Thursday, June 24, 2010

Need Not Be Present To…Re-Certify!

“Over 200 Massachusetts EMTs Suspended in Certification Scheme” is a headline that will get your attention!

Many of you will recall that FirefighterNation posted a news story back on May 27, 2010 about this:

In a recent news article ( that was posted on June 18, 2010, you will find more current information, including punishments that have already been delivered.

It has also been handed over to the states’ attorney general for further action, if warranted.

What struck me was the very last comment in the article. It stated:

Auerbach said some of the EMTs caught up in the probe expressed remorse for their actions, but others ‘did not quite understand the severity of their actions!
That statement simply blows me away.

Is it stealing?

Is it cheating?

Is it fraud?

Is it a criminal act?

Now; I am not sitting on my pedestal, high atop of moral ground, but; when you commit a dishonest act, you can either continue down that path and end up in REAL trouble or you can see the errors of your ways and correct it.

We are not talking about sneaking a peek at someone’s poker hand when they leave the table to go to the restroom.

We are not talking about taking a couple of tomatoes from your neighbor’s garden.

We are not talking about a kid writing the answers on their arm to test questions on a high school exam.

We are not talking about someone who drives 5 mph over the posted speed limit.

We are not talking about someone’s indiscretion only hurting them.

No; we are talking about someone who took money to go to classes, did not attend those classes and received credit anyway and was re-certified as a giver of advanced medical care.

We are talking about actions taken that will hurt a fire department ambulance service and a community for months and even years to come.

Others on the fire department who did the required work to re-certify as an EMT will be resentful and distrustful of those who “bought” their re-certification.

The face of the fire department will no longer be the face of one of the most trusted occupations on Earth.

The public will feel that their trust has been violated. They won’t know who to trust. They won’t know which ones cheated and which ones didn’t, so they will distrust ALL of them! It doesn’t matter to the public if this is the first or the tenth time. The time is NOW.

So; though the public might not be interested in learning the pathology of this scandal, I have to wonder if this type of behavior has been reinforced by years of not getting caught for other dishonest acts.

I have to wonder if these thieves cheated on exams during their high school days, then college and then, they fabricated a job resume that got them hired to their jobs. I wonder if they are getting “free” cable TV from their neighbors.

In their world, dishonesty has become their reality, so they would not view their dishonest actions as wrong or at the very least “no big deal”.

They got caught this time, so they’ll just pay the money again and take the test. No problem, right?

Ask yourself if you would rather have someone who cheated at card games, but studied hard, did their practicals, kept up on their in-service training so that they could re-certify their EMT license OR someone who paid off an instructor to get a free pass on their re-certification. Hmmm…

Get out the deck of cards!

How screwed up does your moral compass have to be to NOT comprehend that lying, cheating and stealing to gain re-certification of life-saving skills is wrong?

Here’s a paradoxical question for you and you don’t have to raise your hand: how many of you would cheat if you KNEW that you could get away with it?

Some of you will answer “no” and will be completely honest.

Some of you will answer “no” and be lying about it.

Some of you will answer “yes” because, in your mind, the reward is worth the risk.

Some of you will answer “yes” but will try to rationalize it with the old “I didn’t have time to study” argument.

Still, some of you will answer “yes” because the few times that you got caught, you simply had to re-take the test, get lectured by your parents and promise never to do it again. Oh; the AGONY!

So; would an EMT who got their certification COD be qualified? Would YOU want to take that chance?

How would you feel if you found out that the guy who did your surgery was actually the night shift janitor at the hospital?

Or that the marriage counselor that you are seeing has been divorced FIVE times?

How about the drivers’ education teacher who has not had a valid drivers’ license for three years (DUI) and is teaching your sweet child?

I know how I would feel!

Why then, would instructors want to risk their teaching certificates and their students be willing to violate the public’s trust?

For the money?

Because they are lazy?

Because they didn’t think that they would get caught?

Because they thought that they knew everything anyway?

Because they thought that they were “different and special”?

Because they didn’t care?

Because they weren’t smart enough to pass it on their own?

No matter; rational people won’t be willing or able to justify it under any circumstances.

It may not feel good to be beaten by a team that cheats, but it would feel worse to “out-cheat” them in order to win. Remember: cheaters never win and winners never cheat!

We have to continue to believe that hard work has its rewards. Honesty, integrity, moral fiber and ethics have to drive those of us who are in public safety.

If we don’t conduct ourselves in that manner, then we will be facing moral dilemmas each and every day.

And little by little, our public’s trust will continue to erode.


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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Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Charleston 9 - A Different Perspective, Part 1

The evening of June 18, 2007 will be forever burned into my memory, but the day of June 22, 2007 was the date that really made this tragedy personal for me. To set the stage, on the evening of June 18, I was at home after a pretty good day at work. Training had gone well, the weather was pleasant, and I had just finished a nice dinner with my family. As I had not yet begun my All Hazards blog I decided to watch some TV, and started the typical flipping through the channels. I usually don’t watch regular broadcast TV, but happened to flip through Charleston’s Channel 5, WCSC.

I vaguely caught images of a large building on fire, but had my finger firmly on the channel advance button. I quickly flipped back, just in time to see the first images of the huge amount of hot, black, turbulent smoke boiling out of the storefront, and worse, several hoselines that had been advanced through the front door. I remember thinking “Oh, no, that’s bad news for the firefighters.” I then saw that the store was the Sofa Super Store. I often visit Charleston by way of this area, so I knew that this was a very large fire in a very large structure.

The images were horrifying. The apparent absence of organized incident command, the obvious high heat discoloration on the truss void-level siding, the questionable decision to vent the front windows, a couple of firefighters bailing out the front…then the horrors of the flashover and the collapse…with the hoselines - sadly - still laid through the front door.

I couldn’t tear myself away. I knew that the chances of no firefighter deaths in that scenario were nil, but there was no information other than the announcement that Charleston FD had “some firefighters missing” and that one civilian had been rescued. Shortly after this, it was announced that CFD had “six or seven” firefighters missing in the fire, the enormity of what I was watching sank in.

I immediately called our on-duty Battalion Chief, Cliff Steedley and asked if he was watching TV. He said that he wasn’t. I told him to turn on WCSC “right now”. He caught the unusual tone in my voice and turned on the TV. He said something like – that looks like a bad fire. I told him that Charleston had six or seven firefighters missing – that they really were not sure and I’ll never forget the shock and disbelief in his voice when he said “How many?”

I repeated myself, then suggested that we notify our senior staff. I also told Chief Steedley that this might generate USAR team response, and that we needed to notify then-Captain Mick Mayers of the incident. We agreed that he would notify our Fire Chief and that I would notify the Deputy Chief of Operations. We started the phone notifications. Many sleepless hours later, we were notified that Charleston was not going to request our assistance and to stand down.

Needless to say, I can’t remember much from the next couple of days other than to wonder who had died. When the names were announced, I was stunned to find that I knew two of them. Many of our members knew others of the 9, and we went about our duties largely in shocked silence.

On the 21st, I was asked to work with another of our Captains, Randy Lindstrom, to organize our department’s trip to the memorial service. Randy and I agreed that I would coordinate the family escort unit and that Randy would coordinate the members who would ride in the procession. If you’ve never done this, suffice it to say that there are a million details, and that it’s not easy even when everyone is not stressed out. The preparation included some retired FDNY members who reside on Hilton Head Island, and who wanted to ride with us. We were honored to have seats for the FDNY members to attend with us, as we sent our Rehab 1, a bus that can be reconfigured from a rehab unit to a crew transporter.

On the evening of June 21, four of us went to Charleston to spend the night, as family escort duty started early the next morning. The members of our group were Fire Chief Tom Fieldstead, Captain Chad McRorie of Engine 2, Senior Fire Inspector Sam Burnette, and me. We had a quiet dinner and went to bed early. The next morning, we got up very early, ate a quick breakfast, dressed in our Class A uniforms, and went to the staging area. The staging area was in a store parking lot just up the street from the fire location. There, we met with members of several other SC fire departments who had volunteered as family escorts. We met the group leader to which we were assigned, Columbia Fire Marshal Carmen Floyd, and the sixth member of our group, Colleton County Fire Chief Barry McRoy. We were also assigned a detective from the Charleston Police Department as a guide and city liaison.

After a cup of coffee, the family escort groups left. Several had quite a distance to travel, so they left early. Our group was assigned to a family that lived literally a few blocks from both the staging area and the fire scene. We convoyed to their home, met the family, and then stood quietly outside while the widow and children completed their final preparations. Several members of the deceased firefighter’s family were firefighters from North Carolina. They were very quiet and seemed as if they were uncertain about the days plans. Our group engaged them, described the day’s schedule to them, and generally asked if there was anything we could do for them. One of them asked if we could locate mourning bands for their badges, as they did not have any. Capt. McRorie and I both had several, so we were able to do this small thing for our brothers from NC.

We then met the family members that would ride in our vehicles. I was assigned the deceased firefighter’s sister and her three children, a boy and two girls. The boy rode up front with me and his mother and sisters rode in the back seat of my department SUV.

When the time came to go to the staging area at the Citadel Mall, we took a convoluted route through several side streets and neighborhoods, rather than the direct route, as we did not want to go past the fire scene. Once at the staging area, we waited until the apparatus procession from downtown arrived, then made preparations to go to the Coliseum for the memorial service. I unfortunately have attended the LODD funerals for several friends over the years, but this procession was incredible. As we entered Interstate 526, the Charleston PD had completely isolated the eastbound lanes for the procession. Several things about the trip stand out in my mind.

The billboards with Charleston 9 memorials were literally everywhere. I’ve never seen an outpouring of support for public safety in the way the citizens and businesses of Charleston did that week.

Traffic was initially moving westbound on I-526. That ended very quickly. Three truckers angled their rigs across the interstate, completely blocked traffic, and stood on the edge of the median with their hands over their hearts. Hundreds of motorists followed the truckers’ example. Virtually everyone parked in the westbound lanes exited their vehicles, placed their hands over their hearts, and stood quietly while the huge procession filed past.

One of the overpasses was staffed with an engine company that displayed a huge U.S. flag from the guardrail. They wore their work uniforms and helmets, flanked their rig, and saluted. The bridge was blocked with parked vehicles whose occupants also stood, waved flags, or stood quietly with their hands over their hearts.
When we exited the Interstate to approach the Coliseum, the sidewalks were lined with people. Many of them – men and women – were openly weeping.

The only comfort that I could give the family was to remind them that what we were watching was an entire city pouring out their love and respect for their fallen firefighter and his comrades. I was glad that we had the foresight to put several large boxes of Kleenex in our vehicles for the family members. When we arrived at the Coliseum and escorted the family inside, not a single unused Kleenex remained in the boxes. Some of the used ones were stuffed in my driver’s door pocket. I’ve driven apparatus in thick fog, heavy rain, ice and snow, and high winds, but despite the beautiful weather, this was the toughest drive I’ve ever made in an emergency vehicle.

Part 2 will describe my memories of the June 22 Memorial Service.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Firefighter

He sits on the tailboard of the engine taking in deep breaths. Steam pours off of him and bystanders, though curious, give him a wide berth. He has a vacant stare, eyes red, exhaustion etched on his face.

Around him activity is taking place as orders are given, hose is repacked and the media takes video and still images. Red is the dominant color though among the people gathered there are numerous African Americans, both in gear and staring at the building looming overhead. He knows the area well.

He leans forward to stretch his back because now, after 20 years, he has to stretch to avoid painful back spasms. He looks around him as he stretches as if taking in the scene for the first time. The truth is he has seen it thousands of times, the same scene, just different streets. No one who hasn't done the job can understand.

His youngest daughter had her first recital this evening. He wonders how it went. As she was performing he was inside a building with other firefighters, pushing a line down a hallway looking for fire, absorbing terrific punishment, but as always, leading his crew. He wants to reach in the cab for his cell phone to ask his wife how things went but there is work to be done.

He gets up slowly and walks over to where his crew is starting to drain hose lines. He pats them each on the back.

He's a firefighter.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Boston Jakes and Media

Boston firefighters were able to come to terms with city officials recently after the two had been on opposite ends for some time. While the city has to look at the settlement as a win the true winners are firefighters and citizens who, through the use of a very persistent campaign via Twitter, Facebook and the local media, came out on top.

Jakes in the Hub were having difficulty getting their message out about the true numbers relating to an arbitrators decision to award firefighters raises from previous years. IAFF Local 718 began using Twitter and Facebook to create support among citizens and activists.

Twitter, growing at an unheard of rate, and Facebook, with over half a billion members, are untapped resources for firefighters looking to spread the truth about budget fights, staffing and departmental messages.

Media is evolving rapidly. What was the "it" thing typically goes away in about 18 months. Fire departments wanting to get messages out have now skipped blogging to use Twitter and Facebook.

In 2011 something new will pop up capable of "transforming" information delivery. It's the nature of internet in the wild and won't slow down. Those who think they can control it are sadly mistaken. Even in oppressive countries the desire for every citizen to speak their mind is fast becoming an issue government can't handle.

As has been stated this can be good or bad. Fire departments and firefighters can now communicate directly with the customer and voter. This is a tremendous power shift.

On a different note in the next 12 days we will remember the nine men who perished on June 18, 2007 in the Sofa Super Store Fire and I would like to ask everyone to remember Danny Pujdak, who died just three days after the nine brothers perished in Charleston. Danny was an FDNY firefighter.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Social Media’s Unintended Consequences

Good or bad; the explosion of the use of social media for its velocity and reach comes with some unintended consequences.

The same velocity and reach that will get the word out for a charitable event, fundraiser for a sick friend or a missing person will also be used to send venom, rumors, allegations and lies.

Social media is both a blessing and a curse that has caused a great “freedom of speech” debate.

Our freedom of speech is protected by the First Amendment in the Bill of Rights. “Speech” has been broadened to mean “expression”, in that the freedom can be verbal or non-verbal.

The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states that “Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech”.

As I understand it as applied to social media, Congress could not enact a law prohibiting the creation of a social website that falls within the intent of the First Amendment and does not promote any of the exceptions to the amendment which are: defamation, causing panic, fighting words, incitement to crime, sedition or obscenity.

I believe that website “Terms of Service” buttresses their user policies against the exceptions to free speech, so that they are somewhat indemnified from charges that might be brought against a user of their website who engage in any of the exceptions to the First Amendment.

So, in my mind, someone who is fired by their employer because of something that they posted on a website is NOT protected by the First Amendment, because Congress has no interests in the website beyond the website’s right to exist and as long as the website doesn’t promote any of the exceptions to the First Amendment.

When a website removes a user for making a personal attack on another; be it another member, non-member or organization, I don’t believe that they are violating the user’s freedom of speech. They are invoking the website’s “Terms of Service”.

In much the same way a private business has the right to refuse service to anyone, a website that is privately held can fashion very liberal or very strict guidelines for membership and for the use of the website.

That is not to say that there may be moral or ethical arguments, but moral/ethical considerations are not identified in the First Amendment.

In that regard, it raises philosophical issues with freedom of expression and it is my understanding that the English philosopher John Stuart Mill, in his book “On Liberty”, provides the more accepted test for government intervention of civil liberties that is known as the “harm principle”.

It states: “…the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant”.

It should be noted that, according to Professor Julie Van Camp, most of the “classic” exceptions to freedom of expression, as established by the U.S. Supreme Court, are consistent with Mill’s harm principle, with the exception of obscenity.

So, that same website user decides to use the website as a very public platform to disparage or embarrass their employer; the employer sees it and terminates the employee.

Did the employer violate the employee’s freedom of speech, according to the language in the First Amendment?

Some may like to think so, but if the employee was not suppressed from posting it on the website, thereby freely expressing their opinion on the website, then how was their freedom of speech suppressed, according to the First Amendment?

In my opinion, the opinion expressed by the employee might be somewhat unpleasant and even contain some fact, but the employer isn’t terminating the employee for saying it, but because it was said publicly and consequently, violated the company’s code of conduct. Most employees sign a statement when they are hired that says that they agree to follow all of the rules and that they will do nothing to bring embarrassment to their employer.

Many will remember the firefighter/paramedic that was fired over the YouTube video that was posted on Facebook (

His employer stated that he was terminated for: “You displayed poor judgment in producing a derogatory video depicting a member of this department with a physician which is implied to be at Colleton Medical Center…This video has created an embarrassing situation for this department, our public image and the cooperative relationship we enjoy with Colleton Medical Center. It reflects poorly on you and Colleton County”.

“Poor judgment” is not protected under the First Amendment.

But, this isn’t the only example of an employee being fired over a social website posting.
Here is just a sampling of examples of employees being fired over a social website posting:


And now, we have a story about an anonymous commenter who will be charged with defamation, once their identity is discovered. Let’s face it; it may no longer be “safe” to hide behind a user name and computer screen and violate someone else’s rights (

According to the news article, the Third District Appellate Court in Ottawa, IL ruled that The Times newspaper in Ottawa must turn over information that could identify a person who posted alleged defamatory comments on the newspaper’s website.

According to Appellate Justices Holdridge and McDade: “…type of anonymous speech are protected by the Constitution, but the Maxons showed grounds for defamation that took away the defendant’s Constitutional right to make anonymous web comments”.

They also went on to say in their ruling that: “the alleged defamatory comments were not presented as opinions, which would protect the commenter from a lawsuit, but as fact”.

Now; there were some who felt that the anonymous commenter should be protected.


While you ponder that question, we should also be thinking about our own posting “habits”.

We may want to get a better idea of what is stated as fact and what is stated as opinion.


The source for part of this article was “Freedom of Expression: The First Amendment” by Professor Julie Van Camp.

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, written permission of the author, Art Goodrich a.k.a. ChiefReason.

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Saturday, June 5, 2010

Learn and Lead

I posted an article earlier this year on titled: Your Capabilities and Future Success. It was about the legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden. Coach Wooden passed away at the age of 99 on Friday June 4th, but his legacy will extend well beyond.
Take the time to learn about this extraordinary man and more importantly about the words of wisdom that align with much of what we do within the Fire and Emergency Services. More importantly, gain some remarkable insights on Life’s Learning’s and on Leadership Principles. Simple advice and insights that can support developing a successful career. Read about Coach Wooden’s “Pyramid of Success;” that remains a must-read book for all aspiring or current company or command officers.

Take the time to learn more about Coach Wooden’s Pyramid of Success and look to apply these principles in your current or future positions of responsibility within your organization. The principles and methodologies of the Pyramid of Success have direct relationships and applicability to the Fire Service in numerous areas and apply his 12 Lessons on Leadership.

Two Must have books for your professional Library by John Wooden include: Wooden On Leadership and John Wooden’s The Pyramid of Success

Here are some great Woodenism’s;

• "Things turn out best for the people who make the best of the way things turn out."
• "Never mistake activity for achievement."
• "Adversity is the state in which man mostly easily becomes acquainted with himself, being especially free of admirers then."
• "Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are."
• "You can't let praise or criticism gets to you. It's a weakness to get caught up in either one."
• "You can't live a perfect day without doing something for someone who will never be able to repay you."
• "Winning takes talent; to repeat takes character."
• "I'd rather have a lot of talent and a little experience than a lot of experience and a little talent."
• "If you don't have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?"
• "If you're not making mistakes, then you're not doing anything. I'm positive that a doer makes mistakes."
• "It isn't what you do, but how you do it."
• "Ability is a poor man's wealth."
• "Failure is not fatal, but failure to change might be."
• "Consider the rights of others before your own feelings and the feelings of others before your own rights."
• "Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do."
• "Don't measure yourself by what you have accomplished, but by what you should have accomplished with your ability."
• "It's not so important who starts the game but who finishes it."
• "It's what you learn after you know it all that counts."
• "It's the little details that are vital. Little things make big things happen."
• "Talent is God-given. Be humble. Fame is man-given. Be grateful. Conceit is self-given. Be careful."
• "Success comes from knowing that you did your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming."
• "Success is never final; failure is never fatal. It's courage that counts."

John Wooden also expressed the following that I find compelling. It was a simple statement that has the power of wisdom and insight. “Learn as if you were to live forever: Live as if you were to die tomorrow.”

Take the time to look at the information available at a number of various web locations; HERE, HERE , HERE and HERE

Above all...Learn and Lead.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Experience Counts Most

Extinguishment of fires, extrication of patients and removal of hazards occur on scene with firefighters. The more one is exposed to various incidents leads to experience which, coupled with education, creates an effective fire officer.

The fire officer without experience is likely to lead a crew into a bad situation at some point. This can be catastrophic evidenced by the close calls and reports issued about those who appeared on the surface to possess all the tools.

One cannot create experience out of thin air. Some people spend an entire career going to fewer calls than some 5 year veterans respond to in 60 months. This is where education, not certification, comes in and offers help.

The difference between certification and education is substantial. Anyone can become certified but it takes dedication to become educated in the fire service. Couple this education with experience and the best officers are developed.

This is as it should be.

(Photograph by Jay Lowry)

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Choose to Change

I am sure that you have heard that fire service organizations need to look and move forward rather than looking back at least one time in your career. With this thought we must recognize that to change we must change the way we think about an item or a process. Rather than being held back by resistance to change, closed mindedness, rigidity in our thinking and the love for status quo, we must recognize that change is going to occur anyway. In outstanding organizations individuals recognize this concept and embrace change.

Given the the constant, organic and inevitable dynamics of change, we would be remorse tho think that what worked yesterday would work today or even more prominent would work tomorrow. The reality is if a strategy and tactic is working today, the changes are it will not be applicable or work in the future. We are just experiencing too much change in or world especially in the fire service for it to be any other way. Building construction design and materials is just one of the examples that comes to mind.

Many fire service departments and organizations across the world talk about "best practices". This is an outstanding concept if there is not change because these practices may become non-applicable very quickly in one part of the world when it is still applicable in another. The fire service should be embracing "best thinking". Best thinking takes all of the information, education, training and vicarious learning and combines it into knowledge which drives our actions. This becomes our best practice on that particular incident. We need to focus on this concept instead of a cookie cutter approach especially when we are developing and training our officers for strategy and tactics.

Rather than having a fear of change, we need to see change as a good thing and embrace it. Outstanding and proactive organizations see change as necessary and exciting. They understand that even though there is often a decrease in the level of comfort and pain associated with change they recognize that it is far less painful and uncomfortable to change in small doses each day than to have to change all at once or even no change at all. So these organizations that are on the proactive side not only accept and adapt to change, they also go the extra step of accelerating change. Simply put outstanding organizations take charge of the change by changing themselves first because the recognize the fact that if they don't precipitate this change change will happen to them and if that happens it is too late, they have lost control and if that happens it might just be too late.

We all know that change is difficult and many people struggle with change. "Managing Transitions" by William Bridges is an excellent book to read if you are trying to precipitate change and meeting resistance by your people. For nostalgia..."An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure".

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Not Too Sharp Doesn’t Cut It

In less than three weeks, we had two confined space incidents ( and ) 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.

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