Can firefighters sue building owners?

Posted on Thu, 16 Oct 2014 12:31:43 UTC

Resurfacing with the news of two FDNY firefighter suing — one going after a homeowner for injuries to his shoulder incurred while responding to a residential fire — is the emotional debate as to whether or not the Firefighter's Rule should apply to bar lawsuits.

Here's the issue. An on-duty firefighter assumes the risk of working in conditions where the firefighter deliberately encounters certain types of hazards inherent to firefighting.

So, when the firefighter is injured in the course of an on-duty emergency response, should the firefighter be limited to worker's compensation or should the firefighter have the ability to recover against the property owner? And if so, under what circumstances?

Evolving over 120 years, under what was initially termed "The Fireman's Rule," a property owner was not liable to a firefighter for injuries sustained while fighting a fire [Gibson v. Leonard, 32 N.E. 182 (Ill.1892)].

Assumed risk
The Firefighter's Rule originated from the theory that firefighters assume the risk inherent in their job for which they are compensated with salary, disability/worker's compensation and pension benefits. This puts the burden of their financial loss on the public rather that an individual property owner.

Therefore, under this theory, lawsuits are not the correct method for compensating firefighters for injuries incurred as a result of the negligence that created the very need for their employment [Espinoza v. Schulenburg, 129 P.3d 937 (Ariz. 2006)].

Another theory supporting the Firefighter's Rule is that firefighters — unlike invited guests or business customers — are required by the nature of their job to enter premises at unforeseeable times and to enter into unusual parts of the premises, which may not otherwise be open to or accessible by the public.

Under this theory, firefighters are not considered in the same category as invited guests to the premises [Pearson v. Canada Contracting Co., Inc., 349 S.E.2d 106 (Va. 1986)].

Therefore, the Firefighter's Rule generally works to prevent a firefighter who is injured in the course of employment as a firefighter from recovering against the person whose negligence or recklessness caused the fire or other hazard resulting in the emergency response.

New York law
The Firefighter's Rule has evolved differently in different jurisdictions. Notably, in New York the legislature has effectively eliminated the Firefighter's Rule as it pertains to third-parties and allows both police officers and firefighters to bring a lawsuit against a third party when they are injured in the lawful discharge of their official duties where the injury is caused by that third party whose neglect, willful omission, or intentional, willful or culpable conduct resulted in that injury, disease or death [N.Y. General Obligation Law § 11-106 (McKinney 2001)].

Although the New York legislature opened the door to allow lawsuits previously barred by the rule, a plaintiff firefighter still has to go through the lawsuit process. This includes the potential for dismissal if the plaintiff can't come forward with evidence on all the elements of the claim — which includes establishing the culpable nature of the conduct and that the conduct was the cause of the injury.

In other jurisdictions, the Firefighter's Rule has been interpreted and applied narrowly, modified to create exceptions for the ability to sue landowners who fail to keep their premises in reasonably safe condition, or modified to create exceptions for failure to warn of an existing hazard.

How do you see this debate? Should a firefighter have the ability to bring a lawsuit against the person who caused the hazard?

Could elimination of the Firefighter's Rule adversely impact the public's willingness to call 911? Should this rule apply to volunteer or paid on call firefighters?

What other issues do you see? Continue the discussion in the comments section.

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.

Fire service leaders: The difference between life and death

Posted on Mon, 24 Feb 2014 14:51:40 UTC

Within the fire service, we constantly grapple with one question: What does it mean to be a leader? Clearly, we're not alone in our search, which is why the leadership training industry brings in more than $100 billion worldwide.

Leadership is a constant subject of research, training, education and discussion — in every field of human endeavor. Depending on the source, there are dozens of recognized theories of leadership in the academic literatures of business administration, public administration and management science.

Go to any bookstore, or online bookseller, and search for the "leadership" section or keyword; there you'll find thousands of books penned by people from all walks of life with their perspectives, tips, and techniques for exercising leadership, or becoming (or staying) a "leader".

Attend almost any fire service conference, or professional development gathering in another industry, and you'll likely find several presentations, tracks or panels on leadership.

You can select from myriad different survey instruments to assess your leadership "style," spend thousands of dollars on leadership development programs, and even hire a leadership coach.

Whatever your favorite (social) media channel, it’s almost impossible to miss researchers, politicians, and pundits talking about leadership.

Life-and-death important
The significance of leaders is obvious — they set the tone and impact core values within an organization, for good or bad.

But in our business, it takes on another dimension. Leadership, at all levels, can make the difference between life and death — not just the lives of those we are sworn to protect, but also the lives of our brother and sister firefighters.

If your experiences are anything like mine, the presence, or absence, of leadership is palpable. It's visceral; you can actually "feel" it when it's there, and you miss it when it's not. While leadership may be hard to define, as witness the many (often competing) theories on the topic, we generally think we "know it when we see it."

From my own work as a firefighter, company officer, chief officer, state agency head, non-profit board member, academic researcher, instructor, consultant and business owner, I have certainly benefited from good leadership, and suffered (or so it felt at the time) through bad leadership. Sometimes the two types were indistinguishable, and even came from the same individual, group or organization at different times, or under different circumstances. Sometimes what I felt was good leadership, was seen by others as bad leadership, and vice versa.

With so much invested each year in leadership research, publishing and training, why haven't we figured it out yet?

No "there" there
All the evidence suggests the worthwhile pursuit of leadership excellence is a never-ending journey. In short, it's because there's no "there" there.

If there was an easy 12-step program to develop leadership capacity throughout organizations, it would have been invented already. In fact, the more we discover about human behavior and interaction — and the more it changes with the diverse environmental, cultural, technical and political influences of an era where we are all connected, all the time — the less we actually know for certain.

We don't need to look far to see some long-held leadership lessons reinforced over and over, while others are relegated to the "it seemed like (and may have been) a good idea at the time" bin of history.

Given the high stakes, all the attention and money directed at researching, defining and teaching leadership seems worthwhile. Still, it can be difficult, and at times frustrating, to sort through the many different perspectives on leadership.

So what can we do?

I certainly don't have all the answers, but I do believe strongly in the ongoing practice of leadership and the value of introspection as we all pursue this never-ending journey, in both our professional and personal lives. If we do our job right, we might end up with more questions than answers, so please feel free to share your own thoughts and experiences.

4 tips to safely lift patients

Posted on Tue, 14 Apr 2015 14:29:53 UTC

One of the benefits of teaching more than 500 classes per year is I get to see a lot of patterns in EMS and Fire-rescue; patterns of how responders move, lift, pull, carry, transfer and simply walk. I also get to hear a lot of stories about how responders got hurt and how very few ever get back to normal after an injury.

My aha moment one day was simply this: “EMS is in the moving business; we are movers.”

Every aspect of our job is physical, all of our tools are heavy and moving people is a critical job task. Yet as a profession we spend little to no time training how to move things safely.

A question I ask in all my classes is “When was the last time you had a detailed patient and equipment handling class?” What I get back are blank stares and finally a few folks grumbling, ‘never.’ We spend most if not all of our training time on clinical excellence and operations and never spend time training to do the most critical job task, moving patients.

Since we are medical movers, departments need to do a much better job teaching providers why they get hurt and how to prevent it. The first thing we need to examine is what the loads we lift do to our body.

How much weight is safe to lift?
NIOSH has a lift equation and while complicated, it tells us one thing: The weight limit for an individual to pick up off the floor is 51 pounds. Picking an object off the floor of that weight will put around 764 to 800 pounds of compressive load on the spine. If that seems like a lot, it is. We know that at around 800 pounds, the spine of an untrained individual (someone who does not work out, is dehydrated, fatigued, or eats poorly) will begin to be injured. When was the last time you picked a 51-pound patient off the floor? Many providers carry a compressive load of over 2000 pounds every day; multiple times per shift. [1,2, 3]

FEMA states in their emergency medical services handbook that EMS should limit lifts below the knees. These lifts generate some of the highest spinal loads we see in providers. If we step out of the EMS box for a second we can look at other ‘moving’ professions and make the connection that we are one of the only professions that allow its employees to regularly lift extreme loads from below the knees on a frequent basis. So when what we perceive to be small loads actually exceed what our body can handle, it leads to providers becoming very skilled at the dangerous movement of lifting from below the knees. [4]

Let’s take it a step further and look at lateral transfers. Pulling a 105-pound patient via bedsheet between two beds applies between 832 to 1,708 pounds of compressive force, while carrying the same patient down a set of stairs compresses the spine with 1,012 to 1,281 pounds. [1,2] Again we regularly exceed the ability of the human body to dissipate or dampen the external loads placed upon it.

Here are four tips for safer lifting.

(Image Bryan Fass)

1. Stop lifting from the floor
As we teach all our students: Use a tool, do not become the tool. Most systems already have the tools on the trucks that can change the lift height. Use your MegaMover, Reeves, or Titan to change the lift height from the floor to almost knee height, where we are much stronger and have a better spine angle.

2. Use handles for lateral transfers
If you follow step one above, then the friction reducing device is already under the patient. Simply slide them over to the hospital bed using a tool that already reduces friction and has handles. The handles mean that on the pull, responders do not have to lean over so far to begin the transfer.

3. Work together
If and when there are trained personnel on scene, everyone is on the lift. As a culture EMS and fire-rescue need to understand that if 51 pounds can hurt one person, then it only makes sense that a 350-pound patient requires all hands working together. This goes for your powered cots as well; position two people on the foot of the cot for loading into the truck.

4. Slow down
One of my favorite sayings in EMS is "it’' not my emergency." Simply slowing down will allow you, your partner and your crew to get in better lifting positions, use tools properly and think ahead to ensure that the lift or move is safe for both you and the patient.

“Your fitness will save your life one day, and every day” is my motto for all of public safety. This is a 100 percent physical job and one of the only things that will save your life on scene and in life is your physical ability.

References

1. A structural equation modelling approach to predicting adoption of a patient-handling intervention developed for EMS providers.Ergonomics 2013 24;56(11):1698-707. Epub 2013 Sep 24. Monica R Weiler, Steven A Lavender, J Mac Crawford, Paul A Reichelt, Karen M Conrad, Michael W Browne

2. Oregon OSHA. Firefighter and Emergency Medical Services Ergonomics Curriculum, www.cbs.state.or.us/osha/grants/ff_ergo/index.html.

3. McGill, S. Low Back Disaorders. 2007, Human Kinetics. P. 218-222.

4. FIRE AND EMERGENCY MEDICAL SERVICES ERGONOMICS, A Guide for Understanding and Implementing, An Ergonomics Program in Your Department U. S. Fire Administration, Federal Emergency Management Agency 16825 South Seton Avenue, Emmitsburg, MD 21727

Quick Clip: How to attack the McMansion fire

Posted on Thu, 6 Nov 2014 09:04:53 UTC

Download this quick clip on iTunes, SoundCloud or via RSS feed

In this week's quick clip, Chief Rob Wylie and Lt. Rom Duckworth talk about how to attack a McMansion fire.

"There are a lot of unique features to consider," Lt. Duckworth said. "As these things start popping up around your response area, you can't just think of them as slightly bigger homes. You have to take an entirely different approach."

Chief Wylie said pre-planning is the answer.

"Most people wouldn't mind you going around their house and taking measurements," Chief Wylie said. "As far as distances for hose lays, using preconnects, places to do ventilation, all of these things can be pre-planned just as you would on a commercial building."

How does your department pre-plan for these types of fires? Sound off in the comment section below.

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.

Are rioters your next safety threat?

Posted on Fri, 1 May 2015 14:38:01 UTC

Watching Baltimore burn this week reminded me of what should be our first rule of thumb when on scene: risk a lot to save a lot, risk a little to save a little and risk nothing to save nothing.

Seeing images of protesters shoving knives into charged supply lines and fire trucks with smashed windshields was enraging. And it's more enraging because I have a hard time buying the argument that all of the violence in Baltimore or Ferguson was caused by outsiders.

The quick and easy reaction is that unless there are trapped victims, there's nothing about a rioter-set building fire that's worth saving and nothing should be risked. Stay in quarters and let it burn.

Yet as was the case in Ferguson, Baltimore firefighters took to the streets to battle more than 100 vehicle and structure fires. And when they exhausted their resources, neighboring departments volunteered to pick up the slack.

Given the war-zone volatility of Baltimore, you have to admire the courage of the responders who turned out.

And when the smoke finally began to clear, the community stepped up to thank its responders. Residents delivered food, water and 'thank yous' to fire stations Tuesday and Wednesday. Residents were coming down to the stations "with arms full of stuff," Baltimore fire union President Rick Hoffman told the Baltimore Sun.

All of a sudden, those nothing-of-value burning structures have value. They meant something to the community. It meant something to the community to see the firefighters at great peril to themselves dumping water on buildings that they knew couldn't be saved.

In short, the good people were doing more than nothing.

The civil unrest in Baltimore and Ferguson are only partly about the black community's relationship with police. For my money, the underlying cause is poverty. When people have financial security and legitimate hope for the future, street crime wanes.

But there's no magic pixie dust that will wipe away poverty. That leaves fire and EMS leaders across the country with the real probability of dealing with social unrest in their communities. When rioters lash out against the system, fire departments are part of that system — undeservedly, but a part of it nonetheless.

I expect to see more, not less, of this type of social unrest in the coming years.

Firefighters are conditioned to fight fire. When rioters start burning down the town, expect firefighters to turnout. It falls to the chiefs to carefully plan before unrest erupts and company officers to carry out those plans to protect firefighter lives.

If you have poverty, you can expect to have violence. Plan now for how much you are willing to risk and how to minimize that threat to fire and EMS crews when they are thrust into the thick of it.

The community is depending on the good people to do more than nothing.

10 ways to better respond to special needs patients

Posted on Wed, 9 Jul 2014 10:59:06 UTC

Paramedics and first responders tasks are becoming increasingly challenging with the growing number of special needs patients. According to the 2010 census, 2.8 million school age children were reported to have a disability.

In order to minimize problems and have an effective response, EMS and fire must create a stronger partnership and network with the special needs community. Here are 10 steps to successfully do so.

1. Don’t assume the patient has a mental disability based on their looks.

“Approach a special needs patient as you would a colleague,” said Pete Kelly, EMT-B, medical staff coordinator for Special Olympics Michigan. Once you have established mental and physical ability, than treat accordingly.

2. Have a Town Hall meeting with citizens and all essential resources.

Have 30 minute panel discussion with fire, EMS, law enforcement, transportation and a special needs specialist followed by a meet and greet. This is a great way to hear special needs populations’ concerns.

3. Encourage caregivers to keep information up to date.

The American College of Emergency Physicians and the American Academy of Pediatrics created an Emergency Information Form (EIF). The EIF is a valuable tool for first responders. Click here to download the form.

4. Develop a Special Needs Registry.

Emergency management agencies are creating an online registry to locate citizens with a disability during an emergency. Ohio County recently launched their website ReadyAllenCounty.org. Sites are usually in the cloud and need to be secure.

5. Include people with disabilities into emergency response plans.

The U.S. Department of Justice provides an American with Disabilities Act Checklist for Emergency Shelters.

6. Don’t separate equipment from the patient.

During an evacuation or a transport to the ER, try to keep the equipment with and the patient. Separation from an object can create outburst in some patients.

7. Be familiar with the equipment.

First responders can’t always keep up with the latest wheel chairs and devices. Here are a few of the latest devices. Convaid offers a special needs wheelchair product line that has advanced design, seating and mobility combinations for a variety of special needs and physical disabilities.

A child with a TheraTogs Lower Extremity System might be a challenge to transport. The device is designed to address several alignment and functional deviations of the knee joints, developing femurs, and hip joints in a child.

8. Keep the routine.

Mary Porter, owner of Tri-Care, says when dealing with a patient that cannot verbalize a compliant, Tri-Care staff often knows there is a problem when a patient is not sticking to the routine.

9. Get trained.

In recent years there has been a surge in organizations that have created training for first responders. About 1 in 88 children have been identified with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) according to estimates from CDC's Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network.

In addition, Autism ALERT’s mission is to educate first responders and health care professionals on how to recognize and interact with persons on the autism spectrum.

FEMA also suggests the independent study courses offered by Emergency Management Institute IS-197.EM Special Needs Planning Consideration.

10. Use the right communication.

Minimize distractions and use short explanations and use simple language, if the patient has trouble hearing. If you do not understand something the individual says, do not pretend that you do. Ask the individual to repeat what he or she said and then repeat it back. Be patient.

Creating a strategic plan before, during, and after an incident with special needs population is the most effective way to have a good response and recovery.

Crisis intervention teams: Helping our own

Posted on Mon, 16 May 2011 10:01:15 UTC

In the public safety field, one of the least addressed topics is the mental wellness of our responders. When tragedy and violence hit, we're the first to be there. Having to care for people when they are at their worst, and having to deal with the impact of the call, can take its toll.

This tends to impact the first responders in many different ways. These individuals might be the first people to see the tragedy but they are the last to admit that it has had any emotional or mental effect to them. So, when an outside group comes in to intervene or defuse the situation, there is resistance from the first responders

First responders tend to rely on their comrades in the field. When outside groups or people try to intervene, the responders tend to be reluctant to their offers of help. "You have no idea what we do" is usually the cause for reluctance.

This is why we created a peer-driven support group that we call the Horry County Crisis Intervention Team (CIT). The team is made up of 11 peer support members, four councilors, one training instructor and one chaplain.

The CIT is continuing to grow and manage all of its internal staff as well as other departments in the local area. They are also recruiting police and 911 dispatchers to round off the group. This will make the CIT very versatile.

Horry County Fire Rescue covers more than 1,134 square miles and responds to more than 42,000 calls per year. The department is made up of 275 full-time uniformed staff and 200 volunteers.

The CIT for Horry County is no stranger to unique and very stressful calls. Some of the calls that the CIT has had to intervene with have been:

  • Horry County Fire Rescue roll-over engine call that had three firefighters and a lieutenant trapped
  • Horry County Fire Rescue volunteer went into cardiac arrest during a medical call and had to be intervened by the same members who responded with him
  • Horry County responded to a fellow firefighter's home, where he had already committed suicide. The crew prior to his shift from his own station responded
  • Multiple child abuse calls; some with death as a result
  • Multiple drowning calls involving children at local motel pools
  • Motor vehicle accident deaths involving children and infants
  • Multi- casualty incidents involving a large number of deaths

These are just some of the calls that have made an impact to Horry County Fire Rescue staff over the past couple of years. Those who responded to these have had the opportunity to get help from the CIT with positive results.

The CIT has also put together a White Paper to describe some of the statistics from the past three years. This paper will give other departments information in the field of crisis management so that they too can make their wellness program complete. Check it out here

Lessons from real and simulated events

Posted on Mon, 14 Jan 2013 10:17:45 UTC

"Science with its 'dust free' environments and 'laboratory conditions,' has given us a pattern for approaching the natural world of things: we stabilize the environment, bring together a number of elements, and observe the results. We call those results 'facts.'" — Thomas Cloakley, Command and Control for War and Peace

I sat through a simulated event. There were pictures in front of me of a structure fire. I had a pencil and a radio and one of those paper command sheets that encourage the fine art of box checking. In the scenario one of my crews experienced an emergency soon after I arrived on scene.

A few days earlier I was present at a real call. A real call that was possibly a big deal but probably not. I found it difficult to manage, not so much because there were a lot of people in some danger, but rather because the potential for some people to be in a lot of danger was high.

The difference between the two events was striking. In the simulation I was faced with a once in a career high-stress event. In the simulation it was quite likely that two firefighters were in the process of dying right in front of me.

However, in the sanitized world of simulations I did not find my self under any stress. My voice was not cracking; I did not feel the characteristic tightening of the shoulders and gut. It was just a game.

"Facts are very comfortable things to deal with because they are so stable. What was a fact yesterday will be a fact tomorrow, so long as the environment stays the same." — Cloakley

Crucial part of practice
I realize that simulations are more than games. They are a crucial part of practice and can provide critical insights into how one might behave when faced with the real thing. They are not to be taken lightly, but then they are not real in the same way that toy cars are not real cars.

A few days earlier I was present at a real call. It was not so real that it made the evening news, not real enough to warrant a mention in the local newspaper. But is was real in the way that makes your shoulders tighten, your perception narrow and your heart rate increase just enough to fog over your processes.

What I think I learned, or perhaps re-learned, is that nothing can simulate the physiological and psychological effects of being placed under critically stressful conditions. In real life people don't answer the radio, or if they do you might miss the transmission.

In real life the time pressure compounded by the temporal distortion is made worse by the lack of good information and topped off with excessive amounts of useless information, creating a potent recipe for disaster.

"…Unfortunately, that kind of fact-oriented approach does not work very well when we're dealing with people and people issues. Human dynamics are simply too complex." — Cloakley

I am a big fan of written control objectives; I believe in them. I preach control objectives to my subordinates.

However, in that real moment I found that I did not so much as write control objectives as I projected them in understated ways, cloaked in the thin veil of tactical orders. In many ways I was just doing stuff.

Seeing the big picture
Compared to the available research on such things, what I did was hardly different from what most people do under stress, but this time for some reason it felt more real.

What I think I learned is that it is always harder to step back and consider the big picture when you are tied up in the little picture. The world of real incidents cannot be summed up in simulations and it cannot be reliably dissected in post-mortem evaluations. This makes execution hard and it makes evaluation harder.

Colonel John Boyd is reported to have said:
"When thing went wrong at the Pentagon, really wrong, you'd always hear some bright guy in a business suit complaining that a country able to land a man on the moon should be able to carry out an operations on the earth: raid Hanoi, drop into Tehran, whatever. I always pointed out to these smart alecks that as I recalled, the moon didn't hide, move around under its own steam, or shoot back."

Maybe that is difference with real incidents — in many ways they hide, move and shoot back.

Eight Things to Do for Your Crew in 2008

Posted on Wed, 2 Jan 2008 12:23:09 UTC

With 2008 under way, it's time for us to reflect on the year past and to begin developing our plans for the future. Here are eight straightforward ideas that company officers can use right now to help their crews stay ahead in 2008.

1. Be an informer
Passing on relevant information about decisions, plans and activities to the people (your firefighters) who need it to do their work is vital. You can't expect them to accomplish goals that they know nothing about. Discuss the daily objectives at the morning briefing, including any training, inspections, pre-fire plans or scheduled community education. You can never provide too much information to your people.

2. Promote the team
Crew cohesion, or working together as a team, is an important human factor in firefighter safety and for getting things done. Problems with crew cohesion have been identified with several near-misses and tragic accidents. Look for and promote good work practices that safely and effectively accomplish team objectives. Stress the importance of how individual capabilities contribute to the team's success.

3. Create a training plan to keep your crew ready Your training goal should be to prepare your firefighters to be ready to operate safely and effectively at any intensity level, anywhere, anytime, and to return home alive. Readiness training demands teamwork, dedication and sustained practice. Create a flexible and believable training plan that addresses the training needs for your crew while prioritizing those training needs, focusing on safety first.

4. Address problems as they occur
Be willing to confront problems head on and have those tough conversations with your firefighters. A team that is comfortable talking openly with each other, and willing to air their disagreements or problems, will move forward together. Identify and remediate all performance issues immediately, understanding that everyone operates at a different level.

5. Define your expectations and keep them believable
It's pretty simple. Let your crew know what you expect of them. Here are a few examples: Be safe by responding safely, following operational policies, maintaining and operating equipment properly, and practicing personnel accountability. Be proficient by training for readiness and improvement, arriving on scene ready to work, communicating effectively, and following the chain of command. Be professional by practicing a positive image all the time, everywhere you go. Be nice to each other and everyone you meet. If your team makes an effort to follow these basic expectations, you will have a safe and rewarding year.

6. Motivate them
Recognize the likes and differences of your firefighters to help you motivate them to be a more productive team. Appeal to their individual emotions and values to generate enthusiasm for their work. Invite their participation when making decisions, and allow them to have responsibility in carrying out their work activities.


7. Recognize and praise them, at the right time
Provide praise and recognition for excellent (not ordinary) performance. If it's really good work, put it in writing. Be specific about what you are praising. Give praise for weak performance that’s improving. Recognizing their efforts shows your appreciation for the work they do.

8. Support and mentor them
Act friendly and considerate. Be patient and helpful. Do things to facilitate your firefighters' skill development and career enhancement. Be responsive to their requests for assistance or support, and set an example for proper behavior. Be their leader.

Take some time and see if you can add a few ideas to the list. Even if you can only address a few of these recommendations you'll be on the road to developing a fresh attitude and healthy approach for a new and exciting year.

Another great CFSI dinner in the books

Posted on Fri, 30 May 2014 13:47:41 UTC

Each year, the Congressional Fire Services Institute has the distinct honor of hosting the annual National Fire and Emergency Services Dinner and Seminars Program. The event brings together fire and emergency services leaders from across the country to our nation's capital.

During their stay, they meet with their members of Congress, attend the CFSI seminars program, and come together as one fire service for a special dinner program honoring the dedication and service of our nation's one million first responders.

The theme of the 26th annual program, which took place on April 30-May 1 in Washington, D.C., was "Cultivating Relationships." Upwards of 2,000 fire service leaders from across the country attended the program.

This was not a social gathering by any stretch, but a unique opportunity to learn and participate in the legislative- and policy-implementation processes. For veterans and neophytes of this program alike, important work is accomplished at the annual National Fire and Emergency Services Dinner and Seminars Program that has a far-reaching effect on federal programs that benefit our nation's first responders.

This is why CFSI continues to conduct this event and encourage a large turnout — to cultivate relationships with political leaders who determine the federal government's commitment to important fire and emergency services programs.

Getting educated
Before commenting on the dinner, I'd like to discuss the seminars program. No other event in the fire service covers such a broad range of important federal issues — nor does any other event feature such a broad array of distinguished and knowledgeable experts on national fire service issues.

Our seminar presenters included 32 association leaders, six federal officials, and eight members of Congress. They are experts in such areas as first responder communications, emergency medical services, building codes, leadership, public safety education, health and wellness, and lobbying.

Our federal presenters were there to listen how our government can be more responsive to the concerns and needs of the fire and emergency services.

While CFSI was delivering an educational experience for all attendees, there were separate meetings and business taking place by other organizations and individual groups. There is not another opportunity during the year for such meetings between leaders of so many diverse organizations.

Business cards were exchanged and new business relationships were formed. Industry leaders conversed with fire officials, while many of our participants were walking the halls of Congress and meeting with their elected representatives.

The best ever
This was my 19th dinner as CFSI's executive director and arguably the best one from my perspective. Five of our fire caucus leaders participated in the dinner program. Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) and Reps. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), Peter King (R-N.Y), and Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.) all addressed the dinner attendees, while Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) once again addressed our board of directors reception.

Many members of Congress would relish the opportunity to address such a large and esteemed audience of fire service officials, but few deserve the time behind the podium — most notably these members in addition to our three other caucus co-chairs — Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Rep. Dave Reichert (R-Wash.), who addressed the opening session of our seminars program.

These are members who understand our issues, members who work with us on a daily basis to help the fire service become better prepared and trained. They understand our culture, our traditions and our language.

Grant programs aren't funded on their own, nor are federal agencies like the U.S. Fire Administration or the National Fire Academy. Positive changes to the Public Safety Officers' Benefits Program require support from the Capitol Hill, as do efforts to enhance first responder communications.

Recognizing excellence
To a large extent, we have our caucus leaders to thank for this work, which is why we always look forward to paying proper tribute to them at the dinner.

The dinner also provides an opportunity to acknowledge fire service leaders and organizations for outstanding leadership.

Since 1999, CFSI and Motorola Solutions have presented the Mason Lankford Fire Service Leadership Award to an individual for exemplary leadership at the local, state and national levels. This year's recipient was the Hon. James M. Shannon, president of the National Fire Protection Association who will be retiring shortly following an illustrious 23-year career with NFPA.

CFSI co-sponsor an award with the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation that recognizes organizations for outstanding leadership to advance the cause of firefighter health and safety. This year we honored a government agency (the Office of the Fire Commissioner for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania) and a partnership between two organizations (the Oklahoma Council on Firefighter Training and Ingegris Heart Hospital). The central focus of the award is to recognize organizations that are helping to advance the 16 Life Safety Initiatives developed by fire service leaders at Tampa, Fla. in 2004.

We also present two other prestigious awards: the Dr. Anne W. Phillips Award for Leadership in Fire Safety Education and the Excellence in Fire Service-Based EMS Awards.

With the support of the International Fire Service Training Association, we recognized Mary Marchone of the National Fire Academy with the Phillips awards. The EMS award, co-sponsored by the MedicAlert Foundation, honored three recipients from the volunteer, career and combination categories: the Cullman County (Ala.) Association of Volunteer Fire Departments, the Memphis (Tenn.) Fire Department and the Howard County (Md.) Department of Fire and Rescue Services, respectively.

These are competitive awards with formal application processes. It is indeed a distinct honor for the recipients to stand before national fire service leaders and receive these recognitions. They have worked hard to achieve these honors and by doing so, have made the fire service stronger and communities across the nation safer.

We extend our thanks and appreciation to our co-sponsors for their continued support of the awards program. Without them, this program would not be possible.

From the administration
Our keynote speaker was Secretary Jeh Johnson of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. In his speech, the secretary pledge to grow the department's relationships with the fire and emergency service, stating that the department will continue to listen to the fire service to better understand our needs and concerns.

He spoke of the department's commitment to the SAFER and AFG grant programs, enumerating the many ways both programs have addressed the needs of fire departments across the nation. He also recognized our Fire Administrator Chief Ernie Mitchell and the leadership he continues to provide at the federal level.

Cultivating relationships is the mission of the Congressional Fire Services Institute. The fire and emergency services stand to gain when nearly 2,000 fire and emergency services officials from all disciplines can gather together in Washington, D.C. and present a unified image to our leaders on both ends of Pennsylvania Ave.

We thank those who attended for their support and encourage others to contact our office to learn how they can engage in our efforts not only at our 2015 program, but every day during the year. You can reach us at 202-371-1277 or update@cfsi.org

5 tips for starting public access defibrillation programs

Posted on Wed, 6 Jul 2011 09:48:59 UTC
Bound Tree University

Setting up a successful public access defibrillator (PAD) program should be on the forefront of every fire and EMS agency’s agenda. The American Heart Association notes that for every minute a person is in a cardiac arrest, their survivability decreases by 10 percent. Having easy-to-use PADs that are quickly accessible by the public increases the probability of delivering life-saving defibrillation sooner.

Here are the top five things to consider when starting a PAD program, along with some of the strategies I used to start a PAD program that has grown to more than 1000 PADs over just a few years.

Involve the stakeholders
With any successful startup program, getting the key players involved at the beginning is critical. Start by inviting those organizations and individuals who are the stakeholders – those with a vested interest in the success of starting a PAD program. This group should include fire, law enforcement, EMS, 9-11 communications, hospitals, cardiologists, the local American Heart Association, and other interested parties.

Start with regularly scheduled meetings and open discussions on the importance of PADs to the survival of cardiac arrest patients. You may begin the initial meeting by walking the group through the continuum of care that each member provides, starting at 911, through prehospital responders, to hospitals, and finally outpatient care. This helps everyone understand the many vital roles needed to help increase survivability. This group may grow and develop subgroups as other key tasks or steps are identified.

Funding
After the stakeholders have bought in to the program, one of the next steps is locating funding. Funding will be integral to starting and maintaining the program. A well connected stakeholder group may be able to tap into their individual networks to locate funding, and this task may also turn into a subgroup of the stakeholders. Funding may come from a variety of other sources, including community grants, endowments, fundraising events, matching funds, or other programs.

Hospitals may also have access to funding sources or use other methods to lower costs. For example, in one successful program, a hospital used its purchasing power to lower the costs for PADs. They did this by purchasing in PADs in volume at 100 units at a time, and also by helping to negotiate a lower price. This lead to a lower cost through a volume discount and lower shipping costs per unit. The hospital also offered to use their staff to help augment the program, store, and even tracking individual PADs. Their CEO was an early member of the stakeholder’s committee, and he quickly understood the importance of PADs to saving lives. He was used as part of the negotiating team to help get the lowest possible price for the PADs.

PAD selection and training
The team should determine whether the program will use a single model of PAD, or whether a variety of brands will be used. An argument for a single model is that as the program grows certain things become easier (and cheaper) due to economy of scale such as training, system upgrades, recalls, purchasing batteries and patches. Having one brand may also create a direct pipeline to the company for maintenance and support. Since CPR training includes PADs, if one particular brand of PAD is selected, then models for that particular device can be incorporated into training. This ensures realistic training based on the system.

The team should also ensure the PAD model integrates with the brand of device that prehospital responders are using. This will allow for similar defibrillation technology and protocols from PAD to responders, and ultimately the receiving hospital.

During this step, the team can also begin to focus on the location and placement of the initial PADs in the community. The team should consider sites where mass gatherings are common, areas with large populations over 50 years old, schools, and sites that take EMS longer to respond.

Marketing
This can be ongoing from the beginning of the process, and is important for creating “buzz” in the community. Once word is out, you may be surprised at the demand for the program from individuals and businesses.

Some marketing ideas can also be turned into fundraising opportunities. Two ways to get the word out and involve the community are mass CPR training days, and a contest to name the PAD program. The front of the PAD cabinet is also a prime marketing location and can be used to further market the program with contact information and logo placement.

The PAD program can also rely on local media for marketing. Depending on the situation, consider asking for coverage of successful cardiac arrest “saves,” or giving awards to citizen heroes for taking action.

System Integration
Early on, prehospital providers may be reluctant to embrace the program. Some may view it as encroaching on their turf and won’t fully understand the value PADs bring to increasing survivability. You should clearly explain that PADs will keep patients alive and offer responders a better opportunity to provide their skills to potentially survivable patients. Here are some integration considerations:

  • The dispatching center should have a database that will notify the call taker if a PAD is located at the site, and also provide instructions for use. Some computer aided dispatch programs (CADs) have the capability to flag addresses with PADs located on the property.
  • Some groups may not embrace the change because they may be required to perform new roles or change their operation, i.e. police may have to carry PADs in their patrol vehicles. It is important to overcome these arguments, as police often beat firefighters and EMS to the scene and can start defibrillation even sooner.
  • First responders should understand the importance of PADs and also be able to transition from a PAD to their device for transport. There needs to be guidelines and training on switching from a PAD to a more advanced cardiac device, and also when should they continue using the PAD.
  • This goes back to the importance getting key players from various agencies together so they can communicate the importance of the program back to their organizations.

Conclusion
These are only some of the areas to focus on prior to setting up a PAD program. These programs are easy to start and garner great success by increasing patient survivability from sudden cardiac arrest. If fire and EMS agencies do not step up and provide the necessary leadership to start a PAD program, some other organization will fill that role and take a significant new standing in your community. A successfully implemented PAD program is one of the only tools presently available for a city or EMS system to increase the rates of patient survivability from sudden cardiac arrest.

Feel free to contact me for any questions on PAD programs. I've helped start several programs, including one which received the national heart safe community award.

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.

Firefighting history: How did we get professional?

Posted on Tue, 7 Apr 2015 17:25:37 UTC

The volunteer fire service as we now know it is at a crossroads. It is facing a difficult future from increasing demand for service, high expectations for professional-like behavior and declining numbers.

The dichotomy that exists between the idea of professionalism and the reality of being a volunteer firefighter has existed since the demise of 19th-century urban volunteer departments and remains an underlying issue in the decline of volunteer departments today.

From the Antebellum period to well beyond the Civil War, volunteers in America's expanding urban centers were replaced with paid firefighters. The reasons offered for this move and the context of the situation is essential to understanding fire service history.

The popular story of that transition is filled with legends, myths and half-truths useful for selling newspapers and books, but troublesome for developing a historically accurate analysis.

Too often the fire service is its own worst enemy because we fail to look beyond what is easy and accessible. We allow our history, if we even acknowledge it, to be distorted or incomplete. We fiercely defend our traditions, but sometimes have no idea from where or how they originated. We believe in professionalism and yet many lack an understanding of the concept and why it is so important to preserve as an occupational behavior.

The occupation of firefighting, whether seen as a trade or craft, is practiced by individuals, some of whom are paid a salary while others do it for some other reason with little or no monetary compensation.

Either way, they each practice an occupation and (most I hope) strive to do so in a professional manner. By professional I mean possessing the skill, good judgment and polite behavior that is expected from a person who is trained to do a job well.

In the crosshairs of change
Radical cultural changes in society and the perception of acceptable risk are not unique to contemporary society. Benjamin Franklin's idea for societies of volunteer firefighters was born in the pre-Industrial Age and matured in an era that saw political revolutions in America and France bringing forms of republican democracy.

Volunteer firefighting in America survived that near century of political strife alive and well.

Bravery, determination and fortitude were the powerful forces behind the success of the early volunteer fire departments. But these traits would not be sufficient to withstand the most powerful assault yet inflicted on society.

The doors to the 19th century opened wide on industrial and technological forces that would literally change the face of cities and ultimately lead to the demise of the urban volunteer fire department. As the societal and economic upheavals of the Industrial Revolution played out in urban areas, volunteer firefighting saw changes in the types, frequency and severity of fires.

As the volunteers struggled to define themselves in the Industrial Age, they saw membership among the old elite decline and in its place a shift in the demographic composition of the new members.

This fact underscores the transformation from the early colonial fire societies of well-respected men so envisioned by Franklin to the rowdy fire gangs whose behavior grew so egregious in New York, Philadelphia and many other urban centers. The public so lost faith in the volunteers and so feared the recurring threat of fires that business leaders and elected officials agreed that paid municipal fire departments were the only option.

Professionalism arises
The ethic of modern professional firefighting in America descends from a long line including the volunteer firefighters of our Colonial period. Professional has come to be exemplified by organized and trained fire forces strategically deployed and equipped to suppress fires working under direct supervision and in cohesive units.

Under this definition, professional firefighting has nothing to do with being paid or compensated for the service rendered and in fact likely includes the majority of public fire departments in the United States.

The confusion, where it exists, regarding professionalism springs from the fact that we lack a comprehensive record of its development within the fire services. That might seem an extreme statement, but in fact it is true.

The history of firefighting in America, especially as it pertains to volunteer firefighters, is shrouded in myth. The original stories mostly in the oral tradition and passed down to other firefighters, friends or family members have mostly been lost, while some of those saved have been twisted to serve a different purpose.

Buying into myths
Myths become entrenched and thus powerful because they are repeated in an endless cycle to a point we come to believe them as reality. We have many published departmental histories, as well as accounts of great fires and conflagrations. These stories — both true and less than true — may be weaved together and successfully passed off as our history when in fact they are only part of the whole story.

The second point to be made is that our history itself is only a part of many other larger histories, and missing that, we lose context.

At the root of this is whether the volunteers were really as bad as the public came to see them leading to the calls for replacement by paid forces.

The record such as it exists offers that volunteers turned rowdy and frequently battled one another leaving fires burning unchecked. While this sort of thing did happen and it was serious, it begs some interesting questions.

  • How prevalent and widespread was this rowdiness?
  • How much of a role did changing technology play?
  • Did all volunteers turn rowdy?
  • Who were the main culprits and in what cities was it the worst?

A wider view of history
If you include what was happening in combating urban fires in European cities, the lineage of our shared knowledge and tradition begins roughly about 350 years ago in Amsterdam.

However, if we consider only American fire history, do we start with Ben Franklin's volunteer fire society in Philadelphia in 1736 making it 279 years. Or, do we go with Boston's paid-on-call fire service in 1678, making it 337 years?

Does any of this matter, is it important enough to study, does it change anything? Only you can answer those questions for yourself.

But if it isn't important then we lose the contributions of Jan van der Heyden, James Braidwood, Massey Shaw, John Damrell, Hugh Bonner, Edward Crocker, Lloyd Layman, and scores of others who have shaped modern firefighting over the last three-plus centuries.

Greek tragedy for firefighters

Posted on Mon, 12 Jul 2010 14:35:47 UTC

By Jay Lowry

What does the Greek financial crisis that hit the headlines earlier in the summer have to do with fire stations being built?

A great deal. Unlike 20 years ago, we live in a very connected world and the global market is influenced by local events with repercussions felt in cities and towns across the United States.

When Greece received a bailout from the European Union, stocks plummeted in the United States — and didn't stop dropping for a while.

Why should firefighters or EMS care?

There is a steady drum beat for financial reform including pension reform, eliminating deficit spending and reducing salaries. These are local effects of a national and even international problem. NFPA 1710 staffing is being attacked as wasteful and the financial crisis helps those who want to have barebones service.

Some firefighters state this was the worst budget year in history. Not hardly.

In many areas, the big bust will be the 2011-2012 and 2012-2013 budget cycles.

The mood of the country coupled with rising debt, deficit spending, massive entitlement programs and loss of investor confidence will combine to make the current situation look tame.

Warren Buffett is known as the "Oracle of Omaha" because of his financial acumen. Testifying before Congress last month, and in subsequent interviews, Buffett discussed rising concerns over municipal bonds.

He has divested, as have others, in muni-bonds because cities and counties are finding it very hard to make payments. This is very bad news.

All is not lost. Fire and EMS will survive but both must plan for tighter budgets while educating the public on the importance of the services performed.

The economy will rebound eventually but don't expect it to happen soon. Even so, the effects will have consequences for years to come.

Why civility matters in firefighting

Posted on Mon, 27 Apr 2015 14:41:57 UTC

If you think the world is a much ruder place today than it was even a few years ago, you are not alone. Study after study indicates that people experience incivility on an increasing basis in both their professional and personal lives.

The fire service has seen its share of fallout from incivility in recent years — arguments among firefighters escalating to violence, inappropriate social media posts that have led to discipline or dismissal, and fire personnel getting into verbal (or sometimes physical) confrontations with members of the public.

Within a station or a crew, a pattern of incivility can have serious consequences. Studies show that nearly everyone who experiences workplace incivility responds in a negative way, in some cases, with outright retaliation.

Even if rudeness among coworkers does not escalate to open warfare, a pattern of incivility at work always leads to decreased morale, diminished participation and buy-in, and increased attrition.

Bad P.R.
When rude behavior extends to the service community, the effect can be the loss of critical support, even if the incident involved only one person or crew from the organization.

People have a tendency to generalize from the singular example — if you are treated badly by one firefighter, you might draw conclusions about all firefighters. This may not be fair, but it is human nature.

Many factors contribute to the current state of civility in our society. Social media allows people to say mean things with little accountability. Popular culture makes celebrities out of people who behave badly. Children may not learn basic manners from their parents. Adults are distracted and in a hurry.

There is no question that social media has played a role in the loss of civility among us. In social media, reaction is a reward, so to be provocative to the point of uncivil can be seen as a positive thing.

Knee jerks
People who use social media may develop the habit of reacting quickly and at times thoughtlessly. They are often insulated from the fallout from that reaction by anonymity.

This type of reactionary communication can become habitual and not just in the realm of social media. The pace of life is faster than it used to be — people may feel they don't have time for considered response. And so they react rather than mindfully responding.

The effects of rude behavior have a tendency to infect many more than just those who are in direct contact with the offending person. If your company officer is a jerk and you can't do anything about it, your frustration is likely to surface through encounters with other coworkers, family or members of the public.

Company officers play a key role when it comes to bringing more civility into the workplace. Most importantly, they must model appropriate behavior.

Breaking the cycle
In one business survey, 25 percent of managers who admitted to having behaved badly said they were uncivil because their leaders — their own role models — were rude. Of course people are always responsible for their own actions, but firefighters tend to follow their officer's lead, for better and for worse.

Set a positive example in your own behavior. This is especially important for company officers.

If the crew starts going off on a "can you top this" rant, be the voice of reason. Speak to the middle ground. Stop inappropriate talk and redirect energy to more constructive activity.

Communication is key to creating a more civil workplace. Training in basic communication skills, including giving and receiving feedback, should be required for all department members. Every new company officer should have training on how to give direction, facilitate discussion, ask for feedback and establish boundaries.

Be nicer
There is no question that social media can fan the flames of incivility. All departments should have a reasonable social media policy and training on that policy. Never use social media to have conversations that should be happening face to face.

Demand accountability at all levels of the organization. Call people out when they're being inappropriate, but do so in a way that is respectful and professional. Don't stand by silently if someone is being bullied or harassed, online or in person.

In short, be nicer, make a conscious effort, help someone out, do something unexpected for someone, and don't demand credit.

And, get your facts straight. Many times people will go off on a righteous tirade about some wrong that was done when the smallest effort to check facts would show that the person being attacked is not the person responsible for the problem.

Some firefighters might question the need to address workplace civility. It's a tough job, they say, and if you can't take the abuse, you shouldn't be here. But this attitude completely misses the point.

Civility is not about political correctness. It's about organizational effectiveness. Any organization that tolerates or encourages rude behavior among its members will see negative effects that may include loss of public support, member attrition and poor productivity.

Extreme cases could lead to violence and litigation. These are outcomes that no fire department can afford.

How we're changing the status quo

Posted on Mon, 20 Dec 2010 14:39:32 UTC

American voters made a decision in the midterm elections in November this year. The decisions were based on a decision to change the status quo. The U.S. Fire Service apparently made a similar decision earlier in the year, too. The number of line-of-duty deaths recorded in 2010 is near the lowest in the past decade. The number of Safety Officers certified by the National Board of Firefighter Professional Qualifications (Pro-Board) through the Fire Department Safety Officers Association is at a record annual total.

The causes for the reduction in LODDs are not readily measurable. Although the number of deaths is down, the statistics do reflect a status quo or even regression in some ways. Statistics through November show that 68 percent of LODDs occurred away from the incident scene, or responding to the incident scene. Heart attack was the cause of 58 percent (46) of the deaths, vehicle collision 14 percent (11). Twenty-one firefighters who died were over the age of 61. The oldest was 86. Two firefighters were under the age of 21.

The National Fallen Firefighters Foundation's Everyone Goes Home Firefighter Life Safety Initiatives call for the certifications of firefighters. Perhaps the fire service is implementing and adopting this Initiative. The training required for certification may be a factor in the reduction of fireground deaths. However, 8 percent (6) of the LODDs involved firefighters losing their lives due to building collapse, being overtaken by advancing fire conditions or becoming disoriented.

The FDSOA, NIOSH, the IAFF and the IAFC all worked to reduce the number of LODDs in 2010. The FDSOA through safety officer training certification, NIOSH by investigating LODDs and making remedial recommendations and the IAFC's Rules of Engagement and the IAFF's Fire Ground Survival Program both show a commitment to reducing firefighter fatalities.

Technological improvements may be another LODD reduction factor. Several firefighters report "new" use of seat belts because of the strong reminders that come in the form of warning lights and buzzers in newly delivered apparatus.

Increased awareness of air management has changed the way departments treat low air warning alarms. Changes in roadway operations is apparent in most photos and videos, in the form of roadway safety vests on most (if not all) responders.

All of these improvements in safety operations and awareness may be contributing factors in the relatively low number of LODDs in 2010. Perhaps the "no fear" culture of the fire service is changing and we are entering a time when risk management prevails and we employ intellectual aggressiveness.
We still must address our biggest cause of LODDs — heart attack. We must look at age as a factor that increases risk. The Fire Service Joint Labor Management Wellness-Fitness Initiative should receive a renewed effort.

The fire service is committed to reducing LODDS, but the efforts must seriously review the statistics and make the necessary changes.

HAZMAT Response Video Supplement: Personal Protective Equipment

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

High-angle rescue: How to execute mid-height pick off

Posted on Wed, 17 Dec 2014 16:33:30 UTC

In light of the recent rescue that FDNY performed, I thought it would be a great opportunity to discuss some of the techniques available when confronted with these types of scenarios. There are some universal concepts that apply to both natural and man-made environments.

There are many reasons a victim is trapped at mid height: gear malfunctions or failures, injuries resulting from falling debris, medical emergencies, etc. The first series of variables is what is supporting the victim's load. There are two basic variables.

First, the victim is rigged or supported by a dynamic system (meaning it can move). This can simply be a rope or ropes as in the case of a climber, person rappelling, or a would-be rescuer.

It also can be an industrial application such as window washers or maintenance personnel on a cable-and-winch system or a ladder-based climbing system. In all of these examples, the assumption is that the system supporting these victims is under tension and carrying their load.

Second, the victim is supported by something static (meaning it is a fixed object or support system). This can simply be a ledge or window opening. It also can be a working platform upon which he may be safety rigged but do not have tension on his personal rigging.

In these examples, the assumption is that these victims are captured through gravity but are somewhat free to move minimally and their position at height is not under loaded tension.

First steps
As we approach these scenarios we must assess the condition of the victim and the cause of the predicament. As we gather information regarding the cause, we will learn whether or not we can use the existing system or develop a new one.

This can radically shape the action plan.

If the victim is suspended by a cable-and-winch system that is safety compliant and intact and the victim is having a medical emergency, then using the existing system (provided rescuers can operate it) may provide the most effective solution.

However, if the victim was rappelling and suffered a gear failure, we will have to develop a complete high-angle system to accomplish the rescue.

If the victim is suspended on a loaded or tension system, we will have to bring gear that will allow us to transfer the victim from his system onto the rescue system.

As we refine our action plan and draw conclusions from these assessments, there is one final challenge to consider. What is the best approach for access and rescue.

Reaching the victim
In these events, we may have crews above the victim, at the victim, and or below the victim. All of these options will shape the systems we select and how we deploy them.

A victim who is on a ledge in a cave, ravine or gorge will most likely require a hauling system to bring the victim up. This will require a lower haul system with a high directional.

It may also require bottom side crews to develop a tensioning track line or tensioned track line depending on the placement and height of the directional as well as the terrain features.

A victim who is trapped on the side of a water tower or hydropillar may only require topside anchoring and a rescuer who descends to the victim, packages, and then descends to ground.

A victim trapped at height that can be directly or proximally reached through a nearby window or platform may only require top-side safety systems to be rigged so the victim can be safely moved from the compromised position to an accessible position. The recent FDNY rescue was a good example of this application.

As always, the objective is to make the right choices to achieve the most optimal outcome for the victim and the rescuers. Do not over-rescue. With that said, here are the tangible points of rigging to perform a pick off of a stranded mid-height victim.

Load transfer
This is when the victim is suspended on loaded rope or cable. Establish a belay line and moving brake line. Some organizations may elect to establish a fixed brake line in which the rescuer is lowered, but I have found that this application requires very finite communications and often results in miscues between the rescuer and the lowering team.

Conversely, the moving brake requires an experienced rescuer who is adept at rappelling and rigging. This should be the case, though, because pick offs are a level II skill.

Pre-rig the belay line for victim attachment. Put a knot, typically a figure eight on a bite, into the end of the belay line and attach it to the accessory loop on the rescuers harness with a screw link. This knot will be attached to the victim when the rescuer gains access to him.

I prefer the link to a carabineer because it can easily get side loaded during the pick off process and insures a higher safety factor. I avoid tying a knot into the victim's harness because it can be time consuming compared with attaching a link or similar connecting hardware.

Once the knot is established, measure approximately one arm's length and tie a midline knot; butterfly is acceptable here. This midline knot is the attachment point for the rescuer.

Pick-off straps
Rig in a pick-off strap or self-minding short-haul system. Attach this element to the eye of the rescuer's brake bar rack or other descent control device. It is important that this device eventually carry the load of the victim directly to the main line and not to the rescuer.

Pick-off straps have a U and a V attachment. The U goes to the rescuer's rack or lowering line knot and the V gets attached to the victim. It is a good practice to make these attachments with screw links for the reasons previously mentioned.

Self-minding short-haul systems are typically 4-1 or 5-1 ratio systems with capturing cams or progress capture devices that self set. These systems will provide the rescuer with an added capability to haul the victim up a short distance.

Some of these systems come in small packs and can be carried down by the rescuer and deployed when needed. Pre-attaching will help speed up the rescue and may reduce potential rigging errors.

At the victim
Rappel or descend down to the victim. Stop descending and lock off when the rescuers hips are at the same height as the victim's head. This positioning is crucial to ensure that the transferring devices have appropriate spacing to be reached and operated.

Attach the belay line to the victim and the pick-off strap or short-haul system. I find that inverting at this point can greatly increase the efficiency of the rescuer. Inverting allows the rescuer to maximize her reach and use both hands.

Haul the victim up or pull tension on the pick-off strap until the load has transferred from the victim's line to the implement you have applied. When using a pick-off strap, the load usually cannot fully transfer because not enough force can be generated by simply pulling the strap.

This requires the victim's loaded descent-control device to be operated in a controlled manner until slack is developed. This is where short-haul systems will pay dividends. When the transfer is complete, disconnect any remaining unnecessary victim lines to reduce entanglements.

The victim should be oriented just below the rescuer and the pick-off strap or the short-haul system should be between the rescuers legs. If working on a wall, coach the victim to keep his arms crossed around his rigging so that he doesn't grab the rescuer's legs.

When the rescuer's legs are grabbed, they lose foot contact with the wall both parties end up riding the wall. If not working on a wall, rescuers may direct the victim to grab their extended legs to prevent rotating or spinning independently of one another.

When preparing to descend or rappel to the ground, remember that an extra load has been picked up and the previous level of friction on the descent-control device will not be appropriate.

No load transfer
When the victim is static and not attached to tensioned lines, all of the steps are the same with the exception of transferring lines. This means we simply access the victim, attach the belay and pick-off strap, pull out slack and ease off the static platform.

This is a much more simplistic pick off, but often requires more packaging. These victims often do not have harnesses and require rescuers to put one on them. These victims also may be significantly injured.

This will require basket packaging and a lowering system on the top side with the rescuer transition to a tender. We will save that for another column.

Pick offs require a lot of repetition and are a high-risk rigging event. Watch the video to help drive the material home and then get out there and do it.

Remember you can statically go through the rigging progressions out in the bay so rep it out and be ready. Train hard.