Why involving families is a valuable recruiting tool for fire departments

Posted on Mon, 26 Jan 2015 17:23:22 UTC

By Dr. Shana Nicholson
American Military University

Fire departments across the country are struggling torecruit and retain volunteer firefighters. Small departments in rural areas are especially dependent on volunteer firefighters to serve and protect their communities.As a firefighter with Shinnston Volunteer Fire Department in Shinnston, W. Va., our department has emphasized a family-oriented approach in order to recruit volunteers. This approach has resulted in far less personnel turnoverthan the average volunteer department as well as astrong camaraderie within "The Ten House." This legacy of service extends through multiple generations, with parents passing their knowledge, dedication, and passion for the fire service to their children.

How Does "The Ten House" Make It Work?
In 2014, Shinnston Volunteer Fire Department responded to 642 alarms. These alarms ranged from structure fires and medical calls to vehicle accidents with injuries and entrapments. The department, which serves about 10,000 residents for initial response and mutual aid, is fortunate to have more than 40 volunteer members, many of whom are legacy firefighters. It is only possible to have this many volunteers because the department has the support of families and community members.

The Shinnston Fire Department actively involves the families of its volunteer firefighters so individuals can more easily balance personal lives with serving their community. There is a certain social aspect of a small rural fire department that includes cook outs, holiday celebrations, birthdays, weddings, and even football games.

Full story: Visit the In Public Safety blog

10 ways to better respond to special needs patients

Posted on Wed, 9 Jul 2014 10:59:06 UTC

Paramedics and first responders tasks are becoming increasingly challenging with the growing number of special needs patients. According to the 2010 census, 2.8 million school age children were reported to have a disability.

In order to minimize problems and have an effective response, EMS and fire must create a stronger partnership and network with the special needs community. Here are 10 steps to successfully do so.

1. Don’t assume the patient has a mental disability based on their looks.

“Approach a special needs patient as you would a colleague,” said Pete Kelly, EMT-B, medical staff coordinator for Special Olympics Michigan. Once you have established mental and physical ability, than treat accordingly.

2. Have a Town Hall meeting with citizens and all essential resources.

Have 30 minute panel discussion with fire, EMS, law enforcement, transportation and a special needs specialist followed by a meet and greet. This is a great way to hear special needs populations’ concerns.

3. Encourage caregivers to keep information up to date.

The American College of Emergency Physicians and the American Academy of Pediatrics created an Emergency Information Form (EIF). The EIF is a valuable tool for first responders. Click here to download the form.

4. Develop a Special Needs Registry.

Emergency management agencies are creating an online registry to locate citizens with a disability during an emergency. Ohio County recently launched their website ReadyAllenCounty.org. Sites are usually in the cloud and need to be secure.

5. Include people with disabilities into emergency response plans.

The U.S. Department of Justice provides an American with Disabilities Act Checklist for Emergency Shelters.

6. Don’t separate equipment from the patient.

During an evacuation or a transport to the ER, try to keep the equipment with and the patient. Separation from an object can create outburst in some patients.

7. Be familiar with the equipment.

First responders can’t always keep up with the latest wheel chairs and devices. Here are a few of the latest devices. Convaid offers a special needs wheelchair product line that has advanced design, seating and mobility combinations for a variety of special needs and physical disabilities.

A child with a TheraTogs Lower Extremity System might be a challenge to transport. The device is designed to address several alignment and functional deviations of the knee joints, developing femurs, and hip joints in a child.

8. Keep the routine.

Mary Porter, owner of Tri-Care, says when dealing with a patient that cannot verbalize a compliant, Tri-Care staff often knows there is a problem when a patient is not sticking to the routine.

9. Get trained.

In recent years there has been a surge in organizations that have created training for first responders. About 1 in 88 children have been identified with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) according to estimates from CDC's Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network.

In addition, Autism ALERT’s mission is to educate first responders and health care professionals on how to recognize and interact with persons on the autism spectrum.

FEMA also suggests the independent study courses offered by Emergency Management Institute IS-197.EM Special Needs Planning Consideration.

10. Use the right communication.

Minimize distractions and use short explanations and use simple language, if the patient has trouble hearing. If you do not understand something the individual says, do not pretend that you do. Ask the individual to repeat what he or she said and then repeat it back. Be patient.

Creating a strategic plan before, during, and after an incident with special needs population is the most effective way to have a good response and recovery.

N.C. firefighters, medics practice foam pit rescue

Posted on Thu, 8 Jan 2015 16:09:32 UTC

RALEIGH, N.C. — Wake County EMS and Raleigh Fire Department personnel learned about the challenges of foam pit rescue and practiced techniques for extricating an injured patient with a suspected c-spine injury in a hands-on, scenario-based training session.

Foam pits, usually filled with large foam blocks, are the safe landing zones at gymnastics complexes, trampoline parks and other sports facilities. A gymnast or acrobat might land in a foam pit after practicing aerial maneuvers or other acrobatics.

"A foam pit is a unique workspace since the more you move, the more your body is entangled in the blocks," said Jeff Hammerstein, Chief of Community Outreach for Wake County EMS. "The pit we practiced in had six feet of foam blocks above a trampoline, which had dead space underneath it."

"Our personnel learned that the best way to stay upright and move to the edge of the foam pit was to use an 'army crawl' or roll across the blocks.”

Several crews of paramedics and firefighters, about 25 total personnel, spent about two hours training at the Launching Pad Trampoline Park in Raleigh. The facility protocol is that if a participant is injured and unable to self-extricate, 911 will be called.

Although a variety of injuries are possible, emergency responders focused their efforts on a patient with an obvious or suspected spinal cord injury.

"Our crews tried several things to both access the patient and remove the patient from the pit," said Hammerstein. "The pit has some similarities to a collapsed trench. Throwing blocks out of the pit just causes more blocks to collapse around the patient."

Hands-on patient stabilization and KED extrication
Through several evolutions the crews’ preferred method was adding personnel around the patient who acted as shoring and "kept blocks from falling on and around the patient," said Hammerstein.

Once seven to eight personnel were surrounding the patient and applying hands-on stabilization, a KED was fitted to the patient.

"A KED, regardless of the patient's orientation, can be maneuvered around the patient and then also used to lift the patient out,"Hammerstein said.

The rescue crews tried several methods, including ladders, for moving the patient out of the pit, but found the best method was laying gym mats across the top of the blocks and then walking over the top of the pit.

"A giant 'Thank You' to the Launching Pad for inviting us to practice,” Hammerstein said. What we learned is applicable to foam pits all over the Raleigh area."

Practicing the MCI response plan

Posted on Mon, 23 Jul 2012 15:25:55 UTC

The multiple casualty incident (MCI) plan for Emergency Medical Services is as strong as the weakest link. There are a lot of links in the chain, so it is critical that every member of the EMS organization develop skills to manage his/her role in a major incident.

Some agencies have developed a routine practice of triage skill testing using a defined period for use of process and props. This process is affectionately called "Triage Tuesday" in many communities.

The goals are several-fold. First, it allows EMS providers to use the basic tools of MCI management, like triage tags. Second, it gives providers the opportunity to discuss their patient evaluation skills with their officers, and importantly, the nurses and physicians at the Emergency Department. Third, it reinforces skills that will create confidence in the providers when the big incident needs to be managed.

The process of using "Triage Tuesdays" instills, and then cultivates, a culture of confidence in EMS providers and emergency department personnel.

Multiple casualty incident preparedness
EMS agencies and providers successfully use everyday operations to prepare for bigger incidents, including MCI events. The daily use of Incident Command Systems for incident management is one of the most important elements of preparedness.

Formal Incident Management System training is designed to prepare providers at all levels and in all disciplines for a multi-agency response. The use of patient triage principles occurs with each patient encounter, and is built around the use of ABCDE patient assessment (Airway Breathing Circulation Disability Exposure) and the differentiation of all types of patients around the basic decision of "sick" and "not sick."

But triage for multiple patient incidents requires another level of decision-making by emergency workers. Those incidents require the caregiver to determine who is sickest among a number of patients, and how sick are they versus the resources that are available to care for them. In the worst of MCIs, someone needs to be prepared to make decisions about who should or should not be resuscitated.

It is these decisions that can be developed using regular training like "Triage Tuesday."

Preparing EMS providers for multiple casualties
EMS providers accept that they practice patient assessment and determination of critical illnesses or injuries with everyday patient encounters. Many resist training for these incidents. There's a few reasons for this:

  • EMS providers don't like to practice. They often have a bias toward actual delivery, and feel that everyday care is difficult enough to prepare for a big incident.
  • It takes time and effort. It distracts from the most important role, which is day-to-day care.
  • EMS professionals don't like "pretend games" at all, and get callused by daily interactions with patients and providers that "play too many games."
  • When things don't go well in training exercises, it can be embarrassing.
  • It costs money to use those materials like triage tags, and other props.

So how can EMS agencies develop a regular and routine practice of triage skill testing? First, use a defined period for use of process and props, like "first Tuesday of every month." Second, work with hospital(s) providers to set mutual goals, like "we are testing and updating processes to prepare for MCIs in our area, for the mutual benefit of the patient." Third, establish a routine practice to communicate the results in each direction, as in "we are identifying areas of weakness in our practice only by accepting suggestions and concerns from your personnel, and hope your agency will do the same."

In the simplest models, the agency's triage tags are applied to each patient who is transported on a given day of the week (or month) before arrival at the hospital. The tag may or may not be used for simple documentation, in addition to the routine patient care report.

The Emergency Department personnel, advised about the process, accept the patient and confirm the accuracy of the patient triage classification, providing simple and immediate feedback to the EMS crew.

Emergency Department personnel may take advantage of the opportunity to test their own triage skills, become familiar with the tagging systems, and use the ED's disaster patient tracking system.

There are more opportunities to expand the training, or add elements once a month to enhance the experience. More props can be utilized, including vests, caps, signage, management boards, and technology enhancements.

Those items that were purchased are dug out of the cabinets and closets, and used for the day. Some agencies will designate the first Tuesday of the month to use the expanded set of tools, designate what type and volume of incidents will utilize the props (every auto accident, or every injured patient incident), utilize field and ED supervisors to provide additional options for testing and management, and produce reports on use of all of the tools.

When agencies are using new tools for MCIs, like bar code devices, the monthly designation allows more providers to develop the skills in using the technology, in the field and in the ED.

An important element of these designated days is to practice the communication scripts. The EMS providers will be asked to use the MCI props, and also to communicate with the patient/family/ED personnel what the props would accomplish in a major incident.

For example: "Mr. Jones, we take care of people every day, and expand those principles when we have big incidents or multiple patients. This is one of the tools we use for big incidents, and we are using it today on all of our patients. We are also doing our regular documentation that is part of your medical record."

In a few places, the supervisors will take the day's incidents and add some elements that give providers some practice in MCI management. At each incident where there is a moment or two where critical patient care is not needed, the supervisor may inject a couple virtual patient encounters to manage, or test the providers on what they would do if this patient encounter was part of a multiple casualty incident that is common for the area. That way a simple patient encounter can be made into a more complex incident for the providers to manage.

Simple and technology enhancements for MCI training
Triage Tuesdays allow the development of MCI skills without moulage, fake patients, and contrived scenarios. It is noted that the skills of MCI management are not developed by moulage administration. Don't waste the money. It is advantageous to expand on real patient encounters, rely on day-to-day patient assessments to train providers on what patients look like, and use simple patient descriptor cards to allow the providers to triage multiple simultaneous patients.

An EMS system could almost develop "baseball cards" that have a descriptor of patient injuries, and have the EMS providers practice going through the cards and making an accurate triage decision. A sample patient descriptor is listed below.

IT applications to Triage Tuesday are very appropriate. Some EMS systems and Emergency Departments have new IT applications that are being utilized, sometimes with new equipment, communication processes, and software.

These special tools require regular practice, especially near the introduction. Regular MCI drills allow practice using the tools, the hardware, and the software. It also helps define shortcomings and bottlenecks. It is likely to greatly benefit the staff of the EMS providers and the Emergency Department.

Regular drills, like Triage Tuesdays, enhance training for emergency providers. With that process, the EMS agency is taking care of people, to include your providers, your patients, and your support agencies. There is great benefit to having, practicing, and improving the EMS MCI plan. Having each member of the EMS agency and Emergency Department skilled in the props, process, and practice will benefit all of the appropriate elements, especially the rescuers.

Triage Tuesdays allow providers to use MCI props routinely. Vests, hats, signage all gets way too buried without regular use. So dust off the MCI kit, write and print a couple hundred patient descriptor cards, and take advantage of all special events. Understand what are high-risk events and use those as scenarios.

Sample MCI Patient Descriptor Cards

Patient 101
Chris Farmley, born on 8/2/88, SS# 123-45-6789, complains of abdominal pain.


Cyanotic, cool, moist

Breathing quality:

Rapid, shallow, guarded

Pulse quality:

Rapid, weak, irregular

Neurological status:

Disoriented; feels pain; responds to verbal stimuli; pupils equal, react slowly

Medical history:

Not available

Further examination:

Abdomen rigid; no other injury evident

Patient 102
Jane Doe, approximately 13 year old Caucasian female with blonde hair, blue eyes, and a one inch scar on her left knee, is unconscious with no apparent injuries.


Cyanotic, cool, moist

Breathing quality:


Pulse quality:

Carotid pulse weak, irregular

Neurological status:

Does not respond to verbal stimuli; pupils dilated, react slowly

Medical history:

Not available

Further examination:

Not applicable

How About a Culture of Prevention?

Posted on Mon, 29 Jun 2009 12:32:56 UTC

By Bill Delaney

Reactions to Lt. Ray McCormack's speech at FDIC were varied, with people picking sides — sometimes very emotionally.

My own take on the speech was somewhere in the middle. He never said do not be safe. I think he was really trying to say he fears we are taking the "be safe" component to an extreme. He has stirred a good debate and I applaud him for having the conviction to stand up for his beliefs.

But the one big thing that was missing from all of the discussion that followed the speech, and seemingly absent from all fire service debates/discussions, is the bastard child of the fire service: the culture of prevention.

You know, that annoying little member of our family who we always try to make sure is relatively unseen and certainly never heard from? After all, most of the debate related to "The Speech" does not happen if the fire, gasp, is prevented and never happens in the first place!

There is much national gnawing and gnashing of the teeth as staffing on trucks are being reduced, stations closed, revolving station closures, etc. amidst the current economic climate.

No doubt we should be screaming from the highest mountain tops about all of that as it does involve the wellbeing of our people and those we serve. We are, however, eerily quiet when it comes to public educators and other "prevention" components of our service when they get cut.

Why is this? Well, for me, it is because we DO have a culture of extinguishment! That is where Lt. McCormack was all wrong in his speech. The culture of extinguishment is more than alive and well and probably always will be in a vast majority of departments in the United States.

Don't believe me? Take a look at your own department's budget priorities. Next, look at the departments around you. In the Washington, D.C.–Metro area, we have two departments that now have no public educators and three that cut staffing by more than 50 percent.

Meanwhile, one that has taken its few remaining educators and trained them as inspectors and let them know that most of their duties will fall under revenue generating inspections. I will admit that the last one at least has a prevention component to it so not all is lost.

The old adage is that you cut what you do not perceive to be the greatest value. Fortunately my chief values our risk reduction efforts (as well as firefighter safety) and let it be known that cutting our public education staff is not even an option for discussion.

But actions speak louder than words and the vast majority of departments across our great land have spoken. The proponents of the speech can rest easy — I firmly believe that the culture of extinguishment is alive and well in our great country!

Another great CFSI dinner in the books

Posted on Fri, 30 May 2014 13:47:41 UTC

Each year, the Congressional Fire Services Institute has the distinct honor of hosting the annual National Fire and Emergency Services Dinner and Seminars Program. The event brings together fire and emergency services leaders from across the country to our nation's capital.

During their stay, they meet with their members of Congress, attend the CFSI seminars program, and come together as one fire service for a special dinner program honoring the dedication and service of our nation's one million first responders.

The theme of the 26th annual program, which took place on April 30-May 1 in Washington, D.C., was "Cultivating Relationships." Upwards of 2,000 fire service leaders from across the country attended the program.

This was not a social gathering by any stretch, but a unique opportunity to learn and participate in the legislative- and policy-implementation processes. For veterans and neophytes of this program alike, important work is accomplished at the annual National Fire and Emergency Services Dinner and Seminars Program that has a far-reaching effect on federal programs that benefit our nation's first responders.

This is why CFSI continues to conduct this event and encourage a large turnout — to cultivate relationships with political leaders who determine the federal government's commitment to important fire and emergency services programs.

Getting educated
Before commenting on the dinner, I'd like to discuss the seminars program. No other event in the fire service covers such a broad range of important federal issues — nor does any other event feature such a broad array of distinguished and knowledgeable experts on national fire service issues.

Our seminar presenters included 32 association leaders, six federal officials, and eight members of Congress. They are experts in such areas as first responder communications, emergency medical services, building codes, leadership, public safety education, health and wellness, and lobbying.

Our federal presenters were there to listen how our government can be more responsive to the concerns and needs of the fire and emergency services.

While CFSI was delivering an educational experience for all attendees, there were separate meetings and business taking place by other organizations and individual groups. There is not another opportunity during the year for such meetings between leaders of so many diverse organizations.

Business cards were exchanged and new business relationships were formed. Industry leaders conversed with fire officials, while many of our participants were walking the halls of Congress and meeting with their elected representatives.

The best ever
This was my 19th dinner as CFSI's executive director and arguably the best one from my perspective. Five of our fire caucus leaders participated in the dinner program. Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) and Reps. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), Peter King (R-N.Y), and Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.) all addressed the dinner attendees, while Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) once again addressed our board of directors reception.

Many members of Congress would relish the opportunity to address such a large and esteemed audience of fire service officials, but few deserve the time behind the podium — most notably these members in addition to our three other caucus co-chairs — Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Rep. Dave Reichert (R-Wash.), who addressed the opening session of our seminars program.

These are members who understand our issues, members who work with us on a daily basis to help the fire service become better prepared and trained. They understand our culture, our traditions and our language.

Grant programs aren't funded on their own, nor are federal agencies like the U.S. Fire Administration or the National Fire Academy. Positive changes to the Public Safety Officers' Benefits Program require support from the Capitol Hill, as do efforts to enhance first responder communications.

Recognizing excellence
To a large extent, we have our caucus leaders to thank for this work, which is why we always look forward to paying proper tribute to them at the dinner.

The dinner also provides an opportunity to acknowledge fire service leaders and organizations for outstanding leadership.

Since 1999, CFSI and Motorola Solutions have presented the Mason Lankford Fire Service Leadership Award to an individual for exemplary leadership at the local, state and national levels. This year's recipient was the Hon. James M. Shannon, president of the National Fire Protection Association who will be retiring shortly following an illustrious 23-year career with NFPA.

CFSI co-sponsor an award with the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation that recognizes organizations for outstanding leadership to advance the cause of firefighter health and safety. This year we honored a government agency (the Office of the Fire Commissioner for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania) and a partnership between two organizations (the Oklahoma Council on Firefighter Training and Ingegris Heart Hospital). The central focus of the award is to recognize organizations that are helping to advance the 16 Life Safety Initiatives developed by fire service leaders at Tampa, Fla. in 2004.

We also present two other prestigious awards: the Dr. Anne W. Phillips Award for Leadership in Fire Safety Education and the Excellence in Fire Service-Based EMS Awards.

With the support of the International Fire Service Training Association, we recognized Mary Marchone of the National Fire Academy with the Phillips awards. The EMS award, co-sponsored by the MedicAlert Foundation, honored three recipients from the volunteer, career and combination categories: the Cullman County (Ala.) Association of Volunteer Fire Departments, the Memphis (Tenn.) Fire Department and the Howard County (Md.) Department of Fire and Rescue Services, respectively.

These are competitive awards with formal application processes. It is indeed a distinct honor for the recipients to stand before national fire service leaders and receive these recognitions. They have worked hard to achieve these honors and by doing so, have made the fire service stronger and communities across the nation safer.

We extend our thanks and appreciation to our co-sponsors for their continued support of the awards program. Without them, this program would not be possible.

From the administration
Our keynote speaker was Secretary Jeh Johnson of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. In his speech, the secretary pledge to grow the department's relationships with the fire and emergency service, stating that the department will continue to listen to the fire service to better understand our needs and concerns.

He spoke of the department's commitment to the SAFER and AFG grant programs, enumerating the many ways both programs have addressed the needs of fire departments across the nation. He also recognized our Fire Administrator Chief Ernie Mitchell and the leadership he continues to provide at the federal level.

Cultivating relationships is the mission of the Congressional Fire Services Institute. The fire and emergency services stand to gain when nearly 2,000 fire and emergency services officials from all disciplines can gather together in Washington, D.C. and present a unified image to our leaders on both ends of Pennsylvania Ave.

We thank those who attended for their support and encourage others to contact our office to learn how they can engage in our efforts not only at our 2015 program, but every day during the year. You can reach us at 202-371-1277 or update@cfsi.org

10 more must-do things to become a firefighter

Posted on Thu, 20 Nov 2014 20:42:50 UTC

For an aspiring firefighter, there is no easy way to obtain the dream career. As they say, "If it was easy, everyone would be doing it." There is no short cut or fast track to become a firefighter, regardless of what anyone may tell you.

Many of you remember my article "10 Must do Things to Become a Firefighter." Now, it is time to update it with 10 more must-dos. Here they are in no specific order.

1. Prepare for the written examination.
It amazes me how many individuals cannot pass the entry-level hiring process written examination. Or if they can pass it, are unable to score in the mid-to-high 90 percent range.

Although 70 percent is the standard pass point, it is common for departments to only take the top scores to proceed to the next step of the process. Many think they did awesome by passing the written examination with 75 percent only to find out the department only wants candidates with scores of 95 percent and above to continue.

A written examination by itself is not going to tell a department who the best candidate is; it is only one of several items used to weed out candidates who are not fully prepared for the position. If you're not consistently scoring in the mid-to-high 90s, find your weaknesses and do what it takes to increase the scores in those sections.

Also, fire departments typically require cadets to maintain an 80 percent average on all written examinations in the recruit academy — with tests typically occurring at the start of every day. Not maintaining at least an 80 percent average may lead to termination, something that occurs more than you can imagine.

2. Be in the best physical and mental shape.
Face it, most people in the United States are overweight, out of shape, or both — including many within the fire service. Firefighting is a very physically and mentally demanding career that requires candidates to be on the top of their game.

If you are not physically and mentally prepared for the rigors of the recruit academy, you're going to find yourself in a world of hurt. I've learned over the years that when either the physical or mental shape becomes an issue during a recruit academy, the other will soon follow.

That means if someone is having problems performing the physical aspects of the job, their frustration and their knowing it may lead to termination will also affect their mental performance. It's like an athlete who cannot recover from a botched play. Eventually, the recruit becomes a train wreck, leading to either resignation or termination.

Besides all of the physical skills you'll be performing at the academy, you'll also be performing physical fitness. Some departments have recruits run several miles a few times a week and do a number of push ups, pull ups and other related workouts. Have a solid workout plan before you get hired as a firefighter so it is a smooth transition into the academy and your career.

3. Prepare and practice for the oral interview.
In most departments, your oral interview score will make up all or an overwhelming majority of your final ranking on the hiring list. Scoring well on the oral interview doesn't prove you'll be a great firefighter; it just means you can talk a great game.

However, you need to talk a great game to make the final cut, and then you also need to walk the walk to prove you were as great as you said you were.

Use the Internet to research the most common oral interview questions and write down your possible answers. Then rehearse answering those questions, timing yourself in the process to ensure you're not spending more than two minutes on any answer — unless it's the opening statement, which you can spend up to four minutes to answer.

To rehearse the answers, arrange mock interviews with company officers or chief officers who you've built relationships with (see item 8 for more on networking).

Make a video recording of the rehearsal and analyze your performance to ensure you're not doing anything inappropriate or distracting. More importantly, ensure that you're conveying passion, enthusiasm and portraying yourself as someone the board would like to work with and who would fit into their culture.

4. Have a strong character.
Most departments will hire for character and positive attitude, and train for firefighting skills. This is something most candidates don't get; they focus too much on packing their resume with certifications and qualifications and forget that we don't hire resumes, we hire people. We can teach many to perform the basic firefighting skills.

However, we can't teach many to have a positive attitude or have outstanding character traits that should have been instilled in you by your parents, guardians, family members and friends.

5. Prepare to perform under stress
Recruit academies do not test for character, but reveal it. Our academy coordinator puts this sign on the academy classroom wall to remind our newly hired firefighters we will get to know them very intimately over the 16 weeks of the academy.

The oral board that interviewed you for 10 or 30 minutes and thought you were the cat's meow only heard you speak of how great you were. We get to now put you through 16 weeks of a very challenging and at times stressful recruit academy that will require you to perform as an individual and as a team member, something many are not prepared to do.

It's amazing how some perform under stress: some do a great job, some excel, some scream at their teammates, some cannot perform, and some even snap at their instructors, thus showing their true colors. It is common for a fire department to terminate firefighters in a recruit academy for attitude or behavioral issues, even when they are passing their tests with at least 80 percent.

Some may think "they're passing their tests, so what?" If someone is going to be a jerk or not be able to handle the stress, he will not be an asset to his crew or the public; he also will more than likely be a problem for the rest of his career.

6. Obtain a Firefighter I certification.
While most fire departments don't require Firefighter I, I strongly encourage all candidates to complete a fire academy at a college prior to getting hired by a fire department.

That's because many college academies are tougher than some paid fire department recruit academies. And if you can handle a college academy, you have a great chance at handling a recruit academy.

A college academy lets you make mistakes and even allows you to fail and come back again and again if needed. Fire department academies don't provide that same amount of patience and understanding. You either cut it or you're out.

7. Become a paramedic.
In many departments require candidates to be paramedics, even for a firefighter position. Being a paramedic will also lower the numbers of your competitors, since there are not many out there.

8. Network with those in the fire service.
If you haven't figured it out by now, getting ahead in life is not always due to luck or hard work. Many times it's because of timing, opportunity, as well as how much those you know believe you will be a good fit for the position.

Networking doesn't mean sucking up or kissing butt. It means getting to know others who may assist you in some capacity and who you may be able to assist at some point.

Being able to play nice in the sandbox with others, and not taking your toys and leaving is a skills some don't possess, and it definitely shows in their ability to get ahead in life or even stay afloat in their current position.

9. Know yourself inside and out.
Be able to articulate to an oral board who you are, how you have prepared for the job, where you want be in the next five and 10 years, why you want the job, what you can bring to the job, what you can bring to the department, what you can bring to the community, what your strengths and weaknesses are, what your values are, what you believe in, and basically anything else that relates to you.

Sadly, many candidates do a terrible job of selling themselves — being able to talk about themselves and why they would be a great fit for the position. If you don't know yourself and can't talk about yourself, who can?

10. Develop good mechanical ability.
Years ago, most fire department candidates came from the trades. Today, very few candidates come with this experience. However, the job of a firefighter has not changed in that mechanical ability and trades experience are still required, given all of the hand tools and power tools we use.

If you don't have trades experience, find someone who does and learn the basics of hand tools and power tools, as well as mechanical ability. Most fire departments have mechanical-ability questions on their written examination.

And you'll need to have a basic understanding of mechanical ability to pass the recruit academy, pass the probationary period, and more importantly, gain the respect and credibility of your co-workers and supervisors. A great website to learn more about mechanical ability is www.howstuffworks.com

It isn't easy becoming a full-time firefighter. However, talk to the overwhelming majority of those working in the fire service and they will tell you it was worth the time and effort they put in to become a firefighter. Good luck.

The best tools for firefighter rehab sectors

Posted on Tue, 19 Jul 2011 10:21:35 UTC

By Ken Lavelle, MD, FF/NREMT-P

Anytime we need to do a job, we look for tools to help us do it more efficiently. However, these tools also need to help us do it reliably. If a tool causes us to get wrong information, then it is not a very good tool. This is particularly the case in medicine — and remember, EMS is medicine.

One of the challenges of the EMS provider in rehab is to quickly do intake and assessment as a company or group of firefighters enters the rehab area.

If the firefighters have to wait 10-15 minutes for anyone to see them, they very well may wander away. We need to engage them quickly, not only to make sure there is nothing life threatening occurring with their condition, but also to "get them in the system" and make sure they stay in rehab for the appropriate amount of time.

Usually one person will be getting their name, age and company. This "scribe" can be anyone — it does not need to be an experienced medical provider.

They could be a cadet, a new member to the organization, even a spouse or friend that got sucked into a major event because they were out with an EMS provider that had a responsibility to respond to the incident. Obtaining this information can occur at the same time other activity is going on.

I usually like to get the firefighter to sit down and get their gear off, so the cooling down process can start. Next, we need to get baseline vitals. This is a mildly controversial area.

My former Division Chief, a very experienced EMS and fire physician, prefers to wait 10 minutes and then get a set of vitals. His view is that it does not matter much what the initial vitals are at the start, and that it is much more important what the vitals are at the time that the firefighter may be released.

I think there is some validity to this, however I would prefer to know if there was a problem sooner rather than later. If a firefighter's heart rate is 200 because he is in a dangerous arrhythmia, I don't want to miss this, even for only 10 minutes.

If their blood pressure is extremely low or extremely high, I also need to keep a better eye on them. While in most circumstances they should have either a complaint or physical appearance that should clue us into this abnormality, this is not always the case.

I think both approaches are reasonable — discuss with your medical director which is better for your department.

I have found that obtaining vitals is often the bottleneck in the initial rehab evaluation. There are two vital signs I definitely want immediately — heart rate and blood pressure.

A third vital sign that I think is reasonable to obtain sooner rather than later is a carbon monoxide level. I am not concerned about the temperature because it is my opinion that getting an accurate core body temperature is not feasible in the field.

Doing so requires taking a rectal temperature, something neither I nor the firefighter are much interested in doing. The other, non-invasive methods of getting a temperature are not very reliable, and an elevated temperature is almost always associated with a significantly elevated heart rate.

So how can we get these vitals quickly?

The pulse can be obtained by the good old fashioned method of feeling a radial pulse and counting, but we can also use a number of other tools, such as pulse oximetry, a heart monitor or a carbon monoxide monitor.

have found that either feeling and counting the radial pulse, or using CO oximetry, is the most efficient in obtaining a pulse rate. Using CO oximetry allows us to get both a heart rate and a CO level with one action.

The concern is of course is whether it is truly reliable. I believe it is, but if you are concerned, feel for a pulse at the same time and compare the results. This will likely not add much time to the task.

The blood pressure also needs to be obtained quickly and reliably. Now I am generally a fan of automatic blood pressure cuffs. In the hospital, these work fairly well and allow us to trend the blood pressures — follow them over time.

However, in the field, I have found that they are becoming more and more of a problem. Too often the machine pumps up the cuff and then slowly goes down. And up. And down. And down some more. And then back up. And then down. And then fails to give a value.

EMS providers end up staring at the screen awaiting this important vital sign. So, I think the best way to get a BP in the field is the manual sphygmomanometer and stethoscope.

If a firefighter is found to have a significantly abnormal BP, and they become a patient, then using the automatic machine to confirm and trend is reasonable. But I bet most EMS providers can take a manual BP faster.

Once you have these vitals, and assess the firefighter's appearance and any physical complaints, they can then be sorted into the medical sector or just to the rest and refreshment area.

But we need to have these vital signs to do so, and we need them quickly and to be accurate. Remember we call them vital signs for a reason — they are important.

Stay safe (and hydrated!)

11 McMansion challenges for firefighters

Posted on Sun, 7 Sep 2014 19:11:36 UTC

The size of the average American home has more than doubled since the 1950s; it now stands at 2,349 square feet. Whether it's a 5,000- to 10,000-square-foot mega home — or McMansion — in a wealthy neighborhood, or a bigger, cheaper house in the exurbs, the move toward ever-larger homes has been accelerating for years.

The continued growth in large residential structures has created overwhelming challenges for fire departments that are unprepared, untrained, understaffed, and underestimate the operational demands of a rapid developing fire in one of these residential structures.

This single-family mega home was destroyed on March 19, 2011 in Huntington, Md. and resulted in a mayday situation with nine firefighters injured after fire spread rapidly from a basement level chimney void into the 10,000-square-foot attic space.

Large home fires cannot be treated with the same conventional mind-set as a home built decades ago. Fires involving today's residential structures demand a strategic and tactical approach that is focused on training, pre-incident planning, and well-defined tactics based on current technology.

Plan and plan some more
Pre-incident planning is essential. This is especially true when it comes to access, water supply, and hose lay distances. Large residential structures are not bound by the same code requirements for sprinklers and draft stopping of void spaces as similar sized commercial structures.

Essentially, a fire involving a large wood frame home should be treated like a commercial building fire.

In addition to the lightweight construction concerns, and rapid fire spread potential, here are 11 unique challenges of large home fires.

  • Large open floor plan design.
  • Very large void spaces created.
  • Concealed rooms built within attic voids.
  • Fire scene staffing.
  • Lack of adequate road surface.
  • Water supply issues.
  • Large sections of unsupported brick veneer.
  • Extended hose lay distances.
  • Limited access.
  • Large and complex search areas.
  • Long driveways and gates.

How prepared is your department to adequately and safely respond to this unique and growing challenge?

Looking Is Not Always Seeing

Posted on Fri, 10 Jul 2009 11:06:28 UTC

A few years ago, I gave a patient assessment lecture to a group of EMTs. Early in the lecture, I announced that my assistant would be coming around with a handout. The assistant was a portly gentleman sporting a wide, ugly tie with yellow splotches. After standing in front of each student to distribute the material, he left the room.

Midway through the lecture, I asked the participants to describe his tie, thereby emphasizing the importance of observation to patient assessment. Most participants could not describe the tie or my assistant with any degree of accuracy. About 15 to 20 percent gave a fairly precise description of the tie, generally including the term 'ugly,' and a few must have been asleep as they wanted to know, "What assistant?"

The term for this aptly demonstrated phenomenon is 'inattentional blindness' because while we look, we don’t see. The information doesn’t register because our brains are focused elsewhere and ignoring the visual input. This may not pose a huge problem during a lecture, but can prove to be quite a predicament in the field.

How does our vision work?
Light waves (electromagnetic waves) are continuously bouncing off every object around us. Those light waves in the visible range (we can’t process ultraviolet or infrared waves) that get past the cornea and pupil then hit the retina in the back of the eye. The retina creates electrical signals that are transmitted to the brain, which in turn interprets the information and produces the vision that we 'see.' Don’t believe me? Close your eyes. What do you see?

Signal interpretation
Do we 'see' all the visual signals we receive? From where you are right now, stop reading and take a 180-degree or half-circle view of your surroundings, then close your eyes and recall what you just 'saw.' Now repeat the scan slower, paying attention to details and taking note of what you do not 'see.' All of the light waves bouncing off the objects in your visual field hit the retina and produce visual signals for the brain. Why did your brain fail to give you the total picture of what you saw? Information overload in any system can decrease performance, including your brain. To a significant degree, you determine what you see by the extent of attention you apply to what you are looking at or looking for. A lot of the visual input from the eyes to the brain never gets to perform on your brain's visual screen because you do not pay attention to the content. This can be both a blessing and a curse.

Can you imagine trying to start an IV in a nice fat vein but as you start to insert the needle your vision is overwhelmed with mental images of surrounding objects such as the patient’s clothing, the cot, the blood on the floor, etc., etc., etc.? You would likely be hard-pressed to hit the vein. Our ability to concentrate visual signals on the task at hand helps us select the visual information we need to get the job done.

But what happens when we fail to recognize important visual input? Think about the last time you were providing patient care and asked yourself, "Where did THAT come from?" It might be when the visual input about your patient’s cyanotic lips and weak respirations were sidelined by the visual input of the bloody, deformed open femur fracture, or when you did not 'see' that large pool of blood on the floor before you kneeled down. Or perhaps you found yourself in such a situation after your failure to notice a weapon on the ground. All these events occurred within your field of vision, but failed to register with your brain.

Inattentional thinking
Inattentional blindness has a partner called 'inattentional thinking.' Dispatch sends you to the third intoxicated, unresponsive individual of the day or to the chronic back pain patient that you have visited too many times before. The danger is thinking that the problem is going to be the same as before, or that the scene is as safe as it was the last time you were there. If we fail to consciously evaluate the scene every time, or assess the patient every time regardless of presentation or how many times we have previously seen the patient with the same complaint, we may miss scene hazards or fail to benefit from an accurate patient assessment. What if the intoxicated patient noted above is not just drunk this time, but has a subdural hematoma that occurred from an unwitnessed fall, producing a dilated pupil that we did not think to check? What if the chronic back pain patient on this trip has an expanding abdominal aortic aneurysm that we failed to find because we did not think to examine the abdomen for a pulsatile mass? How many other 'what if' scenarios could feasibly exist?

We all fall victim to unwanted inattentional blindness and thinking. Decreasing the frequency of its occurrence requires awareness, and awareness is fueled by knowledge. If this is your first look at inattentional blindness, I would encourage further study. Resources include Blink, a book on this topic by Malcolm Gladwell, as well as print and video resources readily available by searching the Internet. In the mean time, keep your eyes open and pay attention out there.

1. Rensink RA, O’Regan JK, Clark JJ. To See or Not to See, The Need of Attention to Perceive Changes in Scenes. Psychological Science. 1997:8; 368-373.
2. Simons DJ, Chabris CF. Gorillas In Our Midst: Sustained Inattentional Blindness For Dynamic Events. Perception. 1999. 28; 1059-1074.
3. Rensink RA. When Good Observers Go Bad: Change Blindness, Inattentional Blindness, and Visual Experience. Psyche. 2000:8.
4. Rensink, RA. Seeing, Sensing, and Scrutinizing. Vision Research. 2000:40; 1469-1487.

Funding Opportunities: What's in Your Backyard?

Posted on Mon, 11 Aug 2008 13:36:01 UTC

With most grant programs becoming more competitive, I've noted more emphasis being placed on applicants providing thorough vulnerability assessments of their area. These are intended to identify vulnerabilities in the jurisdiction requesting the funding and how the approval of your grant application would address them. Often, these vulnerability assessments can be crucial in the ultimate award decision. So how does one conduct a thorough vulnerability assessment? At the outset it would appear to be a daunting task. However, if the individual conducting the assessment utilizes the proposed systematic approach, it may be easier than you think.

The first step in conducting the assessment for your jurisdiction is to identify the risks, both natural and technological, that could have an impact on your community. Natural risks include weather phenomena such as hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes, blizzards, flooding, etc. I think that these vulnerabilities are often overlooked when assessments are written. A query of the local National Weather Service office will often yield a substantial quantity of data for inclusion into your assessment. This portion of the assessment does not need to be lengthy – but a few sentences that describe the natural risks to your community does provide the grant review team with a sense of your community and it shows that you have performed a thorough assessment.

Technological risks are much broader and can be more complex. I like to look at components of the infrastructure first, beginning with utilities. Examine the power grid of your community. Contact the local utility provider and arrange to meet with them. Ask them to describe the components of the power grid that provides electricity to your community. Where is the power generated? How many sources of power generation are there within the grid? What plans are in place to provide for supplemental power should portions of the grid be compromised? How many substations are within you community? How long will it take to repair or replace a damaged circuit or switch within the station? You will find that the power grid is more complex that most might think.

Water supply is the second most important utility component. Again a meeting with your water utility company might be warranted and again there are three many components that you should be interested in. Where are water supplies located? The supply sources may be reservoirs, wells, streams or rivers. These intakes are critical and sensitive components of the infrastructure and should be discussed within your assessment. Other components to identify are storage locations of treated water and the location of valves that serve distribution grids.

Communications (telephone), dams, natural gas supply and sanitary sewer infrastructure should also be investigated and discussed within your assessment. However, should your jurisdiction contain power generating facilities, major power transmission infrastructure or sources of water supply always mention it in your assessment. These are crucial components your community’s infrastructure.

After reviewing utility infrastructure, I then focus upon transportation vulnerabilities. Interstate highways and the bridges that connect these highways between jurisdictions are always listed first in my assessments. Not only should you identify these transportation arteries and how many miles are within your jurisdiction, you should also obtain traffic count data and list it as well. This data is often obtained from the state department of transportation or highways. Most of these agencies provide this data electronically. Find it and include it in your assessment.
I list railways next. Determine which railway companies have tracks within your jurisdiction and how many miles they operate. Passenger railways should also be included and remember to include the number of passengers that utilize the railway annually.

In the case of both highway and railway, I include commodity flow analysis data. This data is easily obtained from railways, though often more difficult for highway transportation. Most of the major railways will provide public safety personnel with a list of the most frequently shipped hazardous materials from the previous calendar year. This data is obtained by writing the railway and asking for it. This data, which may fluctuate a little from year to year, will provide you with you with the quantities and hazard class of the materials being transported through your community.

As I previously mentioned, highway commodity flow analysis is more difficult to obtain. However, some states do compile this data and will provide it to public safety personnel. In my jurisdiction, the local emergency planning committee commissioned a local university to develop a commodity flow analysis for the several interstate highways that traverse the region. Another method that I have used to collect the data is a simple windshield survey of placards and trailer types conducted over a period of several hours at different times of the day. While not ideal, I’m always able to identify the hazard class and I usually try to extrapolate the number of shipments over a 24 hour period using the number of bulk shipments identified within peak and non-peak travel times.

I next focus upon industrial vulnerabilities. These often include facilities that store extremely hazardous substances (EHS) or hazardous chemicals. The local emergency planning committee is the primary source of obtaining this data for your jurisdiction. With respect to EHS facilities, I list the number of facilities, the types of chemicals stored and the area (in terms of square miles) of the jurisdiction that are included within each facility’s area of vulnerability. The area of vulnerability is the portion of the community that could be impacted by a release of an EHS. Don’t forget to mention EHS facilities within your assessment.

Finally, remember to analyze other industrial, commercial and large population residential occupancies that are an integral part of your community. I list the top five employers of my jurisdiction to provide some perspective of the economic impact of natural and technologic disasters. I also list a large retail hub (15 square miles of commercial occupancies) within my jurisdiction that provides economic benefit to the entire region. Does your jurisdiction contain multi-family (large population) residential developments? Do you serve retirement or assisted care facilities? While you may not think that these facilities are critical, they are a significant component of your community and should be included in your vulnerability assessment. Don’t forget government facilities. Be sure to list any federal, state, county and local government facilities within your jurisdiction. One of the most frequent hazardous materials responses for our regional HazMat team has been to a federal government facility.

Once completed, the vulnerability assessment of your community should provide the reader with a thorough review of the risks to your community. Divide the assessment into the components as described above and the process will be easier. Remember to keep the document current and revise it annually. You will find that once completed, it is easy to cut and paste the data into any grant application and will allow you to focus upon other portions of the application – such as how funding your application will address one or more of those vulnerabilities.

How communication centers can aid incident commanders

Posted on Tue, 13 Jul 2010 14:03:09 UTC

By Bob Smith
Director of Strategic Development, APCO International

It's 0300 hours, you're in the front right seat of the first due engine on a multi-story residential structure fire with several exposures. As you climb out of the truck and start your size-up you've got about 10,000 things going through your head.

How many personnel are responding to this fire? Is that enough? What units are responding? Is that enough? Should I call for an additional alarm? Or two? Where should I position the ladder when it gets here? And dozens more. The number and complexity of those things you'll need to consider won't really start to dwindle until the clean-up is over and units are returning to the station.

One of the many things being considered during this process is that of personnel accountability. Who's on the scene, where are they and what are they doing? Another issue is incident development. How long has this fire been burning? How long have we been at this offensive interior attack? Is it time to switch tactics to a defensive exterior attack?

Well let's take a moment to discuss an often overlooked resource that can assist an incident commander with personnel accountability and monitoring incident progress — the communications center. An adequately trained and staffed comm center can assist incident commanders in a multitude of areas beyond the traditional dispatch, information management and resource tracking.

PARs in the fire service
Let's start with accountability. Conducting personnel accountability reports (PAR) during an event of any size has become second nature to the fire service. Effective department accountability programs should incorporate PARs on incidents of any size and of any nature.

A PAR is a tool that allows incident commanders to ensure all personnel on scene are safe and accounted for. This action can easily be carried out by the comm center and many jurisdictions have done just that by training their comm center personnel on how to conduct PARs and how to relay the PAR's findings to the IC. One less action needed to be carried out by the IC.

Another tool that comm centers can provide an IC to assist with personnel safety are regular time checks during an incident. Time checks can be designed so that beginning at a certain point in the incident — say 10 minutes after the first unit arrives on scene or the IC announces that knockdown has begun — the comm center staff will notify the IC every 10 to 20 minutes.

We all know that 10 minutes worth of free burning in a traditional structure fire can make the difference between a successful knockdown and leaving nothing but the foundation. Also, most departments have limits to the amount of time they will allow personnel to remain inside a building during interior attack modes.

This "heads up" from the comm center allows the IC to monitor the passage of time during an incident without having to actually watch a clock themselves. One less action needed to be carried out by the IC.

Emergency evacuations
Another area that allows for comm centers to assist ICs during an incident is playing a role in a department's emergency evacuation process. Many agencies across the country have developed emergency evacuation plans that incorporate steps such as having the comm center make evacuation announcements over primary and tactical channels and even activating pagers and radio alerts on scene.

To accomplish this, the comm center personnel must be trained in the department's evacuation plan and the plan must be tested regularly. In addition, comm centers that serve multiple fire departments should encourage all departments to adopt similar evacuation procedures to prevent confusion should a department need an evacuation announcement made during an incident.

All of these actions combined with routine responder safety actions such as monitoring the radio for Mayday calls or other unexpected traffic can increase the level of service and assistance your local comm center can provide to your department.

To accomplish this though, the comm center must have a highly trained and professional staff equipped with the most current tools and resources available. It is the responsibility of every firefighter and officer to encourage your local comm center to ensure their personnel are trained and equipped to the highest level. Because as the old saying goes, "the life you save may be your own."

3 keys to fire service leadership

Posted on Mon, 15 Dec 2014 17:01:17 UTC

There are hundreds of books that list the most frequently sought after traits in a successful leader. Traits such as integrity, honesty, knowledge and experience are prime examples.

However, please don't be confused with the dozens of other books that profess leadership to be a collection of the latest buzzwords; leadership is and always will be hard work that requires preparation, skill and understanding.

As 2014 comes to a close, some volunteer fire departments will be electing a new slate of officers for the coming year. Combination and career departments may see retirements, promotions, lateral transfers to another station or district, or some moving to other departments as part of an individual's upward mobility tract.

In any of these instances, what should you look for in your new leadership? Or better yet, what traits do you need to become an effective fire service leader?

No popularity contest
First and foremost, leadership should not be a popularity contest. Departments that elect individuals to officer positions should have established criteria for each position that a candidate must meet before being eligible to run.

A serious candidate should not only exceed those criteria but also be willing to take additional courses to prepare the leadership role. Electing someone on their personality alone may be the worst way to choose a department's new leadership.

Not long ago, I heard of a candidate for chief of a large volunteer department who promised an officer's position to six or more firefighters in exchange for their support. There were, however, only three company officer positions up for appointment.

You can imagine how betrayed the three not chosen to become an officer must have felt, as well as the fallout that occurred within the department regarding the new chief's credibility. If nothing else, this example should give firefighters cause to carefully weigh both the selection process and the character of their leadership candidates.

No magic leadership dust
Contrary to popular belief, there are no mystical powers bestowed on a firefighter when he or she pins on the first bugle. Nothing magically happens to enlighten those individuals as they pin on one, two, three of four more bugles.

In truth, leadership is and should be hard to obtain. Whether you are looking to be an officer in a volunteer, combination or career department, the decisions you make will change the lives of everyone you have contact with at a fire, cardiac arrest, auto accident, hazardous material incident, MCI, or rescue — this includes firefighters, families, residents and elected officials.

Being an officer requires more than becoming an officer. If you stop and think, these are life-changing decisions that require your preparation through education, training and experience.

How have you prepared yourself for a leadership role?

Training is only one facet of the equation. Educating yourself beyond the training requirements means you have done both self-study and attended formal classes that teach the science, theory and reason for what are considered the best practices to assure the safety of your personnel and the community you serve.

Get mentored
Perhaps even more importantly, have you a fire service mentor that you trust, admire and use as a role model? This may be an officer from within your department, or someone in your fire service network.

If this is a person you wish to emulate, do you regularly meet to seek guidance, discuss issues and problems, or just plain talk about his or her prior experiences?

My first fire service mentor taught me much more than realized as I rose through the ranks. He was an experienced chief, but more importantly the quintessential teacher. Even when constructively criticizing my actions on a personnel issue or fire tactic, he did so in a way to make it a teaching experience that I valued rather than rejected.

During some of the most difficult incidents that I experienced as a young firefighter and company officer, I never saw him lose his head or publically show anger. In fact, he used to say "a leader is one who can keep their head when everyone else is asking for it on platter."

I never saw him shirk his responsibility by blaming someone else. He believed in President Harry Truman saying that the "buck stops here" — meaning as the leader of the department, he was ultimately responsible during the good, the bad or the ugly times.

He was also a man who genuinely cared for his firefighters and had an insight into people and their personalities. He had an uncanny way of knowing when a firefighter was having difficulty with family life, peers or some form of addiction. Long before the advent of an Employee Assistance Program, he had a homespun psychology that could spot the signs of personality changes and guide a firefighter to the assistance they needed to overcome their personal issues.

This mentor also understood what was important in life: family, community, country and values that didn't waiver when things went from bad to critical. Consider yourself lucky if one or two such leaders see that raw potential in you and agree to help you polish your leadership skills.

Above all, don't ever forget the debt you owe to your mentor. Once you've become a leader, the best way to repay that debt is by passing on your valuable experience to a new generation of future fire service leaders by becoming a mentor yourself.

Fire attack: Understanding landmark buildings

Posted on Tue, 6 Jan 2015 17:44:41 UTC

Fires in landmark structures pose some unique operational challenges for fire department, foremost being the mindset of the initial responding companies. The default mindset for firefighters is to quickly initiate an interior offensive attack on the fire using 1¾-inch lines. Such a predetermined mode of operations often results in unsafe, ineffective and inefficient operations when responding to older, longstanding commercial structures.

Let's consider what some of those unique challenges look like.

Older structures can typically include a mixture of construction types, such as wood-framed and ordinary, as the building has undergone modifications over the years. This results in the creation of unprotected void spaces for fire travel, incompatible electrical systems that are prone to overloading, and improper and overabundant storage (due to lack of space).

Keep these three pre-arrival fire development characteristics in mind when attacking a landmark fire.

Fires that originate outside of normal business hours, especially during the overnight hours, will quickly develop beyond the incipient stage and be into the well-developed stage — the point at which an offensive interior fire attack starts to become unsafe, ineffective and inefficient.

Fires will quickly locate and spread to those unprotected void spaces, like those between multiple ceilings. Fires are more likely to be showing from multiple points that are remote from the point of origin.

The percentage of the total building involved in fire will be greater as will the total BTUs being generated by the fire.

Discussion questions

  • What is your initial size-up of the incident?
  • What would your Incident Action Plan entail for this fire according to your size-up?
  • How do the tactical actions of the fire officers and firefighters in the video compare to your IAP?
  • What corrective actions, if any, would you take as the incident commander?
  • How would you compare and contrast the use of multiple smaller-caliber streams and fewer large-caliber streams for managing a fire like this one depicted in the video.
  • What role will issues such as water management, air pollution, impact on personnel, etc., play in your small- vs. large-caliber debate?

Fire station DVR crashes, grief counselors called in

Posted on Tue, 1 Apr 2014 01:01:44 UTC

SLEEPY HOLLOW, N.Y. — It's being blamed on a lightning strike or possibly a surge from a ComVolt substation. Either way, the destruction of the station DVR has left agony and uncertainty in its wake.

"We just don't know where to turn," said Sleepy Hollow Firefighter Ted Riklyner. "In a split second everything was gone - all seven seasons of "Rescue Me" with outtakes and interviews plus the complete set of "Emergency!" You have any idea the time and commitment our guys put into recording those programs? Many came in on their days off to make sure the DVR was set and running."

The power surge hit about 8 p.m. Friday, setting off small popping sound followed by a flash and a wisp of smoke from the DVR.

"We were just in shock," Riklyner said. "We sat there staring at it; good thing it didn't catch fire as we'd have been goners."

Fire departments rely heavily on their equipment and few pieces are more important than a DVR. Without it, firefighters on low call-volume departments like Sleepy Hollow can go out of their minds with boredom.

Town officials wasted no time bringing in a team of grief counselors to help firefighters cope with this tremendous loss.

Following the counselors' advice, Sleepy Hollow firefighters are spending their time washing trucks and practicing firefighting skills.

"It's a way to keep our mind off the tragedy," Riklyner said. "Eventually, we'll get a new DVR and rebuild the collection; we're just not at that place yet."

Want to flame out your fire service career, tell lies

Posted on Tue, 13 Jan 2015 17:40:30 UTC

Tell the truth the first time. Tell the whole truth. Tell nothing but the truth. Tell the truth every time.

Never wiser words have been shared by anyone. What are the organizational rewards when we take this action? What are the pitfalls associated with lying?

As with all of the 13 career crushers, lying usually causes irreparable damage to your outfit and to a person's reputation. Making a mistake can generally be forgiven, if it is without malice and not intentional. However, lying doesn't go away without leaving a deep scar.

The fire-rescue service has the informal power to do the work at hand because it has the public's trust. We are vested with a wide range of sweeping formal powers that effect the lives of the residents and visitors to our communities.

The process of earning the public's trust takes place over a long period of time. Once earned, the community is usually willing to extend that trust until the agency breaks that bond through some errant action (which is usually stupid and highly publicized after the fact) that is real or perceived.

13 Career Crushers

  • Revenge
  • Discrimination, harassment and hazing
  • Inattention to details of the organization
  • Troubled personal life
  • Actions not in align with departmental goals and values
  • Declining health
  • Ignoring technology
  • Illegal activity
  • Irreconcilable differences with the boss
  • Lying
  • Political suicide
  • Political ambition
  • Incompetence

Truthfulness equals trust
The focus of the leadership of any fire-rescue department should be to operate a high-trust and high-performance department that upholds the great tradition of service that we are known for delivering. Truthfulness is at the very core of the process that obtains and upholds the public trust. Effective leaders understand and fearlessly protect this earned, highly valued status.

We are a highly visible and highly scrutinized component of our communities. Our response equipment is brightly painted with reflective stripes; add sirens and air horns, and our every move is easily tracked by even the most casual observer.

Excluding HIPPA-protected information, all of the documents regarding the actions we take are available to the public. Most news outlets have reporters assigned to covering all aspects of public safety and they cover most of our activities.

Once a significant response occurs (measured by loss of life or large dollar loss), the incident will be gone over with a fine-toothed comb. Constantly remind your firefighters that we are being watched, recorded, viewed, reviewed, researched and tracked in just about every way imaginable.

Having the public's trust and support becomes mission critical. Lying will destroy that fragile trust quicker than any other factor. Lies will lead to mistrust and will crush community support of the department.

Trust scenarios
The best advice is to not engage in any dishonest behaviors. The inappropriate action always seems to be discovered at some point and the fibbing house of cards will collapse.

Consider this fictional scenario of a person who was injured in a serious automobile crash. With about 1.5 million such events occurring each year, it is easy to see that this is a realistic situation.

Because of the mechanism of this injury in this situation, it is necessary (following EMS protocol) to strip the patient's clothing to determine if there are unseen injuries. The person in need of your pre-hospital care is a teenager.

What will that teen's parents say when they find out? What will the community say about you removing this young person's clothing?

I submit to you that there will not be a discussion about that part of your treatment protocol, if you followed it correctly. To examine a patient for all injuries is part of the expected and accepted process of delivering evidenced-based medicine.

One lie too many
The lack of public comment and concern is only based on the fact that the member delivering the medical care and the department possess the public's trust. If that same situation plays out, and it is later learned that the EMT is a registered sex offender (there are about 750,000 registered sex offenders), there will be hell to pay by all involved — and quite frankly there should be.

We are empowered to do our job without question and with community support by virtue to holding the public's trust. Do not take this trust lightly or place it in jeopardy at anytime for any reason. One single lie told by just about anyone who holds the public's trust can cause the system to come crashing down.

To put this career crusher in a perspective, here's how it can negatively affect the individual member. If a firefighter has or would like to have police powers, associated with the position of fire inspector or fire investigator, be very careful about always telling the truth.

If a person holding these responsibilities fails to tell the truth (usually described as lacking veracity; a polite and legal way of saying liar), expect to be added to the Lewis List or Brady List. In essence, being listed means that you will not be allowed to testify in court or prepare public reports (documents) without disclosing that you had previously lacked veracity in some phase of police powers activity.

The focus on the witness stand will not be about solving the crime that was committed and determining guilty, but it will be about what the fire inspector or investigator did to be included on the Lewis or Brady list.

Financial backing
The last impact to consider is the overall, general community and political support for the organization. Most departments that have both the community and governing body's support are able to obtain the necessary resources to do their jobs.

Considering the costs involved in operating a department, all of the support the leadership can muster is needed to acquire and properly maintain fire and rescue stations and rolling stock.

If the public does not trust you to do your job, they will not trust you to spend tax dollars.

Always strive to be a high-trust, high-performance agency. The number-one factor to reaching and maintaining this lofty goal is by always telling the truth.

When a mistake is made, own it and be accountable for your actions. If it is an honest mistake, make efforts to correct it and offer a plan to improve the member and the organization.

Lying, on the other hand, will only make a bad situation worse. It seems like the best "fib cover-up" plans get foiled overtime. So, tell the complete truth the first time, and tell it every time.

Until next time, please be safe out there.

Apparatus Advances in 2007

Posted on Fri, 28 Dec 2007 10:00:00 UTC

Photo Jamie Thompson
Apparatus on display at the FDIC in Indianapolis in April.

At the beginning of the year, the fire apparatus industry really seemed as if it would suffer because of the new 2007 EPA Guidelines for Diesel Engines. While it wasn't all smooth, it didn't turn out as bad as some had imagined. Admittedly, it did require a lot of redesign and engineering of cabs and bodies to have the new engines fit. But it seems that sales have increased in the second half of the year, with many large orders being placed despite the new designs.

This year brought us the PUC from Pierce Manufacturing, which is a new concept that provides ease of maintenance with easier access to the pump, engine and transmission as well as a Pierce Pump. The vehicle also has more compartment space, chest-high cross lays and easier access to the rear hose bed by an angled ladder.

E-One had an extremely busy year, with several new products being launched including a new ARFF Vehicle, the Titan Force 6, with a five-person cab, exterior pump panel, multiple roof and bumper turrets, 3170 gallon poly water tank and a 437 gallon poly foam tank.

Also designed was the urban pumper, with a low ergonomic hose bed and a hybrid energy command vehicle for homeland security use. At FRI in Atlanta, it introduced a new SUV command vehicle — Comms-One — which promotes command interoperability in radio communication.

In more recent months, KME introduced the Challenger pumper line. The Challenger family features 36 different body configurations in steel, aluminum or stainless with 29" deep body compartments for added storage. It has numerous hose bed and compartment configurations including high capacity and low, easy-access hose beds. All can be built on KME Custom or commercial chassis.

Meanwhile, Ferrara's main launch in 2007 was the Heavy Duty 5 section Midmount ladder, which touts a shorter wheelbase and a lower overall height.

In addition, Crimson has built a new pump panel — ControlXT — in conjunction with Fire Research Corporation. It incorporates a more easy-to-read panel with engine information, water and tank level gauges, pressure governing systems and other customer-selected controls and displays. ControlXT will be standard or optional on all Crimson product lines.

Finally, Rosenbauer America debuted the T-Rex in 2007. In conjunction with Metz, the new articulating platform sets up in 25-30 seconds, has an aerial height of 102' equipped with a 2000 gpm pump and room for 115' of ground ladders. It also features a platform collision avoidance feature and a 1400 lb tip capacity.

All of the manufacturers are building and designing with firefighter safety in mind, which in my book is something that should continue in the coming years. More attention is being placed on larger cabs with more room for firefighter comfort and safety, lower hose beds and increased storage space as well as multi-tasking vehicles because we are all trying to do more with less in this day and age.

Just when you think nothing else could be possible, the fire apparatus engineers come out with another new idea that takes the industry by storm. With all of these new innovations that were introduced this year, I can hardly wait for the offerings in 2008. It should prove to be an interesting year. If that is not enough, newer stringent EPA Diesel Engine requirements crop up again in 2010. Oh well!

Is faded, stained firefighter turnouts dangerous?

Posted on Fri, 16 Jan 2015 22:21:28 UTC

Firefighter turnout gear gets dirty, really dirty. On any given response, turnout clothing is exposed to an array of soils and contaminants. During structural fires these exposures are at their worst; although, firefighters can encounter many solids, liquids or gases on other responses that will affect how the clothing looks.

In general, discoloration and staining are expected. However, some types of discoloration go beyond fading. Likewise, some types of stains can be indications of issues beyond ordinary wear and tear.

The outer shell of the turnout clothing will receives the brunt of any exposure. When firefighters contact surfaces, are splashed or are exposed to various particles, gases and aerosols, these substances get onto the exposed surfaces, and in some cases penetrate the outer layer to reach interior layers.

Common materials include soot, drywall and a variety of dusts stirred up during the fire or suppression activities. Water at the scene can entrain these materials and deposit some substances over a larger part of the clothing. Other liquids at the scene can be encountered if containers are broken open or burst from heat.

Likewise, during an extrication event, firefighters can be exposed to fuels, oils, hydraulic fluid and other liquids. There also can be blood and body fluids from rescue and patient care. A variety of fire gases are present and while most of these are spurious to the fire scene, there are several ways these can get into clothing and remain there.

And, just wearing the clothing will result in the interior absorbing sweat and picking up body soils.

What's clean?
The key issue here is how does the clothing appears after it is cleaned and what constitutes any problems for continued use based on its visual appearance.

We are strong advocates of cleaning clothing whenever there is any soiling or presumed exposure to contaminants during firefighting operations. Initial cleaning should take place at the scene immediately after the incident to remove the worse of the soils and as many contaminants as possible.

On scene cleaning by brushing off and rinsing clothing with water will remove much of the dirt, but usually just from the surface. Full gear cleaning in a washing machine using prescribed procedures will provide deeper, more effective cleaning that can only be achieved by extraction using appropriate water temperatures, detergents and other cleaning conditions.

Effective cleaning is most often judged by the appearance of the clothing after laundering. If properly undertaken, cleaning should remove visible soils and contaminants, and there should be no residual odor.

Contrary to some opinions, the "smell of clean" is no odor at all, although some cleaning and care companies use fragrances that can mask residual odors. Discerning a clean appearance is a little more difficult, which in part will depend on the original color of the clothing.

Black vs tan
Outer shells that are yellow, tan or brown more evidently show differences in comparison with black exteriors. Some departments may even choose black clothing because it better hides staining and discoloration that can take place over continued use of the clothing.

Yet, clothing color fading can be a factor in judging if it has been properly cleaned. For light colored clothing, reduced color brightness is a natural and is not necessarily an indication of any specific clothing problem.

On the other hand, if there are persistent dark areas that differ from others, then further investigation is warranted.

One of the best ways for determining color change of the outer shell is to compare cleaned gear against new gear. Another way, particularly if a new set of gear is not handy, is to look on the interior of the outer shell. These areas are more protected from soiling.

Any deep darkening of a light-colored outer shell may be a sign of incomplete cleaning. For black or very dark outer shell materials, coloration patterns are much more difficult to observe; it sometimes takes a cleaning expert to help make this assessment.

Persistent staining
Interior layers, particularly the fabric side of the moisture barrier, which is the outer layer of the lining and intermediate layer of the overall clothing element is subject to soiling and discoloration as dirt and contaminants penetrate through the outer shell. This layer, which can also be light or dark, is assessed the same way.

Its comparison to new clothing or to a protected area provides the basis of cleaning judgment. It is often possible to see the outline of the exterior trim by their appearance as relatively clean areas on the lining versus those that are more readily exposed.

Persistent staining is a frequent problem with turnout clothing. This staining can be caused by a number of substances and may or may not be removed by cleaning depending on the nature of the substance.

One of the more common types are greases and oils or hydrocarbon mixtures such as diesel oil. Some of these liquids have tar-like properties and can be extremely difficult to remove through laundering, even with spotting agents and pretreatments.

If cleaning does not remove the substance or large, clearly noticeable stains, then that clothing may need to be retired. While the very volatile substances in these mixtures are likely long gone having evaporated from the clothing area, the remnant stains or residual contaminants are added fuel that can make it possible for the clothing area to ignite (despite the flame resistant textiles used in the clothing's construction) and be more conductive of heat.

Bloody mess
Bloodstains also can be persistent, but generally can be removed when the correct washing techniques are applied. For blood, the reddish or brown coloration of the stain is a signal that the substance has not been completely removed.

This coloration is due the hemoglobin proteins in the blood that remain in the textile. While these proteins are not necessarily hazardous, the larger concerns are pathogens associated with blood or body fluids. Many viruses such as HIV and hepatitis are readily inactivated through the chemical, physical and thermal actions of laundering.

This is also true for harmful bacteria such as MRSA and C. diff., which increasingly are showing up on clothing textiles. Yet, the combination of residual protein and moisture in clothing can give way to continued persistence of some microorganisms.

Stains caused by flammable substances, like oils and greases, reduce clothing insulation and can be prone to unexpected ignition. Stains caused by substances that create known health hazards such as being an irritant, skin absorbing substance or carcinogen, like creosote, should not be present in any clothing for continued service.

In some cases, the chemicals in the stain can leach out when the clothing becomes wet, which in turn can cause exposure to the wearer.

Fabric degradation
Stains from substances that are not flammable or do not constitute a health hazard may be acceptable, but only if no degradation of the clothing has taken place.

While chlorine is a hazardous substances, the chemical will not remain in the clothing. Yet, discoloration as might appear from bleaching can be a serious indication that the textile has been adversely and irreversibly affected.

Sometimes, there can be unusually colored stains. In most cases, these stains result from inorganic chemicals that are either colored or somehow react with other present substances.

For example, recently a fire department complained of purple stains on some of their turnout clothing after responding to a fire at a water-treatment plant. From an investigation of the incident, it was speculated that the stain was due to the reaction of chlorine stabilizing compound with copper either at the site or present in an algaecide that caused the formation of a purple colored compound. The compound turned out to be harmless and would generally wash out over time.

Some clothing discoloration is not staining at all, but occurs as the result of high heat exposures. Colored materials can lose dye through a process known as dye sublimation.

Essentially, when heated to sufficiently high temperatures, the dye evaporates out of the clothing leaving the material discolored. This often is evident for black outer shell materials because the contrast in colors is relatively stark.

When dye sublimation of a shell has occurred, it is best confirmed by looking at the underside of the material because the same discoloration will be present on both sides of the fabric.

While very small spots of dye sublimation of the outer shell can be acceptable, this characteristic is not reversible and means that the clothing has been subject to a very high heat.

Dye sublimation occurs before other forms of heat degradation take place so if wide spread on clothing (spots larger than ½ inch in diameter), then the clothing should be extensively evaluated by an experienced individual and often will be repaired or retired.

Hopefully, it is possible to clean your turnout clothing and keep it free from stains and discoloration. If there are persistent stains or unexplained discoloration, it is important to have your clothing inspected with a determination made for the continued serviceability and use.

Why rescue is a thinking person's game

Posted on Wed, 8 Aug 2007 12:38:53 UTC

Updated Jan. 19, 2015

Years ago, when I took my first search and rescue class, the instructor talked about the six-sided review of a building or incident. "Look up, look down, and make sure you look all around before committing yourself," he told us.

Over the years, I have thought of that simple saying on many emergency incidents and have passed it on to thousands of my students during training. The bottom line: Don't get sucked into something before you give it the old once over.

It's easier said than done sometimes, especially when lives hang in the balance and quick action will affect the outcome of an incident. But what about all of those other occasions when you may have the time to do it right? ?

What is your approach and thought process when you come across a technical rescue or any type of rescue for that matter? Is it a well executed series of steps or a fly by the seat of your pants operation?

Good team members, the right tools and practical training shouldn't be under valued, but that doesn't replace mentally being on your game.

To do that, you have to do something that most people hate or are too lazy to do. Rescue is a thinking game. You need to play the "what if" game. "What if a car goes over that edge, what if that building falls down, what if that place blows up, what if I have to cut that guy in half to get past him, what if I have to crawl in that hole to get that victim?"

It's not enough to just know how to use the tools, or be well practiced or to have a cohesive team. Rescue is a thinking game, and the people who can plan ahead, see something coming and are ready for it.

Organized chaos
You're always behind before you get there, that's a given. But how far ahead of the incident are you when you arrive? I used to work for a battalion chief who would say, "You don't bring a crisis to an emergency." Sure it's organized chaos at some scenes, but your level of organization and the ability to achieve the required levels under the most impossible circumstances is the real key.

How many of us can say that we are "masters" of our craft and how many want to be? Chances are, if you're reading this column, you're already a student of the trade, which makes you a cut above the rest. But there is a lifetime of learning to be done and every day is a school day in our profession.

If you think that you know it all, have seen it all or have it done it all, we're all in trouble and chances are you're probably a liability at a significant incident. Confidence should never be replaced by arrogance.

Rescue is a thinking game. The best people who have seen a thing or two tend to mostly be humbled by the experience — they don't say much, but when the going gets tough they often get going.

I love watching new firefighters, they have so much energy and so much enthusiasm, and they're great to be around. It's also fun to watch them expend all of that energy to no successful end sometimes. But with age and experience comes wisdom!

The veteran firefighter may not always be as enthusiastic, but that tempered approach, years of real world experience and knowledge of the tricks of the trade, often carry them through most calls.

But to be in the class above, you have to love it a little more to be really, really good at it. Superstars train harder, practice longer and are very, very focused.

So what does it take to be a master of disaster? Out of the box thinking, the ability to write down your first 20-30 moves on any type of rescue with a twist and a constant desire for perfection. And don't forget the lifetime of learning, listening and talking about the "what ifs" of our job.

HAZMAT Response Video Supplement: Personal Protective Equipment

Posted on Sun, 30 Sep 2007 18:28:40 UTC