Firefighters and alcohol, what the data says

Posted on Tue, 7 Apr 2015 17:33:40 UTC

When it comes to alcohol consumption, how much is too much? And, do firefighters drink too much?

Science defines binge drinking as five or more servings for men or four or more servings for women. The definition is based on blood alcohol content (BAC) — that consuming that many drinks within two hours typically raises BAC to 0.08 g/DL or higher.

One drink is defined as a 12 ounces of 5 percent alcohol beer, 8 ounces of malt liquor with 7 percent alcohol, 5 ounces of wine with 12 percent alcohol, or 1.5 ounces of 80 proof spirits or liquor, which is 40 percent alcohol.

In a study funded by the American Heart Association, among firefighters across the country in more than 30 departments, we asked about alcohol use and binge drinking in the fire service. When we gave the scientific definition of a binge, it was usually met with laughter.

Perceived differences
One of the first questions we asked was what the personnel thought about the rates of alcohol use among firefighters, and the question met with a mix of answers.

Some believed that the amount firefighters drink is similar to the general population and other groups of workers. Others believed that alcohol use was high among firefighters and that drinking was supported by the social norms in most departments.

Given totally opposite opinions on the matter, it is difficult to know whether alcohol is an issue that needs to be addressed. This is where the data is important.

In a separate study, funded by a grant from FEMA's Research and Development, we asked firefighters about their alcohol use. Data was collected from 656 male firefighters from 24 departments in the Missouri Valley region.

The departments were randomly selected and 97 percent of the personnel asked agreed to participate in the study, which means the results are likely accurate for the region surveyed. Female firefighters were not included in data analysis because of the extremely low rate of female firefighters in the sample and the inability to draw meaningful statistics from such a small number.

The results
Of the firefighters surveyed, 85 percent of career and 71 percent of volunteer firefighters reported drinking alcohol in the past 30 days. Approximately half of career and volunteer firefighters reported binge drinking in the past month.

We found that, on average, career firefighters reported drinking 10 days per month, which is about half their off-duty days in most departments. Volunteer firefighters reported drinking an average of 12 days a month.

Of note, chiefs had a lower prevalence of binge drinking than firefighters.

How does that compare to the general male population in the United States?

According to the 2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 62 percent of males reported consuming alcohol in the past month — significantly lower than the fire service.

In 2010, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published data on binge drinking from more than 176,000 males. They found that 23 percent of males reported binge drinking in the month previous — half the rate of binge drinking in the fire service.

We also looked at the relationships between drinking and other health outcomes. Overall, the best health and safety outcomes were for those who drank some alcohol but did not binge drinking. The results are similar to those in the general population, which has found there is some protective effect of moderate alcohol use.

Addressing 'why'
So, if the data shows rates of binge drinking double the general population, why were the perceptions so varied?

It could be that the social norms among firefighters lead them to believe their drinking is normal — if all your friends and co-workers are drinking in a way similar to you, you are more likely to believe your drinking is normal.

As for the reasons for the high rates of alcohol use, the analysis of the AHA data provides some insight. One of the common suggestions was that firefighters may use alcohol to cope with the stress of the job and their experiences repeatedly being exposed to trauma.

Others highlighted how firefighters use drinking to encourage social bonding and camaraderie. Some felt the shift schedule and being off duty on so many days when others aren't might contribute to drinking.

Whatever the reasons, alcohol use among firefighters deserves some attention. While binge drinking can lead to some memorable evenings and some fun stories, excessive drinking also can lead to increased risk of some cancers, cardiovascular disease and liver disease.

The amount of calories consumed in alcohol also needs to be considered. A binge-drinking episode can have as many calories as a meal, which can contribute to excess weight gain.

Managing the health effects needs to start with awareness of the negative impact of binge drinking for firefighters.

Firefighter fitness: 3 scientific findings

Posted on Mon, 11 May 2015 16:28:18 UTC

After 20-plus years in sports medicine, strength and conditioning, and tactical fitness there are not many times I walk away from a conference with a treasure trove of new and updated science.

It's not often that I get to sit with those doing the research and pick their brains plus share ideas and examine best practices. Yet, I did just that at this year's National Strength & Conditioning Association's Tactical Strength & Conditioning Conference.

I walked away with that treasure trove.

During the conference three key areas of research were covered that may provide your departments with some very actionable ideas along with addressing many of the hot topics in the fire service right now.

1. Training on duty
There is a lot of controversy in the fire service about exercising on duty. Does it cause injury, prevent injury or improve firefighter fitness? The answer is yes on all counts.

If done improperly, 27 percent of injuries are from exercise, and this is a problem.

The first hour or two after training, your body is in a catabolic phase, essentially a state of breakdown. Nutrition and hydration are incredibly important to decrease this level of catabolism. The number one tool to reverse this break down state is sleep.

Other data shows that pre- and post-workout meals are incredibly important; feed the machine and then feed it again to replenish the tank. Here's what several studies showed.

  • Hyperthermia decreased performance after exercise. When exercising on duty get your body cool as rapidly as possible post exercise, this can reduce the metabolic and cardiovascular load on the person.
  • Compression garments showed a small positive effect on power and recovery. Active recovery and cool down did not enhance recovery.
  • Stretching post exercise had no effect on recovery except to increase range of motion.
  • Massage had no positive effect on recovery, nor did NSAIDs (ibuprofen).
  • The only proven method to return a line firefighter back to 100 percent was full-body cold-water immersion.

Take home message is that firefighters can and should train on duty, but that training should focus on strength and power exercises that do not promote fatigue and or high body temperatures.

Training should focus on mobility and always include a well-designed pre- post-workout meal. Remember, that fit but fatigued firefighters still outperformed the fresh but unfit firefighters in a fireground scenario.

2. Movement matters

There is a lot of myth and misinformation when it comes to lifting and how it carries over to the job. A few points that resonated with me as both a coach and trainer were about how to combat many of the myths to reduce injury potential while training and on scene.

Back injuries occurred across the board (training, fitness and on scene), but mostly from lifting. Most knee injuries are from stepping in, out or over objects. Shoulder injuries occur from pulling.

The myth of lifting with your legs is still present. What's most important when lifting is trunk angle — the less trunk angle you have, the less spinal compression you have.

Disk herniations are cumulative from years of improper lifting and extreme trunk angles.

With fitness, movement matters; move well in the gym because it transfers to better movement on the street. This means becoming very aware these four items.

  • Use less trunk flexion.
  • Use less knee adduction and internal rotation — don't let the knee turn in or rotate in.
  • Use less shoulder elevation — no shrugs.
  • Use less trunk lateral flexion — reduce the side bending.

The take home message is that movement is a behavior that can be influenced by proper exercise, but practice makes permanent. Control spine flexion, keep the heels down, keep the knees straight, use a hip hinge, don't shrug, reduce side bending and keep your head up — always.

One final pearl on power development and rotation, which is job-task critical: be able to stop what you started. Keep everything in line and limit your trunk flexion.

3. Fitness and physical abilities testing

One of the hot topics for fire and EMS is testing. When it comes to testing, what is valid, job-specific, legally defensible and has no bias to age or gender?

When creating a standard, roughly 98 percent should be able to pass the test. That improves its defensibility if challenged.

There is no gender or age difference if it is a job-task simulation, such as a physical abilities test. This means that it cannot include abilities to be learned on the job for pre-hire use. It also means that the tasks in the PAT must be measurable, critical and are a sample of the job behaviors.

Many departments have struggled with the difference between physical fitness tests and physical abilities tests, especially when it comes to testing existing employees. A well-designed PAT can allow departments to test all employees annually as long as it is a valid sampling of critical job tasks.

I could probably write a book on the three days I spent at the National Strength & Conditioning Association's Tactical Strength & Conditioning Conference — it's in San Diego next year. The point is that the issues addressed in the research presentations are the same issues that many departments struggle with every day.

Kinked fire hose: Why it's deadly and how to avoid it

Posted on Tue, 5 May 2015 17:03:53 UTC

Composed of two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen, water is one of Earth's basic elements is water. In the fire service, it's our main suppression tool as it is readily available in large amounts and very effective at cooling burning fuel.

Fire departments will secure their water supply from two basic sources: static source or a pressurized source (hydrant). No matter what type of water supply is established, maintaining it is essential to fireground operations.

There is one water-supply killer — kinks in the supply hose. Kinks in hose lines are the number-one cause of firefighters who succumb to the effects of fire due to rapid heat elevation and/or spread and size of fire.

We use water to not only suppress fire but also to protect ourselves from the effects of fire. This protection comes from consistent and adequate pressure and flow to the nozzle. This water supply must be maintained at all times so that no interruption takes place at the nozzle.

When there is a kink in the hose line, flow and pressure are reduced by almost 50 percent — this is a significant reduction. Having two or more kinks only make the reduction greater.

These kinks are the small dominos that line up one after another heading towards handicapping the fireground and the firefighters on the end of the hose line.

Kink-free hose lay
Whenever a supply line is laid out from a hydrant to the pump, the firefighter at either the engine or the hydrant needs to take the time to flake out the hose so that no kinks will be formed when the hose is pressurized.

This can be accomplished by creating loops likened to a figure eight shape when the hose has to change direction, or by creating large curves as opposed to sharp bends.

Each hydrant can be different in terms of the pressure it can supply the engine; there is never a guarantee that the supply pressure form the hydrant will be enough to push out the hose so that kinks will be removed.

With small hose lines, the pump operator can increase the pump pressure in the line to help remove any small kinks that may have formed. But when it comes to the supply line, we are at the mercy of the hydrant.

To stop the dominos from lining up in this instance, train and exercise the muscle memory to hit the hydrant, lay the supply line, remove the kinks and then charge the line with water.

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.

The best tools for firefighter rehab sectors

Posted on Tue, 19 Jul 2011 10:21:35 UTC

By Ken Lavelle, MD, FF/NREMT-P

Anytime we need to do a job, we look for tools to help us do it more efficiently. However, these tools also need to help us do it reliably. If a tool causes us to get wrong information, then it is not a very good tool. This is particularly the case in medicine — and remember, EMS is medicine.

One of the challenges of the EMS provider in rehab is to quickly do intake and assessment as a company or group of firefighters enters the rehab area.

If the firefighters have to wait 10-15 minutes for anyone to see them, they very well may wander away. We need to engage them quickly, not only to make sure there is nothing life threatening occurring with their condition, but also to "get them in the system" and make sure they stay in rehab for the appropriate amount of time.

Usually one person will be getting their name, age and company. This "scribe" can be anyone — it does not need to be an experienced medical provider.

They could be a cadet, a new member to the organization, even a spouse or friend that got sucked into a major event because they were out with an EMS provider that had a responsibility to respond to the incident. Obtaining this information can occur at the same time other activity is going on.

I usually like to get the firefighter to sit down and get their gear off, so the cooling down process can start. Next, we need to get baseline vitals. This is a mildly controversial area.

My former Division Chief, a very experienced EMS and fire physician, prefers to wait 10 minutes and then get a set of vitals. His view is that it does not matter much what the initial vitals are at the start, and that it is much more important what the vitals are at the time that the firefighter may be released.

I think there is some validity to this, however I would prefer to know if there was a problem sooner rather than later. If a firefighter's heart rate is 200 because he is in a dangerous arrhythmia, I don't want to miss this, even for only 10 minutes.

If their blood pressure is extremely low or extremely high, I also need to keep a better eye on them. While in most circumstances they should have either a complaint or physical appearance that should clue us into this abnormality, this is not always the case.

I think both approaches are reasonable — discuss with your medical director which is better for your department.

I have found that obtaining vitals is often the bottleneck in the initial rehab evaluation. There are two vital signs I definitely want immediately — heart rate and blood pressure.

A third vital sign that I think is reasonable to obtain sooner rather than later is a carbon monoxide level. I am not concerned about the temperature because it is my opinion that getting an accurate core body temperature is not feasible in the field.

Doing so requires taking a rectal temperature, something neither I nor the firefighter are much interested in doing. The other, non-invasive methods of getting a temperature are not very reliable, and an elevated temperature is almost always associated with a significantly elevated heart rate.

So how can we get these vitals quickly?

The pulse can be obtained by the good old fashioned method of feeling a radial pulse and counting, but we can also use a number of other tools, such as pulse oximetry, a heart monitor or a carbon monoxide monitor.

have found that either feeling and counting the radial pulse, or using CO oximetry, is the most efficient in obtaining a pulse rate. Using CO oximetry allows us to get both a heart rate and a CO level with one action.

The concern is of course is whether it is truly reliable. I believe it is, but if you are concerned, feel for a pulse at the same time and compare the results. This will likely not add much time to the task.

The blood pressure also needs to be obtained quickly and reliably. Now I am generally a fan of automatic blood pressure cuffs. In the hospital, these work fairly well and allow us to trend the blood pressures — follow them over time.

However, in the field, I have found that they are becoming more and more of a problem. Too often the machine pumps up the cuff and then slowly goes down. And up. And down. And down some more. And then back up. And then down. And then fails to give a value.

EMS providers end up staring at the screen awaiting this important vital sign. So, I think the best way to get a BP in the field is the manual sphygmomanometer and stethoscope.

If a firefighter is found to have a significantly abnormal BP, and they become a patient, then using the automatic machine to confirm and trend is reasonable. But I bet most EMS providers can take a manual BP faster.

Once you have these vitals, and assess the firefighter's appearance and any physical complaints, they can then be sorted into the medical sector or just to the rest and refreshment area.

But we need to have these vital signs to do so, and we need them quickly and to be accurate. Remember we call them vital signs for a reason — they are important.

Stay safe (and hydrated!)

Food for Thought at the Firehouse Kitchen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Integrating drones into disaster response operations

Posted on Thu, 14 May 2015 16:23:22 UTC

By Anthony Galante, Jeremy Nikolow, and Dr. Chuck Russo

On April 25, a massive 7.8-magnitude earthquake ripped through the heart of central Nepal. The quake tore through the Kathmandu Valley, which lies along the southern edge of the Himalayas, with a devastating force equivalent to approximately 20 hydrogen bombs.

The resulting devastation crippled the region razing entire villages and cities. There are more than 6,000 confirmed dead, however, the Nepalese Prime Minister said the death toll could exceed 10,000. Almost 500,000 people have been displaced from their homes and are now at risk of starvation, dehydration, injury, illness, and, ultimately, death.

?The geographic extent of this seismic catastrophe has been astonishing. The force of the quake reached Mount Everest, more than 100 miles away, causing an avalanche that killed 19 people and left hundreds stranded. About 90 miles to the north, the shock unleashed a monstrous landslide. Additional deaths and missing persons have been recorded in the neighboring countries of Tibet, India, Bangladesh, and China.

Full story: Visit the In Public Safety blog

Rosenbauer steps into the chassis market

Posted on Thu, 15 Mar 2012 09:50:18 UTC

Not wanting to wait till FDIC, Rosenbauer debuted its completely new cab and chassis at a viewing for sales people, local firefighters and some members of the media at Texas Motor Speedway two weeks ago.

After a two-year research and development phase, the company decided to manufacture its own cab and chassis at a new recently rented 34,000 square-foot factory.

Rosenbauer wanted to be in total control of the manufacturing process not just building the body, but the whole vehicle itself.

The present design will be available in six cab configurations and five options for cab interiors with seating up to 10 firefighters. The cab is constructed of 3/16-inch aluminum and is available with a wide grill and optional round or rectangular headlamps.

The most noticeable difference on the cab is its one-piece windshield, which Rosenbauer said gives a greater unobstructed view. The company also increased space for foot and hip room for the driver and officer. The floor in the cab is completely flat on all options or cab configurations.

The vehicle comes with Weldon’s V-Mux electrical system, Hendrickson front suspension, a high-performance air conditioning unit providing 67,000 BTUs of cooling power, as well as wider doors and steps for easier entry and egress, and a wraparound dash for driver ease of operation.

Along with the Cummins EPA 2010-compliant engine package, which is available up to 600 horsepower, the vehicles will come with either 3000 or 4000 EVS Allison transmissions and will be available in single- and tandem-axle models with up to 60,000 pounds of axle weight.

I am sure we will see some additions and modifications made to the vehicle in the coming months before the first vehicles leave the factory.

But according to Rosenbauer, over 25 vehicles have already been sold. One of the first is going to the Goldsboro Volunteer Fire Company in Caroline County, Md.

A family-owned business founded in 1866, Rosenbauer has built global partnerships with 11 manufacturing locations worldwide building innovative, safe firetrucks. For more information, click here.

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:

Why rescue is a thinking person's game

Posted on Wed, 8 Aug 2007 12:38:53 UTC

Updated Jan. 19, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HAZMAT Response Video Supplement: Personal Protective Equipment

Posted on Sun, 30 Sep 2007 18:28:40 UTC

Otterbox cases offer robust smartphone protection

Posted on Tue, 21 Jun 2011 15:03:20 UTC

With each new iteration of the iPhone, iPad, Blackberry or Android phone, consumers are faced with the same question: "How will I protect this device from the inevitable drops, falls, bangs, dings, and scratches that inevitably arise from daily use?"

That is even more relevant for first responders who, with the ever-growing use of fire, EMS and police apps, are becoming increasingly dependent on these pocket-sized computers to do their jobs.

For civilians, a broken smartphone means an interruption in their quest to defeat Angry Birds. For first responders, a broken smartphone could mean a lost life or a hamstrung investigation.

OtterBox, with their heavy-duty Defender Series cases, has created a level of smartphone protection that will keep your mobile device well protected through month after month of heavy-duty daily use.

OtterBox sent me a Defender Series case to try out with my new iPhone 4, but they also manufacture models for Blackberry, Motorola, Nokia, Samsung, HTC, and LG smartphones, as well as the Apple iPad.

The effectiveness of the Defender Series comes from its layered design. Instead of a simple plastic or rubber case that clips around your phone, the Defender has several layers of protection to keep the phone safe from drops and scratches.

The first layer is a polycarbonate shell that clips snugly around the phone. A plastic membrane on the front of the shell offers durable screen protection, making an adhesive screen protection film unnecessary.

Installing the shell took less than a minute and, once in place, it felt totally secure; pulling on the front and back of the case didn't offer any give.

Surrounding the base shell is a silicon cover that smoothes over the base layer's hard edges and creates another level of shock protection. The silicon layer has flaps that cover all the iPhone's ports and clip securely shut, but can easily be pulled open for access to the charging port, headphone jack, and volume buttons.

With the first two layers in place, the protected iPhone then clips into a polycarbonate holster that holds the device face in or face out.

The holster is, essentially, a case for your case, and with the phone clipped into all three (polycarbonate shell, silicone layer, and holster), the phone feels extremely secure.

It's bulky, but not overly so, and for the day I wore it clipped to my belt it never felt intrusive or uncomfortable. Firefighters, Medics or cops — who are used to having gadgets hanging from their utility belts — won't notice the added bulk.

But the real question when it comes to smartphone cases is: How far can you drop it?

I tested it for myself, dropping my Defender-wrapped iPhone from waist height, and then chest height. No damage whatsoever. I was tempted to drop it off our balcony, but the memory of replacing the glass backing of my iPhone a few months ago stopped me.

I asked OtterBox' Public Relations Specialist Kristen Tatti about the case's dropping capability, and she said their rule is "Three feet to concrete," meaning you can drop it from your pocket without risk of damage.

Tatti added that local firefighters in Fort Collins, Colo., (OtterBox' home) have been outfitted with the cases, and all have raved about the Defender's durability.

"They say it's nice to have something sturdy so they don't have to worry about their phones," she said. "With more and more firefighters getting emergency pages on their smartphones, a broken device can really ruin your day."

OtterBox also makes lines of cases more sleek than the Defender, including the "Commuter" (a simpler polycarbonate and silicone combination) and the "Impact" (just a silicon shell). Visit OtterBox' website to learn about all their smartphone and tablet cases.

6 ways to defend yourself against verbal abuse

Posted on Mon, 29 Jul 2013 09:08:57 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?

4 ways fire officers can improve 'dispatch'

Posted on Tue, 19 May 2015 17:54:43 UTC

Call them Public Safety Telecommunicators (PST), dispatchers, emergency communications officers, or whatever, the PSTs who answer 911 calls are like the smoke detectors in our homes: we don't think about them, but when they're needed … they're needed.

The PST is of course the critical communications link between those who need help and those who can render help.

PSTs are also the critical link between responding fire and EMS resources and the additional resources they need to manage the emergency including more fire companies, electric utilities, public works, etc. Think about it: When you need something — anything — on the emergency scene, what do you do? You get on the radio and contact the PST. Problem solved, right?

On the television show "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?", contestants can use a lifeline — a previously designated family member or friend — to seek their advice when they don't know an answer. The PST is the lifeline for emergency responders.

One of their primary responsibilities is to keep track of your crew's location and status from the time you are dispatched until you and your people are safely back in quarters following the call. Here are four things that you and your people can do to develop and maintain a sound working relationship with your PSTs.

1. Treat PSTs as first-responder equals
The PST is truly the first responder in a public safety system. They are the first public safety element to know that an emergency exists, to respond by dispatching the appropriate resources, and to provide assistance to the 911 caller through pre-arrival instructions.

Today's PST is much more than just a dispatcher. Depending upon their agency's requirements, they receive professionally developed training to become certified in the various telecommunications disciplines.

That can include using sophisticated telephone equipment, using a Computer-Aided Dispatch System and using effective communication skills with responding resources.

2. Communicate clearly over the radio
Communicating by radio strips many of the non-verbal cues from your communication — like facial expressions, posture, etc. — that are critical for the other party to truly understand your message.

What you're left with are your actual words and the tone of your voice, so use them wisely. Sarcasm or the use of a condescending voice does nothing to enhance the quality of your message or gain understanding from the receiver.

Know exactly what it is you want or need before you key the mic. The PST is not a mind reader (for that matter nobody on the other end of a radio is), so mentally compose your message before you transmit it.

Use confirmed communication techniques to ensure your message was accurately received and understood.

3. Keep them informed about location, status
The PST can't be your lifeline if they don't know where you and your crew are. For instance, if you and your crew are out in your district training your new driver on hydrant operations, let the PST know your location so if something happens — one of your people gets struck by a distracted motorist — valuable time will not be lost trying to determine where to send emergency resources.

The area where your engine company is doing its training or fire prevention program may have you closer to a fire or EMS emergency than the first-due company that CADS will recommend for dispatch when the call is entered.

Keeping the PST informed about where you are gives them the flexibility to alter the CADS dispatch recommendation to get the closest unit to the call.

4. Get to know your PSTs
Nothing breeds mutual respect and understanding like walking a mile in another person's shoes. Spend some time in your community's emergency communications center sitting side-by-side with a PST as he or she does their job. I guarantee you'll learn a great deal.

Some of the most valuable knowledge and experience that I gained in my fire service career came during the 3-plus years I spent as the fire manager working with the dedicated men and women of the Chesterfield County (Va.) Emergency Communications Center.

Return the favor by inviting your PSTs to spend time with you and your crew as you go about your daily activities. If yours is a volunteer department, give them a pager and let them experience responding from home and hopping on a rig.

Seeing what you and your crew do on a typical day will give them a host of mental pictures that can aid them greatly in their decision-making when they're back on the other side of the radio.

Continuing to make improvements in firefighter safety is everybody's job, and that includes folks who work on the other side of the radio in your locality. Everyone sleeps easier at night knowing that someone is on their six. Who has yours?

Conversation with Bahamas newest fire chief

Posted on Fri, 12 Dec 2014 21:20:38 UTC

Finding a strong leader is a challenge for all fire departments great and small. Those leaders almost always rise through the ranks of the fire service. But what happens when there is no fire service?

The International Fire Relief Mission has spent the past two years assisting the community of Barraterre on the Bahamian island Exuma establish the island's first fire department; IFRM helped with planning, then delivered a fire truck, firefighting gear and instruction.

One of Barraterre's many challenges was naming a fire chief.

To do so, the community met and voted on a person they recommended to the island's police superintendent, who has authority over the new fire service. He agreed with the community and appointed Julian McKenzie, a man with no firefighting experience.

I sat down with Chief McKenzie near the end of our time on the island to talk about his aspirations and fears as he assumes the helm of the Barraterre Community Voluntary Fire Service.

FireRescue1: Tell me about yourself.
Chief McKenzie: I am a builder and have done quite a bit of building projects in this island. I've done a lot of work for the government building schools and cottages for the teachers to live in.

So you understand how to organize people and projects?
Organization is key to any project that needs to succeed. Unless you have a good organization and plan, you will run into trouble because each day people will come in wondering what are they going to do. I have been very successful in that area.

What's been the biggest surprise so far being fire chief?
My big surprise came not only when the fire truck came to the island, but when the other equipment came in and I saw the amount of stuff. I never imagined that it would have been so great. I thought we would get a fire engine and that's it.

But I told Mr. Edgar (Ian Edgar is a private philanthropist who has put money and political clout behind this project) that I didn't know that it was going to rise to this level with all of this equipment and that IFRM is coming down. My heart is going like this now (beating fast). When the days go by and drawing closer, my heart starts pounding and I think 'what can happen when they come?'

I wanted everything to be in place. It was almost horrifying to me. Sometimes when you are planning it is like having two ends in your hand and you want them to meet. I push and I cannot get them together. It was challenging, but I see in the end it worked out for the best. Because, I understand in life that life is about a struggle. Each day has its own situation. I always believe that it is going to work out.

How was the money raised to build the fire department?
The money was raised by constant agitating of people. We sent out letters about our plan and what this can mean for Barraterre. It is amazing that everybody doesn't really see the plan. You try to communicate it to them, but they don't see it. I find that seeing is believing. When they saw what we did, they said, 'Wow, it is here, it is true.'

We contacted places like the banks and big business and virtually every area where we think we can get some money from. (Editor's note: Chief McKenzie doesn't mention it, but he was one of the major donors) Some have donated on two occasions. The telephone company one time donated $1,500 and they came back and donated another $2,000.

It put me then in a position that people were putting their trust and faith in me with their money; this cannot fail. I have to see this come to a success. The money has been coming in, sometimes slow, but it comes in. Luckily, I was able to do everything without saying, 'give me a dollar.' I didn't ask for one dollar.

Did the government donate?
Yes, government gave us one donation of $6,000. That came through the gentleman who represents Exuma in the House of Assembly. We showed him our plans and what we are about. And through his influence, the government said let those boys have $6,000.

How will you fund the fire department from this point on?
We discussed it and realize this must be an on-going process. We will have to continue to raise funds from here on end. The truck will need to be serviced and we will need so many things to make sure the truck is prepared to go whenever it is needed. We will talk to the guys who have already donated to say we still need your help.

You have no tax money coming in?
No. No. It is all donation. We are going to talk to the government to see if we can get a grant of $10,000 to $20,000 per year, or whatever they can afford, that will really help us maintain the equipment. Even with that, we'd still have to have on-going fundraising.

How do you see this fire department in five years?
I believe we will be in our glory. By that I mean we will be trained to really respond to fire in a big way. Because this is a project in Barraterre and other folks are looking at it and see it done in a small, remote community. They would rather see it done maybe in the capital (Georgetown). I don't have a problem with that.

The only thing that comes to mind is the spiritual term can any good thing come out of Nazareth? I'll put it this way: can any good thing come out of Barraterre? Come and see. We have worked hard to make sure we didn't fail.

How big is Barraterre?
We have a big population, but they all don't live here. Barraterre has a colorful story. This was once an island separated by water. Everything we needed on this island came by boat. The people here were very industrious and they did everything necessary that things are better for the coming generation. After a long period of time, the government built a bridge across the islands and that was like a dream come true.

Now Barraterre is envied because it is the port of entry for the entire Exuma. Everything that comes into Exuma, comes through Barraterre. If a sailboat comes from the United States, they will anchor here and take a cab to Georgetown.

Our population is about 80 right now. The biggest population we have is in their 60s and 70s age bracket. We have some young folks here, but not many.

What do you want to see from your fire crew?
Right now we have about 25 young and middle-aged men. I discovered yesterday (when one firefighter went down during a live-burn evolution), that it has to be a rotation. If we get an extreme fire one crew may not be able to endure the heat. So, if they sit down, they will only be watching the fire burn.

But if we have a crew that we can rotate in, we can keep the fire under control and eventually put the fire out. That's why I am going to see that we increase this force to the point where if a disaster of such come about, we can rotate.

Are you looking to pay your volunteers?
I would like to see us rise to a place slightly above volunteers. The communities are not such where there are a lot of money and jobs. That's why it is important for us to get a grant from the government and look at areas like that to give them a stipend. That will sort of motivate them.

How long do you want to be chief?
Not over two years. I'm going to try my best to groom someone and make sure he has all the training. I wouldn't see myself as an island, 'without Julian, it wouldn't work.'

I see somebody else take the baton and do better. Like anything else, you only like to be in the same position for a limited time. I'm not the person who wants too much credit. I can do my best, but don't give me too much credit. Don't praise me.

Are you more calm now after the IFRM visit?
I'm calm. Nothing pushed me to the point where I became frustrated. When I'm hitting that border, I pull back. Then I said, it will work out. Sometimes disappointment is for the best.

How will you train the firefighters?
I will begin to talk with others who didn't come down for the training and see the necessity. (Not all of his 25 firefighters were on hand for the classroom and live-fire training.) For the next several months I will have two sessions of training per month. After we get a little used to what we are doing and I am seeing progress, then I can say we'll come together once a month. We can't come to the point where we say we know it all. We've got to constantly train.

What didn't we talk about?
I'm so pleased that you gentlemen came down and take the time to train us and give us the information to sustain us. That's incredible. To me it is like a miracle. When this small community was chosen, that was the beginning of a movement. It could have gone anywhere else in Exuma. It could have gone to the capital. But that they came to Barraterre, a remote place with elderly folks — that's amazing to me.

Wearable camera for fire inspections, investigations

Posted on Thu, 20 Sep 2012 10:18:37 UTC

Although originally aimed at the law enforcement industry, Panasonic is bringing its wearable camera to the fire service for inspections and arson investigations.

Designed as a standalone unit or able to be integrated with the Toughbook Arbitrator SafeServe software version 7.4 slated for release in autumn 2012, the Panasonic WVTW310 wearable camera features a recording capacity of up to 32 hours using H.264 compression and a battery life of approximately five hours in pre-event continuous record mode or longer without. Delivering extremely wide-angle views, the camera can be used for both day and night recording.

For the fire service, this device can be used to record fire-code inspections, fire-scene investigation and witness interviews. It also can be used by commanding officers to preserve hard-to-document initial scene images that may come into play during a later investigation, such as bystanders, vehicles, or other evidence that can easily be forgotten in the heat of a fire attack.

Software options
The wearable camera systems includes Agent software, which allows the video image data on the camera to be automatically uploaded to a personal computer via the conversion box, and Viewer software, designed to allow the wide angle original video to be played back with stabilization and image distortion correction all while maintaining the evidence integrity of the original file.

In the United States, the Panasonic WVTW310 wearable camera system has a suggested retail price of about $1,000.

"With the adoption of wearable cameras, public safety agencies can achieve total situational awareness and a comprehensive and seamless digital camera evidence capture solution, from the field to the courtroom," said Greg Peratt, director of digital video products, Panasonic. "This single camera platform will provide agencies with a wide-angle audio and video record of important officer engagements while ensuring the integrity of the chain of custody, delivering significant time and cost savings in the acquisition, management and review of recorded evidence."

How the fire service assassinates its leaders

Posted on Mon, 1 Dec 2014 16:54:32 UTC

As many of you know, Fire-Rescue International 2014 was held in August in Dallas. Since Dallas has hosted FRI several times, I always stay at the Hyatt Regency, which is only two blocks away from Dealey Plaza, the crime scene of the assassination of our 35th President of the United States John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

One evening as I was coming back from dinner, I walked through Dealey Plaza and sat upon the very stone pillar from which Abraham Zapruder filmed the assassination. I sat that evening and reflected on what happened on Nov. 22, 1963. That afternoon, our country lost a president, a woman lost her husband and two children lost their father.

Any person who studies history and is familiar with this event can form their own opinion of whether Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone or whether it was a conspiracy that involved Lyndon B. Johnson, the CIA, the Russians, Fidel Castro, the mob, or any combination of those and others.

At 12:30 p.m., more than just a president was lost. He was a leader with ideals and convictions about where he felt our country should prevail and emerge. As with any president, not everyone will agree.

In fact, Kennedy took on several unpopular situations such as the Bay of Pigs invasion, the Cuban Missile Crisis, his instructions to his brother Bobby Kennedy to take down the mob, and his fight against communism. With any issue, there are usually proponents and opponents. Unfortunately, his convictions to taking on the issues led to his death.

Challenging the norm
Things aren't much different in the fire service. We have leaders who challenge the norm, and they too can find themselves the brunt of ridicule and attack. I certainly experienced it with my previous two articles on "fire porn."

It was easier for some to attack and call me names than to consider the other side. It simply puts them in an uncomfortable place; their response is to lash out, and I generally understand that. Flattering to me though, it seemed more supported my position and opinion that a change in what we view as our mission is in order.

When assuming a leadership position, you must know that you will take some heat. It is a privilege of the position. Leaders emerge when things aren't easy. We all look for someone who is competent, capable and willing to take charge of a given situation that isn't easy.

I reflect back to taking the reigns as fire chief for Riverdale, Ga. I was the first outside chief the organization ever had. I was 29 years old and had three battalion chiefs who had 30-plus years each in the fire service, and I was coming from the state fire marshal's office as a fire prevention advocate where, coincidently, the former chief was the new state fire marshal.

Needless to say, I had a few hurdles to overcome, but I was committed to serving the members of the department and the community.

Keeping the focus
Yes, I took criticism because I had to make changes that were unpopular. Everything from anonymous letters to websites were assembled. At times, it was painful because it became personal.

Over time, I learned that you must stay focused on the task and mission at hand, but most importantly, you must remain committed to those who choose to follow and rely on you. You will find that you have more support than you know.

In many of the leadership positions I've held since, I have always had some who opposed, challenged, or disagreed with me. Over time, I have learned to appreciate a different perspective.

In fact, during the onslaught of the negative comments on the fire porn columns, I "liked" them in the Facebook fashion. I truly meant that I appreciated someone taking the time to read my thoughts and reflections, and then to comment, good or bad.

There was only one or two who called me names and had no basis for their ridicule, and that is just a variable that comes with leadership.

Assassinating character
Unfortunately, in many of the fire service websites and blogs, we "assassinate" many of our leaders' character, integrity and ideals. Don't get me wrong, there are many in recent recollection who have committed "leadership suicide," and most likely are deserving of the many negative comments they receive.

However, in today's instant gratification of the Internet and social media, it's easy for people to express thoughts and feelings in a hurtful and undeserving way. The "you pile on, we all pile on" effect can occur, which leads to individuals who know little to nothing about the individual or the situation chiming in with ridicule and criticism.

The effect of this public ridicule now is there are many talented individuals who could be great leaders but are reluctant to take on leadership roles. I can't tell you how many individuals over the last two years have told me they are content where they are because they don't want to face the same stress of criticism and ridicule by the detractors as they have seen their boss or chief go through.

That folks, is leadership assassination.

Being brave
You have to be brave to step outside the lines and challenge the norm. You have to be brave to say and do what nobody else is willing to do. You have to have the energy and understanding to see through the negativity, to find the truth, to see a different perspective, to be vulnerable on occasion, and to keep moving forward.

Leadership is not easy. It has challenges, but it should always be embraced as a privilege and met with enthusiasm.

History has told us that President Kennedy was warned of the dangers of going to Dallas. He understood his role as a leader, he embraced it, and moved forward. We know that in this extreme case, it cost him his life.

However, we must be mindful that our words can be just as deadly as bullets, and can have an equally riveting effect on individuals.

We, as a fire service, must be conscious to develop leaders and their skills, not assassinate them.

Be safe.

Unnoticed door locks increase firefighter risk

Posted on Tue, 17 Sep 2013 09:17:42 UTC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fire chief saves child, earns F-16 ride

Posted on Mon, 9 Jul 2012 08:52:53 UTC

At two or three Gs, the pilot told him in the pre-flight briefing, it will feel like you are wrestling a couple of guys but holding your own. At five Gs, you'll feel like you are losing the fight and at 9 Gs nothing moves — wherever something is, that's where it stays. They went over the procedures to eject if something went very wrong.

This was part of several hours of pre-flight instruction that Hobart, Ind., Fire Chief Brian Taylor went through prior to his 45-minute flight in an Air Force F-16 last week. The flight was in honor of him being named Hometown Hero at neighboring Gary, Ind. air show, following a dramatic rescue late last year.

Hobart is city of less than 30,000 residents that's mostly residential with a sprinkling of retail and light industry. The fire department operates out of three stations and carries a crew of 52 career firefighters. Last year the department responded to 3,650 calls, which includes ALS ambulance runs.

The fire
One of those calls came on Dec. 10, where Chief Taylor was the second to arrive on scene at mutual-aid call for a single-family residential structure fire. A mother and her two young children were inside. The initial report was that the mother was gone, one child had been found and the other was still missing.

"On arrival I had no intention of doing anything but command," Taylor said. "Anybody with kids knows that all rules go out the window."

Chief Taylor has three children.

One side of the house was fully involved and largely destroyed. Chief Taylor entered the structure to find the child — without his SCBA. He knew better; he's a 19-year veteran about to celebrate his second anniversary as fire chief.

"I didn't take the proper steps," he said. Tunnel vision had gotten the better of him, and part way into the structure he feared he might have gotten himself in trouble.

Fortunately, Chief Taylor's left-hand search yielded the room with the child. He was lying on the floor near the bed. Chief Taylor ran with the child to a waiting ambulance (see the accompanying video).

Lake Station, Ind., Fire Department's Lt. Robert Saylor rescued the other child.

"He wasn't breathing and had been in there for a significant amount of time," Chief Taylor said. "He's a miracle."

It was his first save and he regularly visited the child in the hospital. The doctors warned him that situations like this typically ended badly. But against the odds, the child's condition continued to improve.

That save is what landed Chief Taylor on the Hometown Hero radar and ultimately in the seat of the Thunderbird's F-16.

Pulling 9 Gs
During the pre-flight briefing, pilot Lt. Col. Jason Koltes, used a model of the plane to demonstrate what they would be doing in the air. Pulling 9 Gs takes a lot out of a person not used to it; Koltes told Chief Taylor to expect to be very tired the next day.

"It was incredible," he said after the flight. "It was so much more than I anticipated; the sheer power of that aircraft is awesome."

As thrilling as the ride was, it was important to Chief Taylor that a firefighter had been selected as the Hometown Hero.

"This was more of an honor for the fire service than for me personally," Chief Taylor said. "The fire service tends to experience a lack of recognition that it deserves. Over time, a community becomes complacent and views its fire department as an insurance policy."

The lift-assist calls won't be splashed across the news like was his rescue, or even his F-16 ride, but it means the world to that person who needs the help, he said.

Photo Rick Markley
Chief Taylor and Lt. Col. Kolte taxi to the runway.

Near miss
In the end it all worked out — the children and Chief Taylor made it out of the fire and pilot eject mechanisms on the F-16 went unused. And whether Lt. Col. Koltes learned anything from their flight is unknown, but Chief Taylor learned plenty from that December fire.

In addition to learning to keep tunnel vision in check, he learned that his and neighboring departments had problems with primary search, accountability and command structure.

Since that fire, Chief Taylor and the neighboring chiefs have met to go over the incident and how they can improve their response at future mutual-aid incidents. Additionally, they've held joint department trainings to allow the firefighters to get to know and get used to working with one another.

And while Chief Taylor paid close attention to the instructions on how the body behaves at 9 Gs, so too has he paid attentions to the lessons from a fatal fire.