.

8. Swiftwater rescues took much more time as the unit assigned to this task had to keep up on road closures to ensure initial access routes could be completed and end up at the right area in the shortest time possible.

9. While we were not faced with the violence or mass casualties, we all worked long hours under stressful conditions. After the week-long operation, crews became short-tempered, forgetful and lethargic. It is important to crews that this type of physiological response was normal. Crews should be monitored for the next few months for extended stress-related issues.

10. Many of the homes lost belonged to firefighters. These brothers and sisters should expect our support and assistance helping to get things back to as normal as they can be.

It will take a few more weeks to be able to provide running water and sewer to homes in some areas. It will take significant effort to replace the homes that were lost. We may not have road constructed to get people back to their homes before the winter arrives. It may take as long as two years to get roads and bridges back to the state they were before the 10-day rain.

But make no mistake, all the personnel involved in this event can take home the pride of a job well done. Neighborhoods, individuals, private organizations, rescue groups, local and regional fire districts and emergency management personnel came together to deal with the impacts of the greatest flooding seen in Colorado in maybe a millennium. I am proud and honored to have been able to serve with such an august group of professionals.

Unnoticed door locks increase firefighter risk

Posted on Tue, 17 Sep 2013 09:17:42 UTC

For many departments, the first-due engine is staffed with three to four firefighters, in some cases even fewer. There are five key job functions that must occur: size up, action plan, water supply, the initial stretch and forcible entry. These items will quickly tie up a short-staffed rig.

Luckily, in many parts of the country forcible entry is fairly simple. In many communities key-in-knob locks are the primary, if not the only device keeping the "bad guys" out of peoples homes. A short throw on the locking mechanism combined with wooden doorjambs means a very basic forcible-entry effort is all that's needed.

Recent UL studies — as well as years of studies from overseas, particularly Northern Europe — all point to the importance of door control on fire progression. Smooth forcible entry not only allows us to put the line in the right place, but also provides for better door control.

For many departments, the forcible-entry team will also be on the initial hand line. Quick and easy forcible entry allows for the team to still have the energy needed to make the attack.

Barring the way
It doesn't take more than a stroll through the local big-box home store to see that are several off-the-shelf devices to make door harder to force. These cheap and easy contraptions not only sell to homeowner's fears of invasion, but also require no skill to install.

The most prevalent are bars to buttress inward-swinging doors closed. And because they don't require additional hardware on the door or jamb, you won't necessarily know it is buttressed when sounding the door.

During a recent structure fire at a center hall colonial, after performing my 360 with no visible flame or smoke on the interior, it became clear that the unlocked side door gave the easiest, most direct line of attack for the first-due engine. The homeowners weren't home yet, but luckily the fire remained external due to a lightning strike. While walking through the house we discovered a store-bought device on the locked front door.

As we discussed the event later, some things became clear. Had the fire progressed to the interior, I would likely have placed the initial line through the front door.

The likely outcome
Our first-due engine would have begun forcible entry on that door and would have met with more resistance than seemed appropriate. The front door didn't have sidelights that would have made it possible to view the device from the exterior.

These slow downs would have likely led to a change in tactics, such as heading to the side door, and possible even a change in strategy given my team would have wasted time and energy on the front door.

Worse yet, had they headed in the side door, our truck crew would have begun to soften egress points incase the interior teams had to escape. Naturally the interior teams would consider the front door at the base of the stairs a natural exit, only to find it barricaded.

A quick web search of home door security bars will show the myriad of devices out there for the general public. Don't get me wrong; we can overcome these devices.

However, the standard size up isn't going to see the device and command is likely going to create an action plan that doesn't fit the tougher forcible-entry profile these devices create.

Add that to short staffing and everything slows down except the fire growth.

3 keys to fire service leadership

Posted on Mon, 15 Dec 2014 17:01:17 UTC

There are hundreds of books that list the most frequently sought after traits in a successful leader. Traits such as integrity, honesty, knowledge and experience are prime examples.

However, please don't be confused with the dozens of other books that profess leadership to be a collection of the latest buzzwords; leadership is and always will be hard work that requires preparation, skill and understanding.

As 2014 comes to a close, some volunteer fire departments will be electing a new slate of officers for the coming year. Combination and career departments may see retirements, promotions, lateral transfers to another station or district, or some moving to other departments as part of an individual's upward mobility tract.

In any of these instances, what should you look for in your new leadership? Or better yet, what traits do you need to become an effective fire service leader?

No popularity contest
First and foremost, leadership should not be a popularity contest. Departments that elect individuals to officer positions should have established criteria for each position that a candidate must meet before being eligible to run.

A serious candidate should not only exceed those criteria but also be willing to take additional courses to prepare the leadership role. Electing someone on their personality alone may be the worst way to choose a department's new leadership.

Not long ago, I heard of a candidate for chief of a large volunteer department who promised an officer's position to six or more firefighters in exchange for their support. There were, however, only three company officer positions up for appointment.

You can imagine how betrayed the three not chosen to become an officer must have felt, as well as the fallout that occurred within the department regarding the new chief's credibility. If nothing else, this example should give firefighters cause to carefully weigh both the selection process and the character of their leadership candidates.

No magic leadership dust
Contrary to popular belief, there are no mystical powers bestowed on a firefighter when he or she pins on the first bugle. Nothing magically happens to enlighten those individuals as they pin on one, two, three of four more bugles.

In truth, leadership is and should be hard to obtain. Whether you are looking to be an officer in a volunteer, combination or career department, the decisions you make will change the lives of everyone you have contact with at a fire, cardiac arrest, auto accident, hazardous material incident, MCI, or rescue — this includes firefighters, families, residents and elected officials.

Being an officer requires more than becoming an officer. If you stop and think, these are life-changing decisions that require your preparation through education, training and experience.

How have you prepared yourself for a leadership role?

Training is only one facet of the equation. Educating yourself beyond the training requirements means you have done both self-study and attended formal classes that teach the science, theory and reason for what are considered the best practices to assure the safety of your personnel and the community you serve.

Get mentored
Perhaps even more importantly, have you a fire service mentor that you trust, admire and use as a role model? This may be an officer from within your department, or someone in your fire service network.

If this is a person you wish to emulate, do you regularly meet to seek guidance, discuss issues and problems, or just plain talk about his or her prior experiences?

My first fire service mentor taught me much more than realized as I rose through the ranks. He was an experienced chief, but more importantly the quintessential teacher. Even when constructively criticizing my actions on a personnel issue or fire tactic, he did so in a way to make it a teaching experience that I valued rather than rejected.

During some of the most difficult incidents that I experienced as a young firefighter and company officer, I never saw him lose his head or publically show anger. In fact, he used to say "a leader is one who can keep their head when everyone else is asking for it on platter."

I never saw him shirk his responsibility by blaming someone else. He believed in President Harry Truman saying that the "buck stops here" — meaning as the leader of the department, he was ultimately responsible during the good, the bad or the ugly times.

He was also a man who genuinely cared for his firefighters and had an insight into people and their personalities. He had an uncanny way of knowing when a firefighter was having difficulty with family life, peers or some form of addiction. Long before the advent of an Employee Assistance Program, he had a homespun psychology that could spot the signs of personality changes and guide a firefighter to the assistance they needed to overcome their personal issues.

This mentor also understood what was important in life: family, community, country and values that didn't waiver when things went from bad to critical. Consider yourself lucky if one or two such leaders see that raw potential in you and agree to help you polish your leadership skills.

Above all, don't ever forget the debt you owe to your mentor. Once you've become a leader, the best way to repay that debt is by passing on your valuable experience to a new generation of future fire service leaders by becoming a mentor yourself.

How communication centers can aid incident commanders

Posted on Tue, 13 Jul 2010 14:03:09 UTC

By Bob Smith
Director of Strategic Development, APCO International

It's 0300 hours, you're in the front right seat of the first due engine on a multi-story residential structure fire with several exposures. As you climb out of the truck and start your size-up you've got about 10,000 things going through your head.

How many personnel are responding to this fire? Is that enough? What units are responding? Is that enough? Should I call for an additional alarm? Or two? Where should I position the ladder when it gets here? And dozens more. The number and complexity of those things you'll need to consider won't really start to dwindle until the clean-up is over and units are returning to the station.

One of the many things being considered during this process is that of personnel accountability. Who's on the scene, where are they and what are they doing? Another issue is incident development. How long has this fire been burning? How long have we been at this offensive interior attack? Is it time to switch tactics to a defensive exterior attack?

Well let's take a moment to discuss an often overlooked resource that can assist an incident commander with personnel accountability and monitoring incident progress — the communications center. An adequately trained and staffed comm center can assist incident commanders in a multitude of areas beyond the traditional dispatch, information management and resource tracking.

PARs in the fire service
Let's start with accountability. Conducting personnel accountability reports (PAR) during an event of any size has become second nature to the fire service. Effective department accountability programs should incorporate PARs on incidents of any size and of any nature.

A PAR is a tool that allows incident commanders to ensure all personnel on scene are safe and accounted for. This action can easily be carried out by the comm center and many jurisdictions have done just that by training their comm center personnel on how to conduct PARs and how to relay the PAR's findings to the IC. One less action needed to be carried out by the IC.

Another tool that comm centers can provide an IC to assist with personnel safety are regular time checks during an incident. Time checks can be designed so that beginning at a certain point in the incident — say 10 minutes after the first unit arrives on scene or the IC announces that knockdown has begun — the comm center staff will notify the IC every 10 to 20 minutes.

We all know that 10 minutes worth of free burning in a traditional structure fire can make the difference between a successful knockdown and leaving nothing but the foundation. Also, most departments have limits to the amount of time they will allow personnel to remain inside a building during interior attack modes.

This "heads up" from the comm center allows the IC to monitor the passage of time during an incident without having to actually watch a clock themselves. One less action needed to be carried out by the IC.

Emergency evacuations
Another area that allows for comm centers to assist ICs during an incident is playing a role in a department's emergency evacuation process. Many agencies across the country have developed emergency evacuation plans that incorporate steps such as having the comm center make evacuation announcements over primary and tactical channels and even activating pagers and radio alerts on scene.

To accomplish this, the comm center personnel must be trained in the department's evacuation plan and the plan must be tested regularly. In addition, comm centers that serve multiple fire departments should encourage all departments to adopt similar evacuation procedures to prevent confusion should a department need an evacuation announcement made during an incident.

All of these actions combined with routine responder safety actions such as monitoring the radio for Mayday calls or other unexpected traffic can increase the level of service and assistance your local comm center can provide to your department.

To accomplish this though, the comm center must have a highly trained and professional staff equipped with the most current tools and resources available. It is the responsibility of every firefighter and officer to encourage your local comm center to ensure their personnel are trained and equipped to the highest level. Because as the old saying goes, "the life you save may be your own."

4 tips for EMS agencies to secure AFG funding

Posted on Wed, 19 Nov 2014 22:38:10 UTC

Since 2001, the Assistance to Firefighter Grant has helped firefighters and other first responders obtain critically needed equipment, protective gear, vehicles, training and other resources to protect the public and emergency personnel from fire and related hazards.

Over the last couple of years the grant has shifted to include specific funding for EMS agencies as well. As this is one of the most competitive grants in the country, your agency must set itself apart from the thousands of other applicants to secure funding.

Here on four tips on how to craft a strong application.

1. Time pays off

Make your application a high priority and devote the time and energy necessary to tell your agency’s story.

2. Focus on safety

Focus on how your project enhances the safety and effectiveness of your providers, and demonstrate this in the application. Explain how enhancing EMS also enhances all of public safety.

3. Do your homework

Read and reread the application, guidelines, and all resources that FEMA provides. You don’t want your request to get denied because you missed an important detail.

4. Don't get discouraged

Just because your project was denied in 2013 does not mean it won’t be funded in 2014. Look over your application narratives and make them stronger.

Focus on the above while keeping them clear and concise, and you will improve your chances of receiving funding.

Where there's smoke, there's holiday cooking

Posted on Tue, 25 Nov 2014 17:51:23 UTC

Remember that cooking channel show where the chef would yell, "bam" every time he made something right?

I have come to the startling unscientific conclusion that a lot of people who want to cook, can't. I like to pretend that they all shout "bam" with every new cooking disaster.

We in the fire service attend a lot of cooking disasters — in the form of fires.

A quick search on the "Interweb" reveals that the numbers bear out my bold statement. According to the NFPA (research done from 2007 to 2011) cooking mishaps account for two of every five home fires, almost half. That's a lot of property damage, injuries and unfortunately even deaths.

Everybody who is involved with an emergency response fire organization has been to one of these fires. I have been to many, many of these from little whips of smoke to flames blasting out of windows.

Back in a sec
I'm always amazed at the large amount of people who leave the premises during the cooking operation. I can somewhat understand the people who get distracted with children, a phone call or perhaps even a hockey game. However, a lot of people just up and leave with the pot cooking away.

The usual scenario involves a reported fire often in an apartment complex. We arrive and are met by neighbors who report a smell of smoke and see smoke inside of whatever. Sometimes we are alerted by an automatic fire alarm.

Burnt food has an aroma that you can always indentify. You can usually smell it outside the structure. We force entry and find a pot on fire on the stove with a varying degree of smoke inside the living area.

Usually the cabinets over the cooking area are burnt to some degree. In an apartment there is almost always a fluorescent light in the kitchen. The plastic covering is melted and hangs down like some abstract art sculpture.

We remove the burnt food, check the cabinets for extension, (sometimes removing them) use the fan to remove the smoke and leave. In an apartment complex, we alert the management company. Most times they are already there in their golf cart.

How the pros do it
The burnt food smell is now with you for the rest of the day. You might as well shower and get it over with. A change of shirts will also help.

The professionals even have issues with this. More than one fire station has been damaged by smoke or fire because the crew blazed off on a call and left something cooking.

I was in a new station the other day and the gas supply to the stove is automatically disconnected when an alarm comes in. Ah, technology.

It seems like fried chicken and beans are the two biggest food offenders I encounter. And NFPA says frying food is the greatest risk for home fires.

Although, I did bust into a house once for a food on the stove fire that turned out to be melted baby bottle nipples. The owner put some baby nipples into a pot of water to sterilize them, forgot them and went to run an errand. The water boiled out and disaster.

Just a little grease
The nocturnal chefs amaze me. These are the folks who cook after midnight. Well, I was hungry and wanted to eat is their usual story.

I have been asleep for four hours when they are starting to cook. I sleep until the alarm goes off several times. If I was to wake up hungry in the middle of the night, maybe a sandwich or some cereal. But, to each his own.

One of my favorite all-time kitchen mishaps was a young lady who wanted to cook a slab of meat. I don't remember if it was a roast or brisket or what. It was, as one TV chef likes to say, a "ginormous" blob of meat.

As a person who likes to cook, I can only imagine her anticipation of dinner — a tender, "melt in your mouth" taste party sure to satisfy her and her family. She seasoned the meat and placed it in the oven to cook.

It's here where things went awry. She placed the meat directly on the oven rack. No pan, no wrapping just right on the rack. Soon the grease from the cooking meat began dripping down on the hot oven surface and flames below.

Realizing her error, our chef rectified the problem by lining the bottom of the oven with cloth bathroom towels. Soon after this we were called. Smoke billowed from the eaves.

NFPA cites Thanksgiving as the most popular cooking-fire day. Little wonder with all the amateur turkey cookers and fryers invading the kitchen.

You always have the guy who fries the bird in the garage or drops the frozen turkey in the hot boiling oil. Bam!

The folks who brought us the Thanksgiving turkey even had problems with fire. Yes, the Pilgrims.

The typical Pilgrim house had a thatched roof construction and any spark would start a fire. This problem was corrected with an ordinance in Plymouth requiring planked roofs.

Happy Holidays and be careful in the kitchen. Let me hear from you.

Safety tips for winter-weather response

Posted on Tue, 28 Jan 2014 08:28:50 UTC

Winter has settled in with record lows, dangerous wind chills and significant snowfall covering much of the nation. Unfortunately, how people respond to these weather events can result in house fires, automobile crashes, carbon monoxide poisonings and personal injuries.

Likewise, how you respond to incidents when the weather is a factor requires extra consideration to ensure your safety as well as those who've called for our help.

Statistics from the U.S. Fire Administration and the National Fire Protection Association confirm what most of us know from our experience in the fire service: that house fires increase during the winter months. The majority of these fires are a result of food left on the stove, candles left near flammable items like decorations or curtains, or space heaters left unattended and close to flammable objects.

When we're called to a winter house fire, we're not just attacking the fire and smoke in the structure or searching for potential victims. We also have to be attuned to what's happening as a result of snow, ice, freezing rain or wind. Snow accumulation on the house and tree limbs, ice that may already be surrounding the house or that will develop from flowing water, and low-hanging or downed wires can all impede our work.

Maintaining situational awareness is imperative. Pay attention to what's going on around you on the scene, including with the structure and your crew. Proper ladder placement is critical in any incident, but when these harsh weather conditions come into play, we must be extra diligent. When possible get someone to heel the ladder for extra stability.

Road safety
Similarly, how people drive can be affected by the weather. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, roughly 24 percent of all vehicle crashes in the United States occur during rain, sleet, snow or fog, and the slick pavement it produces.

Keep this in mind when responding to the scene of a crash during bad weather: If the driver who you are on your way to assist had difficulty seeing due to fog, heavy rain or blowing snow, or hit black ice, you should expect to experience the same conditions. While it's important to arrive to a scene quickly, it's far more important that you arrive safely.

It's also critical to be conscientious of how you and others around you are driving at all times. It's common for motorists to become nervous behind the wheel in inclement weather.

That level of uneasiness only increases when they hear sirens or see lights behind them. Their reactions, such as stopping short in front of you or skidding into oncoming traffic, may result in another incident.

Drive appropriately for the weather conditions. And remember that driving defensively doesn't mean driving aggressively.

Above all else, use your seat belts every time wheels roll. Whether you're responding in your personal vehicle or department apparatus, it's imperative that you buckle up. It’s that simple.

The bottom line: Stay alert, drive smart, be safe and stay warm.

Fire service has a leadership crisis

Posted on Mon, 7 Apr 2014 15:05:54 UTC

After my last article, I received emails from various people around the country. Some offered thanks and support for continuing to carry the message on the importance of a diverse workforce.

Some gave me even more material to use in future columns about issues that women are confronted with. And some asked permission to reprint the article, which was nice recognition and another avenue to expose the issues women face across more audiences.

I have had the good fortune of meeting some amazing people in the fire service, from firefighters to chiefs, to magazine editors, to leaders of affinity organizations, to scholars, to political leaders, to vendors, and to members of other public safety professions confronting the same challenges we have in the fire service.

Throughout these brief interactions, I have met few brave enough to stand in front of a crowd and voice their heartfelt support on the issue of diversity in the context of their own failures. It has been a long haul of shaking my head wondering when the fire service would finally "get it."

Reason for hope
Why is it still an issue bringing women on the job, promoting women to front-line officer positions, or considering women in chief officer positions? Women lead Fortune 500 companies, women are in high-ranking positions in the military, two women have run for vice president, and we have real potential for a woman running in the next presidential election.

Recently, I received reason to hope that maybe some fire service leaders are finally getting it. IAFC President Bill Metcalf and Tucson Fire Chief Jim Critchley spoke at a conference hosted by the International Association of Women in Fire & Emergency Services.

President Metcalf admitted that the fire service has failed in promoting diversity. I could not believe my ears when I first heard the words.

I made eye contact with various people sitting around me, and all of us had the same look of shock on our faces.

Then, Chief Critchley said that he had been confronted the day before by someone who challenged him to do more for women. He was told that it was not enough for fire chiefs to say they supported women, and that they were behind us and ready to be there for us.

Changing mindset
Instead, Chief Critchley was challenged to take the forward position on this issue, and lead from the front. Chief Critchley spoke clearly in admitting that there was more that he could, and should, do more for women in the fire service.

Standing before an audience of more than 200 conference attendees, two white male fire chiefs admitted failing women in the fire service. A truly cathartic moment for those of us who have been trying to represent and advocate on behalf of women for what seems like a lifetime.

President Metcalf offered two more issues that relate specifically to diversity. The first was that the fire service is in the midst of a leadership crisis due to the pending retirements of some of our most experienced leaders.

The second was the issue of behavioral health and the importance of fire departments offering programs to mitigate this latest industrial "hazard" that we are experiencing. I agree with the importance of these issues, but, pardon the interruption; we have a bit more to discuss regarding these two issues.

Leadership crisis
I would propose that in tandem with the inability of the fire service to sustain and grow diversity in the industry, we have had a leadership crisis for the last 30 years, starting when women first broke the barriers of entering the fire service.

How can I back up such an assertion?

Because I still hear and receive emails of the issues women confront. For example, two women who are in high-ranking positions in metro-size fire departments have recently been exposed to unethical management practices.

These unethical acts will significantly influence the ability of these two women to reach the highest-ranking position in their department. Both are highly qualified, highly educated, highly respected women. Both are being held back by other ranking chief officer making false accusations on performance issues or just frankly keeping women down.

And these women are defenseless. Their fire chiefs will not step in and correct the issues. If the women file an EEOC claim, their careers and reputation will take a beating. This is simply another failure in leadership.

Champions needed
The issue of behavioral health for women has been around for the same 30 years that we have been exposed to failed leadership. Women who are harassed, mistreated, shunned, discriminated against, etc … have been talking about behavioral health issues (like depression) for years. Yet, no one has been paying attention or admitting the significance of these issues.

Many women have left the service due to behavioral health issues. Respectfully, women are keenly aware of the failed leadership and behavioral health issues in the fire service. We are thankful that these issues are now being addressed on a broader scale.

Yet, our recruitment and retention numbers are diminishing. Women are leaving the service, retiring, and many, many departments do not have one woman on the job.

Have we missed our opportunity for women to reach critical mass in the fire service? Is it worth it for women to continue battling the same issues over and over? Will we overcome?

A universal problem
The good news is that the failure of leadership in the fire service is consistent with the scholarly opinion on leadership in general. Leadership development programs are failing across many industries.

You do not have to be a rocket scientist to make the connection that more leadership development programs — degree and otherwise — should equate to better leadership. However, many agree this is not the case.

An interesting perspective on leadership development was recently promoted through a TED talk by Roselinde Torres, senior partner and managing director of the Boston Consulting Group.

Torres offered up the following: the reason leadership development programs are not producing 21st century leaders is because many of these programs are designed around a traditional leadership model that was effective 20 years ago.

Today's leaders need to be prepared to deal with complexity and information flow at levels never seen before, she said. Leaders must be more global, digitally enabled and transparent.

You can watch the TED talk to fill in the gaps, but the final analysis comes down to leaders answering three questions for themselves.

Making change
First, where are you looking to anticipate change? Who are you spending your time with; what are you reading; and how are you distilling this into understanding where your organization needs to go?

Second, what is the diversity measure of your personal and professional stakeholder network? Who do you spend your time with — people like you or people different from you in any way possible so that you learn to establish trusting relationships that lead to the accomplishment of a common goal? Who are you listening to?

And last, are you courageous enough to abandon a practice that has made you successful in the past? Good leaders dare to be different.

Yes, President Metcalf and Chief Critchley, the fire service has failed. You both have shown tremendous courage in speaking to that failure and women do appreciate your support.

We will follow your lead. We will continue to be patient … for a little while longer.

9 ways to protect fire trucks from road salts

Posted on Tue, 16 Dec 2014 20:02:24 UTC

Many areas of the country use a variety of liquid salts to treat roadways during periods of snow, sleet and freezing rain. They are great for roads, but rough on fire trucks.

Salt, when mixed with water, becomes a brine solution. This solution reduces the freezing temperature of water. When using liquid salt or salt that is pre-wetted, the freezing points of water are reduced faster than when solid product is put on the roads.

Many of these products also are used to reduce the amount of damage done to road surfaces and include:

  • Sodium Chloride
  • Calcium Chloride
  • Magnesium Chloride
  • Potassium Acetate
  • Calcium Magnesium Acetate

Sodium chloride, calcium chloride, and magnesium chloride are all highly corrosive to fire apparatus. These hydroscopic chlorides are more corrosive because deposits remain moist and allow corrosion to occur for a much longer period.

Menace to fire trucks
Many road-treatment chemicals contain corrosion inhibitors to reduce the corrosion rate on a metal or alloy; however, corrosion inhibitors are metal specific and salt specific. No one corrosion inhibitor will prevent corrosion to all metals.

Although these salts have been embraced by local governments, environmental groups and the snow-removal community, fleet managers are becoming increasingly distraught over their use.

Why? Because their use has accelerated the rust and corrosion of fire apparatus and other emergency response vehicles causing increased apparatus maintenance costs and a decrease in the fire apparatus lifecycle.

Fire apparatus manufacturers have been successful in increasing the life span of their vehicles. However, the impact of these next-generation salts is creating a new set of problems.

These pre-emergent salts are able to stick to vehicles longer and are more active at lower temperatures. As a result, the apparatus is experiencing severe body rust, part failures and something new — wiring-harness issues — all because of corrosion.

Staying on top of corrosion issues can extend the life of fire apparatus and other vehicles and reduce repair costs and vehicle downtime.

Types of corrosion
There are six forms of corrosion that are commonly associated with all motor vehicles: uniform, crevice, poultice, pitting, galvanic and filiform. Some may be new to the reader — or may give a name to a problem that's been known all along.

Uniform corrosion spreads out at the same rate over a metal surface. This form of corrosion is particularly damaging to fire apparatus because it affects the underside of the vehicles including electrical harnesses.

Crevice corrosion is a localized form of corrosion that affects metals that are attached or adjacent to one another. One of the metals may be shielded from the full effect of the environment.

Poultice occurs when road salts and debris accumulate on vehicle ledges. This accumulated materials is kept moist by the environment and washing the vehicles. Damage to vehicles occurs during the drying process.

Pitting occurs to metals that are not fully resistant to corrosion. Cellular-level action produces cavities within the surface of the metal.

Galvanic corrosion is an accelerated form of corrosion that occurs when two dissimilar metals come in contact with one another. One of the more prevalent problems that occur in fire apparatus is when aluminum and steel come in contact with one another.

Filiform corrosion occurs under the surface of an organic coating. This type of corrosion is seen with aluminum and magnesium alloy metals. This will occur when voids are created in the organic coating.

Undetected attack
Corrosive road salts attack a variety of metal components that include frame rails, cross-members, suspension components, air tanks, fuel tanks, battery boxes, brackets, brake shoes, electrical systems, air conditioning condensers, radiators, metal coolant tubing and steel wheels.

Calcium and magnesium chlorides get quite viscous as water evaporates, collecting sand and dirt and form compacted deposits in recessed areas. These difficult-to-remove deposits are the source of major chloride corrosion.

Further complicating the situation, if the road salts are not removed from the vehicle, magnesium chloride and calcium chloride will pull moisture out of the atmosphere, rewet and continue their corrosive action.

One of the problems associated with corrosion is that it can go undetected for lengthy periods of time before a major problem begins to surface. If corrosion can be identified early and corrective measures are taken, the damaging effects of corrosion can be reduced.

Here are nine steps to preventing corrosion.

  • When fire apparatus has been worked on, reapply protective coatings to areas that may have been damaged by the process. Before treating vehicles, make sure that the underside and wheel wells are not packed with mud, salt or snow.
  • Inspect electrical systems on a regular basis as corrosive chemicals can damage electrical wiring and harnesses that are exposed, such as connections or areas that have been spliced.
  • Clean electrical connectors regularly with plain water and re-grease with dielectric grease.
  • Thoroughly wash the undercarriage. High-pressure washer equipment can push the chemicals farther into cracks and crevices; there is some debate regarding high-pressure vs. low-pressure washing. Follow manufacturer recommendations.
  • Inspect the undercarriage frequently to identify corrosion early.
  • Hose the radiator with plain water.
  • Keep mud flaps in good repair to minimize the salt spray.
  • Avoid splicing wires.
  • In spring, thoroughly wash the vehicle's undercarriage and apply a rustproofing compound.

Spring is also a good time to conduct a thorough visual inspection of the vehicle, including those hard-to-reach spaces and crevices, to get the upper hand on any corrosion or damage that may have occurred during winter operations.

To ensure that your department gets the most service life from a piece of fire apparatus, assume that the effects of rust and corrosion start from the day you put the vehicle in service regardless of the season. Road de-icing chemicals stay on roadways year-round and are constantly being collected by fire apparatus going up and down the road, especially during rainy weather.

In the words of that "olde" firefighter, Benjamin Franklin writing as Poor Richard, "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."

4 firefighter stretches in 4 minutes

Posted on Thu, 20 Nov 2014 00:08:35 UTC

It's zero dark thirty as you come trudging into the station for shift change. Your body is sore from the busy shift you had the day before at your volunteer department; a working fire and an entrapment on the same shift, and your body can feel it.

After chatting with your buddy from the off-going crew, you begin to check off the truck and your gear and the first call of the shift just got dispatched: "Smoke in a residence." As you climb into the truck your back lets you know that it's not happy with you.

If we look at other professions that move heavy objects and engage in extreme physical work, most of them have mandated pre-shift stretching. The data is very clear; organizations that have in place a valid, job-specific pre-shift stretching program have lower injury rates.

On top of that, these same organizations have higher participation in wellness programs and have improved morale. The fire service is the perfect vehicle for a structured stretching program.

Truck check
At the start of every shift there is a routine that for the most part happens on its own. The apparatus and gear is checked off, station duties are completed and any secondary tasks are handled.

The science is very clear, after you have checked off the truck and gear, essentially making it ready, it's time to check off you. Never thought of it that way, did you?

Frankly, it amazes me that we invest so heavily in gear and apparatus yet spend so little time investing in the only thing that makes the gear and apparatus work, you. For the sake of argument, here is my take on how this works, and we know it works because we have dozens of departments following this approach with great success.

1. Never stretch cold. While we all know this, it needs to be stated. Muscles and joints move much better when they are warm, that's why we usually do a warm up prior to stretching.

The good news is that simply checking off the truck is enough of a warm up to then safely stretch. Of course, a few minutes on the foam roller is always a good idea, too.

2. They have to be valid. There is a lot of myth and misinformation on stretching. Take arm circles as an example, a favorite "active stretch" that does no good. In fact we believe that they can cause bone spurs.

So all the stretches must be safe, effective and job specific. Plus, they must benefit everyone not just the folks who are already in shape.

3. They have to be quick. Let's face it, as a whole we are all a little bit lazy. When you are on for 24 or 48, the rule of thumb is self-preservation so we will do as little work as possible to preserve our energy. Plus you never know when the tones will go off, so the stretching protocol has to be efficient.

4. No one likes to lie on the floor. Unfortunately many of the best stretches are done lying on the floor. But I know these three things to be true: no one likes it; some are afraid they cannot get back up; and who the heck knows what's on the bottom of your boots.

From a sports-medicine and biomechanics standpoint, we know that there are four areas of the body that contribute to most injuries. If how we move matters and how we move matters in how we reduce injury risk, then our stretches must tie into that. The stretches must address four areas.

1. The foot, ankle and calf. When your contact point to the ground is altered or tight, everything above it is affected in a bad way. If you have used a foam roller on your claves, then you know just how bad and just how important calf and foot flexibility really are.

2. The hips and glutes. We all have a tighter hip. If your left hip is tighter, by say 20 percent, he data shows that that 20 percent tightness equals a 60 percent greater chance of injury on that side. If we know it's there, we can fix it.

3. The hip flexors. We sit too much and we do, or did, too many exercises that affected the hip flexors. When they get tight they cause the abs to shut off and that affects your lower back.

4. The thoracic spine and upper back. From your SCBA to sitting in the truck to hunched over a computer your upper back is a mess.

The rules for our four active stretches are simple.

  • No speed.
  • No bouncing.
  • No momentum.
  • Go slow.
  • Do 15 reps per side and let the body open it's self-up.
  • Do not force it, let it happen naturally.

When you are checking off your body and you feel something grab, spasm, catch or it just feels stiff — that is a symptom. You cannot afford to ignore symptoms, as those warning signs can become your next injury. When the "check engine light" in your body comes on, use the foam roller, tennis ball or a passive stretch to manage the tightness so that your chance of getting hurt is drastically reduced.

Stretch every shift, and there is nothing wrong with going through them a second time 12 hours later. The final point is this: if you follow the order shown working from the ground up and there is no rest between movements, the entire routine takes less than 4 minutes.

Four minutes is nothing, and when it reduces roughly 50 percent of firefighters' soft tissue strain and sprain injuries, we all go home feeling and moving better.

Food for Thought at the Firehouse Kitchen

Posted on Mon, 7 Jan 2008 14:21:04 UTC
I always think outsiders would be amazed to see what goes on in the firehouse kitchen, as members try to outdo each other with personal attacks on each other. But these attacks are never spewed with hate or venom in my experience, just good-natured ribbing that keeps everyone honest.

During my early years on the job, I would not even think of ribbing my officer or the chiefs. But today, with a smile, some of the guys will forward funny dialogue in my direction. Although I could take this as a sign of disrespect, it is nothing even close to that. Not always, but sometimes, I kind of set these guys up to give it to me good, and boy do they do so.

Guess what? It is OK because in the firehouse we can have all the fun we want, but on the fireground it must be business and only business. Once that line is clearly defined there are few if any problems concerning fire or emergency operations. And brothers and sisters, do not think for one moment I do not shovel it back in their direction — I can be kind of funny myself at times. Usually when I think about a particular ribbing they gave me, it brings a little smile to my face and I get another chuckle out of a pretty funny line used on me.

The main point is that although we are laughing and fooling around, a lot of good, informative information can come out of these periods. If the group of brothers and sisters had a unique incident or a tragedy that occurred during the shift -- or tour, as we call it in NYC – it's often discussed at the kitchen table. Not only can you learn from some of this information, it is also a type of counseling in a way.

For much of the time, firefighters do not like to talk to strangers or professionals concerning their feelings, but will open up and talk freely with the other firefighters. I have found this to help tremendously in a personal way. This especially applied after 9/11, where your only focus was the task at hand, however enormous and daunting it was. I would sit sometimes with the other brothers and just talk; I didn't even need an answer, I was just getting things off my chest.

I am sure there were many of us in this position who were also helped by this informal session of therapy. So if and when you need to say something, throw it out on the kitchen table. There will be at least one brother or sister, possibly a senior firefighter or officer, who may just have an answer or a statement of support for you. In addition, officers should be aware that some of the statements made are signs that members need help. It all goes to show the value of this kitchen time.

Sharing information
The kitchen at the change of tours and the roll call can also allow officers and members to exchange a good amount of information concerning firefighting and emergencies, It provides a captive audience and the opportunity to discuss the possibilities of the upcoming tour as well as the events that transpired on the previous one. You usually receive your assignment during this period and your size-up of the tour should start at that moment.

Something as simple as the weather and a discussion can create possible scenarios you may encounter that day or night. I know for me a windy day conjures up many horrors that may occur if I respond to a fire: extension of fire to exposures especially attached wood frame structures has me thinking of multiple alarms; a high-rise fire could potentially become an extreme wind-driven fire that always brings problems to the fireground.

Forecasts of snow and ice will inhibit the rapid placement of hand lines to confine or extinguish the fire, and frozen or out–of-service hydrants will cause delays that could be potentially disastrous to the brothers and sisters, not to mention the unfortunate people whose house is on fire. For the left coast folks, I can only imagine what the chiefs are thinking about concerning winds and forest fires. There are numerous possibilities on issues to be discussed during these periods. Officers and firefighters should use this time and be pro-active by discussing a hot topic, a recent response or job and the possible problems that could arise during the tour.

Most importantly, be ready to ride if you are riding. If you relieve someone, ensure you are in your proper uniform, your gear is on the apparatus or at the assigned riding position and you have notified the officer so that he/she can amend the riding list. Do not board the apparatus if you are not expected to be on it, as how will the officer be accountable for you? These are just some of the things to think about during these times.

One final thing. For all you classic rock fans, a very important debate arose the other morning in the kitchen here. Which band had more musical talent: The Who or Led Zeppelin? Personally I stated Led Zeppelin but one of the senior firefighters sided with The Who. The members were kind of concerned because this senior firefighter keeps them nice and happy with his gourmet meals. But while I said that may well be the case, I pointed out that I do the payroll and that they all needed money to pay for those gourmet meals. Lots of silence and oh so golden!

HAZMAT Response Video Supplement: Personal Protective Equipment

Posted on Sun, 30 Sep 2007 18:28:40 UTC

How a 1942 fire changed fire safety

Posted on Tue, 11 Nov 2014 16:04:19 UTC

Quickly after the Japanese attack on the American naval fleet anchored in Pearl Harbor, Americans prepared for fighting on a global scale. The war ultimately brought far ranging and unprecedented social, economic and technological change on a scale that no one could have then predicted.

The wartime awareness that people you knew might be killed very soon meant making the most of the time you had to share. That was the case in Boston on a Saturday evening late in November with a crowd expecting an evening of entertainment and fun with family and friends.

But those expectations would not be fulfilled. Instead, a nightclub fire would change not only their lives, it would impact the very future of fire and life safety for buildings.

The burn victims of the fire that evening at the Coconut Grove paid the greatest price for society's failure to enforce minimum safety requirements.

Massachusetts General
But they also served as test patients for the medical treatment of severe burns, and what was learned would help many military personnel burned in both accidents and combat. This new medical knowledge also would be used to treat the civilian burn victims of the Hartford Circus Fire almost two years later.

That night, Dr. Oliver Cope of Massachusetts General Hospital, having just participated in a research project on burn treatment, would have the opportunity to test the new methods on the Coconut Grove victims.

The fire was also a test of Massachusetts General's newly developed war disaster plan. That night and through their long treatment and recovery, the burn victims received penicillin, a relatively new drug at the time, to fight wound infection.

Box 1521
"It's the Coconut Grove and it's going like hell!"

These were the words shouted by a Boston police officer from a radio-equipped patrol car as it passed the dooryard of the firehouse where Ladder 15 and its crew were moving to answer a third alarm for Box 1521.

The date was Nov. 28, 1942. The time was 10:23 p.m., and by a twist of fate, the Boston Fire Department had responded to a car fire near Box 1541 about 15 minutes earlier — roughly three blocks from the Cocoanut Grove.

The firefighters of Engine 22 and Ladder 13 found a vehicle fire on Stuart Street. While picking up after extinguishing the minor car fire, a civilian ran to them and told 22's captain, John Glynn, of a fire at the Coconut Grove. The officer quickly ordered the apparatus to respond to check out the report.

Inside Coconut Grove
From outside the Coconut Grove looked inconsequential. The structure was originally built as a garage and later housed a film distribution business. But the Cocoanut Grove was now an overcrowded nightclub where no one present expected anything but fun, much less a fire.

However, around 10:15 p.m., a fire broke out in the crowded Melody Lounge in the basement. The fire quickly developed spreading fire, heat and smoke vertically to the foyer upstairs and across the ceiling into the main dining area. The fierce flames then raced horizontally through a passageway and into the Broadway Lounge. The fire's deadly path covered approximately 225 feet and involved two levels of the building, from end to end, in about five minutes.

On the outside, the quick arriving firefighters found heavy smoke pushing from the building as patrons and employees fled. At 10:20 p.m., Boston's Fire Alarm Office received Box 1521 for Church and Winchester Streets (pulled by a civilian bystander).

The fire chief on scene ordered his aide to skip the second alarm and go straight to a third alarm, via fire alarm telegraph, from Box 1521. This order transmitted at 10:23 p.m. was followed quickly by a fourth alarm at 10:24 p.m. and a fifth alarm at 11:02 p.m.

Rose and Estes
Riding the tailboard of Engine 22, Boston firefighters Johnny Rose and Bill Estes were eyewitnesses to the scene of horror and death in the doorway of the Grove's Broadway Lounge. The firefighters reacted quickly, connected to a hydrant, and advanced a line, as pump operator Joe McNeil charged the line to feed their nozzle.

The two firefighters faced a plug of humans jammed in the exit with flames spitting over their heads. The roaring fire was in search of the necessary oxygen needed to sustain its combustion and it was in the same path as the means of escape.

With no chance of helping the burning victims by pulling them out, Rose and Estes tipped their nozzle upward into the flame-path to cool the heat. As the stream struck the ceiling and broke into droplets of spray, the water provided at least some protection to those jammed in the exit.

The narrow and congested streets around the Grove clogged with fire apparatus, police cars and ambulances.

The fire, although extinguished in short order, took a great toll in lives. Although rescue and body recovery operations began immediately near the exits, firefighters would find greater horrors deep inside the building. Patrons who had exited collapsed in the street and stacks of bodies, both living and dead, piled up by the exits.

The final death count established by the investigating commission was 490 dead and 166 injured. The number of injured was a count of those treated at a hospital and later released. Many more patrons were injured and did not seek hospitalization. As the years went by, the recognized number of fatalities became 492.

Lessons learned
After a thorough investigation of the fire, officials focused on improving safety in similar venues by reclassifying restaurants and nightclubs as places of public assembly thereby mandating more stringent regulations. Automatic fire sprinkler system requirements were included, depending on occupant load and building configuration.

Regulations for emergency exit doors were changed to ensure that all exit doors swing outward. Illuminated exit signage and emergency lighting was required. Requirements for widely separated means of egress for higher occupancy loads and minimum exit widths were established. More attention was given to flame spread and smoke development.

Another important change involved revolving doors. Such doors would be required to have the individual leaves collapse and fold backward or out of the way to permit passage on both sides of the hinge or alternatively to have conventional doors on both or either side of revolving doors depending on occupant load.

Around the fire service today you hear the phrase, "expect fire" and you might wonder what that really means. Don't we always expect fire?

Clearly civilians tend not to expect fire, but firefighter should and must expect fire and always expect the fire to be the worst. You can read more about the historic Coconut Grove fire at: http://www.cocoanutgrovefire.org/ and as you read, imagine if you had been riding Engine 22 that night.

Fire response: How not to ruin the holidays

Posted on Sat, 29 Nov 2014 17:39:03 UTC

Emergency response during the holidays can be the most challenging of the year. Increased focus, heightened emotions and historical stressors can create a difficult situation for any firefighter on scene of a holiday incident.

Christmas, Hanukah, Kwanzaa, New Year's, 4th of July, Cinco de Mayo, Halloween or a simple birthday party — any holiday in any culture for any reason can be a major cause for increased trauma, physical or otherwise.

Statistically, heart-related deaths increase by 5 percent during the holiday season and fatal heart attacks peak on Christmas and the day after. Holiday candles are a direct cause for the majority of the over 15,000 open-flame related home fires each year.

Holidays reflect a change in environment. Traditions, symbolic decorations, expensive gifts, extensive costuming and all types of libations contribute to a different atmosphere. Add to this increased civilian travel and expenditures, intense dealings with family and friends and the eventual culmination of the event itself, and you have the formula for increasing stress.

Stressed out
As firefighters we know the holidays can be a particularly stressful time, both in the station and out on calls. When responding, remember that you are dealing with civilians who are even more stressed; otherwise, they wouldn't have called you.

Understanding this allows for greater patience when dealing with them as well as other initial responders such as utility supervisors, contractors and general wage earners such as night managers, bartenders, cabbies and store clerks.

During the holidays, situations are heightened and compressed. Short-term stress is dealt with quickly and efficiently and with little self-examination, hence the propensity for celebration. Long-term and poorly handled stress can lead to aberrant behavior resulting in the need for an emergency response.

Regardless of conditions, never assume the scene is secure. Increasing security for firefighters and equipment becomes a primary focus when entering a holiday event as excited children and intoxicated adults can redirect attention and delay tactics.

Added confusion
Imagine you are called to a large assembly like a mall, theater or arena. As with all emergencies, a holiday response strategy begins with scene control even when the environment is exaggerated.

Likewise, situational awareness takes on a heightened priority as the actual incident may not be reflected in dispatch information and getting the story on scene may be blurred by merriment, gossip or people wandering.

Again, if not large in actual size, the emergency scene will have people in a gathering greater than they experience in routine life. Individuals unfamiliar with names or their whereabouts may add to the confusion, whether it is locating a hazard or a victim.

A straightforward holiday emergency call can quickly escalate as you and your fellow firefighters become the objects of celebration. Most districts will send law enforcement to any dispatched fire call during the holidays if possible, but always keep an ear out for radio confirmation.

Busy work
Without immediate scene control and enforcement capabilities, it is difficult managing any incident involving a holiday or celebration. The best you can hope for while working in the center of attention is an effective division of labor leading to progress and the lowering of civilian chaos.

To disarm this garnered attention, confirm people remaining in the response area (relatives, classmates, business associates, etc.) are neutral and not a situational contributor. If needed, give them assignments such as taking care of others, securing personal items and initiating any type of action that requires accountability.

When agitated for whatever reason, any large group can delay a medical call, investigation or suppression activities, regardless. Evacuation is the preferred action but may not be realistic due to limited resources. Sometimes no interaction is an effective interaction.

Know your place
As a firefighter, stay focused on your assignment and do not reference the holiday in any way. A wrong perception from someone without proper perspective could jeopardize care of patients or tasks.

Your experiences are not theirs and expressing an opinion, good or bad, could set them off and apart, further complicating an already difficult situation. You could immediately, and for no apparent reason, become the motivation for sadness, anger or worse. There is a real difference between "It's that time of year" and "It's a great time of year."

Finally, checking egresses and keeping an eye out for suspicious behavior should always be a footnote to the holidays. Crime, particularly thefts, vehicular violations and vandalism, increases during holiday seasons. Add location calls for domestic offenses and you have probable cause for heightened awareness during any holiday incident response.

During the holidays our reliance on socialized behavior inspires us to celebrate with family and friends. If you should find yourself on duty however, enjoy the opportunities to experience other cultures and customs. But always remember — you are on duty and holidays have history.

10 more must-do things to become a firefighter

Posted on Thu, 20 Nov 2014 20:42:50 UTC

For an aspiring firefighter, there is no easy way to obtain the dream career. As they say, "If it was easy, everyone would be doing it." There is no short cut or fast track to become a firefighter, regardless of what anyone may tell you.

Many of you remember my article "10 Must do Things to Become a Firefighter." Now, it is time to update it with 10 more must-dos. Here they are in no specific order.

1. Prepare for the written examination.
It amazes me how many individuals cannot pass the entry-level hiring process written examination. Or if they can pass it, are unable to score in the mid-to-high 90 percent range.

Although 70 percent is the standard pass point, it is common for departments to only take the top scores to proceed to the next step of the process. Many think they did awesome by passing the written examination with 75 percent only to find out the department only wants candidates with scores of 95 percent and above to continue.

A written examination by itself is not going to tell a department who the best candidate is; it is only one of several items used to weed out candidates who are not fully prepared for the position. If you're not consistently scoring in the mid-to-high 90s, find your weaknesses and do what it takes to increase the scores in those sections.

Also, fire departments typically require cadets to maintain an 80 percent average on all written examinations in the recruit academy — with tests typically occurring at the start of every day. Not maintaining at least an 80 percent average may lead to termination, something that occurs more than you can imagine.

2. Be in the best physical and mental shape.
Face it, most people in the United States are overweight, out of shape, or both — including many within the fire service. Firefighting is a very physically and mentally demanding career that requires candidates to be on the top of their game.

If you are not physically and mentally prepared for the rigors of the recruit academy, you're going to find yourself in a world of hurt. I've learned over the years that when either the physical or mental shape becomes an issue during a recruit academy, the other will soon follow.

That means if someone is having problems performing the physical aspects of the job, their frustration and their knowing it may lead to termination will also affect their mental performance. It's like an athlete who cannot recover from a botched play. Eventually, the recruit becomes a train wreck, leading to either resignation or termination.

Besides all of the physical skills you'll be performing at the academy, you'll also be performing physical fitness. Some departments have recruits run several miles a few times a week and do a number of push ups, pull ups and other related workouts. Have a solid workout plan before you get hired as a firefighter so it is a smooth transition into the academy and your career.

3. Prepare and practice for the oral interview.
In most departments, your oral interview score will make up all or an overwhelming majority of your final ranking on the hiring list. Scoring well on the oral interview doesn't prove you'll be a great firefighter; it just means you can talk a great game.

However, you need to talk a great game to make the final cut, and then you also need to walk the walk to prove you were as great as you said you were.

Use the Internet to research the most common oral interview questions and write down your possible answers. Then rehearse answering those questions, timing yourself in the process to ensure you're not spending more than two minutes on any answer — unless it's the opening statement, which you can spend up to four minutes to answer.

To rehearse the answers, arrange mock interviews with company officers or chief officers who you've built relationships with (see item 8 for more on networking).

Make a video recording of the rehearsal and analyze your performance to ensure you're not doing anything inappropriate or distracting. More importantly, ensure that you're conveying passion, enthusiasm and portraying yourself as someone the board would like to work with and who would fit into their culture.

4. Have a strong character.
Most departments will hire for character and positive attitude, and train for firefighting skills. This is something most candidates don't get; they focus too much on packing their resume with certifications and qualifications and forget that we don't hire resumes, we hire people. We can teach many to perform the basic firefighting skills.

However, we can't teach many to have a positive attitude or have outstanding character traits that should have been instilled in you by your parents, guardians, family members and friends.

5. Prepare to perform under stress
Recruit academies do not test for character, but reveal it. Our academy coordinator puts this sign on the academy classroom wall to remind our newly hired firefighters we will get to know them very intimately over the 16 weeks of the academy.

The oral board that interviewed you for 10 or 30 minutes and thought you were the cat's meow only heard you speak of how great you were. We get to now put you through 16 weeks of a very challenging and at times stressful recruit academy that will require you to perform as an individual and as a team member, something many are not prepared to do.

It's amazing how some perform under stress: some do a great job, some excel, some scream at their teammates, some cannot perform, and some even snap at their instructors, thus showing their true colors. It is common for a fire department to terminate firefighters in a recruit academy for attitude or behavioral issues, even when they are passing their tests with at least 80 percent.

Some may think "they're passing their tests, so what?" If someone is going to be a jerk or not be able to handle the stress, he will not be an asset to his crew or the public; he also will more than likely be a problem for the rest of his career.

6. Obtain a Firefighter I certification.
While most fire departments don't require Firefighter I, I strongly encourage all candidates to complete a fire academy at a college prior to getting hired by a fire department.

That's because many college academies are tougher than some paid fire department recruit academies. And if you can handle a college academy, you have a great chance at handling a recruit academy.

A college academy lets you make mistakes and even allows you to fail and come back again and again if needed. Fire department academies don't provide that same amount of patience and understanding. You either cut it or you're out.

7. Become a paramedic.
In many departments require candidates to be paramedics, even for a firefighter position. Being a paramedic will also lower the numbers of your competitors, since there are not many out there.

8. Network with those in the fire service.
If you haven't figured it out by now, getting ahead in life is not always due to luck or hard work. Many times it's because of timing, opportunity, as well as how much those you know believe you will be a good fit for the position.

Networking doesn't mean sucking up or kissing butt. It means getting to know others who may assist you in some capacity and who you may be able to assist at some point.

Being able to play nice in the sandbox with others, and not taking your toys and leaving is a skills some don't possess, and it definitely shows in their ability to get ahead in life or even stay afloat in their current position.

9. Know yourself inside and out.
Be able to articulate to an oral board who you are, how you have prepared for the job, where you want be in the next five and 10 years, why you want the job, what you can bring to the job, what you can bring to the department, what you can bring to the community, what your strengths and weaknesses are, what your values are, what you believe in, and basically anything else that relates to you.

Sadly, many candidates do a terrible job of selling themselves — being able to talk about themselves and why they would be a great fit for the position. If you don't know yourself and can't talk about yourself, who can?

10. Develop good mechanical ability.
Years ago, most fire department candidates came from the trades. Today, very few candidates come with this experience. However, the job of a firefighter has not changed in that mechanical ability and trades experience are still required, given all of the hand tools and power tools we use.

If you don't have trades experience, find someone who does and learn the basics of hand tools and power tools, as well as mechanical ability. Most fire departments have mechanical-ability questions on their written examination.

And you'll need to have a basic understanding of mechanical ability to pass the recruit academy, pass the probationary period, and more importantly, gain the respect and credibility of your co-workers and supervisors. A great website to learn more about mechanical ability is www.howstuffworks.com

It isn't easy becoming a full-time firefighter. However, talk to the overwhelming majority of those working in the fire service and they will tell you it was worth the time and effort they put in to become a firefighter. Good luck.

Firefighter PPE is key to disease control

Posted on Fri, 21 Nov 2014 22:04:45 UTC

It seems there is always the next big killer lurking right around the corner. Ebola has been hitting the news like a major hurricane hitting Tampa Bay.

Remember that Ebola is really not new, rather it has always been one of the deadly diseases discussed in infection-control programs. Some of you may remember it as hemorrhagic fever.

There will always be an infectious disease that claims many lives and creates hysteria among humankind.

Don't worry, I am not going to get into the Ebola outbreak — look to the Center for Disease Control for the latest on how to deal with Ebola — but I am going to discuss infectious disease in general.

Parachute pants and bloody hands
When we perform rehab we should practice safety precautions regardless of who the person is we are tending. In the 1980s I remember working on patients and having blood on me, my uniform and sometimes anywhere you can imagine.

It was like royalty to see who had the most blood on them by the end of the call — in many cases it was for bragging rights. A few times I had recycled food from doing mouth-to-mouth. Not always the best tasting, but we would spit it out and keep on going.

Those days are gone. We now wear gloves, almost to the extreme, and no longer perform mouth-to-mouth. Hepatitis and HIV/AIDS were the biggest influence on taking universal precautions and body-substance isolation to the level we see today.

Ebola is taking it to the next level with full PPE and no openings or skin showing. It is the hazmat call of EMS. We know that by using proper PPE we are protecting ourselves from potential contamination. So often, though, we fail to appreciate the threat in things we don't see and become lax in our protection.

The latest outbreak of Ebola should remind us just how many deadly things are out there. It should remind us that we need to ask appropriate questions and take appropriate actions to protect ourselves.

Responsible party
There is only one person that will in all cases look out for you, and that is you. You must take appropriate precautions on whatever you do and in whatever circumstance you are involved with at the time.

If you are dealing with infectious disease or the potential of infectious disease, wear the proper PPE. Dealing with a patient who you know is infectious is not the only time to consider this. If you are working rehab, you are surrounded by potential contaminates.

Other personnel may be combating some illness. There is contaminates from the incident that are on personnel, PPE, and in the air. Many of these contaminants we know are potentially carcinogenic.

We should be taking the appropriate precautions in rehab. So often, once the fire is out, we believe contaminates are gone and are no longer a threat.

We couldn't be more wrong. Air quality after the fire is out has some of the highest readings and appropriate PPE must be worn in all areas until we can determine that the air is clear through proper air monitoring.

Healthy respect
Ebola is not something you should worry about, but rather something you should respect by taking the proper precautions including the proper PPE. It is also a way to remind us that we deal with hazardous environments on a regular basis that can be as deadly.

In this regards we need to take the appropriate precautions including wearing the proper PPE. There is no excuse. Proper PPE is our safeguard to our future and our health.

Take some time and review the use of PPE. Have personnel don and doff PPE properly. Make it into a contest and see how many properly don and doff their PPE.

It may be surprising how complacent personnel have become using their PPE. Take that extra step and be cautious out there. Once you contract a deadly disease it may be too late.

Rescue is a Thinking Person's Game

Posted on Wed, 8 Aug 2007 12:38:53 UTC

AP/Minnesota Daily, Stacy Bengs
Firefighters size up the scene after the bridge collapse in Minn. last week.

Years ago, when I took my first search and rescue class, the instructor talked about the six-sided review of a building or incident. "Look up, look down, and make sure you look all around before committing yourself," he told us.

Over the years, I have thought of that simple saying on many emergency incidents and have passed it on to thousands of my students during training. The bottom line: Don't get sucked into something before you give it the old once over.

It's easier said than done sometimes, especially when lives hang in the balance and quick action will affect the outcome of an incident. But what about all of those other occasions when you may have the time to do it right?

What is your approach and thought process when you come across a technical rescue or any type of rescue for that matter? Is it a well executed series of steps or a fly by the seat of your pants operation?

Good team members, the right tools and practical training shouldn't be under valued, but that doesn't replace mentally being on your game.

To do that, you have to do something that most people hate or are too lazy to do Rescue is a thinking game you need to play the "what if" game. "What if a car goes over that edge, what if that building falls down, what if that place blows up, what if I have to cut that guy in half to get past him, what if I have to crawl in that hole to get that victim?"

It's not enough to just know how to use the tools, or be well practiced or to have a cohesive team. Rescue is a thinking game, and the people who can plan ahead, see something coming and be ready for it are worth their weight in gold.

Organized chaos
You're always behind before you get there, that's a given. But how far ahead of the incident are you when you arrive? I used to work for a battalion chief who would say, "You don't bring a crisis to an emergency." Sure it's organized chaos at some scenes, but your level of organization and the ability to achieve the required levels under the most impossible circumstances is the real key.

How many of us can say that we are "masters" of our craft and how many want to be? Chances are, if you're reading this column, you're already a student of the trade, which makes you a cut above the rest. But there is a lifetime of learning to be done and every day is a school day in our profession.

If you think that you know it all, have seen it all or have it done it all, we're all in trouble and chances are you're probably a liability at a significant incident. Confidence should never be replaced by arrogance.

Rescue is a thinking game. The best people who have seen a thing or two tend to mostly be humbled by the experience they don't say much, but when the going gets tough they often get going.

I love watching new firefighters, they have so much energy and so much enthusiasm, and they're great to be around. It's also fun to watch them expend all of that energy to no successful end sometimes. But with age and experience comes wisdom!

The veteran firefighter may not always be as enthusiastic, but that tempered approach, years of real world experience and knowledge of the tricks of the trade often carry them through most calls.

But to be in the class above, you have to love it a little more to be really, really good at it. Superstars train harder, practice longer and are very, very focused.

So what does it take to be a master of disaster? Out of the box thinking, the ability to write down your first 20-30 moves on any type of rescue with a twist and a constant desire for perfection. And don't forget the lifetime of learning, listening and talking about the "what ifs" of our job.