Have you noticed a decline in the attitude of fire crews around the fire station or in their passion for the job? I have, and it concerns me. The attitudes are starting to bring down the reason we have a job: to fight fires and saves lives. Why have we over the past five years or so gone from putting the citizen first and then everything else in pecking order? Some may say it is because of safety. As Lieutenant Ray McCormack, Fire Department of New York, says, “We need a culture of extinguishment, not a culture of safety.”
When I went to the fire academy in 1999, we were told that firefighting was a dangerous career and line-of-duty deaths happen every year. Is training the problem, or could it be the lack of care for the job itself? If a lack of quality training is the issue, then do something about it. Attending fire conferences is a great way to expand your knowledge by learning from other firefighters and to get to know firefighters from other departments across the country. If your department has a professional developmental track, take advantage of it. As junior firefighters, you need to be committed to the job 100 percent and stay that way.
As a fire service, we all need to get the “all-in attitude” Firefighter Mark von Appen, Palo Alto (CA) Fire Department, speaks about. Training is the key to success. When everyone is prepared to work and have fun, this is the greatest job. We have the chance to make life-saving decisions; we, from the fire chief down to the probie, have to take that seriously.
Today’s firefighters are coming to the stations filled with technology and do not know how training should be done outside of the fire academy. When we sit down and complete fire training on a computer, we fail to train the new firefighters in the basic and advanced skills. Once we take new firefighters out to train, they think they know everything and are unwilling to listen to senior firefighters who have been through hell and back. This type of attitude will create negativity among firefighters, which will not end well during a fire. Respect in both directions within the chain of command is a large factor in firehouses running smoothly. Chiefs need to remember that those running the calls day in and day out need to be reassured that someone has their back and supports them. We all have bad days, but the good days need to outweigh the bad ones. Every member of the fire service is responsible for how the service is viewed.
As senior firefighters and officers, we need to keep a positive attitude. We all know departments have good and bad sides to them. Communication is a great way to keep everyone involved in the department. Allowing each member to have some influence when making changes will get backing and support from the whole department. The more “buy-in” we have, the less likely we will complain.
For instance, I spoke with my training chief about changing our engine and truck driver programs to make them a little tougher and improve the training. After a small discussion, he told me to go for it and that he would look at what I developed. This allowed me to have that buy-in in the department. I knew I could submit ideas for change.
Allow for new ideas on any topic. Some members have a great deal of knowledge. Why not tap into it to benefit the department? Just because you’re the chief of the department or the training chief does not mean you’re the expert in every situation that may arise. A subordinate may have the knowledge and ability to create a positive outcome.
The biggest way I think the negative attitudes will change is with an overall department change. Allow members to show off skills and abilities, and use that to the department’s advantage instead of just saying, “I am a (blank) rank, and I know it all.”
Remember why you entered the fire service, and keep the love for the job alive. Keep the excitement for the job and learning new skills. Keep building the trade of firefighting, and be willing to try to help the new firefighter and those looking to advance their careers.
I am an 18-year veteran of the fire service, holding the positions of driver and acting lieutenant. I have an AS degree in fire administration; am a Florida State fire officer 1, instructor 1, live fire instructor, and incident safety officer; and am looking to further advance my career.
Dunedin (FL) Fire Rescue
Firefighter should not be on top of aerial device
The cover photo on the December 2016 issue showing master stream operations in Detroit had the usual good analysis on apparatus placement and strategic considerations. I question, however, the safety of having a firefighter at the top of the ladder directing the stream. I believe that the only advantage to using a manned ladder pipe is that you may gain a better view and may direct the stream more accurately. The disadvantage is that the firefighter may be caught in some type of explosion or flashover. There is also the risk of falls and mechanical failure of the ladder pipe assembly or the ladder itself. There is a history of injuries and deaths to members working ladder streams from the top of the ladder. I believe that the risks are much greater than the gains, and ladder pipes should be directed from the ground when possible.
Robert C. Bingham
Deputy Chief (Ret.)
District of Columbia Fire Department
Bobby Halton, editor in chief, responds: I could kick myself! One of my favorite quotes from Tom Brennan was his comment on a photo of a young man on a ladder, such as the photo from the December 2016 cover: “There is no better use of two pieces of rope than to operate a nozzle on an aerial device; no man should ever be in that position.” I could have used that in my description of the cover. Thank you for pointing out my omission. I clearly missed the opportunity to point out an important safety issue.
Ground ladder as wale
I really enjoy reading Fire Engineering. I receive valuable information that makes my job as a firefighter better and safer. I’m writing in reference to “Three Essentials for Trench Rescue Success” by Jeremy Rifflard in the January 2017 issue.
My concern is the suggestion of using a fire service ground ladder as an outside wale. The potential forces imposed by active trench walls could well exceed the working load limits of the ladder. These forces can exceed several thousand pounds. For example, a ladder used as a wale spanning eight feet at a depth of 10 feet could see potential forces of +/- 19,000 pounds of lateral force. Can a fire service ground ladder hold back that kind of weight to protect the rescuer and victim? I don’t feel comfortable with that tactic.
Todd W. Saunders
Raleigh (NC) Fire Department
Jeremy Rifflard responds: I agree there will likely be damage or deformity to a ladder after heavy forces are applied. I believe the answer is in what was written.
For large gaps outside of the panels, the void space can be spanned with 6-inch × 6-inch × 12-foot lumber, known as an outside wale. The outside wale carries forces from all panels to the soil. This is a preferred method cited in many trench manual references, including Trench Rescue by Buddy Martinette.
If a 6-inch × 6-inch is not available, a fire service ladder could be inserted. A 24-foot extension ladder, which has two sections, is more resistive to the forces than a roof ladder. The ladder would not be the go-to appliance.
As I stated at the end of that same paragraph, “The downside of using a ground ladder is that the ladder may be damaged from the pressure applied by the shores, so use low-pressure air bags behind the panels to take up the gaps.” Any time a ladder is used for an outside wale situation, I would take it out of service until it is inspected by a qualified person.
Every trench rescue is unique, and it is great to keep our minds engaged. Let me ask a different question: If your trench team has a large void on the outside of the panels and you have no available 6-inch × 6-inch lumber and no low- or medium-pressure air bags, how would your team fill the outside gap behind the panels?
If we are filling the void with about 1,000 pounds of soil, won’t this large amount of weight keep pushing your panels inward as you try to fill a void to the level of your highest shore? At this point, I would try a fire service ladder; then take it out of service.
What may have been missed in the discussion/response was the first tip that I was offering: Try using sand bags for backfill in smaller void spaces; less dirt will run off the sides or bottom of the panels.
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