Monday, August 31, 2009

Medieval Times

Does the fire service need to undergo a tactical renaissance? Perhaps; but in what context of the meaning should we adopt if we say yes? Merriam’s defines, and I further paraphrase for my later argument, ‘renaissance’ as: the transition between medieval and modern times. Furthermore, it can be assumed that most arguments in favor of instituting such an inferred “renaissance” are not based simply on analysis of past fireground injuries and or LODDs. Rather, they seem to be based on one man’s seminal and misunderstood speech at a recent trade show, yes a trade show. Have we really been time-warped back to and hence operating in medieval times since April?

I say no. And here’s why. Our respective cultures (okay, I’ll overuse this descriptive and contextual word like everyone else) are not based upon the current mood, decorum, or attitudes of our departments. Rather, they are based upon learned behavior and skills that our organizations adopted to safely adhere to the mission our taxpayers need us to accept. No one however, ever passed on to me that I should do stupid stuff at fires to create an unsafe culture. Instead, if I ever embarrassed my company and put people in unnecessary jeopardy, the only unsafe part of my day would have occurred behind the apparatus when we returned to quarters. I’ve been admonished by senior members for things in the past and I am a better firefighter for it. However, after getting lucky in a couple of promotional exams, I now get admonished by the Battalion and higher-ups for similar offenses.

So why post-haste to change our culture? The aforementioned behavior and skills took decades to learn and adopt (collectively as a fire service). Moreover, my department (like other big towns) saw unprecedented fire duty in the 60’s through the 80’s, leveling off in the early 90’s. It’s still good fire duty because we still learn at most fires. The experience and lessons passed down to us from those guys is invaluable. In fact, it has kept our injury and LODD rate remarkably low for a department our size. Notwithstanding the obvious danger and risk in our profession, we actually do better than a lot of other professions. This is based on the pride in workmanship and yes, a more tangible safety culture that transcended the 60’s in our job. I do think there needs to be a renaissance though, however, I’d rather see one that keeps the consultants out and lets the scientists in.

Continue Reading Medieval Times
We don’t need more leadership, we never lost much of it in the first place. There rarely is an unfilled spot (funded ones I guess I should say these days) in the Chief ranks or the seniority roster in the fire company. The only thing we have lost is adherence to the tactics and didactics that were passed down. Perhaps that is where no one is actually looking! Digressing, we are seeing welcomed proof of scientific meddling as of late with recent wind-driven fire tests; and advances in PPE and the forthcoming low-profile SCBA, et al., everyone is dying to get…literally.

The aforementioned advances and variables of my renaissance are empirically researched and developed to allow us to adhere to our mission in a safer fashion. And yes, they are advances that protect and aid us while we are inside fire buildings adhering to said mission. As another aside, didn't we used to call departments that used new tools and equipment with incumbent tactics as “progressive.” Let’s really post-haste and get them into the hands (the ones that will be left after the recession) of Firefighters who could give a rats about renaissances so they can do their job safer. Now that’s a great transition between ‘medieval’ and modern times that we can all agree with.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Ramp Strikes, Mom's Name, and Survival

I blogged this over at All Hazards Contemplations earlier this evening...

Although I love to read, I haven't had much reading time lately. Work and completing the edits of my chapter in Jones & Bartlett's new Fundamentals of Technical Rescue has taken up most of my spare time. I have been able to complete a book I have wanted to read for a long time recently, Deep Survival by Laurance Gonzales.
Gonzales' work is an excellent study in what it takes to survive extreme situations. He discusses several high-profile and not-so-high-profile incidents in which some people lived, some died, and the reasons for each. His research also includes an astonishing view into brain chemistry, how our brains are wired, and why people make some of the decisions we do under stress.
Some of his research led him to the pilot's ready room on a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier where pilots were preparing for night landings. In case you're not familiar, night carrier landings are so dangerous and stressful that physiological studies show that the pilots are actually more stressed during the carrier landings than in combat. In the pre-flight briefing, the squadron commander tells the pilots "If you're a quarter of a mile out and I ask you your mother's name, YOU DON'T KNOW!" He went on to say that the pilots are so focused that they effectively lose 1/2 of their IQ...the half that's not necessary to land the plane.

The commander later told Gonazlez that one of the primary loss-of-focus accidents in carrier landings is the "Ramp Strike". These are devastating accidents where the pilot focuses so strongly on getting to a safe place - the flight deck - that he loses focus on the steps it takes to get to safety - actually flying the plane in the correct pattern. Ramp strikes generally kill the pilot and other carrier crew members, destroy planes worth several million dollars per copy, and cause major damage to one of our most expensive strategic weapons systems. That's a bad outcome from an event that - although dangerous - our Navy pilots perform safely dozens of times per day.
Gonzales also relates the Mt. Hood climbing accident where one team fell into another and both teams ended up with dead team members and others seriously injured. The second team was involved because they looked up at the team climbing a ridge above them and didn't realize that they were directly in that team's fall line. Gonzales illustrated this by making the same climb himself. When the guide asked him "Which way is down", Gonzales pointed down the ridge to the starting point at the lodge, even though a dropped ice axe - or falling climber - would fall off the side of the ridge, not down the edge of the ridge toward the lodge. He then realized that he'd made a basic orientation mistake - pointing toward percieved safety instead of really assessing his surroundings.

The message - staying oriented is important. When starting search rope training, I've had firefighters tell me "That's so old school. Groping around in smoke is silly - just use a Thermal Imager."

My response is that "The Thermal Imager gets you in to the seat of the fire or to the victim, but it doesn't get you out." The search rope system helps prevent disorientation and it helps you re-orient if you become disoriented. If you don't have a hoseline, anchor a search rope and stay hooked up to it. If you get disoriented, you have two choices - either spend air, effort, and time in a self-rescue or staying put, calling a Mayday, and hoping that RIT gets you before the fire and smoke do. Staying oriented and maintaining a positive connection to the exterior gives you a much better chance of self-rescuing.

A large component of personal survival is mental - both pre-event and during it. The pre-event decision is about doing a thorough, focused size-up and risk-benefit analysis, and taking only calculated risks. The during-event mental focus is to trust the survival system you put in place during the event. Being able to synthesize survival techniques from other professions can help us analyze our mistakes and avoid making them again. As my friend Mick Mayers says, "There are a lot of lessons we can learn from the military". I'd add that there are also lessons to be learned from mountain and river guides, airline pilots, wilderness survival experts, and others who are in the daily business -as we are - of surviving in dangerous places.

The lesson here is to assess your surroundings, have pre-event survival systems in place, control your emotions, and avoid erroneous perceptions of exactly how to get to a safe place.

And...if you call a Mayday, and I ask you your mother's name, YOU DON'T KNOW!

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Tactical Renaissance

My most recent post that stated and advocated that fire suppression tactics must be adjusted for the rapidly changing methods and materials impacting all forms of building construction, occupancies and structures. The need to redefine the art and science of firefighting is nearly upon us. HERE

A common theme has been evident here at FRI in Dallas related towards the continued identified need for the fire service to begin what I call a Tactical Renaissance. I discussed what defines and identifies the attributes and suggested what needs to be instituted earlier in the week at FRI.

One thing is not only clearly self-evident throughout common themes this past week, but also resonates through direct discussions with various Executive Chief Officers, Field Operations Commanding Officers and Training Officers. They all agree that the fire service needs to do something-and soon in redefining our strategies, tactics and way of doing business in the streets.

What do you think?
How would you define a Tactical Renaissance, and what would it entail?

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Winds of Change, from the Floor of FRI

Fire suppression tactics must be adjusted for the rapidly changing methods and materials impacting all forms of building construction, occupancies and structures. The need to redefine the art and science of firefighting is nearly upon us.

Some things do stand the test of time, others need to adjust, evolve and change.

Not for the sake of change only, but for the emerging and evolving buildings, structures and occupancies being built, developed or renovated in our communities. he fire service is beginning to fully recognize the merits in adjusting, altering, and changing our strategic and tactical ways of doing business in the streets.

  • The traditional attitudes and beliefs of equating aggressive firefighting operations in all occupancy types coupled with the correlating, established and pragmatic operational strategies and tactics MUST not only be questioned, they need to be adjusted and modified;

  • Risk assessment, risk-benefit analysis, safety and survivability profiling, operational value and firefighter injury and LODD reduction must be further institutionalized to become a recognized part of modern firefighting operations.

FRI 2009 Coverage

FRI 2009 is underway in Dallas, with Chief Kelvin Cochran having just been sworn in as U.S. Fire Administrator.

FireRescue1 Senior Editor Jamie is at the show and twittering about it at Follow @FireRescue1 or just check the widget in the sidebar here on The Kitchen Table.

Fellow TKTers including Rich Gasaway and Christopher Naum are also at the show. If you're attending, visit the FR1 team at booth #4714, and let us know what your plans in the comments.

Photos of the opening events are online here:, and full FR1 coverage of FRI 2009 is here:

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

What You Need To Know About Buffalo

Firefighting is rarely easy. It's not a sterile profession meaning it doesn't operate in a lab, in engineered drawings nor is it a "clean" profession. Instead firefighting operations are dynamic, dirty and full of risk. Try though some might you cannot reduce the profession to mere theory.

In Buffalo, New York Chip McCarthy and Jonathon Croom were operating at a fire in a two story structure. A catastrophic collapse occurred plunging Chip into the basement. Croom went in on the mayday and both men perished.

Buffalo is grieving as are the families, members of the department and fire service members around the globe. Loss of life is never easy nor should it be for it is life firefighters try to protect even when they are in great peril.

There are many things being written and said about the fire in Buffalo. The vast majority is positive because firefighters understand the depth of loss. Still, as is the norm, others see it as a time to begin to offer up their own ideas which is fine because we all have that right. However, having the right and being right are different.

Here's the Buffalo fire in a nutshell. Two men, both fathers, were doing their jobs when a tragedy occurred. They could have chosen not to go to increase their chances of survival. Both men could have chosen different departments, some running far less than Buffalo. But, like so many before them, McCarthy and Croom responded to provide "service" because it is the fire service.

The bottom line is two firefighters were killed operating at a fire. Let's remember them for their sacrifice. Theory can wait because sometimes the human condition is vastly more important. This is one of those times.

The Job: Doing the Right Thing, At the Right Time, for the Right Reasons

On Monday August 24th, two Buffalo (NY) Firefighters sustained injuries and died in the line-of-duty (LODD) during the conduct of operations at a two-story Type III (brick and joist) commercial occupancy in Buffalo, New York. The 911 call reported someone may be trapped inside the 1815 Genesee Street occupancy just before 4:00 hours. (more HERE and HERE)

Arriving companies reported a working fire in the basement. Lt. Charles "Chip" McCarthy of Rescue Company 1 was conducting search and rescue operations, when the number one floor collapsed, plunging him into the basement. Firefighter Jonathan Croom of Ladder Company 7 entered the building to search for Lt. McCarthy in response to the Mayday call. The mayday was called a little more than a half-hour into the incident. At about 4:09 AM, Command gave the following report:

“Twenty minutes into 1815 Genesee Street. Two-story ordinary. We are now operating three, inch and three quarter lines. We are doing an aggressive interior search. We still have a report of civilians trapped. We believe they may be in the basement. We are going to hold everybody we have including the two and one.”

Command soon asks for the balance of the second alarm. According to published reports and radio communication transcripts, companies reported difficulty getting into a basement door and deteriorating conditions on the number one floor. Genesee Street Command reported at the thirty-minute mark:

“Thirty minutes into 1815 Genesee Street. Still continuing to operate all hands. We will continue to hold the second alarm.” ( MP3 Communications, HERE)

There’s been a lot of talk of recent regarding the fire service cultural divides. We should take a moment to pause and reflect on the job of firefighting in light of the Buffalo LODD’s and refocus and recognize the job of firefighting has inherent risks, and the job requires us to; Do the Right Thing, at the Right Time, for the Right Reasons.

Lt. Chip McCarthy and Firefighter Jonathan Croom were doing the right thing, when deployed on the primary search and rescue assignment on the first-due, and the subsequent search and rescue on the RIT/mayday assignment. Their sacrifice in the line-of-duty, reflects the honor, courage, protection, fortitude and duty of the fire service.

Operations at buildings of Ordinary and Heavy Timber construction require a clear understanding of their inherent structural features and conditions, and a firm knowledge of structural degradation and compromise resulting from fire suppression operations. Firefighter safety and operational integrity is contingent upon knowing how these buildings perform and may be impacted by structure fires within their occupancies. More information and support training materials HERE and HERE. Remember; Building Knowledge = Firefighter Safety.

Saturday, August 22, 2009



The built-environments that form and shape our response districts and communities pose unique challenges to the day-to-day responses of fire departments and their subsequent operations during combat structural fire engagement. With the variety of occupancies and building characteristics present, there are definable degrees of risk potential with recognizable strategic and tactical measures that must be taken.

Although each occupancy type presents variables that dictate how a particular incident is handled, most company operations evolve from basic strategic and tactical principles rooted in past performance and operations at similar structures. This basis is based upon Predictability of Performance.

• Modern building construction is no longer predictable
• Command & company officer technical knowledge may be diminished or deficient
• Technological Advancements in construction and materials have exceeded conventional fire suppression practices
• Some fire suppression tactics are faulted or inappropriate, requiring innovative models and methods.
• Fire Dynamics and Fire Behavior is not considered during fireground size-up and assessment
• Risk Management is either not practiced or willfully ignored during most incident operations
• Some departments or officers show and indifference to safety and risk management
• Command & Company Officer dereliction
• Nothing is going to happen to me (us)
Continue Reading Predictability

Situation Awareness related to Building Construction, Command Risk Management and Firefighter Safety is another mission critical element. Situation Awareness (SA) is the perception of environmental elements within a volume of time and space, the comprehension of their meaning, and the projection of their status in the near future. It is also a field of study concerned with perception of the environment critical to decision-makers in complex, dynamic situations and incidents.

Both the 2006 and 2007 Firefighter Near-Miss Reporting System Annual Reports identified a lack of situational awareness as the highest contributing factor to near misses reported.• Situation Awareness involves being aware of what is happening around you at an incident scene to understand how information, events, and your own actions will impact operational goals and incident objectives, both now and in the near future.

Command and company officers and firefighters MUST understand the building, the occupancy features and the inherent impact of fire within and on the structure, AND be able to identify, communicate and take actions necessary to support the incident action and battle plans, mitigate incident conditions and provide for continuous safety protection to themselves, their team, their company and the entire alarm assignment operating at the incident scene.

If you're in Dallas this coming week for the IAFC Fire Rescue Conference, I'll be presenting two programs: Structural Anatomy; Building Construction for the Command and Company Officer and Dynamic Risk Assessment of Occupancies for Combat Engagement. Stop by, or catch me in the street during the week, you can't miss me. In addition, stop in at the IAFC Safety, Health and Survival Section meeting on Friday August 21 to hear the latest on FF SH&S issues.

Check back here at TKT for updates from the IAFC Conference floor and from my reports on Twitter: and

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Structural Anatomy; Operational Safety at Deconstruction & Demolition Sites

Remembrance: Deutsche Bank Fire and Double FDNY LODD in lower Manhattan, NYC- August 18, 2007

Structural Anatomy; Operational Safety at Deconstruction & Demolition Sites

Fire operations for structures undergoing construction, alterations, deconstruction, demolition and renovations present significant risks and danger to operating personnel. This reality was clearly validated when two FDNY firefighters died in the line-of-duty during a seven-alarm fire that tore through the abandoned Deutsche Bank skyscraper in lower Manhattan, next to ground zero in New York City on Saturday August 18, 2007.

The Deutsche Bank Building located at 130 Liberty Street adjacent to the quarters of FDNY Engine 10, Ladder 10, was once a 40-story high-rise structure that had been systematically reduced to 26-stories at the time of the fire. Significant building contamination from numerous toxic substances that included asbestos and lead resulting from the destruction of the World Trade Center during the September 11th attacks required the deliberate floor-by-floor dismantling effort as part of the deconstruction process that would ultimately remove the building from its present site.

The two FDNY firefighter fatalities were Fr. Joseph Graffagnino, an eight year veteran and Fr. Robert Beddia a twenty-three year veteran, both assigned to Engine 24 and Ladder 5 in SoHo. The seven alarm fire was being worked with a contingent of over 275 firefighters when the pair became trapped on the 14th floor of the building after being overcome by blinding concentrations of dense smoke after their air supply was depleted during the course of combat fire suppression operations.

Its these types of unique and dangerous elements confronting incident commanders, company officers and operating forces that demands a clear understanding that fire suppression operations in buildings during construction, alterations, deconstruction, demolition and renovations present significant risks and consequences that require a methodical and conservative approach towards incident stabilization and mitigation.

You cannot implement conventional tactical operations in these structures. Doing so jeopardizes all operating personnel and creates unbalanced risk management profiles that are typically not favorable to the safety and wellbeing of firefighters. For more information on Operational Safety at Deconstruction & Demolition Sites, go HERE and HERE

Operational Safety at Deconstruction & Demolition Sites Power Point program download, HERE

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Structural Stability of Engineered Systems: What do you really know?

I recently posed some questions related to Engineered Structural Assemblies & Systems (ESS) and asked if you knew what they represent and how these components, assemblies and systems may affect or influence incident operations. In addition, I asked you to do some research and check the terms that were presented for starters. OK, its examination day…Did anyone do any basis research yet? Did you ID the terms? (…I can hear those crickets chirping).

In preparation for a program presentation at IAFC FRI in Dallas the end of this month on Building Construction, specifically aimed for Command and Company Officers, it occurred to me that many personnel have not taken advantage of an exceptional resource tool available to them (FREE) thru the Underwriters Laboratory (UL) Online University (HERE), where they offer over 1500 courses, many of which have direct interest to the Fire Service.

One program of note is the Structural Stability of Engineered Lumber in Fire Conditions, online CBT. This two-hour presentation summarizes a research study on the hazards posed to firefighters by the use of lightweight construction and engineered lumber in floor and roof designs. The program provides comparative test results related to legacy (conventional) versus modern engineered construction systems. The operative insights that I want to draw your attention to are the opportunities to gain mission critical insights on time to collapse timelines, as well as operational limitations and readings related to thermal imaging devices while working above fire involved floor or roof areas.

Pay particular attention to the time-to-collapse sequences and times; consider these in you IAP and tactical deployment. The tests also provides indicators that floor or roof assembly deflection (give or bounce), which has been a universal tactic as an possible indication of imminent collapse, may actually not be a reliable indicator, with some floor assembly tests having a deflection of less than 3/4” immediately before structural failure. Add to this carpeting or lightweight concrete coatings, top-side surface temperature (TIC readings) may change little even as the structural integrity of the support system is rapidly diminished below.

You do not have the buffer of allotted operational time that you might have presumed. These faulted assumptions may have catastrophic consequences. In my lecture series Buildingsonfire: Engineered Structural Systems & Fireground Operations, as I've traveled around the country presenting these programs, common themes prevail from coast to coast; the fire service assumes it has more operational time than is actually present before a collapse will occur, that the collapse will be isolated and survivable, that RIT will prevail in a successful outcome and that there is an inadequate knowledge base of understanding of ESS, legacy/conventional construction and the relationships of command risk managment and tactical operations by commanding officers.

I would encourage you to invest some time in taking this program and gaining a fresh view of Engineered Structural Assemblies & Systems (ESS) and how these emerging test results and data may influence your field operations the next time you’re in the street confronted with fire suppression operations in an occupancy with suspected or known ESS.

For those of you attending the IAFC FRI in Dallas, here are a couple of programs worth looking at (there are many more..), HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE and HERE.

Remember, Building Knowledge = Firefighter Safety.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Let Us Now Praise Firefighters

The facts are out on the table for all to see. This is the fire service, a place where men and women knowingly go in harms way in order to protect people and property from destruction. There are no guarantees about a particular tour and how it may work out.

Safety is always a component of fire ground operations and if not the department operating should be held accountable. However, with this in mind, it serves no useful purpose to try to build a cockpit voice recorder around a firefighter. The black box isn't available.

There must be a marriage of the tactical and practical, with safety in mind, but with an understanding of the realities of fire ground operations. From the benefit of a computer simulation or 20 working fires a year many people assume firefighting can be turned into a sterile environment. This is absurd.

Utilizing risk benefit analysis and crew resource management aggressive interior attacks are still the way to prevent death and injury. When an interior attack is not warranted defensive operations are called for but make no mistake - firefighting is dangerous.

The author recalls studies done in the 1980's on how to prevent combat deaths on the battlefield. Some advocated the position that in the 21st century soldiers wouldn't be dying because military commanders were adopting new ideas.

What they failed to realize, sitting in the think tanks that dot the beltway, was that there is always a risk. It's the same in the fire service. People want to make a hero out of the safety manager and a demon out of the firefighter who goes in harms way.

Both have a role and they must be combined. It's the same of humanity as it is civilizations - if you take no risk you will see no gain.

Stay Safe.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

The Consciences Observer or Activist

The Consciences Observer or Activist. So… the operative question this Sunday morning is this: What did you do on your last alarm response related to operational safety and enhanced situational awareness? Do you: participate in, contribute, join in, share, lead, promote, instruct, present, facilitate, help, assist, aid, or neglect, disregard, undermine, abuse, challenge, demoralize, undercut, damage, torpedo, circumvent, or avoid?

Taking it to the Streets
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 . 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 an apparent “culture of extinguishment” and the suggested and inaccurately described “diametrically opposing” fire service safety culture promoted by those on the “Dark Side”
  • Are you an active participant, engaged and contributing towards safety operational parameters of our profession or are you the consciences observer, passively or aggressively sitting on the sidelines of the apparatus floor? Campaigner or militant; advocate or protester? Where do you stand?
  • I began this discussion today with one distinct, poignant contemplation and value; Do YOU have the Courage to be Safe?
  • The resonating theme that challenged all of us and carried the banner of Safety during this year’s Safety week was; Protect Yourself: Your Safety, Health and Survival Are Your Responsibility.
  • YOUR Responsibility-Not someone else’s, but your; responsibility, task, job, duty, charge, accountability conscientiousness, and obligation.
  • 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 may be in or out of our direct control. We may not be able to see what the cards have in store for us, BUT we must ensure we use every fragment of training, fortitude, knowledge, skills, courage, bravery, insights, luck and sometimes (other divine) intervention to get us through.

We must have the fortitude and courage to be both safety conscious and measured in the performance of our sworn duties while maintaining the appropriate balance of risk and bravery.The demands and requirements of modern firefighting will continue to require the placement of personnel within situations and buildings that carry risk, uncertainty and inherent danger. As a result, risk management must become fluid and integrate all personnel.

We must manage dynamic risks with a balanced approach of effective assessment, analysis and probability within command decision making that results in safety conscious strategies and tactics.

Stop and reflect today, where do you stand? What are your true beliefs and convictions in regards to the developing safety culture that is being forged and institutionalized within our fire service? Are your professing one thing, but implementing or allowing another circumstance?

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Fourteen Minutes to Mayday

Fourteen Minutes to Mayday
On April 04, 2008, a 37-year-old female career captain and a 29-year-old male part-time fire fighter were fatally injured when a section of floor collapsed and trapped them in the basement during a fire at a residential structure. At 0611 hours, an automatic alarm dispatched the fire department. Dispatch upgraded the alarm to a working structure fire 9 minutes later. At 0623 hours, the victims’ engine was the first to arrive on scene. The homeowner met the engine crew and stated that the fire was in the basement and everyone was out.

With moderate smoke showing, the captain and the fire fighter donned their self-contained breathing apparatus and entered the residence through the opened front door with a 1¾” hoseline. A second fire fighter joined the captain and fire fighter at the basement stairs doorway. After the captain called for water several times, the line was charged and both fire fighters took the hoseline to the bottom of the stairs but needed additional hoseline to advance. The second fire fighter went back up the stairs to pull more hose at the front door. As he returned to the basement stairway, he saw the captain at the top of the stairs, trying to use her radio and telling him to get out. A captain from the second arriving engine noticed the smoke getting black, heavy, and pushing out the front door and requested the incident commander (IC) to evacuate the interior crew.

The second fire fighter exited the structure alone. The IC made several attempts to contact the interior crew with no response. At 0637 hours, the IC sent out a “Mayday.” A rapid intervention team was activated and followed the hoseline through the front door and down to the basement. Returning to the first floor, they noticed a collapsed section of floor and went to investigate the debris in that area of the basement.

At 0708 hours, the captain was found near a corner of the basement. At 0729 hours, after removing debris from around the captain, the other fire fighter was located underneath her and some additional debris. Both victims were pronounced dead at the scene.

Key contributing factors identified included;
  • the initial 360-degree size-up was incomplete,
  • likely disorientation of victims effecting key survival skills,
  • radio communication problems,
  • well-involved basement fire before the department’s arrival, and
  • potential fire growth from natural gas utilities.
Spend some time today discussing operational issues affecting tactical deployment for basement fires, or fires in areas with limited access and initial operations above the fire. Think about fire dynamics, fire behavior, building construction; features and systms, structural stability and the 360 Assessment.

Take the time to conduct an appropriate 360 degree risk assessement of a structure and perform the necessary structural triage of the occupancy, assess the observations and communications and integrate these into a safe and well define incident action plans (IAP), that also take into account the dynamics of the evolving incident, time considerations and situational awareness.

Aditional References; HERE , HERE and HERE

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Getting Familiar with Unfamiliar Dirt

This is from rom my All Hazards Contemplations blog...after a delay of a week that was spent getting ready for the grand opening of our Training Center and drill tower, shown below.

I recently spent a week on vacation that included a lot of reading on the beach. I was able to complete a six-book series, the Corean Chronicles by L.E. Modsitt, Jr... an excellent read if you're into the genre. In one of the books, a group of soldiers is deployed to an area with which none of them are familiar. They're tired from traveling and just want to set up camp and relax, but their officer immediately sends out patrols. They complain, but the officer tells the soldiers that they need to "Get familiar with the unfamiliar dirt" where they're operating in order to prevent any nasty surprises from the enemy.

Frank Brannigan always told firefighters that buildings were our enemy, and to "Know Your Enemy". Driving around a beachfront town that I hadn't visited in several years reminded me that there was a lot of unfamiliar dirt there.

That unfamiliar dirt had a lot of unfamiliar buildings on it. How will getting familiar with unfamiliar dirt help firefighters? It helps us learn how to gain access to places we may never have been, it helps us learn occupancy-specific hazards, and it helps us plan firefights in places that aren't directly conntected to the dirt. Not all unfamiliar dirt is this easy...

Some firefighters don't like to spend time on the dirt at the Training Center. The places you train are built on some very important dirt. I spent four hours on this dirt yesterday (Sunday) with several companies of very dedicated firefighters. So did two other chief officers, one of whom was off duty at the time.

Some of your dirt has structures containing bad things like hazardous materials containers...

...or hazardous materials processing.

The dirt may be open and inviting on Side A. No matter how familiar you are with Side A, if you have to bail out the Side C door of this occupancy, you're in trouble.

How about this dirt? Which Side C door connects to which strip mall occupancy?How well will the cantilivered awning hold up if fire attacks the interior anchors?If you need to force entry on Side C, will basic engine tools get you through the fortified doors, or will you need the additional power carried by a ladder or rescue company?

Is some of the structure built a long way above the dirt?How will you access the upper floors of this structure...especially if the 1st due is a single-station volunteer fire department? Are there fire protection systems to help you keep this building from becoming part of the dirt?

Does the structure extend horizontally away from the dirt? Do you have a way to handle emergencies in places that are not readily accessible from the dirt?

Are some of the structures on the dirt crammed tightly together? Can you safely walk between the fire building and an adjacent exposure, or is there a chance that you'll be trapped or burned if part of the fire structure collapses or autovents while you're walking the 4-foot wide dirt between the buildings?

Does the dirt include an antique building modified into apartments over an industrial occupancy with no fire protection systems?

The officer in the Corean Chronicles had an important teaching point for the fire service...learn the unfamiliar dirt to which you're first that you don't get familiar with this kind of unfamiliar dirt...

Oh, for the love of technology.

I love technology. I hate technology. Technology has made my life easier. Technology has made my life a nightmare. Technology has freed up so much of my time. Technology consumes so much of my time. How could something be so good… and yet so bad? So enjoyable… yet so despicable? Such an asset… and at the same time a great liability? One of my favorite topics to rant about is talking on the cell phone while driving. But, that'll have to wait for another day.

Today's topic... is text messaging. It’s a wonderful way to confirm a meeting or to let someone know you’re running late. But it is an absolutely horrid way to carry on a conversation unless you’re bored and have nothing better to do with our time. It would be rare that I would find myself in that predicament.

So here’s my rule: If the entire conversation cannot be completed in six text messages or less (and that is both sent and received) then find another medium to conduct the conversation (phone, e-mail, send a letter, whatever).

I realize there are people who are very articulate at using a keyboard the size of a matchbook. I’m not one of them. I realize there are people who know and use shortcuts to hundreds of words in the English language. I’m not one of them. I mean I’m not totally illiterate. I know my OMGs from my LOLs. But with all due respect, if you’re really laughing out loud, call me. I enjoy hearing other people laugh and it will probably make me laugh too.
If you find yourself being compelled to text message, I would encourage you… no… implore you… to apply some common courtesy and ask the person you are sending the message to if it’s a good time to chat before you just assume they’re doing nothing more important than waiting around for your text message to arrive. Rare is the moment in my day when I have nothing to do and I’m thinking to myself “boy, I’m bored and I wish someone would text message me.” The simple courtesy of asking permission to chat would go a long way. GT? My shortcut for “is this a Good Time to talk? If so, reply. If not, contact me later.” It’s cleaner than ITAGTTT?ISR.INCML.

The same communications etiquette should be extended when you call someone on the telephone. If you call someone who is not expecting your call, begin your conversation with “Did I catch you at a good time.” Or, “Is this a good time to talk.” Those who are really conscientious will even let the person know how much time they’ll need and the topic to be discussed. “Did I catch you at a good time to have a ten minute discussion about the training issue that came up in the meeting last night?” Then watch the time and be courteous enough to say “I’ve used up the time we’ve allotted” and arrange a time to call back if you need more of their time.

I don’t want to become the world’s etiquette police… I just want people to realize there are plenty of us out there who see technology as wonderful… and horrible… at the same time. TTYL.

The NEW Lexicon and Challenges

Engineered Structural Assemblies & Systems (ESS)
· THE Predominate Fire Service Challenge....
· The NEW Lexicon to add to your operational safety vocabulary and incident action plans...
· Do you know what they represent and how these components, assemblies and systems may affect or influence incident operations?
· Do some research and check these terms out for starters. We’ll talk more about these components and assemblies in the near future. So get busy on your down time today...

It's a Lot More than just talking about "Light Weight" Construction....

Ø From Plywood-CDX….to…
Ø Particle Board- PB
Ø Orient Strand Board-OSB
Ø Structural Composite Lumber- SCL
Ø Laminate Strand Lumber- LSL
Ø Laminate Veneer Lumber-LVL
Ø Structural Insulated Panels-SIP
Ø Parallel Strand Lumber-PSL
Ø Machine Stress Rated Lumber- MSR
Ø Medium Density Fiberboard-MDF and MDL (Lumber)
Ø Finger Jointed Lumber-FJL
Ø Adhesives…..

Take a look at an informative posting over at the Firegeezer, HERE. He has some great contributed information and manufacturer “insights” on the subject engineered wood I-joists and beams and firefighter safety. There are some interesting statistical extrapolations, correlations and conveniences’ that attempt to make the case. But then again, You be the judge. Take at look at the presentation developed by the American Forest and Paper Association, HERE and HERE.

We’ll have some more detailed follow-up on engineered systems information over at Taking it to the Streets. Remember, Building Knowledge = Firefighter Safety (Bk-F2S)

Don't forget to check out the free online training program on Structural Stability of Engineered Lumber in Fire Conditions at the UL University HERE

Other important Reference links:

NIOSH Publication No. 2009-114: Preventing Deaths and Injuries of Fire Fighters Working Above Fire-Damaged Floors HERE

NIOSH Publication No. 2005-132: Preventing Injuries and Deaths of Fire Fighters Due to Truss System Failures HERE

Volunteer Deputy Fire Chief Dies after Falling Through Floor Hole in Residential Structure during Fire Attack—Indiana, HERE

First-floor collapse during residential basement fire claims the life of two fire fighters (career and volunteer) and injures a career fire fighter captain - New York, Report HERE

Career Fire Fighter Dies After Falling Through the Floor Fighting a Structure Fire at a Local Residence - Ohio, HERE

Colerain Township, Ohio Double LODD Preliminary Report, HERE

Career engineer dies and fire fighter injured after falling through floor while conducting a primary search at a residential structure fire - Wisconsin, HERE

NFPA Report on Light Weight Construction, HERE

Monday, August 3, 2009

Derby, Conn., Can You Spare Five Dollars?

Photo: Valley Independent Sentinel
Derby Aldermen David Lenart talks about struss construction.
The city of Derby, Connecticut, is considering following in the footsteps of Greencastle, Ind. and New York by requiring stickers on new construction that identify whether buildings have engineered lumber and/or truss construction.

The Valley Independent Sentinel covers the proposed law in Derby, Can You Spare Five Dollars (To Save A Life)?. The article mentions the buzz the issue has received, and specifically mentions three articles:

- NFPA Journal: It’s not lightweight construction. It's what happens when lightweight construction meets fire.
- Understanding the Dangers of Lightweight Truss Construction (full article requires subscription)
- The Kitchen Table: Enhancing Firefighter Safety: One Step at a Time, by our own Christopher Naum!

Way to help spread the word and, hopefully, the action to go with it.

Cash For Our Clunker….err….Treasured Antique

This past weekend, my wife and I had an opportunity to participate in the latest national rage – the Cash for Clunker program. First, I want to thank all of you responsible tax payers for helping us get rid of our son’s ’99 Ford Ranger. Your donation to the cause is greatly appreciated!

The vehicle was actually bought by us for our son when he was in high school (still registered to my wife). He has had it now for seven years and it is starting to go down the tubes a bit with maintenance and other assorted safety issues. So, we came up with the brilliant idea of trading the Ranger in, giving him my wife’s ’03 Civic, and buying my wife a brand new Accord. A win-win for all involved!

The son was very excited by this prospect and eagerly endorsed the move. Next, we run by the dealership (after some research on that our family has bought our last four cars from and quickly consummate a fair deal. At this point, a call is placed to have Joe bring the truck by so that we can trade it in and move forward. My wife called him and after hanging up noted that she felt like he was not as enthused as he was the previous day.

Upon arrival, Joe did appear somewhat melancholy and starting reminiscing about all he had been through with his truck. He had one other family owned vehicle that lasted less than a year so this was truly his first vehicle. Joe was actually sad he was saying goodbye to his “friend” even though he knew he was getting a better car at an even better price (read FREE). He was even more distressed to learn that they were just going to destroy the vehicle!

Funny, but his reaction brought back memories for me and I started reminiscing about my first vehicle (a Ford Pinto – STOP LAUGHING). I even hit upon a couple of past vehicles that did hold some fond memories. Bottom line, I knew exactly where he was coming from and why he was feeling the way he did. In some regard, he was officially saying goodbye to one of the last vestiges of his childhood/young adult hood. He was truly saying goodbye to an old friend that had been with him through both good and bad times. Joe even appeared offended when the Ranger was referred to as a “clunker.”

What started out as good riddance to an old “clunker” ended up being somewhat of a funeral for an old friend. RIP to our treasured Ford Ranger antique!

Risk-Preferring and Self-Indulging Firefighting

I had the privilege to spend some time recently with a tremendous group of knowledgeable and dedicated command and company officers at the 2009 Arizona Fire Service Leadership Conference hosted by the Arizona Fire Chief’s Association in Glendale, Arizona. Chief Ron Dennis, the Executive Director of the AFCA did a wonderful job of planning and facilitating a rich and rewarding program of presentations by some of the fire service’s foremost leaders that included Chief Charlie Dickinson, Deputy Administrator, USFA, (ret), Chief Dennis Rubin, Chief Jeff Johnson, Chief Alan Brunacini (ret), Chief Rich Marinucci, Chief Greg Cade (ret), Howard Cross, Chief Kevin Brame and Chief Bill Jenaway to name a few.

I had the opportunity to present a thought provoking program addressing current trends in Building Construction, and the impact and influence on Command Risk Management and Firefighter Safety. An interesting discussion prevailed during one segment of the presentation that I’d like to share with you. While on shift today or at the station this evening or during the week, think about the following and where and how you fit into the big scheme of things. Explore and discuss the ramifications of risk-preferring and self-indulging firefighting. There’s more here than meet's the eye, IF you look hard enough.

Risk-Preferring and Self-indulging Firefighting
Don't mistake determined, effective and proactive firefighting with that of reckless, baseless and risk-preferring and self-indulging firefighting. There is a difference, a big difference! When we address relationships of Building Construction, Command Risk Management and FireFighter Safety with the occupancy and structural environment, all personnel, regardless of rank, need to equate the occupancy risk with strategic and tactical incident action plans.

These safely compliment the identified firefighting operation risk, with the projected building risk profile and interface appropriate behavioral characteristics in the task level firefighting activities. Again, equating building, occupancy risk profiles with determined, effective and proactive firefighting.

The traditional attitudes and beliefs of equating aggressive firefighting operations in all occupancy types coupled with the correlating, established and pragmatic operational strategies and tactics MUST not only be questioned, they need to be adjusted and modified; risk assessment, risk-benefit analysis, safety and survivability profiling, operational value and firefighter injury and LODD reduction must be further institutionalized to become a recognized part of modern firefighting operations.

It's no longer just brute force and sheer physical determination that define structural fire suppression operations. Aggressive firefighting must be redefined and aligned to the built environment and associated with goal oriented tactical operations that are defined by risk assessed and analyzed tasks that are executed under battle plans that promote the best in safety practices and survivability within know hostile structural fire environments. Consider the following definitions as they relate to defining structural combat fire suppression operations.

Aggressive and Measured Approach
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…

You be the judge as to what should be appropriately defining interior fire suppression operations.

It's all about understanding the building-occupancy relationships and integrating; construction, occupancies, fire dynamics and fire behavior, risk, analysis, the art and science of firefighting, safety conscious work environment concepts and effective and well-informed incident command management. This is what it's going to take to truly provide a means for "everyone to go home". It’s Occupancy Risk not Occupancy Type. Many of today's incident commanders, company officers and firefighters lack the clarity of understanding and comprehension that correlate to the inherent characteristics of today's buildings, construction and occupancies. We assume that the routiness of our operations and incident responses equates with predictability and diminished risk to our firefighting personnel.
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