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?

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!

Rapid Response: Radio traffic key to MCI management

Posted on Fri, 2 Oct 2015 16:12:27 UTC

What we know: All hell broke loose in a sleepy Oregon community Thursday when a 26-year-old gunman opened fire on a community college campus killing nine and wounding seven.

What's significant: It would be excusable if dispatch and responding units were excited and incoherent over the radio. But the 30-minute audio recording of that traffic shows a much different scenario.

Police, fire, medic and central dispatch were calm, clear and concise in their communications. That says a lot for a low-crime area where responders don't get a lot of real-life practice.

Takeaways: Many of us have been on far less intense incidents yet had radio traffic that was far more rushed, garbled and unintelligible than what we saw out of Douglas County Fire District 2 responders, the police and the dispatcher. This incident is a reminder of the value of good radio communication skills. Here are some things to think about as we process the lessons from Roseburg, Ore.

Train them early: Spend more time in the fire academy training cadets on proper radio use. This includes training them to communicate in stressful situations.

Take control: For a successful outcome, fire and EMS must control the scene, not be controlled by it. This is much like dealing with an irate individual and not allowing your level of excitement to be dictated by their excitement. Be in control before keying the microphone.

Be simple: Humans are hardwired to be very vocal when stressed. That's bad for emergency scene radio communication. Self edit and deliver only the words needed to convey the message.

Further reading: 4 skills for better radio communication

Eight Things to Do for Your Crew in 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The 3 Rs to keep firefighters safe on roofs

Posted on Fri, 21 Aug 2015 19:57:58 UTC

Many of us watched in horror this past March as Fresno City (Calif.) Fire Capt. Pete Dern fell through the roof of a burning house and sustained life-threatening second- and third-degree burns. And were are happy to hear of his remarkable recovery process.

However, you don't have to look very far on the Internet to find situations where firefighters find themselves in rapidly deteriorating fire situations. We'll not focus on why vertical ventilation is important or how it should be accomplished, but rather on developing your ability to read red-flag warning indicators.

You must be aware of key risk indicators in order to make better fireground decisions prior to placing firefighters on a potentially fire-weakened roof. Just as reading, writing and arithmetic were the foundations of education, a great foundation for risk management is the 3 Rs of size-up: reading the risk, reading the structure and reading the smoke.

Read the risk
A key risk factor to consider prior to allowing crews to operate on the roof is whether or not the fire has weakened the structural supports. Significant or heavy fire involvement of the structure's roof or floor support system is a red-flag warning sign for crews.

Limited fire spread in the attic or floor void space does not necessarily create a no go situation for firefighters. It does indicate a potentially dangerous fire situation that can rapidly develop and endanger the lives of firefighters. Knowing the location and extent of fire spread into a void space and communicating this is a key safety factor.

Prevailing winds of 10 mph or greater entering the structure through roof openings, failed windows, doors or soffits can produce wind-driven fire conditions that can immediately trap unsuspecting firefighters with little or no warning.

Reading the risk should include overhaul operations. Firefighters have needlessly died or suffered career-ending injuries after falling through the roofs of totaled-out structures, simply because of a lack of situational awareness or the failure to follow SOPs for roof ladder or aerial platform use.

Firefighters have no problem risking their lives when another person's life is at stake. But we should risk less when there is little or nothing left to save. This is not to be confused with doing nothing. It's about risk vs. reward.

Read the structure
Every firefighter should know the dangers posed by legacy vs. modern wood-frame structural support systems and the latter's notoriously fast failure time when roofs and floors are exposed to fire conditions. This style of wood frame construction is a red flag.

Other factors to consider include the age and physical condition of the structure. Look for add-ons and renovations over the years that create a maze with numerous voids. Consider the dead and live load factors on the fire-weakened roof.

Look for the structural features that can help or hinder your operation and for the contents or process hazards involved within the structure. This is where pre-incident planning is an invaluable tool.

Read the smoke
To understand and appreciate the risk posed by smoke and it's toxic brew of fire gases, we must first understand that fuel loads in today's structures have changed significantly over the years.

Fuel loads have evolved from natural-based to synthetic-based fuels. Synthetic fuels create fire gases, which are much more combustible and carcinogenic than what's produced by natural fuels.

If you have been fortunate enough to attend one of Chief Dave Dodson's "The Art of Reading Smoke" classes, you will recall that smoke is fuel. A heavy volume of fast moving, dark smoke, pushing from the attic or around roof-mounted equipment indicates the roof support system is involved and is likely compromised.

This is a red flag for the incident commander. These conditions can go from dangerous to deadly within seconds.

Remember, size-up is a continuous process until the incident is terminated. The skill of reading the 3 Rs is only sharpened through use. It should be a part of every fire officer's skill set.

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!

3 legal lessons to learn from 2011

Posted on Tue, 20 Dec 2011 16:26:29 UTC

As the year draws to a close, it is worth reviewing some of the legal issues to hit the fire and emergency medical services in 2011.

Social media is a big deal for emergency service organizations
Emergency service organizations, states, dispatch centers and non-profits are implementing social media in ways that have positively impacted public safety. At the same time, social media channels present a variety of liability risks that must be managed.

Organizations that use social media to engage in two-way conversations with the public are particularly at risk. For example, emergency service organizations that allow members of the public to post in their social media channels may face First Amendment liability when they attempt to remove or edit offensive posts.

These organizations may also face liability if members of the public place calls for help using social media channels and receive no response.

When using social media to communicate with the public, emergency service organizations should use social media like a news feed, not a telephone, providing information but not receiving it.

Organizations must also have published attorney-reviewed social media policies that use disclaimers to discourage citizens from using social media as an alternative to the 911 system.

Restricting social media use among paid employees also has risks. Disciplining employees for comments or other postings they make in social media channels outside of work may create First Amendment liability.

Recent actions from the National Labor Relations Board ("NLRB"), the federal agency responsible for employee-labor relations, suggest that a social media policy that is overly restrictive of employee speech violates the National Labor Relations Act even if the offensive policy is never enforced.

Organizations with paid employees should review internal social media policies to determine whether a particular restriction is necessary to preserve the core operations of the organization.

Provisions that punish employees for making offensive or annoying comments in social media channels during non-working hours will generally not pass muster.

It is extremely important to consult with an attorney licensed to practice in your state prior to terminating any employee for their use of social media.

And the labor laws, they are a changing...
The laws governing the relationship between employers and unions are being revisited in a dramatic fashion after years of stagnation.
At the national level, Obama administration policies are shifting the employer-labor balance in favor of the unions. Recent NLRB complaints, NLRB appointments and executive orders have signaled a sharp union-friendly departure from the Bush administration.

Although most emergency service workers' unions fall under the purview of the state labor laws, many states model their labor laws after the federal law and NLRB interpretations are influential.

At the same time, some Republican-controlled states are attempting to sharply curtail the collective bargaining rights of public sector unions.

Wisconsin, Ohio, Tennessee and Indiana have considered restricting or already restricted collective bargaining rights.
Even in those states that have not modified the laws, government officials are becoming increasingly resistant to any pay increases for both union and non-union paid responders.

In many cases, officials have relied on volunteers to minimize the impact of funding and personnel cuts.
As states continue to experience budget shortfalls, there will likely be continued shifts in this area which organizations must monitor.

Mutual aid agreements
The continued trend of waning volunteerism and cuts to paid departments have emphasized the need to revisit or readjust mutual aid agreements. Although some states have adopted statewide mutual aid systems by statute, many communities rely on agreements with surrounding departments not only to manage large incident but for day to day coverage.

Although the components of mutual aid agreements will be addressed in a future article, effective agreements must clearly define the relationship between responders from different organizations, allocate risks and create functional mechanisms for reimbursements.

Specifically, mutual aid agreements should deal with the chain of command, workers' compensation coverage, reimbursement for expenses and equipment damage, EMS and hazmat billing rights and payment of overtime.

This article is not intended as legal advice and there is no substitute for competent legal counsel licensed to practice in your state.

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

How fire departments went from volunteer to career

Posted on Tue, 14 Jul 2015 10:50:35 UTC

On April 10, 1845, Pittsburgh's volunteer firefighters had an abundance of spirit. But as fire companies, they were unprepared to face the most disastrous fire in the city's history.

Despite their failings, the city nonetheless paid them tribute for saving several notable buildings and slowing fire spread on the flank running parallel to the Allegheny River.

America in the early decades of the 1800s was in a period of rapid industrialization. While cities grew increasingly more combustible fueling the public's inherent fear of conflagration, there was as yet no sustained call to replace the volunteers.

It took changes in the demographics of volunteer membership and the introduction of steam fire engines to push the transformation that led to professionalism.

By mid-century Pittsburgh's volunteer companies, as in other cities, were places of male culture tinged with aggression, competitiveness, a sense of patriotism, and connection to neighborhood. Volunteer rowdyism was widespread, contributing to the loss of public confidence and respect, but the failure of the volunteer system was not the sole reason for the establishment of a paid professional service.

The new politics
In the second half of the nineteenth century municipal governments reorganized under new models as the influence of politics in local government operations grew.

Men running for public office acquired votes and power through political bosses. Volunteer fire companies were the type of neighborhood-level organization that could make or break a person's political career.

The push to replace Pittsburgh's volunteer firefighters with a professional department came from politicians and businessmen, the community elites of the city.

In Pittsburgh, the impetus for change came from Christopher L. Magee. In 1870, Magee was president of Consolidated Traction Company, the owner of the Pittsburgh Times newspaper, cashier of the city treasury, and city treasurer.

Magee studied municipal governance structures in Philadelphia and New York and came to the convenient conclusion that cities needed "bosses" to make them safe and secure places.

Not simply skilled in business administration, but political control as well, Magee tapped into his business connections and applied his political skills to build a power base within the city's Republican Party machine. This necessary strategic consolidation of power paved the way to rid Pittsburgh of its disorganized and unmanageable volunteer fire companies.

Insurance scam
For home and apartment dwellers, fire posed a daily threat to lives and property. But to business and factory owners, fire represented something different. For them, fire was a risk to their investments.

While we think of the risks from fire losses as being covered by fire insurance, successive conflagrations in American cities in the nineteenth century threatened the financial foundation of fire insurance companies.

Insurance in that era was an unregulated industry and many fire underwriters were under-capitalized, meaning they lacked the capital reserves to pay out the claims they were insuring.

In short, though you paid your premium with no guarantee the fire insurance company had the reserves to cover the losses sustained during a great fire. Business owners thus had a strong interest in ensuring that all fires were attended to quickly and fought aggressively.

In March 1870, Pennsylvania's governor signed legislation granting powers to Pittsburgh to establish a municipal fire department. With this law, Magee and Pittsburgh's elite had the necessary power to transform the city's fire department by dismantling the volunteer system.

As they saw it, the city's fire problem was significant, complex and diverse making it reasonable that a fire department should be run as a large business or corporation would, with trained managers issuing orders to workers who carried them out soberly and faithfully.

Business of firefighting
In the first seven years of the department's existence, five men held the position of chief engineer. All five had been volunteers and provided the critical continuity for a smooth transition.

Importantly, Magee neutralized any potential disruption to his political-machine by appointing volunteers to leadership positions in the new fire department and ensuring that other volunteers were shown preference in receiving appointments.

Through strict enforcement of rules and regulations covering behavior while on duty and attending fires, the problems inherent to a volunteer system were avoided.

City administrators made sure the fire department followed proper purchasing procedures and accounting rules. The members of the department wore uniforms to show loyalty to the organization as opposed to a single fire company, as well as to make them noticeable to the public as their servants and protectors.

The rules demanded courteous behavior while on duty, not only to interactions with the public, but with each other, requiring officers and firefighters address one another by surname only, and showing a respectful manner. The prohibitions included profanity, smoking and drinking alcohol.

The meaning of professionalism
Applying a corporate culture to a municipal fire department produced a well-managed department. Whether it produced the necessary component of leadership is open to question and it appeared that way to one nineteen-century fire chief.

That man was Eyre Massey Shaw, commanding officer of the London Metropolitan Fire Brigade.

During a visit to the United States around 1870, Shaw encountered a prevailing attitude among American fire chiefs that he deemed unprofessional. He offered proof of this in what became a famous quotation about the job of a fireman.

Shaw spoke of an American fire chief who claimed that the way to learn the business of being a fireman was to go to fires. Shaw, himself a colorful character, observed that the chief's statement was as preposterous as a person wanting to learn the job of a surgeon by going about lopping off people's limbs.

Today we know that going to fires is a critical component of learning to be a good firefighter. And while Shaw was pointing out a questionable attitude, he knew going to fires was important. That is evident as Shaw never missed a day in his first six years as chief, endeavoring to attend all serious fires in London.

What Shaw was implying was that there was more to the profession of firefighting than a well managed, business-like organization.

Shaw, himself an ex-military officer, believed in training, study, practice and drilling as the foundations of professional firefighting. The American belief that esprit de corps or attitude was all that a department needed would in time show itself as a fundamental weakness resulting in negative attitudes toward formal learning in firefighting for many decades.

While the metropolitan departments established formal training programs, it was not until after World War II that the states established firefighter training programs.

By the 1970s, the basis for certified training programs grew from national standards written by the National Fire Protection Association. With formal training programs based on a national curriculum firefighter training became universal for all fire departments and with it professionalism spread.

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.

7 steps to cleaner firefighter PPE

Posted on Thu, 17 Sep 2015 22:33:56 UTC

Many firefighters still take pride in wearing heavily soiled and well-worn personal protective clothing.

Science, however, demonstrates the fallacy of such sentiment. Contaminated turnout gear will off-gas toxic, cancer-causing materials that can be inhaled or absorbed through the skin.

Keeping clothing clean and properly maintained is not only a way to extend the life of the clothing, but also that of the firefighter. To get it clean, there are seven basic steps to follow.

1. Follow the NFPA and manufacturer's instructions
NFPA 1851 is the applicable standard for departments to follow to ensure minimum procedures for the inspection, cleaning, repair, storage and retirement of the clothing ensemble.

While NFPA has established the standard, the individual protective clothing manufacturers specify the care and maintenance procedures for their products.

Chapter 7 of NFPA 1851 specifies the necessary actions for the cleaning and drying of the ensemble components. It defines three types of cleaning: routine, advanced and specialized.

It is incumbent on officers and firefighters alike to know those specific manufacturer recommendations and to diligently follow them. The individual firefighter bears ultimate responsibility for the proper care and maintenance of their ensemble.

2. Care for your gear from the beginning
Every entry-level firefighter training program typically begins with introducing the future firefighter to their protective ensemble — how to wear it, how to inspect it and how to clean it.

Historically, we've probably spent more time on the first two topics at the expense of the third. We need to change that paradigm.

From the very beginning of their fire service career, firefighters need to develop and maintain the skills and mindset necessary to ensure that their protective clothing is clean and free of potentially harmful contaminants.

3. Do routine cleanings
Routine cleaning is required after any emergency response where soiling has occurred. It involves brushing debris from the clothing, rinsing it with water and applying spot cleaning as necessary.

If further cleaning is necessary, follow these steps to clean it at a utility sink.

  • Wear protective gloves and safety glasses.
  • Pre-treat heavily soiled areas or spots with a NFPA-compliant degreasing solution.
  • Do not use chlorine bleach.
  • Use warm water that does not exceed 105° F (40° C).
  • Gently brush with a soft bristle brush.
  • Rinse thoroughly — this may require draining and refilling the sink several times until the rinse water is clear.
  • Air dry by hanging or placing in designated dryer; do not dry in the sun as the UV rays will degrade the outer shell's fabric.
  • Inspect for cleanliness after drying.

Any gear that can't be cleaned by these methods should be taken out of service.

4. Do advanced cleaning at least once a year
This is a thorough cleaning that requires personal protective clothing to be taken out of service. Advanced cleaning procedures should be based on the original manufacturer's recommendations.

Advanced cleaning should be conducted at a minimum of every 12 months, or whenever ensemble is soiled to the extent that it cannot be cleaned through routine cleaning.

This also is necessary when there is an obvious odor or visible contamination that cannot be sufficiently removed with routine cleaning. This may include diesel fuel or soil.

5. Pre-treatment severely soiled areas
Pre-treating severely soiled areas of garment component with a specialty spotter agent for turnout gear can greatly enhance the machine laundering process.

When pre-treating, wear hands, eyes and face protection. Allow specialty spotter to soak into the fabric and stain. Gently scrubbing with a soft-bristle brush may help remove stubborn stains.

For globs of tar that have adhered to the fabric, allow the spotter to soak into the tar and fabric. Next, using a plastic or wood scrapper, gently lift tar from the fabric's surface.

6. Choose a laundry machine
Never wash clothing components in a washer that's used for things like work uniforms, bed sheets, etc. Machine washing is best done in a front loading washer/extractor to limit damage caused by top-loading machine agitators.

Washer/extractors specifically designed for laundering protective clothing not only provide more effective cleaning, they also greatly reduce the time to properly dry it because the extractor removes significantly more water from the components.

7. Do specialized cleaning or decontamination after a hazmat incident
NFPA 1851 specifies that when protective clothing has been exposed to known hazardous chemicals or bio-hazards, it should be removed from service for specialized cleaning.

Even today, this is still a nebulous concept.

In April the Fire Protection Research, a new research foundation, initiated a project to clarify contaminant removal from firefighters' personal protective equipment.

This new research effort is certainly good news.

In the meantime, fire departments should continue to rely on the recommendations from manufacturers for specific guidance on what steps to take with protective clothing that's been contaminated with a known chemical or bio-hazard material.

If firefighters and their chief officers ensure these seven steps are taken, more firefighters can be working in cleaner and safer turnout gear. And maybe the new badge of honor will be squeaky-clean bunkers.

5 tips for starting public access defibrillation programs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘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.

10 ways to better respond to special needs patients

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Encourage caregivers to keep information up to date.

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

4. Develop a Special Needs Registry.

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

5. Include people with disabilities into emergency response plans.

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

6. Don’t separate equipment from the patient.

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

7. Be familiar with the equipment.

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

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

8. Keep the routine.

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

9. Get trained.

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

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

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

10. Use the right communication.

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

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

Glass management: It's more than smashing windows

Posted on Mon, 12 Mar 2012 11:34:25 UTC

At every heavy rescue and extrication program, we are taught to remove glass as needed and in as controlled a manner as practical and possible. However, how many times do we go to the session and WHAM and SMASH go the side and rear glass because it’s impressive to watch or fun to do?

But is that what we should be doing? When displacing the vehicle glazing materials, usually referred to as glass management, we want to remove the glass in an orderly, managed process.

Before one window is shattered, it is important to know the types of glass firefighters will encounter and the additional forces that can be present at a motor vehicle accident. The two types of glass to which we have become accustomed, laminated and tempered safety glass, are still the most widely used.

Laminated glass is a sandwich, a series of layers of glass and plastic laminated together. Tempered, or safety, glass will break into small granular fragments when shattered.

However, there are a few new variations in use. Enhanced protective glass is basically a form of laminated glass found in the side and rear windows. Dual-paned glass and polycarbonate glazing are also used.

Some of these materials require a change in our methodology and tools for removing such windows.

And factor in the issues of rear glass hatches in SUVs and minivans. These glass hatches have a nasty habit of flying apart when broken because of the tension placed on them by the multiple hatch struts and the energy absorbed by the vehicle during the crash.

Laminated glass is found in windshields but is increasingly found in the side and rear windows as well. This type of glass must be cut from the vehicle to be removed, which can be facilitated by cutting the peripheral edge with an axe, a glass saw, or even a reciprocating saw.

This operation produces glass dust, which is a respiratory hazard. For this reason, we must add dust masks to the personal protective equipment for glass management.

Tempered glass is usually found in side and rear windows. To break this glass, use an impact tool that imparts a large amount of force into a small concentrated area. Then clean out the window opening by pulling the glass onto the ground with a tool, not with gloved hands.

Vehicles can load the glass with energy from the crash; when it’s broken it can almost explode when that energy is released. We must protect our patient with a protective cover and use hard protection to funnel glass pieces away from the patient.

Photo David Dalrymple

Make sure your eye protection is in place and you are wearing a dust mask. Also, watch out for glass in hatches of vehicles.

It can have up to four gas struts pushing on the glass and creating even more tension. This too might explode when broken; be aware that the struts may also push toward rescuers.

Ideally, the laminated glass that was cut and removed should be folded and slid in under the vehicle out of rescuers way. If at all possible, tempered glass should be removed to the outside of the vehicle, away from the patient and the interior rescuer.

However, some vehicles — especially SUVs and minivans — might have a lot of windows or a rather large window, which produce many glass particles.

Glass particles can be slippery, almost like marbles. It is a good practice to sweep these under the vehicle so that rescuers are not walking on it and stabilization devices are on not on it.

There are two new materials available to help rescuers manage glass. One is Packexe Smash and it is available in North America from ESI equipment. It is a clear film dispensed from a special applicator. The film adds enough strength for tempered glass to be cut.

Photo David Dalrymple

On the flip side, laminated glass dust can be greatly reduced by applying the film first and then cutting through the area where the film is applied. If the glass is wet, it can be wiped dry with a microfiber cloth before the film is applied.

The other material is an extrication wrap made by Protecto. The wrap material is an adhesive rubber compound on one side with a smooth brightly colored film on the other side. The material comes in a roll that firefighters can pre cut or cut-to size on scene.

The up side to this material is it can be used as sharp-edge protection as well. Both of these materials really can make a difference in glass-management tasks. And both materials can handle glass management and sharp-edge protection.

Whether or not you invest in glass-management products, it is critical to invest the time to plan and execute how you approach removing glass at vehicle collisions. A smart approach protects both rescuers and patients.

Tip of the fire helmet: Kip Cosgrove

Posted on Fri, 21 Aug 2015 23:08:48 UTC

There are many heroes in the fire-rescue service. These community protectors come in all shapes and sizes. Thankfully, they live in and provide pubic safety coverage for every town and city.

These outstanding men and women put their lives on the line every day for people that they don't know. They will likely never meet these people except to help them in their hour of need. And the local life savers will never be thanked or repaid for their bravery.

With the mere mention of the highest and finest traditions of the fire department, these domestic defenders stand a little taller and smile wide without every asking for any credit for their selfless sacrifices for the general good.

There is one person, however, that has had the firefighter's back covered since May 1992. Kip Cosgrove of VFIS of Canada has been the hero behind Canada fire service heroes.

Although he is not a uniformed firefighter, Cosgrove is a well-known and well-respected part of the Canadian fire service. VFIS opened its doors, making Toronto its headquarters in November of 1991.

Making a difference
Once Cosgrove's business was anchored in Canada, he helped sponsor the Ontario Association of Fire Chief's conference less than one year after being established. Ever since that event, Cosgrove knew that he wanted to continue to pay it forward and support every aspect of the fire service that he could. In nearly 24 years, Cosgrove and VFIS of Canada have provided over $500,000 of support to the fire service members.

The list of activities that Cosgrove and VFIS have been a part of is impressive and significant. From conferences to seminars to driver training programs to fundraising auction and events, he is always there when asked to help.

It is impossible to measure the positive impact Cosgrove has had on Canadian fire departments and their communities. However, it is reasonable to project that dozens of firefighters have been spared injury or worse fates because of his support.

Among the great instructors who VFIS has funded include Chief Alan Brunacini, Chief Billy Goldfeder, Chief Dan Gardiner and Commander Gordon Graham to name a few. These outstanding fire educators along with many other presenters have shaped a focused message regarding the passion for the safety of our firefighters and civilians.

Humbled to help
Without looking for as much as a "thank you," Cosgrove quietly continues to be a major part of many events that are designed to help all firefighters.

"I have been blessed and at the same time humbled by the success of our Canadian insurance office," Cosgrove said. "This success has allowed me to be involved with the day-to-day activities of the Canadian fire service on many levels. I am very impressed with the dedication and commitment of all of those who participate in our fire-rescue services."

The Canadian fire service members are bright, prepared mentally and physically and are dedicated to getting the job done. I have made the trip north dozens of times am always impressed with every aspect of the fire-rescue service.

So here is a tip of the old helmet to Kip Cosgrove of VFIS and all of the great agencies that are always willing to help firefighters by making the job safer and helping us to protect civilians from all types of harm.

Until next time, please be safe out there.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This can radically shape the action plan.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Another great CFSI dinner in the books

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How can data drive a fire department?

Posted on Thu, 27 Aug 2015 16:38:10 UTC

Choices about how to deliver fire and other emergency services was once the domain of a chief's intuition and past practices. The financial and service demand pressures on fire departments now requires those decisions be data-driven.

That was the message offered by three fire chiefs at an International Association of Fire Chief's Fire-Rescue International seminar Wednesday. In short, providing the best service to the community means knowing what data to collect, making sense of that data and looking for creative ways to use that data in different service-delivery methods.

One mistake Stockton, Calif. was making was just counting the number of calls, says the city's recently retired fire chief Jeff Piechura. "We just counted; we didn't really drill," he said.

When they did drill, one thing they found was that most of their fire fatalities occurred during normal working hours and to those who tended to be home alone at those times — children and the elderly. And many of those were cooking fires.

One of the big impacts to Stockton came from changing how it responded to EMS calls. The city had a private ambulance firm contracted to respond to all calls, yet they still dispatched a fire department rig.

What the data showed was that 25 percent of the time, the private ambulance company was calling off the fire department. By cutting out the lowest-priority calls from their response protocol, the city trimmed its number of calls by 5 percent.

In Bend, Ore., Chief Jeff Blake also had resource-availability problems, and consequently higher response times with EMS calls. They turned to quick-response vehicles to do fast assessments on patients and adjusted the responding units accordingly.

This was important partly because they were operating with a regional dispatch system that at times could be "wonky," Blake said.

The move meant more resources available to the tune of a 28 percent reduction in time out of resources. And, within the first three months of the program, they shaved 1 minute and 10 seconds off their average response time.

Littleton, Colo. Fire Chief Chris Armstrong also turned to quick-response vehicles during that department's peak call hours between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m.

Littleton dispatches its quick-response vehicles to all fire alarms that come in from only one caller. Their data showed that actual fires generated several 911 calls where as false alarms were from a single call.

"We can't say that we're not coming to nonemergent calls," Armstrong said. "We can change how we respond. Are we providing the services we want to provide or the services the community demands?"

Littleton had to add its quick-response without adding personnel or vehicles. They did so by assigning some firefighters to 40-hour weeks and outfitting existing vehicles.

In the coming year, Littleton will roll the program back into its regular shifts by having its quick-response firefighters work 12 hours then jump to an engine or truck assignment for the remainder of the shift. And if there's anyone who's on overtime, that person will be sent home and replaced by the firefighters coming off the 12-hour quick-response shift.

Armstrong estimates that this move alone will reduce the department's overtime spending by 50 percent. And this comes with the backing of the union.