4 key areas for firefighters strength training

Posted on Mon, 29 Oct 2012 15:55:36 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.


  • 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.

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.


  • 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.

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.


  • 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.

Glass management: It's more than smashing windows

Posted on Mon, 12 Mar 2012 18:34:25 UTC

At every heavy rescue and extrication program, we are taught to remove glass as needed and in as controlled a manner as practical and possible. However, how many times do we go to the session and WHAM and SMASH go the side and rear glass because it’s impressive to watch or fun to do?

But is that what we should be doing? When displacing the vehicle glazing materials, usually referred to as glass management, we want to remove the glass in an orderly, managed process.

Before one window is shattered, it is important to know the types of glass firefighters will encounter and the additional forces that can be present at a motor vehicle accident. The two types of glass to which we have become accustomed, laminated and tempered safety glass, are still the most widely used.

Laminated glass is a sandwich, a series of layers of glass and plastic laminated together. Tempered, or safety, glass will break into small granular fragments when shattered.

However, there are a few new variations in use. Enhanced protective glass is basically a form of laminated glass found in the side and rear windows. Dual-paned glass and polycarbonate glazing are also used.

Some of these materials require a change in our methodology and tools for removing such windows.

And factor in the issues of rear glass hatches in SUVs and minivans. These glass hatches have a nasty habit of flying apart when broken because of the tension placed on them by the multiple hatch struts and the energy absorbed by the vehicle during the crash.

Laminated glass is found in windshields but is increasingly found in the side and rear windows as well. This type of glass must be cut from the vehicle to be removed, which can be facilitated by cutting the peripheral edge with an axe, a glass saw, or even a reciprocating saw.

This operation produces glass dust, which is a respiratory hazard. For this reason, we must add dust masks to the personal protective equipment for glass management.

Tempered glass is usually found in side and rear windows. To break this glass, use an impact tool that imparts a large amount of force into a small concentrated area. Then clean out the window opening by pulling the glass onto the ground with a tool, not with gloved hands.

Vehicles can load the glass with energy from the crash; when it’s broken it can almost explode when that energy is released. We must protect our patient with a protective cover and use hard protection to funnel glass pieces away from the patient.

Photo David Dalrymple

Make sure your eye protection is in place and you are wearing a dust mask. Also, watch out for glass in hatches of vehicles.

It can have up to four gas struts pushing on the glass and creating even more tension. This too might explode when broken; be aware that the struts may also push toward rescuers.

Ideally, the laminated glass that was cut and removed should be folded and slid in under the vehicle out of rescuers way. If at all possible, tempered glass should be removed to the outside of the vehicle, away from the patient and the interior rescuer.

However, some vehicles — especially SUVs and minivans — might have a lot of windows or a rather large window, which produce many glass particles.

Glass particles can be slippery, almost like marbles. It is a good practice to sweep these under the vehicle so that rescuers are not walking on it and stabilization devices are on not on it.

There are two new materials available to help rescuers manage glass. One is Packexe Smash and it is available in North America from ESI equipment. It is a clear film dispensed from a special applicator. The film adds enough strength for tempered glass to be cut.

Photo David Dalrymple

On the flip side, laminated glass dust can be greatly reduced by applying the film first and then cutting through the area where the film is applied. If the glass is wet, it can be wiped dry with a microfiber cloth before the film is applied.

The other material is an extrication wrap made by Protecto. The wrap material is an adhesive rubber compound on one side with a smooth brightly colored film on the other side. The material comes in a roll that firefighters can pre cut or cut-to size on scene.

The up side to this material is it can be used as sharp-edge protection as well. Both of these materials really can make a difference in glass-management tasks. And both materials can handle glass management and sharp-edge protection.

Whether or not you invest in glass-management products, it is critical to invest the time to plan and execute how you approach removing glass at vehicle collisions. A smart approach protects both rescuers and patients.

The best firefighters know when to get extreme

Posted on Thu, 25 Sep 2014 19:05:30 UTC

It seems normal is no longer in our vocabulary. There are extremes in all areas of our lives — extreme heat, cold, flooding, snow, wildland fires, mud slides, you name it.

Then there is the "biggie size" when you order your food. A small is now what was once a large. Nothing is small any more. It has all becoming extreme.

Our lives are extreme. Maybe it is part of the American culture — biggie size everything, right? Make it the extreme experience.

If we are in the era of extremes, why don't we do extreme training?

What is extreme?
We may have pushed the envelope using the term extreme by pushing our limits to the utmost. Do we really need to go to the extreme?

The answer lies partly in how you define extreme. Extreme is defined as reaching a high or highest degree or being very great.

This definition does not sound like a bad thing. We want the very best. If individuals want to be the best at what they do, they should push the limits to make themselves better.

We can look at this topic in two ways.

First, we should not push things above our limits. We should push forward and always try to better ourselves, but we don't need to make everything a biggie size.

If we think about the extremes of food and the biggie size, we need to change our mindset. Extremes in food results in extremes in body size. Our culture has become the culture of obesity. As a result, disease is running rampant in our society. We need to bring our size back to reasonable servings.

Weather the weather
Second, in contrast to getting away from the extremes in our eating, we need to get back to the extremes of training. If we are going to be good at what we do then we need to get off our backsides and get back to training.

The mind set in the fire service seems to have changed: 'Let's do training, but when it is convenient, and by the way, can we do it online?' We need to get back to training the way it was intended.

Doing an online class is not training; it is education. Can't figure out the difference. Let me help.

Your daughter comes home from school and tells you she is going to have sex training this year in school. What was the first thing you visualized. We immediately think of the action not the process. Hence, we should be training not just educating ourselves.

Balancing act
There are times for education and times for training, but without a balance of both we'll not have the knowledge and skills we need to do our job, which in many cases is under extreme circumstances.

Incident scene rehab training is no different. You can't experience setting up and managing a rehab sector by only reading about it. Get out and do it.

You should be practicing establishing and managing rehab at every training event. Get personnel used to having to go through rehab. Every meal you eat, every shift you work, practice rehab. Eat right, exercise, hydrate, and get to know the limitations of your body.

Extreme training should be part of our culture. It does not mean we work so hard that we collapse. It means to work to the highest degree to be the best we can.

When we have extreme weather it is the highest degree of heat, no pun intended, or the highest degree of flooding that could occur. Winter is fast approaching and we should not use that as an excuse to not train.

I know of a fire department that actually has it written in its collective bargaining agreement that they will only do training if it is below a certain temperature and above a certain temperature. Really? Give me a break. We function in extreme environments, we need to train in those environments so we know how we need to function when we are faced with those environments.

Be the best you can be at what you do. Go to the extreme and have the highest degree of trained personnel. It will pay dividends in the long run.

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."

More uses for locking pliers

Posted on Fri, 30 Mar 2012 21:36:44 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.

What are some cultural faux pas in firehouses?

Posted on Tue, 14 Oct 2014 22:26:47 UTC

Touching or tampering with any firefighter's turn-outs or safety gear is a definite no-no. Never move anything on a fire engine without a firefighter or the equipment operator present.

Walking into a firehouse, without knocking or announcing yourself could be a faux pas. Firefighters consider the firehouse as their house. They take pride in keeping it up and could be surprised if non-firefighters just walked in on their semi-private area. It's also good to remember that firefighters usually work twenty-four hour, or longer, shifts. After the first night they may be a bit worn out. Firefighters have to go from zero to 90 when the alarm sounds. If you are in a fire station when the alarm sounds, most firefighters would expect that you leave or get out of the way so they can quickly lock up and go. For everything else, just use common courtesy.

How this new fire station will use 70 percent less energy

Posted on Thu, 23 Oct 2014 11:04:19 UTC

Madison is committed to reducing energy use and emissions in city facilities. One of the city's most recent success stories is the Madison (Wis.) Fire Department's Station 13.

"Madison believes in being a leader in progressive building design and sustainability and sets a positive example for all projects in the City of Madison," said Asst. Chief Clay Christenson. "The city has a goal of attaining a minimum of LEED [leadership in energy and environmental design] Silver rating or equivalent for all city projects."

The site planning for the new Station 13 was part of a feasibility study that took into account many of the sustainable site-planning strategies outlined in the LEED guidelines.

The parcel was sized to support the building footprint, circulation around the site and some area for proper storm water management. A detailed survey indicated access to utilities and storm water management capacity, plus site characteristics that could affect building design and construction.

Water and energy conservation
The plumbing, fire-protection and landscape-irrigation systems all align with LEED water conservation targets. Water usage should be reduced by at least 30 percent.

The station's water conservation measures include landscape design with native, drought tolerant plants (no irrigation system was installed); toilets with dual-flush capabilities; showers with low-flow showerheads (1.75 gpm); active solar hot water system for domestic use in conjunction with high-efficiency natural gas water heaters; and connection to the HVAC geothermal system to further supplement domestic hot water.

The building's mechanical system is a geothermal system with vertical borefield. The system also includes a variable air volume air handler with split system variable-speed geothermal heat pump and nine cooling-only variable air volume shutoff boxes.

The geothermal system generates heat for hot water, distributed outside air preconditioned with fixed-plate enthalpic energy recovery, and has an integral geothermal heat pump for heating and dehumidification.

The apparatus bay makeup air and heating is preconditioned with a fixed-plate enthalpic energy recovery system with supplemental hot water heating coil. There is hot water radiant flooring for the apparatus bay, sleeping and living quarters, and command center.

The overhead supply ductwork uses the plenum ceiling as a return; the entire system is operated by direct digital controls with a graphical type operator work station and web-accessed capability.

Light it up
In addition to the inherent on-site renewable energy embodied in the geothermal heat exchange mechanical system, Fire Station 13 has an impressive array of photovoltaic panels on the roof. These active solar electric panels are expected to satisfy nearly 20 percent of the station's electric demand.

Station 13 is deliberately laid out to use the daylight coming in through the windows. Interior lighting is designed to use approximately 20 percent less energy than that allowed by the ASHRAE 90.1-2007 energy code.

The station's interior lighting uses LED lights, as well as high-efficiency fluorescent (T8 and T5) overhead lighting with electronic ballasts. Daylight delivery and automatic daylight controls are also part of the design. Site lighting includes pole-mounted LED fixtures, as well as wall-mounted security LED lighting.

The combined result of all these energy-saving strategies is an overall performance rating that exceeds comparable fire station buildings by nearly 70 percent. The baseline energy use intensity for a building of this type is 146 kBTUs per square foot per year; Madison Station 13 is currently testing at 44 kBTU per square foot per year.

10 energy-saving lighting technologies
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, lighting represents 40 percent of the average commercial building's electric bill. The lighting industry is responding to the demand for better efficiency with energy-efficient products that can significantly reduce lighting energy costs while maintaining or improving lighting quality.

Here are 10 technologies for reducing energy costs and improving the quality of lighting in fire stations and other facilities.

1. Green Light Technologies' ParkLight garage lighting fixtures are designed for indoor and outdoor illumination of large open spaces like fire station apparatus bays, airplane hangers, skating rinks, etc. The fixtures use high-intensity fluorescent tubes, which have significant advantages over conventional systems that use high-intensity discharge tubes; HIF tubes use less energy while delivering better quality light.

The ParkLight fixtures have a vapor-tight fixture with a specially designed reflector to provide broader and brighter light distribution, while cutting energy use by 30 to 70 percent. The vapor-tight design also ensures that the fixtures operate continuously in all climates and temperatures, even sub-zero.

2. Schneider Electric's Energy Insight control offering won best-of-category in controls, building integration, site automation and distribution systems at the LIGHTFAIR Innovation Awards.

The company offers C-Bus networked lighting control, Powerlink intelligent panel boards, occupancy/light level sensors, and measurement and verification panel boards. They combine automated and web-enabled control with occupancy-based solutions and dimming capabilities.

3. Lutron's Radio Powr Savr occupancy sensor requires no wiring and installs in minutes. The sensor turns lights off when room is unoccupied and can easily be positioned for optimal coverage.

It is ideal small office spaces, restrooms, and administrative alcoves and has a 10-year battery life. The sensor works with up to 10 maestro wireless switches that are sold separately.

4. Induction lamps from American Green Technologies are highly efficient electrode-less fluorescent lamps that work in much the same way as fluorescent. Instead of using electrodes — which are failure points — a frequency generator energizes an external magnetic field. This in turn excites a gas filled vacuum tube to create a luminous circuit.

Induction lamps have a long life expectancy, most often twice as long as LED, five to 13 times longer than metal halide and high-pressure sodium lamps, and five to seven times longer than standard fluorescent lamps. They offer excellent lighting distribution, full-spectrum color, and crisp white light, produce much higher Visually Effective Lumens per watt than LED, metal halide, fluorescent, or high pressure sodium lamps.

5. LED Tubes from GreenLighingLED can replace inefficient fluorescent lamps and provide better quality illumination and longer tube life for overhead interior lighting. LED tubes are manufactured in a variety of sizes and tube configurations to match existing light fixtures.

6. Lumen sensors from Verve can be used in conjunction with many Verve control products to help manage artificial light levels in a wide variety of interior spaces. The sensor monitors light levels within a space and transmits the information to a Verve controller that has been preconfigured with lighting set points to achieve the desired lighting levels within the space.

The controller compares the information to the preconfigured set points, determining whether more or less artificial lighting is required and adjusting light levels accordingly. The lumen sensor is wireless and can be installed in minutes because there are no additional wires to run and require no batteries, so on-going maintenance costs are eliminated.

7. The Spectrum line of skylight tubes from U.S. Sunlight can provide an abundance of clean, natural light comparable to full-size skylights, but without the expense and installation challenges that come with traditional skylights and roof windows.

Different from standard skylights, skylight tubes enable the user to capture light above the roof and tunnel it to just about any location in a building. For larger footprint installations, such as commercial buildings or warehouses, the Spectrum 21-inch tube provides a solution for brighter daylight in spaces with less restrictive installation scenarios.

8. U.S. Sunlight also offers a ventilation option. With snap-on, snap-off installation, the user can convert a Spectrum skylight tube into a passive ventilator. This simple addition makes the Spectrum series a good choice for restrooms, kitchens, garages, laundry rooms, and any place where daylight and ventilation are desired.

9. View's Dynamic Glass works by regulating the amount of heat and glare that permeates into a building, which helps occupants make better use of daylight and natural lighting. This, in turn, reduces the amount of electricity that must be used to cool or heat a building, or to light it up, by an average of 20 percent.

Dynamic Glass transitions through four variable tints to provide continuous unobstructed views without heat or glare. It can automatically adapt to changing external conditions or be controlled by a user to meet specific preferences.

10. Solar powered and grid-tie light systems from Sol Inc. are a reliable, renewable and remarkable way to light an outdoor space. Solar powered and on-grid lighting is an economic and environmental choice for parking lots, roadways and paths. In addition to the energy savings, such systems offer greatly reduced installation costs because the need for trenching and the laying of power cables is eliminated.

Eight Things to Do for Your Crew in 2008

Posted on Wed, 2 Jan 2008 20:23:09 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.

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.

6 ways to defend yourself against verbal abuse

Posted on Mon, 29 Jul 2013 16:08:57 UTC

For years now, I have taught EMS responders to keep in mind that nothing a patient says is personal. While teaching classes on successful verbal interactions with patients, I have frequently emphasized that the patient doesn’t know you. Therefore, nothing that they say can be taken personally. How could it be personal if they don’t know you personally?

I’ve changed my mind. Sometimes, the verbal abuse hurled at us can be personal. And not taking it personally can be remarkably difficult. Verbal abuse is a hostile act and it is intended to cause harm.

Since a verbal attack leaves no physical mark, we often ignore its intent, and we also disregard its potential to harm us. But, I’ve come to believe that these episodes can do harm, if we fail to properly defend ourselves emotionally. To do that, we first have to recognize that a verbal attack on our person is not benign, even though we’ve been taught otherwise.

As children, we learned that "sticks and stones can break our bones but words could never hurt us." I believed it. You probably believed it too. The childhood nursery rhyme is wrong. Words can hurt us. Some words can hurt for a long time. Some words can be carried with us for a lifetime and nobody will ever see the scars.

Our awareness that verbal abuse can be harmful begins with the recognition that some of our patients are remarkably good at verbal abuse. Many of them have been victims of abuse themselves and they learned the language of abuse at a very young age. Some verbal attackers can size us up remarkably fast and pick out our weaknesses and insecurities with great accuracy.

Physical and social targets
The target of the verbal abuser's attack may be physical or social. Any physical imperfection you have may become a target for a verbal attack including your weight, height, the size of your nose, your receding hairline or your visible birthmark. If the verbal abuser suspects that you harbor any insecurity over your appearance he or she will likely take a shot.

If a physical feature can’t easily be exploited, then social attributes may also be tested. Gender, race, religious beliefs and sexual orientation tend to be effective areas of emotional vulnerability. What could be more personal than our gender, our ethnicity, our belief about creation or our choices regarding physical intimacy? These things define us as a person. They are deeply personal and that’s why they are so frequently the subject of verbal attacks.

This recognition that verbal abuse can be extremely personal has left me considering an important question. What should we do to defend ourselves against verbal abuse from our patients?

Here are some of the ideas with which I’ve been experimenting:

1. Recognize that you are being attacked: While a verbal assault may not be as obvious as a punch or a kick, but it is still an attack. The person targeting you with verbal abuse is attempting to hurt you. They want you to feel pain and discomfort. They want to feel that they have control, power and influence over you. They want you to feel hurt, sad or angry and they are probably quite good at instigating these feelings. While you may have been trained to ignore these behaviors, recognizing and defending yourself against a verbal assault is appropriate. Your internal defense against a verbal attack may be as invisible as the words that that the patient spoke, but it should still exist.

2. Check your physical safety: Physical assaults are often preceded by a verbal attack. Use the patient’s verbal aggressiveness as a prompt to reconsider your safety. Is the patient properly restrained? Do you have the resources available to manage the patient’s potential for escalation? Do you know the location of your exits? Do you have a reliable way to call for help? Verbal abuse should immediately prompt you to double check your physical safety. If you aren’t safe, back off until the resources you require are present.

3. Relax your posture: It’s easier to remain calm if you have an open body posture and relaxed muscles. Take a deep breath. Open your hands. Calm your facial expression and think about your words before you speak. Just because the patient is speaking with a rapid cadence doesn’t mean that you need to have a quick response. As long as you are not in physical danger, there is no need to move or speak quickly. You can move the scene forward at your own pace. Have confidence in your own authority. Do your best to keep yourself relaxed, calm and alert.

4. Say to yourself, “How interesting:” The phrase, “How interesting,” places us in a powerful position of analysis. When we make a conscious choice to analyze a situation we change our mindset. The process of analysis reminds us that we always have the ability to choose how we will feel in response to something someone says. Consider why the patient feels that causing others emotional pain is their best course of action. How has this worked for them in the past? This is a behavior that few people witness on a regular basis. The fact that it is rare makes it interesting on at least a cursory level. Choosing fascination over anger can help you see the big picture.

5. Make an honest observation: We’ve been trained to ignore the hurtful things that patients sometimes say, but I’ve been exploring a more reserved confrontational option. Instead of dismissing the remark, try calling the patient’s bluff and identifying the nature of their aggressive statements. Try a response like, “That’s a very hurtful thing for you to say.” or “Those remarks are highly inappropriate.” or “I’m not going to engage in a conversation that’s profane or hateful.” Calling the patient out on their own inappropriateness might be more effective than simply pretending that they aren’t being verbally abusive.

6. Consciously forgive the offense: Forgiveness is a powerful tool. I don’t believe that people are born with hatred inside of them. Hatred is learned and it is something that passes from person to person. The patient’s ability to verbally attack you is something that they learned consciously or not. After the call is over, take a moment and purposefully allow yourself to forgive the patient for every attempt that they made to cause you emotional pain. When you choose to forgive the patient for the words that they spoke, you automatically place yourself in a position of power. You recognize that the words that were spoken did have the power to hurt you and you also have the power to heal, let go and move on.

If you work in EMS, it is almost inevitable that you will be the subject of verbal abuse. What do you do to cope with the hurtful things that patients’ can sometimes say? Do you have any good tips for managing the verbally aggressive patient?

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.

Firefighters, medics face remote-response issues

Posted on Fri, 24 Oct 2014 14:32:24 UTC

MTSKHETA, Republic of Georgia — It is an off day for fire training in Mtskheta, leaving the International Fire Relief Mission team tourists for a day.

We have an interpreter and a non-English-speaking firefighter who drives us around in the department's Ford Taurus station wagon. It has over 300,000 miles, whines when it moves and the steering wheel must be cocked a quarter turn to keep heading straight.

The car has seen better days.

Communal trash and recycling bins are common in this part of the world, rather than the curbside trash collection most Americans are used to. The dumpster across the street from our lunch restaurant is pumping black smoke when we arrive. During lunch, we watch the smoke turn to white and flames come out the open top.

In the United States, the fire department would have been called at the first sign of smoke. They'd have arrived, pulled a handline and knocked it down with the water onboard the rig. Chances are, they'd have been wearing full PPE and SCBA, knowing the hidden dangers dumpsters can hold.

Here, it just burned. In fact, one old woman taking out her trash did not think twice about the fire and simply tossed her bags in. By the time lunch was over, so was the dumpster fire.

Upward bound
As tourists, we'll visit two ancient Orthodox churches. The second church is only 12 kilometers from our restaurant. However, it is up a winding mountain pass about half of which is paved only with golf-ball-size river rock.

It is a slow, bouncy ride up as our driver picks his way around small boulders and avoids trenches cut away by rainwater. The Ford labors and groans up the road.

From the parking lot, a steep asphalt footpath leads up to the church and monastery. This is a place where centuries ago, as many as 5,000 monks lived in the caves that dot the face of the overlooking hill.

There's a commotion a short way up the path from entrance. A young woman is lying on the ground with abrasions to her forehead and nose. It appears she fell. She's convulsing. IFRM President Ron Gruening reaches group, has a look at the girl and says there's not much to be done other than give her time to come out of it.

She's sustained a deep head injury, but has people to look after her; we continue our tour of the monastery and church.

Hillside fires
One of the monks is a friend of our interpreter. He shows us the icons, one of which is the monk who founded the church and monastery.

The picture shows him with a wolf at his side and in one upturned palm burns a small fire. The monk tells us that the wolf led the ancient monk to food and that he could hold fire without being burned.

It is my hope that the Mtskheta firefighters, now having PPE, will not think themselves invincible. We've explained that the equipment has limitations, that they cannot simply hold fire in their hands without being burned.

The monk also shows us a patch of the hillside forest that caught fire this past summer. The department we outfitted responded in the ARFF truck, hauled a line at least a quarter mile up hill and knocked down the fire on the steep, unstable terrain.

It is terrain that a young civilian on a paved path lost her balance. We were amazed that vehicle made it up the rock-strewn road and that they had enough hose to reach the fire. The monk said that they've also relied on the fire department to deliver drinking water (again, from the apparatus) during times of low rain.

Cautious journey
If the Mtskheta Fire Department gets its wish and receives donated apparatus, those vehicles will have to have enough ground clearance to traverse roads like the one leading to this monastery.

On our way back, they are loading the young woman into an ambulance. Perhaps an hour has elapsed since she fell. The Mtskheta Fire Department does not handle ambulance calls. Our driver—an uncomplaining, off-duty firefighter—phoned for the ambulance.

This ambulance is considerably more dilapidated than what we saw on the road when we first arrived. It resembles an old van and has a badly worn right rear tire. My guess is that that is the only wheel receiving power from the engine — four-wheel drive would have been a bonus on this road.

We drive behind the ambulance most of the way down the hill. One of its rear doors looks to be only partially closed. The driver pulls over once to inspect something on the ambulance. We stop to help if needed. The driver looks under the passenger side, gets back, restarts it and continues his slow trek down the hill.

We had learned that the young woman was coherent and speaking before being loaded into the ambulance and that they were taking her to the hospital as a precaution.

During the day of tourism, the unplanned sights we saw turned out to be far more compelling than those on the itinerary.

6 questions every new fire officer must ask

Posted on Tue, 14 Oct 2014 15:19:52 UTC

Whether you are a veteran supervisor, a new supervisor or someone who aspires to be a supervisor, there are several things you must do upon taking a new position or a new rank.

One of the best things you can do within your first few weeks in your new position is to get together with those you are now supervising and ask them these six key questions.

1. What's going right?
Start off on a good note. Find out what they think is going right within their company or area of work and within the organization as a whole. This information can be very valuable and should give you a pulse on what is going right.

Look for similarities as well as differences of opinion with the different individuals you talk to. If they don't clarify or support why something is going right, ask them to expand so that you can find out more about their opinion.

If something is going right, try to capitalize on it and make sure it continues going right. It is also good information to share with your supervisors to keep them informed of what is happening at the station level or areas they may not interact with regularly.

2. What can be improved?
This can be tough for some to answer, especially if they don't know you too well or if your reputation makes someone not want to be honest and up front — fearing an expected reaction. We all have worked with those in positions above us who, for whatever reason, have demonstrated some behavior that has led us to lose trust in or loyalty to them.

Know your audience, be a good listener, keep an open mind, don't disagree, and just let them vent if needed. Think of this part of the questioning as the brainstorming session where ideas and thoughts can just be freely thrown out on the table. Remember, your job is not to solve all those potential issues as much as it is to be supportive, empathetic and someone your personnel can talk to when needed.

As with the previous question, look for common themes in the responses you hear from different individuals. If only one person is complaining or unhappy about something, maybe it's just that one person's issue.

However, if you start hearing a common theme, then it actually may be worth trying to solve the problem — with their assistance, of course. If someone is going to give you problems, they better be ready to share some reasonable and achievable solutions. Anyone can complain or take pot shots; not everyone can actually provide solutions and be willing to be a part of the solution.

3. What do you want or need from me?
The best advice a chief officer ever gave me was that it was my responsibility to served those I was responsible for. This means ensuring they go home at the end of their shift and that I prepare them for future promotions or just being the best they can be.

In all the years I have been sharing expectations, when I asked this question as a battalion chief, the standard answers from captains was something along the lines of "don't disrespect us, take care of us, and don't yell at us."

Why do you think those items are so common? It is probably because of those who have been their supervisors in the past.

4. What are your career aspirations?
It is critical for you to be aware of the career aspirations of those you supervise so you can assist them with their career development. Now, the challenging part is that some personnel may want to hold their cards tight and not share their career aspirations with anyone, let alone their supervisor.

That's ok. But if you sense that is the case, explain to them the benefits of sharing their career aspirations, with the primary benefit being you can now do what you can to assist them.

5. How can I or the department assist with your aspirations?
One of the best battalion chiefs I worked for as a captain was Dan Dunlap. He knew I was preparing for the battalion chief test and took every spare moment to throw things my way in the form of, "Here is the situation, as a battalion chief what would you do?"

Most of the time, I would answer like a captain would. He would then tactfully correct me to now think like a battalion chief, think bigger picture.

I would always think of steps 1 and 2 and he would counter with adding steps 3, 4 and 5. He forced me to think like the position I was aspiring to and it definitely helped during the promotional exam, and more importantly, in the position once I was promoted.

6. What are your career-development needs?
This takes the previous question to the next level. If you are aware of the career-development needs of your personnel, do what you can in your power to ensure those needs are met.

For example, if you know they are deficient in certain areas of training and education, actively look for those classes or experience opportunities that may benefit them. For those individuals who I know have the desire to better themselves, I will do my best to share training and experience opportunities with them.

They don't have to take me up on every opportunity, but it shows that I care and it shows that I have an interest in their career development.

When to pop the questions
The question of when to ask these questions is not easily answered. There is no one right way to proceed. Some will say it's best to set up a meeting with each person you supervise within your first week or two. Some will say to wait a few weeks if not a month or more before.

I lean toward getting together in the first week or two. The longer you wait, the tougher it may be to get together, and the tougher it may be to change bad habits.

Regardless of when you decide to get together, just making the decision to do it and then asking those six questions will pay off in the long run. Send these questions to them in advance so that they have time to review them, take notes and formulate their own set of questions for you. Have them share them with those they supervise so that they can, as a crew, ensure they are all on the same page.

In considering when best to ask the questions, you can provide lunch of their choice. Having the time to break bread around the ever-important kitchen table is very valuable. There can be a small talk during the meal, and once lunch was over have a longer sit down with some great dialogue.

Private or public
Depending on your current situation, it may be appropriate to have a one-on-one session with a person you are now supervising. Or it may be appropriate to have the entire crew in on the conversation so they know what you expect of everyone.

Obviously some of the questions above may be best in a one-on-one setting, especially those that relate to the career aspirations of the supervisor, as well as their feedback on what the department can improve upon. Some of those other questions are actually great for the entire crew, especially what they all expect of you.

Nobody said being a supervisor was going to be easy. But if you take the time to really get to know your personnel and do what you can do to be the best supervisor you can be, the rewards can last a lifetime.

Fire inspection: Harrowing tales from the frontlines

Posted on Tue, 23 Sep 2014 21:35:20 UTC

This month we honor one of the overlooked and under-appreciated facets of the fire service. One who you usually don't hear much about, although it is a very important aspect of what we do.

Behold, the fire inspector.

Yes, you Mr. Fire Inspector. Armed with your tape measure and code book you can spot a Class 1 standpipe or a blocked exit a mile away. OK, I'm starting to sound like a beer commercial — I'll stop.

I served as fire marshal in a small town for about a year and a half and headed up inspections. I can honestly say I didn't like it at all. It just wasn't my thing. Fortunately there are people who enjoy the work and make a difference.

Historically minded people can readily name fires in our country's history where hundreds died. Rarely these days do you see a multi fatality in a commercial-occupancy fire. This is a direct result of building, fire and life-safety codes and enforcement by our friend the fire inspector.

It's not as exciting as riding the big red chrome machine, but the fire inspector has to take pride in the fact that by reviewing plans or chasing down an extension cord he or she is saving the lives of the public and firefighters.

Two people you're likely to meet
A police officer once told me that a major part of being a police officer is knowing how to talk to people. The same can be said for the fire inspector. Storming into a restaurant during the lunch rush and barking orders like Mike Ditka really won't get you too far.

To take it one step further, the fire inspector is also an educator. A lot of times when the inspector explains and educates a business owner on why a requirement exists, the business person might say, "Wow, I never thought about that."

However, there are the non-conformists, the anti-city government people who resist everything just because. It doesn't matter how you talk to these people.

Over the course of a career, the fire inspector will have these two conversations without fail.

  1. "We have been here 25 years and that has never happened." Clever reply: "I have never been struck by lightning, but I don't stand on golf courses waving a 20-foot aluminum pole over my head during thunderstorms."
  2. "The last guy who came didn't say anything about that." Clever reply: "Oh that was Herb, the blind guy. He retired."

Mounting concerns
Most cities adopt a fire code; there are several around. A fire code usually requires a business to have a fire extinguisher on hand. There is a minimum size (5A10BC in some places), the extinguisher has to be mounted at a certain height and have a current inspection tag. That doesn't really sound that hard.

If I didn't see one I would ask if the business had one and was always told yes. The occupant would begin looking in closets, unpacking cardboard boxes and opening cabinet doors.

I would explain that the extinguisher needs to be mounted in a conspicuous place. Most people would comply, but of course some would react as if I had asked them to purchase the Hope Diamond and to display it.

One female business owner told me flat out, "I don't need one that's why you are around." It's good to be appreciated.

What would Fritz do?
I had a few confrontations in houses of worship. Church folks like to point out the separation of church and state. I would point out the requirements of an assembly occupancy and the fire code.

I never had a problem being a bad guy at a school. If you have ever looked at the photos of the Our Lady of the Angels school fire in Chicago, you wouldn't either.

One of the local schools notified us they were having a giant sleep over lock-in thing for the kids in the gym. They promised a police presence for security and the school nurse would be there so there will be no problems.

Just the same, I paid a visit on the afternoon of the big event. I strolled into the office and the first thing I noticed was a yellow blinking light on the alarm panel.

The alarm was in the trouble mode and silenced. I asked one of the office personnel and was told the alarm was on the "fritz." I told the principal that the sleep-over event wasn't happening until the alarm was "unfritzed."

Things got heated. In actuality, the principal was a very nice lady. She was very open to anything we wanted to do at school and even let us institute the NFPA Risk Watch program.

She smiled and challenged me to meet the parents who were going to be dropping off kids soon and tell them the event was cancelled. I asked her if I could roll her chair out to the curb so I could at least sit down while I met the parents. She called the maintenance office and the alarm got unfritzed.

After that I routinely visited schools to check the status of alarm systems.

Orange is the new green, white and black
The fire inspector has to be ready to see the unimaginable. I remember a warehouse wired with orange extension cords. Orange cords came out of a breaker box and disappeared into walls.

On another occasion I encountered a mom-and-pop auto body shop with a homemade paint booth for painting cars. The suppression system came off the cold-water line under a sink where it had been soldered in.

I told them to have it inspected by a fire suppression company and to get a green tag. A few days later the sprinkler company showed up at the station and a wild-eyed technician started off with a "you're not going to believe this!"

Sure I would.

The fire inspector also has to be ready to make some decisions that can be wildly unpopular. A body shop owner once told me he had friends and he was offering money to eliminate me. The police stepped in after that.

So here's to you Mr. Fire Inspector. Keep up the vigil of keeping us all safe.

Let me hear from you.

Use this analysis tool for a better EMS grant proposal

Posted on Tue, 14 Oct 2014 21:46:56 UTC

Building a strong argument for your grant proposal is not an easy task, but using a cause-and-effect analysis to determine which areas to focus on can make the process a lot easier.

First, determine what problem are you trying to solve. For some agencies this could be quicker response times, increasing cardiac arrest survivors, or reducing injuries for on-duty personnel.

When constructing a grant proposal, be mindful of every facet of the problem and how it affects your agency and the community you serve. There are many ways to accomplish this task; one that I find very useful is the fish-bone diagram.

This technique helps identify many possible causes for a problem, and can lead to great brainstorming for an individual or a group.

For example, here’s an example of the fish-bone diagram showing a problem of missed free throws in basketball.

As you can see, the diagram lists the possible causes that have led to the effect of missed free throws. The example above does a great job providing a broad range of specific causes, and this is exactly how you must approach a grant proposal.

Cause: Poor cardiac arrest outcomes

For our example, let’s say an EMS agency is experiencing poor outcomes for out-of-hospital cardiac arrests. What factors could be contributing to these poor outcomes?

Was bystander CPR done? Were AEDs available and used? What was the response time of EMS? How far was the incident from the nearest hospital?

Take a moment to construct your own fish-bone diagram and submit it in the comments below.

Effect: Poor cardiac arrest outcomes

Now that we have an excellent idea of what causes our problem, how do we develop this information into a grant proposal?

Through your fish-bone diagram, you concluded one cause was poor AED availability. To break this down even further to get to the root cause, we could do another fish-bone diagram for just poor AED availability. However, in this article we are going to keep it simple.

We will use this information for an extremely common grant application question: summarize the purpose of this request. In this case, the purpose of requesting funding for AEDs would be to improve out-of-hospital cardiac arrest for your community.

This is a clear and concise opening statement that leads the way for a great grant proposal.

The fish-bone diagram is a useful tool to dissect your problem and better highlight root causes of a problem that often have financial implications and can be addressed through grant funding.

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!

Rescue is a Thinking Person's Game

Posted on Wed, 8 Aug 2007 19:38:53 UTC

AP/Minnesota Daily, Stacy Bengs
Firefighters size up the scene after the bridge collapse in Minn. last week.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Why fire departments must become risk-reduction departments

Posted on Fri, 13 Jun 2014 08:00:00 UTC

By Douglas Cline
Feb. 8, 2011
Updated June 13, 2014

Some fire service leaders expect that fire departments across the United States will see a paradigm shift from just emergency response services to a comprehensive community risk reduction and management focus.

You hear it as you talk with fire service leaders across the nation. National Fire Academy Executive Fire Officer research documents are being developed and presented on this very topic. It was a discussion topic at an International Association of Fire Chief's strategic planning meeting.

So why do we need to change directions?

The fire service already handles the majority of emergencies and crisis within the community. We need to focus on a proactive approach.

This would allow for not only a safer community but help focus on the quality of life of our residents. Preventing incidents from occurring significantly reduces cost, improves the quality of life and increases the potential for economic sustainability.

New rules of engagement
The impact of budget cuts is witnessed almost daily in the fire service with browning out of stations, closing of companies, staff reduction through attrition and yes even critical staffing reductions by employees being laid off. The fire service has reached a new fold in its history.

With this new fold occurring we must adapt our philosophies, strategies and even our beloved tactics.

When corporations and builders engineer and construct disposable buildings then we need to tactically focus our efforts on engineering and code requirements of automatic fire suppression systems and early detection systems. When the owners and builders ignore this option and a fire catastrophe strikes, we need to use the new rules of tactical engagement.

Fire departments will need to shift from traditional emergency responses services and transition into a combination of emergency responses services with a primary focus on being a community reduction team focusing on public safety in a multidimensional approach of safe buildings through code enforcement, building requirements, environmental impact, community safety, responder safety, community health and wellness and community risk reduction through research and education.

We will become the mother ship that guides critical thinking in all aspects of safety throughout our community.

The fire service will need to focus on assembling a set of best practices in risk reduction and work diligently to manage risk via educating our communities, proactive engineering practices and code enforcement.

However, the fire service does not collect data well at all. We have to transition to being very analytical of collecting certain complete and accurate quantifiable data based upon a standard data model for comparative benchmarking studies.

The battle is won however on the proactive side through risk reduction and risk management. The long-term impacts will benefit everyone. Our success will be determined by not solely the retrospective data but community and family buy in. This relates to the true potential risk that exists, verses how it has been reduced