Assembly buildings: 6 safety items for your civilians

Posted on Mon, 26 Aug 2013 16:49:13 UTC

How many of your residents would drive a car down a mountain road without making sure the brakes worked or would jump out of an airplane without making sure the parachute is securely attached to their backs? The answer, I hope, is not many of them.

However, many people placing themselves in more dangerous situations everyday without even knowing it. I am talking about the life-safety risks in assembly occupancies.

An assembly occupancy is defined by the National Fire Protection Association as "An occupancy used for a gathering of 50 or more persons for deliberation, worship, entertainment, eating, drinking, amusement, awaiting transportation or similar uses."

Since many people enjoy going out, they encounter assembly occupancies on a regular basis. This could include going to a school play, attending a church service, dining at a favorite restaurant or watching a band at a nightclub with friends. In these cases, how often do our community members take the time to stop and consider:

  • Where are the exits?
  • How would I get out of here in a fire?
  • Are there enough exits for all of these people?

If they are like most people, the answer is not often enough.

History of tragedy
Each year, there are tragic news reports of fire and non-fire events in assembly occupancies with shocking death and injury tolls. Some recent incidents include:

  • Fire in the KISS nightclub in Brazil, on Jan. 28, killing 233.
  • Fire in the Cromagnon Republic nightclub, Buenos Aires, Argentina, Dec. 30, 2004, killing 180.
  • Fire in the Ycuá Bolaños Botánico Supermarket, Asunción, Paraguay, Aug. 1, 2004, killing 400.
  • Fire in The Station Nightclub, West Warwick, R.I., Feb. 20, 2003, killing 100.
  • Panic evacuation in the E2 Nightclub, Chicago, Feb. 17, 2003, killing 21.

As you can see, the issue of emergency exiting of public assembly occupancies is not unique to the United States. Here are six suggestions that can be easily performed and help your residents decide if the building may be safe.

Six steps

  1. Note the location of emergency exits when they enter a building and ensure that there is an adequate number. If the place has only one way in and out, use it at once.
  2. Ensure that exits are accessible and not locked or blocked. A business owner that allows an exit to be locked or blocked does not deserve anyone's business.
  3. See if the building has emergency lighting. If they think the room is dark during the performance, wait until the lights go out in an emergency.
  4. Gauge the size of the crowd. If the place is packed, they may want to go somewhere else — restroom lines alone can be hazardous.
  5. Be aware of their surroundings. Many assembly occupancies have dim lighting, and in a fire or power failure, it is a good idea to know where they are.
  6. Watch the alcohol consumption. Too much alcohol can impair judgment and motor skills, which can endanger one's ability to get out of a building in an emergency.

Teach your community that the few minutes needed to scan the building are well worth the time and effort. No one ever heads out thinking tragedy may lie just ahead.

Those who make plans in advance are much better prepared than those who do not. Share these thoughts with your community members at your next speaking engagement.

Unnoticed door locks increase firefighter risk

Posted on Tue, 17 Sep 2013 16:17:42 UTC

For many departments, the first-due engine is staffed with three to four firefighters, in some cases even fewer. There are five key job functions that must occur: size up, action plan, water supply, the initial stretch and forcible entry. These items will quickly tie up a short-staffed rig.

Luckily, in many parts of the country forcible entry is fairly simple. In many communities key-in-knob locks are the primary, if not the only device keeping the "bad guys" out of peoples homes. A short throw on the locking mechanism combined with wooden doorjambs means a very basic forcible-entry effort is all that's needed.

Recent UL studies — as well as years of studies from overseas, particularly Northern Europe — all point to the importance of door control on fire progression. Smooth forcible entry not only allows us to put the line in the right place, but also provides for better door control.

For many departments, the forcible-entry team will also be on the initial hand line. Quick and easy forcible entry allows for the team to still have the energy needed to make the attack.

Barring the way
It doesn't take more than a stroll through the local big-box home store to see that are several off-the-shelf devices to make door harder to force. These cheap and easy contraptions not only sell to homeowner's fears of invasion, but also require no skill to install.

The most prevalent are bars to buttress inward-swinging doors closed. And because they don't require additional hardware on the door or jamb, you won't necessarily know it is buttressed when sounding the door.

During a recent structure fire at a center hall colonial, after performing my 360 with no visible flame or smoke on the interior, it became clear that the unlocked side door gave the easiest, most direct line of attack for the first-due engine. The homeowners weren't home yet, but luckily the fire remained external due to a lightning strike. While walking through the house we discovered a store-bought device on the locked front door.

As we discussed the event later, some things became clear. Had the fire progressed to the interior, I would likely have placed the initial line through the front door.

The likely outcome
Our first-due engine would have begun forcible entry on that door and would have met with more resistance than seemed appropriate. The front door didn't have sidelights that would have made it possible to view the device from the exterior.

These slow downs would have likely led to a change in tactics, such as heading to the side door, and possible even a change in strategy given my team would have wasted time and energy on the front door.

Worse yet, had they headed in the side door, our truck crew would have begun to soften egress points incase the interior teams had to escape. Naturally the interior teams would consider the front door at the base of the stairs a natural exit, only to find it barricaded.

A quick web search of home door security bars will show the myriad of devices out there for the general public. Don't get me wrong; we can overcome these devices.

However, the standard size up isn't going to see the device and command is likely going to create an action plan that doesn't fit the tougher forcible-entry profile these devices create.

Add that to short staffing and everything slows down except the fire growth.

3 legal lessons to learn from 2011

Posted on Wed, 21 Dec 2011 00:26:29 UTC

As the year draws to a close, it is worth reviewing some of the legal issues to hit the fire and emergency medical services in 2011.

Social media is a big deal for emergency service organizations
Emergency service organizations, states, dispatch centers and non-profits are implementing social media in ways that have positively impacted public safety. At the same time, social media channels present a variety of liability risks that must be managed.

Organizations that use social media to engage in two-way conversations with the public are particularly at risk. For example, emergency service organizations that allow members of the public to post in their social media channels may face First Amendment liability when they attempt to remove or edit offensive posts.

These organizations may also face liability if members of the public place calls for help using social media channels and receive no response.

When using social media to communicate with the public, emergency service organizations should use social media like a news feed, not a telephone, providing information but not receiving it.

Organizations must also have published attorney-reviewed social media policies that use disclaimers to discourage citizens from using social media as an alternative to the 911 system.

Restricting social media use among paid employees also has risks. Disciplining employees for comments or other postings they make in social media channels outside of work may create First Amendment liability.

Recent actions from the National Labor Relations Board ("NLRB"), the federal agency responsible for employee-labor relations, suggest that a social media policy that is overly restrictive of employee speech violates the National Labor Relations Act even if the offensive policy is never enforced.

Organizations with paid employees should review internal social media policies to determine whether a particular restriction is necessary to preserve the core operations of the organization.

Provisions that punish employees for making offensive or annoying comments in social media channels during non-working hours will generally not pass muster.

It is extremely important to consult with an attorney licensed to practice in your state prior to terminating any employee for their use of social media.

And the labor laws, they are a changing...
The laws governing the relationship between employers and unions are being revisited in a dramatic fashion after years of stagnation.
At the national level, Obama administration policies are shifting the employer-labor balance in favor of the unions. Recent NLRB complaints, NLRB appointments and executive orders have signaled a sharp union-friendly departure from the Bush administration.

Although most emergency service workers' unions fall under the purview of the state labor laws, many states model their labor laws after the federal law and NLRB interpretations are influential.

At the same time, some Republican-controlled states are attempting to sharply curtail the collective bargaining rights of public sector unions.

Wisconsin, Ohio, Tennessee and Indiana have considered restricting or already restricted collective bargaining rights.
Even in those states that have not modified the laws, government officials are becoming increasingly resistant to any pay increases for both union and non-union paid responders.

In many cases, officials have relied on volunteers to minimize the impact of funding and personnel cuts.
As states continue to experience budget shortfalls, there will likely be continued shifts in this area which organizations must monitor.

Mutual aid agreements
The continued trend of waning volunteerism and cuts to paid departments have emphasized the need to revisit or readjust mutual aid agreements. Although some states have adopted statewide mutual aid systems by statute, many communities rely on agreements with surrounding departments not only to manage large incident but for day to day coverage.

Although the components of mutual aid agreements will be addressed in a future article, effective agreements must clearly define the relationship between responders from different organizations, allocate risks and create functional mechanisms for reimbursements.

Specifically, mutual aid agreements should deal with the chain of command, workers' compensation coverage, reimbursement for expenses and equipment damage, EMS and hazmat billing rights and payment of overtime.

This article is not intended as legal advice and there is no substitute for competent legal counsel licensed to practice in your state.

‘The only easy day was yesterday’

Posted on Sat, 18 Jan 2014 00:29:58 UTC

We let too many powerful, life-changing quotes and sayings pass through our ears without taking any action on them. It’s time to take pause, listen and then actually change our lives because of them.

Let’s take this one.

“The only easy day was yesterday”

This famous saying is etched above the grinder in the BUD/S compound. Every bleeding back, bruised knuckle and searing muscle produced during SEAL physical training is underneath this sign. But what does it really mean?

For me, there are two powerful and opposing meanings to this statement. One meaning has provided me a refuge, a destination if you will. The other reminds me that this shit never ends, so get used to it.

A Paradise from the Pain
Have you ever done anything extremely dangerous, tough, demanding or painful? Do you notice how good it feels when you’re done? That’s the “paradise from the pain” that this saying represents for me.

People take action for one of two reasons:

1.) Avoid pain
2) Gain pleasure

The avoidance of pain can produce quick results; however, it’s a weak catalyst for action. The acquisition of pleasure, on the other hand, can drive a man or a woman to do some amazing things.

In the early stages of SEAL training, they put you through what’s called “Hell Week.” You’re basically awake for five days and in constant wet, painful and very cold motion. The entire time I was going through this ordeal, all I would think about was how great it would feel on Friday when they “secured” us from Hell Week. All that was on my mind was the pleasure of going to Bullshirt to buy the coveted “The only easy day was yesterday” t-shirt that one only “rated” after the completion of Hell Week.

This motivation to gain something good was my “paradise from the pain” because no matter what was happening, no matter how bad it was, my heart and mind was sitting on this island of accomplishment thinking about how “easy” it will all be once Hell Week became yesterday.

This Shit Never Ends — Settle In
I was training a young man the other day who wants to become a SEAL. We were running on the beach talking about the “mental management” of SEAL training. It was our third evolution of the day, and I was explaining to him that BUD/S is much like this — endless demanding physical or mental evolutions that would go on for more than six months. And once BUD/S was over, it didn’t stop — training for deployment was also demanding. Never-ending. The only easy day would always and only be yesterday because today you have to prove yourself again.

I explained to him that BUD/S could have lasted forever and I would have been fine. I had “settled in” and accepted that every day I would start over and prove myself again.

Putting It All Together
Though these two things seem to be opposite in nature, I find them to be two halves to the equation of life.

On the front end, the saying promises me “pleasure” once the tough stuff is behind me. The reward that has me kick ass every day with a smile on my face.

On the back end is the idea that there will always be a challenge, so there’s no reason to resist it anymore. Just put your head down, keep spitting the blood and don’t stop. I know this sounds a bit “aggro,” but think about it. If you are to live a life of purpose, will you not always have something difficult to accomplish? I mean if you have everything handled financially, physically, mentally and spiritually for yourself and your loved ones, wouldn’t it then be time to hit the road and start helping others who are suffering and dying every day? I think so.

This Shit Isn’t Meant To Be Entertaining
Stop nodding your head like you get it — now what are you going to do? Here are three questions to ask yourself to inspire action:

1.) What are you now going to quit doing in your life?
2.) What are you now going to start doing in your life?
3.) What are you already doing that you’re now going to modify?

The Only Easy Day Was Yesterday.

What does it mean to you?

Eric Davis served our country as a U.S. Navy SEAL and decorated veteran of the Global War on Terror. Eric has been recognized as one of the premier sniper instructors in the U.S. military and has served as a Master Training Specialist at the SEAL sniper school.


How fire officers can out-communicate technology

Posted on Sat, 8 Mar 2014 22:08:45 UTC

If someone were asked what your greatest attribute was, how would she respond? Many of us would expect to be described as professional, honest, driven, even competent.

But how many would describe you as a great communicator?

One of the greatest traits of leadership is one's communication skills. Think about President Abraham Lincoln and the Gettysburg Address. It was a short speech, but one of the most memorable because of the way he made people feel.

Dr. Martin Luther King was a catalyst in changing the landscape of civil rights because of his ability to not only communicate with the masses, but to connect the individual with his vision.

Communication goes beyond just historical figures, it applies to everyday interaction in the firehouse and in the home. However, with today's ever-evolving technology, our communication is becoming less skilled. I see this every day and it often leaves me scratching my head.

There is no doubt that technology has created convenience in communicating. But has it reduced the amount of personal contact that we have with people?

Does that have a bearing on our personal relationships, and even more so on the critical relationship between leader and follower?

SMS me
The benefits of technology are bountiful. We can text a message to a mass audience or an individual. We can send an email to a distant party that arrives in seconds versus a letter that would have taken days through the postal service.

Companies can video conference without parties having to meet in person. Social media has allowed us to reconnect with those that we may not have seen in years. I still find it amazing the number of people who tell me how much they love my photos on Facebook.

I am connecting with them in a way that I didn't know. In many cases, there are people I only see and talk to once a year if that, but I am communicating with them.

However, there are pitfalls.

Because we can text a message, we lose personal connection. Remember the days when teenagers were notorious for staying on the phone all the time talking to their friends, boyfriend, or girlfriend? I can tell you that my two boys use more in text messages and data on their cell phone plans than they do in minutes.

And I am no different. I find myself struggling to sometimes answer the phone to talk when I could just text and save time.

Save as draft
Another pitfall is that of immediate response. Our society has become one of immediacy. We want the answer now, and we respond right away. My teaching partner, Ron Dennis, reminds me often of President Lincoln's practice of putting the letter in the drawer.

When Lincoln needed to have that unpleasant communication with somebody via mail, he would write the letter and place it in his desk drawer for a day. He would take the letter back out, read it, and often his words were too harsh because of his passion or anger.

In most cases, he would re-draft the letter or not send it at all. Today, it is too easy to respond in anger via text and email, and that response is immediate by hitting the send button, or in social media circumstances, post or tweet. In that case, everyone sees it.

It's hard to take it back, if you ever can, and too often, the damage is done. I too have been a victim of this convenience. Fortunately, Ron reminds me to "take a breath and put the letter in the drawer."

A leader's superpower
So what does this have to do with leadership? Leaders have powers. Their referent power, the one that is best described as charisma, is about relationships. Communication helps mold those relationships between the leader and followers.

In general, that communication should be in person to generate that trust and connection, not via a text, email or social media post. Furthermore, supportive, participatory, directive, transformational and servant leadership behaviors are all anchored in one's ability to effectively communicate.

It is probably the most critical skill that transcends all styles of leadership and use of ones sources of leadership power.

While I often fall victim to the various pitfalls of communications technology, I've tried very hard to be a good communicator. In fact, the best comment I received was in the form of criticism when I was called an over communicator. As a leader and a boss, there are restrictions of when information should be reserved.

But in general, many bosses withhold too much and create a void between them and the troops. As Chief Dennis Rubin describes, a boss and organization should be open, honest and transparent.

Blocking and tackling
As a fire chief, I met regularly with my department. I shared information that I felt they should know about where our city and department was going. I communicated what my vision and expectations were, but more importantly, I asked what their expectations were.

Whenever there is individual or group conflict, lack of understanding, or misinformation, the underlying cause is almost always a gap in the communications chain. To follow the simple version of the communications model, there is a sender, a message, the medium of how it's communicated, a receiver, and feedback that the message was received and understood.

I used this model and encouraged our department to attend city council meetings to understand what was happening. After each council meeting, I typically went back to the fire station to sit down with the crews to make sure they understood what had occurred. Especially when we were experiencing financial hardships and facing layoffs.

I wanted them to see there was cause and effect of a down-turning economy. I believe in many cases, a leader doesn't need to generate the message, but he or she must be an effective messenger.

Everyone is a stakeholder
I continue this practice today as a vice president at Columbia Southern University. I sit on the President's Council and I am privy to an abundance of information that I am expected to provide input on as a follower to our president, but also to deliver to my team so they can see the vision of where our institution is heading.

Every team member is a stakeholder, and communicating with that stakeholder is essential. As the team grows, the challenge of being able to establish relationships with every team member grows as well. One-on-one communications is harder, but inherently most effective. When this cannot occur, leaders must establish a leadership team in which there is continuity in the message regardless of how many are on the team.

Another effective practice is to simply walk around and talk to people. I like to spend Monday mornings walking around and talking to people and just ask how their weekend was. To cut up and laugh, to be a person, and not a position, can provide you more referent power than legitimate (positional) power ever will in terms of generating trust.

Finally, to be a good communicator is to follow-up. If someone calls you, call him back. If someone emails, email her back. If you tell someone you will find something out, then find out and let that person know. If you don't have the answer, be honest and communicate that.

A convenient excuse
I hear of fire chiefs described as poor communicators; they choose who they will communicate with. This leaves followers frustrated and develops low commitment to the organization and low trust in the leader.

In many cases, the blame doesn't fall on convenience of social media, just a lack of skills in communicating. In some cases, it is self-indulgence of their ego.

Consider this: would the "Gettysburg Address" have been as effective as a text? Would Dr. King's "I Have a Dream" speech been equally effective as an email?

That's the power of personal communications. Get out of your office, talk to people and build relationships.

Greek tragedy for firefighters

Posted on Mon, 12 Jul 2010 21:35:47 UTC

By Jay Lowry

What does the Greek financial crisis that hit the headlines earlier in the summer have to do with fire stations being built?

A great deal. Unlike 20 years ago, we live in a very connected world and the global market is influenced by local events with repercussions felt in cities and towns across the United States.

When Greece received a bailout from the European Union, stocks plummeted in the United States — and didn't stop dropping for a while.

Why should firefighters or EMS care?

There is a steady drum beat for financial reform including pension reform, eliminating deficit spending and reducing salaries. These are local effects of a national and even international problem. NFPA 1710 staffing is being attacked as wasteful and the financial crisis helps those who want to have barebones service.

Some firefighters state this was the worst budget year in history. Not hardly.

In many areas, the big bust will be the 2011-2012 and 2012-2013 budget cycles.

The mood of the country coupled with rising debt, deficit spending, massive entitlement programs and loss of investor confidence will combine to make the current situation look tame.

Warren Buffett is known as the "Oracle of Omaha" because of his financial acumen. Testifying before Congress last month, and in subsequent interviews, Buffett discussed rising concerns over municipal bonds.

He has divested, as have others, in muni-bonds because cities and counties are finding it very hard to make payments. This is very bad news.

All is not lost. Fire and EMS will survive but both must plan for tighter budgets while educating the public on the importance of the services performed.

The economy will rebound eventually but don't expect it to happen soon. Even so, the effects will have consequences for years to come.

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

Posted on Mon, 22 Oct 2012 23:40:56 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.

Where to look for EMS grant opportunities

Posted on Thu, 20 Mar 2014 21:23:23 UTC

After giving a presentation on applying for and receiving EMS grant funding at last week’s EMS EXPO trade show, an attendee noted in his evaluation, “I would have liked to have seen some more specific places to search for EMS grants."

Well, he’s in luck. Our EMS Grants Help leadership group recently conducted a quick seminar for all its grant writers outlining the process for researching grants, so I have some great information — without giving away any company secrets.

Where to look
Where do they find all those wonderful grants? First, let me say, it’s not complicated. Rather, it’s overwhelming to wade through a sea of Internet searches and bookmark pages, check demographics, and consider geographic restrictions to find grant opportunities.

It takes time, some imagination and occasionally money since there can be a fee to search on certain websites. Regardless, you should keep an open mind and adopt a willing flexibility to tweak your EMS agency’s “ask” to fit an opportunity while still getting what you need.

The process can be mind boggling, and that’s why having the EMS Grants Help research staff there from the start saves time, energy and aggravation. They search, match opportunities with an EMS agency’s particular needs, and provide contact numbers and follow-up assistance to help y7ou find the perfect opportunity. And, if you choose to go at it alone, here are a few tips.

Get on Google
Start first on the EMS Grants Help website. There are numerous and new opportunities posted on a regular basis.

If you’re not paying for access to the big grant clearing houses, then almost every grant research project will begin on Google. So, get good at using the Google search tools by, yes, Googling “Using Google search operators” and “How to search on Google.”

Pay close attention to any instruction regarding key words and filters so that your search is broad enough to keep you innovative, but narrow enough to save you time.

  • GrantSpace.com offers instructions for finding private funding as opposed to government grants.
  • American Fact Finder will help you discover whether or not your particular service area’s demographics meet a particular grant’s requirements. It will also help you accurately describe your service area and its documented idiosyncrasies.
  • Google maps will help you search the distances that are often mentioned in grant eligibility requirements for grants that only fund within a certain amount of miles from the funding source.
  • Grants.gov is an excellent source for government grants. However, search broadly on this site since a lot of EMS opportunities cross over between public safety, highway safety, violence prevention, transportation, trauma prevention, and other fields.. Also, don’t forget to use key word synonyms when your initial search doesn’t produce good results.

Other government grant resources

States are getting strict about which grants can be funded by the Office of Traffic Safety.

However, more EMS grant monies are available for extrication equipment than for other public safety agencies like police or fire. Keep in mind that requests to the Office of Traffic Safety for more than $5,000 per unit are looked at with more scrutiny. Also remember that traffic light preemption equipment grants are most likely funded through STIP grants (Surface Transportation Improvement).

Ok, so that’s it for now. This is a good starting place for you brave souls who will take the path less followed, but may lead to great personal satisfaction when you find and receive funding for your agency’s next big project.

How to rid fire service of rivalry with a name change

Posted on Sat, 12 Apr 2014 16:26:43 UTC

Throughout the years, I have often drawn comparisons between the U.S. fire service and the U.S. military. Both are trained to handle and react to emergencies; both rely heavily on teamwork; both are a fraternal; both use a chain of command; and both must be innovative on the fly to handle new or unanticipated challenges.

For these and other similar reasons, many departments such as North Hudson, N.J., have found that military veterans usually make good firefighters.

During a recent visit home, our oldest son and I had an interesting discussion while taking a walk in our neighborhood. Dale is a captain in the U.S. Navy, as well as a career certified Virginia firefighter.

Earlier in his Navy career, he also served as a Firefighter and EMT for both the Ponte Vedra, Fla., and Virginia Beach, Va., fire departments when not at sea. Later while stationed at the Pentagon during the 9/11 attacks, he used his training to attend to the wounded and to help suppress the fires.

On that walk our discussion centered on the use and need for the military to rely heavily on its reserves (including the National Guard) to perform its mission. We also discussed how many of those deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan in recent years have been from reserve units.

The answer quite simply is the military today would have difficulties meeting their mission and worldwide commitments without the help of the reserves.

History of reserves
We have all seen numerous news stories that show a community welcoming home a returning reserve unit or how individual families welcome home a returning family member. After Vietnam, two things changed the U.S. military.

First, with the elimination of the Selective Service, or draft, the number of active duty personnel in each branch of the military was greatly reduced. The reduction in forces was second only to the downsizing that occurred after World War II.

Second, the military began to plan around the reserves to augment their regular forces should there be any extended military engagements or conventional war. In fact, during Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm in the 1990s, the reserves were called upon to play a pivotal role in driving the Iraqis out of Kuwait.

During those intervening years between Desert Storm and the 9/11 attacks, the responsibility of the reserves also included some highly specialized technical roles.

Specialized training
For example, the USAF Reserve continues to play a daily role in the tanker refueling of aircraft deployed around the world. The Army, Navy and Marines have specialized reserve units ranging from mountain warfare to encrypted communications.

In fact, the lines between active and reserve duty are so intertwined that the U.S. Navy no longer distinguishes whether a member is either a regular or reserve officer nor does it use their traditional term USNR. Rather, every officer is simply assigned to the USN.

So what does this mean to the U.S. fire service? Our discussion centered on the possibility that the fire service would stop making a distinction between career and part-time or volunteer firefighters.

What if instead the fire service started using the term "reserves" for any non-career firefighter similar to how the military uses its reserves and how the fire service throughout the United Kingdom uses the term "retained firefighters" for those not serving full time?

The mission of the U.S. fire service is the same whether career or reserve. While majority of our country's population remain covered by career firefighters, the majority of the country's area and natural resources are covered by reserve firefighters.

The benefits
One immediate benefit to a name change might be to remove the rivalry associated with one group or the other and better unify the over 1.2 million firefighters serving in the United States.

In January, The Washington Post published an example of this rivalry in its story about Prince George's County, Md., perhaps the largest combination department. The story centered on the increased number of career firefighters and the infringement felt by the volunteers.

This is not a new story; in fact it is a continuing story in Prince George's that I recall as far back the 1990s.

With the growing respect for our military reserves and their increased importance in the daily defense of our country, could a similar scenario benefit the fire service? How could operations improve if there were a regular integration of both groups available for daily operations, as well as major incidents or national emergencies?

What if some reserve groups in addition to their standard fire and EMS certification also trained in special operations such as the military's reservists and be available to immediately supplement or augment career units anywhere when needed? How might this concept better prepare and provide valuable experience to our next generation of firefighters?

It may be time to discuss how the reserve concept can be applied to the fire service for the benefit and subsequent respect of all.

Funding Opportunities: What's in Your Backyard?

Posted on Mon, 11 Aug 2008 20:36:01 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 fire races to the eaves

Posted on Tue, 11 Feb 2014 22:03:17 UTC

Last November I wrote about tactical considerations for managing fires involving vinyl-siding clad structures. Since then, additional information regarding the combustibility of vinyl siding has come to my attention.

As my previous article reflects, many in the fire service have long believed that vinyl siding is very combustible and has been the primary culprit responsible for rapid fire propagation up exteriors.

However, the latest research by both the National Institute of Standards and Technology and UL regarding the combustibility of vinyl-clad structures indicates additional fuels behind the vinyl siding may contribute significantly to rapid exterior fire spread, rather than the vinyl itself.

Vinyl plays a role but not alone according to Steve Kerber, director with UL Fire Safety Research Institute. The combination of vinyl and foam insulation board seems to be the bigger issue as it pertains to having fast-moving vertical fires that become attic fires.

There is also a big difference between the typical vinyl siding and vinyl siding that is meant to look like cedar planking or shake, Kerber said. There is more material and mass in the latter and the fire spread is more powerful.

According to Matthew Dobson, the Vinyl Siding Institute's senior director of code and regulatory, who wrote in his article "Siding with Design" in the October 2007 issue of The Construction Specifier magazine, that vinyl siding is composed mainly of polyvinyl chloride or PVC, which is inherently flame-retardant. PVC resists ignition from another flame until approximately 730 degrees Fahrenheit, will self-ignite at about 850 degrees, and is recognized for approved use by the International Building Code.

Dobson further notes the ignition temperature for vinyl is significantly higher than typical wood framing, which self-ignites at approximately 770 degrees.

Melting vinyl
Fire officials understand very well, however, that fire exposure temperatures to vinyl siding can far exceed those temperatures noted for auto-ignition. Vinyl siding softens and sags and will often drop out of the way when exposed to flame.

The combustible underlayment is then exposed to direct flame contact, which is a significant factor. According to Dan Madrzykowski, a fire-protection researcher with NIST, typically the exposed underlayment consists of weather wrap over oriented strand board, or it could be expanded polystyrene, or poly isocynurate foam board, all of which are very combustible and are not to be installed in an exposed manner as per the labeling on the product.

The vinyl siding is supposed to serve as a fire-resistant barrier to the underlayment materials. However, with direct flame or heat exposure, the vinyl siding will be quickly breached, thus allowing the combustible underlayment material to ignite. Rapid fire extension can then occur upwards into the eave and attic space.

The attached video shows eave fire experiments conducted by UL Firefighter Safety Research Institute as part of the 2011 DHS grant evaluating fire service attic fire dynamics and suppression tactics. A series of three large-scale experiments were conducted that examined exterior fire spread into the eaves and how and the speed at which exterior fires transitioned to attic fires.

Kerber said the results of these UL experiments will be published in the next few months.

To the firefighter on the street it may make little difference exactly which fuels are involved. However, my intent is to put forth only factual information, based on solid fireground experience and current science-based fire research.

From a tactical perspective, the end result on how to effectively manage this type of fire threat remains the same. A rapid developing fire on the exterior of a vinyl-clad structure can pose a serious risk to firefighters and occupants alike if not quickly and properly dealt with.

Should firefighters be required to recertify each year like EMTs?

Posted on Tue, 15 Apr 2014 15:50:12 UTC

Certifications are a measurable way of demonstrating and maintaining our skills, even if they may seem like a lot of work.

We asked readers on Facebook to share their opinions on if firefighters should be required to recertify each year like EMTs. We gathered the most compelling responses and shared them below.

We now invite you to join in by adding your own opinion in the comment section below.

"If your department is doing training the way they are supposed to be, then you shouldn't have to." — Clinton Gibbens

"That would be the end of volunteers." — Nick Seiden

" Yes. Refreshment courses and updates are always helpful — even to a 31-year veteran like myself. New tactics and equipment always need in-service training and lets you get a feel for the new equipment." — John M Finnigan

"It wouldn’t be a bad idea for career firefighters. Maybe every five years for career and every two years for volunteer firefighters." — C.J. Marin

"Specialized skills like hazmat, rope, confined space and water rescue have to be refreshed every year. Some type of live burn training at least once a year isn't a bad idea; most departments already do this annually anyway." — Danny Williams

"Recertification’s should be per department based on the number of calls. Smaller departments with fewer calls should need a recertification every 2-3 years. Big city departments that handle more fire calls in a year should be every 5 years." — Jim Barrella

"The last thing I need is one more thing to stress about after 240 hours of fire training per year, 72 hours of EMS training per year, two jobs totaling to about 90 hours per week, the additional classes I take on my personal time and a family to take care of." — Tyler Morris

"Yes. I have seen so many firefighters that don’t go to classes and are stuck with what they learned as a rookie 20-30 years ago. Weekly training is great, but you need outside classes — especially in the volunteer department. " —Gregg Egbers

"Absolutely. The fire service is just as dynamic as EMS." — Austin J Woolsey

We also polled our readers here and the results can be seen below.

5 tips for starting public access defibrillation programs

Posted on Wed, 6 Jul 2011 16:48:59 UTC
Bound Tree University

Setting up a successful public access defibrillator (PAD) program should be on the forefront of every fire and EMS agency’s agenda. The American Heart Association notes that for every minute a person is in a cardiac arrest, their survivability decreases by 10 percent. Having easy-to-use PADs that are quickly accessible by the public increases the probability of delivering life-saving defibrillation sooner.

Here are the top five things to consider when starting a PAD program, along with some of the strategies I used to start a PAD program that has grown to more than 1000 PADs over just a few years.

Involve the stakeholders
With any successful startup program, getting the key players involved at the beginning is critical. Start by inviting those organizations and individuals who are the stakeholders – those with a vested interest in the success of starting a PAD program. This group should include fire, law enforcement, EMS, 9-11 communications, hospitals, cardiologists, the local American Heart Association, and other interested parties.

Start with regularly scheduled meetings and open discussions on the importance of PADs to the survival of cardiac arrest patients. You may begin the initial meeting by walking the group through the continuum of care that each member provides, starting at 911, through prehospital responders, to hospitals, and finally outpatient care. This helps everyone understand the many vital roles needed to help increase survivability. This group may grow and develop subgroups as other key tasks or steps are identified.

Funding
After the stakeholders have bought in to the program, one of the next steps is locating funding. Funding will be integral to starting and maintaining the program. A well connected stakeholder group may be able to tap into their individual networks to locate funding, and this task may also turn into a subgroup of the stakeholders. Funding may come from a variety of other sources, including community grants, endowments, fundraising events, matching funds, or other programs.

Hospitals may also have access to funding sources or use other methods to lower costs. For example, in one successful program, a hospital used its purchasing power to lower the costs for PADs. They did this by purchasing in PADs in volume at 100 units at a time, and also by helping to negotiate a lower price. This lead to a lower cost through a volume discount and lower shipping costs per unit. The hospital also offered to use their staff to help augment the program, store, and even tracking individual PADs. Their CEO was an early member of the stakeholder’s committee, and he quickly understood the importance of PADs to saving lives. He was used as part of the negotiating team to help get the lowest possible price for the PADs.

PAD selection and training
The team should determine whether the program will use a single model of PAD, or whether a variety of brands will be used. An argument for a single model is that as the program grows certain things become easier (and cheaper) due to economy of scale such as training, system upgrades, recalls, purchasing batteries and patches. Having one brand may also create a direct pipeline to the company for maintenance and support. Since CPR training includes PADs, if one particular brand of PAD is selected, then models for that particular device can be incorporated into training. This ensures realistic training based on the system.

The team should also ensure the PAD model integrates with the brand of device that prehospital responders are using. This will allow for similar defibrillation technology and protocols from PAD to responders, and ultimately the receiving hospital.

During this step, the team can also begin to focus on the location and placement of the initial PADs in the community. The team should consider sites where mass gatherings are common, areas with large populations over 50 years old, schools, and sites that take EMS longer to respond.

Marketing
This can be ongoing from the beginning of the process, and is important for creating “buzz” in the community. Once word is out, you may be surprised at the demand for the program from individuals and businesses.

Some marketing ideas can also be turned into fundraising opportunities. Two ways to get the word out and involve the community are mass CPR training days, and a contest to name the PAD program. The front of the PAD cabinet is also a prime marketing location and can be used to further market the program with contact information and logo placement.

The PAD program can also rely on local media for marketing. Depending on the situation, consider asking for coverage of successful cardiac arrest “saves,” or giving awards to citizen heroes for taking action.

System Integration
Early on, prehospital providers may be reluctant to embrace the program. Some may view it as encroaching on their turf and won’t fully understand the value PADs bring to increasing survivability. You should clearly explain that PADs will keep patients alive and offer responders a better opportunity to provide their skills to potentially survivable patients. Here are some integration considerations:

  • The dispatching center should have a database that will notify the call taker if a PAD is located at the site, and also provide instructions for use. Some computer aided dispatch programs (CADs) have the capability to flag addresses with PADs located on the property.
  • Some groups may not embrace the change because they may be required to perform new roles or change their operation, i.e. police may have to carry PADs in their patrol vehicles. It is important to overcome these arguments, as police often beat firefighters and EMS to the scene and can start defibrillation even sooner.
  • First responders should understand the importance of PADs and also be able to transition from a PAD to their device for transport. There needs to be guidelines and training on switching from a PAD to a more advanced cardiac device, and also when should they continue using the PAD.
  • This goes back to the importance getting key players from various agencies together so they can communicate the importance of the program back to their organizations.

Conclusion
These are only some of the areas to focus on prior to setting up a PAD program. These programs are easy to start and garner great success by increasing patient survivability from sudden cardiac arrest. If fire and EMS agencies do not step up and provide the necessary leadership to start a PAD program, some other organization will fill that role and take a significant new standing in your community. A successfully implemented PAD program is one of the only tools presently available for a city or EMS system to increase the rates of patient survivability from sudden cardiac arrest.

Feel free to contact me for any questions on PAD programs. I've helped start several programs, including one which received the national heart safe community award.

How About a Culture of Prevention?

Posted on Mon, 29 Jun 2009 19:32:56 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!

Fire station DVR crashes, grief counselors called in

Posted on Tue, 1 Apr 2014 08:01:44 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."

Will they remember the 343?

Posted on Wed, 11 Sep 2013 16:45:03 UTC

Sept. 11, 2001 was a life-defining moment and as the events of that day became known, we got a sense of history coming into play. As 9/11 now recedes into history, future generations will come to see that day in different terms and we can only imagine how they will view what happened.

Very little is certain and it is safe only to assume that if history is any guide to the future, events unforeseen will occur and render our inadequate predictions meaningless.

Sept. 11 briefly unified firefighters and increased public respect for firefighters. Recall how frequently you heard, "Thank you for your service."

Now a dozen years past, we don't hear the "thank you for your service" much, perhaps because the event grows more distant in time. Firefighters I talked to in the dark months after 9/11 described an overarching new view of a world where only the polar extremes of black and white existed; any intermediate shading was lost in the collapse of the towers, the destruction at the Pentagon, and the charred hole in the ground in rural Pennsylvania.

Perspective shift
This "black and white" worldview incrementally transformed into an "us versus them" view as the recession cut into municipal fire budgets and angry taxpayers questioned firefighter salaries and pensions.

What I see now of 9/11 comes mostly from the metropolitan New York City and New Jersey area where there remains a steady, reverent and solemn memorializing of the 2,753 civilian victims and the 343.

Something has changed us since 9/11. Years of conflict, economic upheaval, and elected high-officials who place politics above leadership has tired us and almost demoralized us as a country. Cynicism and skepticism cuts a deep vein through public opinion forcing us to identify our tribe or faction, one group demonizing the other, with the fire service no exception.

The unity of 9/11 was fleeting and our collective cynicism seems poised to poison our views of everything, mixing the good with the bad. It is black and white; those not with us are against us.

Forward looking
In 40 or so years, Americans will number about 438 million. Nearly one in five will be an immigrant. In 12 years, the foreign-born share of the population will surpass the total from the last great wave of immigration seen over a century ago.

Latinos, now our largest minority group, will triple in size by 2050 and the non-Hispanic white population will become the minority. Our elderly will more than double by 2050, as the baby-boom generation enters so-called retirement.

The numbers of working-age Americans and their children will grow more slowly than the elderly population, shrinking as a share of total population and finding it more and more difficult to support the aging members of society.

The victims of 9/11 were a diverse group demographically speaking and maybe that will improve the likelihood of future generations sharing at least a small sense of connection to those we lost on 9/11. For it is only a sense of connection that gives us a desire to remember the past.

Realistically though, it is more probable that they will come to see 9/11 solely as a historic event, similar to how we now view Pearl Harbor.

The near things
There will be commemorations and memorials to those who were murdered and those who sacrificed their lives to save others, but the depth of symbolic emotion will fade in time. Let us hope then, that there will always remain at the very least this lesson — that the firefighters of FDNY put their lives at risk for other people and more than 300 paid the ultimate price.

As new significant events capture the thoughts of future generations, life will go on, the memory of the 343 will recede, and that is the point where history takes over. Geographer Waldo Tobler stated that the first law of geography is: "Everything is related to everything else, but near things are more related to each other."

I frequently borrow Tobler's Law and use it to think about history, adapting it as: "The nearer people and events are to you in place or time, the more important they are to you all the time."

I am a firefighter and so I care about other firefighters. If you live in or near New York City, you likely care about New York City and 9/11 will always be somewhere within in that frame of reference. All that we can presume is that if you are a firefighter, or you live in proximity to New York City, your world will include 9/11 and the 343, and the memory will not fade with time.

The sacrifice of so many to uphold a commitment to save lives is never easyto understand fully or to forget entirely. History provides the opportunity for future generations to remember the courage and humanity of the 343.

Survey: Firefighter PPE care is improving

Posted on Sun, 13 Apr 2014 13:52:02 UTC

Fire departments have not always adequately cleaned their members' gear and many firefighters are unaware of the different dangers that exist with wearing soiled and contaminated clothing. However, progress has been made across the industry in many areas.

In the past month, the Fire Protection Research Foundation completed an extensive survey to determine specific industry practices and provide statistics as to how fire departments and firefighters take care of their protective clothing and equipment.

The survey specifically pointed to garments, helmets, hoods, gloves and footwear. But it asked a myriad of questions related to how both firefighters and departments went about specific provision of inspection, cleaning and repair services. The report on the survey can be found here.

The primary theme of the survey was to obtain a clearer answer to the question: "How are firefighters and fire departments maintaining their PPE?" Using this as the basis for the survey, many specific questions were posed to understand practices and attitudes towards a number of other areas, including such questions as:

  • How often are firefighters and fire departments cleaning their gear?
  • Who or which organizations are performing care and maintenance services?
  • Is contamination a concern among firefighters?
  • What is the average shelf-time (time spent in storage) of the gear?
  • Are firefighters using gear manufactured more than 10 years ago?
  • What happens to the gear once it is retired?

The survey was given in an open forum and did not qualify applicants. However, questions at the beginning of the survey categorized respondents as an individual line firefighter (49.4 percent), staff person within the department organization responsible for cleaning and care functions (19.6 percent), or line firefighters with protective clothing policy responsibilities (31 percent).

Most of those firefighters surveyed were full-time firefighters. In addition, separate surveys were administered to the fire service industry including protective clothing manufacturers and independent service providers that inspect, clean and repair turnout gear.

Line firefighter responses
Approximately 75 percent of the fire departments have policies, standard operating procedures or other guidance in place for PPE care and maintenance. Fewer than 50 percent of the organizations said their policies are based on NFPA 1851, although the majority of these policies are mandatory.

Depending on the protective clothing item, approximately one-third of the departments have two or more sets of gear such as coats, pants, hoods and gloves. Firefighters are less likely to have spare helmets or footwear.

The vast majority of firefighters inspect their own gear after each fire or when dirty. Individual firefighters are also generally responsible for cleaning their gear, while a significant proportion, primarily for coats and pants, use a verified service provider for this care. The majority of PPE repairs take place either at the manufacturer or at a verified provider.

Most of the cleaning takes place at individual stations, but a near equal number of departments use central or regional locations within their department. Where service providers are used, more than 40 percent of the firefighter did not know whether the organization is verified in accordance with NFPA 1851.

Most firefighters believe their clothing is properly cleaned, but almost half are concerned about contamination remaining in their clothing.

Most gear is stored at the fire station with about 20 percent of the respondents indicating that there is a dedicated PPE storage room. Most said their clothing is stored in well-ventilated spaces where there is no exposure to sunlight.

Equal numbers of respondents indicate their gear is destroyed when retired versus being used in non-live fire training. There is still a significant proportion of gear that is also donated to others, including countries outside the United States. Most gear is retired after seven years, with about equal proportions being retired between seven and 10 years of service life.

Staff attitudes
Answers from fire department staff or those firefighters responsible for cleaning and care were sometimes slightly different than those provided by line firefighters. For example, fire department staff generally indicated greater proportion of existing policies with those cleaning and care policies meeting NFPA 1851 as well being mandatory.

The same group indicated greater use of verified providers for inspection, cleaning and repairs. Most of these respondents further believed that the providers were verified to NFPA 1851.

There were other questions specifically posed to staff members but not line firefighters such as the estimated worst-case shelf time for PPE inventory. For this question, most respondents indicated clothing being in inventory for two and five years; the highest number of respondents said gear could remain in storage for five years.

Independent service provider practices
The large majority of service providers indicated compliance with the latest edition of NFPA 1851. Nearly all indicated providing inspection, cleaning and repair services for fire department clients with the majority of services pertaining to coats and pants.

They said most departments adhere to the NFPA 1851-specified one cleaning per year frequency. However, they indicated that they believe that most departments are not compliant with 1851, citing the reasons of cost of compliance and limited budget or not being a priority within the department as the primary reasons.

The same service providers indicated that a significant proportion of their inspections and cleanings for turnout clothing is not accompanied by hydrostatic testing for gear that is more than three years old. They said a significant proportion of gear that is tested have moisture-barrier failures.

More than 70 percent of the service providers said they conduct specialized cleaning or decontamination for chemicals or other hazardous substances. The majority of these services cover heavy fire ground soiling, oil/grease/petrochemical product contamination, or removal of blood and body fluids. Many refuse to clean or decontaminate clothing with specific contaminants such as asbestos.

Manufacturer practices
The survey directed towards manufacturers was more limited and had a relatively low level of participation. In general, the responding manufacturers indicated that most directly provide at least cleaning services for gear and often rental or lease programs for spare gear with these services primarily provided for coats and pants.

Most manufacturers also offer training on PPE care and maintenance that meets requirements of NFPA 1851; this is primarily provided online or through in-person classes. Many manufacturers further recommend specific cleaning agents or processes associated with their products. However, they also indicated providing only general guidelines for decontamination without specific recommendations, or referring departments to a different organization for that information.

When asked what the highest priorities were for the future revision of NFPA 1851, the leading response was to develop a more extensive criteria to determine when gear should be retired.

This was followed by an equal number of responses for the development of educational material providing greater guidance on selection of structural firefighting protective clothing, providing better specifications for cleaning processes or detergents, and establishing specific criteria for determining cleaning effectiveness.

The takeaway from this survey is that industry needs to do more to help firefighter keep gear clean, while the fire service should look to embrace more of the NFPA 1851 requirements. The good news is that the trends are encouraging and that gear is more likely to have proper care and maintenance than it would have had 10 years ago.

Fire service has a leadership crisis

Posted on Mon, 7 Apr 2014 22:05:54 UTC

After my last article, I received emails from various people around the country. Some offered thanks and support for continuing to carry the message on the importance of a diverse workforce.

Some gave me even more material to use in future columns about issues that women are confronted with. And some asked permission to reprint the article, which was nice recognition and another avenue to expose the issues women face across more audiences.

I have had the good fortune of meeting some amazing people in the fire service, from firefighters to chiefs, to magazine editors, to leaders of affinity organizations, to scholars, to political leaders, to vendors, and to members of other public safety professions confronting the same challenges we have in the fire service.

Throughout these brief interactions, I have met few brave enough to stand in front of a crowd and voice their heartfelt support on the issue of diversity in the context of their own failures. It has been a long haul of shaking my head wondering when the fire service would finally "get it."

Reason for hope
Why is it still an issue bringing women on the job, promoting women to front-line officer positions, or considering women in chief officer positions? Women lead Fortune 500 companies, women are in high-ranking positions in the military, two women have run for vice president, and we have real potential for a woman running in the next presidential election.

Recently, I received reason to hope that maybe some fire service leaders are finally getting it. IAFC President Bill Metcalf and Tucson Fire Chief Jim Critchley spoke at a conference hosted by the International Association of Women in Fire & Emergency Services.

President Metcalf admitted that the fire service has failed in promoting diversity. I could not believe my ears when I first heard the words.

I made eye contact with various people sitting around me, and all of us had the same look of shock on our faces.

Then, Chief Critchley said that he had been confronted the day before by someone who challenged him to do more for women. He was told that it was not enough for fire chiefs to say they supported women, and that they were behind us and ready to be there for us.

Changing mindset
Instead, Chief Critchley was challenged to take the forward position on this issue, and lead from the front. Chief Critchley spoke clearly in admitting that there was more that he could, and should, do more for women in the fire service.

Standing before an audience of more than 200 conference attendees, two white male fire chiefs admitted failing women in the fire service. A truly cathartic moment for those of us who have been trying to represent and advocate on behalf of women for what seems like a lifetime.

President Metcalf offered two more issues that relate specifically to diversity. The first was that the fire service is in the midst of a leadership crisis due to the pending retirements of some of our most experienced leaders.

The second was the issue of behavioral health and the importance of fire departments offering programs to mitigate this latest industrial "hazard" that we are experiencing. I agree with the importance of these issues, but, pardon the interruption; we have a bit more to discuss regarding these two issues.

Leadership crisis
I would propose that in tandem with the inability of the fire service to sustain and grow diversity in the industry, we have had a leadership crisis for the last 30 years, starting when women first broke the barriers of entering the fire service.

How can I back up such an assertion?

Because I still hear and receive emails of the issues women confront. For example, two women who are in high-ranking positions in metro-size fire departments have recently been exposed to unethical management practices.

These unethical acts will significantly influence the ability of these two women to reach the highest-ranking position in their department. Both are highly qualified, highly educated, highly respected women. Both are being held back by other ranking chief officer making false accusations on performance issues or just frankly keeping women down.

And these women are defenseless. Their fire chiefs will not step in and correct the issues. If the women file an EEOC claim, their careers and reputation will take a beating. This is simply another failure in leadership.

Champions needed
The issue of behavioral health for women has been around for the same 30 years that we have been exposed to failed leadership. Women who are harassed, mistreated, shunned, discriminated against, etc … have been talking about behavioral health issues (like depression) for years. Yet, no one has been paying attention or admitting the significance of these issues.

Many women have left the service due to behavioral health issues. Respectfully, women are keenly aware of the failed leadership and behavioral health issues in the fire service. We are thankful that these issues are now being addressed on a broader scale.

Yet, our recruitment and retention numbers are diminishing. Women are leaving the service, retiring, and many, many departments do not have one woman on the job.

Have we missed our opportunity for women to reach critical mass in the fire service? Is it worth it for women to continue battling the same issues over and over? Will we overcome?

A universal problem
The good news is that the failure of leadership in the fire service is consistent with the scholarly opinion on leadership in general. Leadership development programs are failing across many industries.

You do not have to be a rocket scientist to make the connection that more leadership development programs — degree and otherwise — should equate to better leadership. However, many agree this is not the case.

An interesting perspective on leadership development was recently promoted through a TED talk by Roselinde Torres, senior partner and managing director of the Boston Consulting Group.

Torres offered up the following: the reason leadership development programs are not producing 21st century leaders is because many of these programs are designed around a traditional leadership model that was effective 20 years ago.

Today's leaders need to be prepared to deal with complexity and information flow at levels never seen before, she said. Leaders must be more global, digitally enabled and transparent.

You can watch the TED talk to fill in the gaps, but the final analysis comes down to leaders answering three questions for themselves.

Making change
First, where are you looking to anticipate change? Who are you spending your time with; what are you reading; and how are you distilling this into understanding where your organization needs to go?

Second, what is the diversity measure of your personal and professional stakeholder network? Who do you spend your time with — people like you or people different from you in any way possible so that you learn to establish trusting relationships that lead to the accomplishment of a common goal? Who are you listening to?

And last, are you courageous enough to abandon a practice that has made you successful in the past? Good leaders dare to be different.

Yes, President Metcalf and Chief Critchley, the fire service has failed. You both have shown tremendous courage in speaking to that failure and women do appreciate your support.

We will follow your lead. We will continue to be patient … for a little while longer.

The best tools for firefighter rehab sectors

Posted on Tue, 19 Jul 2011 17:21:35 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!)

Apparatus Advances in 2007

Posted on Fri, 28 Dec 2007 18:00:00 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!