Saturday, August 21, 2010

Nation’s Medevac Under Attack

Some months ago, I blogged about the safety of the medevac industry. I wrote the blog shortly after we had a medevac helicopter go down here in Illinois, killing everyone aboard. Here is the blog:

USA Today ran a story on Thursday, August 19, 2010 that we should take notice of:

The headline for the article written by Alan Levin “Medevac Industry Opposing Upgrades Wanted by NTSB” is an attention grabber, because you have to wonder upon reading it, why anyone would oppose more safety in an industry that has had a recent, poor safety record.
So as not to violate copyright laws, I will encourage to use the link and read the article.
Since year 2000 to year-to-date, there have been 122 fatalities attributed to air ambulance crashes.
I understand that, in the larger scheme, the fatalities are a small percentage when compared to the thousands of flights, but when you call your service a “life flight”, the last thing you assume is that you are going to die taking one.
“Medevac” is an abbreviated term for “medical evacuation”. That is to say that a person(s) has a medical condition and they are being evacuated to a facility that can treat the patient’s medical condition. The whole premise is to get them safely to that facility, so it makes sense that every effort is made to do just that. That would include improved technology and equipment. It may very well include removing older air ambulances from service. It might also include night vision technology and warning systems designed to alert the pilot to an impending collision/crash.
So, why would the industry be opposed to it?
After 2007/2008, the industry DID take many voluntary steps to improve safety, but they were voluntary. Mandated change is what appears to be the hang up, but with 13 fatalities already this year, voluntary efforts don’t appear to be going far enough.
Without question, changes are going to add to the cost of running the service, but let’s face it; Life is priceless. It is heart-wrenching every time an air ambulance goes down and families are left to ask their questions.
So, is it a question of money or perceived government intrusion into an industry that wants the latitude to correct deficiencies on a voluntary basis or is it both? Is there more to it?
Where can sense and sensibility meet to reduce the number of air ambulance accidents and yet allow air ambulance operators to manage their business efficiently?
In rural America, where pre-hospital response times are often measured in miles, it is a question that will hopefully be answered very soon.
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, August 17, 2010

Leadership Influence

An officer best exemplifies leadership by devoting a major portion of his/her time to stimulate continuous improvement in both subordinates and the organization.
Today’s leaders are utilizing contemporary leadership styles. The officer needs to know when to use each of these styles for optimum outcomes within the organization. The four (4) contemporary styles include charismatic, transformational, transactional and symbolic.

– Inspires follower loyalty and creates an enthusiastic vision that others work to attain.

Transformational – This style depends on the continuous learning, innovation and change within the organization. True transformational leadership is a rare quality.

Transactional – Involves an exchange between the leader and the followers in which the followers perform tasks effectively in exchange for rewards provided by the leader.

Symbolic – Bases theory on a strong organizational culture that holds common values and beliefs. Leadership starts are the top of the organization and extends downward. Subordinates must have full faith and trust in the leadership of the organization.

To be able to lead a fire department or a company it is paramount that the leader of the group be able to match and effectively utilize any of the various leadership styles based upon the individuals they are leading.

This focuses on truly understanding the organizational theories, interpersonal dynamics and group dynamics of the individuals and groups which make up the organization. We will find that more often than not the leader will be utilizing multiple leadership styles on individuals of the group simultaneously to effectively achieve the desired outcomes. Each of these leadership styles will be a result of the presence of the various leadership traits. it is important for the officer to know the strengths and weaknesses of each theory and style along with being capable of applying the principles that are most appropriate in any given situation.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Self Dispatch or Insurance Co. Saving Scratch?

On April 16, 2005, Andover, IA volunteer firefighter Justin Faur attempted to rescue a co-worker who had fallen into a manure pit at his place of employment. Both men later died.

At issue with the fire department’s workers compensation insurance carrier was whether Faur was acting as a firefighter or as an employee as a result of his efforts to save his co-worker. The insurance company (Travelers) contended that Faur was not acting as a firefighter at the time.

This was just handed down recently by the Iowa Supreme Court. (

Read about the workers’ compensation hearing here:,%20JUSTIN%20-%205016580A.doc

For volunteer firefighters, the argument often comes up that, since most don’t have assigned shifts, that line between on duty and off duty becomes very blurred. In this case, it appears that the question may be: when is a volunteer firefighter acting as a firefighter or as a private citizen with firefighter training?

In my opinion, our government and our judicial system can’t seem to reconcile legislation and its interpretation that affect some of the distinct, cultural differences between career and volunteer fire departments.

Career firefighters have clearly defined on-duty and off-duty hours. A shift for them is usually 24 hours and is spent at the fire station. They don’t punch a time clock, but time sheets are kept for payroll purposes. They can be “re-called”, if a large incident requires additional manpower. They are dispatched through a central dispatching agency.

A volunteer firefighter is theoretically available 24 hours a day, if they are within their response area, can leave their full time job to respond or the other activities that fill their lives.

It is not unusual for volunteer firefighters to witness an emergency in their fire district and to call it in to a dispatching center, expecting the appropriate agency to be dispatched. When possible, the firefighter will initiate assistance, if it is within their scope of training and it is safe to do so.

It was clear that Iowa Workers Compensation Commissioner Christopher Godfrey understood the volunteer firefighter culture in his initial ruling in favor of Justin Faur’s survivors.

So, when is a volunteer “on the clock”?

In my opinion, the clock begins as soon as the firefighter recognizes the existence of an emergency that requires the assistance of his fire department, makes the call to the dispatching agency or has someone else call 911 and they can begin to render aid, however limited.

For a judge to say that a volunteer firefighter is not “on the clock” at that point is to remove a very key component that is critical to life safety issues in the rural setting. It also flies against the ideal of “neighbors helping neighbors”.

Again; Commissioner Godfrey “gets it”, as he recognized the importance of minutes and even seconds where lives were at risk.

For this model to work in the eyes of the Iowa Supreme Court in the case of Justin Faur, he would have been required to leave his co-worker face down in the manure pit, wait for the dispatching agency to properly tone out the Andover, IA Fire Department and wait until they arrived in order for benefits to be paid.

Faur’s mistake may very well have been to not wait for his fire department so that properly protected responders could enter the hazardous environment of methane gas, but the strong emotion of having an unresponsive co-worker in a pit and a desire to help someone needing it was too strong to keep Justin Faur from risking his life to save another.

I don’t know what was going through Justin Faur’s mind at the time of the incident, but I know that anyone familiar with hog or cattle confinements understand that methane gas is a by-product and a dangerous one at that and I’m sure that Justin Faur knew it, too. He entered the pit, knowing the danger. Very few “private citizens” would have done it and some firefighters might not have, but Justin Faur did.

And had Faur not been a member in good standing with the Andover, IA Fire Department, I might be inclined to side with the Iowa Supreme Court.

However; this is not the case.

Two factors leap out when reading available information on this incident: (1) As an employee, Faur recognized the emergency and had 911 called and (2) His firefighter instincts took over and he attempted to affect a rescue.

So, his surviving family members should be entitled to all benefits accorded to a firefighter; be it insurance death benefits, PSOBs or workers compensation benefits from his fire department.

If the Iowa Supreme Court doesn’t see it that way, then in my opinion, the case should be appealed at the federal level, up to and including the U.S. Supreme Court.

When you tell someone to call 911, the presumption is that they will call and the appropriate emergency agencies will respond.

Firefighter Justin Faur did NOT self-dispatch.

He placed “self” above all else and paid the ultimate sacrifice with his life.

And that is not Emotion speaking; that is Logic and Fact speaking.

I oppose the practices of self-dispatching and jumping calls and that isn’t the issue here.

In my past, I witnessed many incidents, called them in and went to work in my capacity as a volunteer firefighter. Period.

Faur might very well have initiated his rescue, anticipating that the additional help of his fire department would be there very soon. Who would know that any better than someone who had been on that department for the past two and a half years?

Under “normal” circumstances, this would be a subrogation issue between two insurance companies, but in this case, the Iowa Supreme Court chose to trash a very logical and articulate decision by Commissioner Godfrey and narrow the language/definition of “summoned to duty only through official channels”. And the Court is basing THAT on the assumption that Faur did not receive the pager tones.

If the Iowa Supreme Court’s decision in this matter is allowed to stand, then the entire volunteer response system may come under their review.

As an example: imagine if they would rule that you are not covered as a firefighter while in your personal vehicle on your way to the station or to a call.

Tell me that wouldn’t significantly change the landscape of what volunteer fire departments do!

THIS case needs further review AND further discussion.

Let me know your thoughts.


The article submitted 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, also known as ChiefReason. Please visit and my blog

Situational Awareness: What are you seeing?

Two events over the past week resulted in one firefigther line of duty death in Chicago and six firefighters seriously injuried in Detroit. Here's a brief narrative for wach event;

On August 9, 2010 Chicago Firefighter/Paramedic Christopher Wheatley was working a grease-chute fire at a restaurant when he fell approximately 35 feet from the ladder of an attached fire escape suffering fatal injuries while he was making his way up to the roof of the burning building with his equipment. The Incident Location was; 615 W. Randolph, Chicago, Ilinois. Refer to incident details, HERE

On August 12, 2010, Six Detroit firefighters were injured during operations at a two alarm fire at a commercial taxpayer fire on the city’s east side. The brick facade collapse trapped a number of firefighters under the debris pile requiring extrication and removal. It was reported the building structure had sustained some degree of damage from fire operations a few hours earlier and that during the suppression operations at 07:00 hours, while companies were operating, a facade collapse of the perimeter brick wall occured. Refer to incident details, HERE

The dynamics, risks and factors that influence the fireground are broad and expansive. They affect nearly all of our operational phases and have a profound affect on the tactical level of operating companies and personnel. Identifying and maintaining effective and situational awareness on the fireground and specifically on your task assignment is a constant challenge under the best of intentions. It also proves to be one of the singular operational areas that provide a tremendous level on return when applied correctly during operational deployment and engagement. Check out some more expanded insights and information on situational awareness HERE, HERE , HERE , HERE and HERE.
How does situational awareness play into your day to day function and operations? Have you had any training or focus on how to identify and scan the fireground with increased efficiency and effectiveness? Do you know what to be looking at or listening for? Is the term situational awareness meaningless and hollow or meaningful and consequential?

Spend some time today or tonight discussing the issues related to situational awareness at the station or amongst the crew. How is it best applied and how can it help support the fireground to increase operational safety, performance and effectiveness?

Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Definition of a Fire Fighter

On August 9, 2010 Chicago Firefighter/Paramedic Christopher Wheatley was working a grease-chute fire at a restaurant when he fell approximately 35 feet from the ladder of an attached fire escape suffering fatal injuries while he was making his way up to the roof of the burning building with his equipment. The Incident Location was; 615 W. Randolph, Chicago, Ilinois.

Facebook Memorial Page, Here; In memory of FF Chris Wheatley; “ He loved being a firefighter. He loved being a paramedic. It was not just a job to him. He was passionate about it,” Rest In Peace FF Chris Wheatley.

Chicago Fire Department Commissioner Robert Hoff giving the eulogy for FF Christopher Wheatley on August 13, 2010, defined in a number of ways what a firefighter should be, and how FF Wheatley lived up to those principles both on and off the job, with a passion.  For a complete posting and video clips, go to, HERE

Think about the words that defined and charactorized Chicago Firefighter/Paramedic Christopher Wheatley and how he lived and worked as a firefighter, a paramedic and public servant, a son and a loved one.

Think about what defines, distinguishes and exemplifies you and how you conduct yourself and interface within this proud and honorable profession of the Fire Service.

Chicagoland Fire Photographer Larry Shapiro

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Look For the Hook

Many of us took similar paths into the fire service.

For some, it was for the opportunity to help someone in a time of need.

For others, it presented an opportunity to give back to their communities.

Privately, the excitement that a call could generate fueled an adrenaline spike that would explode into the ultimate struggle of Good vs. Evil.

There is no question that most firefighters want to be seen in the best light, held in the highest regard and looked upon as someone who can be trusted with the lives and properties in their communities.

We have trained to keep skills sharpened and up-to-date, while paying our respects to the fire service’s rich history and tradition.

Some of us have been drawn into reading volumes on fire history to an almost obsessive level. Though reading about Benjamin Franklin and his formation of the nation’s first volunteer fire department does little to enhance our skill sets, we recognize its importance to rounding out our personas as firefighters.

And that brings me to the purpose of this blog or rather, this question:

Are the motivating factors that shaped us 30 years ago still fueling the candidates entering the fire service today?

Are kids still “running to the curb”-as Tiger would say-to see the fire truck go by on its way to a call?

Are kids who have not grown up in a house where there have been generations of firefighters finding their own way into the fire service?

What is kick-starting that desire in the next generation of firefighters?

Will firefighter jobs be plentiful with the retirements of the 50/60-somethings or will they fall prey to budget constraints and destroy the dreams of those who wish to serve?

When you examine the cultural differences of today vs. 1980, you can see how societal changes have affected the perceptual inclinations of our newest firefighters.

What people my age perceived upon entering the fire service was an almost paramilitary, clandestine brotherhood.

Nothing left the confines of the fire station. Discussions and disputes started and ended at the fire station. Each man “covered” for the other, regardless of the circumstances. At the very least, they “didn’t know anything”.

The perception was that the fire department had to be seen as a group of honorable and rational men, capable of making split-second decisions in life and death situations.

Investigations into firefighter deaths would hardly ever go far enough as to reveal any damaging or damning facts that could impugn the dignity of the deceased and otherwise could bring shame or embarrassment to the grieving family. Some called it “extending a professional courtesy”.

And besides; even if something “unseemly” did make it to the news, it was local; where it stayed.

But today?

Everything and everyone is on the fast track.

Short bursts and short bites followed by copious amounts of diverse and sometimes perverse information can quickly lull us into overload mode.

We are not attracted to any, one subject; we do not want to “specialize”.

We are de facto game show contestants, vying to show our deep reservoir of general knowledge.

We want to do something today, but do something entirely different tomorrow.

And we don’t want to do anything that is going to chew up large chunks of our time. That feels too much like a job!

So; how do we get a hook into the newbies and reel them in?

How can a fire department match their training programs to candidates who are not fond of repetition or being told incessantly what to do, for that matter?

I have always been a traditionalist where it comes to the fire department. But, I am also a realist. I honestly believe that it is important to cite fire department history and some of the nation’s, major fire service milestones into perpetuity. Knowing why a ceremony is a time-honored tradition brings honor and dignity to the act and we must carry that forward.

Where we can jack it up for the next generation is in the training and how it is presented. Challenge them to improve the process. Let them drill with the music on. Turn it off if it’s a distraction or they are not drilling correctly. Find out what trips their trigger and then trip it.

What I learned from my days of fishing is that the biggest hook didn’t necessarily catch the biggest fish, but it made it harder for the fish to get off of the hook.

So, look for the right hook…

And don’t forget the bait!


This article is protected by federal copyright laws under The Adventures of Jake and Vinnie© umbrella. It cannot be reproduced in any form without the expressed, written permission of the author, Art Goodrich aka ChiefReason.
Please visit and my blog at

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Stay Alarmed

Do you recall the last time you were operating on afire ground and heard a PASS alarm blaring away, penetrating your brain? They can be pretty annoying. In fact the noise was so intrusive you did – nothing! That’s correct nothing. Why? Because we have heard so many of these PASS alarms screaming during training events and on actual scenes they’ve actually lost their purpose effectiveness. We are no longer alarmed, as they have become part of the cacophony of noise that makes up our fire grounds today. In the end these alarms are becoming more and more ineffective and the real problem is they were meant to warn us of an issue and we are often times ignoring it…”will someone cut that PASS Alarm off”.

One of the great risks to an organization is complacency. When things are going well, it’s easy to think of everything as routine and that we have got it all figured out. Emergency scenes are very seductive because success affirms, in many of our minds, that what we are doing is right. But thoughts like these should set off alarms in our minds because, the truth is, advancement does not equal arrival, and we can only coast in one direction…downhill. Complacency is a daily battle most individuals never identify. This gap is critical in performance, safety and end outcomes… whether they are positive or negative. Let’s get hard core and truly break it down, it may be the difference between life and death!

So what is complacency? Complacency is a state of satisfaction combined with an unawareness of potential danger. Outstanding officers and organizations know that complacency doesn’t work. They understand the need to beat back complacency again and again and again so that they will not end up with the reality of the difference…negative outcomes. To do that, they talk about continuous improvement and process enhancement. I am sure you have heard someone say that we need to raise the bar. The main focus and goal is we MUST remain vigilant and open to that 1 percent possibility.

No matter how we say it bottom line remains the same: We must Stay Alarmed!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

The Waldbaum’s Supermarket Fire and Collapse FDNY 1978

The Waldbaum’s Supermarket Fire and Collapse FDNY 1978

The Waldbaum Super market fire, Brooklyn, New York occurred on August 2, 1978. Six firefighters died in the line of duty when the roof of a burning Brooklyn supermarket collapsed, plunging 12 firefighters into the flames. The fire began in a hallway near the compressor room as crews were renovating the store, and quickly escalated to a fourth-alarm.

Less than an hour after the fire was first reported, nearly 20 firefighters were on the roof when the central portion gave way.Thirty-four firefighters, one emergency medical technician and one Emergency Services police officer were injured in the fire and the tragedy is remembered as one of the worst disasters in the New York City Fire Department’s 143-year history.

The FDNY members killed in the Waldbaum’s fire included:
  • Lt. James E. Cutillo, Battalion 33
  • Firefighter Charles S. Bouton, Ladder Company 156
  • Firefighter Harold F. Hastings, Battalion 42
  • Firefighter James P. McManus, Ladder Company 153
  • Firefighter William O’Connor, Ladder Company 156
  • Firefighter George S. Rice, Ladder Company 153
Take a look at the details and the lessons learned at HERE with photos, diagrams and a memorial video clip

Take the time to learn about the FDNY Walbaum’s fire, its history repeating significance as a major fire service LODD event, the lessons learned from the Hackensack Ford Fire (July 2, 1988) and other related case studies that can be found on the NIOSH, USFA and NFPA web sites.

Look at your buildings within your response areas and jurisdiction. Understand how they’re built and more importantly how they are affected by the exposure and impingement of fire and its byproducts. Understand key building performance indicators and appropriate strategic and tactical actions based upon building profiles, occupancies, fire loading, construction features and fire service resources. Take the time to honor the brave brother firefighters from FDNY who made the supreme sacrifice thirty two years ago, and gave a legacy to learn from in this and in future fire service generations.


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