Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Ricci Don't Lose That Number!

That number would be the number assigned to Frank Ricci’s reverse discrimination lawsuit recently heard by the U.S. Supreme Court (07-1428 & 08-328).

Why should this matter, you say?

Well for TWO very important reasons: 1) Frank Ricci is a New Haven, CT firefighter and 2) One of the justices (Sonia Sotomayer) who denied his appeal has just been nominated by President Obama to replace the retiring David Souter.

We have had many discussions on promotions criteria, leadership, qualities of officers and recognizing who’s best for the job. Many feel that it should be based solely on the most qualified as determined by testing. Many have dismissed diversity initiatives as unnecessary in today’s liberal society. Still, others believe that we are not quite there yet and hiring based on ethnic quotas to achieve equality is still necessary.

Please note that while this lawsuit has been going on, the officer positions have been left open and are currently being filled by “acting” officers; some who FAILED the promotions exam!

I find it easy to say that everyone should be treated the same and that’s because I am not prejudice or bigoted in my thoughts. In my mind, race/color/religion should never factor into the equation. But, because of our country’s history, fail safes had to be put into place, even at the expense of other race/color/religions. And to me, THAT is discrimination. If we have to discriminate against one group to eliminate discrimination in another group, then we haven’t stopped it; we have perpetuated it. And that is wrong on many levels.

In the case of Frank Ricci and 20 other New Haven firefighters; they took a promotional exam in 2003 for (7) Captain positions and (8) Lieutenant positions. Based on the results of the testing, no African-Americans would have been promoted, so the Civil Service Board threw out the tests, because they feared a lawsuit by the African-Americans and Hispanics.

It’s interesting to note that the top (15) scores for the Captain’s exam were achieved by (13) whites and (2) Hispanics and the top (15) scores for the Lieutenant’s exam were achieved by (13) whites and (2) African-Americans.

So, Frank Ricci filed a lawsuit, based on the idea that he was not promoted because of his race.
The decision by the Supreme Court should come by the end of June.

The decision should have a precedent-setting impact on the use of racial quotas for filling positions; then using it for promotions.

And as I said; testing should determine the best candidates; period.


Monday, May 25, 2009

Good Luck, Bad Luck, and SOGs

We're in the All Hazards business. As discussed at All Hazards Contemplations, it never ceases to amaze me how many times I hear or see really bad ideas espoused as the way to do things. Examples abound;

1) Refusing to wear seat belts in the rig "So we can go right to work at the scene".

2) Putting a vent crew on the roof of a structure that is an obvious defensive fire that has already autovented.

3) Putting engine crews in the collapse zone on a defensive fire.

4) Forcing crews to wear structural firefighitng PPE for situations where it actually creates hazards from heat stress, lack of mobility, or negative buoyancy such as remote wildland fires, USAR calls, and water rescues.

5) Advocating rescue procedures based on how easy they are to perform even if they create excessive risk to the patient.

My responses to the above are;

1) If your rig only makes it halfway to the scene and you are ejected from the rig, how did the few seconds you "saved" on this call make it worth the end of your career and maybe your life?
Those few seconds pale in comparison.

2) If the fire is through the roof, the fire has already been vertically ventilated. It's the fire's way of telling you to put the truckies to work somewhere else.

3) If your hose stream can't reach the interior of a defensive fire from a safe location, either get a bigger stream in play or just protect exposures with the one you have. You don't need to see how close you can get to the fire when it can drop a wall or an overhang on your head.

4) If you fight wildland fires, do USAR work, or do water rescue, dress for the sport you're playing. Wearing structural PPE to wildland fires can kill you from heat stress and will greatly reduce your mobility. Mobility is a big deal when you're hiking 100 yards - or 5 miles - in a wildland firefight. Mobility is a big deal in confined spaces, trenches, or structural collapse. Structural PPE doesn't help you float, so don't wear it to water rescues.

5) We need to follow best practices because they're the best thing to do, not because they're the easiest thing to do. Rescue procedures need to be evaluated on what we might do TO the patient as well as what we can do FOR the patient.

The photo above shows a best practice - placing a barrier board between rescue tools and the patients. That provides fragment and impact protection for the patients just in case something goes wrong. The rescuers in the photo are demonstrating a best practice instead of just hoping that they get lucky.

If you do something dangerous or stupid and get away with it once, you're lucky.
If you get away with it twice, you're VERY lucky. If you get away with it three times, it's now your SOG.

If you count on good luck as an SOG, sooner or later you'll be attending a LODD funeral for someone that was killed by "We've always done it that way."

Be smart, and don't count on good luck as a SOG. Eventually, your good luck will run out.

I don't want "Unlucky" on my tombstone. How about you?

Saturday, May 23, 2009

San Francisco Firefighter Injured From Collapse During Fire - VIDEO

Related Article:
Police are investigating whether a marijuana growing operation may have sparked a Thursday morning warehouse fire that seriously injured a paramedic firefighter. The paramedic firefighter suffered major injuries after a flaming piece of building fell on him as he battled the three alarm Bayview blaze. Thursday afternoon, police inspectors were at site of the fire, waiting to collect evidence from the burnt-out warehouse, San Francisco Police Sgt. Lyn Tomioka said. Officers’ suspicions about a possible pot grow were raised when they discovered an illegal converter box bypassing the building’s electrical meter, Tomioka said...READ ALL

Friday, May 22, 2009

Blogger Profile

A War Surgeon's Perspective on Memorial Day

This essay was written by my friend and colleague, Dr. John P. Pryor. He was a trauma surgeon who refused to be idle when so many wounded Americans and Iraqis could be helped by his skills. He enlisted in the Army reserve and wrote this article after completing his first tour in Iraq.

“In other fighting, one marine was killed in the Al Anbar providence after a humvee he was riding in hit an IED.” That was what I read in the AP news piece. It was one line of several paragraphs that summed up the days casualties in Iraq during another day of the war that has gone on for three years now. These reports are so common, most people do not even read them, or listen to the 30 second blurb that follows, “Another day of violence in Iraq where…” on the evening news. For us, the reality is much different, a horrific drama that is played out in the field, in forward surgery tents, and combat support hospitals every single day.

Today the warning came over the radio, “urgent litter coming in by ground” I immediately respond to the ETR where the buzz is usually in full swing. “IED, Marines” is all the ETR nurse said as I walked in. Damn, I thought. One day left – all I asked God for was no more marines with one-day left on my tour. The hospital staff went into full swing – these people are at the end of a yearlong deployment here, they are experienced, hardened, and cool under pressure. The activity was programmed and efficient. I took my position at the head of bed number one, put my head down and waited.

Within a few minutes the litter team burst into the ETR with the first patient. I could see his arms dangling off the stretcher with bone exposed, and I immediately knew that this was going to be a bad one. When the litter was pulled up aside the bed, I saw the full extent of what I was up against. Driver, I thought to myself. The drivers always seem to get the full force of the IED. There is a pungent smell of gasoline and burned flesh. My first order of business was to remove the IBA before we move him over; to do this we have to sit him up in order to pull the arms through the IBA sleeves. When we did, his arms, broken in several places on each side, flopped around like a puppet. As we moved him over, I tried to ignore the massive tissue destruction of his legs, and focus on potential life threatening chest and abdomen. He was moaning, actually a good sign, the brain was still getting blood flow. Anesthesia moved to intubate him, as the emergency medicine physician started the primary survey. Nurses started lines, lab was there to bring blood, medics held pressure on bleeding wounds, all in a dance that has been repeated so many times before.

The other patients began to file in, eventually filling the ETR. One soldier in a bed next to ours was calling out to my patient, ignoring his own gaping wounds “Your going be okay man, hang in there.” I began to focus on the problem and my plan. Both legs had massive tissue destruction. The left thigh was torn apart and burned with a tourniquet at the groin. The right leg was mangled below the knee with a tourniquet above that. There was a neck wound that wasn’t bleeding and shrapnel to the face. Both arms had multiple levels of open fractures. The pulse was weak and the blood pressure was barely readable. We hung blood immediately. The chest x-ray did not show any thoracic injury. We shot an abdominal film to look for shrapnel that may have gone into the belly – none. As we moved to the OR the hospital commander stopped me to ask if he was going to make it. I told him that I was worried that once we start to resuscitate him, the bleeding would become even worse, and I didn’t know if he would make it. His head dropped as he walked back to the chaos of the ETR.

In the operating room we started by getting control of the external bleeding of the legs. There was blood coming from everywhere; bright red arterial blood, dark blue venous blood, and areas where the two swirled together in pools between the flesh. Two orthopedic surgeons and I worked frantically to get control of the bleeding, which as predicted, became worse as we started to resuscitate him. Anesthesia was struggling to keep a blood pressure, infusing unit after unit of packed red blood cells, and plasma. I was having trouble finding the source of some bleeding high on the thigh, and I was going deeper and deeper into the groin to track down the source. Suddenly my hand broke into a space, and a gush of blood came out. I realized that I was in the retroperitoneal space and the bleeding was coming from here. This was the worse case scenario. Bleeding from this location is the toughest area in the body to control. The packing did nothing; blood flowed from the wound in a constant stream. We opened the abdominal cavity and clamped the arteries that feed the pelvis, but it didn’t help. Bleeding from this area is almost always from large veins that cannot be controlled with sutures or arterial control. We packed as tight as we could, and then put a sheet around the pelvis to pull the bones together in an attempt to tamponade the bleeding, but it was not enough. His heart went into a lethal arrhythmia. We shocked him, and pumped epinephrine into his blood stream. After a few minutes, his heart stopped for the last time.

The marine was dead.

There was an immediate silence in the operating room as soon as I announced the time of death. Most of the staff had tears running down their faces; this was a long year for them with so many of these kids dying in this room. I could not physically move for several minutes. I looked at this young kid, a child, and I apologized to him for not being skillful enough to save him. As a trauma surgeon every death I have is painful, every one takes a little out of me. Loosing these kids here in Iraq rips a hole through my soul so large that it hard for me to continue breathing. After a few minutes, I collected myself and began to direct the care for his final journey home. We closed what we could of the wounds, and wrapped the ones we couldn’t get together. We washed all of the dirt and oil off his skin, combed his hair and washed his face. He was transferred to a litter and brought to a private enclosed room where we placed him inside a heavy black body bag. The body was draped with the American flag and a guard was posted. The chaplain gathered some of the providers and we said prayers over the body.

There was, and always is, a palpable grief that comes over the entire staff when we loose an American solider. Everyone is affected, and everyone deals with it in a different way. For me, this is not an objective depressing thing to be a part of; it is very, very personal. I was the surgeon who couldn’t save him. For me the grief is intolerable. I become the focus of the morning for the staff– people come and give me a hug. They ask me if I am okay, they pray for me. I appreciate it and hate it at the same time. Often my misery turns into anger. Sometimes I become angry with God for allowing this to happen. I just want the whole thing to be over, and all of these kids to go home to their families and live long lives. I have seen so many soldiers and marines die here; I just want it all to end.

As I made my way out of the hospital, I saw the marine unit gathered together. Two humvees where parked, and weapons were leaning against the vehicle. I notice this immediately because a marine is never without his weapon, they would never be stacked like that. These were the weapons of all the marines injured in the latest attack. I spoke with the first sergeant, the father figure of a marine unit. I know him well, we have lost several of his marines and had many more injured and treated here. We arrange for his buddies to come in and say goodbye, something that I cannot even bear to watch. After a time of reflection, the unit gathers the equipment and prepares to go out again that night. This is some of the raw courage that I talk about, the ability to loose a friend in battle and go right back into the fight. I love every single one of them.

The body was eventually taken to the LZ and loaded into a helicopter with some of his buddies as escorts. He is taken to BIAP where mortuary affairs prepared the body for transport home. A friend of mine was at BIAP when the body was loaded onto the C-130. All activity on the tarmac stops when the casket is brought onto the airstrip. All personnel in the area stop what they are doing and attend a 45-minute ceremony on the airstrip. They tell me that this happens twice to three times a day, but everyone takes time out to attend the ceremonies. Soldiers manifested in these flights are going home or on R&R, and as anxious they are to leave, they all take the time to honor the marine. An honor guard then brings the flag draped casket onto the aircraft with full military honors. The casket is situated in the center of the aircraft with nothing placed on either side or directly in front or back. Personnel then enter the aircraft and accompany the marine to Kuwait. In Kuwait the casket is removed first, again with a full honor guard. The marine will be brought to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, and then eventually home and to his final resting place.

If I could say something to this Marine’s parents it would be this: I am so sorry that you have lost your son. We, above everyone else, know that he was a true American hero. I want you to know that the Marines, medics, doctors, nurses and of the 344th CSH did everything possible to save him. I want you to know that I personally did everything that I could, and that I am sorry that it wasn’t enough. I want you to know that although we never knew your son, we loved him. I want you to know that although he lost his life, we preserved his dignity after death. We held his hand when he died and prayed for his soul and for God to give you strength. I want you to know that he had great friends who cared deeply for him and that they were also here when he died. He was never alone for his journey back to you. I also want you to know that I will never forget your son, and that I will pray for him and all of the children lost in this war.

IED - improvised explosive device
ETR - emergency treatment room
LZ – landing zone
BIAP – Baghdad international airport
IBA – individual body armor
R&R – rest and relaxation
CSH – combat support hospital

John P. Pryor, MD was a trauma surgeon at the hospital of the University of Pennsylvania and a Major in the United States Army Reserve Medical Corps. He was the general/trauma surgeon for the 344th Combat Support Hospital in Abu Ghraib, Iraq. John was killed on Christmas day 2008 during his second tour in Iraq.

Posted by Mike McEvoy

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Cutting Edge SCBA Prototype under Development

This is the latest version of the new 45 minute 4500psi SCBA being developed by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), The Directorate for Science and Technology (S&T Directorate) and the IAFF.

The ultra low profile SCBA module is shown with cut aways to show the cells wrapped with carbon.

The Directorate for Science and Technology (S&T Directorate) is the primary research and development arm of the Department of Homeland Security.

The Mission and Objectives of The S&T Directorate, in partnership with the private sector, national laboratories, universities, and other government agencies (domestic and foreign), helps push the innovation envelope and drive development and the use of high technology in support of homeland security. Previous post HERE

Wednesday, May 20, 2009


Leadership; It certainly isn't about the number of bars or collar brass horns you have on your collar, the color of your helmet, or the "title" you have. Although there are many who would argue that point and feel that they are THE Leader specificially because they DO have the title, rank and brass. Some Leaders do and some don't, stop and think about those that do (and why) and those that do not (and why)..... Who are the "leaders" and why are they?

An interesting take on leadership came from the acclaimed cinema Director Robert Altman's 2006 Lifetime Achievement Oscar acceptance speech, in which he stated simply; "The director allows an actor to become more than they've ever dreamed of being."

How do you think this applies to Fire Service Leadership?

Take a few minutes to look at management guru Tom Peter's video on The Definition of Leadership.

The transcript of the Tom Peters video clip is available HERE.

Some Leadership Definitions HERE.

What are your definitions of leadership? Where does your Leadership start and stop?
What about those around you?

Fire Chief Expectations

Yesterday, I had the privilege of attending the swearing in ceremony for our new Fire Chief Richie Bowers. Especially pleasing for me as Chief Richie is a long time prevention and safety advocate and just a really good guy.

As I went to find a place to sit I noticed that all of the seats had the obligatory program booklet laid upon them. Upon sitting down, I noticed there was one other item that I thought was very cool (see below).

What I saw was a roughly 4 x 4 magnetic card suitable for placement on any fire station refrigerator. On the card was a title “Fire Chief’s Expectations” along with several bullet points (without the bullets) highlighting what the Chief expected from all of us. I thought that was pretty cool!

We obviously also heard those expectations verbally highlighted during the Chief’s remarks. But we now have his expectations in writing and in a way that can be posted throughout the fire stations. Very simple yet very effective!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Budget Process Becomes Reality For Firefighters

Budgets are not normally the topic of conversation in firehouses across the country. At least they aren't in the same way they are in 2009 in what may be referred to as the year of the cut.

The budgetary process is a mixture of smoke and mirrors, numbers not adding up and pet projects deemed necessary while essential services are cut with barely an afterthought. Two engine companies are shut down whilst a million dollars is set aside for beaver eradication. Firefighters are laid off as a city prepares to invest in cultural events.

This is the world of essential versus non-essential, the failure of local government, and the consigning of human life to a level below that of a dance company. This is reality and for firefighters it's a rude awakening to post modern priorities.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Who Represents YOU?

A few years ago, an East Coast friend and I were lamenting out loud that we didn’t have a national organization that REALLY represented the silent majority in the volunteer fire service.

Now; I want it understood that, if some of you who are reading this served on committees at the national level of the National Council on Fire Blah, Blah, Blah; this is NOT directed at you. I don’t need anymore hate mail for a while. But, how many of you who have worked for a fire service organization at the national level ever saw more than 20% of surveys returned? I rest my case. There IS a silent majority of firefighters in this country.

So, my friend and I floated the idea and were amazed at how many others felt the same way. What was done in jest was catching traction. I mean; there was some serious chatter about creating a new, national organization that would listen to us, work for us and become our strong voice for issues that were not being addressed at the national level. (Sidebar: it is noted that many organizations have addressed personal safety to varying degrees). An example could be a lack of programs for things like college tuition credits, property tax breaks, retirement benefits, annuities, etc. for people willing to volunteer their time in their communities. And let’s face it; we have a President well versed in community involvement, don’t we?
Continue Reading Who Represents YOU?

It was getting more and more evident that organizations were getting together to discuss “issues”-real or imagined-and would argue about the pecking order and the seating chart, who would get credit for the “plan” and most importantly, who would pick up the tab for the conference then and the program down the road later. Oh and make sure that your participation finds its way into your resume for future consideration of another organization that you intend to single-handedly rescue! (Sorry; I’ll put the sarcasm away).

I have always held that providing fire service to communities should be an intimate, local issue; from deciding what type of fire protection, to funding for it, deciding who should be on the fire department and to provide a grievance process for when expectations are not met; expectations of the fire department and the community being one and the same.

Let’s be honest here; how many of you KNOW what your community expects or are your expectations what you THINK their expectations are?

How many of you operate under the don’t ask/don’t tell or my favorite what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas mantra and especially for the “bad” stuff?

In summary, how many departments FEAR getting their communities involved because of that whole “control” thing?

We want to be called “heroes”, but will run like our hair’s on fire if they have reason to call us “convicts”…and there’s been a “few” of those times lately, hasn’t there?

We want their money, but we want it with no strings attached. Our reasons for wanting it should be good enough, right?

What would your public’s reaction be if they found out that you had been sneaking up their taxes, but have never applied for a grant?

Does your best efforts measure up to your community’s yard stick? Or does we did our best still cover it?

Does parking the rig out front while you sweep out the truck bay define your training program?

Now that I have your attention, let’s get back to fire protection as a local issue.

Until FIRE Act came out, I was fully prepared to work within our local boundaries for funding, but I soon realized that the “redistribution” of my tax money wouldn’t benefit us locally, so we started applying for grants.

We are 1 for 7. For (5) years, the Peer Reviewers told us that we didn’t need a new truck, so we gave up and went for SCBAs. We GOT that grant, but then they told us last year that we didn’t need the compressor to fill them!

What’s my point, you ask? Simple; we DO need a truck, so we applied for and received through our state a zero interest loan for its purchase.

And that compressor that we don’t “need” will be purchased at some point with money from fundraisers.

Funny, isn’t it? We all receive those emails in BIG, BOLD ALL CAPS that says WE URGENTLY NEED YOUR HELP when they are wanting a piece of legislation passed for their special interests.

Do you believe that it’s all in OUR interest? If you do, then click your heels together (3) times and say “there’s no space for our foam” or something like that.

So, the moral of this story is: You represent YOU! If you wait for someone else to help, you will find yourself in a hole… and look who’s throwing the dirt on you!

Create relationships in your community, your county and state government. Know your politicians. They’re the ones asking for donations to “take back government”; whatever that means.

How will you know if you’re doing enough?

Easy; the mayor will be following you on Twitter and your state rep will be calling you by your first name.

But, we STILL need a national organization that thinks like we do!


This article is protected by federal copyright laws. No reproduction of any kind is permitted without the expressed permission of the author. This article is published under The Adventures of Jake and Vinnie© umbrella.

Pennsylvania Firefighter Injured From Hood Strut

Firefighter close calls is reporting a PA firefighter was injured during a car fire by a HOOD STRUT. This is one topic I have tried to cover with videos very carefully. There are many examples on video of these failures. Please be careful when operating on car fires.

Related Links, training and VIDEO:


A Pennsylvania Firefighter was IMPALED by a heated and exploding HOOD STRUT while operating at a car fire. In this most recent "hood strut projectile" event, which happened in Swatara Township (PA), Firefighters from the Friendship Fire Company of Bressler last week arrived at a "routine" engine compartment fire which quickly changed from being routine.. A line was stretched and crews worked to open the hood...while operating, a hood shock exploded and impaled a FF in the right knee. EMS treated and transported him to an area trauma center where he was treated and spent the night. He luckily escaped without major injuries from the incident and is expected to make a full recovery.

Firerescue1 - "Over Aggressive Attacks on Car Fires" - feature story by me - CLICK HERE

Related Videos from Firefighter Spot-
Car fire explosion - HERE
Car Strut Explosion - HERE
Car Fire Strut Explosion - HERE
Car Fire Dangers - HERE
and as I like to say...


watch till 3:15 for explosion...[Video not from PA Injury]

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Enhancing Firefighter Safety: One Step at a Time

The City of Greencastle, Indiana and the Greencastle Fire Department recently enacted and approved an Engineered Lumber ID Program consisting of a sticker that is used for quick recognization of potential Collapse Dangers associated with Engineered Lumber constructed buildings. The sticker is placed on every electrical meter of all residential & commercial buildings with Engineered Lumber construction built after May 13th 2008.

The news release states that; the use of this type of lumber in building construction presents a great danger to firefighting personnel when those structures are involved in fire conditions. By design, the Engineered Lumber in floor and roof assemblies will collapse, without warning, after being exposed to heat or flame contact for a very short period of time.

Because of the inherent danger firefighters must face while operating within these buildings, an Engineered Lumber Identification Program (ELIP) has been instituted to alert personnel of the danger prior to beginning fire suppression operations.

The Engineered Lumber Identification Program is intended to alert the members of the Greencastle Fire Department with pertinent pre-plan information before firefighting forces are committed to an interior attack. The sticker is unobtrusive and is placed directly on a meter box, for example, and alerts the FD if either the floor joists and/or the trusses are made of and Engineered Lumber System and materials. The fire officers are already checking the utility boxes on all fires as part of their initial size-up. The ELIP shall be an ongoing program applied to all residential & commercial buildings inspected by the Greencastle Fire Department.


WHEREAS, many new building structures currently use engineered lumber in their construction;
WHEREAS, some types of engineered lumber burn at a rate faster that other types of lumber; and
WHEREAS, in fighting fires, it would be helpful to know the types of materials used in the construction of a structure.
NOW THEREFORE be it ordained by the Common Council of the City of Greencastle as follows:
1. Definitions:
a. Engineered Lumber shall mean prefabricated I-joists, truss joists, and truss rafters, and laminated beams and studs.
b. Structure shall mean primary, secondary and accessory structures as defined in the Greencastle Zoning Code that have electrical meters that serve the structure.

2. All structures constructed with engineered lumber after the effective date of this ordinance must have a reflective symbol affixed to each electrical meter serving the structure.

3. The reflective symbol shall be in the form of a sticker, issued by the City of Greencastle that states that the structure is constructed with engineered lumber

4. Any person violating this ordinance by refusing to use the reflective symbol or by removing the reflective symbol shall be subject to a fine in an amount of $25.00 per violation. Each day that a violation occurs shall constitute a separate violation, subject to a separate fine.

5. The owner of any structure that was constructed with engineered lumber prior to the effective date of this ordinance is requested to place the reflective symbol on the electrical meter serving the structure on a voluntary basis.

This is another great example how local level insights, actions and legislation can go a long way in supporting fire service operational challanges as they relate to building construction systems, methodologies and materials. Remember, We can certainly work diligently AND cooperativley with local government officials to enhance incident operations and make our jobs safety, one step at a time....
For additional information on the Fire Department's efforts in Greencastle, IN contact Lt. John Shafer, Lieutenant/Training Officer HERE.
For additonal information on other efforts that have been instituted nationally in other jurisdictions, check out a previous posting of mine on Truss Systems Placards For Firefighter Safety from across the United States, HERE. It will provide you with a number of examples and links of different placarding and signage systems across the United States.
An invaluable free on-line training program on Structural Stability of Engineered Lumber in Fire Conditions - is available from UL, check HERE for further information.
The 2006 NIOSH LODD Report, HERE


Saturday, May 16, 2009

1st Due Arithmetic

The "When is it Vacant...?" discussion on Firefighter Nation brings up a basic question about balancing the response to the incident. I don't have all of the answers to such a complex question, particularly in a short venue in a blog like All Hazards Contemplations, but there are some basics that apply to all incidents.

How do you know when you have enough firefighters to complete all of the jobs required for a 1st-due assignment? It's not always easy to tell, because the equation of firefighters vs. fire is weighted differently at almost every fire. NFPA 1710 provides a baseline number, but some of us don't have even that small number of firefighters available. That number isn't sufficient to deal with a high-rise fire, a big box fire, a pier fire, or just about anything bigger than a duplex or small, single commercial occupancy if you want to accomplish all of the necessary tasks simultaneously.

Continue Reading 1st Due Arithmetic

With the budget crunches, brownouts, station closures, and disbanding of fire companies that we hear about every day, it makes you wonder when the "fuzzy math" is going to stop.
1st-Due Arithmetic is simply about numbers...numbers of firefighters, apparatus, and command personnel. If you don't have enough firefighters to stretch a line, then the fire is going to exceed the capability of that line by the time the water arrives at the combustion. If you don't have enough firefighters to search a building of whatever size confronts you, then the search isn't going to be completed very quickly. If you don't have enough firefighters to ventilate, then the engine crews take an unnecessary and dangerous beating. Most importantly, if you don't have enough firefighters to staff all of the 1st Due functions plus an Incident Commander, a Safety Officer, and a RIT Team...yes, a REAL RIT team, then an even fuzzier math sometimes takes place.

If we're shorthanded, Command may choose to staff a RIT team made up of firefighters that would otherwise be doing basic engine or truck work...forcing Side C, providing ladders for secondary egress, stretching a backup hoseline, or completing the primary search. That means we'll be putting off essential firefighting basics so we can staff a team that we'll hopefully never have to use.

On the other hand, we can't put everyone except Command and one pump operator inside and think that we'll always get away with it.

How do we ensure that we get enough numbers for the 1st Due Arithmetic? In theory, it's simple. We send more firefighters on the first alarm. Repeat after me..."Overkill is good, Overkill is good, Overkill is good." Use Automatic Aid/Mutual Aid if you have to, but get the additional firefighters there in numbers that shift the equation advantage from the fire to the firefighters. Send the extra engine or truck on the first alarm and cancel them if it's food on the stove. No matter what it takes, have an adequate number of firefighters respond on the first alarm!

After all, the fire doesn't understand budget cuts...it just understands 1st Due Arithmetic.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Vacant Buildings Fire Report: and Other Issues

The NFPA recently published thier Vacant Buildings Fire Report issued by the Fire Analysis and Research Division. From the Executive Summary, Fires in vacant buildings have become a matter of increasing concern as the economy has weakened. In 2003-2006, U.S. fire departments responded to an estimated average of 31,000 structure fires in vacant buildings per year.

These fires resulted in an average of 50 civilian deaths, 141 civilian injuries, and $642 million in direct property damage per year.

Based on annual averages for 2003-2006, the 31,000 reported vacant structure fires accounted for 6% of the 520,100 structure fires, 2% of the 3,125 civilian structure fire deaths, 1% of the 15,200 civilian structure fire injuries, and 7% of the $9.0 billion in direct property loss. These statistics are national estimates of fires reported to U.S. municipal fire departments based on the detailed information collected in Version 5.0 of the U.S. Fire Administration’s National Fire Incident Reporting System (NFIRS 5.0) and the National Fire Protection Association’s (NFPA’s) annual fire department experience survey. Take the time to look over the Full Executive Summary and NFPA report on the web site HERE

Start thinking about your policies and procedures related to vacant or unoccupied structures. It's NOT business as usually in these continuing times of economic hardships and flux. It beckons and reflects to the fire service demands of the late 1970’s and the mid 1980’s. I previously discussed issues surrounding Vacant or Unoccupied Structures: Is it Business as Usual? HERE.

As the escalating adverse trend continues, and more and more buildings become vacant and unoccupied, now is the time to focus greater attention on adequate risk assessments and effective strategic size-up with firefighter safety considerations remaining clear and distinguished.

There may be a lot of reasons why a vacant building turns into a structure fire, that ultimately involves our services; don’t let that contribute to an undesired injury or worst. Start looking over the emerging or self-revealing patterns of business or building vacancies, begin pre-planning and refining your strategic and tactical protocols. Remember: Bk = f2S , Building Knowledge = Firefighter Safety.

The NFPA provides the following additional information: InterFire has a number of resources related to vacant building fires and fire prevention on its website at http://www.interfire.org/features/vacantbuildings.asp, including a draft ordinance to address blight. The best way to prevent vacant building fires is to prevent vacant buildings.

The National Vacant Properties Campaign’s website
http://vacantproperties.org/strategies/tools.html describes a number of strategies to address the problem of vacant properties and provides examples of how these strategies have been used.
Based on the findings of the Urban Fire Safety Project, NFPA recommends that local fire departments and the national fire service partner with financial institutions and other organizations to prevent home foreclosures and home abandonment.

Vacant building arson is also addressed in the Arson Prevention PowerPoint Presentation developed by NFPA and Columbus Division of Fire. The presentation, intended for use by local fire departments and community organizations is available at http://www.nfpa.org/assets/files/PDF/Public%20Education/NFPAarsonpresentation.ppt.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Elmer The Truckie

With all of the depressing fire service related news about budget cuts, staffing reductions, roving fire station closings, etc., etc., I needed to read a good pick me up story this morning. So I did what I do most mornings and I went to the Firegeezer blog (in addition to the Kitchen Table of course) hoping that Bill S has written one of his great story musings he writes most every week.

Well, I was not disappointed as I read the story of Elmer. Brought back a lot of memories and made me smile. I would imagine that many of you have an Elmer in your department. You should take a moment and go here to read: Elmer The Truckie

Skip down to just below the picture of the fire fighter doing some overhaul.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Superman, Ironman, Batman, Fireman... Human


Superman, Ironman, Batman, Fireman, Human…We have a tendency- at times to momentarily lapse in recognizing we “Fireman” (and this is related to all gender of firefighters) are Human. Everyday, firefighters throughout America and the world perform extraordinary feats of bravery and heroism, much of it unheralded, unnoticed and underappreciated. It's partof our job, it's what we do, after all, we are fireman (firefighters).

We know. Our companies know, and more importantly our “families” know; who we are and what we do. We perform the job that we swore an oath to uphold, we learned of the traditions of the service that we came to embrace; we learned our responsibilities, our job and the measures that sometimes need to be taken.

There has been plenty of banter over the past few weeks related to the diversity of conventional wisdom related to what a firefighter is made of, the mettle that separate those that choose the virtues of suppression versus those that profess a safer cultural demeanor. We are all firefighters in the truest sense of the word when we choose to wear the badge; to donn our protective equipment and step off the apparatus and into a burning structure in order to undertake the measures and demands required of us; at that moment, at that time and place and under the circumstances that will clearly dictate the path of our destiny, duty, courage, honor and fortitude.

Do the Job; push the envelope; for the right reasons, for the right cause and the most noblest of circumstances. Do it for the right reasons-BUT don’t do it for the entertainment. Accept personal accountability and responsibility. Understand your limitations, but also comprehend what we are capable of doing under the most difficult of situations, because of who we are.

Remember, it is about the public we serve AND our “families”.
Take a moment to listen to the words in the NFFF, EGH program video. Think about your accountability, responsibility and safety, while doing The Best Job in the world.

We are Fireman and yes at times we are Superman, but above all, we are still Human. Stay safe to fight that next fire, to answere that next alarm on another day….and to go home to your family.

A must read follow-up posted on May 11th, on Firegeezer by Mike "Fossile Medic" Ward that aligns with the focus with a number of current safety issues affecting the Fire Service....

Everything BUT a Routine Call

The adage that the fire service has more recently adopted states; “There are no “routine”calls”; referring to the safety consciousness that all responding companies should endeavor to consider when responding to an incident, that all too often appears; upon our arrival to be routine in every sense of the word. Whether it's an alarm system activation, a report of food on the stove, a report of a smoke detector alarming or a report of a gas odor or leak, we have a tendency to treat a lot of things as equal and very routine based upon the periodicity and frequency of the alarm type and the typical, inconsequential nature of the incident outcome.

This was far from it on Thursday May 7th, when Prince George’s County, Maryland, Firefighter/Medics were dispatched on a call that no one is soon to forget. Firefighters were alerted to respond to the Penn-Mar Shopping Center, a large 1-story strip mall, in the 3400 Block of Donnell Drive in Forestville and arrived at 12:59 PM.

First arriving crews initiated an investigation into a strong odor of natural gas inside the businesses. Firefighters evacuated 5 of the 6 stores that were in the area of the odor, a sixth store was vacant. Forty-five people were evacuated from the 5 stores and firefighters then started ventilation efforts and called for assistance of the Washington Gas Company.

Firefighters discovered natural gas bubbling up from the ground on the exterior rear of the vacant store and minutes later reported that there was a fire on the interior. Within a minute, at about 1:20 PM, a massive explosion occurred. A MAYDAY call was sounded and additional resources including paramedics and a second alarm assignment. Go HERE, HERE and HERE for additional photos and incident details. More follow up HERE at STATter911, Map HERE and Audio HERE

The video clearly depicts the unassuming conditions prior to the explosion, which is quickly followed by the explosion and debris flying and subsequent fire ball. Large plate glass windows blew shattered glass and other debris 60-70 feet into the front parking lot, the roof assembly appeared to have been lifted up and then fell back into place and the rear brick and block wall was completely blown out. Firefighters were in the direct line of the explosion and suffered burns and injuries from flying debris.

Firefighters were wearing their personal protective gear which is believed to have minimized injuries. A total of eight firefighters sustained a variety of injuries ranging from lacerations to second degree burns. Four Firefighters were transported to the Washington Hospital Center Burn Unit where two were treated and released and two were admitted for additional treatment.

The lessons here are clear. Use your personal protective equipment effectively; don’t assume the routine nature of a given alarm will always result in a routine outcome. A good safety drill sheet for gas leak OPS from FFClosecalls.com HERE

Use the STAR method- Stop, Think, Act and Review. Assume, "what’s the worst that can happen?", and consider the options available to you as an incident command, company officer or as part of an operating team in your dynamic risk assessment and incident action planning. Stay safe out there in the streets today….

Here's the Engine dashcam video of the explosion..


Follow-Up Breaking News: Six firefighters and one police officer were injured in an explosion in Providence RI on Saturday May 9th, when a blast happened around 12:30 a.m. on Pavillion Avenue in the city. companies were responding to a car that crashed into the front of an apartment complex. The Providence Fire Department said crews smelled a gas leak when they arrived at the scene of the crash. Just moments after firefighters shut off the gas line, something caused the explosion. One firefighter was thrown into the street and others were hurt when debris fell on top of them.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Columbia, South Carolina Firefighters Face Gleeful Budget Cuts

In one of the more callous moves to cut a budget from a fire department city council members in Columbia, South Carolina are showing a complete lack of empathy for employees. One council member spoke yesterday to retired firefighters during a council meeting. Regarding cuts, the young multi-millionaire council member told the packed room, "We'll be back."

This refrain is only properly understood if the entire story of how the budget, and city finances, have been managed by council. Whilst cutting the fire department the city is looking to spend over $930,000 to eradicate problem beavers.

You can't make this stuff up.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Arson Awareness Week

Just a quick reminder that this week (May 3 – 9) is Arson Awareness Week. The theme this year is simply: Arson for Profit.

Does the theme, Arson for Profit, strike anyone else as weird? Maybe even a tad bit funny? Almost implies to folks that they could start a fire and make some money. We in the fire service certainly know what the USFA is trying to say here but Joe Q. Public may not. During these tough economic times, someone out there might just be inspired by the message.

It reminds me of my days in the fire station when one of my shift mates decided to come up with his own Arson Awareness Week message: You Light ‘Em, We Fight ‘Em! Sadly around my neck of the woods these days, that message could also be “We Light ‘Em, We Fight ‘Em” as several area fire fighters are being investigated for allegedly being a part of an arson ring. Sad indeed.

I would like to suggest to the good folks at the USFA, in hindsight, that one term they used in the awareness verbiage would maybe have sounded better: economic arson. Prevent Economic Arson seems to me a better message than Arson for Profit. Just my two cents worth which is actually now only worth a half a cent during this recession!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Near Miss

It seems as though the fire service suffered its greatest "near miss" this week when a few felt they were intentionally attacked; not by terrorists or politicians, but by one of our own. Yup, I'm referring to perhaps the most prolific, energizing, and misunderstood keynote speeches in FDIC history. Furthermore, many are already referring to it as "the speech." Since many thought Ray was plotting to overthrow the Government, I even hear Obama the U.N. are drafting condemning resolutions...

Ray McCormack's speech seemed to have missed the mark with a few, yet hit it out of the park with most. More importantly, Ray's speech seemed to have unearthed a polarized, cultural dichotomy in the fire service I did not know was so prevalent. Perhaps I can blame it on naivety; I thought I had my finger on the pulse. Moreover, I am equally amazed at the sheer number of those who harbor contempt for Ray's speech as I am for its supporters. Shamefully however, I am among those who took a passive-aggressive cheap shot at Ray's naysayers. Shame on me...and shame on the rest of us 5%ers too who took cheap shots at either "side."

What's a 5%'er? Well, let me try and put it into a definitive perspective. I was discussing "the speech," the fallout and subsequent 're-booting' of the fire service with a few at my firehouse the other day. There was only one other person in the kitchen among the 7 or 8 people wandering around who even knew what I was talking about. Most in the room didn't so much as bat an eye as they went along participating in other conversations, chop-busting, and reading the paper. I was initially so shocked that no one even cared about such a polarizing speech that I subsequently had an epiphany....I am simply just one among the 5 %'ers: a firefighter in the fifth-percentile of the fire service that actually reads the magazines, blogs, websites, newsletters, etc.; and goes to the conferences.

To my surprise, no one in the room even gave a crap about who got ticked off by the speech; or that many took a respective stance on the issue; some even walked out to do their own thing out of apathy towards either side getting offended by a speech at a fire conference. "That's why I don't read or go to that buff s#*t," said one at the table (a detail from another company for the day, I guess I should really fill the vacancies in the company...).

Continue Reading Near Miss

I always knew that very few on my job read the magazines; thankfully we get enough work and experience to learn and pass on the trade; but I was nonetheless amazed that very few read the myriad blogs, fire news, etc. at everyone's fingertips (literally). In fact, I would venture to guess that only 1% even know who the real movers and shakers are in our biz. How naive of them I thought to myself; particularly when everyone has a computer and at least some interest in the job.

Rather...I guess I should sometimes envy rather than admonish those (the 95%ers) that decide to focus on more productive things than toxic arguments in chat-rooms, blogs, etc. They are just as good and important Firefighters as the rest of us reading this post. In reality, how much "damage" did Ray and Fire Engineering perceivably do the collective fire service? Conversely, how much damage are their naysayers going to do in kind? My guess is emphatically NONE! Honorably, I tried to make thehousewatch.com a critical thinking blog with a side of gratuitous controversy once in a while. I don't particularly like the rant sites, however, I guess sometimes I add to the toxicity and become part of the problem as well. I have those that buy my act and those that can't stand it. Regardless, my act has no significant impact on the fire service in terms of mission or policy. That's fine by me; blogs, websites and such are simply places of opinion and rhetoric; Nothing more. However, as an aside, I do like the comments on Ray's speech here though. They are blog posts in and of themselves and many have very rational points. Thanks to you all.

Now that the fire service dichotomy is out of the closet, where do we go from here? Do we continue to flog-blog and prosecute a person who exercised his first amendment rights and ideology while giving a keynote speech? Do we continue to turn this speech into a silly exploited tabloid smear campaign? Keynote speeches are SUPPOSED to be polarizing, entertaining and thought-provoking. People are acting like either side just shot the other's dog in front of their children for Pete's sake!

Look...I will be the first to admit I did and continue to take a biased stance on Ray's speech. Believe it or not, what I got out of Ray's speech was his frustration about an unwavering perspective on safety; that's it! Not that safety has no place in the fire service or is in fact a "consequence." Most importantly, I don't see how people could ever infer from the speech that Ray wants an unsafe fireground. I sure don't, and I would never accuse anyone of wanting one either. Safety comes from learning from those who influenced and mentored Ray, us and even the "95%'ers" who surely won't be reading this post or its comments.

It also comes from staying mission oriented and putting resources into what really saves lives on the fireground: staffing, training, water, and fortitude. Our job is dangerous and we can do a lot to make it safer. However, we should still go into hot and IDLH atmospheres on purpose to save lives. Nonetheless, some people are inferring that Ray "set back the fire service" and that's the rub with me ladies and gents. Ray was preaching a more pragmatic and historically competent way to achieve safety, put the fire out. To think that Ray, who has been a celebrated author and firefighter for over a quarter century is some kind of Komkisi is as crazy as it is unfair. If you have been following Ray's writing over the years, you would see his passionate commitment to safer operations and sound fireground tactics; all a result of experience and empirical application. To say otherwise is protectionism at its worst.

Digressing, that's what I got out of "the speech," and I guess I really don't give a crap about what others got out of it; and neither should any of you. I know first hand how self-destructive it can be to concern myself with who is siding with whom; and or to worry about what others are going to be doing about it. Thanks for the wake-up call naysayers. Let's go our own ways and get back to being firefighters rather than ideological hitmen. I hope to never become part of the problem again. In fact, I hope to be part of the solution very soon...a refreshing change is definitely coming...

I was glad to be there in the front row; to watch a good man get a standing ovation and even swarmed afterwards by those who were positively impacted and actually got the message. Of course there were those who refused to clap and made sure people saw their melodramatic disgust. Regardless, Ray is a mentor to us all and has graced the trade magazine and conference circuit for many years. Why crap on a guy for saying what many are thinking. In fact, why even crap on someone who says something you'd rather not think about? What if it were you at the podium?

Monday, May 4, 2009

Putting Things into Perspective

“I have no ambition in this world but one, and that is to be a firefighter The position may, in the eyes of some, appear to be a lowly one; but we who know the work which the firefighter has to do believe that his is a noble calling.

There is an adage which says that, "Nothing can be destroyed except by fire." We strive to preserve from destruction the wealth of the world which is the product of the industry of men, necessary for the comfort of both the rich and the poor. We are defenders from fires of the art which has beautified the world, the product of the genius of men and the means of refinement of mankind. (But, above all; our proudest endeavor is to save lives of men-the work of God Himself.

Under the impulse of such thoughts, the nobility of the occupation thrills us and stimulates us to deeds of daring, even at the supreme sacrifice. Such considerations may not strike the average mind, but they are sufficient to fill to the limit our ambition in life and to make us serve the general purpose of human society.”

-- Chief Edward F. Croker FDNY circa 1910

“Firemen are going to get killed. When they join the department they face that fact. When a man becomes a fireman his greatest act of bravery has been accomplished. What he does after that is all in the line of work. They were not thinking of getting killed when they went where death lurked. They went there to put the fire out, and got killed. Firefighters do not regard themselves as heroes because they do what the business requires.”

-- Chief Edward F. Croker, FDNY,speaking upon the death of a deputy chief and four firefighters in February of 1908

"The legacy of heroes is the memory of a great name and the inheritance of a great example"
Benjamin Disraeli, British Prime Minister 1804-1881

"True heroism is remarkably sober, very undramatic. It is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost, but the urge to serve others at whatever cost".
Arthur Ash, 1943-1993

NFFF EGH 16 Firefighter Life Safety Initiatives

  1. Define and advocate the need for a cultural change within the fire service relating to safety; incorporating leadership, management, supervision, accountability and personal responsibility.
  2. Enhance the personal and organizational accountability for health and safety throughout the fire service.
  3. Focus greater attention on the integration of risk management with incident management at all levels, including strategic, tactical, and planning responsibilities.
  4. All firefighters must be empowered to stop unsafe practices.
  5. Develop and implement national standards for training, qualifications, and certification (including regular recertification) that are equally applicable to all firefighters based on the duties they are expected to perform.
  6. Develop and implement national medical and physical fitness standards that are equally applicable to all firefighters, based on the duties they are expected to perform.
  7. Create a national research agenda and data collection system that relates to the initiatives.
  8. Utilize available technology wherever it can produce higher levels of health and safety.
  9. Thoroughly investigate all firefighter fatalities, injuries, and near misses.
  10. Grant programs should support the implementation of safe practices and/or mandate safe practices as an eligibility requirement.
  11. National standards for emergency response policies and procedures should be developed and championed.
  12. National protocols for response to violent incidents should be developed and championed.
  13. Firefighters and their families must have access to counseling and psychological support.
  14. Public education must receive more resources and be championed as a critical fire and life safety program.
  15. Advocacy must be strengthened for the enforcement of codes and the installation of home fire sprinklers.
  16. Safety must be a primary consideration in the design of apparatus and equipment.
Blogger Profile

H1N1 Flu: Get Your Facts Straight

Enough of the "swine flu" hysteria. The public wants answers. Fire/EMS providers are in a unique position to counter the seemingly endless stream of H1N1 influenza idiocy. Panic serves no one. It's time for the fire and EMS services to step up to the plate and calm our friends, families and community members by offering common sense, practical help to each other and our communities. It’s what we do best. See my post on FireRescue1.com with the questions and answers you need to know.

Mike McEvoy

Sunday, May 3, 2009

The Opposing Spectrum of Fire Service Safety Culture

The Evolving Fire Service Safety Culture lies somewhere between two conflicting and opposing spectrums, marked by traditionalist emotions and conservative perspectives.

It's all about firefighter safety, survivability and doing the "job"; however we need to identify the common defining ground..

Let me offer this for consideration around the table today;

Aggressive: Assertive, bold, and energetic, forceful, determined, confident, marked by driving forceful energy or initiative, marked by combative readiness, assured, direct, dominate…

Measured: Calculated; deliberate, careful; restrained, think, considered, confident, alternatives, reasoned actions, in control, self assured, calm…

The shifting paradigms of the fire service, over 1484 LODD in the period of 1999-2009, evolved building construction, occupancies, construction and materials, fire behavior, fire loading, community profiles, fire dynamics, risk, staffing and resource levels, personnel and skills sets…

What’s the optimum definition that would define a highly skilled, knowledgeable and dedicated firefighter in 2009? Where do you fit in?

Debate Over Extinguishment Culture Doesn't Sit Well With "Safety Minded"

“Ah, this is obviously some strange usage of the word 'safe' that I wasn't previously aware of” -- British Author Douglas Adams

It is with considerable humor one reads the responses of people who are upset over the debate about extinguishment and safety. One may well go away from reading the responses thinking, "Aren't these people all firefighters?"

It's very healthy for the fire service to think about the issue of safety in relation to doing ones duty. It has been said time and again that safety would have prevented a mission to the moon. So while safety is vital it can't be allowed to impede firefighters carrying out their duties.

On the other hand during the course of those duties firefighters trained properly will have the best chance of doing difficult tasks in a safer manner if training focuses on safety! In short, a firefighter must go in to extinguish a fire. Equip the firefighter with all of the tools necessary to survive but understand fire is dynamic requiring the bravest to go places no one else will go.

It's not a rejection of safety. It's an understanding of the profession.

Why Jay Lowry, Why?

It is a common refrain, within the context of a phone call, to hear the words "why Jay, why?" It most often arrives at the conclusion of an event description or a new policy introduced that causes brothers and sisters to develop the thousand yard stare.

Whilst it is impossible to answer all of the questions, or even most, I have created a new blog to help answer common questions about the fire service, to offer tidbits of information on various stories and to showcase my personal feelings apart from my role as editor for Firefighter Hourly.

I cordially invite all TKT readers to visit Firehouse Thoughts.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Some Firefighters Do the Dumbest Things

When looking for firefighter videos, I typically search for high quality and high content clips. I try to focus my search on major fires, close calls and mishaps — generally things that firefighters will be interested in and can even learn from.

But in recent months I seem to be coming across more and more videos that take a whole new approach to firefighting and the profession at large. These videos feature firefighters performing various prank-like stunts that are often dangerous and crude. Maybe it is a generational thing; a "Jackass" mentality inspired by the TV show of the same name.

I can for no reason justify or quantify what these firefighters are partaking in. In the age where viral video rules, and everyone wants to be a star, I can only think their irresponsible actions are for pure shock value.

This following video features firefighters training in a car-related rescue operation. I would assume the day started out in learning how to take the glass of a car, and ended up with this:

So we start out using a combination of window punch and actual punch:

FlashoverTV is powered by FireRescue1.com


"The Speech" ....and what I think I heard

There is a whole bunch of banter going on in the Internet world about the FDIC speech of FDNY Lt. Ray McCormack. I am a little late getting to this but I wanted to throw my two cents in about this issue.

These thoughts are in no particular order and just represent what I think I heard in replaying it a couple of times.

I am going to use the phrase " I think I heard" in the points listed below. It does not represent the actual quotes that the Lt. used it is my impression and opinion of those points. (Official disclaimer, no flaming emails please ! (grin)

  • I have attended several classes with Lt. Ray McCormack in several venues. I have always learned a ton of stuff to take away and he has lot's to offer.
  • His experience and ability in this job stand on their merits and nobody should be questioning that stuff.
  • He was voicing his opinion as are all the other folks voicing their opinions, as I am doing right here. There has been a bunch of real vicious cheap remarks at some folks that disagreed with his few. I was taken aback by some of that stuff. Let's disagree as professionals at least.
  • I was not offended at the speech in general.
  • He made some particularly offensive comments which are bandied about about "too much safety" etc, etc. I found those particular remarks a little over the top, but I believe he intended them to be direct, way on the edge and incite the discussion which is now taking place. Those specific remarks were a bit much, but heck that is only my opinion, ...he expressed his, I expressed mine and I think that is OK.
  • Not in exact words but in concept I also heard him say, that the pride, desire, and core values of the job are changing and that made him mad. He did not use those words but when you invoke the names, of Ray Downey, Pat Brown, and others you are talking about firefighters in the truest sense of the word. I think I would agree there is some loss in that area and I am not sure how we can get it back.
  • I also heard him describe his passion and love for the job which was verbally visible out there on the sleeve of his Class A uniform. If you were not inspired about his passion and love for the job then you missed some stuff.
  • I heard him say that putting out the fire makes things safer. "Nuff said.
  • I heard him say that he was a little disappointed in some fire service leaders. I think I heard him say that leaders are become paralyzed by political and liability concerns. I think his statement was a little far reaching, but I get it and I don;t disagree.
  • I heard him say that fear on the fire ground can be dangerous. I don;t disagree but there needs to some healthy respect and knowledge of fire behavior and fire attack so that decisions are being made appropriately.
  • I heard him say that folks are not going in to make rescues when there is life involved. I am not aware of folks doing that nationwide but it is something he said. If there is a life involved we had better be doing all we can to change the outcome of that in anyway we can. I am not an advocate of "Trading lives" but we had better damn well be wrinkling the envelope.
  • I also heard him say train, keep training, and keep training. For the folks that know me, there is no argument there.
  • His terse and direct remarks with a sarcastic bent upon the safety culture, I have to disagree with as they were presented. I thought they were a bit tough. I know why he said them but I truly believe that the amount of "safety culture" is department specific and I also believe that it is like a pendulum in balance. I believe that sometimes we do some unreasonable things on the fire ground and fire scenes that can be corrected and fixed. It is a dangerous job and we will never get to no injuries and deaths but I think there is some fixable stuff and we need to continue to hop on that stuff until we get it right. I agree that we should never hide from doing our job when the bell rings, but I do not believe we have to be injured or killed when there is no civilian life involved.....however we come to that decision on the scene.

I think that the fire service needs to have the dialog it is having on a national scale.

I think we can have the discussion professionally and with a touch more dignity then the present one on this issue. Everyone who believes in safety is not a coward and everyone who stands next to FDNY Lt. Ray McCormack is not as experienced or trained as him by osmosis. There is somewhere in the middle as many other authors have pointed out.

I am thankful and grateful for the folks from FDNY, Chicago, and LA, and Phoenix who have a ton of experience to share with all of us and to continue to train us.

The downside to having those folks train us is some if the policies, procedures, and tactics that are employed by them, do not always translate into the majority of departments that attend the training they give. When you go to as many fires as
FDNY Lt. Ray McCormack does and you respond with an adequately staffed first alarm, you have a different view from the six folks that arrive first at the same house fire, in a non hydrant district.

Unfortunately fire ground safety has some basic principles to it which must be interpreted and applied to the circumstances and conditions you are presented with. Those circumstances include people, procedures and equipment.

Lots of people, lots of equipment, lots, of training and experience, and rigid well thought out procedures = maybe a less emphasis on safety because you success rate is high and continued to be likely.

Minimal people, minimal equipment, less experience and training, and less procedures = maybe a greater emphasis on safety because bad things are likely to happen.

We need safety at all incidents. We need to keep talking about it. Training will always help us no matter what we believe we heard in the speech.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Collapse Safety Considerations

The recent structural collapse of a vacant five story building in the Tribeca section of New York City (lower Manhattan) brings to light the operational and safety issues affecting buildings of Ordinary (Type III) or Heavy Timber (Type IV) classified construction.

There are a number of excellent lessons learned from Near Miss Reports found on the National Firefighter Near Miss Reporting System. The NFF NMRS’s 2009 calendar has a monthly theme related to a near miss event report and is supported by training and informational resources that provide expanded opportunities for training and insights.

The theme for May is Structural Collapse. I developed a power point program and a supporting white paper that provides Operational and Safety Considerations for Buildings of Ordinary and Heavy Timber Construction. Check out the resources and download the program, it'll provide you with some good safety insights and operational considerations.



Extinguishment Culture or Safety Culture - Smart Fire Departments can have BOTH!

If you have a personal or departmental "Extinguishment Culture", would you grab a line and enter this flashed over abandoned house that is showing signs of impending collapse? If you have a personal or departmental "Safety Culture", would you wear your SCBA , a traffic safety vest, and crank a PPV fan while sitting in the rig a half-mile down the street? Chances are, if you are a U.S. firefighter, you'll choose an option somewhere in between the two extremes.
In his recent FDIC speech, Lt. Ray McCormack, made some statements that have, to say the least, generated a great deal of controversy in the U.S. fire service. His comments in favor of an “Extinguishment Culture” and against a “Safety Culture” in particular have stimulated a lot of thought, comment, disagreement, and counter-disagreement. Art “ChiefReason” Goodrich, in particular, blogged a sharp and well-articulated counterpoint to Lt. McCormack’s thoughts, here.

I watched the video several times, and read some of the thoughtful, not-so-thoughtful, and some downright nasty comments that other firefighters posted in replies to Art’s counterpoint. I gave the issue a lot of consideration for several days, watched the video again to make sure that I didn’t miss something, and decided that I finally couldn’t go any longer without saying something myself. Those thoughts are posted at All Hazards Contemplations as well as here at TKT.

First, for those of you who called Art a “coward”, a “yard-stander”, or who made rude, vulgar, or even threatening responses to his blog, shame on you!!! Those comments are an embarrassment to the profession. Just because another firefighter has a differing opinion doesn’t make him a coward. In particular, I noticed that many of the alleged firefighters that called Art a coward and worse posted anonymously. Does anyone else see the irony in that??? In case you don’t, I’ll spell it out for you. You call someone who posts his opinion under his real name a coward, while being too chicken to post your own name??? It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out who the real cowards are when that occurs.

Brotherhood includes respecting other firefighters opinions and differences, even when you disagree. Calling a brother firefighter a coward out of one side of your mouth for a simple difference of opinion while preaching the brotherhood out of the other side is practicing the former while demonstrating that you really don’t understand the latter.

On the other hand, for those of you who castigated Lt. McCormack for his fist-pumping, gum-chewing performance at FDIC, you’re focusing on style points at the expense of consideration of the substance. I don’t care about the style points – what is important is what he said. I don’t think Ray was advocating that we commit suicide for anyone or anything. It is apparent that he truly believes that extinguishing the fire before it grows larger tends to make the fireground safer, and he’s got a point. Al Brunacini’s 1985 comment that “Things on the fireground tend to get better when the fire is extinguished.” tends to agree with Ray, too.

There are three important issues that neither Lt. McCormack’s or Chief Goodrich’s comments addressed.

1) New York firefighting rules don’t work for everyone else. Not every fire department has the building types, manpower, apparatus, or short response times to which Lt. McCormack is accustomed. When you have a three-minute response time for 35 or 40 firefighters to a multistory, ordinary construction apartment building, there is a reasonable expectation that the structure won’t collapse on the firefighters in the first 15 minutes of the firefight, and that you’ll have enough manpower to accomplish all of the necessary fireground tasks in fairly short order. On the other hand, when you get 3 or 4 firefighters, an engine and a tanker, no hydrants, and a 15-minute response time to a lightweight construction, two-story house with truss floors and roof, putting firefighters inside is flipping a coin with their survival chances, no matter the reason or method of entry. Years of fire fatality statistics show us that in almost every lightweight construction house fire, the occupants either self-rescue or they are dead when we get there.

2) We generally rescue civilian victims from smoke, not from fire. If the room – or structure – has flashed over, anyone in it is dead. If the truss void has flashed over, pretty much anyone we put in it or on it is probably going to be dead, too. On the other hand, if you have a solid apartment building with smoke-filled apartments above the fire, take the can, tools, search rope, and thermal imager and go get ‘em. New York and other big cities have a lot of situations where they can rescue people from smoke. The vast majority of U.S. firefighters don’t see a lot of those situations, because they don’t fight fires in that structure type. The rules for non-dimensional lumber frame houses or garden apartments are simply different than a lot of the building construction seen in the big northeast and Midwestern cities.

3) We can have a culture that achieves both safety and extinguishment. That culture is one that believes strongly in fire sprinklers in EVERY occupancy, along with smoke detectors, kitchen hood systems, and monitored fire alarm systems. Fire protection systems – especially automatic sprinkler systems - make the building safer for the civilians and for the firefighters. Their response time is better than what any engine company on the planet can match. Of course, that will take away a lot of the “fun factor” in going to fires, but the public doesn’t fund the fire department based upon us having fun while they experience tragedy.
Firefighting is challenging, it’s ever-evolving, and the rules for doing it are not the same for every occupancy or for every fire department. A culture that places extinguishment over safety in all situations is a culture that will run into Born Losers and unnecessarily kill a lot of firefighters. A culture that places safety over extinguishment in all situations is going to have fewer funerals…and more parking lots. We need a culture that stresses both. Safety and extinguishment are not mutually exclusive. We need to be smart about choosing the right mix, depending upon the situation.

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