Monday, November 30, 2009


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. That may be true for conventional or legacy structures, but what about modern construction and engineered structural systems? Same expectations?.......

What do you think?

Take at look the at the residential fire and interior attack that injured a number of Maryland Firefighters HERE

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Leaders are readers

I recently had an opportunity to have dinner with another fire chief who has enjoyed much success in his career. He’s visionary, well-respected and gives much of himself back to our profession by traveling and teaching classes. I asked to define and describe a common trait that he sees in leaders as he travels the country. He told me the best leaders are avid readers of everything they can get their hands on: Books, journals, newspapers, even the magazines on the airplane.

I have to agree with this chief’s assessment completely. I have been an incessant reader throughout my entire adult life. I stash books like squirrels stash nuts. I have a couple on the nightstand in the bedroom, several on the end table in the living room, a few in my car and a couple in my computer bag. I typically read 4-5 books at a time. Maybe I’ve got ADD, ADHD or OCD. Whatever the reason, I can never remember reading just one book at a time. Maybe it harkens back to the habits formed in the formidable years when teachers would assign homework that required the reading from multiple books. Who knows?

My favorite types of books are those that inspire me to greater achievement. I enjoy books about leaders who have overcome adversity and those who have had successful careers. I like self-help books that give me ideas for making incremental improvements in my own performance. I may read an entire book and only extract one good thing I can use from it. But that one thing may be a golden nugget. Some of the best gifts I have received were books. Many I still have and re-read regularly. Some were so good, I had to give them away.

As much as I read books and journals, I don’t spend much time with the newspaper. I find reading the newspapers depressing. It’s always chocked completely full of bad news that I prefer not to read. I find my disposition being dragged down when I read about all the crime and troubles of our world. I’m not in denial that such things exist, I’d just rather not dwell on it. For the same reason I don’t watch much television either.

I am reminded about a discussion I overheard recently where the topic was the economy and the conversation was focused on two previous economic recessions, one in the early 1980s and one in the early 1990s. I didn’t remember there being recessions in the early 80s or 90s. I had to go look it up. In the 1980s recession unemployment was slightly over 10%. In the 1990s recession unemployment was just under 8%.

Hmmm. How could I not remember this? Surely it was big news at the time. Guess I was too busy living life and wasn’t too worried about all the bad news that was happening around me. I didn’t read the newspaper or watch much TV then either. I guess I didn’t know I was supposed to be depressed over the economy. I bought things when I wanted them and I didn’t worry much about the recession.

Fire Chief (ret.) Richard B. Gasaway, PhD, EFO, CFO, MICP

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Getting on the Wall (Part 2)

Like a vision, a mission statement gives the leader a sense of direction, like a detailed road map. Mission statements have been utilized by corporations for many of years. These corporations use mission statements to give individual direction to the organization with sound purpose for their actions and focus on the issues that make the organization successful.

Fire departments and emergency response agencies are no different than any corporation. We must set a mission to give us that road map that will lead us to success. All too often we see organizations floundering because the leader has lost vision and has strayed away from the mission statement. These two variances lead to demise and destruction of the organization making it that boat just floating aimlessly at sea. For where there is no vision the organization parishes.

As a leader, we must create a vision and work tirelessly to reach that vision. In the fire service the Chief often fails to develop a vision or to keep it going through the officers of the department. Far too often we let visions die between “what” and “how”. This is an agonizing principle. “What" always proceeds “how”. Many visions die because we give up. We convince ourselves we can’t accomplish it. Well as earlier stated, it is much better to aim him and fall short than to aim low and succeed. The outcomes will be much more rewarding and beneficial to the organization. Often the “what” or vision is never defined. Therefore the vision is never organized into a potential format with the end in mind. Even if the “what” or vision is developed it far too often dies in the “how” phase or the work phase. Leaders loose the focus or energy to see the vision through to fruition.

Everyone under a great leader will look for a way to have a hand in the work that will accomplish the vision. This often comes after the leader gives a little push to get them started. As most would agree it is hard to get a large vehicle to move from a standstill, but once the momentum is started it continues to gain speed so long as there are no external forces that impact the event that can’t be overcome. As a leader you must provide the tools and materials (vision and motivation) for any project (goal) to be accomplished. If the leaders will provide the key essentials, then the follows will provide the work. Thus, this large vehicle continues to pick up speed.

There are various leadership styles and management philosophies to choose from when working with people. No matter which one you choose, you must have a plan or a road map on how to run the course of the vision. This road map or mission statement moves the vision from just that, a vision, to reality. Along the way it is critical to remember as a leader you must give authority for the journey. Simply stated you must let the followers know it is OK for us to go down this path realizing that it is not a smooth road and bumps will be encountered along the way. As with any trip you must have the needed resources to arrive at your destination (vision). You as a leader are responsible for providing these resources. Followers (workers) are not able to function without them. Without the followers doing the work along the way the destination will never be reached. This pathway to accomplishing the vision has many cross roads that you will come to. Remember, as the leader, you must stay focused and be willing to prioritize life, being dedicated to the vision.

Not every road must be traveled and often what appears to be a short cut will take you way out of the way. By prioritizing life we must be willing to eliminate things along the way. Not everything we thought will be required to achieve the vision. We must learn to delegate responsibilities. By delegating we now begin to allow the followers to have a sense of ownership of the vision, seeing where they have impacted the whole. I have never been one who likes to procrastinate throughout life. However, in working with organizations to accomplish visions, it is often necessary to wait or postpone portions of the journey.

As hard as this may seem to be fitting into this full energy drive on visions and leadership, I have learned from wise leaders that it is imperative to attack certain portions of the road to accomplishing the vision at just the right time. Often this is necessary to have the talent of the followers to that level that will be required to travel that portion of the road in the vision. I saw this even more as a fire chief moving the department forward. Often times their skills are not present to function at a certain level. This can be equated to responding to hazardous materials incidents. I am surely not going to send a firefighter into a situation of controlling a leak of ethylene dibromide with just an awareness level. However, after the proper training, education and experience, I can utilize that talent in a much more effective and efficient manner.

While sitting at the Kitchen table, talk about experiences. Remember don’t Train till you get it right…Train till you can’t get it wrong!

Fortitude & Courage to be Safety Conscious

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.
  • 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.
You should make time this weekend and slide on over to the United States Fire Administration (USFA) web site HERE. USFA Report HERE. The United States Fire Administration (USFA) released the report Firefighter Fatalities in the United States in 2008.

An overview of the 118 firefighters that died while on duty in 2008:
The total breakdown included 66 volunteer, 34 career, and 18 Wildland agency firefighters. There were 5 firefighter fatality incidents where 2 or more firefighters were killed, claiming a total of 18 firefighters' lives.26 firefighters were killed during activities involving brush, grass or Wildland firefighting, more than twice the number killed the previous year. Activities related to emergency incidents resulted in the deaths of 75 firefighters;

  • 28 firefighters died while engaging in activities at the scene of a fire.
  • 21 firefighters died while responding to, and 3 while returning from, emergency incidents.
  • 12 firefighters died while they were engaged in training activities.
  • 13 firefighters died after the conclusion of their on-duty activity.
  • Heart attacks were the most frequent cause of death for 2008 with 45 firefighter deaths
Take a look at the issues, the factors and the causes. Take the time to think about what you can personally do to make a change, and what your company or agency must do, to support LODD reduction.  Especially for those situations that are in OUR control.
  • Don’t forget about the resources at the Everyone Goes Home Program, HERE.
  • As well as the The Near Miss Reporting System, HERE

Thursday, November 26, 2009

7-Sided Searches and UCAN

Some recent calls, drills, and follow-up conversations in which I was a participant have brought out how well a couple of basic tactics can be adapted for multiple purposes.

The first is the 7-Sided Search. 7-Sided Searches should be conducted on every incident in which we have a potential victim.
The seven sides to be searched are:


1. Side A/Division A
2. Side B/Division B
3. Side C/Division C
4. Side D/Division D
5. Roof
6. Basement/Crawl Space
7. the Inside (including the Inside of each interior compartment)


1. Front
2. Driver's Side
3. Passenger Side
4. Rear
5. Top
6. Underneath the Vehicle
7. the Inside, including the passenger compartment, trunk, and hatchback areas

The rule for searching these is:

7-Sided Search
Every Vehicle
Every Structure
Every Time
The other helpful tactic is the UCAN mneumonic. Originally developed for MAYDAY applications, UCAN has applications to basic search tactics.

UCAN was designed for a firefighter giving a MAYDAY report to COMMAND the following information;

The MAYDAY firefighter should tell COMMAND the unit to which he/she is assigned, the conditions that required calling a MAYDAY, what actions the lost/trapped/disoriented firefighter is taking, and what the lost/trapped/disoriented firefighter needs.These same four considerations work well when a search team moves through a building, particuarly when moving vertically.

For example, Truck 3 is assigned to conduct a primary search of Divisions 3 and 4 of an apartment building with a fire on Division 2. Truck 3 should give COMMAND a UCAN update each time they move one vertical floor upwards. An example:

"COMMAND, Truck 3"

"Truck 3"

"COMMAND, Truck 3 is on Division 3, we have a heavy smoke condition with moderate heat, no fire visible, we are starting our primary search, and we need ventilation support and secondary egress."

"Truck 3, COMMAND recieves that you are on Division 3, you have a heavy smoke condition with moderate heat and no visible fire, and that you need ventilation support and secondary egress. Repeat your Actions report."

"COMMAND, Truck 3, we are starting our primary search of Division 3."

"Truck 3, recieved, you are starting your primary search of Division 3."

There are five distinct advantages to using UCAN reports for reporting tactical movement through a fire building in the absence of a MAYDAY.

1. Firefighters become familiar with the UCAN methodology in routine situations and will not struggle to remember the mneumonic in the event they need to call a MAYDAY in the future

2. Firefighters become practiced at using the UCAN terminology and reporting location changes to COMMAND

3. COMMAND knows where the units are and what they are doing

4. Status reports are transmitted in a standard format.

5. If one part is missed, COMMAND can just ask for the missing piece of information without wasting the air time for a complete UCAN rehash from the unit giving the report.

The "A" step can be modified to include "AIR" levels. If a company has a member that is low on air, the company can give a UCAN report that includes the air reading for the member with the lowest air level, particularly in big-box structures where the company needs to exit with 2/3 of their air available.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Thanksgiving Update at TKT

We've been at this virtual Kitchen Table just over a year now, and we're thankful to be going stronger than ever.

We're very happy to be welcoming a new member this week: Douglas Cline. You can read his first post just below this one. Welcome to the table, Doug.

In anticipation of the holiday, FireRescue1 has created a Thanksgiving-themed quiz to test your firefighting and EMS knowledge of situations you might encounter this week... have fun!

And have a happy and safe Thanksgiving, everyone.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Getting on the Wall - Part 1

Some Individuals would look at a pile of rubble and say “what a mess” while others will look at the same pile and say “what an opportunity”. Which one of these individuals would you want leading the fire department in your community? Most would say the one who has a vision of what that “mess” could be. I recently had the opportunity to spend some time in the great State of Vermont training with a group of outstanding emergency services professionals in. What a breath of fresh air. The amount of energy that was delivered to my starving body was incredible from spending just 48 hours with such great fire service leaders. I was able to see 50 years of leadership that was still going strong. That’s right; the fire chief of Vergennes Fire Department has been the Chief for 50 years. The best part is he still looks at everything in a progress, proactive philosophy of saying “look at that opportunity”.

As leaders of the fire service we must look at opportunities with vision. We must be able to decode the “mess” into “opportunity”. It is paramount that we focus on the concepts that it shouldn’t be this way, but we can make it something else. These are truly hectic times we live in. Times that can challenge even a seasoned leader.

A successful leader must have a clear and well defined vision of where the organization is going. Through outstanding mentors like John Leahy, Harry Carter, Robert Flemming, Daniel B. C. Gardner, Dan Jones, Christopher Naum and many other fire service leaders this same concept of vision; I was taught to see the opportunities in everything you come in contact with, rather than the mess.

Vision is in direct proportion to accomplishment. The more a leader can envision, the more the organization can accomplish. Phoenix Fire Department is the fire service leader it is today because of the vision of a great group of leaders guided by one of the greatest fire service leaders of all time, Alan Brunacini. So much of what the fire service practices today came from the vision that was created by a few leaders. It is important to remember that no vision is too awesome. It is important to remember that you should always strive for the highest possible dream. In doing so it is much better to fall a little short of that vision than to set the vision low and make it. Many changes in the fire service have come from leaders who have set the compass on a course for a vision only to fall short of that true vision but still accomplishing mush more. I am sure that Chief Ralph Jackman of the Vergennes Fire Department over his 50 years has fallen short of several visions, but I honestly know that a lot has been accomplished through having a well defined vision.

I would ask the folks who are sitting around The Kitchen Table, what is your vision and the vision of your department?

Is it Still Business as Usual?

We've taked about a few things recently such as looking at the big picture related to buildings and occupancies and the functional parameters dealing with size-up and risk assessment. Then there's the dialog and discussion on the Predictability of Performance related to buildings and occupancies. Back in July I talked about a number of operational considerations realated to firefighter safety at Vacant Structures that built upon a posting on vacant or unoccupied building determinations and the question: is it business as usual?

Over the weekend some lively dialog and discussion was overheard regarding the advantages and disadvantages of working a fire in a vacant or unoccupied structure and the value of such company officer or command level descision-making. It still appears to be a hot button topic (to some) and has its camps of interest and champions on either side of the street. How does your viewpoint fit in? Is it STILL business as usual?

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

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

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

What are your thoughts on the issues related to conducting offensive, tactical operations in vacant or unoccupied structures? Does the level of direpair or dilapidation dictate the call? What are the actual or perceived risks? Does working the job, balance with the the risk, benefits, returns? As the escalating adverse trend continues, and more and more buildings become vacant and unoccupied, now is the time to focus greater attention on adequate risk assessments and effective strategic size-up with firefighter safety considerations remaining clear and distinguished.

There may be a lot of reasons why a vacant building turns into a structure fire, that ultimately involves our services; don’t let that contribute to an undesired injury or worst.

Here are some previously published insights for reconsiderations;
  • Implement and perform an effective dynamic risk assessment of the incident involving a vacant structure.
  • Consider an appropriate incident action plan and options for defensive operations, risk versus benefit considerations out weighing offensive interior operations.
  • Maintain effective and heightened situational awareness at all times
  • Conduct or delegate a 360 reconn of the affected structure, if the building profile allows
  • Consider the factors related to presumed Vacant or Unoccupied; and the suggested demands associated with search team deployment, escalating and rapid fire spread, decreased time-to-collapse potential and RIT Team availability, be aware of potential squatters
  • Vacant residential occupancies constructed within the past ten years are very likely to have engineered structural systems (ESS) that will increase the potential early structural collapse and increase unacceptable risk to firefighter safety.
  • Resulting time delays in the discovery and reporting of fires in vacant structures increases fire severity and magnitude, increases the potential fire spread and communication to adjacent structures and requires adequate resources and fire flows to combat fire suppression activities.
  • Conduct pre-incident planning to identify the magnitude of the vacant structures within your jurisdiction and define operational expectations and deployment strategies. It shouldn’t be business as usual. Consider the safety risks to firefighters.
  • Assume potential for compromised interior conditions resulting from vandalism and intentional destruction of interior walls, floors, Compartmentation and structural system integrity.
  • Assume rapid fire extension and early structural collapse potential
  • Identify and establish collapse zone perimeters and maintain them for firefighter safety.
  • Develop or enhance operating protocols for fire operations for both vacant residential AND commercial properties. Determine acceptable risk profiles and operational modes. Consider the Rules of Engagement.
  • Be consciously cautious with personnel safety foremost in your IAP and tactical operations; Remember this is vacant structure.
A recent article related to a recently released NIOSH LODD Report from 2006 on a Career Firefighter injured during rapid fire progression in an Abandoned Structure who died six days later in Georgia summarized and recommended that Fire departments, municipalities and organizations like NFPA that set standards should consider developing and implementing a system for identifying and marking unoccupied, vacant or abandoned structures to improve firefighter safety. Take the time to read the report.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Hee Haw Logic

When I was a kid there was a comedy-variety show on television called Hee Haw. It was a show that was essentially senseless humor and the kind of program you could watch if you didn’t need much mental stimulation but just wanted to enjoy a laugh. One recurring segment of the show was in a barber shop where the barber would have a person in the chair giving them a shave and would tell them a story about something that happened in the town. The barber would say something that was bad news and the customer would say “That’s bad.” Then the barber would say “No, that’s good” and proceed to explain why that which the customer perceived to be bad, was actually good. And then when the barber was done explaining the good news, the customer would say “That’s good.” Then the barber would say “No, that’s bad” and proceed to explain why hat which the customer perceived to be good was actually bad.

So it goes in life. Everything good that happens to us has some element of bad and everything bad that happens to us has an element of good. It’s all in the matter of your perspective. Some people can, so effortlessly, find the bad news in anything that’s good. Take, for example, the conversation I had with someone yesterday about the weather here in Minnesota. It’s mid-November and our typical temperatures would be somewhere between Brrrr and Oh-My-God cold. While I’m teaching a class we take a break and I walk outside. The weather is amazing! It’s brilliantly sunny and the temperatures are in the 50’s (very unusual for Minnesota in mid-November). I made a comment about how beautiful the day is and someone says “Ya, if it just wasn’t so windy.” This comment made me think about how some people can find fault as if they get a reward for it.

This day was, indeed, a blessing and someone was still able to find a way to complain about it. Was it a “perfect” day. No. But is it reasonable (or necessary) to expect perfection? Isn’t “good enough” sometimes good enough? This day should have exceeded everyone’s expectations for warmth and sunshine. Yet, for this one person… still not good enough.
Continue Reading Hee Haw Logic

People who go through life with a disposition like this person’s miss some of the greatest treasures that are laid at their feet because they’re too busy looking for the bad things in life. One thing’s for sure, if you go around looking for bad news and faults in people, you’re going to find them. Likewise, if you go around looking for good news and gifts in people, you’re going to find that as well. And YOU… are one of those people. Look for the bad qualities in yourself, and you will focus on them. Look for the good qualities and you will focus on those.

When something good happens to you and you say you were “just lucky” you are discounting all your good qualities and giving credit to happenstance. Acknowledge that the good things that happen are because of your preparation and hard work. When something bad happens to you, don’t dwell on it. Find the good in it (and there always is something good about everything bad that happens) and focus on how to use that good to your advantage.

In the spirit of Hee Haw, here’s an example of a recent day in my life that demonstrates the banter from Floyd the barber.

- I was driving to a meeting today and amazingly there was hardly any traffic on the road.
- That’s good.
- No, that’s bad because I got a flat tire and there was no one around to help me.
- That’s bad.
- No, that’s good because the first car that came by stopped to help me.
- That’s good.
- No, that’s bad because the guy was taking his kids to school and didn’t have time to stop and help me out.
- That’s bad.
- No, that’s good because he offered to give me a ride to a service station at the next exit.
- That’s good.
- No, that’s bad because I had to sit next to one of his kids who spilled chocolate milk all over my new suit coat.
- That’s bad.
- No, that’s good because I took off my suit coat and tie and when I went to my meeting later that morning the client (who I was trying to impress with my new suit) commented on how at ease he was with my casual attire and that helped me secure a very large client.

Life is ten percent of what happens to you… and ninety percent of how you react to what happens to you. In every good, there is bad. In every bad, there is good. Keep your mind occupied by the good and it will propel you in the direction of success.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Building Construction & Performance

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.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Going Where The Heat Rises

Firefighting is a dirty, labor intensive job that requires intelligence, strength, and courage. Trying to break the process of fighting fires down into a sterile process culminates in failure on the fireground.

This is evident daily at fires across the country. Just a few weeks back a fire took hold of the second floor of an apartment building housing eight units and more than 24 people. Firefighters arrived and began an aggressive attack on the Alpha side to prevent spread from the Charley -Alpha corner.

The entire process involved split second decisions as crews were ordered into apartments adjacent to the one burning. Ceiling were pulled, additional line stretched, primary searched were conducted and truckies began opening up. All of this occurred in a building that had fire spreading horizontally through the attic. It was dangerous but that's part of a firefighters job.

Contrast that with a fire the author witnessed months earlier where similar circumstances existed. Fire began to spread via the common cockloft and firefighters were withdrawn in a hasty manner. The result was an entire apartment building being lost when it could have been checked at the second apartment.

Some argue it doesn't matter if the property burns or not but that is intellectually dishonest. It does matter when the property can be saved. For many in the second scenario described, all they had was what was in their apartments and the majority could have been saved with hard work, courage and fire smarts.

No one openly advocates the exchanging of a firefighters life for property. However, in the real world, risk is real and cannot be reduced to zero. Firefighting is dangerous and still requires people willing to go in harms way. Far from the sterile lab the job of a firefighter is filled with high heat, smoke, and the ability to place a hose line in the proper place.

That is the modern, and traditional, approach to the job of a firefighter.

Friday, November 13, 2009

The Art of the Size-Up and Risk Assessment

Since the early 1950’s and the advent and subsequent development of the incident size-up function, the performance of size-up at an incident scene played an important role and has traditionally been considered to be a crucial element in the overall step-phased approach towards fire suppression operations and methodologies.

More recently there’s been a constant hum in the background with dialog and discussion on the evolving process of size-up and what it means in terms of current day firefighting operations and developing theories on fire suppression and incident management.

Adding to the nomenclature of size-up, we find situational awareness, risk versus gain, decision-making summary, risk benefits, risk analysis, risk assessment, risk appraisal, incident evaluations, profiling, and the 360 to name but a few.

The operative question is this: “Is traditional phased incident scene size-up and monitoring antiquated and no longer appropriate or applicable to modern fire service operations?” If so, what process systems and terminology appropriately captures and defines what should be incorporated in and encompass those point(s) in time during an evolving incident that provide us with contextual information and reconnaissance to support the decision-making process of combat fire suppression?

Let me offer this related to the evolving concepts on Situational Awareness. SA is a combination of attitudes, previously learned knowledge and new information gained from the incident scene and environment that enables the strategic commanders, decision-makers and tactical companies to gather the information they need to make effective decisions that will keep their firefighters and resources out of harm's way, reducing the likelihood of adverse or detrimental effects.

Everyone on the incident scene MUST stay alert to changing conditions, obvious or latent conditions or escalating factors that require prompt identification, comprehension and appropriate implementation of actions.

To the Incident Commander, fire officer or firefighter; knowing what's going on around you- in and around the building structure and understanding the consequences of building, construction, assembly, fire load and fire development and growth is mission critical to incident stabilization and mitigation and profoundly crucial in terms of personnel safety.

When it comes to incident scene assessment, size-up, risk profiling, etc.., what are the mission critical elements that you seek to identify, information gain and parameters that you evaluate and how do they fit into the overall management and operations of the incident? Just something “small” to discuss around the table….

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Friday, November 6, 2009

The Psychology of Firefighting

What motivates firefighters to choose their career, and what keeps them happy in their jobs?

Ken, a retired chief and volunteer firefighter from Pennsylvania, is writing a psychology paper on firefighters' intrinsic motivation, and wants to bring the following questions to The Kitchen Table:
1. Do you enjoy your current occupation? If yes, why?

2. What makes you satisfied with your job performance?

3. Why did you choose this career?

4. If you are not happy in your current position, why?

You can help Ken out by leaving your answers in the comments, or by emailing them to me at Answers will be used anonymously.

Thanks for your help!

What's Wrong With This Picture?

I realize this has nothing to do with the fire service. Nothing at all to do with fire and injury prevention.

I am strolling through my local mall looking for a Birthday present for my Dad when I stumbled across jolly old St. Nick here on NOVEMBER SIXTH!

I love Christmas big time but even I did a double take on this one. Am I over reacting? Am I the second coming of Scrooge?
Stay Safe,

Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

An Average Week...for most of us

During this week, there were on average, over 10,173 structure fires in the United States. According to NFPA statistics the following occur on average in the U.S;

• A fire department responded to a fire every 20 seconds.
• One structure fire was reported every 59 seconds.
• One home structure fire was reported every 79 seconds
• One civilian fire injury was reported every 30 minutes.
• One civilian fire death occurred every 2 hours and 33 minutes.
• One outside fire was reported every 41 seconds.
• One vehicle fire was reported every 122 seconds.

There are on average of Eight to Ten Firefighter Line-of-duty Deaths each month. There have been two LODD's reported this first week of November alone.

The fire service continues to struggle with the challenges, opposition and merits in adjusting, altering, and changing our strategic and tactical ways of doing business in the streets. Some disagree others are indifferent, but regardless of your positions; the business of firefighting is changing, to some it’s just not being recognized or acknowledged.

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. 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 continues to be a passionate discussion point.

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.

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.

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?

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Looking at the Big Picture

A recent posting by Chief Ben Waller on the Candle-Moth Syndrome and the reference to Target Fixation brings to light some very important insights related to buildings, occupancies and the risk assessment process. The relationship of target fixation and faulted size-up that ultimately progresses to faulted tactics and the potential for detrimental incident outcomes is typically overlooked and seldom discussed.

Target fixation is a process by which the brain is focused so intently on an observed object that awareness of other obstacles or hazards can diminish. Also, in an avoidance scenario, the observer can become so fixated on the target that the observer will end up colliding with the object.

How many times have you been “drawn” towards a specific tactical sortie, or have disregarded mission critical indicators that were so obvious, after the incident that you wondered what came over you in the heat of the battle? The Candle-Moth Syndrome is just the start of it.

In the realm of building construction, occupancy profiling and risk assessment, company and command officers must strive to develop astute and clear observation skills to quickly scan for key visual indicators that provide validation points on possible inherent building and construction type and systems, looking beyond the obvious at times and quickly processing that data and assumptions into definable strategic plans and tactical assignments-all with the appropriate balance of risk.

The ability to move past target fixation attributes; and the skills to balance presumptive or validated past experience, street level assumptions and intuitive decision-making whether it’s recognition primed decision-making modeling and approach (RPD) or naturalistic decision Making (NDM), scan your operational field broadly and look over your buildings and occupancies with a wider field of vision and beyond. Recognize that some “target fixation” points are very important in the overall processing and assessment of an incident, but are a part of the overall sum of the equating and evolving incident scene.

I’ve spoken about the Predictability of Performance in building construction and occupancies a few times, and the challenge it presents in the context of present day fire suppression operations. Although experience drives a lot, there are times in which past experiences may not be the only recommended force that drives the incident action plan. Be cognizant of the fact that similar building types can perform differently under what may be derived as similar fire conditions. Don’t get caught in target fixation and above all, have an understanding of building construction systems, their correlation to occupancy configurations and ultimately how they perform under fire (conditions). Know your buildings, expand your knowledge, develop your operational skills and enhance your tactical capabilities. It all starts with the structure….at a structure fire.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Candlemoth Syndrome

How many firefighters have ever experienced Candlemoth Syndrome? I know I have, particularly when I was younger and less experienced. Candlemoth Syndrome is a firefighting cousin of Target Fixation, where firefighters are drawn closely to the fire in disregard for proper firefighting tactics and for firefighter safety.

The definition of "Moth to a Flame" is to be "Irresistibly and dangerously attracted to something or someone." The term relates to moth behavior around open candle flames at night. Moths are drawn to the light given off by the flame, but they often get too close, resulting in badly burned or dead moths. Firefighters can indeed be irresistably and dangerously attracted to be in close proximity to a fire. Candlemoth Syndrome is dangerous, it can easily result in firefighter injury or death, and it is all-too-common. Candlemoth Syndrome is generally avoidable if you recognize the symptoms.

Candlemoth Syndrome includes the following:

1) Waiting to attack interior fires until the hose team is very close to the fire in situations where the water stream could be used to safely and effectively attack the fire from farther away.
An example is using a direct attack with a solid stream or straight stream from very close to the fire instead of extinguishing the base of the fire from farther away where the firefighters are less exposed to the heat. This also gives the firefighters more direct access to their escape route if something goes wrong during the attack.

2) Conducting Defensive attacks in structures where Offensive attacks are indicated.
There are two examples of this. The most common is Horizontal Candlemoth Syndrome; the nozzleman who runs directly to a window venting fire and attacks the fire head-on from close range from the exterior. This will usually drive the fire into uninvolved parts of the building, cut off escape routes for the occupants, and increase the amount of unnecessary fire damage to the structure. The other example is Vertical Candlemoth Syndrome, where ladder pipe streams are directed into vertical ventilation openings. This results in the fire being driven downward into uninvolved parts of the structure, with the same potential bad outcomes as the horizontal example.

3) Defensive Candlemoth Syndrome is a variation of Horizontal Candlemoth Syndrome. This occurs when a fire has been declared Defensive and firefighters push too close to a building that is either in danger of collapsing or that is a No Value building, or both.

Focusing strategy and tactics on the RECEO-VS system, maintaining personnel accountability, and having Division C and Incident Safety Officers on scene to maintain a 360 view of the fireground help prevent Candlemoth Syndrome.

Good company officers who practice organizational discipline, who monitor their personnel closely during firefights, and who are not afraid to use firefighting best practices can prevent Candlemoth Syndrome, keep their firefighters safer, and reduce the amount of antacids ingested by chief officers.
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