Practicing the MCI response plan

Posted on Mon, 23 Jul 2012 15:25:55 UTC

The multiple casualty incident (MCI) plan for Emergency Medical Services is as strong as the weakest link. There are a lot of links in the chain, so it is critical that every member of the EMS organization develop skills to manage his/her role in a major incident.

Some agencies have developed a routine practice of triage skill testing using a defined period for use of process and props. This process is affectionately called "Triage Tuesday" in many communities.

The goals are several-fold. First, it allows EMS providers to use the basic tools of MCI management, like triage tags. Second, it gives providers the opportunity to discuss their patient evaluation skills with their officers, and importantly, the nurses and physicians at the Emergency Department. Third, it reinforces skills that will create confidence in the providers when the big incident needs to be managed.

The process of using "Triage Tuesdays" instills, and then cultivates, a culture of confidence in EMS providers and emergency department personnel.

Multiple casualty incident preparedness
EMS agencies and providers successfully use everyday operations to prepare for bigger incidents, including MCI events. The daily use of Incident Command Systems for incident management is one of the most important elements of preparedness.

Formal Incident Management System training is designed to prepare providers at all levels and in all disciplines for a multi-agency response. The use of patient triage principles occurs with each patient encounter, and is built around the use of ABCDE patient assessment (Airway Breathing Circulation Disability Exposure) and the differentiation of all types of patients around the basic decision of "sick" and "not sick."

But triage for multiple patient incidents requires another level of decision-making by emergency workers. Those incidents require the caregiver to determine who is sickest among a number of patients, and how sick are they versus the resources that are available to care for them. In the worst of MCIs, someone needs to be prepared to make decisions about who should or should not be resuscitated.

It is these decisions that can be developed using regular training like "Triage Tuesday."

Preparing EMS providers for multiple casualties
EMS providers accept that they practice patient assessment and determination of critical illnesses or injuries with everyday patient encounters. Many resist training for these incidents. There's a few reasons for this:

  • EMS providers don't like to practice. They often have a bias toward actual delivery, and feel that everyday care is difficult enough to prepare for a big incident.
  • It takes time and effort. It distracts from the most important role, which is day-to-day care.
  • EMS professionals don't like "pretend games" at all, and get callused by daily interactions with patients and providers that "play too many games."
  • When things don't go well in training exercises, it can be embarrassing.
  • It costs money to use those materials like triage tags, and other props.

So how can EMS agencies develop a regular and routine practice of triage skill testing? First, use a defined period for use of process and props, like "first Tuesday of every month." Second, work with hospital(s) providers to set mutual goals, like "we are testing and updating processes to prepare for MCIs in our area, for the mutual benefit of the patient." Third, establish a routine practice to communicate the results in each direction, as in "we are identifying areas of weakness in our practice only by accepting suggestions and concerns from your personnel, and hope your agency will do the same."

In the simplest models, the agency's triage tags are applied to each patient who is transported on a given day of the week (or month) before arrival at the hospital. The tag may or may not be used for simple documentation, in addition to the routine patient care report.

The Emergency Department personnel, advised about the process, accept the patient and confirm the accuracy of the patient triage classification, providing simple and immediate feedback to the EMS crew.

Emergency Department personnel may take advantage of the opportunity to test their own triage skills, become familiar with the tagging systems, and use the ED's disaster patient tracking system.

There are more opportunities to expand the training, or add elements once a month to enhance the experience. More props can be utilized, including vests, caps, signage, management boards, and technology enhancements.

Those items that were purchased are dug out of the cabinets and closets, and used for the day. Some agencies will designate the first Tuesday of the month to use the expanded set of tools, designate what type and volume of incidents will utilize the props (every auto accident, or every injured patient incident), utilize field and ED supervisors to provide additional options for testing and management, and produce reports on use of all of the tools.

When agencies are using new tools for MCIs, like bar code devices, the monthly designation allows more providers to develop the skills in using the technology, in the field and in the ED.

An important element of these designated days is to practice the communication scripts. The EMS providers will be asked to use the MCI props, and also to communicate with the patient/family/ED personnel what the props would accomplish in a major incident.

For example: "Mr. Jones, we take care of people every day, and expand those principles when we have big incidents or multiple patients. This is one of the tools we use for big incidents, and we are using it today on all of our patients. We are also doing our regular documentation that is part of your medical record."

In a few places, the supervisors will take the day's incidents and add some elements that give providers some practice in MCI management. At each incident where there is a moment or two where critical patient care is not needed, the supervisor may inject a couple virtual patient encounters to manage, or test the providers on what they would do if this patient encounter was part of a multiple casualty incident that is common for the area. That way a simple patient encounter can be made into a more complex incident for the providers to manage.

Simple and technology enhancements for MCI training
Triage Tuesdays allow the development of MCI skills without moulage, fake patients, and contrived scenarios. It is noted that the skills of MCI management are not developed by moulage administration. Don't waste the money. It is advantageous to expand on real patient encounters, rely on day-to-day patient assessments to train providers on what patients look like, and use simple patient descriptor cards to allow the providers to triage multiple simultaneous patients.

An EMS system could almost develop "baseball cards" that have a descriptor of patient injuries, and have the EMS providers practice going through the cards and making an accurate triage decision. A sample patient descriptor is listed below.

IT applications to Triage Tuesday are very appropriate. Some EMS systems and Emergency Departments have new IT applications that are being utilized, sometimes with new equipment, communication processes, and software.

These special tools require regular practice, especially near the introduction. Regular MCI drills allow practice using the tools, the hardware, and the software. It also helps define shortcomings and bottlenecks. It is likely to greatly benefit the staff of the EMS providers and the Emergency Department.

Regular drills, like Triage Tuesdays, enhance training for emergency providers. With that process, the EMS agency is taking care of people, to include your providers, your patients, and your support agencies. There is great benefit to having, practicing, and improving the EMS MCI plan. Having each member of the EMS agency and Emergency Department skilled in the props, process, and practice will benefit all of the appropriate elements, especially the rescuers.

Triage Tuesdays allow providers to use MCI props routinely. Vests, hats, signage all gets way too buried without regular use. So dust off the MCI kit, write and print a couple hundred patient descriptor cards, and take advantage of all special events. Understand what are high-risk events and use those as scenarios.

Sample MCI Patient Descriptor Cards

Patient 101
Chris Farmley, born on 8/2/88, SS# 123-45-6789, complains of abdominal pain.


Cyanotic, cool, moist

Breathing quality:

Rapid, shallow, guarded

Pulse quality:

Rapid, weak, irregular

Neurological status:

Disoriented; feels pain; responds to verbal stimuli; pupils equal, react slowly

Medical history:

Not available

Further examination:

Abdomen rigid; no other injury evident

Patient 102
Jane Doe, approximately 13 year old Caucasian female with blonde hair, blue eyes, and a one inch scar on her left knee, is unconscious with no apparent injuries.


Cyanotic, cool, moist

Breathing quality:


Pulse quality:

Carotid pulse weak, irregular

Neurological status:

Does not respond to verbal stimuli; pupils dilated, react slowly

Medical history:

Not available

Further examination:

Not applicable

Apparatus Advances in 2007

Posted on Fri, 28 Dec 2007 10:00:00 UTC

Photo Jamie Thompson
Apparatus on display at the FDIC in Indianapolis in April.

At the beginning of the year, the fire apparatus industry really seemed as if it would suffer because of the new 2007 EPA Guidelines for Diesel Engines. While it wasn't all smooth, it didn't turn out as bad as some had imagined. Admittedly, it did require a lot of redesign and engineering of cabs and bodies to have the new engines fit. But it seems that sales have increased in the second half of the year, with many large orders being placed despite the new designs.

This year brought us the PUC from Pierce Manufacturing, which is a new concept that provides ease of maintenance with easier access to the pump, engine and transmission as well as a Pierce Pump. The vehicle also has more compartment space, chest-high cross lays and easier access to the rear hose bed by an angled ladder.

E-One had an extremely busy year, with several new products being launched including a new ARFF Vehicle, the Titan Force 6, with a five-person cab, exterior pump panel, multiple roof and bumper turrets, 3170 gallon poly water tank and a 437 gallon poly foam tank.

Also designed was the urban pumper, with a low ergonomic hose bed and a hybrid energy command vehicle for homeland security use. At FRI in Atlanta, it introduced a new SUV command vehicle — Comms-One — which promotes command interoperability in radio communication.

In more recent months, KME introduced the Challenger pumper line. The Challenger family features 36 different body configurations in steel, aluminum or stainless with 29" deep body compartments for added storage. It has numerous hose bed and compartment configurations including high capacity and low, easy-access hose beds. All can be built on KME Custom or commercial chassis.

Meanwhile, Ferrara's main launch in 2007 was the Heavy Duty 5 section Midmount ladder, which touts a shorter wheelbase and a lower overall height.

In addition, Crimson has built a new pump panel — ControlXT — in conjunction with Fire Research Corporation. It incorporates a more easy-to-read panel with engine information, water and tank level gauges, pressure governing systems and other customer-selected controls and displays. ControlXT will be standard or optional on all Crimson product lines.

Finally, Rosenbauer America debuted the T-Rex in 2007. In conjunction with Metz, the new articulating platform sets up in 25-30 seconds, has an aerial height of 102' equipped with a 2000 gpm pump and room for 115' of ground ladders. It also features a platform collision avoidance feature and a 1400 lb tip capacity.

All of the manufacturers are building and designing with firefighter safety in mind, which in my book is something that should continue in the coming years. More attention is being placed on larger cabs with more room for firefighter comfort and safety, lower hose beds and increased storage space as well as multi-tasking vehicles because we are all trying to do more with less in this day and age.

Just when you think nothing else could be possible, the fire apparatus engineers come out with another new idea that takes the industry by storm. With all of these new innovations that were introduced this year, I can hardly wait for the offerings in 2008. It should prove to be an interesting year. If that is not enough, newer stringent EPA Diesel Engine requirements crop up again in 2010. Oh well!

Safety tips for winter-weather response

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Firefighter rehab lessons from a triathlon

Posted on Thu, 25 Sep 2014 10:40:42 UTC

I recently had the pleasure of providing medical support at a New Jersey Ironman event. While working in the medical tent at the end of the 1.2-mile swim, 50-plus-mile bike ride and 12-mile run, it struck me how in many ways it was similar to a rehab sector at a major fire.

But upon further consideration, there were some significant differences as well.

First, I noticed how varied the participants were in terms of physical condition. I expected most or all to be in excellent physical shape to participate in the event. But there were many who were somewhat overweight — but they finished.

We experience the same at a fire scene. Some firefighters are in excellent shape and others could use a bit more diet and exercise. As medical providers, we need to be able to treat individuals of all shapes and sizes. But I will note that at this athletic event, the overweight participants were not the fastest, but they also in general did not need our medical services.

"I did not prepare"
The participants that did need medical evaluation had an almost universal statement: "I did not prepare or train as much as I should have."

We can all take a lesson here. We need to prepare ourselves for the task at hand, whether it be running a marathon or making a grab at a working structure fire.

Athletes have the advantage of knowing when they are going to compete. We do not.

Career firefighters' call to duty may be anticipated by shift, but in reality we need to be ready to go any time the bells go off. We need to train and prepare ahead of time so we can be of service to our community and not a burden to our fellow firefighters.

Guerrilla triage
Operationally, we found it quite valuable to station a couple EMTs at the finish line. Our tent was close, but these "triagers" were able to eyeball each participant and assess whether medical treatment was needed or if the runner was simply tired.

This is exactly the role I tend to assume on the fireground as a fire department physician. As firefighters are walking around, doing their assigned task or approaching the rehab sector, I look them in the eye and watch how they walk.

I am looking for a purposeful gaze, a steady gait and clear speech. They can be tired, but they should not have an alteration in mental status. Those that show these signs are engaged for further assessment.

Just as at a fire scene, the environmental conditions play a significant role in the number of individuals that presented for care. On this day, it was cloudy with temperatures in the 70s. This was ideal and certainly lessened the impact of the exertion.

On the fire scene we need to be aware of the conditions as well. A hot day with high humidity results in significant exertion even at a non-working fire scene. Awareness and anticipation allow us to be better prepared to care for those that need it.

Difference in focus
Again, there are a number of differences between the triathlon and the fire ground. Now I understand that what I describe below may not happen everywhere, but I have seen examples enough times that we must acknowledge they occur.

None of the triathlon athletes were embarrassed for needing medical evaluation and care. They did not try to minimize complaints or issues and they were honest with the medical providers, even if they had to stop in the middle of the race.

Too often I see firefighters (and tactical operators, law enforcement and other athletes) minimize their complaints with a goal of getting back in the fight. This is noble, but we must admit that it may be a bit selfish.

If you are hurt more than you let on, you could be a liability to your department, your mission, or your team. Be honest with us and let us help you get back on your feet to fight, even if it has to be on another day.

Perhaps this was a unique group of people, but these tri-athletes really seemed to work with us. As a result, we were able to effectively treat them and the number that had to go to the hospital during and after the event was very small.

What's in a name?
Obviously the other major difference was the overall situation. In one case we have a recreational athletic event, and in the other someone may have lost a home, occupants or fellow responders may have been injured or even killed. The stress level is inherently different.

This may explain the denial of complaints seen at fire rehab; rather than a conscious decision, firefighters may not realize how injured they are due to their focus. In addition, staffing can be an issue.

The athletic event was planned months in advance and staffing was known. The fire scene is unplanned, and staffing may be stretched on both the fire and EMS side, limiting our ability to be efficient in the rehab sector.

These two situations seemed similar, but in many ways were not. Even the name was different — we were medical or Athlete Medical Support.

I wonder if our thoughts (and sometimes prejudices) about the activities going on in a firefighter rehab sector would be different if we called it Firefighter Medical Support. Perhaps the term rehab has a negative connotation — implying that something is wrong with you that has to be fixed, like physical rehab, drug rehab, rehabbing an old house for example.

Stay safe.

Rosenbauer steps into the chassis market

Posted on Thu, 15 Mar 2012 09:50:18 UTC

Not wanting to wait till FDIC, Rosenbauer debuted its completely new cab and chassis at a viewing for sales people, local firefighters and some members of the media at Texas Motor Speedway two weeks ago.

After a two-year research and development phase, the company decided to manufacture its own cab and chassis at a new recently rented 34,000 square-foot factory.

Rosenbauer wanted to be in total control of the manufacturing process not just building the body, but the whole vehicle itself.

The present design will be available in six cab configurations and five options for cab interiors with seating up to 10 firefighters. The cab is constructed of 3/16-inch aluminum and is available with a wide grill and optional round or rectangular headlamps.

The most noticeable difference on the cab is its one-piece windshield, which Rosenbauer said gives a greater unobstructed view. The company also increased space for foot and hip room for the driver and officer. The floor in the cab is completely flat on all options or cab configurations.

The vehicle comes with Weldon’s V-Mux electrical system, Hendrickson front suspension, a high-performance air conditioning unit providing 67,000 BTUs of cooling power, as well as wider doors and steps for easier entry and egress, and a wraparound dash for driver ease of operation.

Along with the Cummins EPA 2010-compliant engine package, which is available up to 600 horsepower, the vehicles will come with either 3000 or 4000 EVS Allison transmissions and will be available in single- and tandem-axle models with up to 60,000 pounds of axle weight.

I am sure we will see some additions and modifications made to the vehicle in the coming months before the first vehicles leave the factory.

But according to Rosenbauer, over 25 vehicles have already been sold. One of the first is going to the Goldsboro Volunteer Fire Company in Caroline County, Md.

A family-owned business founded in 1866, Rosenbauer has built global partnerships with 11 manufacturing locations worldwide building innovative, safe firetrucks. For more information, click here.

Fighting the balloon-frame construction fire

Posted on Wed, 11 Feb 2015 16:19:50 UTC

A successful fireground operation begins with a proper size-up that identifies the type of construction involved. Balloon-frame style construction is one of the two most common styles of traditional wood-frame construction, with platform frame construction being the next most common.

Balloon-frame, which was built from the early 19th century until World War II, poses unique firefighting problems because it lacks horizontal fire stops between the studs inside of the exterior walls.

Most balloon-frame homes are two or three stories tall. This allows for unimpeded fire spread from the basement to the attic in a matter of minutes via the interior stud channels of the exterior walls.

Platform frame became popular after World War II and shortened the exterior walls to 8 or 10 feet and provided fire stopping between floors.

Fire's pathway
The lack of fire stopping within the exterior walls can pose a major challenge for firefighters. In addition, the joist channels underneath the floors are interconnected with the exterior wall stud channels. A basement or interior fire that enters this void space can result in vertical and lateral fire spread throughout the structure.

If conditions permit, check the attic void soon after arrival. Once fire gains control of the wall and floor voids, it often dooms the structure. It is common to find a large finished room within the attic of these homes. This further complicates accessing a fire that has extended into the attic void.

I responded to a fire in a balloon-frame residence one evening in which the fire originated in the basement. Several minutes after crews gained entry into the basement, fire began to vent from the attic windows.

We discovered the attic room had a finished hardwood skating rink installed over the floor, covering the entire top floor of the residence.

Another common avenue of fire spread within a balloon-frame structure is the transoms. The transom is an operable window above interior room doors to allow air circulation while the door is closed. Fire can quickly breach the transom and spread unimpeded from the room of origin into hallways and adjoining rooms.

Additionally, balloon-frame homes often have open stairwells that are quickly compromised by the heat, smoke and fire. This may necessitate laddering for the rescue of occupants. They also have large search areas.

Wolf in sheep's clothing
Until recently, it was reasonable to assume most two-story or greater wood-frame homes built before World War II were balloon-frame. However, modern lightweight wood-frame construction methods can achieve the look of older Victorian-style construction.

Do not be deceived. Fire spread characteristics and collapse potential are vastly different in lightweight wood frame structures compared to homes of the balloon-frame era.

Often, the true balloon-frame constructed homes will be located in older neighborhoods built in that era, and may exceed 5,000 square feet. Whereas, the new lightweight-constructed homes will likely be in newly developed locations. Their average size is between 2,500 and 3,000 square feet.

A closer look at a newly built home will reveal building materials not available in the early 20th century, such as vinyl siding, vinyl window, synthetic porch decking and decorative trim.

Safety precautions
Traditional balloon frame homes were often built and can be identified with native stone or block used in the foundations. Original lot sizes found in many traditional homes tend to be narrow and deep, compared to lots built upon in recent years, which tend to be wider and less deep.

Additionally, these units are also being converted from a single-family dwelling into multiple apartments, frat houses, and bed-and-breakfast type occupancies are common. Multiple occupants should be expected in these conversions often with the only means of egress being a single, narrow interior stairwell.

Fires in balloon-frame homes can rapidly spread throughout the structure in a variety of ways, entrapping unsuspecting occupants. Such was the case of an early morning house fire in Stamford, Conn. on Christmas Day 2011, which claimed the lives of five family members.

Firefighters must be prepared for a variety of challenges, with limited staffing, when arriving on scene of a balloon-frame structure fire. These fires will be labor intensive and will pose a significant challenge for firefighters. Training and pre-incident planning are essential for successful operations.

In addition, public education training is essential for the occupants regarding the importance of smoke alarms and escape planning. The use of residential escape ladders from upper story bedrooms is a good recommendation to discuss with homeowners.

Tools and techniques for forcing a door

Posted on Mon, 20 May 2013 11:16:48 UTC

There's nothing like successfully forcing a door to get the blood going. And there's one tool that's often used to take the door — the Halligan Bar.

The Halligan is a firefighter tool that dates back to the mid 1900s. The tool has its origin in the FDNY; it was designed by former First Deputy Chief Hugh Halligan and local blacksmith Peter Clarke made the first actual working model.

Halligan was a city firefighter for years and worked first hand with the Halligan's predecessors, which were called the Claw Tool and the Kelly Tool. The Claw tool was the original and was problematic in its design. It was dangerous to use because it was very heavy and had an off-centered striking surface.

Later came the Kelly tool, which was designed by a FDNY Ladder Capt. John Kelly. The tool resolved some of the previous issues of the Claw, but still was deemed too heavy and not substantial enough in its welded assembly.

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After multiple trials, Chief Halligan developed a tool that was lighter, efficient, perform well, and would not fail when in use. There are many versions and alterations to the bar since, but the main concept is still present.

Andrew Brassard of Brotherhood Instructors states that the bar's original design was "made of cross-drop forged from one piece of No. 4140 (high carbon content) steel, and weighed 8 ½ pounds. Comprised of an adz, pick, and fork, the standard-issue bar is approximately 30 inches long, with a 15/16-inch shaft shaped into a hexagon for grip. The fork is a minimum of 6-inches long that taper into two well-beveled tines.

Spacing between the tines allows for a gas valve to be shut off. The adz has a gentle curve for additional leverage, with a beveled end. In addition to being used to break something, the pick and adz — only when properly used — provide protection to the user's arms, hands and body during forcible entry operations.

Although one would think the tool would take off in FDNY, there were initial thoughts from the department that this would be a conflict of interest. This is why Boston was the first major fire department to purchase the tool. It took FDNY firefighters buying it on their own for some time before the city of New York eventually purchased them for firefighters.

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You often see the Halligan paired with an ax. These tools are quite complimentary in forcible entry and are often referred to as a "set of irons". Over the years people have designed straps and kits for carrying the two items together as a pair.

As mentioned earlier, there are three components of the Halligan Tool: adz, pick and fork. All parts of the tool can be used in various types of forcible entry. The tool can be used for breaching walls, forcing doors, ventilation, and search and rescue.

When purchasing a Halligan Bar be on the lookout for the following:

  • Once-piece forged tool. Do not settle for welded, pinned or threaded connections
  • Tool should be 30-inches long
  • Adz and forks should be both 6 inches long and slightly beveled
  • Forks should be thin

If you are not familiar or equipped with a Halligan Tool, get familiar online, speak with your officer and train. When training, train under the supervision of a professional or experienced officer. Communicate, and always remember your safety basics

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Hiring firefighters: Is their online history fair game?

Posted on Tue, 14 Jul 2015 10:43:20 UTC

A college student gets very drunk at a party and posts a video to Vine. A young woman tweets a racial joke. A young man makes explicit claims of sexual conquests on Facebook.

Should a fire department take these things into account when conducting a hiring process?

Employers in all professions increasingly look at applicants' social media and web presence as part of the hiring process. Colleges and universities may also consider social media as they evaluate candidates for admission.

In some cases, organizations hire consultants or use software that analyze social media postings and strip them of any material that may later lead to charges that a negative decision was made based on protected class status: race, sex, religion, color, ethnicity, age and disability. A large number of states and local jurisdictions also include sexual orientation as a protected class.

But there is no law that protects individuals from employment action based on their own bad decisions or stupidity. These decisions might include drug and alcohol use, workplace misconduct, sexual activity and other questionable behaviors.

Murky waters
But wait. Wouldn't such adverse hiring decisions be a violation of the First Amendment and freedom of expression? The Internet has proven to be a goldmine for lawyers, and this is one of the questions they wrestle with daily.

  • When does someone have an expectation of privacy?
  • What constitutes political speech?
  • In the age of social media, what defines a "public place?"

Beyond these legal concerns lies a more basic question. Is it really fair to hold people responsible for every single thing they have ever done in their lives when it comes to hiring or selection in any arena?

Most of the people who are doing the hiring for fire departments did not grow up the way young people grow up today. Older fire officers and chiefs may have only come to the wonders of the Internet as adults. They were not grade schoolers with cell phones; they did not experience their teenage years under the microscope of social media.

Social media is a fact of life and young people grow up living out loud, with most of their actions and opinions recorded in some format.

How can a fire chief find balance between understanding this new way of life through social media, but also ensure that the best candidates are selected through any hiring process?

5 recommendations
First, it is important to have a social media policy for the fire department. This policy should be developed thoughtfully, with input from department members as well as legal counsel.

Second, this policy must be made known to prospective fire department members. Many young people do not truly understand how their Internet postings can come back to haunt them. They need clear information as early as possible in the process as a way to guide their decisions.

Third, departments should be reasonable in their use and demands regarding someone's personal social media.

Some organizations have required that any applicant "friend" the hiring agency on Facebook, or provide links to a personal YouTube account. Other agencies feel this level of inquiry is too intrusive.

Departments must be careful not to overreach when doing social media searches for the purposes of hiring. This is one reason why legal counsel in developing policies is so important.

Fourth, if social media is used in selection decisions, look at the big picture rather than single events. Is there a pattern of worrisome behavior indicated, or just a single stupid act? Who actually made the posting — the candidate or someone else? What was the context of the action in question?

Finally, if you have an otherwise great candidate who also has a less than perfect social media history, allow that person to explain. Present the facts as you know them and give the candidate the opportunity to tell his or her side of what you have discovered. When having this conversation, be sure that you are working within your department's policy on social media and hiring as well as any current legal decisions regarding the matter.

Social media is a way of life for most people under a certain age, but its persistence and ease of retrieval have created challenges for both employers and new hire candidates.

Social media can raise some legitimate red flags for employers, but if your policy only allows candidates who never use social media to be hired, you are not likely to get the best candidates from the widest hiring pool.

Chiefs and human resources departments must find that balance point between vigilance and intrusion while understanding that times have changed when it comes to what kinds of information might be available about any individual candidate for the job.

What's the best or worst thing you've seen in a fireground rehab section?

Posted on Tue, 9 Jun 2015 22:43:12 UTC

At a fire scene, it's important to have a place for firefighters to cool off, lower their blood pressure, hydrate, rest and eat. And it's a place to get treated for injuries.

And while some try to take on a "tough guy" mentality of just pushing through, we must realize that taking time for our physical health makes us more efficient firefighters and keeps others on scene safer if they don't have to stop to rescue or render aid to the "tough guy."

We asked our fans on Facebook for some examples of the best and worst things they've seen in a rehab section. Here are some of their responses.

And if you haven't already, be sure to leave your thoughts in the comment section below.

"The best thing was bottomless Taco Bell tacos and all the water you can drink courtesy of the Red Cross. The worst was the ensuing vomit." — Alex Bond

"I love seeing people trying to act tough and trying to bypass rehab. Who are you trying to impress? When did rehydrating and cooling down become a sign of weakness?" — Nick Wilson

"The worst thing is going to rehab in the winter time after being wet and getting cold. That is really bad." — Jeff Darius

"Worst thing was probably McDonald's on the scene. All guys stopped working. The best would be fans and chairs." — Jill Mattingly

"Worst thing was a warming trailer where you could still see your breath since the heater didn't work." — Jesse Derby

"Wouldn't know. We just put the fire out then go home." — Dominic Drews

"Best: cooling chairs that you submerge your arms in cool water, food and Gatorade. Worst: cartons of cigarettes and logs of dip and soda." — Shevais M. Shrum

"Best thing: ice pops!" — Josh Shank

"The worst thing? Watching a probie snag the last piece of pizza in his third romp through the line. He grabbed it just as our chief was reaching for it. Chief hadn’t eaten a thing yet and wanted to make sure everyone had something to eat before he took his first bite. Major party foul, especially since chief bought the pizzas out of his own pocket." — Micahel Beane

"Finding out the food you just ate from the rehab unit was expired and moldy. I don't know what's worse — no food or moldy food." — John Rosandich

"Best: mist fans and chairs with ice bags on the side. Worst: stale donuts and ice cold coffee and tea." — Andrew Kociumbas

"Not having one at all." — Nick Proctor

Food for Thought at the Firehouse Kitchen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why rescue is a thinking person's game

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

Updated Jan. 19, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Funding Opportunities: What's in Your Backyard?

Posted on Mon, 11 Aug 2008 13:36:01 UTC

With most grant programs becoming more competitive, I've noted more emphasis being placed on applicants providing thorough vulnerability assessments of their area. These are intended to identify vulnerabilities in the jurisdiction requesting the funding and how the approval of your grant application would address them. Often, these vulnerability assessments can be crucial in the ultimate award decision. So how does one conduct a thorough vulnerability assessment? At the outset it would appear to be a daunting task. However, if the individual conducting the assessment utilizes the proposed systematic approach, it may be easier than you think.

The first step in conducting the assessment for your jurisdiction is to identify the risks, both natural and technological, that could have an impact on your community. Natural risks include weather phenomena such as hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes, blizzards, flooding, etc. I think that these vulnerabilities are often overlooked when assessments are written. A query of the local National Weather Service office will often yield a substantial quantity of data for inclusion into your assessment. This portion of the assessment does not need to be lengthy – but a few sentences that describe the natural risks to your community does provide the grant review team with a sense of your community and it shows that you have performed a thorough assessment.

Technological risks are much broader and can be more complex. I like to look at components of the infrastructure first, beginning with utilities. Examine the power grid of your community. Contact the local utility provider and arrange to meet with them. Ask them to describe the components of the power grid that provides electricity to your community. Where is the power generated? How many sources of power generation are there within the grid? What plans are in place to provide for supplemental power should portions of the grid be compromised? How many substations are within you community? How long will it take to repair or replace a damaged circuit or switch within the station? You will find that the power grid is more complex that most might think.

Water supply is the second most important utility component. Again a meeting with your water utility company might be warranted and again there are three many components that you should be interested in. Where are water supplies located? The supply sources may be reservoirs, wells, streams or rivers. These intakes are critical and sensitive components of the infrastructure and should be discussed within your assessment. Other components to identify are storage locations of treated water and the location of valves that serve distribution grids.

Communications (telephone), dams, natural gas supply and sanitary sewer infrastructure should also be investigated and discussed within your assessment. However, should your jurisdiction contain power generating facilities, major power transmission infrastructure or sources of water supply always mention it in your assessment. These are crucial components your community’s infrastructure.

After reviewing utility infrastructure, I then focus upon transportation vulnerabilities. Interstate highways and the bridges that connect these highways between jurisdictions are always listed first in my assessments. Not only should you identify these transportation arteries and how many miles are within your jurisdiction, you should also obtain traffic count data and list it as well. This data is often obtained from the state department of transportation or highways. Most of these agencies provide this data electronically. Find it and include it in your assessment.
I list railways next. Determine which railway companies have tracks within your jurisdiction and how many miles they operate. Passenger railways should also be included and remember to include the number of passengers that utilize the railway annually.

In the case of both highway and railway, I include commodity flow analysis data. This data is easily obtained from railways, though often more difficult for highway transportation. Most of the major railways will provide public safety personnel with a list of the most frequently shipped hazardous materials from the previous calendar year. This data is obtained by writing the railway and asking for it. This data, which may fluctuate a little from year to year, will provide you with you with the quantities and hazard class of the materials being transported through your community.

As I previously mentioned, highway commodity flow analysis is more difficult to obtain. However, some states do compile this data and will provide it to public safety personnel. In my jurisdiction, the local emergency planning committee commissioned a local university to develop a commodity flow analysis for the several interstate highways that traverse the region. Another method that I have used to collect the data is a simple windshield survey of placards and trailer types conducted over a period of several hours at different times of the day. While not ideal, I’m always able to identify the hazard class and I usually try to extrapolate the number of shipments over a 24 hour period using the number of bulk shipments identified within peak and non-peak travel times.

I next focus upon industrial vulnerabilities. These often include facilities that store extremely hazardous substances (EHS) or hazardous chemicals. The local emergency planning committee is the primary source of obtaining this data for your jurisdiction. With respect to EHS facilities, I list the number of facilities, the types of chemicals stored and the area (in terms of square miles) of the jurisdiction that are included within each facility’s area of vulnerability. The area of vulnerability is the portion of the community that could be impacted by a release of an EHS. Don’t forget to mention EHS facilities within your assessment.

Finally, remember to analyze other industrial, commercial and large population residential occupancies that are an integral part of your community. I list the top five employers of my jurisdiction to provide some perspective of the economic impact of natural and technologic disasters. I also list a large retail hub (15 square miles of commercial occupancies) within my jurisdiction that provides economic benefit to the entire region. Does your jurisdiction contain multi-family (large population) residential developments? Do you serve retirement or assisted care facilities? While you may not think that these facilities are critical, they are a significant component of your community and should be included in your vulnerability assessment. Don’t forget government facilities. Be sure to list any federal, state, county and local government facilities within your jurisdiction. One of the most frequent hazardous materials responses for our regional HazMat team has been to a federal government facility.

Once completed, the vulnerability assessment of your community should provide the reader with a thorough review of the risks to your community. Divide the assessment into the components as described above and the process will be easier. Remember to keep the document current and revise it annually. You will find that once completed, it is easy to cut and paste the data into any grant application and will allow you to focus upon other portions of the application – such as how funding your application will address one or more of those vulnerabilities.

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."

Future of firefighter cancer research is in the couch

Posted on Tue, 21 Jul 2015 22:36:42 UTC

There is little doubt in the scientific literature that there is a relationship between firefighting and several types of a cancer. Obviously, cancer-causing particles are present in the smoke from fires and ultrafine particles have been found in the air even after the smoke has cleared.

Research is suggesting that carcinogens also are entering the body in other ways including through skin absorption and the eyes. Tests of firefighter equipment like bunker gear, gloves and hoods have shown that particulates often cling to the materials long after the fire is out.

Given these risks, it is not surprising that the incidents of certain types of cancer are so high.

What is less clear is how the changes in fire service practices, the safety culture and the evolving fire environment will affect cancer risks for firefighters in the future.

Some speculate that rates of cancers should decline due to the introduction of SCBAs 50 years ago and its increasing use in fires and during overhaul. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and NIOSH report that even firefighters who wear their SCBA correctly register chemical exposures, which highlights the importance of using the SCBA for as long as possible on the fireground.

Rates may fall
As cancer has received more attention by the fire service, other practices also may be evolving. Firefighters are being encouraged to wash their gear more often, keep bunker gear out of living areas, not transport their dirty gear inside their cars, wash their hoods regularly, and shower as soon as returning to the firehouse.

The decreasing rates of tobacco use among firefighters nationally, which were once extremely high, are lower than ever, suggests rates of cancer should be dropping.

What is less clear is what risks firefighters face today compared to the past and what impact those will have on cancer rates. Quick checks of UL's website or YouTube provide a variety of examples of the changing fire environment.

Modern structures, building materials and furniture materials lead to fires that flashover eight times faster than fires of 50 years ago. There is no doubt that today's firefighters are fighting a different fire than they would have in the past. What is in doubt is exactly what risks those fires are presenting beyond their burning faster and hotter.

Good chemicals gone bad
Testing at Duke University in 2012 found that 85 percent of the couches they tested had been treated with some kind of flame retardants identified as potentially toxic. Example chemicals were chlorinated Tris, which was banned from baby pajamas in the late 1970s, and pentaBDE, which is now globally banned due to its toxicity.

Flame retardants became wide spread after California instituted flammability standards that required furniture sold in the state to withstand a 12 minute flame without igniting.

While there has been wide concern about the negative impact of exposure to chemicals in the home from this furniture, less attention has been paid to the negative health effects of the same furniture when it is burning. In studies of lab-based live burns of a standard room and contents, UL found that several carcinogens were produced including benzene, chromium, polcyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and formaldehyde.

On the horizon, new materials are being tested and used for furniture. In an effort to reduce the amount of petroleum in furniture materials, some next generation furniture is being made with soybean oil.

The product is considered more "green" than traditional petroleum products used for foam. While the environmental impact of soybean oil may be better than alternatives, it remains unclear what the risk to firefighters may be when facing them in a fire.

The emerging evidence about the risks of the modern fireground reinforces the need for vigilance related to cancer risk. As always, firefighters should be conservative with their use of SCBAs both during the fire and overhaul wearing the equipment as long as possible to avoid exposure.

Cleaning gear and equipment also is important to reduce skin exposure. While the risks of modern furniture are not yet fully understood, the need to protect against them is.

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.


  • 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.

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.


  • 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.

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.


  • 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.

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.

How About a Culture of Prevention?

Posted on Mon, 29 Jun 2009 12:32:56 UTC

By Bill Delaney

Reactions to Lt. Ray McCormack's speech at FDIC were varied, with people picking sides — sometimes very emotionally.

My own take on the speech was somewhere in the middle. He never said do not be safe. I think he was really trying to say he fears we are taking the "be safe" component to an extreme. He has stirred a good debate and I applaud him for having the conviction to stand up for his beliefs.

But the one big thing that was missing from all of the discussion that followed the speech, and seemingly absent from all fire service debates/discussions, is the bastard child of the fire service: the culture of prevention.

You know, that annoying little member of our family who we always try to make sure is relatively unseen and certainly never heard from? After all, most of the debate related to "The Speech" does not happen if the fire, gasp, is prevented and never happens in the first place!

There is much national gnawing and gnashing of the teeth as staffing on trucks are being reduced, stations closed, revolving station closures, etc. amidst the current economic climate.

No doubt we should be screaming from the highest mountain tops about all of that as it does involve the wellbeing of our people and those we serve. We are, however, eerily quiet when it comes to public educators and other "prevention" components of our service when they get cut.

Why is this? Well, for me, it is because we DO have a culture of extinguishment! That is where Lt. McCormack was all wrong in his speech. The culture of extinguishment is more than alive and well and probably always will be in a vast majority of departments in the United States.

Don't believe me? Take a look at your own department's budget priorities. Next, look at the departments around you. In the Washington, D.C.–Metro area, we have two departments that now have no public educators and three that cut staffing by more than 50 percent.

Meanwhile, one that has taken its few remaining educators and trained them as inspectors and let them know that most of their duties will fall under revenue generating inspections. I will admit that the last one at least has a prevention component to it so not all is lost.

The old adage is that you cut what you do not perceive to be the greatest value. Fortunately my chief values our risk reduction efforts (as well as firefighter safety) and let it be known that cutting our public education staff is not even an option for discussion.

But actions speak louder than words and the vast majority of departments across our great land have spoken. The proponents of the speech can rest easy — I firmly believe that the culture of extinguishment is alive and well in our great country!

Fire attack: Understanding landmark buildings

Posted on Tue, 6 Jan 2015 17:44:41 UTC

Fires in landmark structures pose some unique operational challenges for fire department, foremost being the mindset of the initial responding companies. The default mindset for firefighters is to quickly initiate an interior offensive attack on the fire using 1¾-inch lines. Such a predetermined mode of operations often results in unsafe, ineffective and inefficient operations when responding to older, longstanding commercial structures.

Let's consider what some of those unique challenges look like.

Older structures can typically include a mixture of construction types, such as wood-framed and ordinary, as the building has undergone modifications over the years. This results in the creation of unprotected void spaces for fire travel, incompatible electrical systems that are prone to overloading, and improper and overabundant storage (due to lack of space).

Keep these three pre-arrival fire development characteristics in mind when attacking a landmark fire.

Fires that originate outside of normal business hours, especially during the overnight hours, will quickly develop beyond the incipient stage and be into the well-developed stage — the point at which an offensive interior fire attack starts to become unsafe, ineffective and inefficient.

Fires will quickly locate and spread to those unprotected void spaces, like those between multiple ceilings. Fires are more likely to be showing from multiple points that are remote from the point of origin.

The percentage of the total building involved in fire will be greater as will the total BTUs being generated by the fire.

Discussion questions

  • What is your initial size-up of the incident?
  • What would your Incident Action Plan entail for this fire according to your size-up?
  • How do the tactical actions of the fire officers and firefighters in the video compare to your IAP?
  • What corrective actions, if any, would you take as the incident commander?
  • How would you compare and contrast the use of multiple smaller-caliber streams and fewer large-caliber streams for managing a fire like this one depicted in the video.
  • What role will issues such as water management, air pollution, impact on personnel, etc., play in your small- vs. large-caliber debate?

3 ways fire chiefs can salvage their careers

Posted on Tue, 14 Jul 2015 11:05:48 UTC

Humans have an amazing capacity to do monumental things, and that includes royally screwing up.

So, let's assume you've executed a grand career-crusher move. Like an Olympic gymnast sticking a perfect landing, your great blunder was worthy of a "ta-da" and high marks from the judges.

The question becomes, what happens now? Can your career be saved?

13 Career Crushers

The answer depends on the size and nature of the blunder. But also depends on how you handle yourself after the fact.

Here's a three-step approach to getting your career back on track after a crushing blow.

1. Be truthful
The first step is to tell the truth from the start of the investigation or discussion about the behavior in question. If there is a chance of recovery, being honest about the situation is going to be a critical part of the correction process.

Adding a lie on top of running afoul should just about secure termination from any public safety agency. So, the first aspect of the recovery journey is to be honest and take personnel responsibility for your actions.

2. Express remorse
The next step is to express remorse. Both honesty and humility will go a long way towards resolving a major personal misstep. A significant part of remorse includes appreciating the effects of the action along with a pledge to learn from the negative behavior to prevent a repeat performance.

Now, please do not misunderstand this advice. If the person involved in the controversial behavior is not genuinely sorry for their actions and has no intentions of taking corrective action, an apology is worthless.

3. Take your medicine
The final phase of the recovery process is to simply cowboy (cowgirl) up and take responsibility. Own the problem that you caused and be accountable for your actions. Take whatever corrective action that is headed you way without complaint.

This step works best if you have designs on re-entering the work place as a public servant. Not many prospective employers appreciate pending lawsuits or serous performance controversy in one's background. The focus of your efforts should be to get the issue over and settled.

These three steps are simple, easy to remember and an effective process to personal recovery after pulling off a bone-head career-crushing mistake. Of course, it is best to not be in this position in the first place. This comes from understanding the harm that negative behaviors bring and how to avoid them.

Never having to say 'sorry'
This is a perfect time to reiterate that the best discipline is self-discipline. I mentioned this axiom while teaching a training session with Chief Alan Brunacini. Chief Bruno, with his customary quick wit, said, "A person should always be heading towards true north; always check your moral compass."

As was stated in the very first article in this series, one of the expressed goals is to keep folks out of trouble and thinking about the big picture while developing a long-range personal plan for success.

Each career crusher makes for a great training discussion topic that requires little to no preparation. Try investing an hour or so at the fire station dinner table hitting the highlights of each concept and let me know how the session was received.

With a few mouse clicks, the discussion can be expanded to incorporate fire service related examples of both positive and negative behaviors surrounding each element. In fact, this teaching format would lend itself to a friendly competition to locate the most outrageous case study that violates each crusher (it is still difficult to understand the recent sexually violation of a firefighter in Texas).

Never lose site of the expressed goal of this series. Please prevent stupid stuff long before it happens.

Finally, I have produced a four- and eight-hour classroom presentation bringing each crusher concept to life with a corresponding class discussion. If you are interested in the details about hosting or accessing a career crusher program near you, please send me a email.

Until next time, please be safe out there.

Fire Chief Digital: Extinguishing firefighter burnout, why civilian fire boards don't work, and more

Posted on Tue, 14 Jul 2015 12:09:11 UTC

Welcome to the second edition of the Fire Chief Digital Edition, a quarterly supplement to and the Fire Chief eNews that brings a sharpened focus to some of the most challenging topics facing fire chiefs and fire service leaders everywhere.

In the Summer 2015 edition of Fire Chief Digital, brought to you by California Casualty, Cathy Sivak talks about what recruting experts can teach fire chiefs to get more volunteer firefighters in the door. Also, Sarah Calams explains how fire chiefs can help extinguish volunteer firefighter burnout.

Robert Avsec rounds up a panel of fire chiefs for an in-depth discussion on if, when and how service and training levels should be pared back, and Jim Spell addresses the problem with civilian fire boards.

Click on the cover below to open the Fire Chief Digital Edition: