Monday, October 26, 2009

Effective Battle Plans & Performance

The following are quotes from Fire Chief Anthony Aiellos (ret) Hackensack (NJ) Fire Department, Fire Chief during the Hackensack Ford Fire, July, 1988...

"If you don't fully understand how a building truly performs or reacts under fire conditions and the variables that can influence its stability and degradation, movement of fire and products of combustion and the resource requirements for fire suppression in terms of staffing, apparatus and required fire flows, then you will be functioning and operating in a reactionary manner."

"This places higher risk to your personnel and lessens the likelihood for effective, efficient and safe operations. You're just not doing your job effectively and you're at RISK. These risks can equate into insurmountable operational challenges and could lead to adverse incident outcomes. Someone could get hurt, someone could die, it's that simple, it's that obvious."

Risk Based Response Assignments
The buildings, structures and occupancies that comprise typical response districts pose unique and consistent challenges during structural fire attack. The variety of occupancies and building characteristics establish varying degrees of risk potential, with defined and recognizable strategic and tactical measures to be taken-sometimes uniquely to each occupancy type. Although each occupancy type presents variables that dictate how a particular incident is handled, most company operations evolve from basic principles rooted in past performance and operations at similar structures. This is based on what I define as; "predictability of performance."

When we look at various buildings and occupancies, past operational experiences; those that were successful, and those that were not, give us experiences that define and determine how we access, react and expect similar structures and occupancies to perform at a given alarm in the future. Naturalistic (or recognition-primed) decision-making forms much of this basis. We predicate certain expectations that fire will travel in a defined (predictable) manner that fire will hold within a room and compartment for a given duration of time, that the fire load and related fire flows required will be appropriate for an expected size and severity of fire encountered within a given building, occupancy, structural system.

We used to know with a measured degree of predictability, how our buildings would perform, react and fail under most fire conditions. This is what our years of fireground experience provided us, and how we ultimately would predict, assess, plan and implement our incident action plans and ultimately deploy our companies-based upon the predictable performance expected. Conventional Construction Structures (CCS) had this "predictably of performance." You know, that typical residential structure, the 2-1/2 story wood frame, the three story brick and joist type III occupancy, the four story frame multiple occupancy, etc., etc.

Unlike Engineered System Structures (ESS) whose predictability is rooted in the fact that they are unpredictable.The emerging fire service issues affecting buildings, occupancies and structural systems related to ESS is only beginning to take hold a prominent role and level of significance that is long overdue. The fire service has been dealing with the operational issues and line-of-duty deaths related to ESS since the 1980s and now in 2009, we're finally raising these ESS issues to a dialog point that is influencing firefighter safety, survival and operations. ( Refer to the Underwriters Laboratory’s (UL) UL University on-line training module for a state-of-the art presentation on Structural Stability of Engineered Lumber in Fire Conditions and performance results that correlate towards redefining fire suppression operations)

The 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. It's becoming self evident in the fire service that it's no longer acceptable to think that ESS buildings and occupancies will perform in the same manner as CCS buildings and occupancies and that tactics deployed in both CCS and ESS buildings and occupancies will react under similar strategic and tactical plans and tasks. These unique and inherent factors within the ESS profiles must give us a new standard for operational deployment; strategies and tactics that are defined by the risk profile of the building, its engineered structural systems, materials and methods of construction and the fire loading present.

Considerations for changing fire flow rates, the sizing of hose line and the adequacies for fire flow demand and application rates, staffing needs for safe operations, considerations for defensive positioning and defensive operating postures must be considered, and it warrants repeating again; Reckless-Aggressive firefighting must be redefined in 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 environment- with determined, effective and proactive firefighting.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Northwest Flight 188

By now you have probably heard about Northwest flight 188. The flight’s destination was the Minneapolis-St. Paul International airport. However, for reasons that have yet to be revealed, the pilots remained at 37,000 feet and flew right past the airport. It took over an hour for them to realize what they had done and correct the error. Air traffic controllers were trying desperately and unsuccessfully to reach them. Military jets were put on standby. The White House was alerted. How could this happen?

Initial accounts say the pilots were engaged in a heated disagreement over airline policy. A subsequent report said the pilots may have been sleeping. The National Transportation Safety Board will sort all that out. What we do know is the pilots lost situation awareness and mistakes were made. How could this happen?

This incident may have left you surprised or angry. After all, you don’t want to think the very people you entrust your life to are not paying attention when they’re flying the plane. I look at it a little differently. For years I have immersed myself in the study of situation awareness in dynamic, high-risk, high consequence environments and corresponding research in neuroscience and cognitive psychology. Admittedly, it’s not the kind of reading that most of you would find enjoyable, but I do.

One of the things I have learned is there are barriers to situation awareness – stated simply – things that impact your ability to pay attention. In research I conducted with fireground commanders, I was able to identify 116 potential barriers to a fireground commander’s situation awareness. With so many potential barriers, you might wonder how commanders maintain situation awareness at an emergency scene.

Many times when a near-miss or catastrophic event occurs, a loss of situation awareness is among the culprits. That’s because it’s not as easy to pay attention as you think. In addition to the things that happen around you that can draw you off task, there are a number of things happening in your brain that work against you. From my research, I have developed a training program to help public safety personnel understand what situation awareness is, how to develop it, maintain it, and how to regain it when it’s lost. I have been humbled by the number of requests I have received to present the findings of my research to firefighters throughout the United States, Canada, and England. If you want to taste of the program, I’ve posted some clips on my website. I’ve also produced a DVD series and wrote a book on the subject. I am passionate about improving fireground command decision making and situation awareness.

Pilots lose their situation awareness, overshoot the airport, and it results in an investigation to understand what happened so the lessons can be applied industry-wide to help prevent a future occurrence. A fireground commander loses situation awareness, makes a bad decision that results in a near-miss, and what happens? What’s done to correct the problem? Educate? Change behavior? Share industry-wide?

Saturday, October 24, 2009

The Wrong Dragon....just look over your shoulder

I’ve commented with more than a few postings on the issues related to engineer building construction components and assemblies. I 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. I also presented some information on the pioneering efforts and quantitative results of the Underwriters Laboratory (UL) engineers and fire service representatives from the Chicago Fire Department, HERE and HERE.

If you’ve spent any amount of time reading through the NIOSH Fire Fighter Fatality Investigation and Prevention Program, LODD Reports or have invested time and effort to look through the data base of near miss reports and ROTW at the National Firefighter Near-Miss Reporting System, you’d recognize the magnitude of the issues and multi-faceted challenges confronting the U.S. Fire Services in the areas of engineered structural assemblies, components and building features.

Paul Comb’s editorial image provides a poignant and distressing reality that the fire service needs to come to terms with, addressing and implementing the necessary components that assimilating refined combat firefighting techniques and methodologies; that align with the risks and hazards presented by current and emerging construction techniques, materials and consumer lifestyles that comprise our buildings and occupancies. We need to start looking over our shoulders; we need redefined strategies and tactics for today's buildings and occupancies. When we do have the opportunity to engage in firefighting with the dragon; we may not recognize the dragon has changed, it has evolved. Yet we stand poised to engage or take-on the dragon with faulted incident operations, strategic plans and tactical intentions that provide less than adequate results.

In those situations where we are deficient or we achieved less than expected results, we continue to miss the apparent or root causes and fall back on perceived notions and excuses. Building Knowledge = Firefighter Safety; Understanding today’s building construction, fire dynamics, fire loading and behaviors and instituting appropriate firefighting methodologies, we can achieve safe and successful fireground operations. Remember, the Predictability of Performance and the combat firefighting based upon Occupancy Risk not Occupany Type.

Have you and your company, battalion or department discussed limiting factors, enhanced firefighting tactics or operational experiences related to engineered systems, past fires, observed new construction or renovations and what it all means to your assigned duties or company assignments?

  • Are you and your company adequately trained to address “modern” construction, occupancies and conditions or is a much bigger dragon lurking in the shadows?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Remembering One Meridian Plaza, 1991

Remembering the One Meridian Plaza High-rise Fire,1991

Ceremonies took place on Wednesday October 21 in Philadelphia, PA unvieling a memorial honoring PFD Fire Capt. David P. Holcombe, Firefighter Phyllis McAllister and Firefighter James A. Chappell who died in the line of duty while conducting operations at a high-rise fire in what is known as the One Meridian Plaza Fire which occurred on February 23, 1991.

A fire on the 22nd floor of the 38-story Meridian Bank Building, also known as One Meridian Plaza, was reported to the Philadelphia Fire Department on February 23, 1991 at approximately 2040 hours and burned for more than 19 hours.

· The fire caused three firefighter fatalities (LODD) and injuries to 24 firefighters.
· The 12-alarms brought 51 engine companies, 15 ladder companies, 11 specialized units, and over 300 firefighters to the scene.
· It was one of the largest high-rise office building fire in modern American history --completely consuming eight floors of the building --and was controlled only when it reached a floor that was protected by automatic sprinklers.
· The Fire Department arrived to find a well-developed fire on the 22nd floor, with fire dropping down to the 21st floor through a set of convenience stairs.
· Heavy smoke had already entered the stairways and the floors immediately above the 22nd.
· Fire attack was hampered by a complete failure of the building's electrical system and by inadequate water pressure, caused in part by improperly set pressure reducing valves on standpipe hose outlets.

The USFA published a technical report (USFA-TR-049) on the One Meridian Plaza fire that is still available for download from the USFA web site, HERE. The report clearly defined the need in 1991, for built-in fire protection systems and reiterated the fact that fire departments alone cannot expect or be expected to provide the level of fire protection that modem high-rises demand. That fire protection must be built-in to the structures. This was clearly illustrated in this event when the One Meridian Plaza fire was finally stopped when it reached a floor where automatic sprinklers had been installed.

One Meridian Plaza was a 38-story high-rise office building, located in the heart of downtown Philadelphia, in an area of high-rise and mid-rise structures. The building had three underground levels, 36 above ground occupiable floors, two mechanical floors (12 and 38), and two rooftop helipads. The building was rectangular in shape, approximately 243 feet in length by 92 feet in width (approximately 22,400 gross square feet), with roughly 17,000 net usable square feet per floor. Site work for construction began in 1968, and the building was completed and approved for occupancy in 1973.

Construction was classified by the Philadelphia Department of Licenses and Inspections as equivalent to BOCA Type 1B construction which requires 3-hour fire rated building columns, 2-hour fire rated horizontal beams and floor/ ceiling systems, and l-hour fire rated corridors and tenant separations. Shafts, including stairways, are required to be 2-hour fire rated construction, and roofs must have l-hour fire rated assemblies. The building frame was structural steel with concrete floors poured over metal decks.

All structural steel and floor assemblies were protected with spray-on fireproofing material. The exterior of the building was covered by granite curtain wall panels with glass windows attached to the perimeter floor girders and spandrels. The building utilized a central core design, although one side of the core is adjacent to the south exterior wall.

The core area was approximately 38 feet wide by 124 feet long and contained two stairways, four banks of elevators, two HVAC supply duct shafts, bathroom utility chases, and telephone and electrical risers.

· Origin and Cause: The fire started in a vacant 22nd floor office in a pile of linseed oil-soaked rags left by a contractor.
Fire Alarm System;The activation of a smoke detector on the 22nd floor was the first notice of a possible fire. Due to incomplete detector coverage, the fire was already well advanced before the detector was activated.
· Building Staff Response Building employees did not call the fire department when the alarm was activated. An employee investigating the alarm was trapped when the elevator opened on the fire floor and was rescued when personnel on the ground level activated the manual recall. The Fire Department was not called until the employee had been rescued.
· Alarm Monitoring Service The private service which monitors the fire alarm system did not call the Fire Department when the alarm was first activated. A call was made to the building to verify that they were aware of the alarm. The building personnel were already checking the alarm at that time.
· Electrical Systems Installation of the primary and secondary electrical power risers in a common unprotected enclosure resulted in a complete power failure when the fire-damaged conductors shorted to ground. The natural gas powered emergency generator also failed.
· Fire Barriers Unprotected penetrations in fire-resistance rated assemblies and the absence of fire dampers in ventilation shafts permitted fire and smoke to spread vertically and horizontally. · Ventilation openings in the stairway enclosures permitted smoke to migrate into the stairways, complicating firefighting.
· Unprotected openings in the enclosure walls of 22nd floor electrical closet permitted the fire to impinge on the primary and secondary electrical power risers.
· Standpipe System and Pressure Reducing Valves (PRVs): Improperly installed standpipe valves provided inadequate pressure for fire department hose streams using 1 3/ 4-inch hose and automatic fog nozzles. Pressure reducing valves were installed to limit standpipe outlet discharge pressures to safe levels. The PRVs were set too low to produce effective hose streams; tools and expertise to adjust the valve settings did not become available until too late.
· Locked Stairway Doors: For security reasons, stairway doors were locked to prevent reentry except on designated floors. (A building code variance had been granted to approve this arrangement.) This compelled firefighters to use forcible entry tactics to gain access from stairways to floor areas.
· Fire Department Pre-Fire Planning: Only limited pre-fire plan information was available to the Incident Commander. Building owners provided detailed plans as the fire progressed.
· Firefighter Fatalities: Three firefighters from Engine Company 11 died on the 28th floor when they became disoriented and ran out of air in their SCBAs.
· Exterior Fire Spread: "Autoexposure" Exterior vertical fire spread resulted when exterior windows failed. This was a primary means of fire spread.
· Structural Failures: Fire-resistance rated construction features, particularly floor-ceiling assemblies and shaft enclosures (including stair shafts), failed when exposed to continuous fire of unusual intensity and duration.
· Interior Fire Suppression Abandoned: After more than 11 hours of uncontrolled fire growth and spread, interior firefighting efforts were abandoned due to the risk of structural collapse.
· Automatic Sprinklers: The fire was eventually stopped when it reached the fully sprinklered 30th floor. Ten sprinkler heads activated at different points of fire penetration.
· The three firefighters who died were attempting to ventilate the center stair tower: They radioed a request for help stating that they were on the 30th floor. After extensive search and rescue efforts, their bodies were later found on the 28th floor. They had exhausted all of their air supply and could not escape to reach fresh air. At the time of their deaths, the 28th floor was not burning but had an extremely heavy smoke condition.
· After the loss of three personnel, hours of unsuccessful attack on the fire, with several floors simultaneously involved in fire, and a risk of structural collapse, the Incident Commander withdrew all personnel from the building due to the uncontrollable risk factors. The fire ultimately spread up to the 30th floor where it was stopped by ten automatic sprinklers.

Take the time to review this report and examine some of similar issues affecting the fire service today in the areas of staffing and resources, construction and materials, building codes, built-in fire suppression systems, training, pre-fire planning, fire load, fire dynamics and the current methodologies on wind-driven fire theory. Also take a look at the issues that affected operations at the 1988 Interstate Bank Fire in downtown Los Angeles, California.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Growing old is mandatory... maturing is optional.

Another debate brewing in the fire house – nothing new there. This time, it’s over an American flag decal displayed on the locker of a firefighter and the subsequent display of an inverted American flag on a firefighter’s hat. Lots of potential complex issues here, including potential claims of free speech infringements. I am not an attorney (I count that among my blessings) so I am not going to address the legal issues.

I acknowledge my opinions are based on limited information. I am confident the issues run much deeper than what has been reported on the websites. That said, I see this whole fiasco in much simpler terms – an example of the children not playing well in the sandbox. Someone needs a time-out.

Someone puts something up on their locker. Someone else doesn’t like it and files a complaint. Someone gets some time off. The chief (in this case… day care proprietor) deals with the problem by invoking a rule that requires everything to be removed from the front of all lockers. That seems an appropriate measure. If the children cannot play well, remove the source of the conflict. But one of the children doesn’t like the new rule implemented by the day care proprietor and defies the order, displaying an American flag on his locker. Apparently, he interpreted the chief’s order as meaning “Remove everything from the front of ALL lockers, except whatever you want to put up to stir controversy.”

The firefighter got into trouble. Duh! He got a day off work. So to protest the “unfair” treatment he received, he wears a hat at work that displays an inverted American flag – a symbol that is supposed to be reserved for imminent danger or imperilment. Apparently holding his breath and stomping his feet weren’t being effective.

Growing old is mandatory... maturing is optional. Unfortunately, some firefighters choose to pass on the option of maturing and when they do, their actions embarrass the firefighters who work so hard to set high standards of professionalism. As I stated at the beginning, I’m sure the issues run deeper than what appears on the surface. I appreciate that we all have differences in beliefs and we won’t always get along. However, when these differences play out in public forums, the entire profession suffers.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Houston's 10 Rules of Survival

I read where the Houston Fire Department implemented ’10 Rules of Survival’ in the aftermath of multiple line of duty death incidents. I think they are on the right track, so long as these rules become institutionalized and are reinforced in an effort to change their culture.

The one thing that was noticeably absent from the list was the need to conduct a risk-benefit assessment prior to committing firefighters to an interior attack. Part of the risk assessment means evaluating if the fire has began to consume the structural components of the building (e.g., rafters, joints, beams, studs, etc.). It is also essential to assess the speed at which the incident is moving. To accomplish this, the officer/commander must look at the fire’s progress in the context of the passage of time. Under stress, you can lose your perception of the passage of time (temporal distortion is the term for it). Paying attention to the passage of time (even if it is just seconds or a few minutes) and looking at how fast the fire is progressing and how quickly the smoke is building and moving helps you understand the speed of the fire and whether or not your resources (firefighters and water) can get ahead of it. There is a limit as to how fast your firefighters and your water can move and if the fire is moving faster, your firefighters will be overrun but it. It’s a pretty simple concept, but one that is so often overlooked in the size-up phase of the fire.

The second part of the risk-benefit assessment is determining the benefit of engaging firefighters in an interior structural attack. Now, before the comments start flying about wimps and sissies, I will go on the record that I am a proponent of aggressive attack. However, it cannot be blind aggression. It must be a calculated attack – assessing what is to be gained from it. Is there a savable life inside? For those who may not know, skin begins to melt at 160 degrees. Crawling through a super-heated, zero-visibility environment with the objective being “search and rescue” is a misnomer. In this environment, it would be “search and recovery.” Even if you were able to extract the body before death occurred, third degree burns over 80% of the body are not injuries compatible with life and the victim will succumb to their burns. To engage firefighters in the highest risk environments should be predicated on what benefit comes from that risk – and be realistic.

We are firefighters. We are in a risky business. However, we should not be taking excessive risks to save unsavable lives and unsavable property. Nor should we be engaging in firefights when our resources (firefighters and water) are outmatched by the volume and speed of the fire.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Vest-wearing sissies

I was recently reading a heated debate in a forum where tempers were flaring. I may not be able to do the topic justice but I’ll try to summarize. I would refer you to the site, but I do not condone the form of childish name calling that I observed. It’s embarrassing, not to mention completely unprofessional. We wonder why we suffer to obtain and maintain the support of our elected officials and general citizenry? Some contributors have lost sight of the fact that those forums can be read by anyone. Ok, on to the topic at hand.

The sparring parties in this debate were warring on the topic of aggressive fire attack strategies. On one side of the debate was those advocating for strong command and control of the incident where the incident management team is responsible for assignments and accountable for the actions on the incident scene. On the other side of the debate were those stumping for more independent action by firefighting crews, denouncing the need for “vest-wearing sissies.” The tone of the comment led me to believe the author was of the opinion that incident and sector commanders who don identifying vests in the process of managing their incidents are fearful of aggressive structural firefighting.

As I have been a student of human motivation for many, many years, I have come to understand that all motivation is spawned from two emotions – fear and desire. Everything we do (and say) comes from fear or desire. I have to wonder… those who behave this way in forums - ironically, almost always anonymously - what are they afraid of? Or, what is it they desire?

You think you know? Feel free to post your thoughts. I just ask that you keep your comments courteous and professional. Remember… everyone has access to the forums.

Commentary on Houston Fire Department's 10 Rules for Survival

The 10 Rules of Survival from FireRescue1

Seat belt – Use of Seat belts is mandatory any time the vehicle is in motion.

This is an excellent rule, it's part of the National Fallen Firefighter Foundation's 16 Firefighter Life Safety Initiatives, it's the reason that Dr. Burton Clark has the Seat Belt Pledge, and it should be an absolute for every firefighter, medic, and police officer.

Speed – Obey all traffic laws; obey all HFD policies; Do not bust red lights or intersections; Non-emergency response is acceptable. A more detailed version of basic emergency vehicle operations safety policies, and put in firefighter's language. My personal corrolary to this is "It is better to arrive on scene driving the speed limit than to get halfway there really fast."

PPE – Only HFD issued PPE; No extra layers for insulation; weakest part of PPE ensemble is the SCBA face piece. This is a good rule, although some departments allow the use of personal gear if it has been approved and has been inspected by an authorized department representative.

Size-up – Perform a 360; accurate arrival reports; Use TIC for temperature reading prior to entry, communicate via radio. This rule is a good start, but it could go farther. The 360's should be repeated until the operation is terminated. Size-up should not be a one-time event, it should be a continuous process that begins with pre-emergency planning and ends upon the safe return of all units to quarters after the fire or emergency. Additional chief officers should be stationed geographically to observe conditions and report them to Command. Another of my basic rules is "Always keep an experienced set of eyes on what the Incident Commander can't see."

Water before you go – Goal to have an interrupted water supply before entry. This is an appropriate rule for most fires, but there are exceptions. High rise fires are an exception. Quick grabs of visible victims are another exception.

Low-Low-Low – On entry; inside; on exit. This is so obvious that lots of firefighters...don't do it. More time in live burn training helps reinforce this rule.

Standing up so that your helmet looks like a 10-year veteran after one fire isn't just dangerous, it's stupid.

Ventilation – Goal of first ladder is ventilation; Release heat and smoke to benefit firefighters and survivable victims. Another good rule, but if there are visible victims on upper floors, the 1st due ladder should start on rescue. Another ladder or even an engine company can take the ventilation. If an engine needs ladders to help vent upper floors, there are always those ground ladders on the first-due truck. This rule should be the default when no obvious victim is in place.

RIT – RIT on every incident; in place ASAP. We should do this every time, but fireground tasks have a way of stealing the manpower that would otherwise have been used for RIT. RIT is also seen as a "do nothing" job in some departments. Clarification between "Passive RIT" and "Active RIT" should be made. Active RIT is less of a do-nothing job and is beneficial if your department doesn't have the manpower of a major city department like Houston. Passive RIT or the Phoenix "On Deck" system are workable alternatives if you have the manpower and equipment to make it work.

Crew Integrity – Not an option; Critical to incident accountability; Call Mayday early. These are absolutes, in my book. Lost or disoriented crew members often result in firefighter LODDs or serious injuries. They also result in additional risk to the firefighters who respond to the MAYDAY. Incident accountability works best through the span of control, and span of control fails if the company officer loses track of a firefighter...or worse, intentionally splits the crew after entering the IDLH atmosphere. We need to lose the John Wayne mentality and call a Mayday when we still have the air to survive until RIT can find us and assist us with whatever other problems we may be experiencing. The more quickly the MAYDAY is called, the greater the chance of resolving it without a subsequent funeral.

Communication – Throughout incident; interior and exterior progress reports. We need to communicate, but we need to communicate in an organized, disciplined, and coordinated way. A simple thing like a company officer assuming that one side of the building is Side A and a later-arriving chief re-assigning another side as Side A can result in fatal confusion. Continuous radio babble can result in so much traffic that MAYDAYs are not heard or their receipt is delayed. The Hackenship auto dealership fire and the Charleston Sofa Super Store fire are examples of this. A designated tactical channel to get dispatch traffic and other companies relocation traffic off the fireground channel is essential. A second tac channel that allows firefighting to continue on a different channel after a MAYDAY is also essential. The MAYDAY firefighter or crew and RIT should never have to switch channels in order to communicate.

Houston has implemented some common sense rules that, if adhered to, will improve firefighter safety. What they are telling us is that there's no shame in being safe. Following these simple safety rules will improve response and fireground safety for everyone who follows those rules. My thanks to HFD for sharing these simple, but oh-so-important safety rules with the rest of us.

Brotherhood versus Enemies

If there are concepts that are polar opposites, Brothers and Enemies are great examples.Brotherhood means treating the people whom you call "brother" as if they were indeed blood relatives.Practicing the concept can sometimes be a little tricker, as brothers sometimes engage in family fights.

I have three brothers, and when growing up, I often lost fights to both the two older ones, who were bigger and more powerful, and a younger one, who was sneakier and not afraid to fight dirty. Let someone else pick on me though, and my brothers would turn on them in a split second.

Firefighting brotherhood is supposed to be like that, even when we disagree. Usually it is, but some firefighters bandy the word "brotherhood" about without having the slightest idea of how to practice the concept. When firefighters have a disagreement and one proclaims the others are his "enemies" over a disagreement, that firefighter intentionally sets himself outside of the brotherhood.

When I made mistakes, my two older brothers tried to straighten me out by discussing the situation and suggesting ways that I could improve upon my actions. A lot of the time, I listened to reason and found that my older, more experienced brothers were indeed right. Sometimes I didn't listen, and found that my brothers became more pointed in their advice; sometimes to the point of directly intervening if my actions would result in harm to myself or to others. Sometimes even that wasn't enough, and I ended up in the hospital getting sutures or other medical care.

The cuts and bruises were sometimes the only way I learned my lesson, but my brothers never let me do anything that would cause really serious injury to me or to anyone else.On the other hand, I wasn't stupid enough to declare myself as an "enemy" to my brothers, because my brothers simply meant too much to me.

My firefighting brothers and sisters are like that. Sometimes we disagree, and sometimes the more senior members give counsel to the younger, less experienced members as well as having discussions among ourselves as to which ways are the best to do things. We don't run around calling each other "enemies" if we expect our brothers to treat us like family, or if we plan to be accepted as a brother or sister, or if we engage in behavior characteristic more like a declared enemy than like a brother.

And...if we declare war against our brothers and sisters, we no longer can claim to be a part of the "brotherhood". If we declare that other firefighters are "the enemy" or "the problem" in a public place, then retract it and run away, we don't have the right to claim "brotherhood" with other firefighters. Part of being a brother is to share common danger with each other's help. That action is not chacteristic of enemies.

Running away in the face of danger or disagreement isn't brotherhood. It's symptomatic of feeling guilty about something."And they shall fall one upon another, as it were before a sword, when none pursueth..." Leviticus 26:37

One of the best things about the firefighting brotherhood is the strong bonds of friendship that results from sticking together in the face of danger; we unite against a common enemy. Friends are important in this business. "Friends come and go, but enemies accumulate." Al Brunacini

Brotherhood means being careful of what you say about each other. Enemies are under no such compunction. "An enemy generally says what he wishes." Thomas Jefferson
It's good to have a lot of friends, and few - or no - enemies.

"He who has a thousand friends has not a friend to spare, and he who has one enemy will meet him everywhere." Ralph Waldo Emerson

Friends are most important, particularly in the face of someone who declares himself to be an enemy, then conducts attack after attack. Friends help defeat those attacks, and eventually the one who has declared himself to be an enemy will turn tail and run...often becoming anonymous and hiding in an attempt to deflect further attention. I'm proud to be called an enemy by someone who doesn't understand brotherhood and I'm proud of my brothers and sisters who stood by me in an attempt to show someone who labeled me an enemy the error of his ways.

As Winston Churchill once said "You have enemies; Good, that means that you have stood up for something..." I try to stand up for firefighter safety, being smart about firefighting and fire training, and for speaking out when I see things that I don't think are right. I'm extremely appreciative of those firefighters who understand brotherhood and who practice it rather than a vain attempt to grasp it by talking about it without understanding it.

I'm also very appreciative of a senior member of my department who is a member of the NFPA 1403 Committee, and who is not bashful about practicing brotherhood by dispensing good advice when I need it, whether or not I ask for it.

As for declared enemies, they fall into a special category; a category defined by Saul Alinsky when he said "Last guys don't finish nice."

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The four legs of a stool.

According to a survey conducted by Suzanne Bates, author of "Motivate Like a CEO: Communicate Your Strategic Vision and Inspire People to Act! there is a real need for improvements in leaders’ ability to communicate the mission, vision, and core values of the organization to employees. She notes this is especially challenging in times of downturn and recession.

It is during these difficult times that the organizational mission and vision can become obscured and blurry as employees look out for themselves and the short-term objective of survival.

According to the participants in her survey, the top challenges for organizational leaders included (in order):

1. Communicating purpose and mission to all employees (66 percent).

2. Strategic thinking (62 percent).

3. Connecting people to a shared purpose (59 percent).

4. Engaging employees (58 percent).

5. Motivating employees (56 percent).

6. Vision (54 percent).

7. Moving from tactical to strategic (43 percent).

8. Decisiveness (35 percent).

It’s easy to lead in the good times where prosperity is abounding. During the troubled times is when leaders need to help keep the organization focused on what’s most important… mission… vision… core values.

Mission = purpose
Vision = direction
Core Values = beliefs
Communications = understanding

These four things form the legs of a stool upon which the success of your organization rests.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Mentors and Mentees

Many of us may have had someone in our career that provided influence, guidance and offered reinforcement, feedback or constructive criticism when needed. You know; that chief or company officer, who seemed to take you under thier wing and watchful eye in the street or at the least, spoke to you in the back of the apparatus bay when everyone else was in the day room. It was that seasoned veteran or senior member who always seemed to have a bigger picture and insights on what was happening both on the fireground as well as in quarters, who shared words of wisdom or nuggets of information that helped in our individual progress, development and growth. Many of the lessons and insights related to me, both as a young firefighter and as I transitioned to an officer have stayed with me to this day. Formal or informal, recognized or unacknowledged; mentors play a very real and important part in the development of a firefighter, company officer and chief officer. The opportunities for mentorship never pass with rank or position. On the contrary, the need magnifies and grows as you transition and move through the ranks and positions of responsibility and authority.

Definition of Mentoring
Mentoring is a developmental partnership through which one person shares knowledge, skills, information and perspective to foster the personal and professional growth of someone else. We all have a need for insight that is outside of our normal life and educational experience. The power of mentoring is that it creates a one-of-a-kind opportunity for collaboration, goal achievement and problem-solving. Traditionally, mentoring might have been described as the activities conducted by a person (the mentor) for another person (the mentee) in order to help that other person to do a job more effectively and/or to progress in their career. The mentor was probably someone who had "been there, done that" before. A mentor might use a variety of approaches, eg, coaching, training, discussion, counseling, etc. The Merriam-Webster WWWebster Dictionary defines a mentor as "a trusted counselor or guide

What is a mentor?
A mentor facilitates personal and professional growth in an individual by sharing the knowledge and insights that have been learned through the years.
(DOT Mentoring Handbook, p2
Teacher; share your knowledge and experience as a former USC student.
Problem solver; refer mentees to resources and offer options.
Motivator; when mentee is facing a challenging class, for example:This is done through encouragement, support, and incentives.
Coach; help mentee to overcome performance difficulties through positive feedback (reinforce behavior) and constructive feedback (change behavior).
Guide; help mentee to set realistic goals. Five goal setting factors: specific, time-framed, results oriented, relevant, and reachable. “If you don’t know where you are going, you won’t know how to get there.”

What is a mentee?
A mentee is an achiever–”groomed” for advancement by being provided opportunities to excel beyond the limits of his or her position.
(DOT Mentoring Handbook, p3; a strong desire to learn new skills and abilities
Decision maker; take charge of your education
Initiator; mentee is willing to explore challenges on their own initiative.
Risk taker; “If you want to increase your success rate, double your failure rate,” quote by Thomas Watson, Sr., founder of IBM.
Goal setter; if you know where you are going, people are willing to help guide you.

Mentorship refers to a developmental relationship in which a more experienced or more knowledgeable person helps a less experienced or less knowledgeable person—who can be referred to as a protégé, or apprentice -- to develop in a specified capacity.
"Mentoring is a process for the informal transmission of knowledge, social capital, and the psychosocial support perceived by the recipient as relevant to work, career, or professional development; mentoring entails informal communication, usually face-to-face and during a sustained period of time, between a person who is perceived to have greater relevant knowledge, wisdom, or experience (the mentor) and a person who is perceived to have less (the protégé)" (Bozeman, Feeney, 2007).

Think about where you fit into this process. Is there someone in your company, station or department that you see some potential in? Is there someone who could benefit from some level of encouragement, support or direction? Are you in need of some advice, feedback or guidance? Think about the possibilities, start communicating, get involved.

Ralph Waldo Emerson stated that, "You cannot do a kindness too soon, for you never know how soon it will be too late." And indeed, mentors are doing kindness when they take on the responsibility of helping other people learn from their experiences. Through this, they can give back to society and make career growth, personal development, or intellectual achievement possible for the person they are mentoring.

“What we have done for ourselves alone dies with us. What we have done for others and the world remains and is immortal.” ~ Albert Pine

Take a look HERE for some insights on Life…..
For a different look at things, check out Randy Pausch's "The Last Lecture"

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Everything is a Possibility: Do It Anyways


It’s a quiet Sunday morning, and there seems to be some downtime, which is a good time for some personal reflection. Everyone has idealisms, dreams, goals, aspirations, ideas and purpose. Everything is a Possibility, IF you strive to persevere and keep at it.

Whatever the cause, need or reasons; regardless of the roadblocks, disappointment, disenchantment, frustration or regret-Dream it Anyways, Do it Anyways… You can chase a dream that seems so out of reach, and you know it might not ever come your way- dream it anyway; the possibilities before you are endless...

You CAN spend your whole life buildin'
Something from nothing
One storm can come and blow it all away
Build it anyway

You CAN chase a dream
That seems so out of reach
And you know it might not ever come your way
Dream it anyway

God is great but sometimes life ain’t good
And when I pray
It doesn't always turn out like I think it should
But I do it anyway
I do it anyway

This worlds gone crazy
And it's hard to believe
That tomorrow will be better than today
Believe it anyway

You can love someone with all YOUR heart
For all the right reasons
And in a moment they can choose to walk away
love em anyway

Do It Anyway Lyrics Artist: Martina McBride

Saturday, October 10, 2009

The National Fire Fighter Near-Miss Reporting System

Here's another prominent and important program that each of you should be visiting on a regular basis, The National Firefighter Near-Miss Reporting System.

The National Fire Fighter Near-Miss Reporting System is a voluntary, confidential, non-punitive and secure reporting system with the goal of improving fire fighter safety. Submitted reports will be reviewed by fire service professionals. Identifying descriptions are removed to protect your identity. The report is then posted on this web site for other fire fighters to use as a learning tool.

Check out the 2009 October Calendar Module on Decision Making on the resources page under 2009 Near-Miss Calendar or click on the featured resources on the NMR homepage. This interactive PowerPoint was created by Program Advisor John Tippett and can be used along with the case study and photo provided in the offical calendar. HERE

There are three main goals of the reporting system:
1. To give firefighters the opportunity to learn from each other through real-life experiences;
2. To help formulate strategies to reduce the frequency of firefighter injuries and fatalities; and 3. To enhance the safety culture of the fire and emergency service.

The information is used in a variety of ways. Fire fighters can use submitted reports as educational tools. Analyzed data will be used to identify trends which can assist in formulating strategies to reduce fire fighter injuries and fatalities. Depending on the urgency, information will be presented to the fire service community via program reports, press releases and e-mail alerts.

What is a near-miss event?
A near-miss event is defined as an unintentional unsafe occurrence that could have resulted in an injury, fatality, or property damage. Only a fortunate break in the chain of events prevented an injury, fatality or damage.

Why should you submit a near-miss report?
A near miss experienced by a firefighter can improve the knowledge, skills and abilities of everyone who is made aware of it. Reporting your near-miss event to will help prevent an injury or fatality of a firefighter. Near-miss reporting has worked effectively in other industries, especially aviation, since team members have more knowledge. Industries using near-miss reporting systems have lower injury rates and fewer worker fatalities.

These are the kinds of questions that are asked on the report;
Section 1: 7 questions about the reporter (title, years of fire service experience, department type, etc.)
Section 2: 9 questions about the event (type, cause, etc.)
Section 3: Event description: Describe the event in your own words.
Section 4: Lessons Learned: Describe the lessons learned, suggestions to prevent a similar event, etc.
Section 5: Contact Information (OPTIONAL and CONFIDENTIAL)

Looking for Resources, take a look at the materials HERE

Each year a NMR Calendar is published and distributed nationally, the NMR web site provides monthly power point programs and references that align with each month's near-miss case study report to provide you with training materials that can use to support training programs and drills at the local level to increase awareness and support injury and LODD reduction, HERE and HERE. Look for the 2010 calendar coming out in December 2009.

For more insights on the NMRS, HERE

Friday, October 9, 2009

Everyone Goes Home Program

Have you dropped in on the EGH web site recently and made use of the vast array of resources and media that can support a wide latitude of firefighter safety, health and survival initiatives?

Everyone Goes Home® is a national program by the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation to prevent line-of-duty deaths and injuries. In March 2004, a Firefighter Life Safety Summit was held to address the need for change within the fire service. Through this meeting, the 16 Firefighter Life Safety Initiatives were produced and a program was born to ensure that Everyone Goes Home®.

Have you made use of the Firefighter Life Safety Learning Media Center?
Using variations of the Courage to Be Safe...So Everyone Goes Home® field program, along with material from the Firefighter Life Safety Initiatives Resource Kit the EGH program develops and deploys a new online learning segment each month. These online learning segments allow personnel to expand upon thier personal and professional development on demand. For more information regarding the EGH presentations or if you have additional comments please write to Robert Colameta, National Courage To Be SafeSM Program Manager at

Check out the NFFF's Firefighter Life Safety Initiatives (FLSI) Research Database
This database was created to support NFFF/FLSI goal of reducing firefighter deaths and injuries and, more specifically, partial fulfillment of FLSI Initiative 7: "Create a national research agenda and data collection system that relates to the initiatives." There is a wealth of information available to support a wide range of firefigher safety, health and survival initiatives and programs within your organization.

If this is new to you, become aware of the 16 Firefighter Life Safety Initiatives , increase your knowledge and understanding of the efforts needed to support the injury and LODD reduction efforts that all begin at the department level and extend to the company level and ultimately to the individual firefighter level. YOU have the power to progress change and to support making the job safer. Take advantage of the opportunites before you, each and every day. It's all in your hands...

Friday, October 2, 2009

Two Common Fires; Different Outcomes

Two common structure fires; one in Syracuse, New York, the other in Yonkers, New York. Both involving residential occupancies of legacy construction, both requiring tactical deployment assignments for search and rescue under heavy fire conditions, but each incident having profoundly different outcomes.

The Syracuse fire evolved into a firefighter mayday, when a firefighter's air supply apparently became inoperable or depleted during primary search and rescue operations resulting in a maycall and subsequent rapid exit through a narrow upper window in the attic. The video clearly depicts the tense minutes during which time the mayday was transmitted and firefighter Ray Duncanson bailed through the attic window.

The Yonkers fire (HERE) also involved an early morning response to report of a structure fire in a multiple occupancy residential dwelling. Firefighter Patrick Joyce, a 39-year-old city firefighter and a 16-year veteran of the department, either jumped or fell from the top floor of the burning 2-story multi-family home and was pronounced dead at the hospital. Two other firefighters were seriously injured as they also searched for tenants in an early morning house fire. The cause for the bailout has yet to be determined.

Both fires, common to our expected daily response that many of us have experienced in our years on the job; yet the unique circumstances of each building, of each occupancy, the fire behavior and incident parameters resulted in vastly different outcomes.

It continues to be all about doing the right thing, at the right time for the right reasons. Unfortunately, that also involves calculate risk, measured determination and circumstance that are reflected by who and what we do on every alarm, at every call, on every shift. Just as Buffalo, New York FD 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 at the August 24th fire in the City of Buffalo, NY. Their sacrifice in the line-of-duty, reflected the honor, courage, protection, fortitude and duty of the fire service, just as Yonkers (NY) firefighter Patrick Joyce displayed in the course of his assignment on October 2, 2009.

On any given 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.

We don't know what's in the cards on any given day, but the citizens we protect can rest assured, we will do our job, as firefighters to the best of our abilities, because of who we are.

Firefighter Spot videos, Syracuse Fire HERE, Yonkers Fire, HERE

Honor the Sacrifice and their Legacy- NFFF Memorial Weekend

The 28th National Fallen Firefighters Memorial Weekend takes place this weekend at the NFA.

The National Fallen Firefighters Foundation (NFFF) and the Department of Homeland Security's U.S. Fire Administration are conducting the 28th annual National Fallen Firefighters Memorial Weekend this weekend, October 2-4, 2009. A plaque with the names of 103 firefighters who died in the line of duty in 2008 will be added to the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial, located at the National Fire Academy campus. The names of 19 firefighters who died in previous years will also be added. The plaques surrounding the Memorial, which was established in 1981, will contain the names of more than 3,300 firefighters.

Every October, the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation sponsors the official national tribute to all firefighters who died in the line-of-duty during the previous year. Thousands attend the Memorial Weekend in Emmitsburg, Maryland. The weekend features special programs for survivors and co-workers along with public ceremonies. New survivors will have the opportunity to meet fire service survivors from across the country so that you can share experiences, make lasting friendships, and begin to look ahead. The Memorial Weekend is a time for sharing and healing for the families of our fallen firefighters. Representatives from Honor Guard and Pipe Band Units participate as part of this solemn tribute and commemoration of your loved ones.
Continue Reading Honor the Sacrifice and their Legacy. (Video after the jump.)

  • Thirty-six states experienced line-of-duty deaths in 2008. Deaths resulted from many causes, including vehicle accidents while enroute to or returning from emergency calls, training incidents, building collapses, diving incidents, natural disaster response, being struck by objects (vehicles, trees, waterway from aerial devices, and gunshot wounds) at the incident scene, falls, heart attacks, helicopter/air tanker crashes, and burns.
  • Five multiple fatality incidents accounted for 17 deaths.
  • Two multiple fatality incidents occurred at structural fires, one in an apparatus crash after a bridge collapse during heavy smoke conditions at a wildland fire, one helicopter crash during a wildland fire, and one air tanker that crashed on take-off.
  • Wildland fires, controlled burns and training/certification for wildland protection resulted in 15 fatalities.
  • Oregon and North Carolina suffered the Nation's greatest number of line-of-duty firefighter deaths in 2008 with 9 in each state, while Pennsylvania and New York had 8, Missouri had 7, and California had 6.
  • The names of those fallen firefighters being honored at the memorial are posted HERE.

Chief Dennis Compton, Chairman of the NFFF Board of Directors, stated: "Our country's firefighters make a commitment day in and day out to protect others from the ravages of fire and many other life threatening hazards. Each year we gather at the site of the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial in Emmitsburg, Maryland, to pay tribute to those firefighters who paid the ultimate price in the performance of their duties. The fire service is honored and humbled to memorialize these fallen heroes and show our sincere appreciation for the sacrifices made by those they left behind."

For the third year in a row, has joined forces with to bring you live coverage on the web of the events from the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation Memorial Weekend, October 3 to October 5. 103 firefighters who died in 2008, along with 19 who died in previous years, will be honored in Emmitsburg, Maryland. There are a series of special live web streaming available for this weekend’s memorial services from: and Statter911 as well as and

Take a moment out of your schedule and participate in this solemn memorial honoring our brother and sister firefighters who died in the Line of Duty. Watching the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation Memorial Weekend service will leave an indelible impression upon you going forward. Its’ all about trying to do our jobs better, being a bit safer, understanding the risks and implementing the appropriate measures to address the incident demands we most often are confronted with.

Remember, We may love the job of firefighting, BUT there are those that love- US.

Remember who they are and what it takes to ensure that we do go home after those calls and shifts. This weekend, honor those who did not have the opportunity to make it back home, for their sacrifice and for the honor they have bestowed upon this great profession of the Fire Service and for the legacy that they have left behind to their survivors.

You can tune here to or to to watch the Candlelight Service on Saturday evening and Sunday's Memorial Service.

Live Video Broadcast of the Services:

» Candlelight: Oct. 3, 2009 - 6:15 - 7:30 pm

» Memorial: Oct. 4, 2009 - 9:30 am - 12:30 pm

Photos from the 2009 Memorial Weekend, HERE

Ways to Observe the Memorial:

Here are some other important links.


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