Thursday, October 28, 2010

NIST Study on Charleston Furniture Store Fire Calls for National Safety Improvements

NIST Study on Charleston Furniture Store Fire Calls for National Safety Improvements. Major factors contributing to a rapid spread of fire at the Sofa Super Store in Charleston, S.C., on June 18, 2007, included large open spaces with furniture providing high fuel loads, the inward rush of air following the breaking of windows and a lack of sprinklers, according to a draft report released for public comment today by the U.S. Commerce Department’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). The fire trapped and killed nine firefighters, the highest number of firefighter fatalities in a single event since 9/11.

Based on its findings, the NIST technical study team made 11 recommendations for enhancing building, occupant and firefighter safety nationwide. In particular, the team urged state and local communities to adopt and strictly adhere to current national model building and fire safety codes. If today’s model codes had been in place and rigorously followed in Charleston in 2007, the study authors said, the conditions that led to the rapid fire spread in the Sofa Super Store probably would have been prevented.

Using a state-of-the-art computer model to simulate the fire, the study team found that the addition of automatic sprinklers inside the loading dock could have significantly slowed the fire (which began just outside the dock area), prevented it from spreading beyond the dock, and eventually, extinguished it completely. The model also showed that sprinklers on the loading dock likely would have maintained what firefighters call tenability conditions, the ability for individuals in a fire event to escape unassisted.

Based on their model and the data collected, the NIST researchers determined the following sequence of events on June 18, 2007, at the Sofa Super Store:
  • The fire began in trash outside the loading dock and spread into the enclosed loading dock. The fire spread from the exterior to the interior of the loading dock, which was used for staging furniture for delivery and repair. The fire spread quickly within the loading dock and moved into both the retail showroom and warehouse spaces.
  • During the early stages of this fire, the fire was unable to access enough air, a state that slowed its growth. However, the lack of sufficient air for complete combustion did result in large volumes of smoke and combustible gases flowing into the space below the roof and above the drop ceiling of the main retail showroom.
  • The fire spread to the rear of the main showroom through the holding area and ignited additional fuel in the rear of the main showroom, at which time it became more visible to firefighters in the main showroom.
  • The growth of the fire at the back of the main showroom was still slowed by the lack of air. As the fire burned in the rear of the main showroom, the fire pumped more hot unburned fuel into the smoke layer below the drop ceiling. The lack of air prevented the unburned fuel in the smoke layer from igniting.
  • When the front windows were broken (approximately 24 minutes after firefighters arrived at the store), additional air flowed in the front windows, along the floor and to the rear of the showroom, and became available to the fire. The additional air allowed the burning rate of the fire to increase rapidly and ignite the layer of unburned fuel below the drop ceiling.
  • The fire swept from the rear to the front of the main showroom extremely quickly, then into the west and east showrooms, trapping six firefighters in the main showroom and three firefighters in the west showroom.
  • Furniture and merchandise in the showrooms and warehouse continued to burn for an additional 140 minutes before the fire was extinguished.

 More information, media and links at HERE

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Rapid Cognition. Think Fast!

We have been programmed to believe that, the more information that we have, the better decisions we make.

It didn’t help General Joe Hooker against General Lee at the Battle of Chancellorsville in the Civil War. Hooker had studied General Robert E. Lee extensively, had an army of spies in the Confederacy feeding him information, had hot air balloons in the sky giving him aerial information and had twice as many cannons and men, but lost. Lee won, because Hooker “read” him wrong.

We research, analyze and study the subject matter to the smallest micron until we convince ourselves that we can make the best case argument and/or decisions.

And I was of that mind until I read the book “Blink” by Malcolm Gladwell.

The book came as a suggestion from my good friend, Mick Mayers of Firehouse Zen fame and was in response to a blog that I wrote titled “Thought-Less” ( In the blog, I wrote about how I felt that Society’s attention span and appetite for information was getting shorter.

“Blink” is a fascinating book, with regards to how we process information in our minds. It is a little “heavy” and somewhat clinical, but this book literally gave me an “AH-HAH!” moment.

The book is about rapid cognition, which is the ability to make snap judgments in the “blink of an eye”. It is about what we know in the first two seconds. It is about reading faces. It is about making decisions from our “unconscious”. It is about creating white space.

I was immediately drawn to this phenomenon and how it might apply to decision-making in the fire service.

Here is an excerpt from the book: Gary Klein, the decision-making expert, once did an interview with a fire department commander in Cleveland as part of a project to get professionals to talk about times when they had to make tough, split-second decisions. The story the fireman told was about a seemingly routine call he had taken years before, when he was a lieutenant. The fire was in the back of a one-story house in a residential neighborhood, in the kitchen. The lieutenant and his men broke down the front door, laid down their hose, and then, as firemen say, “charged the line,” dousing the flames in the kitchen with water. Something should have happened at that point: the fire should have abated. But it didn’t. So the men sprayed again. Still, it didn’t seem to make much difference. The fire men retreated back through the archway into the living room, and there, suddenly, the lieutenant thought to himself, ‘there’s something wrong’. He turned to his men. ‘Let’s get out, NOW!’ he said, and moments after they did, the floor on which they had been standing collapsed. The fire, it turned out, had been in the basement.

‘He didn’t know why he had ordered everyone out’, Klein remembers. ‘He believed it was ESP. He was serious. He thought he had ESP, and he felt that because of that ESP, he’d been protected throughout his career’.

Klein is a decision researcher with a Ph.D., a deeply intelligent and thoughtful man, and he wasn’t about to accept that as an answer. Instead, for the next two hours, again and again he led the firefighter back over the events of that day in an attempt to document precisely what the lieutenant did and didn’t know. ‘The first thing was that the fire didn’t behave the way it was supposed to’, Klein says. Kitchen fires should respond to water. This one didn’t. ‘Then they moved back into the living room’, Klein went on. ‘He told me that he always keeps his earflaps up because he wants to get a sense of how hot the fire is, and he was surprised at how hot this one was. A kitchen fire shouldn’t have been that hot’. I asked him, ‘What else?’ Often a sign of expertise is noticing what doesn’t happen, and the other thing that surprised him was that the fire wasn’t ‘noisy’. It was quiet, and that didn’t make sense given how much heat there was’.

In retrospect all those anomalies make perfect sense. The fire didn’t respond to being sprayed in the kitchen because it wasn’t centered in the kitchen. It was quiet because it was muffled by the floor. The living room was hot because the fire was underneath the living room, and heat rises. At the time, though, the lieutenant made none of those connections consciously. All of his thinking was going on behind the locked door of his unconscious. This is a beautiful example of thin-slicing in action. The fireman’s internal computer effortlessly and instantly found a pattern in the chaos. But surely the most striking fact about that day is how close it all came to disaster. Had the lieutenant stopped and discussed the situation with his men, had he said to them, ‘let’s talk this over and try to figure out what’s going on’; had he done, in other words, what we often think leaders are supposed to do to solve difficult problems, he might have destroyed his ability to jump to the insight that saved their lives.
And what of this “beautiful” example of “thin-slicing”?

According to Gladwell, thin-slicing is “the ability of our unconscious to find patterns in situations and behaviors based upon very narrow slices of experience”.

There are several examples of thin-slicing and rapid cognition in the book.

From art experts to police, there are many who use it; both consciously and unconsciously.

The book even suggests that we suffer a form of autism when changes occur to us that are brought on by the “heat of the moment”. That causes us to miss the information that is in front of us.

For me, the most fascinating part of the book and the one that presents the most potential in our business is the theory of “mind-reading”.

A psychologist by the name of Silvan Tompkins believed that faces held valuable clues to inner emotions and motivations. By learning the muscles in the face and the nerve centers in the brain that controlled them, Tompkins could tell with extraordinary accuracy the emotion of a person. They could not “hide their feelings” from him.

His student, Paul Ekman went even further. He taught himself to control his facial expressions that are involuntary in the rest of us.

As an example of his skill he could look at photos of faces and pick out sex offenders through their process that was called Facial Action Coding System (FACS).

Are these skills that can be taught?

According to Gladwell, there are roughly 500 others certified to use (FACS) in their research.

Have you ever found yourself telling another “I don’t know what you’re thinking; I can’t read your mind”?

Have you ever wondered if you were truly getting an honest answer or honest reaction from someone?

Have you ever studied all of the available information, expecting great results and were disappointed with the outcome?

Thin-slicing is a process that resides in the unconscious mind. Gladwell advocates thin-slicing the more complex issues and analyzing information on less complex ones.

Sigmund Freud said, “When making a decision of minor importance, I have always found it advantageous to consider all the pros and cons. In vital matters, however, such as the choice of a mate or a profession, the decision should come from the unconscious, from somewhere within ourselves. In the important decisions of personal life, we should be governed, I think, by the deep inner needs of our nature.”

Can we take this process of rapid cognition or “thin-slicing” and effectively apply it to the fire service? I believe that some are already doing it; whether they know it or not.

Can we look at the size up/assessment phase of the operation as “putting a face on our enemy” and then learning to read the face?

I am not talking about reading smoke. If you go back to the beginning of this blog to the firefighting example from the book, it would appear that we need to learn and to know when to thin-slice.

I believe that more should be considered.

I recommend that fire service leaders, as well as forward-thinking rank and file read “Blink” by Malcolm Gladwell.

Then, post your thoughts here, please.


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

Friday, October 22, 2010

NIST Residential Fire Study Education Kit Now Available

Researchers from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the International Association of Fire Fighters have prepared an educational resource for fire chiefs, firefighters, and public officials to summarize and explain the key results of a landmark study on the effect of the size of firefighting crews on the ability of the fire service to protect lives and property in residential fires.

The study, Report on Residential Fireground Field Experiments, was published by NIST last April. The study is the first to quantify the effects of crew sizes and arrival times on the fire service’s lifesaving and firefighting operations for residential fires. Little scientific data on the topic had been previously available. The research demonstrated that four-person firefighting crews were able to complete 22 essential firefighting and rescue tasks in a typical residential structure 30 percent faster than two-person crews and 25 percent faster than three-person crews. More information on the study is available at

“The results from this rigorous scientific study on the most common and deadly fire scenarios in the country—those in single-family residences—provide quantitative data to fire chiefs and public officials responsible for determining safe staffing levels, station locations and appropriate funding for community and firefighter safety,” says NIST’s Jason Averill, one of the study’s principal investigators.

The educational toolkit was developed to provide policymakers with a quantitative and qualitative understanding of the research. The toolkit was funded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Assistance to Firefighters (FIRE Act) grant program. The toolkit contains a bound copy of the report, a brochure of the executive summary for use in public meetings, a DVD with side-by-side video comparing the timing of various tasks for different crew sizes, fact sheets on key findings, time-to-task results, and results on the effect of crew size on the time to apply water on a fire, the fire growth rate, and occupant exposure to toxins. A press release describing the study, stakeholder quotes, and public statements by principal investigators are also included in the toolkit.

The toolkit may be requested by sending email to or The partner organizations contributing to this study— the International Association of Fire Chiefs, the Commission on Fire Accreditation International, and Worcester Polytechnic Institute—also will make the toolkits available.
The Report on Residential Fireground Field Experiments, NIST Technical Note 1661, can be downloaded at:

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Cave Men and Computers

Blogger’s Note: Here is a recent story that is central to this blog:
Ever since the beginning of Man, there have been thousands and perhaps millions of inventions and creations.
I will speculate that 99.9% of the time, the inventor designed his creation with the best of intentions, even if by accident.
But then, some twisted freak would come along and discover in this good invention ways to use it for evil and despicable acts against their fellow Man.
For the sake of brevity, I will discuss two of Mankind’s greatest creations: Fire and computers.
It was thousands of years ago that a cave dweller by the name of Harry Mann invented Fire by pure accident.
One day, out of frustration, he threw his digging tool-a piece of flint rock-at an elusive little animal that he was trying to catch for a meal.
The flint rock ricocheted off of a large rock, covered in dry moss and caused a spark that caught the dried moss on fire.
Eureka; the world had Fire and its first recorded burn injuries.
Harry discovered that fire could cook his food, light his way and warm his cave. His evenings could be spent in his warm cave, where, by the light provided by his fire, he would draw on his walls (world’s first interior decorator).
There was a problem with smoke from the fire. Harry would have to step outside of his cave every now and then, but this was impractical; especially if he was cooking. He took great pride in his culinary skills and didn’t want to over-cook his food.
He noticed that the smoke would rise, then drift towards the opening in his cave, so he dug a hole in the ceiling of his cave and voila’; we had our first chimney.
One day, Harry got a visit from a stranger who saw the smoke in the air and followed it to Harry’s cave. Harry was in the middle of making a brisket and was so startled by the stranger that he grabbed the first thing he could, which was a stick from the fire.
Harry accidentally touched the stranger’s fur covering with the fiery stick and set the fur on fire. The stranger ran out, screaming with pain and Harry had discovered that Fire could be used to ward off unwanted guests.
As time went on, the destructive qualities of Fire became more and more prevalent. It would be catapulted at opposing armies, shot from bows on the tips of arrows and villages would be leveled by using fire as a means to force out into the open those in hiding. Crops would be burnt.
Fire had become an effective weapon.
Now; fast forward to the 20th century and the invention of the computer; a discovery every bit as important to civilization as the discovery of Fire.
I have to believe that the computer was developed because the slide rule was too complicated to use for problem solving. At least, it was for me. That and the guy was having trouble getting dates the “old fashioned” way (Hello
Anyway; think of all the things that are influenced or powered by computers, both large and small.
From wrist watches to phones to satellites, space-craft, vehicles and on and on and we soon discover that computers have dominance in our world.
Then came the Internet, giving computers and their users the ability to communicate with each other. And now, we have the social websites, because we no longer want to simply communicate, but we want to SHARE what we communicate.
It is here that one of Mankind’s most innocuous and insidious weapons of mass destruction has been born.
Back in the day, if you wanted to hurt someone by spreading rumors and false-hoods about them or even something that was true, but very personal about the person, you would write it on the bathroom wall at the park or at school. You had to go to considerable lengths and effort to hurt someone; possibly an ex-girlfriend. It seemed like that it was enough just to embarrass them at the local level. Word certainly got around by word of mouth.
But today; with the computer being the “vehicle”, the Internet being the “gun mounted on the vehicle” and photos, videos and messages being the “bullets”…computers have become the weapon of choice for many snipers who hide behind the virtual anonymity of their computer screens.
It is a weapon that has caused embarrassment, humiliation, mental anguish and even suicide. It is a weapon that has found its way into the hands of anyone with a computer and access to the Internet-young and old alike. It is a weapon that is no longer constrained by local boundaries but can expand to a world-wide audience with a click of the mouse.
And just like a gun, a computer doesn’t take someone incredibly smart to “pull the trigger”. No; you have to be incredibly evil or incredibly stupid or a combination of the two. Once it is posted on the Internet, you cannot “take it back” and apologies ring empty.
If computer users are smart enough to use one, then they are smart enough to know that they should imagine themselves as the RECIPIENT of what THEY want to post and think about the consequences BEFORE THEY POST IT.
And if, upon reflection, they decide to send it out across the World Wide Web, then they are indeed evil AND incredibly stupid.
And they deserve any fall out that may come their way as a result of their own stupidity.
Fire and computers changed the world.
I’m still trying to figure out if it was for the better.
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 its author, Art Goodrich, also known as ChiefReason. Please visit and my blog

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The BIG One-Ten Years Ago

During our careers, we have many remarkable calls that become the stories that we pass on to our future generations of firefighters.

But…there is also that “ONE”-the BIG one-that was the game changer; the one that, at THAT moment defined your career or at the very least, put the exclamation point on it.

For firefighters, the big one is typically their biggest fire. You know; a very large structure or one that races through a city block or two.

Not me! I had several structural fires, but not the ONE that would cap a career.

What I DID have was a field fire (yawn)…

That was the cause of the largest motor vehicle accident scene in the history of our fire department.

And on this day-ten years later-I can still recall the site, sounds and smells of what was the largest incident that I would manage in my career. It was Friday, October 13, 2000.

I was not at work on that day, because on the night before, Thursday, October 12, 2000, our department responded to a single semi-tractor/trailer accident on the interstate. The truck left the roadway and traveled down a very steep embankment before coming to rest.

I navigated the long steep bank to where the vehicle rested. But, there was a drainage ditch between me and the cab of the truck.

So, I attempted to traverse the ditch by leaping over it. Unknown to me was that there was big rocks covered by grass and my right foot landed on one. My foot slipped and I severely twisted my right knee AND my low back. I was in some serious pain. For those of you who don’t know, I had had seven previous surgeries on my right knee.

We got done at the bottom of the embankment and I had the guys throw me a rope and I managed to get back to my vehicle. The worst pain that I have ever felt in my life was when I had to bend my right knee to get it in the car. From there; I didn’t even go to the fire station. I went straight to the emergency room; where they injected both sites with pain medication. My right knee was wrapped, I was given instructions to see my surgeon, apply ice and to stay off of it. I was given prescriptions for pain.

On Friday the 13th in October of 2000, I was following my doctor’s orders when we got toned out for a field fire along the interstate. Within 30 seconds of that page out came another page for a “multi-vehicle accident involving several vehicles at the same location”.

What you are about to read is the narrative that I wrote ten years ago, following the biggest incident of my career. I have italicized it.

Clover Township Fire Department is located in Woodhull, IL on Illinois Route 17 and just east of Interstate 74 in west central Illinois and in Henry County.

The department covers 48 square miles of fire district and 12 miles of Interstate 74 with 25 volunteers, three engines and a medium heavy rescue vehicle. The population served in our fire district is approximately 1100 residents. The department is known for their distinctive fluorescent red fire apparatus.

On Friday, October 13, 2000 at 1310 hours, the department was dispatched by Knox County 911 to a field fire next to the interstate at the 34-1/2 mile marker on the eastbound side.

A second page was struck immediately thereafter, advising us of a multi-vehicle accident at the same location.

As I was leaving the house, I contacted our dispatcher for mutual aid to Rio, Oxford and Oneida/Wataga.

While enroot, I could see that traffic was already backing up in the eastbound lane of the interstate. As I got on the interstate, I encountered vehicles spanning both traffic lanes AND the emergency lane, effectively blocking the emergency vehicles that would be arriving very soon.

I drove along the emergency lane, instructing drivers to get into the traffic lane, so that emergency vehicles, including ambulances, could get to the scene that was one and one-half miles away.

As I got closer to the scene of the accident, I encountered very dense smoke. Fearing a collision, I stopped my vehicle, exited and radioed my department to watch for me and to don SCBAs for the initial attack alongside the interstate, as the fire was approaching the accident scene, pushed by a 20 – 30 mph westerly wind.

Our initial response was Truck #1, Rescue 1 and FOUR firefighters. I called Truck #2 to come to the accident scene as well, instead of going to the field. A call for additional manpower got me five more firefighters from our department.

The accident scene was completely encapsulated in thick, white smoke. It was abundantly clear to me that we had to get on the fire in order to make the accident scene tenable for rescuers, so we took on the fire nearest the interstate and proceeded to improve visibility. Then, we were able to advance our vehicles to near the accident scene, where fire was approaching a scene that had a strong smell of gasoline from leaking vehicle tanks.

As three firefighters advanced to the main body of fire, I moved up to the accident scene and extinguished two, small fires adjacent to the roadway. The other responding fire departments were instructed to concentrate on the field fire.

While still engaged in fighting the field fire, one department had to leave to respond to an accident on the highway that was being used as a detour to the interstate. The field fire was extinguished at 1350 with the help of a farmer using a tractor and disk.

The smoke had cleared and we were able to see vehicles-one on top of the other, two that were forming an arch, a mid-size car that had a full size pick up sitting on its hood with its ball hitch sticking through the windshield and a mangled, twisted mess of metal and glass the likes of which I had never seen before.

No one was prepared for what they saw. It literally stopped the EMTs in their tracks. With most everyone self-extricating and standing outside of their vehicles, the EMTs weren’t sure where to establish a triage area. They chose the median and were soon packaging patients for transport.

Extrication was required for two occupants of a sub-compact auto. The windshield was removed, the car was topped, doors popped and the occupants were packaged and removed. What was unusual was that the front bumper of this car wasn’t damaged, though there was considerable damage to the passenger side of the vehicle. The air bags had not deployed. It was in this vehicle that we had the only fatality. In all; six ambulances transported 12 patients.

The scene was under control at 1410.

A total of sixteen vehicles were involved in four, separate accident within the smoke and included five semi-tractor/trailers, nine passenger cars and two pick-up trucks.

The State Police reconstructed the accident and submitted their report.

Accident #1

On October 13, 2000 at 1:00 pm, Units 1 – 9 were eastbound on I-74 at milepost 34-1/2. Units 1 – 9 became enveloped in heavy smoke from a nearby field fire that started south and west of the actual traffic crash location. The field fire was ignited by equipment being used in the field to lay tile. Strong southerly winds were present and the fire spread north and east rapidly. Units 1 – 9 were involved in a chain reaction traffic crash as a result of very poor visibility from smoke. When I arrived on the scene the visibility was nearly zero. The smoke was thick and my eyes immediately started burning and I found myself gagging (state trooper).

Unit 1, a Chevy S-10 pick-up struck Unit 9, a Freightliner semi-tractor/trailer and drove ahead of Unit 9 and stopped on the inside median approximately 200 feet ahead of Unit 9.

At some point, Unit 2, a Pontiac Grand Prix struck Unit 9. Unit 2 was struck by another unit from behind. Unit 2 was at rest when it was struck by Unit 3, a Plymouth Neon on the driver side.

Unit 3 was struck by Unit 4, a Chevy WT 1500 pick-up on the passenger side and subsequently struck Unit 2.

Unit 4 struck Unit 3 on the passenger side and was then struck by Unit 7, a Pontiac Grand Am from behind.

Unit 5, a Plymouth Voyager van was struck from behind by Unit 4 while at rest and then struck Unit 9 from behind.

It is unknown what struck Unit 6, a Chevy Corsica.

Unit 7 struck Unit 4 from behind and was struck by Unit 8, a Honda Accord from behind.

Unit 8 struck Unit 7 from behind.

Unit 9 was at rest through out the crash.

Accident #2

On October 13, 2000 at 1:00 pm, Units 1 – 4 were eastbound on I-74 at milepost 34-1/2. Units 1 – 4 became enveloped in heavy smoke from a nearby field fire that started south and west of the actual traffic crash location. Strong southerly winds were present and the fire spread north and east rapidly. Units 1 – 4 were involved in a chain reaction traffic crash as a result of very poor visibility from smoke.

Unit 1, a Freightliner semi-tractor/trailer stopped on the roadway at ½ mile east of milepost 34.

Unit 3, an Oldsmobile Achieva came upon Unit 1 and came to rest before striking Unit 1.

Unit 3 came to rest facing northeast as a result of emergency braking.

Unit 4, a Plymouth Voyager van came upon Unit 3 and came to rest before striking Unit 3.

Unit 2, a Kenworth semi-tractor/trailer struck Unit 4 in the rear.

Unit 4, as a result of being struck by Unit 2, struck Unit 3 head on.

Unit 3, as a result of being struck by Unit 4, struck Unit 1.

Accident #3

Unit 1, a Honda Civic and Unit 2, a Volvo were eastbound on I-74 at milepost 34-1/2. Units became enveloped in heavy smoke from a nearby field fire.

Unit 1 came upon Unit 2, who was stopped.

Unit 1 swerved, but struck Unit 2 with right, front bumper.

Unit 1 spun and came to rest facing west.

Accident #4

Unit 1, a Freightliner semi-tractor/trailer and Unit 2, a Kenworth semi-tractor/trailer were traveling eastbound on I-74 at milepost 34-1/2. Units were enveloped in heavy smoke from a nearby field fire.

Unit 1 struck Unit 2 from the rear, as Unit 2 came to a halt.

The fire was determined to be accidental in nature. It started in a cornfield adjacent to the interstate. Tiling work was being done in the field at the time of the incident.

The responding agencies were: Clover Township Fire Department, Rio Township Fire Department, Oxford Fire Protection District, Oneida/Wataga Fire Department, Tri-County Ambulance Service, Galesburg Hospitals Ambulance Service, Illinois District 7 State Police, Woodhull Police Department, Henry County Sheriffs Department, Knox County Sheriffs Department, Knox County Coroner and three wrecker companies.

The main problem at this incident was communication. With so many agencies responding, it was difficult to break through all of the radio traffic. It was suggested at the de-briefing that a cell phone be utilized at incidents of this type, which, based on this experience was an excellent idea.

De-briefing was important for this incident.

Fire, ambulance and police sat down together on Saturday, October 14, 2000 and went through the incident step-by-step. There was a free exchange of ideas and information.

With regards to incident command, there was a “shared” command at this scene, not by design, but out of necessity.

Each agency relied on their skill and concentrated on their areas of responsibility.

There was no time for “gray areas”; problems were addressed as they arose by the appropriate agency.

The police coordinated traffic control, accident investigation and reconstruction, vehicle removal and controlled the news media.

Tri-County Ambulance Service coordinated patient assessment, treatment, packaging and transport with the assistance of Galesburg Hospitals Ambulance Service.

Clover Township Fire Department coordinated fire suppression and vehicle extrication.

The scene was cleared at 1820; exactly five hours after first arrival.

There are some moments that aren’t included in the narrative that I wrote 10 years ago.

First, we had to put the one fatality in the back of our rescue because we wanted the body out of sight and the coroner had not arrived.

Without thinking, I told one of my firefighters to go to the rescue and get me the halligan. He came back to me in a panic, because he came upon the body and didn’t know what to make of it.
He completely broke down when told that nothing could be done for that victim. So; don’t use your vehicle as a temporary morgue unless everyone at the scene is aware of it.

Also; when I arrived on scene and couldn’t go any further do to the dense smoke, I had stopped my vehicle and gotten out because I couldn’t see my hand in front of me. Out of nowhere, a hand grabbed my shoulder and this booming voice said, “we have people trapped. Let’s go.”

I just about jumped out of my skin, told the state trooper that we had to get the fire first; he wanted to argue, but he couldn’t breathe very well, due to the heavy smoke, so he ran back up to the accident as we prepared to extinguish the fire.

And, this day was spent on the injured knee and bad back from the night before. I had a knee brace on the right knee and was walking with the assistance of a cane. Imagine trying to ambulate around a scene that was three lanes wide and a half mile long with a bad knee and back.

Now; I’m not superstitious, but…


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

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Looking Under the Hood of Your Organization

Excellent driving skills are not the only factors that could prevent a driver from encountering a possibly fatal accident. Your vehicle must always be in tiptop condition for you to prevent any traffic or driving mishaps. Consider this: an ill-maintained vehicle is an accident waiting to happen. Keep yourself and your passengers safe by making sure your vehicle is in excellent condition.

That being said, let’s discuss how your organization is much like an automobile. Keep in mind that any time you are looking under your vehicle’s hood is always the perfect time to examine the different connections, hoses and belts i.e. personnel, policies, equipment, operating guidelines, etc. to make sure that they are damage, wear and leak-free.

If it’s your first time to check under your organization’s hood, then you’ll probably be unfamiliar with all the numerous parts in and around the organization. However, if you make it a frequent practice to check your organization and make sure that everything works, you’ll be able to identify all the different issues and problems in a jiffy. I suggest you procure a model and use it to evaluate any loose connections or changes that might have occurred in your organization.

One common model that is recognized Fire Service wide is the Center for Public Safety Excellence’s Commission on Fire Accreditation International model. Even if you are not looking to become an accredited organization, the self assessment approach has proven to be a sound performance criteria model industry wide.

There are a number of benefits in conducting a self assessment program for your agency. These benefits provide for practical, day-to-day organizational improvements. The hardest component is to be honest in your assessment. If conducted correctly the self-conducted performance evaluation will result in increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of your organization provided that the findings are applied to the planning and implementation activities.

Below are some benefits to conducting the self assessment:
· Quality improvement through a continuous self assessment process.
· Providing a detailed evaluation of the services it provides to the community.
· Identifying strengths, weaknesses and opportunities in the organization.
· A methodology for building on strong points and addressing deficiencies.
· Providing for department growth for programs, services and member capabilities.
· Fostering pride in an organization, department members, community leaders and citizens.

Through self assessment, a systematic evaluation can be accomplished to determine what is currently going on in the organization, focusing on whether or not the organization is meeting the goals commensurate with its responsibilities. The assessment process is astounding in the clarity it brings an organization’s leaders and members, not only regarding how the organization currently works but how the various parts are interrelated, its overall state of health and, most importantly, what needs to be done to make improvements. You will target and prioritize top opportunities for change and develop detailed improvement plans.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Commitment Free of Moral Defect

On September 22, 2010, House Republicans led by John Boehner, unveiled a “Pledge to America” (
After reading through it, it made sense that the party other-than-the-party-currently-in-power would try to “re-connect” with a country that is currently disconnected. I would go so far as to say that many citizens are connecting to our system of government for the first time.
When I say that, I mean that, in many households throughout our country, government and what it does has been taken for granted. There has been this notion that the elected officials would serve the public’s best interests. And we are just now finding out how wrong we have been; regardless of political affiliation.
This blog isn’t about political parties. It is about how bad judgment and morally defective policy can hurt in our society. In many cases, it is pitting our oath and duty to act at odds with policies that are not in the best interests of our communities or our fire departments.
So; for those of you in the fire service who believe that you can “avoid” the politics?
Take a look around.
Fire departments are being decimated by the after-effects of elected officials making poor, fiscal decisions. Years of over-spending on under-funded projects have caught up with communities. The bubble that they thought would not burst has exploded into public safety reductions in manpower, rolling brown outs and stations closing all together. Yet, “government” continues to grow.
Our citizens have been force-fed this idea that public safety pensions are out of control. Firefighters are being portrayed as the bad guys. Long gone is the hero worship, but I guess heroes aren’t supposed to collect a pension anyway.
By the way, how many lives did your congressman save today? What kind of air is he breathing? Rarified, I would guess. What did he risk? A paper cut or missing a free meal, perhaps? What about HIS pension? Well, he got his cushy pension the moment he was elected and has a better than average chance of living to collect it; free of cancer, pulmonary or heart disease.
When we see cities that are in financial straits and are blaming the high costs of public safety, you have to remember that it took two sides to sit down and negotiate a contract to provide the level of service that the community insists upon. No one held a gun to anyone’s head and a contract was agreed upon; a contract that is framed around a service that is decided by the citizens!
But, you have a city government that wants “concessions” from the firefighter unions, but were the shoe on the other foot; the city would demand that the firefighters “honor” the contract. It’s amazing how quickly they forget when their political self- interests are at stake.
And volunteers; you figure into this as well, because you are being painted as the bad guys to the unions, because some city governments are threatening to replace career with “some other form of fire protection”. That can only mean two things: volunteer or privatization.
Regardless; the “budget crisis” is affecting the entire brotherhood, whether you want to realize it or not.
So; the fire service needs to pledge to their communities that we will do everything within our collective powers to provide for their safety, regardless of the political or economic climate.
I would pledge something like this:
The urgent need to re-construct, re-vitalize and re-commit our purpose to our community is paramount.
With this pledge, we vow to return to our highest traditions and sacred privileges that those who came before us willingly and without hesitation gave of their lives to accomplish.
Firefighters and citizens-together-will embrace the pioneer spirit, faith and values of our founders to forge a new strength, tempered by the unwavering will to succeed.
This is our pledge.

I believe that the time has come for the fire service to use town hall meetings to inform their communities of what they do, why they do it, what it costs and what happens if a fire department isn’t adequately funded.
As we have seen with the South Fulton, TN incident; news travels very quickly and to a much wider audience because of the many forms of media. Why not take advantage of the same forms of media to educate your communities and avoid an unpleasant situation? Leaders have to recognize the defects in their policies and get them fixed! No one should have to struggle with their conscience to deliver service or not.
Preying upon a community’s fear that we won’t be there if they call will only convey our desperation that will be spun by local government as selfish and self-serving (“they are only trying to protect their pensions”)
It should not be “you get what you pay for” or even “you want more for less”.
It should be “what do you want? Then here is what we need and what it will cost”.
Make your community a part of your team.
Remind them of your pledge to them.
You may just get a commitment in return.
This article is protected by federal copyright laws under The Adventures of Jake and Vinnie© umbrella and is written by Art Goodrich otherwise known as ChiefReason. No part of this article can be reproduced in any form without the expressed, written permission of the author.
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