Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Not Too Sharp Doesn’t Cut It

In less than three weeks, we had two confined space incidents (http://www.firefighternation.com/forum/topics/ohio-firefighters-overcome and http://www.firefighternation.com/forum/topics/indiana-firefighters-injured-1 ) where firefighters were injured. Reports indicate that confined space protocols were not followed in both cases.

All departments should be trained to recognize a confined space and to also recognize whether they are trained and equipped to conduct confined space rescue. If not, defer to someone who is.

All firefighters should have enough common sense to know that when you look into a hole, see two people who are unresponsive, that you don’t jump in with them.

I am conflicted about how I should feel about this.

On the one hand, I am outraged that in this day and age, we still have firefighters taking stupid pills because they certainly aren’t taking the training.

On the other hand, there isn’t a national standard that MUST be met in order to legitimately call ourselves “firefighters”. Yes; we have NFPA standards, but they are not the law of the land and though they may be used in a court of law as the basis for arguments on firefighter qualifications, fire departments are not bound to follow them.

You also have OSHA regulations that ARE the law of the land, but depending on whether you are an OSHA state or if you have a third party like your state department of labor administering the regulations through their agency, volunteer fire departments can fly under the radar for quite awhile and it usually takes a complaint to get the attention of OSHA. Even then; unless the violation is “egregious” or “willful” or “IDLH”, OSHA will typically allow the offenders time to correct their deficiencies and to pay a small fine for their troubles.

I don’t believe that this will be the case in the Ohio and Indiana incidents. Ohio does not have a state plan, so they will most likely be contacted by federal OSHA compliance officers. Indiana has a state plan, so their state OSHA compliance officers would be conducting their investigation into the incident.

From reading some of the comments being posted in the discussion forums, you would think that the “good ole boy” fire department culture is alive and well.

Even if it were to apply to the Ohio and Indiana near-miss incidents (and I am not saying that it does), I will tell you that it is not a prudent or a wise position to take, because there is no logical reasoning to support it.

No department, regardless of size or type can justify such reckless behavior in any of their firefighters and if they do, then it’s time for new officers and fire commissioners on those departments.

If a command structure is so lax that the first arriving will forego BASIC personal safety and to risk imminent danger to their life or their health, then their command structure is non-existent. And that lends to the issue of whether SOPs exist in these departments. I would seriously question their existence.

Then, we often wonder why federal agencies are crawling all over volunteer fire departments who want to plead “poor us” on the one hand and claim “we are all firefighters doing the same job” on the other hand. Don’t make me vomit!

Clearly, with these two, recent confined space incidents, we are NOT the same and if they are the litmus test for our preparedness, then we are in some deep doo-doo.

However; I don’t believe that we are.

I believe that volunteer fire departments, for the majority, have come a long way from those days when fire departments were just another social club in the community. I know for a fact that we fixed it in our community some time ago and we are not far from the norm.

We are not flush with money. We still do fundraisers and we borrow money if necessary. We have to consider whether to repair or replace our equipment. We don’t have people beating our door down to join. We are competing with other organizations and obligations for a candidates’ free time. We are like many departments in that regard.

But, two things that we insist on are: providing necessary personal protective equipment and training for the services that we offer our community. We will NOT do anything that we are not equipped or trained to do. Yes; we are equipped and trained to do confined space rescue. We split the cost between taxpayers and business owners in order to provide the service and under Illinois law, we can charge for extraordinary expenditures as a result of the rescue, if necessary.

Again; I believe that there are many departments who are more like us than those who are not.

In my mind, these recent events aren’t even wake up calls. Maybe it is for the affected departments, but for the many departments who have SOPs, it only serves to remind us that some should seriously consider getting out of the business, because; if they can’t afford to get into it, then their communities’ cannot afford the risk.

When I think about the Indiana incident and the fact that aid was delayed to the victims because they had to remove two stricken firefighters first, it makes my blood boil because firefighters are constantly complaining about the few seconds that they are delayed by Dispatch or because the motoring public didn’t pull over when they saw the blue light or because a proper size up delayed the error chain or because incident command wasn’t established fast enough and on and on.

So, this begs the question: how long was aid delayed to the victims because two firefighters had to be pulled out first?

And is it appropriate to insert the old adage: how much good can we do for the victims if WE become the victims?

I thank God that no one else died in these incidents, but it wasn’t because it was planned that way.

It was because of luck and divine intervention.

We have to continue to keep the pressure on organizations that masquerade as fire departments.

We have to sharpen the knife and excise those who create tremendous liability to their fellow firefighters, their departments and their communities. If there isn’t a plan in place to train and provide the equipment for technical rescues, then the plan should state that your department will not attempt such rescues. If you don’t tell your communities what you can and cannot do, then they will expect you to do EVERYTHING.

We have to be sharp enough to recognize the realities, educate our communities and then meet expectations.

We simply aren’t cutting it if we don’t.


This article is protected by federal copyright laws under The Adventures of Jake and Vinnie© umbrella. It cannot be re-produced in any form without the expressed and written permission of Art Goodrich, also known as ChiefReason.

Please visit: www.fireemsblogs.com and my blog www.chiefreasonart.com.
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