Fire chiefs: Break the law, lose your career

Posted on Tue, 11 Nov 2014 15:54:13 UTC

It seems painfully obvious that involvement or even the perception of involvement in illegal activity would spell the end for a fire chief's career. One could speculate that any member of the fire department might not fair well if they had a verified run-in with the law beyond a minor misdemeanor traffic ticket.

However, that obviousness is lost on many fire service leaders as is evidence by the string of news stories detailing the serious crimes and horrible lapses in judgment by fire chiefs and fire officers. The reoccurring theme is the four deadly sins that permeate much of our society. Those sins have a great negative effect on our business as well.

These activities include: greed (money or goods obtained illegally), substance abuse and addiction (to drugs, alcohol and gambling), sexual misconduct and abuse, and assaults of all types.

To be forewarned is to be forearmed and to be able to avoid these self-destructive behaviors. Maybe having an open, honest and frank discussion about this difficult topic can save some jobs and the reputation of some fire departments.

Job 1
Department members must come to grips with the fact that we only exist to serve the needs of our community's residents and visitors. If we can't preventing harm before it happens or effectively mitigating harm that has occurred, we will lose our "stock in trade."

To effectively deliver the goods for our communities, we must have their trust. The fire department needs to enter properties without the homeowner being fearful that something inappropriate might happen at our hands during their hour of greatest need.

A fire department responds to the home of an elderly woman in severe pain caused by the cardiac dysrhythmia episode. Clearly, the emergency medical pre-hospital care providers are expected to deliver high-quality and effective patient treatment based upon evidence-based medicine.

Further, she has a high expectation that all of her valuables are unmolested and in the same place that they were before the medical emergency. In fact, she would need the medical team to secure the home and make sure that the local police were aware that she was transported to the hospital and to place the now-empty home on close patrol.

Another department responds to a 15-year-old child who was struck by an automobile and sustained serious injuries. The medic knows that the potential for unseen injuries is high in this type of situation. In order to properly treat the child, the providers remove all of the clothing to determine the extent of the injury and provide proper life-saving treatment.

A matter of trust
Based on just these two realistic and common scenarios, the public trust is critical in delivering our services properly. In fact, upholding the public trust is the single-most important corporate value that a department can pursue.

In cities where the public trust has been lost, senior employees get fired. New leadership arrives and the trust building process with the public starts over from scratch. It can be rebuilt, but at a steep price and with many sacrifices along the way. The best option is to value the public trust and cling to it dearly.

Whenever there is a negative news story about someone associated with public safety, on duty or off duty, the coverage starts by pointing out that a member of the fire department was arrested for some indiscretion.

It doesn't seem fair that we are scrutinized when off duty as well. Further, why do reporters drag the department or local government into the mix?

Of course, the answer is that by pinning on the badge, firefighters are sworn to uphold the public's trust. It is a solemn oath that firefighters take and one that should be etched into their brains as they do the work of the people.

Privilege and accountability
And when the firefighters are off duty, they are expected to behave equally as well as on duty. That's not saying that you can't have a good time off duty, but remember the two scenarios discussed earlier?

The question must be asked, would the little old lady having a cardiac event allow a firefighter into her home if that member was a bank robber? Would the trauma victim's parents allow you to cut away the kid's clothing if you were a registered sex offender?

Those families would not let the "criminalized" firefighters within a mile of a sick or injured loved one. Those actions are not going to happen without a high level of trust.

Being under the microscope around the clock and calendar doesn't seem fair. There are folks out there who live on the edge of society and never seem to lose their jobs. Why should a firefighter (public safety servant) be under such scrutiny?

The answer resides in the fact that firefighters and police officers hold the public's trust. They can go places and do things that the average person could only dream of have the authority to do. However, with that authority comes responsibility and accountability.

So, a firefighter must always use self-discipline in every setting in life, both on and off duty. Is that fair to the firefighters? Probably not! Is life always fair? Probably not! Get over it and behave properly on and off duty.

Staff choices
To have a high-performance team staffed with great people, the best place to start is at the very beginning of the process. I've pointed out more than once that public safety organizations should never hire idiots, thugs or military misfits.

When questionable or untrustworthy people enter the rolls of the department, it is an almost impossible battle to hold the public trust. If there are idiots, thugs and military misfits already a part of your organization, they will never let you down. They will always behave like idiots, thugs and military misfits.

One department has been notorious for hiring folks that fall into one or more of these undesirable and unacceptable categories. The estimate is about 5 percent of their staff cause about 90 percent of the department's administrative woes.

Ensure everyone hired or voted in as a volunteer member meets all of the national standards relating to candidate selection and hiring. Exhaustive background checks, drug and alcohol screening and comprehensive academic, physical and medical testing should be part of the process used to add a person to the rolls of the department for 30 to 50 years.

A good character
Background work and medical checks will be money will spend and the return on investment off of the charts compared to dealing with the issues that undesirables bring to the work place.

Please do not miss interpret this. Everyone that has proven themselves to earn a second chance should get one.

However, if the offense is significant (drug use, incarceration, crime of a sexual nature, major misdemeanor, felony, less than honorable or dishonorable discharge from the military, etc.) their second chance cannot be in a public safety agency. Perhaps the sanitation, roads or public works departments might be a good fit.

To reach the highest level and quality of uniformed employees that the organization can attract, all applicants must be of good character.

A great fire chief once pointed out to me, "If a candidate being considered for employment is a maybe hire, simply don't hire that person. There are too many great people waiting to become a member of a pubic safety department not to choose the best."

This career crusher seems so simple and straightforward, however statistics indicates that we have work to do. The goal should always be to be a high-performance and high-trust agency. Any involvement or even perceived involvement in criminal activity shatters any chance of reaching this desirable organizational status.

Hire great people. Maintain your employee or membership standards based on national requirement. Do not accept applications with questionable backgrounds. And, always protect the public's trust in the department.

Until next time, please be safe out there.

How communication centers can aid incident commanders

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

By Bob Smith
Director of Strategic Development, APCO International

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Lead by Example in Vehicle Safety

Posted on Mon, 23 Jun 2008 09:00:07 UTC
How not to drive a fire truck
An emergency response almost leads to a rollover. Full Video
When I was asked to write an article that would address this year's Safety, Health and Survival Week, I was initially struck with writer's block. Unfortunately within a few short days I found myself facing a situation that provided me with ample material to write about.

Last week my fire department was dispatched to assist to a neighboring department with a house fire. I happened to be at the firehouse so I quickly proceeded to don my gear and grab a jump seat — for once I didn't have to drive! The rear of the ladder truck soon filled with four other members and we turned out down the street.

One of the members sitting across from me was a newly promoted lieutenant. As with many volunteer departments, a line officer is often found riding in the back seat when another line officer has already grabbed the front — we can argue that practice at a later time. I noticed that this new lieutenant was not wearing his seat belt. I immediately said "Dude, where's your seat belt?" Motioning at the retracted seat belt as he glared at me, he replied, "Right here."

My response? "How 'bout you put your seat belt on so that if we crash this thing you don't come across the seat and kill me?" Somehow I went from scoring a coveted jump seat en route to a working fire to the middle of a stand-off. Grudgingly, he put his seat belt on and we continued on our way.

As we pulled up to the scene, this newly minted lieutenant snidely plucked at his seat belt strap and said, "Is it all right to take this off now?" At that point, I felt I'd had enough. Having spent several years as a line and chief officer, this lieutenant for me was setting an extremely poor example for the younger and more impressionable members riding in the rig. I then proceeded to explain my feelings to this lieutenant — perhaps a bit harshly — until another senior member put the discussion to rest by simply stating, "At this station, we wear our seat belts." End of story.

Epitomizes problems
So why do I share this story? I do so because this 3-minute episode epitomizes the problems that we face in today’s fire service on many different levels. The title of this year's Safety, Health and Survival Week is "Committed to Long-Term Results." But how can we commit to long-term results if those in positions of leadership and power won't follow the rules themselves? How is it possible that a line officer can not only get away with not wearing a seat belt, but can then argue the issue with someone who tells him to put it on? Have we learned nothing from those who have given their lives before us?

Imagine this scenario: A fire apparatus rolls out the door with two young firefighters and a line officer. One of the young firefighters sees that his officer isn't wearing his seat belt and figures he doesn't need to wear it either. The truck crashes and the young firefighter is ejected and killed. Who is at fault? The reports and the scuttlebutt will all say that if this young firefighter had just put his seat belt on, he would still be here today. People will question his poor judgment and shake their heads at what they believe was a rookie mistake. But was it?

In reality, that same line officer who set a silent example by not wearing his seat belt is largely responsible for this hypothetical fatality. Like it or not, when you pin a fancy gold horn on your collar or put that shiny white front piece on your helmet, you’ve become someone that younger members look up to and follow. Even when you don’t realize it, these members are emulating you and following your example. Senior firefighters, line officers and chiefs all create a culture that younger and more junior firefighters will learn to live by. It is this culture that can save or cost a life.

If the fire service truly wishes to bring about long-term results, it's time to start holding people responsible for their actions. It seems that every time one of us is injured or killed, the rest of us are hesitant to ask questions or pass judgment. As a result, this culture never changes. How do I know? Look at the number of firefighter fatalities over the past 20 years. Does anyone really see a difference?

So how should we hold people accountable? It's time to start wielding a big stick. Fancy posters and cute little stickers telling you to wear your seat belt haven’t worked. Every year there are still numerous line-of-duty deaths that are a direct result of someone not wearing their seat belt. Want to make a difference? Start randomly stopping your rigs and checking to see that everyone has their seat belt on. If someone doesn't, suspend them. More than three infractions, show them the door. Maybe it's time to have the cops start citing people who can't get the message through their heads. After all, not wearing your seat belt is against the law!

Until these types of attitudes change or people are held responsible for their actions, I don’t believe we will ever reduce the number of line–of-duty deaths, especially those that are a direct result of vehicle crashes. Unless those in charge begin to lead by example and create a culture in which reckless driving, poor attitudes and lack of seat belt use are no longer tolerated, the culture will never change and we will be doomed to repeat our mistakes over and over again.

To those who have already begun to move this ship in a positive direction, my hat is off to you. And to those that refuse to help the rest of us reduce the number of firefighter fatalities by continuing this reckless culture ... I say maybe it's time to go.

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.

Myth-busting the new fire grant rules

Posted on Wed, 19 Nov 2014 21:25:58 UTC

In recent weeks the pending implementation of 2 CFR, also known as Super Circular 2, has raised a third-alarm controversy among some firefighters and vendors. This new regulation will drastically alter the way fire departments have received bids, specifications and price estimates from vendors for grant applications in the past.

For anyone who may have missed the news over the past year, the Office of Management and Budget has been working with all federal agencies that administer grants, loans, contracts and other types of financial assistance to implement 2 CFR. All federal agencies must adhere to 2 CFR by Dec. 26.

This will streamline eight federal regulations into a single regulation. Under the new 2 CFR there are really three main areas that concern fire departments.

  • The department must have a written procurement policy.
  • If a department receives specifications or similar documents from a vendor or manufacturer for a federal grant funded project, that vendor or manufacturer is forbidden from competing in the procurement process.
  • Fire departments will be responsible for ensure that vendors, manufacturers, and even the contracted grant writers are not debarred from doing business with the federal government.

Panic in the streets
The reaction to these new regulations has been chaotic and there is really no reason for panic.

We have heard of vendors who will no longer give price estimates to departments for their AFG application. We have heard of departments who are struggling to write their own procurement policy.

We have also heard of vendors who are pulling their advertising brochures because they think that handing it out to a department could eliminate their chance of being considered for a sale. And we have heard of departments who may not apply for AFG because they don't think that they can write their own specs if they are awarded.

Let's take a minute and size up the situation. When you do, you will find that you can probably handle this incident on your own with just a little "mutual aid."

4 myths busted
First your department needs a written procurement policy. This policy can be no less restrictive then the federal policy. If you don't already have a policy that meets this requirement, the simplest thing to do is adopt the federal policy by resolution at your next meeting. Once you do so you comply with that section of 2 CFR.

Next, to get a price estimate to use for an AFG application, contact a vendor and ask for a price on the item. Ask for nothing more and nothing less.

The vendor can supply you with a price and remain eligible to compete in your procurement process if you are awarded funding. You can also get prices from vendor catalogues or websites. Both of these are eligible ways to get prices under 2 CFR.

Third, don't worry if you are unable to write technical specs if awarded a grant. Many manufacturers and vendors have product specifications on their websites.

You can use these specifications if you copy them from a website. You can also get specifications from another fire department. If you know that a department in your area recently purchased an item you can get the specifications from them and reuse them as part of your procurement process.

Finally, it is the department's responsibility to determine if any party that it is dealing with is debarred or suspended from doing business with the Federal government. The easiest way to check is through SAM.gov.

FAQ
Here's a brief list of some frequently asked questions about 2 CFR.

  • Can a vendor give me a price or cost estimate for turnout gear and still compete for my business if we are awarded a grant? Yes.
  • If we are awarded a grant for a new vehicle, can I take specs from the neighboring department and use them as our specs? Yes.
  • We want to take the money earned from our summer festival and buy new SCBA. Do I have to comply with 2 CFR regulations? No, federal funds are not being used.
  • Can I take the specs a vendor gave me and use them to get prices from other vendors for my grant application? No.

I hope this information has helped to calm your fears about the new procurement regulations. I also hope that it has persuaded you to move forward with an AFG application for 2014.

We will bring you additional information on Super Circular 2 as we receive it.

Fire Recruits: 10 more must-do things to become a firefighter

Posted on Thu, 20 Nov 2014 21:04:25 UTC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘The only easy day was yesterday’

Posted on Fri, 17 Jan 2014 16:29:58 UTC

We let too many powerful, life-changing quotes and sayings pass through our ears without taking any action on them. It’s time to take pause, listen and then actually change our lives because of them.

Let’s take this one.

“The only easy day was yesterday”

This famous saying is etched above the grinder in the BUD/S compound. Every bleeding back, bruised knuckle and searing muscle produced during SEAL physical training is underneath this sign. But what does it really mean?

For me, there are two powerful and opposing meanings to this statement. One meaning has provided me a refuge, a destination if you will. The other reminds me that this shit never ends, so get used to it.

A Paradise from the Pain
Have you ever done anything extremely dangerous, tough, demanding or painful? Do you notice how good it feels when you’re done? That’s the “paradise from the pain” that this saying represents for me.

People take action for one of two reasons:

1.) Avoid pain
2) Gain pleasure

The avoidance of pain can produce quick results; however, it’s a weak catalyst for action. The acquisition of pleasure, on the other hand, can drive a man or a woman to do some amazing things.

In the early stages of SEAL training, they put you through what’s called “Hell Week.” You’re basically awake for five days and in constant wet, painful and very cold motion. The entire time I was going through this ordeal, all I would think about was how great it would feel on Friday when they “secured” us from Hell Week. All that was on my mind was the pleasure of going to Bullshirt to buy the coveted “The only easy day was yesterday” t-shirt that one only “rated” after the completion of Hell Week.

This motivation to gain something good was my “paradise from the pain” because no matter what was happening, no matter how bad it was, my heart and mind was sitting on this island of accomplishment thinking about how “easy” it will all be once Hell Week became yesterday.

This Shit Never Ends — Settle In
I was training a young man the other day who wants to become a SEAL. We were running on the beach talking about the “mental management” of SEAL training. It was our third evolution of the day, and I was explaining to him that BUD/S is much like this — endless demanding physical or mental evolutions that would go on for more than six months. And once BUD/S was over, it didn’t stop — training for deployment was also demanding. Never-ending. The only easy day would always and only be yesterday because today you have to prove yourself again.

I explained to him that BUD/S could have lasted forever and I would have been fine. I had “settled in” and accepted that every day I would start over and prove myself again.

Putting It All Together
Though these two things seem to be opposite in nature, I find them to be two halves to the equation of life.

On the front end, the saying promises me “pleasure” once the tough stuff is behind me. The reward that has me kick ass every day with a smile on my face.

On the back end is the idea that there will always be a challenge, so there’s no reason to resist it anymore. Just put your head down, keep spitting the blood and don’t stop. I know this sounds a bit “aggro,” but think about it. If you are to live a life of purpose, will you not always have something difficult to accomplish? I mean if you have everything handled financially, physically, mentally and spiritually for yourself and your loved ones, wouldn’t it then be time to hit the road and start helping others who are suffering and dying every day? I think so.

This Shit Isn’t Meant To Be Entertaining
Stop nodding your head like you get it — now what are you going to do? Here are three questions to ask yourself to inspire action:

1.) What are you now going to quit doing in your life?
2.) What are you now going to start doing in your life?
3.) What are you already doing that you’re now going to modify?

The Only Easy Day Was Yesterday.

What does it mean to you?

Eric Davis served our country as a U.S. Navy SEAL and decorated veteran of the Global War on Terror. Eric has been recognized as one of the premier sniper instructors in the U.S. military and has served as a Master Training Specialist at the SEAL sniper school.


Fire attack: Hose size matters

Posted on Wed, 26 Nov 2014 16:32:55 UTC

Last month we looked at the dominos that can be created when advancing a hose line improperly and the issues that can arise with that. This month we will look at the issue of selecting the correct size hose line.

There are three standard sized hose lines that the fire service uses as a front line attack line: 1½, 1¾ and 2½ inch. These three common-size lines are used for the majority of fire knock down and suppression.

The remaining times may involve large master streams or deck guns. The issue with selecting the correct size line is the amount of water that can be delivered from that hose line. Select the wrong size in the beginning, and the operation will not go as planned.

The selection of the hose line is the first domino being lined up leading to a much bigger problem.

Doing what's familiar
Firefighters tend to fall back upon habits that they may have developed over time due to upon repetition and familiarity. One habit that most firefighters fall back on is with the 1½- or 1¾-inch hose line.

These sizes always seem to be the first hose lines pulled off for the any offensive fire attack. While the 1½- or 1¾-inch hose line does provide ample water delivery for most of our everyday fires, it falls short when it comes to large fires that require large volumes of water.

The hose coupling diameter of a 1½- and a 1¾-inch are the same, they only differ with the diameter of the hose jacket. So when there is water flowing through a 1¾-inch hose line, it still has to travel through a 1½-inch coupling at every 50 or 100 feet.

This small reduction in the hose coupling diameter adds some friction loss overall, but the amount is inconsequential in comparison to the amount of water that can be delivered at a lower operating pressure with a 1¾-inch hose line.

Water to match the fire
The size of the structure, the fire and fuel load being dealt with and the size of the fire, will dictate what size hose line to be pulled off first and used for effective water delivery. The general rule that most firefighters can remember is small fire equals small water and big fire equals big water.

Small water refers to your basic 1½- or 1¾-inch hose lines; the big water refers to the 2½-inch hose line.

With a 1½-inch nozzle, the average water delivery rate can be between 150 to 200 gpm. With a 2½-inch nozzle, the water delivery rates can be increased with minimal increase in pump pressure. The average water delivery rates are between 200 and 325 gpm.

This increase in water delivery may be what is needed to achieve a quick and effective knockdown of a large fire. In the accompanying video, you will see examples of where the first hose line pulled off is the wrong size based upon the size of structure and the fuel load present.

Make sure to not handicap yourself by pulling off the wrong size line.

5 traits of great firefighting instructors

Posted on Mon, 31 Mar 2014 09:11:41 UTC

When I began to consider what traits make a great fire instructor, I was inundated with ideas. There were so many people who came to mind who had shaped and mentored my career as not only a firefighter and officer, but also as an instructor.

One of the sayings that always comes to mind is, "every officer is an instructor" just by the nature of the position. I have learned over the years that instructing is more than just managing a crew. To truly instruct, you must be invested in the people you are leading, not just ordering them around.

Great instructors have some common traits that make them great. I would argue that instructors are unique in their delivery, in their experience and in the way that they create their own content. But, these five traits are found in almost every great instructor out there.

1. Knowledge
An effective instructor must have knowledge of the topic. I am not talking about "you took a class and now you can teach it" type of knowledge.

No, you have studied, read up on, asked those who are experts, and researched the topic in order to teach it to others. This process takes time; many will skip this step and eventually be caught by a student who knows more about the subject matter than the instructor. That's not a good situation.

2. Experience
With prerequisite knowledge also comes the need for experience. For example, you will not see me teaching farm-rescue classes. Although I have some background in that topic, I have not obtained the correct amount of knowledge or experience to effectively deliver that type of information.

To be effective you have to use knowledge from past experiences to add credibility to what your are presenting. I have witnessed newer instructors take a class and immediately want to teach it because they like the subject and are "into it."

This typically does not end well. Great instructors teach what they know and have experience in.

3. Ability to relate
Effective instructors can make content relevant to their audience. They have the ability to use experiences and events to illustrate concepts and theories.

This is most commonly done with storytelling and knowing how to relate to the audience. So, if I work in a suburban area and use tactics that are geared for a large number of personnel, I need to be able to teach tactics that can be used by a more rural department if that is where I am teaching.

Being able to relate is one of the most important traits a great instructor can have. Think about sitting in an EMS or first-aid class with a doctor as the instructor. That doctor, no matter how smart and how much experience he has, will be completely ineffective if he cannot relate the content to the audience in a way that meets their understanding and needs.

4. Passion
A great instructor must have a passion for teaching and the profession. We have all sat through a class with an instructor who was just there for the money or because he was made to do it. It is a miserable experience.

Passion is something you have or you don't. An "OK" instructor can be very successful because of the passion she exude during the class. It is contagious and it makes people feel good to know that the teacher care about the job and the students.

Normally, those with great passion are also those who take the time to learn the profession and job. They are usually students of the fire service and love passing on what has been shared with them. It's palpable and their students very rarely nod off during the afternoon.

This trait is what drives the instructor to take advantage of every learning moment that comes her way. These are the instructors who will stay after the class to show a group or individual the answer to a question instead of just telling them.

For example, after a hands-on class this instructor is the one who stays to show another technique, to let a student get more reps or try something new that was brought up in the class.

If the instructor is passionate, then the students are more likely to be as well.

5. Humility
Nobody likes a know-it-all. At one time, you were a new firefighter and didn't know as much as you know now. The great instructors will tell you that they are lucky and have been blessed with great mentors and instructors who helped them along.

Being humble is genuine with great instructors because they realize that they still have much to learn and that sharing the knowledge, experience, and information they have obtained to this point is an obligation and responsibility they have to the fire service.

Students are more accepting of information from an instructor who admits not knowing an answer or shares examples of professional failures. Those things help to make the instructor real and more credible and show transparency.

We are in this profession for a short time and our goal should always be to make the next generation of firefighter better than the current one. Humility plays a large role in that.

I'm sure you have your own ideas of what traits a great fire instructor should have, and you're probably right. We all are individuals and have unique gifts that make us effective.

Make sure your information is credible and that you have put in the time to ensure you can effectively deliver and demonstrate the material.

Thanks for reading and I'll see you next month. Train hard and be effective in all that you do.

A farewell to volunteer, but not to service

Posted on Mon, 20 May 2013 13:51:32 UTC

It was more than a decade ago that I started VolunteerFD.org to bring together volunteer fire departments to share best practices and solve shared problems. What started as an idea grew into a network of over 25,000 departments sharing their bylaws, fundraising, grants, SOPs, training, and recruitment and retention programs.

In this time I have written more than 100 articles, and this will be my last regular article.

For me, as with many of you, volunteering has been a lifelong passion. My mother jokes that I did my first call about a month before I was born. My father and pregnant mother spent rode out a storm in the firehouse serving food to hundreds were without power or shelter.

I remember growing up in that firehouse, always wanting to be a firefighter; I couldn’t wait to join the explorers at 14. My father was chief, and there was a time when I wanted to be chief also.

A path of learning
Since my start in the fire service, I have collected just about every certification I could and spent countless hours listening to "dinosaurs" to learn everything I could about firefighting.

I also earned my paramedic license and spent 8 years in commercial EMS. I thought about being a paid firefighter, but realized that I could make more of an impact teaching others.

That started me on a path that would end in my earning a Ph.D in adult learning with a dissertation being on how paramedics learn.

As with many volunteers, my path in life has taken me away from the fire service. I continue to serve, but am on a slightly different mission.

'You can have everything in life you want'
I have found my focus and mission in life, which is to improve healthcare through learning. It may be a hefty goal, but as Zig Ziglar said, "You can have everything in life you want if you just help enough other people get what they want."

I have chosen to dedicate my life to the goal of improving healthcare through learning due to the combination of spending too much time with my mother in the hospital and a chance run-in.

One day I was sitting in the EMS lunchroom when a medic came in all happy and cheery. I asked the medic what happened, and he said, "I've been a medic a year, and I haven't killed anyone yet."

Maybe I was naïve, but I asked the QI person if this was real, and he said, unfortunately, yes. I then asked, "What percentage of the staff would you allow to work on your own family?"

I won’t share that answer here, but needless to say it was so low it set me on a path to improve healthcare for my family and yours.

Luckily I now find myself working for a health system that is truly pioneering and that is just as passionate about improving healthcare as I am. This has taken me more than 600 miles from home and that firehouse I grew up in, but I know it is the right thing to do.

Continued service
I no longer volunteer as a firefighter, but I continue to serve. I try to help every department and member that contacts me and I continue to try to share the knowledge at VolunteerFD.org and speak at local and national conferences.

There may come a day when I am back in the volunteer fire service and I will likely start writing again at that time. Until then I leave VolunteerFD.org in the hands of the Praetorian Group and all of the great staff and columnists of the network including FireRescue1 and EMS1.

I also encourage you all to take up the cause of sharing your best practices and solving problems together. If there is one thing I have learned about the volunteer fire service it is that there is always another volunteer who is looking to help, and that is why there will always be a great tradition and service.

If there is ever any way I can help you, please do not hesitate to ask. You can always catch me on LinkedIn.

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

Looking Is Not Always Seeing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fire station DVR crashes, grief counselors called in

Posted on Tue, 1 Apr 2014 01:01:44 UTC

SLEEPY HOLLOW, N.Y. — It's being blamed on a lightning strike or possibly a surge from a ComVolt substation. Either way, the destruction of the station DVR has left agony and uncertainty in its wake.

"We just don't know where to turn," said Sleepy Hollow Firefighter Ted Riklyner. "In a split second everything was gone - all seven seasons of "Rescue Me" with outtakes and interviews plus the complete set of "Emergency!" You have any idea the time and commitment our guys put into recording those programs? Many came in on their days off to make sure the DVR was set and running."

The power surge hit about 8 p.m. Friday, setting off small popping sound followed by a flash and a wisp of smoke from the DVR.

"We were just in shock," Riklyner said. "We sat there staring at it; good thing it didn't catch fire as we'd have been goners."

Fire departments rely heavily on their equipment and few pieces are more important than a DVR. Without it, firefighters on low call-volume departments like Sleepy Hollow can go out of their minds with boredom.

Town officials wasted no time bringing in a team of grief counselors to help firefighters cope with this tremendous loss.

Following the counselors' advice, Sleepy Hollow firefighters are spending their time washing trucks and practicing firefighting skills.

"It's a way to keep our mind off the tragedy," Riklyner said. "Eventually, we'll get a new DVR and rebuild the collection; we're just not at that place yet."

The best tools for firefighter rehab sectors

Posted on Tue, 19 Jul 2011 10:21:35 UTC

By Ken Lavelle, MD, FF/NREMT-P

Anytime we need to do a job, we look for tools to help us do it more efficiently. However, these tools also need to help us do it reliably. If a tool causes us to get wrong information, then it is not a very good tool. This is particularly the case in medicine — and remember, EMS is medicine.

One of the challenges of the EMS provider in rehab is to quickly do intake and assessment as a company or group of firefighters enters the rehab area.

If the firefighters have to wait 10-15 minutes for anyone to see them, they very well may wander away. We need to engage them quickly, not only to make sure there is nothing life threatening occurring with their condition, but also to "get them in the system" and make sure they stay in rehab for the appropriate amount of time.

Usually one person will be getting their name, age and company. This "scribe" can be anyone — it does not need to be an experienced medical provider.

They could be a cadet, a new member to the organization, even a spouse or friend that got sucked into a major event because they were out with an EMS provider that had a responsibility to respond to the incident. Obtaining this information can occur at the same time other activity is going on.

I usually like to get the firefighter to sit down and get their gear off, so the cooling down process can start. Next, we need to get baseline vitals. This is a mildly controversial area.

My former Division Chief, a very experienced EMS and fire physician, prefers to wait 10 minutes and then get a set of vitals. His view is that it does not matter much what the initial vitals are at the start, and that it is much more important what the vitals are at the time that the firefighter may be released.

I think there is some validity to this, however I would prefer to know if there was a problem sooner rather than later. If a firefighter's heart rate is 200 because he is in a dangerous arrhythmia, I don't want to miss this, even for only 10 minutes.

If their blood pressure is extremely low or extremely high, I also need to keep a better eye on them. While in most circumstances they should have either a complaint or physical appearance that should clue us into this abnormality, this is not always the case.

I think both approaches are reasonable — discuss with your medical director which is better for your department.

I have found that obtaining vitals is often the bottleneck in the initial rehab evaluation. There are two vital signs I definitely want immediately — heart rate and blood pressure.

A third vital sign that I think is reasonable to obtain sooner rather than later is a carbon monoxide level. I am not concerned about the temperature because it is my opinion that getting an accurate core body temperature is not feasible in the field.

Doing so requires taking a rectal temperature, something neither I nor the firefighter are much interested in doing. The other, non-invasive methods of getting a temperature are not very reliable, and an elevated temperature is almost always associated with a significantly elevated heart rate.

So how can we get these vitals quickly?

The pulse can be obtained by the good old fashioned method of feeling a radial pulse and counting, but we can also use a number of other tools, such as pulse oximetry, a heart monitor or a carbon monoxide monitor.

have found that either feeling and counting the radial pulse, or using CO oximetry, is the most efficient in obtaining a pulse rate. Using CO oximetry allows us to get both a heart rate and a CO level with one action.

The concern is of course is whether it is truly reliable. I believe it is, but if you are concerned, feel for a pulse at the same time and compare the results. This will likely not add much time to the task.

The blood pressure also needs to be obtained quickly and reliably. Now I am generally a fan of automatic blood pressure cuffs. In the hospital, these work fairly well and allow us to trend the blood pressures — follow them over time.

However, in the field, I have found that they are becoming more and more of a problem. Too often the machine pumps up the cuff and then slowly goes down. And up. And down. And down some more. And then back up. And then down. And then fails to give a value.

EMS providers end up staring at the screen awaiting this important vital sign. So, I think the best way to get a BP in the field is the manual sphygmomanometer and stethoscope.

If a firefighter is found to have a significantly abnormal BP, and they become a patient, then using the automatic machine to confirm and trend is reasonable. But I bet most EMS providers can take a manual BP faster.

Once you have these vitals, and assess the firefighter's appearance and any physical complaints, they can then be sorted into the medical sector or just to the rest and refreshment area.

But we need to have these vital signs to do so, and we need them quickly and to be accurate. Remember we call them vital signs for a reason — they are important.

Stay safe (and hydrated!)

4 key areas for firefighters strength training

Posted on Mon, 29 Oct 2012 08:55:36 UTC

Whether dragging victims from a building or simply humping hose around the fireground, firefighting demands certain types of physical training in order to perform the job safely and effectively.

Traditional firefighter conditioning has revolved around cardiovascular training such as jogging or treadmill work. But the real world dictates that firefighters must have cardiovascular function with nearly 50 pounds of gear on their bodies.

This changes the equation drastically when it comes to being in shape. It dictates that maximal strength and the highest level of anaerobic endurance must be obtained.

To some extent maximal strength can dictate how much endurance you have. If your maximum-effort dead lift is 200 pounds and you're asked to carry a 200-pound person, you won't be moving that person far before running out of energy.

On the other side, if your dead lift is 600 pounds, then a 200-pound person can be moved with relative ease because it only requires 33 percent of your maximal strength.

3 problem areas
Statistics show that most firefighters' physical injuries involve the lower back, knees and shoulders. This is where strength training takes a specific route to bring up strength and decrease injury.

Lower-back injuries often come from lifting heavy patients. Any firefighter who has run ambulance calls has come across residents who weigh between 300 and 500 pounds, or more in rare cases. Obviously firefighters need to be strong enough for that type of duty.

Injuries occur here due to weak lower back muscles, little-to-no hamstring strength and improper technique while performing a task. The first issue is to bring up the lagging muscle groups, then teach form in order to be mechanically sound.

Exercises

  • Reverse hyper extensions – This builds important lower erectors and glutes while tractioning the lower back.
  • Glute ham raises – This strengthens the hamstrings, glutes, lower back and calves. Working them with this exercise teaches all the posterior chain muscles to work together as they do on duty.

Knees
Knee issues can be more complicated, but often firefighters beat their knees up by having weak hips and hamstrings. When jumping, jogging and carrying equipment at a fast pace, the hips and hamstrings must take their share of the work. If they are lacking in strength, the knee extensors attempt to complete the work. Over time this over use of the knee starts to take its toll.

Pain and injury occurs here due to weak hamstrings, hips, vastus medialus muscles and improper form. Once the hamstrings get stronger, knee pain and injury decreases.

Exercises

  • Glute ham raises – This builds the hamstring in a functional environment.
  • Straight leg deadlifts – This strengthens the hamstrings in a way they will be required to work.

Shoulders
Shoulder pain, tendonitis and injury usually start with a weak upper back. The upper back — which includes the lats, rear delts, rhomboids and sub scapular muscles — needs to be strong in order to hold the shoulder joint in place under strain and to maintain correct posture while performing various tasks.

Exercises

  • Rear delt row – This directly builds the rear delt and sub scapular muscles.
  • Bent over row – This builds the lats and also the rhomboids, traps.
  • Lat pulldown – This builds the lats, rear delts and most minor muscles groups of the back.

Cardiovascular endurance
Working on your cardiovascular endurance is important in maintaining your overall health and aiding your recovery. Many firefighters remain on the job well into their 50s; and some, especially volunteers, remain past 70.

High-impact activities, such as jogging, over time will increase injury and wear on the knees, back and hips. Therefore it is important to gain endurance with the least amount of negative impact on the skeletal system.

Sled dragging is one of the best overall tools to develop conditioning while building muscle in important areas. There is virtually no joint impact and with the proper weight can be just as intense as running is on your heart, lungs and lactic acid tolerance.

Dragging the sled backwards is similar to dragging people out of buildings.

Kettlebell swings are a very tough cardiovascular drill and very quickly improve the conditioning level of firefighters. I have seen U.S. Army Rangers buckle to the floor with 60 pounds in less than 5 minutes while doing swings, while it was no biggie for these guys to run more than 10 miles.

A strong lower back and abdominal base must be built before using this exercises with anything more than 25 pounds. The benefits of using a kettlebell is no joint impact and a great workout for the cardiovascular system and much of the entire muscular system.

Training on the job
It is important for firefighters to train at an optimal level of volume and intensity when on duty or scheduled for duty within 24 hours.

Firefighters must still be able to perform their job at any moment while on their shift. Totally wrecking the crew will not be optimal for a possible fire or other emergency. This is why training must be individualized for each person.

These issues are 90% of the problems I have seen in the four years of working with a large fire department. The variety of ages and body types means that training will require different starting points and constant revision to keep individuals progressing.

Hitting the abandoned commercial building

Posted on Mon, 24 Nov 2014 17:51:42 UTC

This fire involved an unoccupied commercial structure that was no longer open for business. For many departments the arrival of firefighting forces at a fire in an abandoned commercial structure is a low-frequency, high-risk operation for several reasons, including but not limited to the following.

  • Size-up requirements are outside the scope of the typical residential structure fire that can be accomplished with a 360-degree walk-around.
  • Unmanaged properties that are locked, boarded up and have security hardware require significant forcible entry tactics to gain access.
  • Significant building degradation, particularly to the building's interior due to lack of upkeep, leaking water and sewer lines are often present.
  • Interior gas leaks can come from old and unmaintained supply lines and fittings.
  • Multiple unknowns like changes in a building's occupancy, fuel load, and fuel arrangement exist.
  • There is an increased probability that a fire is the result of arson.

Watch the following video that involved such a structure. Use the discussion questions to review this incident with your personnel to increase their knowledge of such incidents and have a conversation around how your department would handle such a fire event.

Discussion questions

  • How would you and your personnel would conduct the initial size-up of this incident?
  • What are the risks to firefighters presented by the fire in this structure?
  • Did you spot any indications that collapse was imminent?
  • What would be your incident action plan for this fire?
  • How you would implement your plan with the resources that would respond to such a fire from your jurisdiction?
  • What safety precautions and practices should be a part of your plan for this incident?

Top 3 products you can't get in the US — yet

Posted on Mon, 22 Oct 2012 16:40:56 UTC

Three interesting products were demonstrated at the European Resuscitation Council 2012 Congress in Vienna, Austria, last week. They are all so brand-new that they're not even available in the U.S. yet.

Physio-Control based out of Redmond, Wash., unveiled its newest product, TrueCPR, a standalone CPR feedback device designed to provide rescuers with real-time feedback on chest compression depth, rate and quality. TrueCPR utilizes Triaxial Field Induction (TFI), a magnetic technology that overcomes erroneous overreporting of compression depth from devices currently on the market when used on a mattress or stretcher. Physio-Control expects to launch TrueCPR in Europe shortly and in the U.S. in 2013.

RhinoChill, a unique therapeutic hypothermia induction device, was on display by Benechill International, from Wallisellen, Switzerland. Designed for initial induction of therapeutic hypothermia in the pre-hospital environment, RhinoChill uses a nasal cannula like an intranasal cooling catheter to cool post-cardiac arrest victims rapidly. An inert coolant is delivered through the catheter while flowing oxygen or compressed air to facilitate evaporative cooling of the brain, effectively lowering core body temperature. BeneChill International currently markets RhinoChill in Europe and expects approval in the U.S. in the future.

The Corpuls CPR, a new automated CPR device, was introduced by Corpuls, Inc. of Kaufering, Germany. Expected to be released in Germany and the rest of Europe in 2013, the battery-operated device includes an integral long backboard and features adjustable depth and rate parameters. The manufacturer has no current plans to bring the device to the U.S. market.

11 clues you may have a chimney fire

Posted on Wed, 5 Nov 2014 15:26:56 UTC

Although our ancestors tamed fire as far back as 40,000 years ago, the Romans began using the first chimneys around the 12th century. A thing of the rich for many years, they became commonplace in many homes by the 18th century.

Imagine our pre-chimney cave-dwelling relatives and some concentrated kindling time. The occupants soon found themselves dealing with another discovery — ventilation, or in this case, the lack of it. Fanning wildly about, using any available branches or fur pelts, they did their best to move the smoke out the cave entrance as they disrupted the laminar flow.

Hunters, seeing an excess of smoke in their valley, arrived at the cave's entrance panting and filling their lungs with suspended particles of incomplete combustion and burnt ox hair. Charging in and out, they were the first pull-push ventilation system. The cave was saved.

The chimney has evolved from a crude hole in the rock to interior/exterior vertical shafts made from clay, building materials, sod, or simply more rock. In spite of increased technology applied to the fireplace and chimney, the principle tactical considerations for fires in these structures have remained the same.

Chimney 101
Chimney fires, and subsequently chimneys, share certain common characteristics and can be counted on to behave within predictable parameters.

11 clues of a chimney fire

  • Too much fuel for the size of the firebox.
  • No grate; fuel on floor of firebox.
  • Damper(s) compromised.
  • Physical blockage or damage.
  • New mantle or hearth.
  • Faulty gas igniter, connections or supply.
  • Wood stove, heat-efficient inserts or fan assemblies.
  • Excessive use of soft woods that increased creosote buildup.
  • Discoloring under mantle.
  • Multiple flues in chase assembly.
  • Angular flue design.

Heated air, smoke and flame will travel up a vertical shaft. This is the basic principle upon which a chimney is built and remains in effect until the structure is blocked or broken.

In the event of a blockage — such as creosote build-up, a bird's nest, or a damaged design — heat build-up is rapid and intense, smoke backs up and together they create the immediate potential for fire extension as well as a noxious interior atmosphere.

A creosote buildup explosion is the most spectacular for civilian eyes. Roaring like a jet with flames to match; an F-16 pilot would take notice.

Once the creosote reaches its ignition temperature, it sustains rapid fuel consumption as well as accelerated and expanding flame. However short lived, this pyrotechnic demonstration is impressive.

Full inspection
The result of such a flare-up is immediate fire department notification and building evacuation by the hapless tenants. With the advent of thermal imagers and when caught in time, overhaul is the only strategy needed — ventilation and mitigation of particle damage the leading tactics.

The critical job here is to confirm no exterior extension anywhere in the system and identify a lowering of heat in the firebox area. Firefighters are tasked with examining the entire system.

A solid and stately brick or stone chimney can hide a broken rock or loose mortar joint. This break or hole allows smoke with embers, radiant heat or direct flame impingement to leak in. These ignition vehicles can migrate outside the chimney structure itself and at any level of a fireplace and chimney system.

In the case of condominiums or connected townhomes, tin flues can conduct sufficient heat to cause a fire outside the chimney assembly regardless of location or design. This is especially true in buildings where multiple tin flues are disguised in singular chase full-frame construction.

Even when fire codes call for double- or triple-wall flues, fires can still occur when the framing is too close to tin or the basic design is flawed. Add to this deterioration from age, damage during remodeling and basic human error and you have the formula for a long morning of salvage.

No encores
Whatever the cause, a fire in the floor below or the wall above may not be immediately evident; it can linger for hours before structural damage or decay are revealed. A haze on the fourth floor could be a flue break on the third, leaking from a fireplace on the second.

Oftentimes such extension involves plaster and lath and nearby pipes in older buildings or framing, insulation and conduit in newer construction.

If you are an officer, take your time and let your firefighters work. Bring in a second crew regardless of size-up. This type of call is all about evidence and worth the time to educate firefighters.

Leaving too soon can be a critical mistake. Getting called back for confirmed fire extension is a difficult alarm on many levels and for many reasons. Working with insufficient resources or failure to identify the problem in a timely manner can result in a chimney fire rapidly turning into a structure fire.

Predicting and finding fire extension in a reported chimney fire is often difficult and frustrating and as firefighters we need to be wary of any "routine" call. Unfortunately the easiest problem to find is the worst to deal with, as extended exterior flame is the final clue for an accelerated chimney fire.

Until then, there is time for firefighters to investigate, locate and resolve any physical indicators, civilian testimony and the overall potential for a more difficult alarm fire.