Commentary, Fire Prevention & Protection

Have You Put Your Customers in the Middle?

Chief Kanterman’s Journal Entry 55

I heard from an old friend recently who’s a lifelong student and member of the fire service along with his distinguished career in law enforcement. He reads a lot and came across an article by our Fire Engineering Associate Brian Brush. Brian shot a blog on FirefighterNation with some insight from yet another FE Associate, Curt Varone. For those who didn’t see it there, I bring it to my journal as well. It’s worth repeating. He called it “VES-Victims Expecting Search.” It discusses the expectations of the public and the fact that we’ll come to get them no matter what. It seems we “blame” the father who got out of the house and left his kids inside and the mom who barely escaped with her life and left the baby on the third floor. These folks have no training, no knowledge and certainly no PPE. Oftentimes, we can’t make the third floor, due to excessive heat. Did we really expect mom or dad to do it? In the 1970s and ’80s, people put “TOT FINDER” stickers on the windows of their kid’s rooms with the expectation that firefighters would target those windows when something bad was going on the house. We didn’t realize of course that the bad guys now also knew where the kids were sleeping. This aside, the people of your town or city had the expectation we’d get their kids out. They still do. All of this got me thinking.

As time went on, the stickers have been removed or faded along the program itself. We’ve gone on to NFPA’s “E.D.I.T.H.” program (Exit Drills In The Home) to insure that our customers have a plan to get their themselves out of the house and be accounted for. Great idea. But (and there’s always a “but”) now we are telling the customers to “Close Before You Doze.” Sleep with the bedroom doors closed and basically “shelter-in-place” …………………………………vs. get out and stay out. We know doors hold fire and some smoke back and perhaps create a temporary tenable environment prior to escape. Have we stuck public in the middle? Have we sent them mixed signals? Brian asked the question, “are we listening to ourselves delivering these messages? As the escape route messages are drowned out by protect yourself posts, we are putting the job back on us, not reducing it.” Brian is on to something. We’re forcing the public to have extreme faith in the hollow wooden bedroom door and us as well. We’re also giving options to stay or go. Mixed messages.

Is it time for the fire service to take a look at the public education message board and its delivery system? I think so. Make sure your personnel are delivering these messages properly so your customers aren’t caught in the middle. Make sure the public understands the truth of your capabilities and what you can and can’t do. I had a 6 man shift in my last command. The people in town knew that and also knew that mutual aid was 12-14 minutes out. Deliver your messages accurately. Everyone is depending on it including us.

Thanks Chris (Glen Rock (NJ) Fire Department) for sending this along and stirring up my brain. Thanks, Brian for your continued contribution towards making the fire service as successful as we can be.

Be well, stay well, be safe,

Ronnie K


This commentary reflects the opinion of the author and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of Fire Engineering. It has not undergone Fire Engineering‘s peer-review process.