(September 2012)

May Cover Comments

I am very disappointed in the May 2012 cover. We see several Detroit, Michigan, firefighters preparing an offensive attack on a working structure fire. If you look closely, several of the firefighters are in personal protective equipment (PPE) but they are not wearing any fire protective hoods—including a firefighter I assume to be an officer because he is wearing a red helmet. There is absolutely no excuse for that. As a progressive magazine that promotes firefighter safety, Fire Engineering should not have photos like this. There is no excuse for not wearing your full PPE, especially in a situation like this. Big city or small town, FULL PPE AT ALL TIMES!

Tom Francesconi
Chief
Cheshire (MA) Fire Department

The May cover shows a well-involved, single-family house with a crew beginning fire attack from the front steps. The firefighter in the lower right corner is decked out looking as if he is ready to go interior. However, he does not have his hood on; it does not look like he is even wearing one. This is a line-of-duty death waiting to happen.

The fire service, with help from the National Fallen Firefighter Foundation and FirefighterCloseCalls.com, has really come a long way in improving the safety culture. From day 1 in rookie school, the importance of wearing COMPLETE personal protective equipment (PPE) donned correctly is beat into us. I can’t tell you how many tower laps I have run for an academy mate’s not having PPE on properly, nor can I tell you how many laps I have given to recruits in academies I have taught for the same reason. It’s too important to overlook even once.

To then find an image like this on the cover of one of the most respected training magazines is disheartening. It sends the wrong message to the entire community. I’d hate to have a firefighter look at that image and even subconsciously decide that it is OK to not wear a hood because the pros from Detroit don’t. Although I don’t know the circumstances behind the photo, neither do any of your readers. What I see is a possible case of complacency, and complacency kills. I’d be just as disappointed if you had photos of firefighters riding in apparatus without seat belts on.

Chadwich Wachs
Firefighter/EMT
Castle Rock (CO) Fire & Rescue Department

I try very hard not be a Monday morning quarterback, and experience has taught me that things are often not as they appear. However, I am in total disagreement with the explanation of the cover photo of the May 2012 edition. I have several concerns. As I write this, I am thinking about the “White Cover” of August 1995. Although there is no perfect fireground, there are statements being made that are incorrect.

With all due respect to the men and women of Detroit Fire, who get their “butts” kicked daily and who admittedly fight as much fire as anyone, I have to believe that this picture was taken by a third party and that the explanation for the recommended tactic is not a common practice within the department. To make the statement that “the first hoseline must be operated at this location” is strategically and tactically incorrect. Successful fireground decision makers never say “never” and never say “always.” At a minimum, strategy and tactics need to be made based on the building, the fire, life safety, capabilities, and limitations.

Based on the photo, the fire is between any possible victims and the hoseline. From what I can see, there are two possible choices. The decision must be made to either hit it from the front and knock down the main body of fire or come in from the back and push the fire out through the already established vent holes. Without knowing wind conditions, the question is, which is the best decision? The savable lives in this dwelling are on the other side of the fire. My guess is that there may be limited resources and there are not sufficient companies on scene to get around to the back to attack the fire or to perform vent-enter-search (VES) operations. From the photo, this is a classic VES situation for rescuing savable lives.

This is a 1½-story private dwelling at night. What about bedrooms and getting above the fire? I believe from a priority standpoint they both trump the primary means of daily egress. To say the hoseline must be placed and operated at the primary means of egress regardless of the fire’s location is dangerous for firefighters and occupants. Anyone exiting through the front is dead. From a fire attack standpoint, you could make an argument for quickly knocking down the fire from the outside. However, if this decision is made, consideration should be given to choosing a bigger line with a smooth bore. We don’t use 1½-inch hose with fog nozzles, but I’m guessing they are able to flow about 125 gallons per minute. It is possible to double the flow with a 2½-inch line and smooth bore nozzle and then move in with the 1½-inch line to knock it out. From a life safety standpoint, I do not believe that an argument can be made to support the statements in this caption; the negative possible consequences far outweigh any benefits.

J. Scott Thompson
Chief
The Colony (TX) Fire Department

I found the cover photo of the May 2012 issue a very interesting choice. Immediately, the safety issues with PPE were apparent, but it wasn’t until I read the comments associated with the photo that I became outright confused. It seemed to justify an illogical and dangerous fire attack approach based on circumstances that may or may not exist. It went against everything I have ever learned, taught, or done in my career, and it actually concerns me that we would exemplify any of what was being shown in that photo, especially when the new-age fire service members are so impressionable when it comes to the bigger-name departments, regardless of the locality’s economic status. It is understandable in certain situations, where there is no other alternative, that the initial fire attack line may have to go in where all the fire is coming out. But I simply cannot understand the justification provided in this case. It seems like a dangerous position to support as a “blanket” type of policy. This opinion is not representative of either of the organizations with which I am affiliated.

Mike Harman
Lieutenant
Fire /EMS Training Academy
Richmond (VA) Department of Fire & Emergency Services

Editor in Chief Bobby Halton responds: On behalf of Fire Engineering, we are very proud that for 135 years we have remained dedicated to the interests of firefighters and always with the utmost concern for firefighter safety and survivability. With regard to photo selection for Fire Engineering and, in particular, the May cover photo, we want to first acknowledge the concern about the lack of hoods for the firefighters on the cover. Our editorial team discussed this photo at great length and also recognized that the lack of hoods would be a concern.

There are several reasons this photo was selected from among the hundreds submitted monthly to Fire Engineering for cover consideration. There is no perfect fire photo, no perfect fire scene. Additionally, every fire photo we use is a photo submitted by a photographer whose sole intent was to capture a moment in time where the art and profession of firefighting are being depicted. We choose the photos based on the ability to use them as learning tools. We look for specific lessons that can be captured in the photo; often, this necessitates using less-than-perfect fire scene photos.

Often, the photos depict a scene that appears to be outside of the normal safety procedures, given what we presume to be the activity or the next intended activity of the firefighter or firefighters. Often, that assumption is flawed. In this case, the Detroit firefighters in question were preparing to do an interior attack on the residence shown. We were fully aware that many firefighters assessing this photo would regard the lack of hoods as part of PPE as dangerous.

We also assumed that firefighters would understand the greater meaning of the photo and would not assume that we were endorsing a lack of PPE as prudent or preferable. Further, as part of a training dialogue, we would expect company officers and those viewing the photos to discuss the lack of PPE and reinforce its importance to those with whom they are discussing the photo. The value of these discussions is immeasurable; this is where the real learning takes place.

To get back to the photo in question, recognize that there are no perfect photos, nor would we ever attempt to try to select only photos that were exception free. Were we to do that, we would deny the reality of the fireground, and we would have very few, if any, photos to pick from. We would also deny you and other firefighters the opportunity to discuss real fires and real incidents and make plans and mental models for your future actions based on these discussions.

We selected this photo for several important training points. In Fire Engineering, every cover is selected for its training potential, and this cover was no different. I would refer you to the Table of Contents on page 4, where every cover photo is reviewed with important training points that explain the relevance.

Our May cover photo learning lesson was written by urban firefighting expert Battalion Chief Erich Roden, a member of our editorial advisory board who routinely writes our learning lessons for the photo submissions. He deliberately points out the location of the fire and the need for hoseline placement based on the fire’s location. He continues to explain hoseline placement, occupant safety, and the need to support the first hoseline’s position and operation. The photo in question was a vivid illustration of the need to place and operate the first hoseline on the main body of the fire via the primary means of egress. That was the learning lesson for this particular photo. In my opinion, it is an absolute bonus that you can raise safety concerns with your firefighters regarding the use of full PPE. It was never our intent, nor would we have assumed anyone would have thought it was, to endorse omitting any piece of issued PPE.

Please rest assured that we choose the photos extremely carefully. We were fully aware that there may be a presumption of unsafe activity based on our assumption of future activity in almost every photo. The Detroit firefighters pictured are working under incredibly adverse conditions—a city in decline and an economy in ruins with little hope of improvement in the near future. These firefighters are among our nation’s best and most experienced.

Finally, the firefighters in this photo were wearing all of their PPE issued from the city of Detroit. Unfortunately, they are not issued hoods as a normal piece of their PPE ensemble. If a Detroit firefighter wishes to wear a hood, he must purchase it at his expense. We have the utmost respect for the leadership and the membership of the Detroit Fire Department. We hope that in time the fortunes of that city will turn around and the city will be able to better equip its firefighters with the same standard PPE that most of the nation enjoys.

Erich Roden responds: It is generally accepted that words and phrases such as “always,” “must,” and “every time” are difficult to use as variables to correlate specified fireground tactics to certain, presented fireground conditions. The May 2012 cover featuring an advanced first-floor fire in a 11⁄2-story private dwelling may give pause to some when these words were used in the cover’s tactical description. Moreover, they should have been applied in a more direct context to mean private and multiple dwellings specifically.

However, the word “must” was correlated to the fireground tactics employed by most urban fire departments at these types of fires: placement of the first hoseline at the primary means of egress. What was meant is that at this type of private dwelling, the most rapid means of getting water on the fire and getting the hoseline between the fire and the occupants was by way of the front door. Many urban fire departments place their hoseline at this location based on established written standard operating procedures (SOPs) developed for common building types found in their respective cities.

This type of private dwelling is referred to as a “Cape Cod” in much of the Midwest (Detroit). It has a living room (the main body of fire’s location in the photo), a kitchen, and two small bedrooms on the first floor and a master bedroom on the second floor (half-story). The primary means of egress in any dwelling includes the front or back (most rapid means of upper-floor access) door, (public) hallways, and stairs. The stairs to the second floor in this home are directly in line with the front door between the kitchen and the living room, in the middle of the first floor. There is also a side stairway that leads to the basement and kitchen; in the dwelling in the photo, this would be on the B side of the building.

In this case, the fire has involved the living room and is extending to bedrooms on the first floor and up the stairs. Placing the hoseline at the front door will get water on the main body of fire and allow the line to then position between the fire and the remainder of the dwelling—to extinguish the fire’s extension, protecting crews searching the bedrooms and going above the fire. Using the front door instead of the side stairs also creates far fewer turns in the hoseline to get upstairs.

“Savable” lives are most often (always?) assumed to be around the primary means of egress areas: stairs, doorways, and bedrooms. This is the reason we begin our searches from stairs, doorways, and windows. These are the most rapid means of getting to victims, even trapped or down firefighters. Having a hoseline stretched to, placed, and operated through the primary means of egress will ensure that water can be applied where and when it is needed.

Furthermore, the first hoseline stretched to a private dwelling should be long enough to reach and cover the entire dwelling, as private dwellings are considered one fire area because of their construction (limited separation between floors and rooms). For this reason, most urban fire departments state this in their SOPs, a further testament to the fact that SOPs should be IN WRITING for every building type found in a fire department’s response area. Any change or deviation from an established SOP during a fire must be relayed to everyone on scene, and crews will then know that any deviation from policy based on fire conditions or another hazard is a departure from established, offensive SOPs and will know that the incident will be managed differently from here on out.

If a fire is too advanced to commence an attack from the primary means of egress, then it is time to either “call it” or employ another established operation that calls for using another means of getting water on the fire and darkening it down from another location prior to advancing inside. Although this is a contemporary and contentious operation in the fire service, some departments are using it. Regardless, if these operations are employed, everyone on the fireground must know and understand it, and it must be incorporated into established SOPs—in writing—prior to being used as an offensive measure. In this way, everyone will know that a departure from conventional offensive operations is being conducted. This prevents the incident commander and on-scene companies from having to cook a recipe from scratch instead of simply adding water to the premixed ingredients on scene.

Any delay in getting water on the fire and crews to “savable” lives must be managed and should always be done through policy and based on established operations in specific fire buildings, including contingencies like offensive to defensive, transitional attack, and so on. That is true accountability and true incident management.


Stay on top of our health

Thanks to Patrick L. Brown for his article “Colon Cancer: Early Detection Is Key” (December 2011). It hit home, as I had a colon resection one year ago; I was diagnosed as stage 3.

I am cancer free now and have been back to full duty as of January. I hope this article gets more firefighters to get colonoscopies. I was 38 years old when diagnosed and have no family history of the disease.

As firefighters, we need to stay on top of our health and not be thick headed. Hopefully, Brown’s article will help.

Fred Kingston
Captain


West Orange (NJ) Fire Department


Make citizens aware of budget cut ramifications

Bobby Halton’s “Fool Me Once” (Editor’s Opinion, June 2012) brought back memories of the closing of six firehouses in 2003 just a short time after the 9/11 terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center. During hard financial times, cuts in public safety will be made no matter how many congratulatory statements are made on the stump or in the press. Good military and civil servant leaders obey orders. Unfortunately, those orders many times are issued by nonuniformed personnel. This editorial is a wake-up call for the fire service to look inward at the communities it serves and to provide its constituents with the real-world ramifications of budget cuts.

Ronald R. Spadafora
Assistant Chief
Fire Department of New York

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