Firsthand account: 10 lessons from a massive flood

Posted on Tue, 15 Oct 2013 13:52:02 UTC

One of the largest disasters I have ever been involved with started in the middle of a plate of rigatoni when I heard our south units in Erie, Colo., speak of significant volumes of rain.

It was 17:30 on Sept. 11. I was in Longmont, Colo., just to the north of Erie. Mountain View Fire Protection District covers a large area, so I pushed the pasta aside and headed south in case things got interesting.

While driving, I noticed that all the irrigation and run-off ditches in the area were running high, but had not over-topped just yet. That was not surprising as it had been raining for the past two days.

The most recent rain event had caused localized flooding south of our Station 6 near Coal Creek. Blocked storm grates had increased the flooding, damaging many houses in that area.

I wasn't too worried that this would happen again. As I drove through a downpour, calls started coming in for downed power lines along a main artery into the town from the local interstate.

Multiple storm-related calls
We blocked traffic in both directions for about a mile to prevent shock while waiting for the power company to repair about six separate line breaks. We lost power to the area around 18:15 as rain continued.

As crews waited for power company reps, the volume of water running down the road increased to the point where soil from local field was being washed downstream and starting to flood Coal Creek and run into the local high school. Normally our crews would assist, but another call to the middle school's fire alarm systems had thinned out our resources.

At about 18:30, I coordinated with local police, who had set up an emergency operations center, to establish any rescue necessities in the areas that had flooded before. The storm drain that had caused issues a week before was working well at this point.

But water continued to flow into Coal Creek; the rising water had overtopped the road, effectively trapping smaller vehicles and stalling others. No rescues were called and by 20:30 the rain subsided and vehicles were able to cross the Coal Creek Bridge. Power returned around 21:00 and the local EOC stood down.

Mutual aid
I made it back to my station around 22:00 and got ready for bed. Around 02:00 I received a call from our dispatch center asking if we had any water-rescue resources that we could send up the canyons, as there were multiple collapsed structures and swiftwater rescues.

Our department has limited water rescue resources, but I called the number given me to inquire about specific needs prior to sending personnel to an unknown situation. The individual I called said that water rescue capabilities of all levels from all the surrounding fire districts had sent to Lyons or Boulder.

It quickly dawned on me that there were significant water-related disasters occurring along Boulder Creek, Lefthand Creek in Jamestown and most importantly the Saint Vrain River in Lyons. All three converge in our district.

I had to refuse to send our limited capabilities out of the region as there were no other resources left for what could be significant water rescues in the near future.

Preparing for the worst
I contacted our chief of operations who was engaged in incident management at the Boulder EOC and set in motion a plan to staff extra apparatus and ensure we could deliver service to both sides of the district once the flood waters divided it.

I also called back swiftwater-rescue certified individuals to staff another specialized rescue apparatus. Our district had recently completed surface, flood and swiftwater training to include the use of a personal watercraft (Kawasaki Jet Ski) for water rescue scenarios.

I drove the district to assess the water levels at all the bridges that crossed the two creeks and one river. At 05:30, water was up to the bridge girders and rising quickly.

About this time came emergency traffic from the incident teams in Lyons and Jamestown advising all personnel downstream to evacuate due to collapses in multiple dams. Six dams had collapsed, 20 had overtopped and that a weather system parked over the area had dumped 14 inches of rain in four days.

In some areas the sheer volume of rainwater run-off caused walls of water 20-feet high to rush down canyons that had no vegetation due to recent wildland fires. And our district was in its path.

People trapped
Water that normally running around 200 to 300 cubic feet per second had spread a half mile wide and was running 10,000 cubic feet per second. It spread out over the banks of the St. Vrain, flooding farm fields, destroying greenway paths and uprooting trees and utility poles without difficulty.

Our first call, around 08:30, was to rescue a couple trapped on their second floor as floodwaters washed through their first floor. When we arrived, the swiftwater training we recently completed had not prepared us for this level of impact.

Every few minutes, you could hear loud cracks as 12-inch circumference trees struck the bridge and shattered. You could also hear trees breaking as they fell into the creek or other trees.

Our first structure was the one with the highest risk and the greatest danger to the civilians. This home had beautiful stucco covered fence structures that funneled the water into and around their home. Horse trailers had been picked up and wrapped around trees. A pick-up truck sat abandoned 30 yards from the home with water up to its hood.

Dangerous 'rescue'
Our plan called for a three-person team to cross the torrent to reach the couple who were using their phones to video the rescue. The first team member struggled but made it across. The second and third members lost their footing, forced to use the water rescue rope to swing them into the far side of the rushing waters.

Once reached by the team, the couple was ready to leave until they saw how they were going to have to cross the water. At this point they refused and would wait until the water lowered. We advised them that the rain was expected to increase, not decrease, but they refused.

Our team reluctantly left them in their home to continue the remainder of the mission. Three other homes in the area were contacted and all persons we talked to were perfectly fine with staying in their homes.

We advised them that staying was not be the best option as the water would be constant for a few days, may increase significantly and more than their homes could be lost. Later that day, a military six-by-six had to be brought in to rescue them; the six-by-six was almost lost to the volume of moving water.

Chin pinned to the car ceiling
Over the next few days, our team rescued people stranded in homes, cars and trees. Most rescues were simple, putting personal flotation devices on our evacuees and guiding them through the water.

One rescue required using our watercraft to help extricate a young woman from her vehicle. The water had risen to her chin, pinning her head against her roof. We broke a window, pulled her out, put a PFD on her and moved her on the personal watercraft.

Our team was also tasked with accessing a gas line in a flooded field breached from repeated assaults from rushing debris. We found and secured the valve.

As we ran from call to call for water rescues, our district was evacuating areas in the flood's path. Getting from point A to point B was no longer a straight-line proposition. Road closures became required knowledge to reduce already extended response times.

Water moving at 10,000 cfs punishes structures, especially bridges. While many bridges withstood the pounding, often the water diverted around both ends of the structure and washed out the road base, collapsing the roads leading to the bridge.

Strained resources
In most cases, evacuation just required going door to door. However, those with limited mobility needed assistance being evacuated. Teams of two helped move them to a patient collection point for evacuation on busses.

To make matters worse, on day two we were advised that the water supply systems had failed. There was no water pressure and the water was considered contaminated. The pipes supplying the water district had been washed away; in some areas missing pipe sections were 300-feet long.

Associated with the no-water issue, some areas were crippled with a no-flush directive as sewage systems failed. The district had portable toilets and pallets of drinking water delivered to all stations. Our command team worked with the FEMA resources through local EOCs to hand out water to residents in our area.

During our evacuation of the mobile home park we noticed that a large amount of water reaching this area was from a failed irrigation ditch. This was the second time in two months a wall in the ditch had failed.

An excavation company hired to dig a new flow path dug through three metal pipelines. As all the gas wells in the area had been shut down for prevention, no leak occurred. All energy companies were contacted to ensure that they would assess their local wells prior to turning them back on.

Once the ditch was diverted, we used four, 12,000 gpm pumps to remove the water from the mobile home park. After approximately 18 hours, the task was completed.

As the water recedes, significant challenges lay ahead. At this time, there are only eight known fatalities and 60 unaccounted for across the entire state. Estimates put losses at more than $2 billion dollars with the number of damaged homes at 17,500. More than 11,700 individuals were evacuated.

10 lessons learned
With the event largely behind us, it is time to reflect on what went right and what went wrong. Here are the top 10 things we learned.

1. One cannot have enough water rescue equipment at a time like this. We rapidly used PFDs for the water rescues. In some cases, we forgot to retrieve them. By the time the local EOCs were able to order and replace them, we were about out.

2. Personal watercrafts work well in deeper water, but in water only a foot deep they can scoop mud into the impeller. An inflatable boat would work better in a shallow draft and has pinpoint access using ropes connected to the raft for stability and steering.

3. Swiftwater rescue training does a great job preparing an individual for water running around 500 cubic feet per second. This event was projected to be about 10,000 cubic feet per second, forcing rescue personnel to be slower and more careful.

4. During rescues our personnel were pelted with debris ranging from trees, railroad ties and barrels to colonies of prairie dogs. We also had to anticipate health impacts from failed sewer treatment plants, septic systems and collapsed or displaced oil storage battery tanks.

5. That people want to see you in times like this, doesn't mean that they want to leave with you. Some will assume they are fine under the circumstances until water or food run out, or until the level of water continues to rise as you said it would.

6. Most fire districts around us sent their water rescue capabilities into the mountains to assist areas with significant flooding. When that water ran into the foothill areas, there were very few water rescue capabilities left.

7. Emergency operations centers had to deal with looting, road closures, oil tank failures, water line breaks, electrical systems collapsing and all that water. While they faced their tasks as gracefully as possible, they were unable to meet the request for logistical needs in the field in a timely manner. Look for alternative means to gain resources or pre-negotiate contracts for equipment and services. We were lucky to be able to provide for the basic human needs of our stations early in this event.

8. Swiftwater rescues took much more time as the unit assigned to this task had to keep up on road closures to ensure initial access routes could be completed and end up at the right area in the shortest time possible.

9. While we were not faced with the violence or mass casualties, we all worked long hours under stressful conditions. After the week-long operation, crews became short-tempered, forgetful and lethargic. It is important to crews that this type of physiological response was normal. Crews should be monitored for the next few months for extended stress-related issues.

10. Many of the homes lost belonged to firefighters. These brothers and sisters should expect our support and assistance helping to get things back to as normal as they can be.

It will take a few more weeks to be able to provide running water and sewer to homes in some areas. It will take significant effort to replace the homes that were lost. We may not have road constructed to get people back to their homes before the winter arrives. It may take as long as two years to get roads and bridges back to the state they were before the 10-day rain.

But make no mistake, all the personnel involved in this event can take home the pride of a job well done. Neighborhoods, individuals, private organizations, rescue groups, local and regional fire districts and emergency management personnel came together to deal with the impacts of the greatest flooding seen in Colorado in maybe a millennium. I am proud and honored to have been able to serve with such an august group of professionals.

HAZMAT Response Video Supplement: Personal Protective Equipment

Posted on Mon, 1 Oct 2007 01:28:40 UTC

Current PPE not ready for Ebola threat

Posted on Mon, 20 Oct 2014 15:44:07 UTC

Ebola is potentially a much more deadly disease than some of the global epidemics we have faced before. Certainly, the hope is that our medical and response infrastructure will contain what should be a small number of exposures and resulting confirmed instances of the disease in our country.

Yet, the news coming out of the global health surveillance is that this situation is a possible disaster that could get worse before it gets better, requiring extreme vigilance and preparedness.

Emergency responders may be some of the more likely individuals to come in contact with infected persons. Responder PPE is a truly relevant topic as there are claims that individuals wearing PPE have become infected with Ebola.

We have all seen the news footage of individuals dressed in seemingly piecemeal ensembles of various garments, face wear, and gloves. These images portray a near encapsulation of medical aid workers and others in the affected West African nations.

Experts familiar with PPE rightfully question some of these outfits and raise inquiries about what constitutes appropriate PPE for these hazards.

Hot-button issue
Specific calls on this subject have consumed a good portion of our time in recent weeks. There is considerable misinformation, misrepresentation, and unfortunately, a certain level of opportunism coming to bear in the world of PPE for biological protection.

Surprisingly, the United States is not as prepared as it should be and the reasons for the circumstance are not very compelling. Back in the late 1980s, OSHA enacted the blood-borne pathogen regulations in 29 CFR part 1910.1030.

At that time, the overriding concern was that of HIV/AIDS, followed by increasing risks for transmission of various forms of Hepatitis. With regard to PPE, the regulations defined appropriate PPE as clothing and other items that kept blood and body fluids from contacting the wearer's skin or underclothing.

OSHA did not get any more specific in setting specific test or validation criteria for establishing minimum PPE performance. However, interpretations were made that the rules covered emergency responders within the population of health care workers, to which the standard was originally intended.

Test methods
In anticipation of the OSHA rule, two standards organizations developed a standard to fill the PPE definition void created by OSHA. The American Society for Testing and Materials, now ASTM International, developed emergency test methods for assessing the penetration of protective clothing fabrics by blood/body fluids and fluids containing viruses.

These methods respectively became ASTM F 1670 (synthetic blood penetration resistance) and ASTM F 1671 (viral penetration resistance). The tests established very specific conditions for evaluating clothing performance against biological hazards and were validated through research to show correspondence with field exposures.

Concurrently, the National Fire Protection Association created a standard for protective clothing worn during emergency medical operations. That standard, NFPA 1999 became a reality in 1992 and incorporated the ASTM F 1671 test method as a principal requirement for demonstrating protection against blood-borne pathogens.

It also set criteria that clothing seams meet the same criteria for barrier performance as the material and that the overall clothing and other items offer liquid integrity (prevention of inward leakage) as well as relevant levels of strength, durability and function.

Industry's response
While NFPA 1999 has been in existence for 22 years and has gone through repeated revisions, now in a 2013 edition, the PPE industry response has been irresponsibly lackluster.

Although there are now 18 manufacturers with 51 styles of single-use examination gloves that are certified to the standard, the other types of protective clothing addressed in NFPA 1999 are poorly represented. Other than examination gloves, there are several gear manufacturers that make reusable protective garments that have been certified to the standard. And some manufacturers offer some types of footwear for EMS applications, although usually for other purposes that have been dual certified with NFPA 1999.

There are no manufacturers that have certified other products to NFPA 1999 that are frequently used for protecting first responders against liquid-borne biological hazards, including the PPE categories of single-use protective garments, cleaning gloves, various forms of eye and face protection, and different footwear options such as full footwear and footwear covers.

Some of these manufacturers claim that the demand has not supported efforts to undertake certification. And so, the marketplace has plodded on with some forms of protective clothing that have not been properly qualified.

A different threat
Certainly, there have been decreasing concerns about HIV and Hepatitis owing to various infection-control practices that may have lessened the perceived need. And, our most recent epidemic concerns have involved air-borne pathogens, not liquid-borne pathogens that are the subject of NFPA 1999.

Yet, the case of Ebola is much different and now the nation is scrambling for the right PPE.

So what is the right PPE? After all, there are several companies positioning products and even selling kits specifically claiming their appropriateness for protecting against Ebola.

If you believe what some manufacturers have written, impervious clothing is the right choice. It would seem to make sense and so a lot of the clothing being sold is actually chemical protective clothing converted to a new purpose.

Yet that clothing may not be constructed with sealed seams, have a design that offers poor interfaces and be difficult to doff, which in itself creates a contamination hazard.

At the other extreme, there are materials being touted for Ebola that are generally particular barriers offering no holdout of liquids under any sort of normally applied pressure. Then there are the myriad of facemasks, gloves, and other paraphernalia that are needed to make up an ensemble.

What to buy
We would suggest that departments specify products compliant with NFPA 1999, but that request simply cannot be fulfilled with available product. Short of that, we recommend that organizations procure clothing constructed of materials and sealed seams that pass ASTM F 1670.

Breathability is a huge plus and will result in gear that is more comfortable and likely to be worn properly, but the range of products meeting both characteristics is limited. The clothing should have integrity, meaning flaps that cover zippers, and the ability to create interfaces with gloves, footwear and face wear. A hooded coverall is preferred.

There are several styles of NFPA 1999 compliant examination gloves available — these should be doubled up. If physical hazards are expected, select thicker (greater than 11 mm) unsupported nitrile or neoprene gloves.

The interface of the gloves with the garment is going to be a problem — gloves tucked inside the sleeve or outside the sleeve are inadequate. Unless the garments provide some mechanism for creating this interface, it is near impossible to use some form of tape.

Face, hood, feet
For face wear, most medical facemasks are not going to cut it. A full facemask with a P100 filter is best, though many organizations recommend the lesser N95. Short of that, goggles combined with a half facemask respirator and full face shield providing complete coverage of the eyes and face is the next best option.

The hood interface can be a problem and tape may be the only remedy for this deficiency. Unless, you are willing to sacrifice expensive footwear, footwear covers that also have sealed seams and adequate wear surface, so that bottom does not abrade through the first several yards on asphalt. And there must be some way to secure these to the bottom of the protective garment.

There are other options, which may or may not be available. Hopefully, portions of the unresponsive PPE industry will be shamed into developing appropriate NFPA 1999 compliant products and other choices as soon as possible. Yet, as domestic stockpiles of even inadequate clothing may be depleted quickly, organizations must still attempt to put some form of protection in place.

By the way, while there are many demonstrated methods for decontamination involving serious pathogens, the reuse of knowingly contaminated gear even if washed and sterilized, invites a great deal of uncertainty. Consequently, we recommend isolating and condemning gear unless some definitive determination can be made.

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.

Greek tragedy for firefighters

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

By Jay Lowry

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

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

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

Why should firefighters or EMS care?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

11 McMansion challenges for firefighters

Posted on Mon, 8 Sep 2014 02:11:36 UTC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have a Plan for the Tactical

Posted on Wed, 2 Jul 2008 18:14:57 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.

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.

Can firefighters sue building owners?

Posted on Thu, 16 Oct 2014 19:31:43 UTC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Innovative EMS ideas are ripe for grant funding

Posted on Fri, 20 Jun 2014 00:11:54 UTC

A recent DOT-NTSA Innovation Grant opened its arms to a slew of game-changing ideas, and we can expect to see more of this in the future.

Although the submission deadline was June 6 for the grant “promoting innovation for emergency medical services,” I don’t think it’s over by a long shot. More of these types of grans will likely be offered in the future, so the DOT/NTSA process will be onto watch all way through, from award to implementation.

The award winner will receive $100,000 to $225,000 for a solutions-based pilot project implementation, and there is a lot to learn about which agencies get funding and why.

Which ideas are award-winning?

While the application cited integrated mobile health care programs, the grant was open to all types of EMS delivery solutions.

For instance, EMS organizations that want to implement a returning veterans outreach program or a new EMS neighborhood watch program may be considered for an award. Community EMS training and/or EMS citizens’ academies might also catch the eye of grantors.

Much like the Regional EMS Authority in Reno, Nevada, which received a CMS Innovation Grant that collaborates with the University of Nevada Reno Medical School as a grant requirement, the DOT/NTSA’s awardee will engage with its respective state’s oversight agency while implementing the awarded “legal, regulatory and financial frameworks” for the selected pilot project.

As a result of such collaboration, the DOT project innovators must show their solution(s) as offering consistent quality and safety controls, quality medical direction, meticulous data collection, and eventually sustainable program financing.

As it goes with many of these types of projects, government agencies like CMS and the DOT are looking for solutions that may be replicated elsewhere.

Innovation grants will continue to grow

I believe these types of grants offered to innovative public and private for-profit and nonprofit EMS organizations present a win-win problem-solving strategy that is here to stay. What’s more, if the awardee is successful the grant is likely to become available again next year.

And, as a bonus, there is significant prestige and organizational growth that comes with winning and then producing a great solution.

Now is the time to get prepared for the next big opportunity. Treat your new EMS delivery idea like any circumspect entrepreneur by writing a business plan.

Declare on paper the vision and mission for your project. Describe who benefits from the implementation of your program, cite up-front who might disagree or compete with you, and mitigate any opposition.

Be ready to describe the human resources and capital equipment your idea requires, and record the implementation milestones and timelines that will make your idea a real-time solution.

Almost every innovation grant requires proving your idea’s sustainability, so remember to include how your project can continue to fund itself after the grant runs out.

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

Sorry, our Department Can't Comply with Rehab Standards

Posted on Mon, 24 Nov 2008 21:19:30 UTC

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1584 Standard on the Rehabilitation Process for Members During Emergency Operations and Training Exercises, attained "standard" status in March of 2008. Emergency services organizations must begin implementing the standard this year. Certainly it is the desire of every fire and EMS administrator to protect their department members in the areas of health and safety. As time proceeds, it will be interesting to monitor the a cceptance and practical application of these standards. Can we expect the "perfect emergency scene" to exist throughout the nation consistently? Where will departments fall short? Are these mandates doable, especially with shrinking budgets and manpower limitations?

Let's look at the nine key components of NFPA 1584, highlighting some practical concerns. I will be taking the "devil's advocate" role in responding to the requirements of the standard. You may note an air of cynicism that is seldom heard in the fire service. This is a very serious topic and my approach is only to show that "If there is a will, there is a way." Organize your team and resources and continue networking in order to achieve success.

Relief from climatic (weather/environmental) conditions:
Firefighting is done in extreme weather conditions. Mother Nature doesn't provide our world with moderate temperatures and working conditions. How can we escape the extreme heat or cold? We just won't respond to calls if it is too hot or cold.

Rest and recovery:
Depending on how many units are in staging, I'd love to take a 30 minute break with every bottle change. We operate two-man engine companies and the closest mutual aid company is twelve minutes out. "Hey chief, I'm tired, can I go lay down?"
We need a 3rd alarm just to get enough bodies to the scene.

Cooling or re-warming:
The only heat source is the inferno we're here to put out. Wearing all this turnout gear causes me to dehydrate before I even get into the structure. City council dinged our request for air conditioned cabs. We're lucky they let us have the air conditioners on at the firehouse. My idea of cooling is sit in the shade of the ladder truck.

Where's the closest vending machine? No one filled the engines water cooler today.
We used to carry bottled water on the rigs but the guys would drink them during truck checks. Hopefully the neighbors will show up with some lemonade to help out America's Bravest. Fire trucks have water in them, don't they? Drink that water.

Calorie and electrolyte replacement:
Hey neighbor, while you're making that lemonade, how about a turkey on rye with extra pickles? No name, free game. The mobile canteen showed up with day old doughnuts and week old bologna sandwiches. Luckily I ate a big lunch because this looks like a long one. That's why we never implemented a physical training program. We like to have our guys with some extra fat on them.

Medical Monitoring:
What do you mean my pulse and blood pressure are too high? That is my NORMAL resting pulse and BP. Maybe these extra few pounds I've been carrying around make it tough. After a couple cups of coffee and some doughnuts, they will go back to normal.
Chief needs three more hand lines stretched and we need all bodies.

EMS Treatment in accordance with local protocol:
Where are the medics? We've got an apartment building roaring and the EMS rigs are two blocks away. Just give me some O2 and I will be fine. It's not bad chest pain. Probably the chili dogs with onion I ate for lunch. I don't want to look soft in front of the young guys.

Member accountability:
I lost my tags. My crew got split up and the captain detailed me to re-fill air bottles.
I don't want to look soft by hanging out in rehab.

Release from rehabilitation:
This will not be a problem. You either get back to work or go to the hospital in the bus.
It feels kinda good here in the air conditioned rehab unit. With all that 5" that needs to be re-loaded, maybe I need to drink another liter of juice.

We all know that changing old habits comes slow for some. Budget constraints do create real challenges in meeting the needs of your department. Truly, for any department to be 100 % compliant in meeting these standards, much planning and focusing will be required. Develop a team of interested staff members to research, develop and implement these life-saving standards. Although it may take months to reach your ultimate goal, it is never too late to make improvements. Best of luck with your efforts to ensure the health and safety of your people. They are worth it!

Fire engine pump pressure needs to match fire, nozzle

Posted on Mon, 6 Oct 2014 15:55:49 UTC

One of the most common tools for the fireground is the hose line. Most front-line quints and fire apparatus will have a hose line on them with the exception of the dedicated truck company, rescue company and some water tenders. All in all, you will find a hose line on the fireground being used in some capacity.

One of our main handicaps on the fireground is the amount of pressure being pushed through the hose line to supply enough water pressure for nozzle and water applications. Sometimes there is not enough pressure being supplied and at other times there is way too much pressure being supplied.

Good pump operators will know exactly how much pressure to supply for the required hand line being used by knowing their equipment, knowing the situation and knowing simple hydraulics.

When there is not enough pressure being supplied, it hinders the ability to effectively knock down or extinguish a fire. At the same time, this exposes the crew to the intense heat or dangers that are present from the fire.

When there is way too much pressure being supplied, it will certainly provide for fire knockdown. But depending upon the type of nozzle being used, it may not be adequate based upon the amount of water being discharged.

Pressure situations
Whenever firefighters are using hand lines, they need to be familiar with the amount of pressure that is required to supply those lines and be capable of handling that amount of pressure.

Sometimes a firefighter may have to be alone when applying water without a back-up firefighter to help with the nozzle reaction. When this is the case, firefighters may find themselves becoming handicapped by being overrun by the pressure being supplied by the pump.

Changing a combination nozzle from straight stream to a fog pattern will relieve some of the nozzle reaction.

I have witnessed firefighters during pump practice holding a 100-foot 1¾-inch hand line with an automatic nozzle complain that there was too much pressure being supplied when actually it was the required pressure needed to make that nozzle work adequately and effectively. They were just not familiar with what that pressure felt like.

In the corresponding video, you will see how firefighters can be caught off guard when there is too much pressure being supplied to the hose line. As mentioned previously, a good pump operator will know just how much pressure to send for the needed application.

For a vehicle fire, the pressure needed may be less than that required for an interior attack — so why not dial down the pressure?

When getting the hand line charged and ready for defensive or offensive operations, do not send the water to the nozzle at full pressure — let the hose fill with water first, then gradually dial the pressure up. When this is not done correctly, you will see how it affects the firefighter holding or operating the hand line.

Become familiar with the pressures required for your particular hand lines and practice with that pressure. Get used to it so that you will not get caught off guard.

How communication centers can aid incident commanders

Posted on Tue, 13 Jul 2010 21:03:09 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."

Tools and techniques for forcing a door

Posted on Mon, 20 May 2013 18:16:48 UTC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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?

Rescue lesson: How to 'read' vehicles before cutting

Posted on Wed, 10 Sep 2014 16:24:45 UTC

We know the importance of reading and discerning fire behavior. Analyzing the structure and the way it is burning allows us to make competent decisions to put the fire out.

The same is true for performing vehicle-extrication operations. One of the most common mistakes involves misplacement of tools when trying to move metal.

The first thing is to develop is an understanding of the anatomy and construction of today's vehicles. This falls into two basic categories: body panels and structural elements.

Body panels are the vehicle's skin. Generally, late-model passenger-vehicle body panels are thin and lightweight and provide minimal rigidity or resistance. Rigidity or resistance is greater where bends are present, particularly on fenders, quarter panels and deck lids.

These are somewhat reliable points to push against or establish capture points. The flatter body-panels surfaces are easily displaced and sheared unless they have significant reinforcement. Hoods, deck lids, and roofs will present a wide variety of reinforcement, but the only panel that may have substantial reinforcement is the roof.

These flat areas are unreliable push-and-capture points. If you have to use them as such, the reinforced areas should be identified so that you can focus your attention there. Here are two examples.

Case 1
You arrive on the scene of a SUV on its side. You want to stabilize the roof side with struts, but the roof does not provide a good capture point.

You can use simple hand tools to quickly shear the thin roof panel to make a pocket for the head of the strut, or if the strut has a piercing head, drive it into the panel.

It is important to position this capture point and the head of the strut as close as possible to the structural rail above the high-side window openings. If the strut head were placed in the middle of the roof panel and the vehicle shifted, the potential for the strut to shear the panel and become displaced is significantly increased.

Modern body panels are typically attached to inner construction or more structural elements with automotive adhesives and plastic retention pins or clips. Nuts and bolts are few and far between. This allows rescuers to easily peel and displace body panels.

However, this is often an undesirable outcome. Peeling body panels exposes inner construction but does not increase access to our objective. It also weakens the overall design of that vehicle component and makes the removal more difficult.

Case 2
When attempting to force a door by popping the Nader pin and door latch, you place the spreader tip on the edge of the door and quickly see separation between the outer layer of the door panel and the inner construction of the door assembly. This is commonly referred to as skinning or peeling.

If you continue to spread, the outer panel will separate but the Nader pin and door latch connection that you are attempting to pop will remain intact.

If you relocate your tips to the inner construction of the area you are trying to attack, the metal will displace rapidly and fold around the latch rather than popping. That is because you have weakened the overall resistance and rigidity of the door.

How they present
Once you understand these fundamentals about body panels, you can apply some methodology to your tool placement and extrication techniques. When forcing doors, look at how they present and read them.

The weakest part of a door is the middle. Using vertical spreads in the window opening to create purchase points for hinge or latch access make the most sense. It makes sense because it attacks the weakest portion of the door and develops an outward extrusion in the door. This will take the energy and movement of a door pop away from the victims inside.

The next objective is to spread the latch assembly and or spread or cut the hinges. It is easy to develop tunnel vision toward the latch assemblies and hinges and attempt to gain access to these by spreading the door at their locations.

These are the strongest points of connection between the inner door construction and the vertical posts or pillars of the vehicle. This misapplication of tool placement often results in peeling or skinning because the initial tip placement occurs on the outer panel.

Attacking the gap
If you assess the door presentation after the initial window spread, there is typically a purchase point or gap created between the window rails and the vertical posts of the vehicle. The window rails are a more structural steel that commonly runs down into the door assembly and is connected to the inner door construction.

Attack this gap and incrementally spread and relocate the tips. Work deeper towards the inner construction and progressively move down towards the latches or hinges. This maintains the integrity of the door and increases the likelihood of an effective displacement.

Once you have gained adequate access to the door's inner construction around the latch assembly or hinges, spread it out and pop the connection or cut it.

Take a moment to look at the body panels. Evaluate the inherent weak points and use those as well as the overall design and presentation of the panel to your advantage. Let the tools do the work.

Structural elements
The structural system is the skeleton and muscles of the vehicle, yet it does more than give it form. It has energy-absorption points known as crumple zones. These are segment breaks or weaker points in a structural member that allow it to withstand tremendous impacts and absorb or dissipate energy before it reaches the occupants.

We now have eye-popping collisions with tremendous vehicle damage with passengers that are entrapped but minimally injured based. The other facet to these engineering principles is that newer vehicles have incredibly rigid and strong structures around the passenger compartment.

This means high-strength steels that are difficult to cut or move. This translates to new tool requirements and a deeper understanding of what we can effectively cut and where we should cut.

By looking at the structure of a vehicle as a skeletal system, we can determine that isolated relief cuts are usually far less effective than multiple relief cuts. Rather than trying to remove an entire element, simply weaken the areas around that element and then move it. Here is an illustration.

Case 3
You have removed the side and roof of a vehicle in which the dash is impinging on a passenger. You prepare to lift the dash by making one relief cut in the A pillar between the dash and the rocker.

You then place your spreaders into the cut and attempt to lift, but the dash reaction is minimal and the A pillar that you are spreading starts to shear apart and displace in an undesirable way. If you continue to spread, you may start to shear the floor pan, separate the rocker and push the floor down.

This may get you what you need, but the travel is contained to the gap between the original position of the floor and the ground or cribbing. If you take the time to add a relief cut to the fender rail between the front wheel suspension hub and the firewall, you will free up the dash so it can freely displace with minimal resistance.

Fold the B post
The weak points within the structural system are generally connections between members or the crumple zones. Understanding the structural system and its relationship with the body panels will pay dividends when extricating.

I apply this frequently with side-out techniques. Instead of always making two initial cuts on an intact B post, I often make a single high-side cut and fold the B post down by spreading the cut, or placing a ram between the roof rail and the door at the bottom of the window opening and pushing.

When folding a B post, the spot welds that attach the B post to the rocker usually breakdown and allow the entire side to be walked to the ground or sheared with greater ease.

If I am performing a rip and blitz or a side-out technique where I am opening the entire side like one big door, I ensure that I am shearing the partial cut at the bottom of the B post by spreading against the rocker and a point very close to the lower hinge on the door.

This uses the structural resistance of the rocker rail and the inner construction of the door and hinge to my advantage. This also helps pull the B post out and away from the passenger.

It is easy to get overly focused on the task at hand and not take the time to really look at what the vehicle is giving us. Here are the take away points.

  • Attack the gaps that give you structural or inner construction access.
  • Don't pull on the skin and expect the body to move.
  • Bend the joints and connections or create joints with cuts to move components efficiently — It's easier to move the leg if you bend the knee.

Every extrication event is different, but every passenger vehicle is fundamentally the same. Rely on the constants to overcome the variables. If we take the time to read the vehicle, we will be much more effective at accomplishing our objectives.

Wishful thinking in the honor of our fallen firefighters

Posted on Tue, 14 Oct 2014 17:26:14 UTC

The National Fallen Firefighters Foundation put on the 33rd annual fallen firefighter memorial this past weekend on the campus of the National Fire Academy in Emmitsburg, Md.

It's a big deal for the surviving loved ones. And it's a big deal for everyone in the fire service as it gives us time to reflect on the commitment, sacrifice and character of those who died in the line of duty.

It's a big deal for our country as it was covered by the Associated Press and many local media outlets where firefighters were lost. It was a big enough deal for President Obama to send a video message, for Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and FEMA boss Craig Fugate to deliver messages in person, and for U.S. Fire Administrator Ernie Mitchell to carry out his duties at the memorial while on crutches.

The events were somber, respectful, professional and well-orchestrated. It was a classy, first-rate memorial.

This year was the first in what will be a new tradition of flying each flag offered to a fallen firefighter's survivors over the Capitol building. There were 98 such flags handed out this year for the 2013 line of duty deaths and nine other for those from previous years. And of course those 107 names were added to the national memorial.

It was my first time attending in person and videos don't do it justice. Yes, they capture the majesty of the 200 strong pipes and drums corps and the massive American flag hung between two extended towers. They capture the vastness of the 5,000 people fanned out in rows of folding chairs and the uniqueness of each luminaria bag made for each fallen firefighter.

You can watch the videos from Saturday and Sunday here.

The cameras even capture the grieving survivors. But here, it falls short. The reality of the survivor's grief is somehow flattened and dulled on the two-dimensional screen.

In person, it's a gut punch — 107 gut punches to be exact.

I can't remember the names of the inspirational songs or that of those who sang them. And frankly, I expect to soon forget of the president's and other officials' messages.

But I will never forget the faces of the survivors that weekend. I'll never forget the man sobbing uncontrollably or the man sitting next to him and his futile efforts to console. I'll never forget the weeping women with oblivious toddlers fussing and playing.

That grief was like an unforgettable, pungent aroma, one that sits in the back of your throat and instantly returns you to a specific place and time. I heard more than one respond to the "how are you" question with, "I'll be better when this weekend is over."

I wish I could bottle that survivor anguish and mist it into the faces of each firefighter as they are handed their first set of turnout gear. I want them to know that gut punch, to know that the faces and names of those survivors are stand-ins for their parents, spouses, friends and children.

I want each new recruit to get that subtle whiff of grief each time he or she steps off the rig, dons gear, chooses a meal, looks at a seatbelt, fires up a smoke or faces any other potentially life-shortening decision.

I applaud the survivors — both the returning survivors who help shepherd the new survivors through the grieving process and those new survivors who make their very private suffering public.

I wish there was an effective conduit so that every firefighter could be as deeply moved by the suffering of strangers as I was during my first fallen firefighter memorial.

Quick Clip: How to deal with angry bystanders

Posted on Thu, 16 Oct 2014 20:46:21 UTC

Download this quick clip on iTunes, SoundCloud or via RSS feed

In this week's quick clip, Chief Rob Wylie and Lt. Rom Duckworth talk about how to deal with an irate citizen on the fireground.

"We have to maintain the level of professionalism that everyone else is watching is going to expect," Lt. Duckworth said. "Because the minute we falter, the story is going to be that the firefighter acted unprofessional."

Chief Wylie gives tips on how to help diffuse the situation.

"The advice I would give anybody is to first understand where the anger is coming from," Chief Wylie said. "You've probably been on seven or eight calls that day. But when you show up at their house, that may have been the first time they have had to call 9-1-1. It's their first fire. Don't act like it's yours."

Do you have any specific tactics you use to diffuse a situation like this? Sound off in the comment section below.

Stay tuned for the full Command Post podcast to premiere tomorrow.