Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Firefighter Hourly: 'Culture of Extinguishment Speech Leaves Firefighters Perplexed'

Ray McCormack's FDIC speech certainly seems to have split opinion across the fire service. Art Goodrich offered his take earlier on TKT. Fellow Kitchen Tabler and FR1 columnist Jay Lowry over at his FirefighterHourly blog gives a different perspective in the following post:

"When Lt. Ray McCormack stated the fire service was wrong in placing the lives of firefighters above the lives of civilians at FDIC the remarks found firefighters scratching their heads.

However, to his credit, the Lieutenant said what needed to be said.

In departments nationwide safety is a concern but in some the emphasis on safety detracts from their ability to do the job effectively. This isn't what firefighters are trained to do nor is it healthy for operations. In fact, an emphasis on safety can put firefighters in unsafe positions due to a timid approach.

The key to the culture of safety is department specific. For example, in the FDNY, safety is a part of the job because of the number of fires the FDNY responds to on a yearly basis. From experience comes a healthy respect, and knowledge, of what fire can do.

Now look at Charleston. A small department with limited fire activity can't take the same approach as larger departments with substantial fire activity. Thus, when it comes to operations, safety must be considered because of the lack of hands on fire activity. pushes aggressive interior attack coupled with risk analysis. Go where the fire is but have commanders capable of making decisions if the situation changes. In short, a fireground commander with unlimited resources won't fight a fire the same way one with three stations will.

The lieutenant will likely be a hero to a small minority and a scourge to those who are advocates of setting up down the block. Instead, he spoke about an issue needing discussion and made the point we have all been trying to make about departments with poor leaders. Thank you Ray."

A good discussion follows, too, on

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Follow the Yellow "Safety Brick" Road!

Borrowing and paraphrasing a comment made by FDNY Lt. Ray McCormack, I would wonder in his safety culture if I were the Cowardly Lion for a lack of courage, the Tin Man for lack of a heart or the Scarecrow for lack of a brain. I would think maybe some of all three, but this I know:

Last week at FDIC, in just under 40 minutes, Safety in the fire service took a major hit.

From the opening salvo delivered by Chief Bobby Halton to his “body-burying buddy”, FDNY Lt. Ray McCormack; disdain, indifference and apathy for a safer fire service was never more evident.

And clearly, I will respectfully disagree with their messages in this year of personal responsibility for safety.

This I want to die with my boots on mentality in the fire service is killing us. I cannot recall one incident where SAFETY killed one of us at an incident. So, it is Safety that is our only hope for reducing injuries and deaths; both firefighter AND civilian.

Honestly; I am shocked by what I heard. If I understood, Halton wants us to risk everything to save a life and to preserve the symbolism of the red fire truck, as defined by writer Kurt Vonnegut.

Now; I realize that when I became a firefighter, I promised God that I would risk my life to save another, BUT, I NEVER agreed to GIVE UP my life to save another.

So that you understand that last statement, what it means is that I would not consciously put myself in a position to die, but if I crossed that threshold during an attempted rescue, then play lively music at my funeral! It also means that conditions changed while I was inside from when I went inside.
And I’m sorry, Bobby, but art and commerce are not on my “save” list as you would like. I’m not willing to cross the threshold for an album filled with “Kodak moments”. They can get another camera and start a new album along with that new life that we just gave them!

I believe that our public does not want to see us dying in property that is unoccupied, insured and can be re-built. They do not want the guilt of knowing that we died and left families of our own behind.

Before I turn my attention to Lt. McCormack’s comments, I will say this with regards to Chief Halton’s comments: if you want a world where firefighters give the ultimate sacrifice to preserve honor, tradition and the sacred trust, then these should be men and women-orphans who are unfeeling, uncaring and unimportant to and of themselves, with no families or friends-who will not leave someone suffering, in order to relieve the suffering of others.

WE-every firefighter that you have ever stood before-understand and accept our fate. Unfortunately, our parents, families, friends, wives, and especially our kids do not feel full from our deaths; only emptiness.

So maybe, you should take your message to THEM. Get their buy-in and then we can come back to the safety table and talk about how sissified and saftified we’re making the fire service.

I will put my heart, guts and balls out there with anyone else, but as a leader, MY MEN COME FIRST, but the public is first on our list. Making my men number one does not make the public number two. I understand that we have to serve them, but we are not sub-servant; no less important.

And as their leader, no one is more important to me than my men are. And I am unwilling to believe that their lives are worth less than the life of someone we swore to serve.

The irony of all of this is that we only want to roll out Safety when there is talk of budget cuts and reducing manpower. Now, that’s unsafe!

“Too much safety lends itself to fear”, says FDNY Lt. Ray McCormack.

What is “too much safety”? I have been involved with safety as a profession for twenty-plus years and I have yet to see “too much”.

But, can someone show me ONE example of where Safety EVER got in the way of any of you doing your jobs?

No? That’s because you CAN’T!

You see; we pick and choose where we invoke the cry for Safety. The rest is simply ignored.

Why do we waste that one position on safety officer? Give him a set of irons and go do something, for chrissakes.

Teaching people the safe way to do their jobs gives them a better understanding, helps them to avoid problems caused by a lack of understanding and builds their confidence that is the underpinnings for their courage under fire. It makes them FEARLESS; not fearful!

In closing, I will also respectfully disagree with the Lt.’s assessment that “the path is paved with yellow safety bricks”.

The path is paved with black bunting, lined with Class A’s, vibrating with drums and bagpipes, grieving with widows, moms, dads, fatherless/motherless children and cemented with the spirits of thousands of glorious and gifted lives who thought that they were bound by duty to die, either by necessity or by accident.

“Courage-Determination-Pride”; me and the Lt. agree on these three, but this is my take on them:

Have courage to stand up to those who believe there’s too much safety and say that there is as of yet, not enough.

Have the determination to develop, implement and enforce SOGs that are constructed with a foundation strong in safety.

Show your pride, knowing that you did your job, did it safely, got the job done and you didn’t have to compromise your sacred trust.

To Bobby Halton and FDNY Lt. Ray McCormack; thank you for keeping the spotlight on Safety.

It will continue to be seen in a different light.


This article is protected by copyright and may not be re-produced in any form without the expressed consent of the author.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Blogger Profile

Swine Flu: What You Must Do Now

The swine flu buzz is causing information overload. There are three things pertinent to the fire service that must be implemented immediately to protect your members, provide excellent patient care, and be a good public health partner. Here's the list:

Fire Service Leaders
  1. Immediately notify all members and staff of the emerging problem.
    Review your plans using the CDC EMS Pandemic Preparedness checklist.
  2. Set up an email list and web site to provide continual updates and info for your members.
  3. Monitor news reports and government resources. Communicate with your local public health officials. Use the CDC minute-to-minute swine flu update site.

Communications Center/Dispatch Leaders

  1. Implement severe respiratory infection (SRI) screening for all callers with chest pain, difficulty breathing, headache, or general illness (sick person). If using the Medical Priority Dispatch System (MPDS), activate the SRI drop down on ProQA or add the following questions to paper card numbers 6, 10, 18, and 26 for further interrogation: (a) has the patient recently been in Mexico (or other outbreak location) or exposed to anyone who has (paying particular attention to those who stayed for 7 days or longer)? (b) are they febrile or have a fever and, if so, is it higher than 101 F (38 C) and (c) do they have a cough or other respiratory illness symptoms?
  2. Relay responses to these questions to EMS units before they arrive on scene.

Firefighters and EMS Providers

  1. Request additional information from dispatch when sent to respiratory, sick person and fever related calls if limited initial dispatch information is provided.
  2. Perform initial interview of all patients from at least 2 meters (6.5 feet) away to determine if personal protective equipment precautions are necessary.
  3. Place a mask on all patients with suspected influenza symptoms before approach. Use a surgical mask or non-rebreather mask (when oxygen is required).
  4. Avoid droplet producing procedures whenever possible including nebulizers, bag-valve-mask, suctioning or intubation. If bag-valve-masks are needed, use BVMs with HEPA filters whenever possible.
  5. Recommended PPE for taking care of ill/potentially infected patients includes: gloves and N95 or better respirators. PPE should be donned and doffed according to published guidelines to prevent cross contamination, including faceshield/eye and gown protection when splash or airborne contamination is possible.
  6. Alert receiving hospital personnel of the possibility of an infectious patient as soon as possible and hold suspected infectious patients in the ambulance until their destination in the hospital is known, rather than immediately moving them into the emergency department.
  7. Perform a thorough cleaning of the stretcher and all equipment that has come in contact with or been within 2 meters (6.5 feet) with an approved disinfectant, upon completion of the call following CDC interim guidelines for cleaning EMS transport vehicles.

Remember that this is a continually evolving situation. The most severe flu cases so far have been mostly adults from ages 25 to 45, but patients of all ages have been infected, so the same precautions should be used for all patients. We need to stay on heightened alert until this threat has been controlled. As with all infectious diseases, always remember that hand washing is the number one way to decrease transmission!

Mike McEvoy

Friday, April 24, 2009

The Basics of Command

How many times have we heard it? ONE central, visible, strong incident commander for every incident utilizing an accepted incident management system and good accountability practices are essential for the positive outcome of most every incident, much less a disaster. With the advent of much more complex multi-disciplinary incidents came the realization that unified command was a better way of looking at it, and in the wake of wide-area disaster management, a realization that these incidents were best managed by using emergency operations centers with appropriate staffing and coordination between communities to insure that needs are identified, the right resources are requested, and the resources are allocated to where they are best utilized.

I blogged at Firehouse Zen about it tonight and got to reading a bunch of old stuff (I'm talking about stuff from the early '80's) on disaster management. We were talking about it then and here we are, more than a quarter-century later, hashing out the same old discussions.

Why do we keep re-visiting the same old issues? When are we going to learn?

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Blogger Profile

Dead Wrong...Again

The recent news splash about two Las Vegas firefighters who mistakenly declared a patient dead is a painful lesson on the consequences of complacency. The patient, who had shot himself in the head, was found alive by the coroner after responding firefighter/EMTs called off an ALS unit, deciding the patient was deceased. He survived for two days after finally being treated and transported to the ED.

There are multiple opportunities in the Fire service to end up on CNN. Death pronouncements, or mis-pronouncements as happened in this case, provide tremendous opportunity for a couple of folks to make themselves and their entire department look like idiots.

Deciding that death has occurred is a big deal. Every time it happens, the folks involved need to consider the consequences of being wrong. In my April 2007 article about field pronouncements, I discussed what needs to be done by departments and individual firefighters to prevent this sort of embarrassment. The news media is reminding us: it's time for a review!

Mike McEvoy

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Putting generic Strategic Priorities to work

One of the things I do with my all-too-rare spare time is that I read. When I'm not blogging at All Hazards Contemplations, my favorite genre is science fiction and sci-fi fantasy, because it often fuels my imagination. A lot of yesterday's science fiction ends up being tomorrow's science fact, too.I recently finished a book regarding an unusual twist on a fairly standard plot - an uneasy intergalactic peace brokered by an advanced non-human society after two different human societies attempted mutual genocide.The author could have been writing Strategic Priorities for fire and rescue. Her take on how to keep oriented to the proper Strategic Priorities, no matter what the situation involved four simple concepts and keeping them in sequence. The priorities...Life, Mission, Security, Operations. Fire and rescue services would be well-served to remember those same four priorities during both emergency situations and during our everyday routine.
Life - If we lose our lives, we can't accomplish the mission or any of our other priorities. At the scene, we need to focus on the most important things - discovering the things that can kill us and avoiding them. Those things can be buildings, forces of nature, evil people, or or our own egos. can be more insidious...smoking, lack of fitness, heat stress, cumulative stress, or a driver that's just a little sloppy with the accelerator.

Mission - If we don't accomplish the mission, we're wasting our time being there in the first place, plus our training time, plus our pre-planning time, plus our vehicle maintainence, plus the public's trust...

Security - If we don't secure our apparatus, our stations, and the rest of the public property with which we've been entrusted, then we may not be able to take care of our first two priorities. If we're missing tools, or if our station is wide open for anyone to steal from it or trash it while we're gone, then we might be missing the one tool that will save our lives or just the public's trust that we're going to be responsible with the expensive stations and equipment with which we're entrusted.

Operations - We have to keep on operating, no matter what challenges occur. Budget cuts, brownouts, station closures...the department keeps on operating. High call volume and unusual calls, check. Major terrorist attack, check. Long, boring shifts with few or no calls, check. A firefighter-arsonist that shames us all...the rest of us still keep on pulling on the gear and rolling out the doors.If in doubt about what the priorties are, make sure that you and your crew can stay alive...the other priorities are important, but you can live without them. After all, imaginary intergalactic heros do it all the time, and they have it made compared to us. After all, their problems are imaginary.

Follow FireRescue1 to FDIC

You may have heard that FireRescue1 is on Twitter. In fact, Mike beat me to blogging about it here, and Pete Lamb is our most recent follower.

But you might not know that we'll be live-tweeting from FDIC starting tomorrow, Wednesday, April 22. You can follow the coverage at, and we'll be installing a feed in the right menu bar on TKT, so you can get the tweets here, too. If you're attending FDIC, stop by booth #6030 to say 'hi,' and pick up a free t-shirt and show edition magazine.

If you're looking for more ways to connect, FireRescue1 also has a professional network on LinkedIn, which publishes all TKT posts, and a Facebook page with over 10,000 fans.

And, if the name 'tweeting' puts you off, as Mike suggested, you're not alone.

Helmet Cam Captures Mayday and Takes My Site With It

I recently posted a close call video from a 2008 Sacramento Fire were a Captain was injured during operations. The video was taken with a helmet camera and was recently released on the web. The video has been by far the most popular video to date with the most discussion ever. I strongly recommend checking it out, and participating in the discussion. The captain himself is responding to questions. The video is so popular I had to buy more bandwidth to support all the new visitors.


Here is the news story related to fire.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Blogger Profile

The Kitchen Table is "Tweeting"

I was happy to be alerted via my email inbox that The Kitchen Table is now on Twitter.

Of course I instantly followed back from my account becoming the ninth follower of The Kitchen Table updates.

Twitter is not only a great branding tool it is a highly useful communication platform. Their real time search engine is more timely than Google web or blog search on items of local interest.

Numerous fire departments, including several units of the Toronto Fire Department log their calls on Twitter. Talk about transparency in government.

During the tragic fires in Victoria State this Winter Twitter was used extensively by local and state agencies as well as civilians to report on fire and response activity.

Don't be put off by the name, Twitter is here to stay.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

So, You Don't Have the Time?

I am posting this blog in response to this article:

Many of you know that I draw from my experiences and training as a member of a volunteer fire department. That is especially true when dealing with the problems and the issues that face the small, rural volunteer organizations that are indicative of the majority of our nation’s fire departments.

Not long ago, we discovered in our department that there seemed to be a core group of officers and veterans that gave a disproportionately larger number of hours-i.e. effort to the department than the others. I felt that it was important to send a strong message to the others in order to strengthen their commitment.

So, what I did was; at a monthly meeting, I pulled out all of the officers and anyone with more than ten years on the department and asked them to leave the room. That left thirteen in the room. What I asked them next was; if this was your core group, who would be your officers? I had them “elect” a chief, assistant chief, captains and lieutenants. It produced some very interesting results. Ironically, the “chief” that they elected is now a lieutenant with the department. It would not surprise me to see him as chief somewhere down the road.

We had their attention on the issue of not relying on the fact that the veterans and officers as they knew them would always be around. They had to start preparing NOW for the future of the fire department. Then, I had to tackle the issue of the “perceived” constraints on everyone’s time. It is not a problem that is ours alone, but is one that is shared throughout the nation. It can destroy departments and here’s why:

For the past several years, volunteer fire departments have been hit with an almost apathetic attitude in their communities when it comes to recruiting and retaining new firefighters.

I don’t have the time has become the mantra of young, able-bodied men and women who, when approached by their fire department will tell them in short order that they don’t have the time. If they do join the department, they will only give you what time they feel is left over from their very hectic schedule and life style. I believe that selfish has replaced selfless in today’s society.

Additionally, who told these people to stuff their lives beyond over-flowing with activities that may boost their self-esteem, but doesn’t really add to their quality of life or the quality of their community. They don’t CARE, because they were never TAUGHT to care.

Not long ago, my fire department had a few members who were well below the average for training hours, stating that they didn’t have the time. I decided to take a pragmatic look at it, for I have always held that if it is important to you, you will MAKE time. I also wanted to make certain that I wasn’t being overly critical of our younger members.

Here is the link to my complete article:

Susan Who??

Unless you have been under a rock, there was quite a phenomenon this week with a lady from Scotland named Susan Boyle who floored everyone on Britain's Who has Talent show. See the clip here.

So what is that doing here on a fire service website?

I just was struck by the initial reaction from the crowd and from the judges. It is pretty apparent to me that they had already made some judgment about Susan and her talents or abilities.

Hmmmmm, has that ever happened in a firehouse anywhere? Has that ever happened when a new probie gets assigned or when the new officer gets promoted?

How about when you meet other professional peers for the first time.

Sure, Susan hs an incredible voice and she showed the world that last week, but maybe just maybe she showed the world something else about making judgments of others before we really know.

Heck, there is a fire service officer message in there somewhere, I just know it!

Friday, April 17, 2009

What's in the Cards Today?

On any given day, we expect some fairly simple and basic things; Simple and basic from a firefighter’s perspective that is. We hope that we have a busy day, for the most part. That the alarms and incidents allow us to practice our skills and do what we do best. Deep down inside, we also hope that we have a good “job” come in.

Not that we hope or wish undue miss-fortune, distress or sorrow on anyone, but, IF a fire is going to happen, let it happen on my shift, my tour or while I’m at the firehouse and able to make the first-due. It’s a pretty fundamental hierarchy of need, and it’s what makes us tick at times. Because of who we are and what we do. Right?

The daily experience, expectations, our comfort zone; We’re Pretty Good At What We Do-Regularly….We Develop Profound Habits and Methods…We Treat a Lot of Things as Equal in May Respects...We’ve Grown Accustomed to Certain Operational Modes. We don’t really think anything is going to happen to us, certainly nothing so adverse that I don’t go home after the call. Nothing is going to happen to YOU; it happens to someone else….BUT to everyone else-YOU are the other Guy!

On any give day, at any give alarm, the dynamics around us at times are in or out of our control. We may not be able to see what the cards have in store for us, BUT we must ensure we use every bit of training, fortitude, knowledge, skills, courage, bravery, insights, luck and sometimes (other divine) intervention to get us through.

There have been a lot of bad things that have happened over the course of the past few weeks in the fire service, with the continuing trgic loss of brother firefighters in the line of duty, accidents, injuries and other situations both directly and indirectly. Think about your actions, think about what you can do to make a difference or to alter or change the course of a situation. We sometimes have a greater hand in destiny and how the cards are dealt than we think. Be safe, have a great tour or stay at the firehouse today.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Brother/Sisterhood: Illusion or Elusive?

First of all, I am not going to the dictionary to define “brother/sisterhood.

For one thing, it would not adequately capture the essence of the deep feelings of what is the core of brother/sisterhood as it applies to the fire service and I believe that, as a nation of firefighters, we are still defining it.

For over a quarter of a century, I have been studying what exactly it means to be in a brother/sisterhood.

Dylan Thomas, the renowned Welsh poet, wrote an amusing piece about brotherhood. He stated that he built a snowman, his brother knocked it down, he knocked his brother down and then they had tea! A simple but workable description of brotherhood, I believe that it goes deeper.

Does brother/sisterhood only exist in the fire service? If not, then why don’t we hear doctors, nurses, teachers, business executives, politicians or electricians talk about their professions in such terms?

Wait; there IS the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), but is our brother/sisterhood on the same plane as the electricians?

One only has to look at the funerals to know that they are NOT the same.

Yes; the funerals! When we see the videos and photos of the apparatus, the flags, honor guards, the sea of dress uniforms and the bagpipers, it is the epitome of what is the brother/sisterhood. As we struggle to bury one of our own, we are one and the same.

And it would seem that we gather our strength from this very emotional moment in our lives and take it to heart and make it a part of our every day lives. People who are unfamiliar with this phenomenon will often ask why so many of us come from all over the country to say good-bye to a fallen brother/sister that we didn’t even know.

Our answer? Because THAT’S the brother/sisterhood!

How is it, then, that we don’t hear the same pronouncement when a brother/sister “knocks down the snowman”, so to speak? Are we picking and choosing when we invoke it?

To finish reading this article, please go to:

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Insert Your Name Here

I just finished reading the Firehouse Magazine heroism awards issue. You really have to read these a couple of times to sense the magnitude of what really took place in some of these incidents.

As I read these (like I do every year), I wondered to myself, would I be able to do the things that have been laid out in front of me. I would hope that I had the training experience and intestinal fortitude to do it, but you never know unless you are faced with that particular predicament.

As firefighters we have taken an oath to risk our lives (not trade) for others. It is the basis for our profession.

Take some time and look at the articles and the narratives and see if you could Insert your name here in place of the member who performed the task. If you are a company officer, look at your crew across the kitchen table and think if their name could be inserted there. If you are a chief of department, read the stories and see how many of your folks could insert their name there.

Use the article to make sure your troops are ready for whatever task they have to face. We handle a ton of mundane responses which lead to complacency. Will we be ready when we are called upon to do the extraordinary?

Think about it.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

To evaluate progress, take a SEET

From my All Hazards Contemplations blog...

During simple call like a room and contents fire, it's usually fairly easy to evaluate progress. The black smoke turns to white steam, the fire goes out, the building cools down, we go home, and the invetigators take over. The next morning, the local newspaper reports the wins and losses...hopefully with a box score that reads "Fire Department wins, 1 to 0". The local paper usually isn't shy about reporting the score when we're on the losing end, either.

Have you ever seen the morning paper report a tie score?

I've never seen a "Fire 1, Fire Department 1" front page box score. That box score would mean that eventually we figured out who won, but during the fight, it wasn't easy to tell. We can have a smoky fire that's difficult to find, even with thermal imagers. We can have a prolonged entrapment at a motor vehicle accident with so much wreckage that it's difficult to tell if we're making real progress or not. We can have a major incident where it takes days to find all of the problems and weeks to sort them out.

I've found a simple way to evaluate progress that works on almost any incident just have a SEET. SEET is a simple set of four strategy considerations that you ask yourself Jeopardy the form of a question.

Safety - Are we being safe? If we don't create additional patients, properly care for the people who were injured before we arrived, and operate using safety equipment, PPE, and while practicing safe behaviors, then we're being safe. If we're injuring responders, operating carelessly, or not wearing appropriate PPE, then we're not being safe.

Effectiveness - Are we being effective? Are we getting the job done? Can we tell? Task completion is the easiest way to measure effectiveness, but on a prolonged incident, task completion might have to be broken down into a subset of smaller tasks. "Cut through Beam A by 4 PM" or "Defensively confine the fire to the structure of origin if we can't extinguish the fire offensively in the next ten minutes." are pretty obvious measures of effectiveness.

Efficiency - Are we being efficient? Did we do an accurate size-up and take the right tools to the building or wrecked vehicle the first time, or did we have to send firefighters back to the rig for something that was forgotten or not anticipated? Did we split a four-firefighter crew so that they could accomplish two simultaneous tactical objectives? Are we operating in a manner that is calm, smooth, and professional?

Timeliness - Are we doing things in a timely manner? Are we doing things at the right time and in the right sequence. Timeliness includes getting water on the room and contents before it extends. It includes stabilizing the wrecked vehicle prior to applying tons of force to the it...and to the patient's cervical spine injury. It includes performing tactical priorities in the correct sequence for the situation. RECEO-VS is a mneumonic that was invented by a Timeliness fan.

I don't know about you, but I'm having a SEET the next time I want the newspaper to report a win for the firedepartment. You might think it is overly simplistic, but I've found that it works.

Professional Organizations

Hi folks, just wondering what professional organizations do you belong to that you feel benefit you and your organization the most?

A few months ago I asked about websites we checked, but now I am thinking about the professional organizations and what do you get back for your dues and how much do you use the services provided.

Now there are some obvious major choices and I will list three...but I am really looking for the less obvious that are outside of these.

Many if not most chiefs belong to the International Association of Fire Chiefs Association

Many career Firefighters belong to the International Association of Firefighters

Many volunteers belong to the National Volunteer Fire Council.

Outside of these three, let's share what other organizations we need to belong to or subscribe to and why?

Buckle Up

When you get ready to rollout onto the streets today, make sure everyone is buckled up and secured in their seats. That means everyone. If you don't have an SOP that ensures all personnel on every company are requried to be buckled in before the appratus leaves the station floor, then you're only gambling with the lives of your firefighters.

Take a look at the Near Miss Reporting System web site. There's a tremendous amount of usefull information, especially in the way of operating experience and near misses. Learn from them, so that a near miss doesn't turn into something more serious, like the recent events we've talked about here. Take a look at the National Seat Belt Pledge and also check out the Near Miss Report of the week-ROTW. Slow down in your response, drive defensively, wear your seat belts and remember; "it really is OK to be second or third due,-or last; than not to make it to the scene at all..."

Buckle-up and stay safe.....
It does happen everyday, HERE, HERE , HERE and HERE..

Friday, April 10, 2009

Risk versus Close-Call

Here's one for timing. My recent post today on risk related to vacant or unoccupied structures.... Check out the series of photos for a close call incident involving a trailer fire, HERE. Photo sequence by Patrick Scott.

Again, the question before us; Why the risk, What's the value, Who is looking out for our safety?

Are we engaging in Tactical Entertainment....are we setting ourselves up for an injury or worst?

Regarding Complacency

Just when you think you live in a relatively normal place, along comes something to remind you that it can happen anywhere. I discussed on Firehouse Zen that just when you think you have it all mastered, at any given moment, along can come the call that is the defining moment for you or your career (or your department's image). Do you want to be the one who leads your crew into the local newspaper saying "this team exemplifies the pinnacle of what we expect from our public servants" or "well, what did you expect from public servants"? Be good at what you do all of the time, not just when you feel like it. That's what defines "professionalism".

Vacant or Unoccupied: Is it business as Usual?

We seem to do a lot of things at times out of common practice and repetition, you know; “We’ve always done it that way….” syndrome. There’s a resonating theme that is making its way around the fire service dealing with going to a defensive tactical posture at vacant or unoccupied structure fires. This command posture leads to limiting interior operating engagement, while promoting a high degree of risk management.

With that being said, there are also plenty of opinions on these types of policies as such, since this type of tactical effort may be contrary to the local “culture and traditions” of the responding agencies and may be a hard pill to swallow, since we’re in the job of “ fighting ALL fires..” Please refresh your memories on a past post on Tactical Entertainment HERE and HERE

Here are some basic definitions to keep us all on the same playing field;

Vacant; refers to a building that is not currently in use, but which could be used in the future. The term “vacant” could apply to a property that is for sale or rent, undergoing renovations, or empty of contents in the period between the departure of one tenant and the arrival of another tenant. A vacant building has inherent property value, even though it does not contain valuable contents or human occupants.

Unoccupied; generally refers to a building that is not occupied by any persons at the time an incident occurs. An unoccupied building could be used by a business that is temporarily closed (i.e. overnight or for a weekend). The term unoccupied could also apply to a building that is routinely or periodically occupied; however the occupants are not present at the time an incident occurs. A residential structure could be temporarily unoccupied because the residents are at work or on vacation. A building that is temporarily unoccupied has inherent property value as well as valuable contents.

The question today, as you’re having coffee around the table is this. As a responding company, you arrive at the scene of a vacant or unoccupied structure. The building’s construction features and systems have inherent risk associated with the occupancy, (as is the case with nearly all of our structures and occupancies).

Your company determines that you’re going to go defensive, even though you probably could make a reasonably safe entry and engage in interior structural fire suppression.

Would there be any repercussions in your station, battalion/district/community or organization if you took this tactic? What are YOUR personal thoughts on this form of risk management?

Some insights, HERE and HERE, HERE, HERE and HERE

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Public Education and Fire Prevention Minimum Staffing?

I was speaking the other day with Billy Hayes, Director of Public Information & Community Affairs for DC Fire and EMS, about the proposed budget cuts to public education throughout the many fire and rescue departments in the Washington-Metro area.

During the course of the conversation, he mentioned a paper he had written as a part of his EFO process a few years back. The topic related to minimum staffing standards for public education.

It immediately caused me to think: why is there no minimum staffing standards for public education as well as fire prevention (think code enforcement) programs? Several years back, Tri-Data Corporation made a reference in one of their papers (which one escapes me at the moment) about one public educator per 100,000 population. Other than that – nothing.

Why not? One could argue that minimum staffing in public education and fire prevention is just as important to overall fire fighter safety as minimum staffing on apparatus. Granted that is probably an apples to oranges comparison but, theoretically anyway, is related.

The time has come to establish minimum staffing standards for public education and fire prevention programs! Who’s with me?!?!

Monday, April 6, 2009

First-Due, Second-Due; Do Not Pass Go, Proceed Directly to Jail

Last week a horrific accident involving two responding fire apparatus collided in an intersection resulting in serious personal injuries to eleven people, nine of which were firefighters. The resulting collision caused significant property damage to the six month old aerial ladder and the year old engine.

The preliminary investigation of the crash indicated that the apparatus driver of the aerial truck may have run a red light at the intersection, while the engine company driver had the green light. The engine company also had control of the Opticom system at the intersection. Both companies were responding to what initially was a reported fire call-but turned out to be public works crew smoke-testing sewer lines.

The most significant issue that has arisen thus far is that law enforcement officials have determined that aerial ladder driver ran the red traffic signal-causing last weeks crash, and now has officially been charged with failure to use due caution. The aerial ladder subsequently rolled, hit a woman on a bicycle, snapped a utility pole and landed on top of a car. The bicyclist crushed by the ladder truck, remains in critical condition. The ramifications of this charge may be far reaching in a number of ways. And all of this for the first-due.

You know what I mean. Responding to what has all the makings of a “good” call, knowing that other companies are heading to the same address from different stations or departments- All with one goal in mind; being first-due. It’s interesting to note, one of the articles in the local news media mentions, “Did station rivalry cause the fire truck crash?” Take a look HERE. Say it ain’t so! Trying to beat another company in to the scene- preposterous, we don’t do anything like that! Running red lights, blowing through intersections, pushing the envelope with the speed limit..all in the name of the first-due.

When are we going get it!
Stop and think about some of the moral, ethical and legal responsibilities the next time you get behind the wheel of an apparatus and begin rolling out the station. Whether you’re the apparatus driver or the company officer-SOMEONE needs to keep the response in check and balance the urgency, severity, the needs and the timliness of the response. YOU as the apparatus drive NEED to take FULL responsibility. Can you handle that? Take a look at some of the incident reports on the NIOSH Reports or at the EGH site. Stop and think, is it worth the risks you're taking? You may not have the chance to pass go, you won’t be collection 200 dollars; You may be going directly to jail- with no free get out of jail card. Slow down, drive responsibly, there's always going to be another call, there always is.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Your Back Up May Be Your Attorney

Firefighter Injured In 2006 Blaze Sues Department, Other Firefighters”.

You want a headline that grabs your attention, but lets go at some point after reading the story.

Since reading this story, I can’t let it go; it won’t let me go.

Suing your fellow firefighter has existed in the state of Illinois for several years. An attorney who specializes in fire district law told us that we could be sued if we hurt another firefighter.

Prior to the law, we enjoyed a certain “tort immunity”, but also, a lawsuit crazy culture didn’t exist back then. Firefighters suing firefighters; firefighters suing fire departments JUST DIDN”T HAPPEN! I struggle with the logic and motivation behind such a lawsuit.

My first thought after reading the article was: “wow; this person should be a chief”. I thought this because the claims in the case are so articulate. That is; she is so detailed on the causes for her injuries. Maybe she is receiving some good coaching. As an example, Schuenke stated: “…that Corbin was mismanaging the fire scene, had lost control of the fire scene, and was exposing firefighters…to a heightened and unreasonable risk of danger. The two (University City Assistant Chief and the Battalion Chief) should have removed Corbin as incident commander”, the suit says.

So, I am sitting here wondering how Schuenke knew incident command was “mismanaged” when she was engaged in the activities resulting from those “mismanaged” decisions.

Or, are she and her team of attorneys “assuming” that, because she was injured, it HAD to be the result of a bad decision by someone else?

Or, (I feel like Sherlock Holmes) is there a “forensic expert” or clairvoyant who could accurately “re-construct” down to the most miniscule detail of the events of that day?

It is unfortunate that something went terribly wrong and she was injured. Her crew was ordered to enter the house. It would be her team’s decision making from that point forward. They have interior command in my book. If it is not safe, THEY would decide to exit.

Also, you would sound the floor and move cautiously and deliberately and look for signs of trouble. Schuenke claims that her gloves didn’t fit properly, which is why her glove pulled off when Yahnke tried to pull her up through the hole in the floor. She removed her other glove to free her trapped foot. Both hands and a foot were severely burnt as a result.

I don’t know if it’s accurate or reasonable for her attorney to claim that: “This young lady is never going to be made whole. All the money in the world isn’t going to restore her to what she was before. She lost a career, and her life will be forever changed”.

While Schuenke was still in the hospital, she did an interview where she stated that no one helped her and left her for dead. Some close to the case believed that she was hinting at a possible lawsuit then.

But, I believe that the decision to sue came after Community Fire Protection District ended her employment.

In my mind, the lawsuit is filled with emotion, bitterness, retaliation and is void of any personal accountability on her part.

Why do I say that?

Because in her lawsuit, she names three (3) fire departments and five (5) firefighters specifically for not keeping her from being injured

She is also suing the maker of her PASS device, because it didn’t alert rescuers to her predicament and location, even though firefighters DID know her predicament and location as soon as she fell through the floor.

There is no doubt that this is a sad case. I wasn’t there. I can only base my opinions on what I have read.

When you think about it, consider this: Schuenke is suing because she wanted to return to the Community Fire Protection District as a firefighter/paramedic and they terminated her. If, as she says, it’s her life and she wants to get back to it, then why is her lawsuit and her attorney saying that her career and her life as she knows it is over?

How else could they rationalize the lawsuit that isn’t about money?

I submit that, whenever lawyers and money are involved, then it’s about the money. Without knowing the amount being requested in the lawsuit, the worst case scenario is that it could bankrupt three (3) fire departments and five (5) individuals, even though her injuries were unintentional. That is; they were not inflicted with intent by any one person specifically through their actions or inactions, in my opinion.

I don’t know what kind of scene size up was done, what the conditions were when firefighters entered the structure or what SOGs and MA agreements dictated.

I only know that a lawsuit of this type could set off a chain of events that will bankrupt fire departments and paralyze even more fire departments, if firefighters are suing each other and their mutual aid partners.

I believe that this lawsuit was filed out of bitterness and retaliation. The money is a given (attorneys, you know?).

Unfortunately, the department that fired her wasn’t named in the lawsuit! How weird is that?

This case will bear close scrutiny. I am not taking any bets on its outcome.

I wish everyone involved the best of luck.


The article as submitted is published under The Adventures of Jake and Vinnie© umbrella and is the intellectual property of Art Goodrich a.k.a. xchief22 and ChiefReason. It is protected by federal copyright laws and cannot be re-printed in any form without expressed permission from the author. You may read other works by the author at

Safety Thought for the Day - Staging Prevents DIOs

From All Hazards Contemplations:

"DIO" is a "Disfunctional Incident Outcome". A DIO can be something as mundane as two engines trying to lay in from opposite directions in the same street, or it can be something as severe as a LODD at hazmats, shootings, and other violent or escalating incidents.
Staging Prevents Funerals when you're responding to incidents with an expanding Hot Zone.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Rolling the Window Down on Safety

From my newborn All Hazards Contemplations blog:

Skip Kirkwood's Jems Connect blog had an excellent post about the recent multiple shootings at the nursing home in Carthage, NC, Binghamton, NY, and todays triple police officer murder in Pittsburgh, PA. Skip made some excellent points about how to approach dangerous scenes.Skip's post triggered reminders of some old street safety habits that were daily occurrances in two high-volume cities where I previously worked. I have gotten a little slack on using these basic survival behaviors, due to the relatively peaceful nature of the town where I work now.Skip's reminder that two of the three above multiple shootings occurred in similar "peaceful" towns to mine reminded me that there's no such thing as a really safe place to work fire-rescue or EMS.

My old habits - ones I dusted off today - are the following:

1) Roll the Window Down on Safety. If you roll the window down at least a block out from the scene, you can hear screams or gunfire that would otherwise not be heard over the death metal your new EMS partner or engine driver plays while responding. Rolling down the window also lets you smell the natural gas leak started by the car that creamed the meter when it hit the house or the unusual smoke smells from the landscaping company fire that was reported next door to the actual fire location. With the window up, you have disengaged four of your five senses - vision is the only one working. With the window down, you add the senses of hearing and smell, and triple the number of senses working to keep you alive and unhurt.

2) Stage on every call where a known violent event has occurred. Domestic violence, reported shootings/stabbings/assaults, robberies, hostage situations, or even unknown suspicious scenes or high-crime locations are good places to stay away from until law enforcement secures the scene. Stage a block away, out of line of sight, and it could save the lives of everyone riding your rig.

3) Don't run the lights and siren right up to the front door. Unless you work on crowded city streets where you can't get to the scene any other way, it won't make a real difference if you cut the lights and siren a block out. Being the center of attention is great...unless you're a shooter's bullseye. Reducing your "Bullseye Profile" might also save your life.

Roll the window down, stage, lower your Bullseye Profile, and remember that bad things happen in otherwise peaceful towns as well as in the big city.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

A Defective Maintenance Program Defined

I can sum up the report in one word: STARTLING!

Mercury Associates, Inc. is a company that provides fleet management consulting services. According to the report, in the last three years alone, they have provided their services for some very large and very high profile cities, including the Boston POLICE Department (Don’t they talk to the Fire Department?).

The last paragraph in the introduction to the report is very telling. It opens a door to a culture that has existed at Boston FD for at least since the 1980s (see report). It states:

Ideally, an assessment of this type would have included the review of policy and procedure statements and other documentation that specifies ‘how’ all maintenance and repair activities are to be performed and the calculation of a variety of key performance indicator statistics and their interpretation using suitable industry benchmarks so as to gauge ‘how well’ they are being performed.

However, as will become clear in this report, neither of these types of information are readily available in BFD because they are not used to any significant degree to manage the maintenance and repair of the fleet.

I interpret this to mean that no one (1) person was tasked with insuring the safety of Boston’s fleet of fire apparatus.

An “informal” system to prevent problems, identify problems and correct problems with apparatus was in place, but was an ‘orphan’ in its treatment by the city and FD leaders.

Again; remember the outcry after Lt. Kevin Kelley was killed. Both heart-wrenching grief AND gut-wrenching anger remains. Remember that it was quickly noted in articles after the tragedy that this was not an isolated incident where the safety of the vehicle was identified as a potential problem.

It becomes very clear after reading the report how apparatus with problems remained in service.

It leaves me wondering AGAIN why someone has to die in order for Change to occur.

How can a department as storied as Boston’s have a fleet maintenance department that is described as “archaic”?

How can ANY department treat maintenance of their equipment with such indifference?

Small departments such as mine, understand the importance of keeping equipment properly maintained to avoid costly repairs because, in many cases, they do not have a budget that could support such costs. Most likely, the money would have to be borrowed if not covered by warranty.

In larger departments, where apparatus sees multiple calls in a day, there has to be a clearly defined system for recognizing mechanical problems, taking the unit out of service for repair and a “loaner” to take its place until that unit is repaired and placed back into service. It cannot be left to chance!

At a time when the focus is on personal safety, what could possibly be more important than equipment that gets us to and from the scene?

What good does it do to hammer home the idea that we should only use professionally designed, professionally built apparatus if we’re not going to keep it in safe, operating condition?

Where I came from, it wasn’t unusual for a department to refurbish or rebuild their own trucks to save money. Water tanks would be increased in size without any regard for gross vehicle weight. No tank baffles and a higher center of gravity was a rollover waiting to happen!

Forget about stopping quickly; the extra weight made sure THAT wasn’t going to happen, but again, it was about saving money and not about safety.

Read the report. Carefully review the twelve (12) recommendations that were made.

After you read the report, ask yourselves if any of it resembles how you regard vehicle maintenance and if it does, then it’s time to get something done about it!

Ignoring problems won’t make them go away. It only makes for bigger problems and if you’re like my department, you won’t have enough money in the bank to cover it.

But, most importantly, you won’t have enough heartache, sorrow, tears or anger should it contribute to a fatality.

Here is a related, FireRescue1 article.


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