Firefighter PPE is key to disease control

Posted on Fri, 21 Nov 2014 22:04:45 UTC

It seems there is always the next big killer lurking right around the corner. Ebola has been hitting the news like a major hurricane hitting Tampa Bay.

Remember that Ebola is really not new, rather it has always been one of the deadly diseases discussed in infection-control programs. Some of you may remember it as hemorrhagic fever.

There will always be an infectious disease that claims many lives and creates hysteria among humankind.

Don't worry, I am not going to get into the Ebola outbreak — look to the Center for Disease Control for the latest on how to deal with Ebola — but I am going to discuss infectious disease in general.

Parachute pants and bloody hands
When we perform rehab we should practice safety precautions regardless of who the person is we are tending. In the 1980s I remember working on patients and having blood on me, my uniform and sometimes anywhere you can imagine.

It was like royalty to see who had the most blood on them by the end of the call — in many cases it was for bragging rights. A few times I had recycled food from doing mouth-to-mouth. Not always the best tasting, but we would spit it out and keep on going.

Those days are gone. We now wear gloves, almost to the extreme, and no longer perform mouth-to-mouth. Hepatitis and HIV/AIDS were the biggest influence on taking universal precautions and body-substance isolation to the level we see today.

Ebola is taking it to the next level with full PPE and no openings or skin showing. It is the hazmat call of EMS. We know that by using proper PPE we are protecting ourselves from potential contamination. So often, though, we fail to appreciate the threat in things we don't see and become lax in our protection.

The latest outbreak of Ebola should remind us just how many deadly things are out there. It should remind us that we need to ask appropriate questions and take appropriate actions to protect ourselves.

Responsible party
There is only one person that will in all cases look out for you, and that is you. You must take appropriate precautions on whatever you do and in whatever circumstance you are involved with at the time.

If you are dealing with infectious disease or the potential of infectious disease, wear the proper PPE. Dealing with a patient who you know is infectious is not the only time to consider this. If you are working rehab, you are surrounded by potential contaminates.

Other personnel may be combating some illness. There is contaminates from the incident that are on personnel, PPE, and in the air. Many of these contaminants we know are potentially carcinogenic.

We should be taking the appropriate precautions in rehab. So often, once the fire is out, we believe contaminates are gone and are no longer a threat.

We couldn't be more wrong. Air quality after the fire is out has some of the highest readings and appropriate PPE must be worn in all areas until we can determine that the air is clear through proper air monitoring.

Healthy respect
Ebola is not something you should worry about, but rather something you should respect by taking the proper precautions including the proper PPE. It is also a way to remind us that we deal with hazardous environments on a regular basis that can be as deadly.

In this regards we need to take the appropriate precautions including wearing the proper PPE. There is no excuse. Proper PPE is our safeguard to our future and our health.

Take some time and review the use of PPE. Have personnel don and doff PPE properly. Make it into a contest and see how many properly don and doff their PPE.

It may be surprising how complacent personnel have become using their PPE. Take that extra step and be cautious out there. Once you contract a deadly disease it may be too late.

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.

4 key areas for firefighters strength training

Posted on Mon, 29 Oct 2012 08:55:36 UTC

Whether dragging victims from a building or simply humping hose around the fireground, firefighting demands certain types of physical training in order to perform the job safely and effectively.

Traditional firefighter conditioning has revolved around cardiovascular training such as jogging or treadmill work. But the real world dictates that firefighters must have cardiovascular function with nearly 50 pounds of gear on their bodies.

This changes the equation drastically when it comes to being in shape. It dictates that maximal strength and the highest level of anaerobic endurance must be obtained.

To some extent maximal strength can dictate how much endurance you have. If your maximum-effort dead lift is 200 pounds and you're asked to carry a 200-pound person, you won't be moving that person far before running out of energy.

On the other side, if your dead lift is 600 pounds, then a 200-pound person can be moved with relative ease because it only requires 33 percent of your maximal strength.

3 problem areas
Statistics show that most firefighters' physical injuries involve the lower back, knees and shoulders. This is where strength training takes a specific route to bring up strength and decrease injury.

Lower-back injuries often come from lifting heavy patients. Any firefighter who has run ambulance calls has come across residents who weigh between 300 and 500 pounds, or more in rare cases. Obviously firefighters need to be strong enough for that type of duty.

Injuries occur here due to weak lower back muscles, little-to-no hamstring strength and improper technique while performing a task. The first issue is to bring up the lagging muscle groups, then teach form in order to be mechanically sound.

Exercises

  • Reverse hyper extensions – This builds important lower erectors and glutes while tractioning the lower back.
  • Glute ham raises – This strengthens the hamstrings, glutes, lower back and calves. Working them with this exercise teaches all the posterior chain muscles to work together as they do on duty.

Knees
Knee issues can be more complicated, but often firefighters beat their knees up by having weak hips and hamstrings. When jumping, jogging and carrying equipment at a fast pace, the hips and hamstrings must take their share of the work. If they are lacking in strength, the knee extensors attempt to complete the work. Over time this over use of the knee starts to take its toll.

Pain and injury occurs here due to weak hamstrings, hips, vastus medialus muscles and improper form. Once the hamstrings get stronger, knee pain and injury decreases.

Exercises

  • Glute ham raises – This builds the hamstring in a functional environment.
  • Straight leg deadlifts – This strengthens the hamstrings in a way they will be required to work.

Shoulders
Shoulder pain, tendonitis and injury usually start with a weak upper back. The upper back — which includes the lats, rear delts, rhomboids and sub scapular muscles — needs to be strong in order to hold the shoulder joint in place under strain and to maintain correct posture while performing various tasks.

Exercises

  • Rear delt row – This directly builds the rear delt and sub scapular muscles.
  • Bent over row – This builds the lats and also the rhomboids, traps.
  • Lat pulldown – This builds the lats, rear delts and most minor muscles groups of the back.

Cardiovascular endurance
Working on your cardiovascular endurance is important in maintaining your overall health and aiding your recovery. Many firefighters remain on the job well into their 50s; and some, especially volunteers, remain past 70.

High-impact activities, such as jogging, over time will increase injury and wear on the knees, back and hips. Therefore it is important to gain endurance with the least amount of negative impact on the skeletal system.

Sled dragging is one of the best overall tools to develop conditioning while building muscle in important areas. There is virtually no joint impact and with the proper weight can be just as intense as running is on your heart, lungs and lactic acid tolerance.

Dragging the sled backwards is similar to dragging people out of buildings.

Kettlebell swings are a very tough cardiovascular drill and very quickly improve the conditioning level of firefighters. I have seen U.S. Army Rangers buckle to the floor with 60 pounds in less than 5 minutes while doing swings, while it was no biggie for these guys to run more than 10 miles.

A strong lower back and abdominal base must be built before using this exercises with anything more than 25 pounds. The benefits of using a kettlebell is no joint impact and a great workout for the cardiovascular system and much of the entire muscular system.

Training on the job
It is important for firefighters to train at an optimal level of volume and intensity when on duty or scheduled for duty within 24 hours.

Firefighters must still be able to perform their job at any moment while on their shift. Totally wrecking the crew will not be optimal for a possible fire or other emergency. This is why training must be individualized for each person.

These issues are 90% of the problems I have seen in the four years of working with a large fire department. The variety of ages and body types means that training will require different starting points and constant revision to keep individuals progressing.

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."

Safety tips for winter-weather response

Posted on Tue, 28 Jan 2014 08:28:50 UTC

Winter has settled in with record lows, dangerous wind chills and significant snowfall covering much of the nation. Unfortunately, how people respond to these weather events can result in house fires, automobile crashes, carbon monoxide poisonings and personal injuries.

Likewise, how you respond to incidents when the weather is a factor requires extra consideration to ensure your safety as well as those who've called for our help.

Statistics from the U.S. Fire Administration and the National Fire Protection Association confirm what most of us know from our experience in the fire service: that house fires increase during the winter months. The majority of these fires are a result of food left on the stove, candles left near flammable items like decorations or curtains, or space heaters left unattended and close to flammable objects.

When we're called to a winter house fire, we're not just attacking the fire and smoke in the structure or searching for potential victims. We also have to be attuned to what's happening as a result of snow, ice, freezing rain or wind. Snow accumulation on the house and tree limbs, ice that may already be surrounding the house or that will develop from flowing water, and low-hanging or downed wires can all impede our work.

Maintaining situational awareness is imperative. Pay attention to what's going on around you on the scene, including with the structure and your crew. Proper ladder placement is critical in any incident, but when these harsh weather conditions come into play, we must be extra diligent. When possible get someone to heel the ladder for extra stability.

Road safety
Similarly, how people drive can be affected by the weather. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, roughly 24 percent of all vehicle crashes in the United States occur during rain, sleet, snow or fog, and the slick pavement it produces.

Keep this in mind when responding to the scene of a crash during bad weather: If the driver who you are on your way to assist had difficulty seeing due to fog, heavy rain or blowing snow, or hit black ice, you should expect to experience the same conditions. While it's important to arrive to a scene quickly, it's far more important that you arrive safely.

It's also critical to be conscientious of how you and others around you are driving at all times. It's common for motorists to become nervous behind the wheel in inclement weather.

That level of uneasiness only increases when they hear sirens or see lights behind them. Their reactions, such as stopping short in front of you or skidding into oncoming traffic, may result in another incident.

Drive appropriately for the weather conditions. And remember that driving defensively doesn't mean driving aggressively.

Above all else, use your seat belts every time wheels roll. Whether you're responding in your personal vehicle or department apparatus, it's imperative that you buckle up. It’s that simple.

The bottom line: Stay alert, drive smart, be safe and stay warm.

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.

Blessing
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.

Curse
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?

Summary
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.

References
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.

Can firefighters sue building owners?

Posted on Thu, 16 Oct 2014 12:31:43 UTC

Resurfacing with the news of two FDNY firefighter suing — one going after a homeowner for injuries to his shoulder incurred while responding to a residential fire — is the emotional debate as to whether or not the Firefighter's Rule should apply to bar lawsuits.

Here's the issue. An on-duty firefighter assumes the risk of working in conditions where the firefighter deliberately encounters certain types of hazards inherent to firefighting.

So, when the firefighter is injured in the course of an on-duty emergency response, should the firefighter be limited to worker's compensation or should the firefighter have the ability to recover against the property owner? And if so, under what circumstances?

Evolving over 120 years, under what was initially termed "The Fireman's Rule," a property owner was not liable to a firefighter for injuries sustained while fighting a fire [Gibson v. Leonard, 32 N.E. 182 (Ill.1892)].

Assumed risk
The Firefighter's Rule originated from the theory that firefighters assume the risk inherent in their job for which they are compensated with salary, disability/worker's compensation and pension benefits. This puts the burden of their financial loss on the public rather that an individual property owner.

Therefore, under this theory, lawsuits are not the correct method for compensating firefighters for injuries incurred as a result of the negligence that created the very need for their employment [Espinoza v. Schulenburg, 129 P.3d 937 (Ariz. 2006)].

Another theory supporting the Firefighter's Rule is that firefighters — unlike invited guests or business customers — are required by the nature of their job to enter premises at unforeseeable times and to enter into unusual parts of the premises, which may not otherwise be open to or accessible by the public.

Under this theory, firefighters are not considered in the same category as invited guests to the premises [Pearson v. Canada Contracting Co., Inc., 349 S.E.2d 106 (Va. 1986)].

Therefore, the Firefighter's Rule generally works to prevent a firefighter who is injured in the course of employment as a firefighter from recovering against the person whose negligence or recklessness caused the fire or other hazard resulting in the emergency response.

New York law
The Firefighter's Rule has evolved differently in different jurisdictions. Notably, in New York the legislature has effectively eliminated the Firefighter's Rule as it pertains to third-parties and allows both police officers and firefighters to bring a lawsuit against a third party when they are injured in the lawful discharge of their official duties where the injury is caused by that third party whose neglect, willful omission, or intentional, willful or culpable conduct resulted in that injury, disease or death [N.Y. General Obligation Law § 11-106 (McKinney 2001)].

Although the New York legislature opened the door to allow lawsuits previously barred by the rule, a plaintiff firefighter still has to go through the lawsuit process. This includes the potential for dismissal if the plaintiff can't come forward with evidence on all the elements of the claim — which includes establishing the culpable nature of the conduct and that the conduct was the cause of the injury.

In other jurisdictions, the Firefighter's Rule has been interpreted and applied narrowly, modified to create exceptions for the ability to sue landowners who fail to keep their premises in reasonably safe condition, or modified to create exceptions for failure to warn of an existing hazard.

How do you see this debate? Should a firefighter have the ability to bring a lawsuit against the person who caused the hazard?

Could elimination of the Firefighter's Rule adversely impact the public's willingness to call 911? Should this rule apply to volunteer or paid on call firefighters?

What other issues do you see? Continue the discussion in the comments section.

Food for Thought at the Firehouse Kitchen

Posted on Mon, 7 Jan 2008 14:21:04 UTC
I always think outsiders would be amazed to see what goes on in the firehouse kitchen, as members try to outdo each other with personal attacks on each other. But these attacks are never spewed with hate or venom in my experience, just good-natured ribbing that keeps everyone honest.

During my early years on the job, I would not even think of ribbing my officer or the chiefs. But today, with a smile, some of the guys will forward funny dialogue in my direction. Although I could take this as a sign of disrespect, it is nothing even close to that. Not always, but sometimes, I kind of set these guys up to give it to me good, and boy do they do so.

Guess what? It is OK because in the firehouse we can have all the fun we want, but on the fireground it must be business and only business. Once that line is clearly defined there are few if any problems concerning fire or emergency operations. And brothers and sisters, do not think for one moment I do not shovel it back in their direction — I can be kind of funny myself at times. Usually when I think about a particular ribbing they gave me, it brings a little smile to my face and I get another chuckle out of a pretty funny line used on me.

The main point is that although we are laughing and fooling around, a lot of good, informative information can come out of these periods. If the group of brothers and sisters had a unique incident or a tragedy that occurred during the shift -- or tour, as we call it in NYC – it's often discussed at the kitchen table. Not only can you learn from some of this information, it is also a type of counseling in a way.

For much of the time, firefighters do not like to talk to strangers or professionals concerning their feelings, but will open up and talk freely with the other firefighters. I have found this to help tremendously in a personal way. This especially applied after 9/11, where your only focus was the task at hand, however enormous and daunting it was. I would sit sometimes with the other brothers and just talk; I didn't even need an answer, I was just getting things off my chest.

I am sure there were many of us in this position who were also helped by this informal session of therapy. So if and when you need to say something, throw it out on the kitchen table. There will be at least one brother or sister, possibly a senior firefighter or officer, who may just have an answer or a statement of support for you. In addition, officers should be aware that some of the statements made are signs that members need help. It all goes to show the value of this kitchen time.

Sharing information
The kitchen at the change of tours and the roll call can also allow officers and members to exchange a good amount of information concerning firefighting and emergencies, It provides a captive audience and the opportunity to discuss the possibilities of the upcoming tour as well as the events that transpired on the previous one. You usually receive your assignment during this period and your size-up of the tour should start at that moment.

Something as simple as the weather and a discussion can create possible scenarios you may encounter that day or night. I know for me a windy day conjures up many horrors that may occur if I respond to a fire: extension of fire to exposures especially attached wood frame structures has me thinking of multiple alarms; a high-rise fire could potentially become an extreme wind-driven fire that always brings problems to the fireground.

Forecasts of snow and ice will inhibit the rapid placement of hand lines to confine or extinguish the fire, and frozen or out–of-service hydrants will cause delays that could be potentially disastrous to the brothers and sisters, not to mention the unfortunate people whose house is on fire. For the left coast folks, I can only imagine what the chiefs are thinking about concerning winds and forest fires. There are numerous possibilities on issues to be discussed during these periods. Officers and firefighters should use this time and be pro-active by discussing a hot topic, a recent response or job and the possible problems that could arise during the tour.

Most importantly, be ready to ride if you are riding. If you relieve someone, ensure you are in your proper uniform, your gear is on the apparatus or at the assigned riding position and you have notified the officer so that he/she can amend the riding list. Do not board the apparatus if you are not expected to be on it, as how will the officer be accountable for you? These are just some of the things to think about during these times.

One final thing. For all you classic rock fans, a very important debate arose the other morning in the kitchen here. Which band had more musical talent: The Who or Led Zeppelin? Personally I stated Led Zeppelin but one of the senior firefighters sided with The Who. The members were kind of concerned because this senior firefighter keeps them nice and happy with his gourmet meals. But while I said that may well be the case, I pointed out that I do the payroll and that they all needed money to pay for those gourmet meals. Lots of silence and oh so golden!

Firefighter rehab lessons from a triathlon

Posted on Thu, 25 Sep 2014 10:40:42 UTC

I recently had the pleasure of providing medical support at a New Jersey Ironman event. While working in the medical tent at the end of the 1.2-mile swim, 50-plus-mile bike ride and 12-mile run, it struck me how in many ways it was similar to a rehab sector at a major fire.

But upon further consideration, there were some significant differences as well.

First, I noticed how varied the participants were in terms of physical condition. I expected most or all to be in excellent physical shape to participate in the event. But there were many who were somewhat overweight — but they finished.

We experience the same at a fire scene. Some firefighters are in excellent shape and others could use a bit more diet and exercise. As medical providers, we need to be able to treat individuals of all shapes and sizes. But I will note that at this athletic event, the overweight participants were not the fastest, but they also in general did not need our medical services.

"I did not prepare"
The participants that did need medical evaluation had an almost universal statement: "I did not prepare or train as much as I should have."

We can all take a lesson here. We need to prepare ourselves for the task at hand, whether it be running a marathon or making a grab at a working structure fire.

Athletes have the advantage of knowing when they are going to compete. We do not.

Career firefighters' call to duty may be anticipated by shift, but in reality we need to be ready to go any time the bells go off. We need to train and prepare ahead of time so we can be of service to our community and not a burden to our fellow firefighters.

Guerrilla triage
Operationally, we found it quite valuable to station a couple EMTs at the finish line. Our tent was close, but these "triagers" were able to eyeball each participant and assess whether medical treatment was needed or if the runner was simply tired.

This is exactly the role I tend to assume on the fireground as a fire department physician. As firefighters are walking around, doing their assigned task or approaching the rehab sector, I look them in the eye and watch how they walk.

I am looking for a purposeful gaze, a steady gait and clear speech. They can be tired, but they should not have an alteration in mental status. Those that show these signs are engaged for further assessment.

Just as at a fire scene, the environmental conditions play a significant role in the number of individuals that presented for care. On this day, it was cloudy with temperatures in the 70s. This was ideal and certainly lessened the impact of the exertion.

On the fire scene we need to be aware of the conditions as well. A hot day with high humidity results in significant exertion even at a non-working fire scene. Awareness and anticipation allow us to be better prepared to care for those that need it.

Difference in focus
Again, there are a number of differences between the triathlon and the fire ground. Now I understand that what I describe below may not happen everywhere, but I have seen examples enough times that we must acknowledge they occur.

None of the triathlon athletes were embarrassed for needing medical evaluation and care. They did not try to minimize complaints or issues and they were honest with the medical providers, even if they had to stop in the middle of the race.

Too often I see firefighters (and tactical operators, law enforcement and other athletes) minimize their complaints with a goal of getting back in the fight. This is noble, but we must admit that it may be a bit selfish.

If you are hurt more than you let on, you could be a liability to your department, your mission, or your team. Be honest with us and let us help you get back on your feet to fight, even if it has to be on another day.

Perhaps this was a unique group of people, but these tri-athletes really seemed to work with us. As a result, we were able to effectively treat them and the number that had to go to the hospital during and after the event was very small.

What's in a name?
Obviously the other major difference was the overall situation. In one case we have a recreational athletic event, and in the other someone may have lost a home, occupants or fellow responders may have been injured or even killed. The stress level is inherently different.

This may explain the denial of complaints seen at fire rehab; rather than a conscious decision, firefighters may not realize how injured they are due to their focus. In addition, staffing can be an issue.

The athletic event was planned months in advance and staffing was known. The fire scene is unplanned, and staffing may be stretched on both the fire and EMS side, limiting our ability to be efficient in the rehab sector.

These two situations seemed similar, but in many ways were not. Even the name was different — we were medical or Athlete Medical Support.

I wonder if our thoughts (and sometimes prejudices) about the activities going on in a firefighter rehab sector would be different if we called it Firefighter Medical Support. Perhaps the term rehab has a negative connotation — implying that something is wrong with you that has to be fixed, like physical rehab, drug rehab, rehabbing an old house for example.

Stay safe.

Fire service leaders: The difference between life and death

Posted on Mon, 24 Feb 2014 14:51:40 UTC

Within the fire service, we constantly grapple with one question: What does it mean to be a leader? Clearly, we're not alone in our search, which is why the leadership training industry brings in more than $100 billion worldwide.

Leadership is a constant subject of research, training, education and discussion — in every field of human endeavor. Depending on the source, there are dozens of recognized theories of leadership in the academic literatures of business administration, public administration and management science.

Go to any bookstore, or online bookseller, and search for the "leadership" section or keyword; there you'll find thousands of books penned by people from all walks of life with their perspectives, tips, and techniques for exercising leadership, or becoming (or staying) a "leader".

Attend almost any fire service conference, or professional development gathering in another industry, and you'll likely find several presentations, tracks or panels on leadership.

You can select from myriad different survey instruments to assess your leadership "style," spend thousands of dollars on leadership development programs, and even hire a leadership coach.

Whatever your favorite (social) media channel, it’s almost impossible to miss researchers, politicians, and pundits talking about leadership.

Life-and-death important
The significance of leaders is obvious — they set the tone and impact core values within an organization, for good or bad.

But in our business, it takes on another dimension. Leadership, at all levels, can make the difference between life and death — not just the lives of those we are sworn to protect, but also the lives of our brother and sister firefighters.

If your experiences are anything like mine, the presence, or absence, of leadership is palpable. It's visceral; you can actually "feel" it when it's there, and you miss it when it's not. While leadership may be hard to define, as witness the many (often competing) theories on the topic, we generally think we "know it when we see it."

From my own work as a firefighter, company officer, chief officer, state agency head, non-profit board member, academic researcher, instructor, consultant and business owner, I have certainly benefited from good leadership, and suffered (or so it felt at the time) through bad leadership. Sometimes the two types were indistinguishable, and even came from the same individual, group or organization at different times, or under different circumstances. Sometimes what I felt was good leadership, was seen by others as bad leadership, and vice versa.

With so much invested each year in leadership research, publishing and training, why haven't we figured it out yet?

No "there" there
All the evidence suggests the worthwhile pursuit of leadership excellence is a never-ending journey. In short, it's because there's no "there" there.

If there was an easy 12-step program to develop leadership capacity throughout organizations, it would have been invented already. In fact, the more we discover about human behavior and interaction — and the more it changes with the diverse environmental, cultural, technical and political influences of an era where we are all connected, all the time — the less we actually know for certain.

We don't need to look far to see some long-held leadership lessons reinforced over and over, while others are relegated to the "it seemed like (and may have been) a good idea at the time" bin of history.

Given the high stakes, all the attention and money directed at researching, defining and teaching leadership seems worthwhile. Still, it can be difficult, and at times frustrating, to sort through the many different perspectives on leadership.

So what can we do?

I certainly don't have all the answers, but I do believe strongly in the ongoing practice of leadership and the value of introspection as we all pursue this never-ending journey, in both our professional and personal lives. If we do our job right, we might end up with more questions than answers, so please feel free to share your own thoughts and experiences.

More uses for locking pliers

Posted on Fri, 30 Mar 2012 14:36:44 UTC

Previously, I looked at how to maximize locking pliers; here are some additional uses. Locking pliers can be used in a number of ways to keep different styles of self-closing doors open.

As seen above, clamping the locking pliers on the hinge of a self-closing door can prevent to door from closing. The top hinge is the most preferred location because it keeps the tool up where it can be seen, and lessens the chance of leaving it behind.

Certain styles of door-closing mechanisms also can be held open by clamping to tool directly on the door closer itself.

The photo above shows the locking pliers being used to hold open a storm door. This works well when the normal keeper, or door open clip, is broken or missing.

The main problem with storm doors is that they typically involve a piano-style hinge, which have a four- to six-inch gap beneath them when in the open position. These features make it nearly impossible to use a standard door wedge with any success.

The photo above shows the locking pliers being used to prevent a magnetic lock from locking the door. Placing the tool on the magnet prevents the door from latching closed.

This simple trick is helpful when walking through a building while investigating an activated fire alarm, during a pre-incident plan walk through, or other nonemergency situations.

On some door handles the locking pliers can be clamped on the handle allowing the tool to extend in front of the latching mechanism to prevent the door from locking. This too is useful during nonemergency situations.

Some styles of rim locks can be twisted off with a set of locking pliers, allowing for a through-the-lock method of forcible entry.

Locking pliers also have nonforcible-entry uses. Here, the pliers are being used to shut off a gas meter. This technique works well in confined-space situations where obstructions prevent larger tools, like a Halligan bar, from reaching and operating the valve.

Locking pliers can be used in a number of different ways on the fireground. With the simple eye-bolt modification and a creative mind, this tool is tremendously useful to have on hand.

5 traits of great firefighting instructors

Posted on Mon, 31 Mar 2014 09:11:41 UTC

When I began to consider what traits make a great fire instructor, I was inundated with ideas. There were so many people who came to mind who had shaped and mentored my career as not only a firefighter and officer, but also as an instructor.

One of the sayings that always comes to mind is, "every officer is an instructor" just by the nature of the position. I have learned over the years that instructing is more than just managing a crew. To truly instruct, you must be invested in the people you are leading, not just ordering them around.

Great instructors have some common traits that make them great. I would argue that instructors are unique in their delivery, in their experience and in the way that they create their own content. But, these five traits are found in almost every great instructor out there.

1. Knowledge
An effective instructor must have knowledge of the topic. I am not talking about "you took a class and now you can teach it" type of knowledge.

No, you have studied, read up on, asked those who are experts, and researched the topic in order to teach it to others. This process takes time; many will skip this step and eventually be caught by a student who knows more about the subject matter than the instructor. That's not a good situation.

2. Experience
With prerequisite knowledge also comes the need for experience. For example, you will not see me teaching farm-rescue classes. Although I have some background in that topic, I have not obtained the correct amount of knowledge or experience to effectively deliver that type of information.

To be effective you have to use knowledge from past experiences to add credibility to what your are presenting. I have witnessed newer instructors take a class and immediately want to teach it because they like the subject and are "into it."

This typically does not end well. Great instructors teach what they know and have experience in.

3. Ability to relate
Effective instructors can make content relevant to their audience. They have the ability to use experiences and events to illustrate concepts and theories.

This is most commonly done with storytelling and knowing how to relate to the audience. So, if I work in a suburban area and use tactics that are geared for a large number of personnel, I need to be able to teach tactics that can be used by a more rural department if that is where I am teaching.

Being able to relate is one of the most important traits a great instructor can have. Think about sitting in an EMS or first-aid class with a doctor as the instructor. That doctor, no matter how smart and how much experience he has, will be completely ineffective if he cannot relate the content to the audience in a way that meets their understanding and needs.

4. Passion
A great instructor must have a passion for teaching and the profession. We have all sat through a class with an instructor who was just there for the money or because he was made to do it. It is a miserable experience.

Passion is something you have or you don't. An "OK" instructor can be very successful because of the passion she exude during the class. It is contagious and it makes people feel good to know that the teacher care about the job and the students.

Normally, those with great passion are also those who take the time to learn the profession and job. They are usually students of the fire service and love passing on what has been shared with them. It's palpable and their students very rarely nod off during the afternoon.

This trait is what drives the instructor to take advantage of every learning moment that comes her way. These are the instructors who will stay after the class to show a group or individual the answer to a question instead of just telling them.

For example, after a hands-on class this instructor is the one who stays to show another technique, to let a student get more reps or try something new that was brought up in the class.

If the instructor is passionate, then the students are more likely to be as well.

5. Humility
Nobody likes a know-it-all. At one time, you were a new firefighter and didn't know as much as you know now. The great instructors will tell you that they are lucky and have been blessed with great mentors and instructors who helped them along.

Being humble is genuine with great instructors because they realize that they still have much to learn and that sharing the knowledge, experience, and information they have obtained to this point is an obligation and responsibility they have to the fire service.

Students are more accepting of information from an instructor who admits not knowing an answer or shares examples of professional failures. Those things help to make the instructor real and more credible and show transparency.

We are in this profession for a short time and our goal should always be to make the next generation of firefighter better than the current one. Humility plays a large role in that.

I'm sure you have your own ideas of what traits a great fire instructor should have, and you're probably right. We all are individuals and have unique gifts that make us effective.

Make sure your information is credible and that you have put in the time to ensure you can effectively deliver and demonstrate the material.

Thanks for reading and I'll see you next month. Train hard and be effective in all that you do.

How a 1942 fire changed fire safety

Posted on Tue, 11 Nov 2014 16:04:19 UTC

Quickly after the Japanese attack on the American naval fleet anchored in Pearl Harbor, Americans prepared for fighting on a global scale. The war ultimately brought far ranging and unprecedented social, economic and technological change on a scale that no one could have then predicted.

The wartime awareness that people you knew might be killed very soon meant making the most of the time you had to share. That was the case in Boston on a Saturday evening late in November with a crowd expecting an evening of entertainment and fun with family and friends.

But those expectations would not be fulfilled. Instead, a nightclub fire would change not only their lives, it would impact the very future of fire and life safety for buildings.

The burn victims of the fire that evening at the Coconut Grove paid the greatest price for society's failure to enforce minimum safety requirements.

Massachusetts General
But they also served as test patients for the medical treatment of severe burns, and what was learned would help many military personnel burned in both accidents and combat. This new medical knowledge also would be used to treat the civilian burn victims of the Hartford Circus Fire almost two years later.

That night, Dr. Oliver Cope of Massachusetts General Hospital, having just participated in a research project on burn treatment, would have the opportunity to test the new methods on the Coconut Grove victims.

The fire was also a test of Massachusetts General's newly developed war disaster plan. That night and through their long treatment and recovery, the burn victims received penicillin, a relatively new drug at the time, to fight wound infection.

Box 1521
"It's the Coconut Grove and it's going like hell!"

These were the words shouted by a Boston police officer from a radio-equipped patrol car as it passed the dooryard of the firehouse where Ladder 15 and its crew were moving to answer a third alarm for Box 1521.

The date was Nov. 28, 1942. The time was 10:23 p.m., and by a twist of fate, the Boston Fire Department had responded to a car fire near Box 1541 about 15 minutes earlier — roughly three blocks from the Cocoanut Grove.

The firefighters of Engine 22 and Ladder 13 found a vehicle fire on Stuart Street. While picking up after extinguishing the minor car fire, a civilian ran to them and told 22's captain, John Glynn, of a fire at the Coconut Grove. The officer quickly ordered the apparatus to respond to check out the report.

Inside Coconut Grove
From outside the Coconut Grove looked inconsequential. The structure was originally built as a garage and later housed a film distribution business. But the Cocoanut Grove was now an overcrowded nightclub where no one present expected anything but fun, much less a fire.

However, around 10:15 p.m., a fire broke out in the crowded Melody Lounge in the basement. The fire quickly developed spreading fire, heat and smoke vertically to the foyer upstairs and across the ceiling into the main dining area. The fierce flames then raced horizontally through a passageway and into the Broadway Lounge. The fire's deadly path covered approximately 225 feet and involved two levels of the building, from end to end, in about five minutes.

On the outside, the quick arriving firefighters found heavy smoke pushing from the building as patrons and employees fled. At 10:20 p.m., Boston's Fire Alarm Office received Box 1521 for Church and Winchester Streets (pulled by a civilian bystander).

The fire chief on scene ordered his aide to skip the second alarm and go straight to a third alarm, via fire alarm telegraph, from Box 1521. This order transmitted at 10:23 p.m. was followed quickly by a fourth alarm at 10:24 p.m. and a fifth alarm at 11:02 p.m.

Rose and Estes
Riding the tailboard of Engine 22, Boston firefighters Johnny Rose and Bill Estes were eyewitnesses to the scene of horror and death in the doorway of the Grove's Broadway Lounge. The firefighters reacted quickly, connected to a hydrant, and advanced a line, as pump operator Joe McNeil charged the line to feed their nozzle.

The two firefighters faced a plug of humans jammed in the exit with flames spitting over their heads. The roaring fire was in search of the necessary oxygen needed to sustain its combustion and it was in the same path as the means of escape.

With no chance of helping the burning victims by pulling them out, Rose and Estes tipped their nozzle upward into the flame-path to cool the heat. As the stream struck the ceiling and broke into droplets of spray, the water provided at least some protection to those jammed in the exit.

The narrow and congested streets around the Grove clogged with fire apparatus, police cars and ambulances.

The fire, although extinguished in short order, took a great toll in lives. Although rescue and body recovery operations began immediately near the exits, firefighters would find greater horrors deep inside the building. Patrons who had exited collapsed in the street and stacks of bodies, both living and dead, piled up by the exits.

The final death count established by the investigating commission was 490 dead and 166 injured. The number of injured was a count of those treated at a hospital and later released. Many more patrons were injured and did not seek hospitalization. As the years went by, the recognized number of fatalities became 492.

Lessons learned
After a thorough investigation of the fire, officials focused on improving safety in similar venues by reclassifying restaurants and nightclubs as places of public assembly thereby mandating more stringent regulations. Automatic fire sprinkler system requirements were included, depending on occupant load and building configuration.

Regulations for emergency exit doors were changed to ensure that all exit doors swing outward. Illuminated exit signage and emergency lighting was required. Requirements for widely separated means of egress for higher occupancy loads and minimum exit widths were established. More attention was given to flame spread and smoke development.

Another important change involved revolving doors. Such doors would be required to have the individual leaves collapse and fold backward or out of the way to permit passage on both sides of the hinge or alternatively to have conventional doors on both or either side of revolving doors depending on occupant load.

Around the fire service today you hear the phrase, "expect fire" and you might wonder what that really means. Don't we always expect fire?

Clearly civilians tend not to expect fire, but firefighter should and must expect fire and always expect the fire to be the worst. You can read more about the historic Coconut Grove fire at: http://www.cocoanutgrovefire.org/ and as you read, imagine if you had been riding Engine 22 that night.

Eight Things to Do for Your Crew in 2008

Posted on Wed, 2 Jan 2008 12:23:09 UTC

With 2008 under way, it's time for us to reflect on the year past and to begin developing our plans for the future. Here are eight straightforward ideas that company officers can use right now to help their crews stay ahead in 2008.

1. Be an informer
Passing on relevant information about decisions, plans and activities to the people (your firefighters) who need it to do their work is vital. You can't expect them to accomplish goals that they know nothing about. Discuss the daily objectives at the morning briefing, including any training, inspections, pre-fire plans or scheduled community education. You can never provide too much information to your people.

2. Promote the team
Crew cohesion, or working together as a team, is an important human factor in firefighter safety and for getting things done. Problems with crew cohesion have been identified with several near-misses and tragic accidents. Look for and promote good work practices that safely and effectively accomplish team objectives. Stress the importance of how individual capabilities contribute to the team's success.

3. Create a training plan to keep your crew ready Your training goal should be to prepare your firefighters to be ready to operate safely and effectively at any intensity level, anywhere, anytime, and to return home alive. Readiness training demands teamwork, dedication and sustained practice. Create a flexible and believable training plan that addresses the training needs for your crew while prioritizing those training needs, focusing on safety first.

4. Address problems as they occur
Be willing to confront problems head on and have those tough conversations with your firefighters. A team that is comfortable talking openly with each other, and willing to air their disagreements or problems, will move forward together. Identify and remediate all performance issues immediately, understanding that everyone operates at a different level.

5. Define your expectations and keep them believable
It's pretty simple. Let your crew know what you expect of them. Here are a few examples: Be safe by responding safely, following operational policies, maintaining and operating equipment properly, and practicing personnel accountability. Be proficient by training for readiness and improvement, arriving on scene ready to work, communicating effectively, and following the chain of command. Be professional by practicing a positive image all the time, everywhere you go. Be nice to each other and everyone you meet. If your team makes an effort to follow these basic expectations, you will have a safe and rewarding year.

6. Motivate them
Recognize the likes and differences of your firefighters to help you motivate them to be a more productive team. Appeal to their individual emotions and values to generate enthusiasm for their work. Invite their participation when making decisions, and allow them to have responsibility in carrying out their work activities.


7. Recognize and praise them, at the right time
Provide praise and recognition for excellent (not ordinary) performance. If it's really good work, put it in writing. Be specific about what you are praising. Give praise for weak performance that’s improving. Recognizing their efforts shows your appreciation for the work they do.

8. Support and mentor them
Act friendly and considerate. Be patient and helpful. Do things to facilitate your firefighters' skill development and career enhancement. Be responsive to their requests for assistance or support, and set an example for proper behavior. Be their leader.

Take some time and see if you can add a few ideas to the list. Even if you can only address a few of these recommendations you'll be on the road to developing a fresh attitude and healthy approach for a new and exciting year.

How to lead a combo fire department

Posted on Mon, 1 Dec 2014 21:24:04 UTC

Chief Kenneth Richards of Old Mystic (Conn.) Fire Department presented a workshop on overcoming leadership challenges in combination staffed departments. The workshop was part of the International Association of Fire Chief's Volunteer Combination Officers' conference held in November.

There is very little guidance or experience in managing the combination-staffed system. And that's a problem as this model is becoming more and more prevalent as communities grow and demand more services and with volunteers becoming harder to find and keep.

Chief Richards says that if the leader of a combination system fails to recognize the volunteers as vital and necessary, the volunteers will leave the organization and find something else to do. "If you expect a combination-staffing model to work, both sides must be treated as equals," he said.

Many combination departments have two sets of performance standards. One example often cited as an area of conflict is different training standards. The requirements to deliver a skill at an emergency scene are the same and leaders must develop valid criteria for career and volunteer staff.

Clear expectations
There needs to be a clearly defined expectation of minimum performance criteria. There can be different standards applied for personnel who are needed or requested to staff specialized teams. Those standards are applied in the same way as the minimum basic standards.

If a firefighter wants to be on the rope rescue team he must be certified at the rope rescue technician level. It does not matter whether he is career or volunteer, certification at the technician level is the minimum requirement.

In Chief Richards' department, volunteers are required to achieve certification at the EMT and Firefighter I, and hazardous materials operations level. Volunteers are allowed to respond to calls before being certified, but are limited in the functions they are allowed to perform.

Recruiting volunteers into a combination system is a critical component for long-term survival. A comprehensive and long-term plan should be developed to actively seek out community-minded residents willing to make the commitment to become a volunteer.

The American family has changed and Chief Richards recognizes this difference in his recruitment campaign. Many of our younger generation are not as tuned in to giving back to their community as in years past, he said.

Benefits of joining
This doesn't mean they don't care; they just don't understand why they should step up and become a volunteer firefighter. Today, many of our young people will ask what joining the volunteer fire department will do for them. Chiefs must have the answer to that question or the potential volunteer may reject the idea of joining.

The benefits of joining as a volunteer are numerous; many can't be truly measured or weighted. Tangible benefits must be explained as well. One of those tangible benefits is getting the basic training and experience needed to move from volunteer to career firefighter.

Do not sugar coat the time commitment in the recruiting process. Clearly state the expectations and the results will be positive for both the volunteer and departmental leadership.

Managing the time commitment so the volunteer and career staff are not spinning their wheels when working on a project requires a great deal of planning from organizational leadership. Being prepared for work activities, station duties, training and even emergency response will demonstrate an understanding and respect for both career and volunteer time.

Top salesperson
Chief Richards encourages fire chiefs to be involved in the recruiting process. The fire chief is the top salesperson. If the fire chief shows he or she cares about the person who is considering becoming a volunteer, there is a better chance the volunteer will be retained.

The way volunteer and career firefighters are treated in a combination system is critical to the success of a combination model. Respect for position, status, rank, individual differences is critical to managing the human resources. Word travels fast in the community about many things but especially how staff are treated.

Chief Richards encourages chiefs and officers to listen to the members both career and volunteer. Listening is a key leadership skill that requires patience. In some cases fire chiefs need to let go of their ego.

"Together, we are smarter than individually," Chief Richards said.

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 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."

How we're changing the status quo

Posted on Mon, 20 Dec 2010 14:39:32 UTC

American voters made a decision in the midterm elections in November this year. The decisions were based on a decision to change the status quo. The U.S. Fire Service apparently made a similar decision earlier in the year, too. The number of line-of-duty deaths recorded in 2010 is near the lowest in the past decade. The number of Safety Officers certified by the National Board of Firefighter Professional Qualifications (Pro-Board) through the Fire Department Safety Officers Association is at a record annual total.

The causes for the reduction in LODDs are not readily measurable. Although the number of deaths is down, the statistics do reflect a status quo or even regression in some ways. Statistics through November show that 68 percent of LODDs occurred away from the incident scene, or responding to the incident scene. Heart attack was the cause of 58 percent (46) of the deaths, vehicle collision 14 percent (11). Twenty-one firefighters who died were over the age of 61. The oldest was 86. Two firefighters were under the age of 21.

The National Fallen Firefighters Foundation's Everyone Goes Home Firefighter Life Safety Initiatives call for the certifications of firefighters. Perhaps the fire service is implementing and adopting this Initiative. The training required for certification may be a factor in the reduction of fireground deaths. However, 8 percent (6) of the LODDs involved firefighters losing their lives due to building collapse, being overtaken by advancing fire conditions or becoming disoriented.

The FDSOA, NIOSH, the IAFF and the IAFC all worked to reduce the number of LODDs in 2010. The FDSOA through safety officer training certification, NIOSH by investigating LODDs and making remedial recommendations and the IAFC's Rules of Engagement and the IAFF's Fire Ground Survival Program both show a commitment to reducing firefighter fatalities.

Technological improvements may be another LODD reduction factor. Several firefighters report "new" use of seat belts because of the strong reminders that come in the form of warning lights and buzzers in newly delivered apparatus.

Increased awareness of air management has changed the way departments treat low air warning alarms. Changes in roadway operations is apparent in most photos and videos, in the form of roadway safety vests on most (if not all) responders.

All of these improvements in safety operations and awareness may be contributing factors in the relatively low number of LODDs in 2010. Perhaps the "no fear" culture of the fire service is changing and we are entering a time when risk management prevails and we employ intellectual aggressiveness.
We still must address our biggest cause of LODDs — heart attack. We must look at age as a factor that increases risk. The Fire Service Joint Labor Management Wellness-Fitness Initiative should receive a renewed effort.

The fire service is committed to reducing LODDS, but the efforts must seriously review the statistics and make the necessary changes.

Tools and techniques for forcing a door

Posted on Mon, 20 May 2013 11:16:48 UTC

There's nothing like successfully forcing a door to get the blood going. And there's one tool that's often used to take the door — the Halligan Bar.

The Halligan is a firefighter tool that dates back to the mid 1900s. The tool has its origin in the FDNY; it was designed by former First Deputy Chief Hugh Halligan and local blacksmith Peter Clarke made the first actual working model.

Halligan was a city firefighter for years and worked first hand with the Halligan's predecessors, which were called the Claw Tool and the Kelly Tool. The Claw tool was the original and was problematic in its design. It was dangerous to use because it was very heavy and had an off-centered striking surface.

Later came the Kelly tool, which was designed by a FDNY Ladder Capt. John Kelly. The tool resolved some of the previous issues of the Claw, but still was deemed too heavy and not substantial enough in its welded assembly.

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After multiple trials, Chief Halligan developed a tool that was lighter, efficient, perform well, and would not fail when in use. There are many versions and alterations to the bar since, but the main concept is still present.

Andrew Brassard of Brotherhood Instructors states that the bar's original design was "made of cross-drop forged from one piece of No. 4140 (high carbon content) steel, and weighed 8 ½ pounds. Comprised of an adz, pick, and fork, the standard-issue bar is approximately 30 inches long, with a 15/16-inch shaft shaped into a hexagon for grip. The fork is a minimum of 6-inches long that taper into two well-beveled tines.

Spacing between the tines allows for a gas valve to be shut off. The adz has a gentle curve for additional leverage, with a beveled end. In addition to being used to break something, the pick and adz — only when properly used — provide protection to the user's arms, hands and body during forcible entry operations.

Although one would think the tool would take off in FDNY, there were initial thoughts from the department that this would be a conflict of interest. This is why Boston was the first major fire department to purchase the tool. It took FDNY firefighters buying it on their own for some time before the city of New York eventually purchased them for firefighters.

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You often see the Halligan paired with an ax. These tools are quite complimentary in forcible entry and are often referred to as a "set of irons". Over the years people have designed straps and kits for carrying the two items together as a pair.

As mentioned earlier, there are three components of the Halligan Tool: adz, pick and fork. All parts of the tool can be used in various types of forcible entry. The tool can be used for breaching walls, forcing doors, ventilation, and search and rescue.

When purchasing a Halligan Bar be on the lookout for the following:

  • Once-piece forged tool. Do not settle for welded, pinned or threaded connections
  • Tool should be 30-inches long
  • Adz and forks should be both 6 inches long and slightly beveled
  • Forks should be thin

If you are not familiar or equipped with a Halligan Tool, get familiar online, speak with your officer and train. When training, train under the supervision of a professional or experienced officer. Communicate, and always remember your safety basics

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Top 3 products you can't get in the US — yet

Posted on Mon, 22 Oct 2012 16:40:56 UTC

Three interesting products were demonstrated at the European Resuscitation Council 2012 Congress in Vienna, Austria, last week. They are all so brand-new that they're not even available in the U.S. yet.

Physio-Control based out of Redmond, Wash., unveiled its newest product, TrueCPR, a standalone CPR feedback device designed to provide rescuers with real-time feedback on chest compression depth, rate and quality. TrueCPR utilizes Triaxial Field Induction (TFI), a magnetic technology that overcomes erroneous overreporting of compression depth from devices currently on the market when used on a mattress or stretcher. Physio-Control expects to launch TrueCPR in Europe shortly and in the U.S. in 2013.

RhinoChill, a unique therapeutic hypothermia induction device, was on display by Benechill International, from Wallisellen, Switzerland. Designed for initial induction of therapeutic hypothermia in the pre-hospital environment, RhinoChill uses a nasal cannula like an intranasal cooling catheter to cool post-cardiac arrest victims rapidly. An inert coolant is delivered through the catheter while flowing oxygen or compressed air to facilitate evaporative cooling of the brain, effectively lowering core body temperature. BeneChill International currently markets RhinoChill in Europe and expects approval in the U.S. in the future.

The Corpuls CPR, a new automated CPR device, was introduced by Corpuls, Inc. of Kaufering, Germany. Expected to be released in Germany and the rest of Europe in 2013, the battery-operated device includes an integral long backboard and features adjustable depth and rate parameters. The manufacturer has no current plans to bring the device to the U.S. market.