Self-help first step toward helping others

Not dealing with the things we see in our job will eventually catch up with us. There have been things going on in my life recently that have caused people to ask, “Is everything OK? Are you alright?” The answer is, “Not really.”

People handle things in different ways, and people go through many changes from births, deaths, new jobs, promotions … all the good and bad in life. We in the fire service see all of this not only in our own lives but also in the lives of our brothers and sisters in the fire service and in the calls to which we respond.

We are all one big family. And through the good and bad, we take care of each other. This is the brotherhood we often speak about.

Day in and day out, we respond to calls of people needing our help. We deal with this in different ways. Some talk. Some go out and let loose; others get drunk, play sports, or hunt; and some keep it inside. I am one of those who keeps it inside. I have learned recently that this is the worst thing you can do.

Things have happened in life that make us ask, “Why do I continue to do this?” or even, “What’s wrong with me?” and “What have I done wrong now?” It affects your job and your personal life.

There are triggers that will set off a bomb. This is the issue facing me right now, and I don’t want anyone else to have to experience this. After reading this, please talk about your feelings with family, loved ones, friends, brothers at the firehouse, or maybe even to someone who’s a little new to you.

I have been in the fire service for 25 years now. We see things in the fire service that no one else should see in their life. When people need help, they call for us. Our whole life is about death, destruction, and loss. We do the best we can to prevent this from happening. We put the fire out, but people still lose most of their belongings. We cut the patient out of the car, but the patient still dies from injuries. We walk in the room and find the six-week-old baby unconscious and not breathing and have to tell the mom, “There is nothing we can do.” You have to remove the bodies of three dead high-school kids from a car. You work a code on the neighbors you had growing up on both sides of your house. You have to make a decision about someone’s life. Do you attempt to resuscitate? Whom do you help first? How do you deal with these things? No one should have to. But we do. HOW?

We train, we educate, and we support each other. We talk, we pick on each other, and we have a bond that is like no other. This is the brotherhood. If we can’t help each other, we certainly can’t help anyone else.

For the past five days, I have been experiencing these issues coming out in full force. Some may call it post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Some call it depression, and some call it baloney. I used to not really believe in PTSD and depression caused by traumatic events related to the fire service. I just thought that we went out, did our job, and came home—learning to hide the emotions, keep the feelings in, and be a little inhuman. This is not the answer. I have never talked to critical incident stress counselors, and I don’t know if I believe in them yet. I posted an article on my page about firefighter suicides (“Firefighter Suicide: It Can Happen Anywhere,” by Eric H. Madison, Fire Engineering, Dec. 2014, The funny thing was that my issues began the Sunday before I received the magazine. I read the article on Wednesday morning while drinking coffee in the kitchen. I showed it to one of my firefighters and the chief. They both said the irony in this was unbelievable (not the suicide part but that the firefighter having issues had 20+ years in the fire service). If you get a chance, please read it. It is a very touching story and true to the service.

In the article, the chief says that the firefighter went and talked to a counselor. The firefighter in the article reported: “At some of these appointments, the practitioner cried more than he did as he spoke of the calls he had been on.” That is the reason I probably have never talked to anyone. I figured that only one of my brothers could understand the mental part of the job we go through. I think I was wrong. Although talking to each other is a good way to relieve some issues, professional help is probably the best way. Is it all real?

I will tell you that it is all real. The trigger for each person is different, but it is as real as it gets. If you haven’t experienced it, you will. Sometime, some way, it will show its nasty head. This is something you have to deal with before it gets too bad. This is something I haven’t dealt with for 25 years. Now I have to. Thank God for my brotherhood and my friends.

For now, I will deal with the issues at hand the best way I can, using my network of brothers, friends, and loved ones. Having an OUT is probably the most important thing we can do. I have not had one for some time. If you do not have an out, find one. It will catch up with you one day, and it will attack like a lion. There is nothing you can do when it comes on. You will sit and cry, feel worthless, feel that you don’t matter and that nothing you do is right. Please be assured that this is not the case. I have been lucky that I have been very aware of what is going on, and this is the only thing that has kept me somewhat together—knowing how this affects people and knowing the signs. We are our own worst enemy. Admitting it just like any other issue is the first step. Please don’t be that “big man” or the one who is cold and not human. It will catch you. Everybody’s trigger is different. My trigger was something in my personal life. Yours could be a call, something personal, a business issue, or something you see. It doesn’t matter. All I can tell you is, “Help yourself so you can help others.”

The following was posted to my Facebook account in hopes that it will help others experiencing what I am going through:

North Carolina Law Enforcement Assistance Program

NCLEAP offers peer-driven assistance to law enforcement officers, firefighters, and first responders who have been involved in critical incidents. Mental health professionals help tremendously in dealing with critical incidents, and we have found that proven sustainable success comes from the use of peers who have experienced critical incidents. Peers are an invaluable resource for those working through traumatic experiences. Through the combination of chaplaincy support, postcritical incident seminars, education and training, we are impacting careers, families, and the lives of those who serve.

Lee Price
Lieutenant “B” Shift
Rolesville (NC) Fire Department
Deputy Chief
Wake New Hope (NC) Fire Department
Wake County Firefighters Association

Fire code enforcement: Are we making a difference?

Some will tell you that fire code enforcement is simply going out and enforcing what has been written in a code book. Others may say that it is the foundation of good fire prevention. Still others will say it is preventing an incident or history from repeating itself. What is it really?

Are we just citing codes out of a book? Do we really understand why these codes have been written? Are we educating the people with whom we come in contact daily about the reasons we are conducting these inspections and citing these items? Are we just going out and doing this job because that’s just what it is, a job? Let’s start at the beginning.

What Is Fire Code Enforcement?

It involves enforcing the laws or codes relating to fire prevention and life safety, preventing an incident that may damage or destroy a building or premises and endanger occupants or intended occupants.

Most of these codes were developed as the result of past incidents, major fires, or fires involving the loss of life. It sounds pretty simple. If a fire occurs in a hotel or a rooming and boarding type of facility or any other type of structure, what can we do to increase the chances that a similar incident will not occur in the future? Or, if a fire should occur, if what we have done reduces or prevents the loss of life and limits the damage caused by fire, then enforcement has done its job.

How can we make these locations safer for the occupants? We can write new requirements and adopt codes that would require advanced fire detection and suppression systems. We could require employee training in preparation for an emergency. We can change the types of construction materials used. We could require various types of permits and registrations for different types of occupancies and the types of operations conducted within them. We can require annual or more frequent inspections to those facilities, if needed. There is much we can do as code enforcement officials. Wait, we already do this and yet are still responding to fires. Firefighters and civilians are still being injured and dying from these events.

What Are We Doing Wrong?

One of the things we are not doing is going out and conducting fire inspections on a routine basis and familiarizing ourselves with the occupancies. We are not paying attention to what is already there and what is coming in. We are not passing this information on to our firefighters. We need to get out and look at these facilities and get in there and see what they are doing and conduct annual inspections. Conducting an annual inspection does not mean that you just tour the facility and see the new product line that’s coming out. You are there for a reason: to limit the potential of a fire and to help protect the occupants or intended occupants.

By the way, those occupants/intended occupants include our firefighters. Fire inspectors, fire marshals, fire officials, or whatever the title, are the first line of defense for our firefighters. It is our responsibility to inspect these facilities on a routine basis to gather and pass on the information that will help protect and assist them. We need to get into these locations and look at what is taking place, and we need to stop relying on others who were there before us and taking their word that everything is okay. It is our job to look at the entire picture when conducting these inspections, and we need to question what we are seeing while at a facility.

For example, when inspecting a restaurant, don’t just look for a tag or a copy of the service report for the hood suppression system. Really look at the system and its components. Look at the equipment around it as well. Is the system in service? Are the discharge nozzles properly aligned above the cooking surfaces? What about the links? Have they been replaced? I don’t mean looking at the old ones attached to an old tag. Remove the filters and look inside the hood and the duct to see what is going on; look closely at those nozzles. Have they been cleaned, or are they completely covered and sealed in grease so they will not function? Look at the electrical outlets behind the fryers or char broiler. Are they melted and damaged? What about the gas lines? Don’t assume everything is okay because a current tag is on the system.

If you are in a manufacturing facility or an office building, look at the service equipment rooms and what they contain. Look at the fire extinguishers. Are they the correct size and type? What about their location? Can they be seen? Are they available for immediate use? If you are uncomfortable with what you see, chances are something is wrong.

Check those exit doors. Do they function? Are the exit lights working properly? What about emergency lighting? Stop taking the word of the maintenance staff or just accepting a report from a service company. You need to check and verify.

What about that sprinkler system? Is it in service? When was the last time it was serviced? What about the monitoring company? Call the company while on site and verify that it is still in fact monitoring the systems. Ask if there have been any alarms or issues; verify the address and who is being contacted in activation. You may be surprised to find out that many of the systems are not being monitored.

When you are conducting the inspection, focus only on that facility, not the next stop, your upcoming vacation, or lunch. Ask questions about the operation, storage of materials, and the contents of those rooms they don’t want you to see. Stay focused.

There is no excuse for not doing a complete and thorough inspection while at a facility. I know we are all understaffed and underfunded and that code enforcement takes a back seat to other pressing issues. However, we as code officials need to step up and take action. Let those in charge know we have to improve our programs and the way we are conducting inspections. Fire code enforcement is a very serious responsibility, yet for numerous reasons, more and more facilities are not being inspected annually. Suppression systems that are not installed correctly or being monitored are receiving final approvals. There are obstructed and locked exit doors and the hazardous storage of flammables and combustibles; the list goes on.

We need to get out there and properly enforce the codes. We cannot continue on with selective enforcement or just target hazards. We need to improve our inspection techniques. We need to continue our education with regard to not only the fire code but also the items within the code. We need to know how these protection devices function. We need to know that the correct fire extinguishers are in place within certain areas. We need to understand how a kitchen suppression system functions and what items should be turned on or off if the system activates.

There is more to being a fire inspector than passing a test. Continue your education; take additional classes, not just the required continuing education units for certification. Learn about what you are inspecting. Communicate with other officials in your area and other areas. Learn from them, and be the best you can be at your profession.

Charles Prince
Director of Fire and Safety Training
Aidant Fire Protection
Scottsdale, Arizona

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