Ultrahazardous?

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Everytime I turn around it feels like I’m being told to change. I’ve been told my thought process is outdated, my tactics are obsolete and, even worse, that I am dangerous. A lot of change in the fire service is driven by NIST/UL research. A lot of beneficial information has come out of that research, information that has allowed firefighters to better understand what is happening on the fireground. I fully support their endeavors and am grateful to have them looking out for firefighters. However, there are individuals out there who hijack this information to push their own safety agendas. These individuals preach the dangers of the modern fireground and conclude that we must change our time-tested tactics in order to ensure firefighter safety. I think most of us would agree that firefighting is not a safe activity, but is it really that dangerous? When I became a firefighter, we were consistently ranked as one of the top 10 most dangerous professions, but it seems that we slide farther down that list every year. Is this job really (as the sticker in our helmets tout) “an ultrahazardous unavoidably dangerous activity?” I believe we are being distracted by discussions on tactics and are ignoring the real killers of firefighters, heart attacks and motor vehicle accidents. 

I took a look at the numbers on the U.S. Fire Administration website (usfa.fema.gov). The results were not all that shocking to me, but may be to those that tout their bravery for doing such a “dangerous” job. Most people who brag about how dangerous this job is rarely look past a top 10 most dangerous jobs list. If they do, they just throw out the disgusting statement, “We average 100 deaths a year.” That statement disgusts me because it trivializes the death of a human being, reducing lives to nothing more than a statistic; these were REAL people with loved ones who suffered incredible loss. We owe it to these people to learn from their deaths. But we can’t really learn if we don’t know what’s causing the deaths. So let’s look at the numbers. 

According to the USFA, there were 1047 firefighter deaths from January, 8th 2004 to December 24th, 2013. 554 of those were volunteers and 352 were career firefighters. Looking deeper, you’ll find that only 323 of those deaths are classified as “on scene”. Of those on scene deaths, 135 occurred during interior fire operations – 101 on the hose line and 34 during search and rescue operations. Only 10 percent of LODD's actually occurred during interior operations. Compare that to 488 deaths due to heart attacks (48 of those occurred during interior operations are included in the previous numbers) and to 157 deaths responding to emergency calls. In just under 10 years we lost 134 firefighters to interior firefighting operations. This paints a very different story than the “100 firefighter deaths per year” quote that has become so commonplace. 

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Now, if you take these numbers and substitute them into the equations used to create a list of the most dangerous jobs (deaths per 100,000 workers), you’ll see some pretty interesting results. You take the number of firefighters in the country, 1,140,750 in 2013 according to the NFPA, and divide that by 100,000 which gives you 11.41. Then take the average number of deaths per year, 13, and divide by 11.41. This gives you 1.14 deaths per 100,000. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics the average fatal death rate for american jobs in 2013 was 3.2 deaths per 100,000 people. Do yourself a favor look up where that places the fire service on the list of most dangerous jobs. I guarantee that you'd be embarrassed to tell people what jobs are more dangerous than being a firefighter. 

It seems to me that the most dangerous part about being a firefighter is not actively fighting fire, but the lack of attention and understanding of the true causes of death in the fire service.  If we never performed interior operations for an entire year, we’d still lose about 87 firefighters! So why are we focusing on tactics instead of health, fitness, and response safety? I am not quite sure I know the answer to that question, but I have a few guesses. I would like to know the amount of money being spent to train department on these “new” tactics (most of us have been using these techniques when applicable for years) and acronyms. Maybe one day, people will stop worrying about making names for themselves or making money and start focusing on what is really causing firefighter deaths. 

TIC troubleshooting

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Do you train to troubleshoot your TIC? The fire ground presents challenges that don't occur in the ideal conditions of training. You should be training with your TIC in zero visibility conditions, preferably in a live burn. If you only train with normal ambient temperatures then you may not see the thermal contrast you will see in a real fire. We also need to be able to deal with issues that may arise. One of the most common problems with TIC's is white out. There are two common causes, fogging and focal point issues.


When dealing with fogging make sure you wipe three locations. First, wipe the tic lens/eye, then the TIC screen, then your SCBA face piece (make sure it is moisture on your mask and not it reacting to high heat conditions before you wipe your mask!). This should remedy any fogging issues.

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The second cause is related to focal point. The focal point for most TIC's is 3 feet. Anything viewed before 3 feet can be blurry, limit details, or just white out the camera. An out stretched arm is about 3 feet. So if you have the TIC pressed up against your mask in zero vis conditions, then anything you look at should be at least an arms length away. If there are objects in the way that are closer, this may cause blurriness or white out! Know the limitations of your tools and learn to remedy issues that arise! Stay smart, competent, and aggressive!

No Longer Acceptable

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As already eluded to by several others, we have recognized that a small percentage of firefighters killed in the line of duty were engaged in fire attack (interior and wildland) or other suppression operations. From 2005-2012, 384 or 48.5% of firefighters died due to heart attack or stress/overexertion. On the other hand, 95 or 12% died as a result of asphyxiation, burns, collapse or trauma. The current state of the fire service has a heavy emphasis on safety and why shouldn't it? Firefighting is an inherently dangerous job just as it is stated on the inside of your helmet. It has been a dangerous job and always will be. 

With that being said the fire service has made amazing strides in the form of PPE, SCBA, apparatus, TICs, accountability, radios and the list goes on. My senior man personally described a fire scene 30 years ago that included 3/4 boots, heavier  SCBA, riding the tailboard and the one radio that only the officer had. But where is the accountability when an average of 50% of our members die annually due to a cardiac related event. The trending topics today include exterior fire attack, survivability profiling and writing off vacants as being unsearchable. I don't necessarily disagree with those but its the manner in which most members take those topics as a must-do every fire and not as a tool for the toolbox. There are chiefs who speak of policies that don't exist stating "we don't search vacants." We have created a culture of fear in the latest generation of firefighters and ultimately future leaders. A generation of firefighters who place themselves first and must ask permission before they act. This has led to and will continue to lead to a firefighters who will not act when its blowing out of a couple windows with people trapped. Safety has been used a blanket term to cover all fireground operations. 

There are those who have chosen to attack the few who still believe in civilians first. Those who believe in interior fire attack. Those who believe in taking a risk if there is a life to be saved whether it is a vacant or not. Anyone can and should reference http://firefighterrescues.com and http://www.backstepfirefighter.com/why-we-search/ to see that our members are making a difference everyday with little fanfare and also few fatalities. We as a fire service have done a fantastic job at reducing LODD's as its related to suppression operations. In contrast we have truly failed to address our #1 enemy; cardiac related deaths.

The onus should be placed on firefighter fitness and more cardiovascular testing. The IAFF as well as others have placed a large emphasis on firefighter fitness but we could go so much further. After 30 years we recognized that 3/4 boots, riding on the tailboard, one radio per crew and no accountability would not cut it in today's fire service. We need to recognize that 50% of our members dying due to a cardiac related event is no longer acceptable. 

 

By Tailboard Training contributor Andrew Zysk

Anyone Can Run Away

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We have all been there. That moment when we are fed up with our department. This leads to a major issue facing the fire service, the lack of pride in one's department. We start looking for things that are wrong with the places we volunteer or work and get into the mindset that we are the only ones that have these issues. We let our frustrations get to us and affect our performance. We either stop trying to improve or move on to another department. 

Today, Pope Francis gave a speech to Vatican staff, that most firefighters can learn from. He touched on 15 issues wrong with the Catholic Church, many of which are similar to larger issues in most fire departments. The Catholic Church is one of the largest, oldest, and most organized institutions in the world, yet the issues they face are similar to those we face in the fire department. We need to realize these issues are universal to organizations big and small and not let them bother of us or effect our performance. Here are a few of the Pope's 15 issues (in his original order, leaving out the ones that applied soley to religion).

1. Leadership or employees feeling indispensable: A person or organization "that doesn't criticise itself, that doesn't update itself, that doesn't seek to improve itself is a sick body."

4. The ailment of excessive planning and functionalism: "this is when we plan everything in detail and believe that, by perfect planning things effectively progress, thus becoming a sort of accountant. … One falls prey to this sickness because it is easier and more convenient to settle into static and unchanging positions."

5. Working without coordination: "When the foot tells the hand, 'I don't need you' or the hand tells the head 'I'm in charge.'"

6. Spiritual Alzheimer’s disease: "forgetting why we got involved in helping others and what lead us down this path

7.Being rivals or boastful: "when appearances, insignia and honors become the most important aim in life… It is the disorder that leads us to become false men and women..."

9. Gossiping: "It's the sickness of cowardly people who, not having the courage to speak directly, talk behind people's backs."

10. Sucking up to leadership: "It's the sickness of those who court their superiors, hoping for their benevolence. They are victims of careerism and opportunism..."

11. Being indifferent to others: "When, out of jealousy or cunning, one finds joy in seeing another fall rather than helping him up and encouraging him." 

14. Forming closed circles that seek to be stronger than the whole: "This sickness always starts with good intentions but as time goes by, it enslaves its members by becoming a cancer that threatens the harmony of the body and causes so much bad – scandals – especially to our younger brothers."

15) Showing off and seeking profit or power: "It's the sickness of those who insatiably try to multiply their powers and to do so are capable of calumny, defamation and discrediting others, even in newspapers and magazines, naturally to show themselves as being more capable than others."

The first step to solving any problem is admitting that there is one. Ignoring those issues and allowing them to penetrate our attitudes towards our organizations only perpetuates the problem. Instead of allowing issues to become excuses for letting our performance and morale decline, we should learn from them and try to cure these cancers in our organizations. It's not an easy task but turning your back on your department, either by leaving for another (that will inevitably have the same issues) or by becoming bitter and allowing your performance to regress will not change anything. Don't give up or quit and never take the easy way out. "Anyone can run away, it's super easy! Facing problems and working through them, that's what makes you strong!"

 

 

 

Going Vertical, Part 1

Today's training will be for those times when your preconnected hose line won't reach somewhere because of elevation. We prefer not to use an aerial for the "flying standpipe". We feel that it takes that truck out of play and limits your abilities to perform truck functions. We teach three ways of going vertical: the drop stretch, the well hole stretch and the elevated courtyard lay. This article is on the elevated courtyard lay where we use our high rise packs and three inch hose to make our own standpipe. This can be performed from a landing or you can take out the window of a room down the hall from the fire room.

Have your first crew take the high rise pack (including 2 1/2 to 1 3/4 gated Wye) and and a bag of utility rope to the floor where you will make entry. One firefighter will flake out the hose while the other firefighter takes the window (if necessary) and lowers the rope to the ground. 

Another crew (or the operator) will bring 3 inch line (with 2 1/2in couplings or 2.5 inch line)  to the ground floor. Tie the rope around the 3in hose and have the crew pull the hose up. You can use any method to tie the rope off. When the line is dropped down straight (1) ,make a loop in the rope (2), reach up through that loop and grab the standing  part (3), make a bight and bring that through the loop (4).  Place the 3inch hose in the bight and pull the line taught. It will create a hitch in the rope that remains tight as you haul it up. Then use the rope to tie the hose off. Make sure you secure the wye open with a piece of rope or webbing as well

If a separate crew drags the 3 inch they will then proceed to the fire floor and perform search. If the operator brought it then he will go run the pump. Once the line is charged then the other crew will perform fire attack. 

  Simple, easy tactics that need to be trained on to create proficiency but will pay dividends in the long run. Stay smart, competent, and aggressive. 

Muscle Memory

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The human brain can only consciously think of 4 things at once. In a stressful situation the brain will function less effectively and that will decrease the number of things it can process. Using this information we can build "muscle memory" by repetitively performing a task. This allows your body to perform the act without thinking about it. 

With that being said are you checking your air pack off wrong? Sounds like a crazy question right? Well most of us are setting ourselves up for failure. 

Just about everyone takes the air pack out, puts it down on the floor or leans it forward on the seat with the top of the bottle facing you and checks it out (see picture). This is creating bad habits. We turn on the bottle and we trigger the PASS device with our left hand (the opposite of what we use when we wear the pack), and check the by pass valve and buddy breather with our right hand (again the opposite hand). This may not sound like a big deal, but if you do it everyday during the academy and everyday on duty then that is how you will react under stress. In an mayday or emergency situation your body may keep reaching with the wrong hand to perform these tasks. Not because you don't know what you're doing but because that is the basic programming you have. Now you have to stop thinking about how to get out, where you are, what to say in the MAYDAY call and think about turning you PASS device on. Or you may never activate the PASS or turn on the by pass valve because your brain doesn't have the capacity to think about it. 

Try checking your pack out while wearing it on your back and use the hands you'd be using in an emergency. Checking it off this way creates proper muscle memory and will allow your brain to think about the things you need it to. I know it's different and you may get some strange looks, but let people know why. It may save their life or your life one day.

Leadership lessons from a hero.

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Lt. General Hal Moore is one of the greatest officers in American miltary history. He lead a valiant group of men responsible for rebuking an attack by a large force of North Vietnamese soldiers. The Vietnamese greatly outnumbered his men but they fought bravely and overcame significant odds to prevail. The story of his and his unit's bravery was told in the movie "We Were Soldiers" and the book from which it was based. Lt. General Moore exhibits exactly what a leader should be. After his military career he shared his 17 leadership tenets which are listed below. Please read them and try to live by them. Stay smart, competent and aggressive. 

  • Three strikes and you’re not out! There is always one more thing you can do to influence any situation in your favor. 

  • A leader must ask, “What am I doing that I should not be doing, and what am I not doing that I should be doing?”

  • A leader must be visible and exhibit confidence under any set of circumstances. The determination to prevail must be felt by all.

  • A leader must always be ready! When there is nothing going wrong, there’s nothing going wrong except there is nothing going wrong.

  • Trust your instincts. Instincts and intuition give you an immediate estimation of a situation.

  • Everything in leadership boils down to judgment. Intelligence and good character does not imply you have good judgment. 

  • Study history and leadership qualities. Pay special attention to why leaders fail.

  • A person in a position of authority does not automatically become immediately respected or trusted. This is earned. 

  • Every person in an organization is as important and necessary to a mission as the next person. That goes from the top to the bottom.

  • Instill the will to win. There can be no second-place trophies on display—awarded or accepted.

  • Never deprive a person of their self-respect. NEVER!

  • To do well in any field of endeavor, it is an advantage to work with good people.

  • Strive to have one or two people around you who are totally trustworthy.

  • Spend quality time with the team, learning who they are and what motivates them. Create a family. 

  • Great leaders learn to lead self first. Before you can lead others, leading self successfully must be accomplished day in and day out.

  • Successful leaders create the future. 

  • Leaders must lead. Be the first boots on the ground and the last boots off. 

Freelancing

The movement against freelancing is killing the fire service.

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Before I get all sorts of angry comments or emails, let me clarify that I believe a firefighter acting as a lone wolf on the fire ground is dangerous, unacceptable, and should not be allowed at any time. The anti-freelancing movement started with good intentions and is a noble gesture. We began initiatives to limit firefighters acting as lone wolves to limit injuries and deaths. I stress that I am against reckless actions by unsupervised individuals. However, people are using the war against freelancing to have total control over firefighters and fire scenes. We have created a “mother may I” culture by forcing our firefighters to wait for orders and ask for permission. We are stunting professional growth by robbing firefighters of the ability to think for themselves. 

When I came into the fire service, we all understood that certain tasks had to be accomplished. Whether they were around the station or on an emergency scene, these tasks were necessary in completing our jobs. We didn't wait to be told to complete these tasks, nor did we ask to do them; we just did them because we knew they had to be done. That has changed.  We have gone to a “mother may I” thought process. No longer are we able to act on our own knowledge and experience. We are expected to ask or wait for orders from our officers or supervisors to perform even the smallest tasks or we will get labeled a “freelancer”. This term has become a four letter word because of the stigma that it carries. You get labeled reckless, dangerous, and not a team player. There are also possible disciplinary actions that may result from our “reckless” actions. All of this is making our officers expect that we run all ideas by them when we want to do something. This makes firefighters timid and afraid to rock the boat. Want to train? Ask the officer or you’ve gone rogue. Want to flow water? Ask the officer! Want to cut the power? Ask the officer. This culture of asking for permission is leading to a vacuum of knowledge, experience, and leadership in the fire service. If we always expect our firefighters to ask for permission, how can we expect them to make decisions for themselves? This has created firefighters that stand down, waiting to be told what to do instead of forward thinking and problem solving professionals. This may not seem like a big deal, but it will be when someone dies because the rookie was too worried to act because he might get labeled a freelancer.

Smoke or Vapor cloud?

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Imagine you get a call for a structure fire at 2am. You arrive on scene to find a commercial building with low lying, slow moving smoking that appears to be coming coming from a vent above the front door. You pull a line and force entry to find zero visibility conditions inside. Your operator radios you that he's having difficulty breathing and his skin is burning. As you acknowledge him you start to feel burning around your wrists and mask but there is no heat inside. The second engine arrives and advises you they see a diamond on the side of the building and your operator is unresponsive... What did you miss? 

Let's forget about the obvious (preplan, size up etc). Was that smoke? Color and odor are two ways to distinguish smoke and vapor. Another way to tell smoke and vapor apart is by how quickly they dissipate. Most vapors dissipates rapidly, particularly if the relative humidity is low. Smoke hangs in the air, since the ash or other small particles are suspended. There are relatively few chemicals that have a vapor density less than 1, which means they rise. Most chemical vapors will sit low to the ground. Vapors tend to move slowly, unless the vapor is under pressure. Just some clues to pay attention to when you respond to a fire in a location that houses chemicals. 

No windows? No problem!

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My firehouse is just one story. We don't have a pole, which is a huge dissapointment to all the people that come visit. Personally, it was always frustrating that we didn't have a second floor for training purposes. There are no windows for throwing ladders... 

Yeah we can throw ladders to a blank wall and work on our form but there is a lot to be said for sizing up windows. You need to be able to look at windows and figure out which ones have the highest probability of having life on the other side. You have to be able to figure out which one would be a kids room after a parent comes up to you screaming their child is trapped in their room. 

We decided a lack of windows on our station won't hold us back or limit us to just doing table top stuff. So we took chalk and drew multiple windows on the brick on the side of the firehouse. We drew large and small windows to make it look like that back of a real house and we drew them at different heights (ground floor, second and thrid floors). 

Someone should be in the back of the truck like and recieve info about vicitims trapped at a fire. As they step off the truck they should be told the basic location. The firefighter should then pull the proper ladder, grab the right tools (for your crew), size up the windows, throw the ladder to the right window and spot for rescue, then climb the ladder.

Once they are done, review the scenario and laud their successes and talk through their mistakes. Remember we learn from our mistakes more than we learn from our successes. Stay smart, competent, and aggressive. 

 

Program Your Mind/Body.

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How will you react when things go wrong? When your life is on the line and the adrenaline is pumping your brain will revert back to it's basic programming. It's a scientific fact that when your heart rate and stress levels hit a certain point your body goes on autopilot. Muscle memory kicks in and you perform the task as you have done it hundreds or thousands of times before. 

With that in mind, what is your autopilot? Do you train for Mayday situations? Will you panic or know just what to do? We need to be training on these situations more. We need to be sure we know how to call a mayday, hit the emergency button and work on getting yourself out. 

Get out there today and work on calling the mayday, hitting your emergency button in gear, profiling your airpack, and self rescue. Use pallets or chain link fence to "trap" firefighters and have them call a mayday or activate their emergency button. Use a confined space maze or entrapment prop to get comfortable with self rescue. Don't have those props? Have your crew crawl underneath the trucks and place tangled rope or wire on top of or across a firefighter. 

You may never need it, but you need to be sure that you're brain and body won't let you down if the shit hits the fan.

Elevated Courtyard Lay

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Today's training will be for those times when your preconnected hose line won't reach somewhere because of elevation. We prefer not to use an aerial for the "flying standpipe". We feel that it takes that truck out of play and limits your abilities to perform truck functions. We teach three ways: the drop stretch, the well hole stretch and the elevated courtyard lay. This article is on the elevated courtyard lay where we use our high rise packs and three inch hose to make our own standpipe. This can be performed from a landing or you can take out the window of a room down the hall from the fire room.

Have your first crew take the high rise pack (including 2 1/2 to 1 3/4 gated Wye) and and a bag of utility rope to the floor where you will make entry. One firefighter will flake out the hose while the other firefighter takes the window (if necessary) and lowers the rope to the ground. 

Another crew (or the operator) will bring 3 inch line (with 2 1/2in couplings or 2.5 inch line)  to the ground floor. Tie a clove hitch around the hose and have the crew pull the hose up. Then use the rope to tie the hose off. Make sure you secure the wye open with a piece of rope or webbing as well

If a separate crew drags the 3 inch they will then proceed to the fire floor and perform search. If the operator brought it then he will go run the pump. Once the line is charged then the other crew will perform fire attack. 

We use the same tactic for long distance stretches for houses with large front yards or courtyard style apartments but without the utility rope (unless it is needed to get the line to a upper floor). The only change is that the operator should not haul the 3 inch line because it takes him too far from the truck.

  Simple, easy tactics that need to be trained on to create proficiency but will pay dividends in the long run. Stay smart, competent, and aggressive. 

District Familiarization

 

 

Computers have made things easier on officers and drivers but have also started to erode our intimate knowledge of response areas (first due and beyond). Newer firefighters are so reliant on the mobile computers that when something goes wrong they don't know where to go. Let's go back to our roots and start memorizing our districts again. We need to be masters of the map book! With that in mind today's training idea is on district familiarization.  

Grab a map book and have everyone on your crew write down 2 addresses in your first due district and 1 other address in your battalion. Put them in a hat and have everyone pick a few. They will have to give directions (out loud) on how to get to that address from the fire house. The person running the training will be looking at the map book to make sure they are correct. Discuss alternative ways to get to the address that may be better for finding the best hydrant or that may allow for better apparatus placement. The most direct route is not always the best, but that is often what we revert back to when we see smoke in the air. 

When everyone is done giving their directions, look up the addresses in Google street view and do a mark off/size up. Discuss the building construction, unique features, and where you'd search first and why. Stay smart, competent, and aggressive! 

We Need Your Help!

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Anthony Dominguez, 10, is scheduled to have some complex surgery at the end of June for a brain malformation. Anthony wants to be a firefighter and recently started collection firefighter memorabilia (patches, challenge coins, etc). We want to make the days leading up to his surgery and his recovery brighter by collecting these items and sending them to him. We want to let him know he is a part of the brotherhood and that we have his back. Please send these items to:

 

Tailboard Training
PO Box 606
Norge, VA 23127

THANK YOU! 
Photo courtesy of www.wpbf.com

Storing Ground Ladders

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Make sure you are storing your ladders  correctly. If you have an outside ladder rack the extension ladder should always be the easiest to access (the outside ladder). We see a lot of trucks with the roof ladder on the outside, and this is just causing people to waste time.  You should not have to wrestle the roof ladder to get the extension ladder when lives are at stake. It should be a grab and go set up.

If you have the ladder compartments You should put the roof ladder in butt first. The hooks should go in last so they don't grab halyards of the other ladders. You don't want to waste precious time trying to get the halyard off the hooks.

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How do you tie off your extension ladders when you store them? What sense does it make to tie off both rungs? Picture this, it's 0200 and you arrive with fire blowing out of multiple windows. Mom meets you on side alpha telling you her "babies" are trapped on the 2nd floor. You pull off the 24' and begin throw it but it takes you an inordinate amount of time to get it in position, because of the nice, neat clove hitch tied around both rungs. A clove hitch tied around one rung allows you to untie the halyard quickly and efficiently, setting you up the raise the ladder and perform your rescue faster. 

 

Don't forget to mark the balance points on the rails and wrote the length on the butt ends for easy I.D.