Firefighter research shows PPE exposure risk

Posted on Mon, 13 Apr 2015 20:45:08 UTC

In previous articles, we discussed how firefighters are exposed to a variety of fireground contaminants. We have even gone so far as to pinpoint the blame that many of these exposures primarily occur due to the lack of liquid-tight interfaces between the different parts of the protective ensemble.

Further, it is our opinion that the protective hood worn as an interface device is due for improvement. Our contention has been that the protective hood has the difficult function of having to create an interface with several ensemble parts that include the SCBA facepiece, the helmet and ear covers, and the coat collar.

Even when all these clothing item are properly deployed and worn as instructed by manufacturers, there are portions of the head and face that remain vulnerable due to the way that protective hoods have been institutionalized as part of the protective ensemble.

We further echo the outcry from many other organizations that there is an unacceptable increase in the rate of certain cancers striking down firefighters.

Exposure risks
While recent epidemiological studies appear to conclusively show that specific cancers occur at elevated rates as compared with the general population, there is a relatively difficult task to scientifically establish the cause link between fireground exposures at structural fires with the onset of specific chronic diseases including cancer.

Still, the International Agency for Research on Cancer has classified the occupation of firefighting as possibly carcinogenic and may change its findings to probably carcinogenic.

Exposure to cancer-causing agents likely occurs on the fireground as well as in the aftermath of firefighting activity, particularly if clothing is not cleaned. Firefighters lament that following a working structural fire, their work uniforms, under clothing, hair, and even their skin can continue to smell like smoke, sometimes even after repeated showers.

The fact is that fire smoke, which consists of minute particles, easily penetrates into the ensemble. And the problem is the unburned carbon that make up the bulk of those particles carry with them the toxic gases from the combustion process.

Particle infiltration study
While you can see the smoke, the particles are actually quite small — most have a diameter less than a fraction of a micron (approximately a hundred thousandth of an inch). It is no wonder how these particles get into your skin. Yet the moisture barrier layers used in garments, gloves, and footwear will prevent even particles of this size from infiltrating the clothing.

To show how firefighters can be contaminated by smoke, the International Association of Fire Fighters commissioned full ensemble particle exposure testing at Research Triangle Institute in early January. This evaluation involved a used turnout clothing system, configured with a SCBA and worn by a test subject in a particle-laden chamber.

The evaluation was performed per the Department of Defense based Fluorescent Aerosol Screening Test procedures where the individual was subjected to a high-level concentration of silica powder particles tagged with the fluorescent tracer having a particle size ranging from 0.1 to 10 microns. The test subject performed a variety of different movements over the course of a half hour while particles were blown through the chamber at 10 mph.

Following the exposure, the exterior of the garment was then wiped down and the ensemble carefully removed to avoid exterior particle transfer to the interior. Black light photography of the individual without the ensemble before the chamber exposure and after the exposure provided a means for detecting where inward leaking occurred.

The following pictures show the test and where the infiltration of particles was observed.

The results
These results are extremely significant because they confirm the suspicion that a large amount exposure occurs to the vulnerable face and neck area that is not protected by the SCBA facepiece. The photographs also show particles entering the garment through the front closure and between the coat and pant interface to less significant extent.

Low levels of particle penetration were also observed at the glove-to-sleeve interface. But relatively surprising was the intensity of contamination on the calves above the boot line despite the extensive overlap between the pants and boots.

What these pictures show is what we have always known to be true, but never really cared to admit — smoke easily penetrates clothing, primarily at interface areas, and serves as pathway for firefighter exposure on the fireground.

This evidence should compel the fire service to take a serious look at the way it practices hygiene following a fire. This includes performing gross decontamination of gear at the scene, taking a shower as soon as possible following a structural fire as well as changing gloves and subjecting the gear to full cleaning.

The pictures also tell a story that the fire service industry may want to rethink how it approaches interfaces by developing clothing systems that create the least encumbrance while still trying to achieve some attenuation of particle infiltration.

It is one thing to write and speak about firefighter exposures, but it is an entirely different matter when pictures can tell you a truth about exposure that cannot be ignored.

Introducing Fire Chief Digital: Street smarts vs. book smarts, handling hometown MCIs and more

Posted on Thu, 2 Apr 2015 20:42:17 UTC

Welcome to the premiere edition of the Fire Chief Digital Edition, a new quarterly supplement to and the Fire Chief eNews that will bring a sharpened focus to some of the most challenging topics facing fire chiefs and fire service leaders everywhere. We're excited to return to the print roots of Fire Chief, and we think you'll enjoy the Digital Edition, which will feature contributions from some of the top experts and progressive thinkers in the fire service.

In the Spring 2015 edition of Fire Chief Digital, brought to you by California Casualty, Billy Hayes takes on a controversial topic: what's more important for a fire chief, street smarts or book smarts? Also, Sarah Calams talks to some volunteer fire chiefs about how to prepare for active-shooter situation.

Robert Avsec rounds up a panel of the country's top fire chiefs for an in-depth discussion on safety culture and how you can get buy-in from your department, and Rick Markley addresses a topic that all fire chiefs dread: the hometown MCI.

Click on the cover below to open the Fire Chief Digital Edition:

How to safely operate firefighting tenders

Posted on Tue, 21 Apr 2015 19:08:51 UTC

I remember the instructor in my first rural water supply class telling us, "An efficient rural water supply [using tenders] is accomplished through rapid loading at the fill site and rapid unloading at the dump site. You don't do it by driving fast between those two points."

Words to live by, not to die by.

The U.S. Fire Administration delivered a report on firefighter fatality statistics in the United States for the past 37 years up to 2013.

Each year during that time, fire service line of duty deaths resulting from vehicle collisions while responding to or returning from emergency calls averaged around 25 percent of all LODDs. In 2013, two of those nine deaths (22 percent) involved a fire department tender.

For the 12-year period (1990 to 2001) USFA studied, approximately 22 percent of fire apparatus collision fatalities occurred in tenders. That's more fatalities involving tenders than pumpers and aerial apparatus combined.

USFA estimated at that time that tenders only accounted for 3 percent of all fire apparatus in the United States. Shortly thereafter, USFA published a report, "Safe Operations of Fire Tankers."

That report provides comprehensive information on the causes and prevention of fire department tender crashes. Here's a synopsis of what was in that report.

Human factors
The report indicated insufficient training as a problem and suggested mandatory training for tender drivers. Extensive training must be done before a firefighter is allowed to drive the tanker on public roadways.

It also recommends refresher training on a regular basis according the requirements of NFPA 1451: Standard for a Fire and Emergency Services Vehicle Operations Training Program (2013 Edition), and NFPA 1500: Standard on Fire Department Occupational Safety and Health Program (2013 Edition).

Tender operators should receive practice time driving the tender on a variety of weather and road conditions. This practice time should also include driving during daylight and nighttime conditions.

The report also recommends always operating a tender at a safe and reasonable speed. Never exceed the posted speed limit when driving under nonemergency response conditions.

Posted speed limit signs prior to curves in the road are based upon automobile traffic on a dry road surface; a tender should never be operated at or above that posted speed limit.

Another issue is lack of familiarity with the response district and the roads within it. A driver's level of familiarity with the various routes within their response district and associated hazards like dangerous curves, bridges with weight limitations, etc., has a direct impact on safe vehicle response.

Driving surfaces
Keep all of the wheels on the primary road surface at all times. A common cause of tender crashes is when the tender's right-side wheels drift off the edge of the road.

If this happens, do not try to bring the apparatus back onto the road surface at a high speed. Slow the apparatus to 20 mph or less before trying to bring the wheels back onto the road.

Avoid poorly constructed or unpaved roads whenever possible. It may be safer (and faster) to take a paved route that is longer than the shorter unpaved route. If such an option does not exist, the tender operator should significantly slow down and proceed with extreme caution.

Require operators to come to a complete stop at all intersections containing a stop sign or red traffic light in your direction of travel. Nearly all intersection vehicle crashes can be prevented if a driver brings their vehicle to a complete stop when faced with the signal to do so.

Require that all personnel are seated and belted whenever the apparatus is in motion. A significant percentage of tender crashes involve the vehicle rolling over and the occupants being ejected. The chance of serious injury or death is greatly increased when the occupant is thrown from the vehicle.

Unwieldy beast
Tenders are not primary-response units, like engines or aerial apparatus, that are critical to the initial stages of managing the fire incident. Rather, for the majority of incidents to which they respond, tenders are key support units whose primary function is to establish and maintain an adequate and continuous water supply.

Provide guidance and direction to your personnel on when tenders may respond under emergency conditions (lights and sirens operating) and when they shall not.

Even a tender that is specified and built from the ground up as a tender can be an unwieldy beast on the road, and operators should treat it as such. If your department is operating a retrofitted tender, you should strongly consider restricting its operation to non-emergency response.

Minimum staffing for a tender should be the operator and another firefighter. The firefighter riding shotgun is a co-operator and should be the only person operating warning devices and handling radio transmissions. They should also provide a second set of eyes to assist the operator in identifying potential hazards during the response phase.

The co-operator should have full authority to alert the operator if they feel that the tender is being operated at an unsafe speed and the operator should be required to acknowledge that alert and slow down.

Travel with the water tank either completely empty or completely full. This minimizes the effects of liquid surge within the tank. Don't rely on tank baffles to prevent such surges.

NFPA 1500 requires the use of ground guides for backing, regardless of whether the apparatus is equipped with back-view cameras or other backing safety equipment. One ground guide should be equipped with a portable radio in the event that they need to contact the driver during the backing operation.

Design and maintenance
All new tenders shall comply the requirements of NFPA 1901 including the chapters on general requirements; chassis and vehicle components; low-voltage electrical systems and warning devices; driving and crew areas; body, compartments and equipment mounting; and mobile water supply fire apparatus.

Vehicles that have been retrofitted to be tenders, from milk or fuel delivery trucks, are overly represented in tender crash statistics. Serious accidents have been attributed to poorly designed, retrofitted or homebuilt tankers.

Departments should make every effort to only have tenders in service that are specifically engineered and designed for fire department operations according to the requirements of NFPA 1901.

All tenders should be weighed completely full and that weight should be posted (in pounds and tons) on a plaque on the vehicle's dashboard. This will help the driver to determine if it is safe to drive the vehicle on a road or bridge that has posted weight restrictions.

Ensure that all tenders are equipped with audible back-up alarms to alert others in the area that the tender is backing up.

Many mechanical failures that lead to crashes can be prevented if the apparatus is inspected and maintained on a regular basis. Guidelines for establishing proper maintenance programs can be found in NFPA 1911: Standard for the Inspection, Maintenance, Testing, and Retirement of In-Service Automotive Fire Apparatus.

I strongly encourage you to read the entire report, Safe Operations of Fire Tankers [Tenders] and use it to develop good policy and procedure for your personnel regarding the operation of the tender(s) in your fleet.

You would also be wise to make reading the report a prerequisite for becoming a tender operator. And, I would include the report's use in refresher training for incumbent tender operators as well.

Have a Plan for the Tactical

Posted on Wed, 2 Jul 2008 11:14:57 UTC

Too many candidates get sucked into concentrating too much on the check-off list for their tactical without realizing it. In the process, they lose control of the fire and their score gets hammered.

What's your best tactic for rescue or knocking down the fire? An aggressive attack on the fire! Go fight the fire with your resources. In the process you will get the necessary boxes checked off on the rating sheet, could put out the fire and get a top score.

Yes, you want to cover all the bases to make sure the boxes are checked off on the rating sheet, but again, isn’t the best tactic for extinguishment and rescue an aggressive fire attack?

However, concentrate on a solid plan. Many candidates put too much into play out of sequence early on in the exercise and make the problem bigger than what the raters have actually given them. Often, candidates will give assignments to units to place positive pressure ventilation, a crew to pull ceilings, assign more than one unit to carry out search rescue and other tasks, call the canteen truck, and add a rescue problem that wasn't given to them.

This is before they have the first line on the fire, a RIT team assigned, utilities pulled and a crew sent to the roof for ventilation. The fire gets away from them and they are out of equipment and resources before they realize what happened. How long can you tread water?

These are major areas the raters will be checking off on your scoring sheet that can rack up big points. You must come out swinging. Once you have proven you can handle the call from the beginning, you're nailing it. As soon as the raters know you got it, they will help you over the top to that next badge. It's a beautiful thing when it happens.

Have a plan
Here's a simple example of a fire problem: You give an on-scene size up at a fire involving a residence with fire blowing out a bedroom window. You order your engineer to hook up as you and your firefighter start pulling lines. If you followed this sequence, you have just lost the fire!

The problem here is you went from size up directly into tactics. Most candidates start off on the right foot with a size up of the fire. Then they make a fatal mistake in going directly into tactics without a plan. They confuse tactics with a plan. Once given the fire problem, focus all your energies on developing a plan.

Without a plan, you are out of control. What was your plan on this fire problem? By just taking a few more moments, you would have one. When confronted, candidates that go immediately to tactics regroup and say, "My plan is to confine and put out the bedroom fire." O.K., but if you didn't say it, you didn't have a plan. Size up, plan, and then tactics.

Fire attack: Understanding landmark buildings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Discussion questions

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

Crisis intervention teams: Helping our own

Posted on Mon, 16 May 2011 10:01:15 UTC

In the public safety field, one of the least addressed topics is the mental wellness of our responders. When tragedy and violence hit, we're the first to be there. Having to care for people when they are at their worst, and having to deal with the impact of the call, can take its toll.

This tends to impact the first responders in many different ways. These individuals might be the first people to see the tragedy but they are the last to admit that it has had any emotional or mental effect to them. So, when an outside group comes in to intervene or defuse the situation, there is resistance from the first responders

First responders tend to rely on their comrades in the field. When outside groups or people try to intervene, the responders tend to be reluctant to their offers of help. "You have no idea what we do" is usually the cause for reluctance.

This is why we created a peer-driven support group that we call the Horry County Crisis Intervention Team (CIT). The team is made up of 11 peer support members, four councilors, one training instructor and one chaplain.

The CIT is continuing to grow and manage all of its internal staff as well as other departments in the local area. They are also recruiting police and 911 dispatchers to round off the group. This will make the CIT very versatile.

Horry County Fire Rescue covers more than 1,134 square miles and responds to more than 42,000 calls per year. The department is made up of 275 full-time uniformed staff and 200 volunteers.

The CIT for Horry County is no stranger to unique and very stressful calls. Some of the calls that the CIT has had to intervene with have been:

  • Horry County Fire Rescue roll-over engine call that had three firefighters and a lieutenant trapped
  • Horry County Fire Rescue volunteer went into cardiac arrest during a medical call and had to be intervened by the same members who responded with him
  • Horry County responded to a fellow firefighter's home, where he had already committed suicide. The crew prior to his shift from his own station responded
  • Multiple child abuse calls; some with death as a result
  • Multiple drowning calls involving children at local motel pools
  • Motor vehicle accident deaths involving children and infants
  • Multi- casualty incidents involving a large number of deaths

These are just some of the calls that have made an impact to Horry County Fire Rescue staff over the past couple of years. Those who responded to these have had the opportunity to get help from the CIT with positive results.

The CIT has also put together a White Paper to describe some of the statistics from the past three years. This paper will give other departments information in the field of crisis management so that they too can make their wellness program complete. Check it out here

7 ways firefighters can use tablets in the field

Posted on Mon, 20 Apr 2015 19:34:16 UTC

A growing number of public safety agencies are replacing their mobile digital computers with tablet computers.

We asked our Facebook fans, as well as our LinkedIn group, how they use their tablets while in the field.

Some said their biggest concern with using tablets is the potential negative effect the devices may have by interfering with the patient-caregiver relationship. And while others admitted to still working out tablet bugs, they said they appreciated the flexibility of the mobile devices and enhanced data collecting functions.

If you haven't already, be sure to join the conversation.

"We utilize Getac F110 tablets for AVL, fire reporting and a fire command app. We are in the initial stages of implementation." — Paul Williams

"We are re-introducing tablets into the field environment to capture patient-care records and as a Wi-Fi hot spot for data transmission of ECG data. We will be moving our vehicle and narcotic inventory system to these same tablets soon." — Darrel Donatto

"I use mine for field work on investigations and for photos to reports. " — Bruce Dundas

"Currently, we have replaced our MDTs with iPad air tablets in Lifeproof cases on all fire apparatus for preplans, hazmat research, a CAD information display, AVL and collection of narratives from the field. The iPads are on 24/7 to ensure they have the call information when being dispatched." — Scott Bisson

"We trialed an inexpensive slate tablet to make the transition from tough book to tablet. We use a digital command and accountability platform on our incidents. We will be purchasing rugged tablets for all front line apparatus and command vehicles to replace tough books. We will be using tablets for building all pre-fire plans, allowing us to store photos in the plans." — John Morrison

"We use ours for page track software, firehouse reports, preplans and apartment complex maps ... just to name a few." — Jason Grafford

"Possibly good for locating hot spots out in the field if a program can be added to it to do that." — Bonnie Ball

Fire department tests bounce-house rescue device

Posted on Wed, 1 Apr 2015 10:01:07 UTC

POKENIOUT, Mass — With the rash of inflatable bounce houses taking flight last summer, one fire department is "aiming" to do something about it.

New Bedford neighbor Pokeniout (Mass.) Fire Department is beta testing a device one of its members invented that will make quick work of fly-away bounce houses.

The invention, dubbed Rescuepoon, incorporates a medieval crossbow and now-outlawed lawn darts tied to a spool of deep-sea fishing line.

The device works like this. When a call comes in for an escaped bounce house, the fire department will deploy its Rescuepoon crew, that will put the dart in the crossbow and fire it into the bounce house.

"If the dart seats well enough into the bounce house, we can reel it in," said Pokeniout Fire Chief Isley Fulakrap. "If not, we use the line to track it once it lands."

The device was relatively cheap to build, the chief said. The only difficulty was locating lawn darts, which were taken off the market in 1988 following a previous ban in the 1970s. Chief Fulakrap says they are working up a modified version for when they buy up all of the Ebay and Etsy supply of darts.

That version, RescuepoonXL, will use a harpoon gun to fire a four-foot pike pole, also tethered to fishing line. The XL will be heavier and harder to store, the chief said, but he believes it will have a 35 percent greater shooting distance and be less susceptible to wind conditions.

Although the chief was extremely positive about the Rescuepoon, he did say it had a few minor bugs to sort out.

"It took us a while to train up our guys on the crossbow, and there may have been one or two mishaps with passing birds," Chief Fulakrap said. "We did nick a Rescue Randy Jr. in the head one time and one of our captains lanced Engine 1's rear tire."

Chief Fulakrap said he also plans to push bounce house makers to make them safer for kids by designing them to deflate faster when pierced.

"You pop a Jart into one of those suckers and it takes on a mind of it's own," the chief said. "In our testing, we've seem 'em do four, maybe five complete high-speed 360s before slamming into the ground. We just want the manufacturers to take some responsibility for kids' safety."

The chief plans to deploy the Rescuepoon this summer.

How communication centers can aid incident commanders

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

By Bob Smith
Director of Strategic Development, APCO International

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another great CFSI dinner in the books

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More uses for locking pliers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Assembly buildings: 6 safety items for your civilians

Posted on Mon, 26 Aug 2013 09:49:13 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.

Lead by Example in Vehicle Safety

Posted on Mon, 23 Jun 2008 09:00:07 UTC
How not to drive a fire truck
An emergency response almost leads to a rollover. Full Video
When I was asked to write an article that would address this year's Safety, Health and Survival Week, I was initially struck with writer's block. Unfortunately within a few short days I found myself facing a situation that provided me with ample material to write about.

Last week my fire department was dispatched to assist to a neighboring department with a house fire. I happened to be at the firehouse so I quickly proceeded to don my gear and grab a jump seat — for once I didn't have to drive! The rear of the ladder truck soon filled with four other members and we turned out down the street.

One of the members sitting across from me was a newly promoted lieutenant. As with many volunteer departments, a line officer is often found riding in the back seat when another line officer has already grabbed the front — we can argue that practice at a later time. I noticed that this new lieutenant was not wearing his seat belt. I immediately said "Dude, where's your seat belt?" Motioning at the retracted seat belt as he glared at me, he replied, "Right here."

My response? "How 'bout you put your seat belt on so that if we crash this thing you don't come across the seat and kill me?" Somehow I went from scoring a coveted jump seat en route to a working fire to the middle of a stand-off. Grudgingly, he put his seat belt on and we continued on our way.

As we pulled up to the scene, this newly minted lieutenant snidely plucked at his seat belt strap and said, "Is it all right to take this off now?" At that point, I felt I'd had enough. Having spent several years as a line and chief officer, this lieutenant for me was setting an extremely poor example for the younger and more impressionable members riding in the rig. I then proceeded to explain my feelings to this lieutenant — perhaps a bit harshly — until another senior member put the discussion to rest by simply stating, "At this station, we wear our seat belts." End of story.

Epitomizes problems
So why do I share this story? I do so because this 3-minute episode epitomizes the problems that we face in today’s fire service on many different levels. The title of this year's Safety, Health and Survival Week is "Committed to Long-Term Results." But how can we commit to long-term results if those in positions of leadership and power won't follow the rules themselves? How is it possible that a line officer can not only get away with not wearing a seat belt, but can then argue the issue with someone who tells him to put it on? Have we learned nothing from those who have given their lives before us?

Imagine this scenario: A fire apparatus rolls out the door with two young firefighters and a line officer. One of the young firefighters sees that his officer isn't wearing his seat belt and figures he doesn't need to wear it either. The truck crashes and the young firefighter is ejected and killed. Who is at fault? The reports and the scuttlebutt will all say that if this young firefighter had just put his seat belt on, he would still be here today. People will question his poor judgment and shake their heads at what they believe was a rookie mistake. But was it?

In reality, that same line officer who set a silent example by not wearing his seat belt is largely responsible for this hypothetical fatality. Like it or not, when you pin a fancy gold horn on your collar or put that shiny white front piece on your helmet, you’ve become someone that younger members look up to and follow. Even when you don’t realize it, these members are emulating you and following your example. Senior firefighters, line officers and chiefs all create a culture that younger and more junior firefighters will learn to live by. It is this culture that can save or cost a life.

If the fire service truly wishes to bring about long-term results, it's time to start holding people responsible for their actions. It seems that every time one of us is injured or killed, the rest of us are hesitant to ask questions or pass judgment. As a result, this culture never changes. How do I know? Look at the number of firefighter fatalities over the past 20 years. Does anyone really see a difference?

So how should we hold people accountable? It's time to start wielding a big stick. Fancy posters and cute little stickers telling you to wear your seat belt haven’t worked. Every year there are still numerous line-of-duty deaths that are a direct result of someone not wearing their seat belt. Want to make a difference? Start randomly stopping your rigs and checking to see that everyone has their seat belt on. If someone doesn't, suspend them. More than three infractions, show them the door. Maybe it's time to have the cops start citing people who can't get the message through their heads. After all, not wearing your seat belt is against the law!

Until these types of attitudes change or people are held responsible for their actions, I don’t believe we will ever reduce the number of line–of-duty deaths, especially those that are a direct result of vehicle crashes. Unless those in charge begin to lead by example and create a culture in which reckless driving, poor attitudes and lack of seat belt use are no longer tolerated, the culture will never change and we will be doomed to repeat our mistakes over and over again.

To those who have already begun to move this ship in a positive direction, my hat is off to you. And to those that refuse to help the rest of us reduce the number of firefighter fatalities by continuing this reckless culture ... I say maybe it's time to go.

Be a better firefighter with post-incident analysis

Posted on Tue, 3 Mar 2015 15:28:42 UTC

One of the most important areas of personal development for any firefighter is participation in the after-action critique.

Regardless of the success or challenges encountered in an emergency, effectively illuminating its resolution is a giant step in advancing policy and procedures, training and education, and the real meaning of teamwork and collective accomplishment.

Exactly what you and your department determine is the best way to conduct such an analysis can mean the difference between a progressive, proactive experience and one that flounders in second-guesses and finger-pointing.

The following basic principles of a successful critique will go a long way to formulating a productive and successful process.

Selecting the right facilitator for a critique is critical to its overall success. The person selected should be experienced, objective for the particular incident to be reviewed and democratic in their approach to discussion.

A good critique officer is one who can create the scene — weather, incident environment, equipment configuration and general assignments.

Whether on a screen or a white board, an organized narrator equipped with a site layout can go a long way in providing a foundation for effective discussion.

Ground rules
The stage should be set, whether in a standard operating procedure, a formal declaration of the ranking officer or by the facilitator at the time of the incident review.

A respect for rules, a sense of order and acknowledging appropriate behavior, combine to create a decorum that is essential to an effective review.

Expressed frustrations and even displays of anger are totally unacceptable during these critiques. Integrity of purpose should keep you on track — most of the time.

Process not people
The underlying principle for conducting a review is that it is all about the process and not about the people, with the exception of performance recognition.

The words used to discuss the incident can influence the quality of the process. When analyzing an incident, use terms like challenges instead of problems, lessons learned rather than mistakes made, and always remember that critique is not another word for criticism.

Instead of berating a crew for losing an exposure, a discussion of the challenges faced defending the adjacent building will lead to an open learning environment and further discussion. As a result, your training officer and possibly your SOP committee may revisit the concept of close-proximity exposure protection.

Hiding is not helping
We obsess about every emergency response. It is in our nature. Second-guessing, what ifs and an eclectic group of theories permeate every back-bay and kitchen-table discussion for days after a high-energy incident response — and for good reason.

Learning from our experiences is a critical component to how firefighters make themselves, their teammates and their department better.

Taking this one step further requires that if you have something to say, you have an obligation to contribute in a critique.

Firefighter's role
As a firefighter adding to a critique, you must be aware of the format and speak when it is appropriate. Be objective and limit your point of view to what you know while acknowledging your biases.

Clarify misconceptions, describe changing environments and create a measurable view of the work that was accomplished. Explain what you experienced and how it added to or subtracted from the tactical objective you were assigned.

Asking about how your tactical involvement related to the overall strategy is a valid question.

Leadership's responsibility
Officers, too, have a role in promoting an open atmosphere of acceptance and discussion during any critique. There are several questions officers must ask during an after-incident critique.

  • Was the action plan followed and why or why not?
  • Were there gaps in the tactics and did they affect the strategic progression of the response?
  • Were there enough resources and were they the correct ones for the tasks?
  • Could anything have been done differently?
  • Was any action seen as unsafe?
  • What have we learned and what needs to change?

Training opportunity
Not knowing something is not the crime, but not teaching what you know is. When it comes to training, patience and the Socratic method will advance the critique when appropriate and effectively allow lessons to be learned.

The rule here is to be careful not to get bogged down in teachable moments. The ultimate goal of a critique is to solicit feedback in a structured format for the purpose of advancing operational development.

It doesn't matter whether you call it a post-incident analysis, an after-action review or simply a debriefing. The critique of any emergency response is a fundamental factor for promoting progress in your department.

The opportunity to discuss strategies and the real-life tactics used to advance them are vital to your organization's moving forward.

Knowing that every participant, regardless of job or rank, has an equal chance to express their questions and concerns as well as their appreciation, generates an abiding trust in each other while directly enhancing the prospect for success on the next call.

5 traits of great firefighting instructors

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lessons from real and simulated events

Posted on Mon, 14 Jan 2013 10:17:45 UTC

"Science with its 'dust free' environments and 'laboratory conditions,' has given us a pattern for approaching the natural world of things: we stabilize the environment, bring together a number of elements, and observe the results. We call those results 'facts.'" — Thomas Cloakley, Command and Control for War and Peace

I sat through a simulated event. There were pictures in front of me of a structure fire. I had a pencil and a radio and one of those paper command sheets that encourage the fine art of box checking. In the scenario one of my crews experienced an emergency soon after I arrived on scene.

A few days earlier I was present at a real call. A real call that was possibly a big deal but probably not. I found it difficult to manage, not so much because there were a lot of people in some danger, but rather because the potential for some people to be in a lot of danger was high.

The difference between the two events was striking. In the simulation I was faced with a once in a career high-stress event. In the simulation it was quite likely that two firefighters were in the process of dying right in front of me.

However, in the sanitized world of simulations I did not find my self under any stress. My voice was not cracking; I did not feel the characteristic tightening of the shoulders and gut. It was just a game.

"Facts are very comfortable things to deal with because they are so stable. What was a fact yesterday will be a fact tomorrow, so long as the environment stays the same." — Cloakley

Crucial part of practice
I realize that simulations are more than games. They are a crucial part of practice and can provide critical insights into how one might behave when faced with the real thing. They are not to be taken lightly, but then they are not real in the same way that toy cars are not real cars.

A few days earlier I was present at a real call. It was not so real that it made the evening news, not real enough to warrant a mention in the local newspaper. But is was real in the way that makes your shoulders tighten, your perception narrow and your heart rate increase just enough to fog over your processes.

What I think I learned, or perhaps re-learned, is that nothing can simulate the physiological and psychological effects of being placed under critically stressful conditions. In real life people don't answer the radio, or if they do you might miss the transmission.

In real life the time pressure compounded by the temporal distortion is made worse by the lack of good information and topped off with excessive amounts of useless information, creating a potent recipe for disaster.

"…Unfortunately, that kind of fact-oriented approach does not work very well when we're dealing with people and people issues. Human dynamics are simply too complex." — Cloakley

I am a big fan of written control objectives; I believe in them. I preach control objectives to my subordinates.

However, in that real moment I found that I did not so much as write control objectives as I projected them in understated ways, cloaked in the thin veil of tactical orders. In many ways I was just doing stuff.

Seeing the big picture
Compared to the available research on such things, what I did was hardly different from what most people do under stress, but this time for some reason it felt more real.

What I think I learned is that it is always harder to step back and consider the big picture when you are tied up in the little picture. The world of real incidents cannot be summed up in simulations and it cannot be reliably dissected in post-mortem evaluations. This makes execution hard and it makes evaluation harder.

Colonel John Boyd is reported to have said:
"When thing went wrong at the Pentagon, really wrong, you'd always hear some bright guy in a business suit complaining that a country able to land a man on the moon should be able to carry out an operations on the earth: raid Hanoi, drop into Tehran, whatever. I always pointed out to these smart alecks that as I recalled, the moon didn't hide, move around under its own steam, or shoot back."

Maybe that is difference with real incidents — in many ways they hide, move and shoot back.

Fire service has a leadership crisis

Posted on Mon, 7 Apr 2014 15:05:54 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.

Spotlight: Enhance your fire service education with Southern Illinois University

Posted on Thu, 4 Dec 2014 17:34:34 UTC

Company Name: Southern Illinois University
Headquarters: Carbondale, IL
Signature Product: Fire Service Management

Intro: The goal of our program is to provide you the opportunity to enhance your career through continued higher education. This program is designed for those individuals who already possess an Associate's degree with a background in the fire service. The mission of the Fire Service Management (FSM) Program is to provide you with highly trained and qualified instructors with various fields of study in the FSM program. We are committed to the enhancement and advancement of fire service professionals through higher education. The FSM program is an accredited IFSAC program and a long time participant in the Federal Emergency Services Higher Education (FESHE) program.

Where did your company name originate from?
SIU Carbondale was originally known as Southern Illinois Normal College when it was founded in 1869 by the Illinois Legislature. As the SIU system grew in the mid to late 1900's, it became known as SIU Carbondale.

What was the inspiration behind starting your company?
The need for affordable education throughout the state of Illinois.

Why do you believe your products are essential to the Fire community?
In the last 20 years, education has continued to grow within the EMS, fire and police community. As an IFSAC accredited and FESHE recognized school, we want to provide the necessary education for everyone involved in emergency services giving them the opportunity to learn and move up the promotion ladder.

What has been the biggest challenge your company has faced?
The biggest challenge that we have faced is enrollment. With approximately 50 upper division schools offering degrees and the decline in fire departments offering tuition reimbursement to their personnel we have to work hard and show why the student should attend our university versus somewhere else.

What makes your company unique?
We are unique that our programs are considered online, but in doing that we are using Adobe Connect so that when class is in session the distant learning students are an active part of the class as if they were sitting there with everyone else. There are still many people who do not like complete online programs and this has helped them go to school and still get the face-to-face contact they want.

What do your customers like best about you and your products?
The flexibility of our instructors, the teaching schedule and the ability to transfer training in for college credit.

What is the most rewarding part of serving the first responder community?
Watching the students complete their degrees and then move on to higher ranking jobs.

What’s next for your company? Any upcoming new projects or initiatives?
As we continue to market our program nationally, we hope to increase our enrollment by at least 20 percent each of the next three years. We are trying to put our program on the ground in Calif. at Mt. San Antonio College.

10 ways to better respond to special needs patients

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Encourage caregivers to keep information up to date.

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

4. Develop a Special Needs Registry.

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

5. Include people with disabilities into emergency response plans.

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

6. Don’t separate equipment from the patient.

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

7. Be familiar with the equipment.

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

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

8. Keep the routine.

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

9. Get trained.

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

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

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

10. Use the right communication.

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

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

What firefighter injury data means to rehab

Posted on Fri, 20 Mar 2015 21:49:32 UTC

The U.S. Fire Administration recently released its report summarizing firefighter injuries from 2010 to 2012. During this time period there were about 70,450 firefighter injuries. The report highlighted that the majority of these injuries occurred in structure fires.

Could rehab help to reduce these injuries?

The good news as that 58 percent of the reported injuries resulted in no work time being lost. However, that means 42 percent of the injured firefighters had to lose work — that is not an acceptable number.

If we delve into the numbers, it appears that exertion/strain was the cause of the 27 percent of all injuries. We can also account that residential firefighters had the highest injury occurrence of 62 percent.

Rehab's role
The first question I would ask is if the departments reporting firefighter injuries set up rehab at residential fires? We tend to consider rehab for the large events, but do we use it for the smaller incidents?

Of course, the correct answer is that rehab should be considered for any event. But it does not always have to take the form of a rehab sector being established. However, it does mean that some form of rehab needs to occur at every incident we respond to.

Rehab is not an incident but rather a process we do throughout the entire shift.

In addition to prevalence at residential fires and overexertion/strain, the other indicating factor is that 12 percent of these injuries occurred in the month of July between the hours of 1 and 4 p.m.

High season
It all makes sense.

We could reduce the number of injuries by 12 percent if we could eliminate personnel responding to incidents between 1 and 4 p.m. during the month of July. That is what a good risk manager would consider.

But since it is not possible to stop responding, we can at least consider the factors associated with this time of year.

July tends to be a hot month. It typically is the start of the hottest months of the year. Add to this, many individuals are still unaccustomed to the heat. And 1 to 4 p.m. falls within the hottest part of the day — the risk of sunburn is greatest between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., but temperatures can peak as late as 6 p.m. due to the time it takes the earth to absorb the sun's heat.

It makes sense that our personnel would have overexertion and strain injuries.

If we would make sure our personnel are well hydrated, we rotate crews, and we provide exceptional rehab for our personnel, could these numbers decrease?

I would bet they would, especially since exhaustion, dizziness and dehydration accounted for 15.2 percent of the injuries.

Old school
Another number to consider is that males ages of 40 and 44 suffered 95 percent of all injuries. I am not sure there is anything to these high numbers other than the culture of the fire service.

Rehab has only been really enforced and used in the past eight years. This group of firefighters were accustomed to the old days when you fought a fire and didn't stop until the incident stopped.

It is part of their fire service culture.

Will this trend change with new firefighters who take their health into better account and consider rehab part of the incident?

There is definitely a need for rehab. A deeper look at the number from the USFA study bares that out.

To reduce firefighter injuries, incident commanders need to ensure that rehab is incorporated into every part of firefighters' day and during incidents rehab needs to play a prominent role at the incident scene.