Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Nature or nurture in the fire service?

A few months ago, retired Fire Chief Ken contacted the Kitchen table with questions about firefighters' motivation. Are you happy in your career? What improves your satisfaction?

He used your answers in a psychology paper titled 'Nature vs. Nurture and Intrinsic Motivation', quoting one TKT response:
'When people call 9-1-1, they are essentially saying that their situation is beyond their control and ability; we come in, look at the situation, and apply a solution that is literally thrown together with what we can find or what we brought on the truck.There are individuals who MIGHT pull something like that off once in their lives; we do it several times every day.'
Another firefighter wrote:
'Sometimes I think this career chose me. I started hanging around the fire station before I could even walk. My family had been involved in the fire service for three generations before me, all as volunteers. I chose, and was lucky enough, to become a paid firefighter and make a career out of something I knew for as long as I can remember.'
With Ken writing, "The volunteer generations before this now career firefighter, have clearly left a legacy; their example of community service was not meaningless."

Thanks to Ken for sharing his results! You can view the paper as a Word HTML document here. (All content is the property of Ken Link.)

Monday, March 29, 2010

Stopping the Loss of Knowledge

Statistics indicate that during the next decade, thousands of fire officers and senior firefighters will leave the profession. They have done their duty, and they are looking forward to a well-deserved retirement. These colleagues possess such a wealth of knowledge that it would be a shame to lose it; however, this potential for loss is on our horizon. I am requesting a two way venture to occur. Youthful members of our great profession, go to the seasoned veterans and ask them to share their knowledge with you. Also allow them to mentor to you. Veterans fire service professions, take time to share all you know with colleagues around you. What you possess is priceless.

Additionally, we have thousands of fire officers in leadership roles whom are blessed with clinical and administrative knowledge. They know the in and outs of staffing, budgeting, capital equipment prioritizing, employee assistance and development, and schedule coordination. The next generation of fire officers is entering a world of tight budgets, looming staff shortages, an aging population, and a sometimes fanatical drive for efficiency by administrators. I hear from both groups, however, that the other is not interested in learning.

The fire chief should equip officers to lead. Officers should lead their subordinates positively and equip their subordinates to lead as well. We have lost this art in our business. I can relate to coming along as a young officer want to be. I can say I am the most blessed man in the entire fire service history to have had the type of mentors I had. Individuals that had the true passion giving endlessly and tirelessly to me and others at that time. These individuals are my true inspiration and taught me all about passion. To these guys who know who they are, Thanks you for the gift! Now if you are with me in receiving this gift as well then it is time to pay back the debt. You can only pay this debt by passing it along.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Time to Get Out of the Service

This blog will ponder that issue that faces every firefighter or EMT when we ask ourselves “Is it time to get out of the service?”

I get frustrated when the discussion boards lack discussion; meaningful discussion, that is. Oh; there is the same old chatter from the squirrels, but the good information that is coming out in a host of blogs…if they are getting read, they certainly aren’t being discussed to any great degree.

Are we THAT busy in our lives that we can’t take a moment and check in to see what’s shakin’ in our little world of the fire service? Then, if we have a few minutes but don’t take the time, are we disconnected or disinterested?

In case you didn’t know, the winds of discontent are blowing…or sucking, depending on your perspective.

As I learned from listening to a recent podcast on, our people in fire/EMS are not all that happy and in some cases are getting burnt out and burn out leads to GETTING out.

We cannot afford to let that happen, so what do we do?

Bear with me as I share my thoughts with you. Maybe you should go and get that beverage now.

Where is it written that WE must shoulder the weight of the world just because we want to help our communities in their times of need?

Who says that we have to internalize and otherwise hide/mask all of the ugly junk that we see that defies any plausible explanation or description?

Why do we continue to believe that, if we don’t do it, no one else will? Can’t you feel the sheer desperation of having no alternatives that effectively forces someone to commit?

And finally; why do we watch our brothers and sisters succumb to the pressures of giving our best efforts, failing to change the outcome and believing that it’s failure nonetheless?

Well, I am here to tell you that you lost touch with reality on the day that you thought your fire certifications and EMT licenses was going to fix everything!

We continue to set the bar high which, in and of itself is a good thing, but when we don’t have a net to catch the ones who barely miss reaching the bar, we set ourselves up to fail. We must keep everyone engaged, improve our leadership, training and expand the knowledge base in everyone who chooses to be a firefighter/EMT.

Besides; what are we really measuring our success against anyway?

From cheating death?

From cheating all of those external forces that we cannot control, but manage to survive in while it kills others and taking our guilt from it with us?

And along with that guilt, a sense of failure that washes over us with such pervasive force that we forget our love for what we do?

We become so emotionally invested with every, single incident-we become so singular of purpose-that we let the outcome define us going forward. Each time a building falls or a patient dies, a little bit more of our desire to do the job leaves us until we have no more desire to do it.

We should not measure ourselves and what we do by the outcome of one incident. Instead, we should look at incidents-one by one-as lessons learned, pay compliments to those involved, share a light moment and get ready for the next one, because, in the end; it is the volume of work and we are adding the chapters; some bad, but many that are good or even great.

We hear a lot about pain thresholds. How much pain can we take before it becomes too much?

And though it largely refers to physical pain, I have to believe that the same holds true for mental pain.

I know someone who used a staple gun to pierce their ear and laughed about it as they did it, but when they saw the blood, they immediately passed out!

On the other side, I have friends who will go to the emergency room if they get a bug in their eye, but can deal with the most complex, multi-agency response incidents that I have seen. So, one type of pain threshold isn’t necessarily indicative of the other.

As we know, firefighters need both mental and physical toughness to weather the beatings that we will take from an incident. We have to take something positive from EVERY incident. There ARE positives even if there is a negative outcome and we have to talk it to that point where we all agree that, had we not been there, the situation would have been worse, regardless of the outcome.

Veteran firefighters hold the secrets to their longevity of service. They could be invaluable to the ones who are struggling with the emotional aspects of a call. Veterans could take the broken pieces of someone’s spirit and help to put it back together, if only they were asked.

See; veterans know the protocol. Veterans won’t invite themselves to the party. Veterans don’t take shots at those who have just seen grotesquely mutilated metal and flesh. They remember their first few times and they know all too well that you have to process it. It’s something that you don’t joke about…until you have had time to get better, that is.

Veterans play a pivotal role in helping others process what they do, see and hear at an incident and especially if it is having a negative impact. Were it not for the veterans, our turnover rate in the fire service would be 100 percent plus. They remind us that each of us are uniquely different, but with similar stories and it’s the telling of those stories to each other that gets us back to our love for what we do!

I got by because I treated calls as if they fell somewhere between “I haven’t seen the worst one yet” to “I have seen worse”.

Roll that one around for a bit, but it makes perfect sense to me. They are on opposite ends of the spectrum, so every call will fit somewhere between them. That is how I managed to truly love every minute of my 22 active years of running calls. I have a couple of scrapbooks that I visit from time to time and I know that many of you have your scrapbooks in the memories of your minds.

Today, I have plenty to be concerned with. I am still active in making sure that our fire department is ready for emergencies.

Though I am dismayed by some of what I am reading about scumbags in the fire service, I take something positive away EVERY day; whether it is a story of a good save, a baby born on the way to the hospital, a near miss with a happy ending, a story on a friend’s promotion, an article from a friend’s keynote address, or a book written by an old friend from his Illinois days. That’s right; Illinois claims Chief Rick Lasky.

People in the service like Rick, Tiger, Dave, Gonzo, Rhett, John, Mick, Ted, Jason, Chris, Mike, Steve, CJ and many others help to keep my compass needle pointing in the right direction.

I will offer you this piece of advice: you will miss opportunities if the only times that you dream is when you sleep.

Take something positive from the job and end the day with good thoughts.


The article is protected by federal copyright law under The Adventures of Jake and Vinnie© umbrella. It is written and submitted by Art Goodrich a.k.a. ChiefReason. This article or any other article submitted under The Adventures of Jake and Vinnie© umbrella cannot be reproduced in ANY form without the expressed, written permission of the author. Violations are punishable by applicable laws.
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Monday, March 22, 2010

Aggressive Smoke Erupts With Firefighters Inside

Firefighters in Peru demonstrate why continual size-up is a must.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

I'm with STUPID

We’ve all heard the stories about firefighters doing stupid things on duty or off. Firefighters committing arson, breaking and entering, driving intoxicated, failing work-related random drug screening tests, abusing their domestic partners…the list goes on and on. As one of the replies to the Cumberland Valley Volunteer Fireman’s Association’s recent White Paper on Ethics in the Fire Service says, the report is a “litany of the obvious”. The ethical problems that plague the fire service include “Cheating, arson, theft, alcohol and substance abuse, harassment, discrimination, and misuse of departmental and personal information technology… “

It makes one wonder if the Fire Chief's uniform should include this shirt;

Here are a few examples of less-than-smart and ethically-impaired firefighter behavior I found in a Bing search that took about 10 minutes:

Firefighter investigated for arson at his own home.

Firefighter investigated for arson at his own home (another one)

Firefighter sets fire to another firefighter’s home

Firefighters involved in two separate break-ins

Firefighter DUI case

Firefighter arrested for DUI, spits in police officer’s face

Still another firefighter DUI

Firefighters charged with assault in bar brawl

Firefighter charged with child sexual assault

Another fire station noose incident

Here’s another twist – noose planted in fake firehouse racism incident

Firefighter charged with arson and convicted of bomb threat

Firefighter hospitalized after firehouse prank goes wrong

Ex firefighter gets prison for firehouse arson

Junior firefighter shot in leg during firehouse hazing

Peeping Tom firefighter arrested, peered from ceiling at female paramedic as she showered

Firefighters fired for obscene and harassing prank phone calls to female lieutenant

Female firefighter sexual harassment lawsuit settled

Female firefighter harassed

Son of late fire chief guilty of embezzlement

FireGeezer has several other stories about embezzlement from fire companies here

How do we reconcile this with the recent public opinion polls that rate firefighters as the most trusted profession in the U.S. and Great Britain?

How do we, as a profession, reduce or eliminate the ethical problems that will inevitably knock us from the position of high trust we hold? Whose responsibility is it? Is it the fire chief’s responsibility? Does the responsibility lie with the officers, senior firefighters, or with instructors at the fire academy? Does it lie with a new fire recruit’s parents and family? Does the school system that has spent the last three decades teaching “value-neutral” education share the responsibility? Does a pop culture that downplays the role of religion share in the blame? Does the switch to playing computer games and baring our inner thoughts via social networking sites instead of learning a trade and the value of productive work contribute?

Without designing a multi-year sociological study, the short answer is that all of the above share in the responsibility and the blame. More importantly, what do we do about the problem?

When we accept a new fire recruit, we have to understand them for what they are. We can’t give them a two-parent home, send them to church, or give them a meaningful job outside the fire service. We can’t help them re-live their formative years. We can’t eradicate the computer gaming and social networking culture from the new firefighters – those are here to stay.

Potential Solutions

We can make our expectations clear.

We can provide supervision, leadership, mentoring, and Big Brother/Big Sister-type programs for our new members.

We can assign a reliable veteran to mentor every new firefighter not only in fire/rescue and EMS skills, but in ethics and the role of good behavior and public trust as essential to our mission.

We can institute smart business solutions including internal and external audits of department funds and business practices, frequent reports to the membership, and a fully-transparent annual report.

We can set firm rules for firefighter conduct and behavior.

We can make it clear that serious rules violations will result in termination and if appropriate, a referral to law enforcement for prosecution.

We can enforce the rules equally, regardless of rank or position.

We can lead by example.

We can limit or eliminate alcohol at fire department and related events. Alcohol doesn't make you smarter, funnier, better behaved, or more trustworthy.

We can develop an Organization and Discipline training course and require that every new member complete it prior to granting full membership in the organization.

We can develop a Fire Service Ethics training course and require that every new member complete it prior to granting full membership in the organization. (The CVVFA’s program is a good start.)

We can develop a program to review case studies involving the financial, criminal, family, and personal costs of firefighter misbehavior with new members, and periodically, with the more seasoned veterans.

The candidate pool is what it is. We can’t go back in time to better prepare our new members, we have to work with what we get. We can ensure that candidates are screened, supervised, and mentored to reduce the impact of bad firefighter behavior on the profession and upon individual departments. We can also make it clear that bad behavior will not be tolerated, and that if the new firefighter wants to become a veteran firefighter, good choices and ethical behavior are not just expectations – they are essentials.

I don't know how to say this any more strongly - If you're going to engage in unethical, racist, sexist, criminal, or stupid behavior, particularly while representing your Fire/Rescue or EMS department, GET OUT OF THE PROFESSION! The CVVFA White Paper shows the way to ethical firefighter behavior. It is a road map for maintaining the strong position of public trust we enjoy. This job is supposed to be the province of the people who can best do the job, who are the most trustworthy, and who demonstrate responsible behavior. Let's all commit to helping prevent a few bad apples from screwing it up for the rest of us.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Credentialing and Qualifications Resources

The recent insights related to fire officer credentialing and qualifications gave way to some questions posed on resources, opportunities and guidance. In both the posting and the links there are a number of avenues for further research and exploration. With obvious reason start by looking at the offerings and requirements established within your home state fire training system. If an officer or chief within your own organization can’t provide you with the desired information contact a larger fire department or agency that may be within the region.

Here’s a (non-inclusive) list of resources and links that should support your quest for additional information on fire officer credentialing, qualifications and training and the related elements within this broad based area;

• Fire and Emergency Services Higher Education (FESHE) Program, HERE
• Interoperability for Professional Development: The National Professional Development Model and Matrix, HERE
• FESHE Program/Professional Development Committees and Business Model, HERE
• NFA, Executive Fire Officer Program, HERE
• National Fire Academy-NFA, HERE
• NFA Online courses, HERE
• Emergency Management Institute-EMI, HERE
• International Society of Fire Service Instructors-ISFSI, HERE
• ProBoard Fire Service Professional Qualifications System, HERE
• ProBoard Accredited Agencies, HERE
• The International Fire Service Accreditation Congress (IFSAC), HERE
• National Fire Protection Association-NFPA, Codes and Standards, HERE
• IFSTA, e-Learning Programs, HERE
• FEMA’s Independent Study Program offers courses, HERE
• Commission on Professional Credentialing (CPC) HERE
• The Chief Fire Officer (CFO) Designation Program HERE
• The Chief Medical Officer (CMO) Designation Program, HERE
• The Fire Officer (FO) Designation Program, HERE
• Society of Fire Protection Engineers-SFPE, HERE
• Certified Emergency Manager. HERE
• Institution of Fire Engineers, HERE
• Institution of Fire Engineers USA Branch, HERE

Can You Answer My Question?

Do you hear that?

That is the sound of despair, hopelessness and fear. It is your victim.

They can’t get out without your help. The few minutes that have passed has emptied them of any hope that they will get out alive.

Blinding smoke, searing heat…what they are drowning in is what we flourish in; it ignites us and excites us, not because we want it to, but because Fire forces so many conditioned responses and extraordinary actions and tests our most primal instincts. We must rescue our fellow humans AND survive while doing it.

There is no “fight or flight”. It is more like “stay and pray”.

Your victim doesn’t want to die alone, but they don’t want anyone else to die like that, either. They are hoping that, if they are not rescued in time, then at least, in their final moments, they will hear the soothing voice of their God whispering forgiveness into their ear and then open the gate to their eternal peace.

You will move swiftly, stopping for a split second to gauge your own mortality and then push forward, because you have seen the face of your victim. You have looked into their eyes; the windows into their soul and the pain and anguish that you see is the fuel that you use to give you strength.

Their face could be your face or the face of someone that you know. It matters not, because they are a victim. You HAVE to get to them in time. Otherwise; you can only hope that they slip into an unconsciousness that will numb their senses to the horrific effects that only Fire can produce.

You cannot bear that thought. You have made your decision. You have committed your team. You have not only trained for this moment, but you have lived for this moment; a moment in which you could die!

You may hear the roar of the fire over the pounding of your heart. You will hear the water shooting from the nozzle and splashing against the walls and ceiling with terrific force. If you close your eyes, it almost sounds like you’re taking your car through the automatic spray carwash.

You will hear every step, every breath, the sound of the vent saw, a ladder hitting the side of the house, the sound of glass breaking and the radio chatter over the PA speaker on the engine.

There could be several endings to this, but one thing is certain; risk a lot to save a life is in our mission.

This is a scenario that has played out in our heads and in our communities for decades.

No nobler profession than that of firefighter!

The desperation, contemplation, exhilaration, extrication, celebration; it’s a roller coaster ride of emotion for victim and rescuer.

So, my question to you is this: why would you risk it all on an abandoned, unoccupied, vacant, dilapidated, dangerous piece of property that has no soul, no heart, no gratitude and only hate and contempt for those who dare to enter? See:

Or would you?


The article is protected by federal copyright law under The Adventures of Jake and Vinnie© umbrella. It is written and submitted by Art Goodrich a.k.a. ChiefReason. This article or any other article submitted under The Adventures of Jake and Vinnie© umbrella cannot be reproduced in ANY form without the expressed, written permission of the author. Violations are punishable by applicable laws.
Please visit: and my blog

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Officer Credentialing and Qualifications

It’s no longer acceptable to be functioning and performing in a rank and position of responsibility without the necessary knowledge, skills and abilities (KSA) in order to execute those duties in an effective, efficient and compliant manner aligned with your department’s policies, procedures and standards. The aspect of officer Credentialing and Qualifications isn’t anything new. The NFPA Professional Fire Officer Qualifications standard has been around since 1976, as have a variety of Pro Board, IFSAC and State approved training programs that lead to certification, credentialing and have a sequential qualifications track.

What are your thoughts related to Fire Officer Credentialing and Qualifications?
  • How does Fire Officer Credentialing and Qualifications get integrated and implemented in the mainstream volunteer fire service?
  • Is it needed, achievable or warranted?
  • Does the role of voting for officers still have a place in the fire service in 2010 and beyond, or are we retaining vestiges from a past that no longer has relevancy or applicability?
Take a look at some insights into a program that seeks to provide a means to document fire officer training, skills and proficiencies aligned with standard rank and position responsibilities, that allow an agency to determine the method for phased implementation of the elements of this program. The intent of a model Voluntary Fire Officer Qualifications Credentialing Matrix is to provide a sequential model for training, education and skill set development that provides uniformity to achieve increasing proficiencies that align with advancements in rank and responsibilities. ( It is not the intent to replace traditional certification paths and processes) Check out the model program HERE.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Make Every Day a Training Day

I asked my fourteen year old daughter who plays soccer, "Maggie what do you think it takes to make an effective and winning team?" Wondering how she would answer this question I was truly amazed at the answer: "Everyone has to do their job and make plays." Surprised at the answer I decided to ask my seven year old son Charlie who is into football and baseball the same question. His answer was very simplistic but on target, "Do what you were taught to do and never quit."

Listening to this I can say that they get the concept of what it takes to be on a winning time. If we translate this across to the fire service and compare their sporting teams to the fire company or fire department what they said is applicable. That is exactly what we need to do to be outstanding agencies. People do their jobs, work diligently and keep their skills honed.

I was recently teaching program with a colleague where we were doing some hands on training. We had a particular focus for the class but what we found was the basic skills were not solid. In reviewing this during the class and now having time to reflect on the potential issue this is a common problem I have seen for some time now with some of the training events I have attended. In reviewing these findings it is apparent we are not running as many working fires as statics support that nor are we spending enough time learning to do our jobs or keeping those skills honed to game performance level.

This means we have to stay focused on our training. What seems to be the same old routine drill is the common thread that keeps you at game performance level. Playing football for 13 years and spending 29 years in the fire service I am convinced that we are not much different from any sports team. Each player has a role. Without each of those team members performing at an optimum level in the game, the success of the team will most likely not be documenting a win but a loss for that event. For the fire service this same concept could mean a loss for us, which could mean loss of property, civilian lives or ultimately the loss of firefighter lives. Training is the common thread between peak performance, safety and good service.

Make everyday a training day and let's never forget to train on the basics.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Beyond the Big Fire-Big Water Principle

Commanders and Company Offices need to gain new insights and knowledge related to the modern building occupancy and to modify and adjust operating profiles in order to safe guard companies, personnel and team compositions. Strategies and tactics must be based on occupancy risk not occupancy type and must have the combined adequacy of sufficient staffing, fire flow and nozzle appliances orchestrated in a manner that identifies with the fire profiling, predictability of the occupancy profile and accounts for presumed fire behavior.

Today’s engine company operations and fire suppression theory has to progress beyond the pragmatic approaches to fire suppression such as “Big Fire-Big Water" principle.

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 predictable 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; in addition to having an appropriately trained and skilled staff to perform the requisite evolutions.

Executing tactical plans based upon faulted or inaccurate strategic insights and indicators has proven to be a common apparent cause in numerous case studies, after action reports and LODD reports. Our years of predictable fireground experience have at times clouded our ability to predict, assess, plan and implement incident action plans and ultimately deploy our companies-based upon the predictable performance expected of modern construction and especially those with engineered structural systems.

Today’s incident scene and structural fires are unlike those in past decades and will continue to challenge us operationally when confronted with structural fire engagement and combat operations. Operationally, we need to be doing the right thing, for the right reason in the right place to increase our safety and incident survivability.

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

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

Saturday, March 13, 2010

What do you know about Building Construction?

What do you know about Building Construction?

Regardless of your rank or time in your organization or company; what do YOU know about building construction? It’s a loaded question to say the least, since the characteristic replies run the gamete of what one thinks they know versus what they actually know. I had the opportunity to lecture in different regions around the country over the past four weeks doing a series of programs on building construction, command risk management and firefighter safety. I say this to frame into context the following. When discussing strategic and tactical operational issues related to combat structural fire operations in the built environment, the majority of personnel, when asked "what type of formal training or instruction have they received in the areas of building construction?"; the majority of replies was typical- NONE, or in varied instanced; a seminar, maybe a weekend field class, or what they received in recruit school. There were some who indicated they had completed a college level course or some more comprehensive single course delivery.

At the minimum, as a company or command officer you must have a soild and fundamental understanding of building construction in order for you to safely and effectively do your job. It's that simple, it's that clear, it's that important.

This common theme is distressing on a number of levels. First and foremost, do you think that, we as firefighters when tasked with the distinctive job of fighting fires in buildings and occupancies; that we should know intimately how a building is constructed, it’s materials and methods of construction, what systems and assemblies hold it in place. How fire loading, dynamics, behavior, intensity and travel and will affect a structure in terms of impingement, propagation, compromise, integrity and collapse. A solid and well versed knowledge base on building construction is an essential and fundamental element in all operational assignments at fires involving a structure and occupancy. Do you think it is anything less?

Knowledge and proficiencies related to building construction are formulative to all strategic, tactical and task level assignments. Without understanding the building-occupancy relationships and integrating; construction, occupancies, fire dynamics and fire behavior, risk, analysis, the art and science of firefighting, safety conscious work environment concepts and effective and well-informed incident command management, company level supervision and task level competencies; You are derelict and negligent and “not "everyone may be going home".

Take a look at local, regional or national level training offerings and opportunities. Check out on-line offerings and select from the many seminar programs being offered related to building construction, risk management , structural systems, fire dynamics and fire behavior that integrate construction , strategies, tactics, safety, and operational relevant to today’s fireground risks and operational parameters.

Remember, Building Knowledge = Firefighter Safety.

Understanding Buildings, Performance & Fire Operations-Random Thoughts

• There is an acute corollary of technical knowledge and inter reliance on occupancies, construction, strategy, tactics, risk, safety, physics, engineering and fire suppression theory…FACT!

• There are Fundamental Domains that can be applied

• The Rules of Combat Structural Firefighting have changed; Didn’t anyone tell you?

• What about; Structures, Occupancy Types, Construction, Systems, Materials, Size, Height, Dimensions, Volumes, Vintage, Square footage, Resistance, Combustibility, Fire Loadings, Hazards, Occupancy Loads, Compartments, Barriers, Defenses, Protective's, Inherent, Style, Design, Features, Appearance, Form, Fa├žade, Deceptions, Assumptions, Distance, Proximity, Exposure, Access, Restrictive, Limiting, Vulnerable, Risk, Value, Operations and Safety. What do these mean to you?

• Do you equate the true limitations of time related to occupancy, structure and fire dynamics and fire load? Or is it just stretching the line and getting in…?

• Do you truly integrate occupancy risk with operational deployment and task assignments?

• Does your Incident action plan (IAP) reflect dynamic risk assessment related to the structure and occupancy?

• Modern building construction is no longer predicable; Do you an appreciation of what impact this has on your strategic or tactical operations?

• Command & company officer technical knowledge may be diminished or deficient in the areas of building construction; Does your organization have gaps in this area? If so, what can you do to close those gaps and reduce the risk?

• Technological Advancements in construction and materials have exceeded conventional fire suppression practices, yet we still advocate, train and practice antiquated firefighting principles.

• Some fire suppression tactics are faulted or inappropriate, requiring innovative models and methods.

• Fire Dynamics and Fire Behavior is not considered during fireground size-up and assessment

Risk Management related to building structure and occupancy is either not practiced or willfully ignored during most incident operations

• Nothing is going to happen to me (us); “we’ve been fighting fires the same way for the past thirty years and we’ve done OK. We don’t need any of this stuff”. Sound familiar; what do you think?

Some additonal insights; HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE and HERE

Friday, March 12, 2010

Is Code of Ethics Code Blue?

Or so the would lead us to believe.

But, it comes off as if sounding an alarm to a recent fire service revelation.

And the truth is that many of us have been discussing many of the areas of concern for some time. I can tell you that the hot topic of firefighter arson has been on the discussion boards since at least 2001.

Am I to believe that people who apply for firefighter positions have to be reminded that, as firefighters, they will be held to higher moral and ethical standards?

Unless they recently crawled out of a cave, I would think that, if nothing else in the job description is known, “held in the public’s trust” would be a tacit thought at the very least.

What fire departments have to do is to screen out the candidates who might have an ulterior motive for joining a fire department, which is to use the position of trust to commit crimes. (See

When departments are making poor decisions to recruit and retain members, why would we expect that same department to make GOOD decisions when a firefighter has been caught committing a serious criminal act?

Fire departments keep their dirty little secrets “internal” for one of two reasons: either they honestly believe that they have the wherewithal to appropriately deal with it or they are hiding and hoping; that is, hiding it from the public and hoping that it will go away on its own.

The Fire Service Reputation Management White Paper Report was delivered with an almost wide-eyed astonishment. No disrespect is intended, but, in my mind, it was never a question of whether our lofty moral and ethical characters were taking a hit with each new firefighter arrest, but when, as a nation of firefighters, we were going to collectively do something about it.

A code of ethics has always been there. Unfortunately, it took a back seat to money and manpower discussions. And it’s ironic, but ethics has everything to do with money and manpower.

Sometimes we can’t see the forest through the trees.
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The recent Cumberland Valley White Paper on Fire Service Reputation Management illustrates a troubling fire service trend: entitlement. Perhaps we should stop walking on water and adopt a little humility as a profession. The respect of the public we serve is not automatically accorded, it is earned. The highly publicized scandals involving firefighters have done more to destroy the honor and reputation of the fire service than any outside critic could accomplish independently. It may be time to wake up and smell the coffee: instead of considering scandal avoidance, how about reconsidering the roots and traditions of the fire service that brought us here in the first place?

A serious rededication to our mission would, in my opinion, put us back in our former place of high societal esteem. Ethics is knowing the difference between right and wrong. The tradition of the fire service is all about right. There is no room for wrong. Getting back to our heritage would help put the train back on the track. Firefighters never were and never will be entitled to hero status. Such stature is earned each and every day.

Mike McEvoy

Monday, March 8, 2010

The Bathtub Collapse, Part 2

Part 1 of this series from All Hazards Contemplations was an introduction to Bathtub Collapse problem identification, exterior size-up, strategy considerations and development, and safety considerations. Part 2 discusses tactical considerations, interior size-up, victim recovery, investigations, and incident termination.


In order to make a bathtub collapse rescue safe and efficient, the operation must follow a logical sequence. The first step in this sequence is to support the sides of the bathtub. If the bathtub is formed by structural walls or columns, start by shoring them. Raker shoring systems are a good way to support exterior walls.(1) For masonry or wooden walls, traditional raker shore types are appropriate. Modified split sole rakers may be used to provide columns with lateral support. Visibly stressed walls or columns should be shored first. If the wall or column is leaning or cracked, it’s stressed.

Extrication Strut as a temporary door shore

The next step is to support natural entry points, then open them. Door and window openings can be shored as in any other structural collapse. You may need to frame the edges of the opening with a raker system prior to shoring the actual opening. Once the door opening is supported, additional bathtub components such as metal Q-decking, rebar grids, and other metal components may be cut away to clear the opening for access and egress. Cutting operations create sparks, open flames, or both. Ensure that the building’s gas supplies are shut off and that the area is well-ventilated prior to using cutting tools that create ignition sources. Also ensure that both water and dry chemical extinguishers or a charged hoseline are nearby curing cutting operations.

Cutting Q-decking and rebar obstructions with a rotary saw

Once the interior of the bathtub is accessed, it may be necessary to use strongbacks and tiebacks to support inward-leaning walls. Picket systems or large, well-secured anchors should be used to anchor the exterior tiebacks. Place towels, blankets, etc. over the tieback cables to reduce whipping in the event of cable failure. Once the tieback system is complete, keep everyone out of the immediate area.


Once the bathtub walls are secure, it’s time to take care of overhead hazards. Identify all widowmakers and eliminate falling object hazards by using one of the following methods;

1. Secure the widowmaker by tying it to solid structural components with cables, chains, come-alongs, etc.
2. Remove the widowmaker by bolting it, then tensioning it with a crane, and cutting it loose from the structure.
3. Avoid the widowmaker by marking and enforcing a collapse zone beneath the widowmaker. This may not be possible, as the victims may be trapped directly below the widowmaker.

Search Tactics

Once the surrounding structure is secured, the interior search can begin. Start by searching voids and by manually removing selected debris.(2) Voids may be searched visually with flashlights, thermal imaging cameras (TICs), USAR or fiber optic search cameras, and by probing voids with pike poles. It is important to note that wet concrete produces heat, and this heat may mask the heat signature of a human body when searching with TICs. Remember that TICs cannot “see” through solid materials such as structural components.

Simultaneously with the void search and light debris removal, other crews may start searching through the wet concrete in the bathtub. You may manually search for gaps in the horizontal Q-deck by simply using gloved hands to probe through the wet concrete and any gaps in the edges of the Q-decking.

Victim Search in a Bathtub Collapse

It is also important to create horizontal openings in the vertical Q-decking parts of the bathtub. This allows horizontal removal of some of the concrete while it is still wet. Hoselines can be used to keep the concrete wet and dilute as long as the water will not run into voids and drown the victim or cause hypothermia. Scoop shovels and even stiff-bristled push brooms can be used to move wet concrete through the bathtub openings.

Hose Stream dilutes and moves wet concrete

Bathtub Collapses into Basements

If it is necessary to lift wet concrete out of a basement, simple bucket-and-rope systems may be used, but they are manpower-intensive. Vacuum trucks may be useful, but the concrete may be too heavy for the vacuum to lift it very far. Large amounts of water will probably be required to dilute the concrete enough for a vacuum truck to lift it, and that much water may drown the victim prior to completing the rescue. Water also adds weight to an already-damaged structure, which may cause additional collapse. It may be necessary to move large volumes of wet concrete in order to locate the victim. It also may be possible to use a trash/solids pump to move dilute concrete out of a basement if the aggregate size is small enough to make it through the pump without clogging it. A bathtub collapse into a crawl space is generally similar to a collapse into a basement, but may allow grade-level access to one or more sides of the bathtub.

Victim Extrication

Once the victim is located, determine the body position and attempt to expose the airway. If the victim is alive, follow local blunt trauma and crush/compartment syndrome protocols. If the victim is deceased, ensure that all other potential victims are accounted for. If other victims are not accounted for, it will likely be necessary to continue in Rescue mode. If all victims are accounted for and have been determined to have died, then shifting to Recovery mode is more appropriate.
It is likely that rebar will be submerged or semi-submerged in the concrete. Large sections of the rebar grid may be cut away with minimal effort by locating the rebar and cutting it around the outside edge of the area you desire to expose. Cut rebar grid away with hydraulic cutter or large bolt cutters if it is submerged in the wet concrete. Rebar cutters, reciprocating saws, and/or torches may be used to cut any exposed rebar, particularly if only one hydraulic cutter is present.

Hydraulic cutters being used to cut rebar

Removal of rebar grid section

To extricate the victim, it is useful to locate the Q-decking edge closest to the victim. Once this edge is located, it can be used as a purchase point to move concrete and steel away from the victim. A variety of tools and techniques may be successful. Once the Q-deck edge has been located, start moving wet concrete away from it. A good rule of thumb is to move wet concrete away from the hole at least three times the depth of the remaining concrete. This will help prevent wet concrete from running through the hole in the Q-decking and burying the now-exposed victim.

Once adequate amounts of wet concrete and rebar have been removed, it is time to attack the Q-decking. You can start by using the exposed Q-deck edge as a purchase point and lifting the edge with hydraulic rescue spreaders. As you open the spreaders, the Q-decking will start peeling back. You can extend the cuts with hydraulic spreaders or reciprocating saws. If power tools are not available, even hacksaws can be used to cut the Q-decking. Small rescue air bags may be used to lift the Q-deck, but remember that sharp rebar ends or Q-decking edges may cut or puncture the air bags. If using air bags, pad them with sections of rubber matting such as old tractor-trailer mud flap material or short sections of old large-diameter fire hose. Bottle jacks or small scissor jacks can also be used to lift the Q-decking.

Hydraulic spreader used to roll up exposed Q-decking edge

It is not necessary to remove all of the concrete from the Q-decking prior to cutting it. Additional personnel can be used to continue moving concrete away from the victim with scoop shovels. As with any other heavy lifting operation, cribbing must be installed to support the lift. Use the “Lift an inch, crib an inch” cribbing method. It may be possible to use a come-along to support rebar grid sections that are too large for complete removal.

If it is becomes necessary to remove very large sections of Q-decking or other metal components, several cutting methods may be employed simultaneously. These can include alternating hydraulic spreader lifts with hydraulic cutter relief cuts, lifting with a spreader while extending the cut with reciprocating saws, or by removing concrete and steel in an area away from the victim in order to create an intermediate location in which to move materials away from the victim. If using torches, make sure that you do not burn the victim. If using torches remotely from the victim, use an atmospheric monitor near the victim to ensure that torch byproducts are not compromising the victim’s clean air supply.

If it is possible to quickly move a large amount of wet concrete out of the bathtub, consider making purchase points with a hole saw or core drill, inserting short sections of heavy-duty rebar or pickets, and attaching cables in order to lift a large section of steel away.

Prior to removing most of the wet concrete, air chisels and reciprocating saws will be of very little use, since they are designed to use in open air. Pneumatics may have limited utility, but electric tools will quickly burn out and become useless when submerged in wet concrete, due to the saw’s inability to radiate heat into the air.

If the victim is pinned over a secondary void, install supplemental shoring beneath the victim if possible. It may be necessary to install an improvised lifting harness on the victim if a secondary fall possibility is created by the extrication process. If the secondary void is very deep, it may be necessary to have rescuers shore beneath the extrication operation. This is highly dangerous, and is recommended ONLY as a last resort and with IC and Safety Officer approval.

Patient Care

As with any other extrication, provide medical care during the extrication if the victim is alive. If the extrication is prolonged, it will be necessary to provide protection from ambient temperature, extremes of weather, and to provide specialized crush syndrome care. USAR Medical Specialists and paramedics and physicians specializing in cave or mine rescue may be very useful in this situation. USAR medicine may require medications and medical protocols outside of normal EMS procedures. USAR medicine protocols should be approved by local and/or state EMS authorities in advance. It may be necessary to conduct a field amputation in order to save the victim’s life. If possible, a field-qualified physician should make the amputation, as amputations require training and equipment outside the normal paramedic scope of practice.

Once the victim is completely disentangled, package the victim, take any required steps to move the victim outside the structure, and turn the victim over to the transporting unit. All rescuers working near the victim should wear any necessary body substance isolation (BSI) personal protective clothing. If advanced life support (ALS) procedures are in use, EMS personnel should have a sharps container at the patient’s side for IV needles other contaminated sharps disposal.

Third-Party Investigations

If one or more victims are deceased, a scene investigation will be necessary prior to moving the body. The coroner, medical examiner, and/or law enforcement agencies will want to photograph and diagram the scene, interview witnesses, and determine whether any foul play is suspected. If the coroner or medical examiner staff is not trained to enter collapse zones, they may ask that rescuers take scene photos and/or measurements for them. If possible, put the coroner in a location where he/she can direct the rescuers as they take photos and measurements, but do not compromise responder safety to investigate a death.

OSHA investigators may also be on the scene. It is important to note that OSHA investigators do not generally have the authority to interfere with body recoveries, and they do not have the authority to interfere with the rescue of live patients. Fire-rescue and EMS personnel should document any actions they take on behalf of an investigating authority.

It is also important to inform coroner, medical examiner, law enforcement, and OSHA investigators that time is of the essence due to concrete curing. If the concrete hardens with the victim’s body still entrapped, a one or two-hour recovery may become a multi-hour or multi-day recovery operation. Once the body is removed, place it in a body bag, secure it in a Stokes basket, SKED, or other rescue litter, and remove the body from the collapse zone.

Decontamination and Clean-Up

USAR decontamination considerations generally involve cleaning equipment and PPE that may have been exposed to biohazardous wastes and cleaning concrete dust, powdered glass, or other building components from personnel and equipment. Bathtub collapses require an immediate additional step.

Several charged hoselines should be present to remove concrete from responders and equipment while it is still wet. This is particularly true for exposed skin and any tool that was submerged in the wet concrete. Exposed skin is vulnerable to thermal burns from the warm concrete, chemical burns from concrete components, and traumatic injury from rough aggregate or sharp metal edges encountered during the rescue. Concrete will find every nook and cranny in hydraulic rescue tools, bottle jacks, pneumatic hose couplings, pneumatic strut feet, or any other equipment that may have been placed in the concrete. Two or three engine companies assigned exclusively to decon will enable responders and gear to be cleaned quickly, efficiently, and thoroughly.


As with any other incident, all tools, equipment, and apparatus will need to be returned to service, cleaned, and inspected. Any equipment damaged, destroyed, or contaminated beyond salvage will need to be reported and replaced. Powered equipment will need to be serviced and fueled. It may be necessary to replace large quantities of cribbing and shoring materials, contaminated life safety rope, or other materials that it is unsafe to recover. Do not risk personnel to recover a few pieces of wood that can be easily and cheaply replaced.
Any personnel injury or exposure will need to be treated, reported, and receive any necessary follow-up care. An accurate incident report should be completed, anticipating third-party investigations and possibly criminal or civil actions due to the collapse. An after-action review should be held as soon as all the incident facts can be determined. The critique should involve all personnel and units that participated in the response.


Bathtub collapses have not been previously identified and traditional USAR training does not specifically address collapses involving wet concrete. Wet concrete is not easy to shore or support. Wet concrete adds a new degree of difficulty to USAR searches, as you can’t just drill a hole and look through it with a search camera or fiber optic scope. Wet concrete flows to the lowest point and collects, which can concentrate structural weight in a small portion of the supporting structure. Bathtub collapses add an entirely new set of challenges, even for well-trained and experienced USAR teams. One of the most critical elements is time – the concrete won’t stop hardening while we call resources, shore the structure, or search for the victims.

Concrete buildings may be constructed virtually anywhere. All concrete structures are vulnerable to collapse while under construction. With the increasing demand for structures to house people, businesses, and to repair our country’s aging infrastructure, it is anticipated that bathtub collapses will become more common. Any fire-rescue and EMS agency may be faced with a bathtub collapse. Preparation, safety, equipment, training, and above all, anticipation are important to keep responders safe and to successfully conclude the response to complex and dangerous bathtub collapses.


(1) U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
US&R Structures Specialist Field Operations Guide, 3rd Ed.
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Readiness Support Center, 2001, pp IV-42 – IV-48
(2) Goodson, Carl, et al
IFSTA Essentials of Firefighting, 5th Ed.
IFSTA, Stillwater, OK, p 364

All photos courtesy of Hilton Head Island Fire & Rescue

About the Authors

Ben Waller is a Battalion Chief with Hilton Head Island Fire & Rescue, currently assigned as the Training Chief. Ben is a paramedic, a hazardous materials technician, and a USAR rescue specialist. He is Safety Officer for South Carolina USAR Regional Response Team 4 and is an adjunct faculty instructor in the fire, rescue, and incident command programs at the South Carolina Fire Academy. He is a member of the South Carolina Fire Academy’s Rope Rescue and Water Rescue Technical Development Committees. Ben’s education includes a Master’s of Public Administration degree and undergraduate Fire Administration and Paramedic/Allied Health degrees.

Jason Walters is a Lieutenant with Hilton Head Island Fire & Rescue, currently assigned to an engine/medic company. He is a Rescue Manager with South Carolina USAR SCTF-1 and is the Team Coordinator for South Carolina USAR Regional Response Team 4. He is an EMT-B, a hazardous materials technician, and a USAR rescue specialist. Jason is an adjunct faculty instructor in the fire and rescue programs at the South Carolina Fire Academy. His education includes an Associate of Fire Science Degree from Luzerne County College. Jason has 18 years of experience in fire-rescue, EMS, and hazardous materials response. He has 34 years of experience in fire-rescue, EMS, and hazardous materials response.

Florida City Manager Battles Volunteers

The subject of this blog was a news story that was posted here:

The focus of this story has always been on the volunteer fire department’s reaction to the ordinance, when in fact; it should have been on the city manager and her appetite for control.

A quick history lesson of Davenport, Florida city politics finds a community with money that sits just 10 miles from Walt Disney World. Now; I say “with money”, because they have a Commissioner-Manager form of government, 6 paid firefighters and 2 part-time firefighters that is headed by a “part time regular” Fire Administrator. Then, you have the City Manager running things. This is a position that, when it was created, took at least 17 months to fill by the city council. One can only speculate as to why it took so long. Yes; there is a mayor, but apparently, he just runs the meetings and cuts ribbons. Amy Arrington, the city manager rules the city.

Amy Arrington had not held a city manager’s position until Davenport, Florida. She had previously served as assistant city manager for Haines City, Florida. She was hired in Davenport as assistant city manager. When the city manager resigned, Arrington was named interim city manager at a salary of $65,000 a year. The previous city manager, Ryan Taylor, was making $66,950 when he left.

According to my notes, the city and Arrington entered into negotiations for her to take over as city manager, but could not agree on salary and benefits. Arrington showed her team spirit by demanding $76,000 a year in salary, 15 paid leave days and two weeks vacation. Demonstrating the art of compromise, she “settled” for $75,000 a year in salary, no paid leave days, but THREE weeks vacation. I would think that there would also be the standard insurance benefits, retirement, per diems, continuing education and car or car allowance benefits as well.

And, apparently, though she was officially hired on 12/3/07 to the city manager’s position, her start date was adjusted to 8/6/07. My guess is that this is the date when she took over as interim city manager, so there was almost four months of retro pay. Let’s call it a “signing bonus” of sorts.

What does this have to do with the volunteer fire department? PLENTY.

In Florida, county fire departments are common. Davenport, Florida was being serviced by a volunteer fire department and had for about 86 years. Then, after the hurricane season in 2004, the city hired six full time firefighters and supplemented them with the volunteers. I could find no acrimonious articles on any rifts between the full time and volunteer firefighters.

Then, Arrington was tasked with hiring a fire administrator for the purpose of bringing the full time and volunteer firefighters under one leader and resisting the advances of Polk County Fire Service, who had proposed in early 2009 to take over fire service for Davenport. Residents had made it clear that they wanted a local fire department

Arrington’s first hire lasted TWO, whole days. Hmmm; that’s a red flag.

On October 16, 2009, Arrington announced that she had hired Stuart McCutcheon as her “part time regular” fire administrator. His part time salary was set at $25,500 a year. McCutcheon finished work on an AAS degree in fire science on April 12, 2006 from Daytona Beach Community College. I did an exhaustive search and that is all I could find on him (However; I did find a press release from March 3, 2010 by the State of Florida Commission on Ethics that dismissed a charge against Stuart McCutcheon for “no legal sufficiency”).

So, with someone in place that Arrington could control, the wheels were in motion to gain control of the volunteers.

Many of the fire service websites have been discussing this fire department from the perspective that it is because of the ordinance requiring the volunteers to apply for the “auxiliary” positions under the new “regime” (

But, in my opinion, it started months before when the volunteer chief, Don Pelt, was suspended on November 16, 2009 by Stuart McCutcheon, the newly minted fire administrator for responding to a medical call in Davenport. Note that the date is exactly one month after the fire administrator was hired. And consider too, that, the city council, by not voting a show of support for their chief, was showing support for the city manager and the fire administrator

Then, city manager extraordinaire Amy Arrington was instructed by the council to get the matter with the fire department resolved, but the council was leaving it to Arrington to solve.

At the next city council meeting and over objections by the crowd that filled the chambers, the council passed on first reading the new ordinance. ( With the distinct possibility that the volunteer department was out of service, the mayor asked the city manager to meet with them, but Arrington made it very clear that she would, but that she supported the ordinance.

This led to the question by the mayor if Davenport could afford full time fire services. ( If you look at savings in salaries alone, it amounted to approximately $190,000. I’d be curious to know what Polk County Fire Services quoted them for protection. Plus, because the salaries of the full time firefighters were much lower than surrounding departments, they could be easily lured away by higher pay. Without a volunteer department to supplement, you would be increasing the possibilities of overtime, hiring more full time or part time, longer response times, injuries and relying on mutual aid for coverage.

As I said from the beginning, this was never about fire service delivery, but rather, control; a controlling city manager who controls the city council, who controls the fire administrator, who now controls the much smaller fire department. (

Don’t believe me? Here is a quote from the news article: “The purpose of the ordinance, they (Arrington/McCutcheon) have said, is to give the city full control of the department and a single chain of command with Arrington and McCutcheon at the top.

And THAT is where I have my biggest problem with the whole mess.

Can someone please explain to me how a city manager becomes the top of the ladder in a fire department, in broad daylight and in full view of a city council?


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Saturday, March 6, 2010

The Bathtub Collapse, Part 1

This article is co-authored by my friend and colleague Jason Walters. Jason is the Team Leader for USAR SC-Regional Response Team 4. We're discussing this topic at All Hazards Contemplations.


FEMA’s USAR system, basic firefighting texts, and other fire-rescue references describe how to recognize and respond to a variety of structural collapse situations. These collapse types are specific to structures with rigid components. Freshly-poured concrete isn’t rigid, and collapses involving wet concrete create a unique set of circumstances not described in typical structural collapse references.

Collapses have traditionally been classified in four categories. These are the Lean-To Collapse, the V - Collapse, the Pancake Collapse and the Cantilever Collapse.(1) Some USAR documents now describe an additional collapse type – the A-Frame Collapse.(2, 3) The A-Frame Collapse is also known as a Tent Collapse. An A-Frame Collapse is essentially two back-to-back Lean-To collapses that share a common wall or other upright structural component.

There is another collapse type that has recently been identified. This collapse type involves concrete that is still wet. We call it the Bathtub Collapse. Unlike cured concrete, wet concrete does is not solid and when freshly poured, it does not form slabs and or give off dust. Wet concrete runs to the lowest point available, then collects like water in a bathtub. Bathtub collapses have some things in common with other collapse types, but there are several significant differences. The most important are the difficulty in stabilizing a collapse involving wet concrete, handling concrete that does not stay in one place, and the relatively short time it takes for the wet concrete to harden.

Typical Bathtub Collapse

Concrete Weight

Wet concrete is slightly heavier than a corresponding volume of dry concrete. When concrete cures, some of the water evaporates, but much of the water stays in the concrete. Water binds chemically to the solids in the concrete, and thus concrete retains much of the water weight when it cures. Concrete loses some weight as it cures, but surprisingly, that weight loss is relatively small.

The rule of thumb for the weight of a cubic foot of wet concrete with aggregate mix is 4000 lbs/yard3, or approximately 162 lbs/ft.3. The rule of thumb for the weight of a cubic foot of dry concrete with aggregate mix is 3700 lbs/yard3 or 150 lbs/ ft3. (4) The bottom line is that all concrete is heavy. Remember, the primary difference between wet concrete and dry concrete – wet concrete flows to the lowest point and then collects there.

A factor that construction personnel may not take into account is that once a concrete slab is poured, water, wet burlap, or other wet material is often left on the concrete surface to assist in insulating and hydrating the concrete as it cures. This water adds additional weight that may not be considered in the design of the shoring system that supports the pour. If that additional water weight is not accounted for in the shoring system, then a collapse is more likely.

Building Construction Factors

Virtually any type of building construction may be involved in a bathtub collapse. Bathtub collapses usually occur when construction personnel pour a concrete floor at an elevation above the lowest structural level. Bathtub collapses occur in one of three basic configurations. The first is when the collapse rests on the ground or on a slab at grade level. The second bathtub collapse type involves collapses above grade level. The third type is a bathtub collapse into a basement or other below-grade area. Bathtub collapses will most commonly occur at or below grade. Bathtub collapses that begin above the second floor are rare, as the collapse of an upper floor often causes a progressive pancake collapse that destroys the entire structure.
Basic bathtub collapse strategies are based on grade-level collapses. Above-grade and below-grade bathtub collapses involve the same basic strategy as a grade-level collapse, with a few additional considerations.

Construction Process Factors

The collapse of a concrete floor during or immediately after a pour may be due to one or more of the following factors:

• Inadequate shoring beneath the pour
• Wall-floor structural connector failure
• Shoring material failure
• Excessive amount of concrete poured
• Excessive pour concentration
• Failure of walls, beams, or other supporting structural materials

The Bathtub Collapse Sequence

Steel span drops with the outside edges supported, forming a rough bathtub shapeWet concrete runs to the center of the bathtub
Wet concrete runs out of small openings in the edges of the bathtub. These may be quickly blocked due to the heavy concrete viscosity or obstructions outside the bathtub. If small openings are blocked, the concrete in the bathtub will form a larger and deeper pool. This will make size up and extrication more difficult.
Concrete forms a thicker but smaller diameter puddle than the original pour
Rebar, Q-decking or other steel sheeting, and shoring materials are twisted and mixed into the wet concrete

Supporting beams and damaged overhead structural materials may create widowmakers
Supporting beams may fall into the bathtub prior to or during the rescue operation

Size-Up and Strategy

Size-up should be completed in accordance with standard structural collapse protocols. This should include the situation, potential entrapment problems, specific hazards, and a 360-degree look at the structure. When possible, include an elevated look at the collapse. An aerial ladder or nearby building may be used as an elevated observation post. When size-up is complete, Command should develop the Incident Action Plan (IAP) goals, communicate the IAP to all responders, make tactical assignments, and ensure that the personnel accountability system is fully implemented.

Important strategy considerations include:
Define the building factors including construction type
Identify the most likely victim locations
Develop and communicate the IAP
Safety considerations
Remove easily accessible victims
Make the rescue vs. recovery decision
Estimate the concrete cure time
Wet concrete removal methods

Bathtub Collapse Incident Management

Command should consider appointing at least a Safety Officer, a Liaison Officer, and a Rescue Group Supervisor for even a small bathtub collapse.(5) The Safety Officer can help isolate the scene and identify the primary hazards. The Liaison Officer can work with the construction company to determine how many workers are missing or known to be entrapped. The Liaison Officer should communicate with the construction supervisor, gather information, and keep construction personnel available to assist if needed. The Rescue Group Supervisor can concentrate on rescue tactics and needs and allow the Incident Commander to keep his/her attention focused on the overall incident strategy and safety.


Structural collapses typically require more resources than may seem likely during the early incident stages. It is important to have at least one engine company for water supply, one truck company for tools and an aerial device, a heavy rescue or USAR unit for tools and shoring materials, and additional manpower. A large law enforcement presence may be required to keep bystanders, construction personnel, or distraught relatives out of the collapsed structure. Additional construction personnel and heavy equipment such as cranes, front-end loaders, and other machinery may be useful in the rescue effort. If in doubt, call for additional resources early and often. Structural collapse rescue is hard work, and personnel may quickly become exhausted, especially in extremes of temperature and/or

Safety Considerations

One of the first priorities is to assign an Incident Safety Officer. This should be an officer who has a good basic knowledge of building construction, collapse types, USAR strategy and tactics, and common USAR safety problems. The Safety Officer should ensure that a safety zone is established. Collapse zones should be established to exclude responders from areas exposed to potential secondary collapse, particularly in areas beneath widowmakers. The Safety Officer should ensure that building utilities are shut down. Construction company generators and other power supplies should be shut down to reduce electrical hazards and atmospheric contaminants. Construction personnel should be kept on standby, as their generators may be useful power sources later in the incident.

Assessing the outside of the bathtub

The Safety Officer

A Safety Officer should be appointed early in the response. The Safety Officer should don the appropriate PPE and the Safety command vest. Once search and rescue operations begin, the Safety Officer should be located at an elevated observation point, if possible. Observing from an elevation gives the Safety Officer the ability to observe conditions in the bathtub as well as the condition of supporting walls, columns, and the stability of the surrounding structure. Most importantly, an elevated observation point gives the Safety Officer a better perspective on how rescue operations may change structural and personnel safety. For example, if wet concrete piles up against the base of a column that is already leaning, it may topple that pillar and cause an additional collapse. A properly-positioned Safety Officer will be able to anticipate this problem, advise Command, and ensure that the concrete flow is diverted prior to impinging on the damaged column.

Safety Officer’s view into the bathtub from an elevated observation point

Personal Protective Clothing

Standard USAR PPE is usually adequate for bathtub collapse operations. Lace-up safety boots are the most appropriate footwear. Wet concrete has a consistency very much like quicksand, and fire boots may be pulled off of firefighters who walk in it. Leather construction gloves, mechanics gloves, or extrication gloves are adequate for most hand protection, but medical exam gloves will be required for patient care.

Modified Turnout Gear Ensemble used for heavy cutting PPE

This concludes Part 1. Part 2 will discuss discusses tactical considerations, interior size-up, victim recovery, investigations, and incident termination.

(1) Goodson, Carl, et al
IFSTA Essentials of Firefighting, 5th Ed.
IFSTA, Stillwater, OK, pp 362-364

(2) English, Leslie, et al
NFPA 1670, Standard on Operations and Training for Technical Search and
Rescue, 2004 Ed.
NFPA, Batterymarch Park, MA, pp 25-27

(3) U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
US&R Structures Specialist Field Operations Guide, 3rd Ed.
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Readiness Support Center, 2001, p VI-3


(5) Jones, Jeff
NIMS Field Operations Guide, 1st Ed.
InforMed, Tigard, OR, pp 14-20

All photos courtesy of Hilton Head Island Fire & Rescue

Friday, March 5, 2010

All Things are not Equal

It’s no longer just brute force and sheer physical determination that define structural fire suppression operations. Aggressive firefighting must be redefined and aligned to the built environment and associated with goal oriented tactical operations that are defined by risk assessed and analyzed tasks that are executed under battle plans that promote the best in safety practices and survivability within known hostile structural fire environments, while maintaining the values and traditions that defines the fire service.”- Christopher Naum

The lack of appreciation and the understanding of correlating principles involving fire behavior, fuel and rate of heat release and the growth stages of compartment fires within a structural occupancy are the defining paths from which the fire service must reexamine coordinated suppression operations in order to identify with; the predictability of occupancy performance during fire suppression operations, thus increasing suppression effectiveness and firefighter safety.

Our buildings have changed; the structural systems of support, the degree of Compartmentation, the characteristics of materials and the magnitude of fire loading. The structural anatomy, predictability of building performance under fire conditions, structural integrity and the extreme fire behavior; accelerated growth rate and intensively levels typically encountered in buildings of modern construction during initial and sustained fire suppression have given new meaning to the term combat fire engagement.

It begs to suggest that many of today’s incident commanders, company officers and firefighters lack the clarity of understanding and comprehension that correlate to the inherent characteristics of today’s buildings, construction and occupancies and the need for refined suppression operations within the modern building construction setting.

We assume that the routiness or successes of our operations and incident responses equates with predictability and diminished risk to our firefighting personnel. Does your company, your officers, your commanders, your department treat all things as equals when addressing the variables of structural combat fire operations?

Is the equation of Occupancy Risk balanced with Occupancy Type? Are inherent structural stability and compromise conditions adequately identified and considered in the evolving progression of an incident action plan? Or do SOP and SOG’s drive the manner in which fire ground strategies and tactics are orchestrated and implemented at the company task level?

How does this fit into your “culture, values and philosophy as a firefighter, officer or commander?”
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