August Roundtable: Protecting Yourself on the Job

By John "Skip" Coleman

Awhile back, I wrote an article on the Fire Engineering Web site that received a lot of negative feedback. My intent was to take a national problem that has plagued the fire service for more than 100 years and attempt to simplify it into very understandable and direct terms.

Many departments and organizations have attempted to reduce firefighter fatalities. Some efforts are very parochial; some organizations have written many pages on the subject, intending to culturally change the fire service as a whole, moving it away from its tradition-laden practices.

In the case of educating and directing change in the fire service, I do not believe “more is better.” Litanies with big fancy words and ambiguous bullets do not necessarily bring positive results. For much the same reason, I do not like the use of acronyms for training firefighters Getting them to remember a life-saving word, after spelling out a cute or related (or unrelated) word in which each letter stands for a key point generally gets them in trouble. It may be very difficult for firefighters under duress to recall in an emergency what the letters represent in an acronym they were exposed to in training or read about in a magazine , say, three years ago.  

In the above Web site article, I listed three things a firefighter could do to lessen the chances of being killed while on the job. The column was short, sweet, and written at an eighth-grade reading level, which, by the way, is the level at which most newspapers are written..

My three points were: (1) Drive your apparatus or privately owned vehicle as if your kids were riding with you, (2) Develop a way to determine if the atmosphere you are in is getting too hot (especially too quickly), and (3) Try to stay in shape physically.

That brings us to this month’s question: In your opinion, what is the one best thing an individual firefighter can do to keep from getting killed on the job?

CLICK HERE to e-mail us your reply. Please keep your response to 250 words and include your name, rank, department, city, and state. Replies are due by July 24 and will be published in a subsequent article later this month.

John “Skip” Coleman retired as assistant chief from the Toledo (OH) Department of Fire and Rescue. He is a technical editor of Fire Engineering; a member of the FDIC Educational Advisory Board; and author of Incident Management for the Street-Smart Fire Officer (Fire Engineering, 1997), Managing Major Fires (Fire Engineering, 2000), and Incident Management for the Street-Smart Fire Officer, Second Edition (Fire Engineering, 2008).

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