to-hell-and-back

On Monday, Battalion Chief Tom DeMint (Poudre Fire Authority, Fort Collins, Colorado) presented the workshop “To Hell and Back: Train the Trainer,” which offered a series of firefighter safety videos to designed prevent firefighter burn injury. The videos are part the overall “To Hell and Back” (THB) firefighter training series. The program is intended to provide easily accessed and free training for firefighters and EMS responders.

The first video followed several burn victims through their recovery and rehabilitation. The victims were the survivors of a paint truck fire that began with a prank involving a lighter. Of the 13 painters in the truck at the time, two lost their lives; 11 others were critically injured. Following four of those painters through the first hours and the first year of their burn treatment, the video demonstrates the physical and emotional pain of burn survival.

Tying this to the firefighting profession, the video also features firefighters who discuss the impact of their own burn injuries. The video also provides an overview of the anatomy of a burn injury and how firefighting gear works to protect firefighters.

The second video focused on situational awareness and featured firefighters discussing what led to catastrophic events on the fireground. Animation showed what mistakes were made so students could avoid them. At the end of each presentation, Deputy Chief Billy Goldfeder (Loveland-Symmes (OH) Fire Department) comments on each scenario.

Brian Alkire, one of the firefighters featured in the video, was present at the class. At a 2003 house fire involving an attached garage, he was investigating a sudden loss of water, when he noticed smoke coming from a garage eave. Coming around to the front of the garage, he saw several firefighters inside the garage attempting to salvage an antique truck. Inside the garage, there was no heat, smoke or fire showing. The firefighters were unaware of the fire overhead. Shortly after entering to warn the members, he heard a “pop” and was then standing up in a pile of fiery debris. He took one breath, held it and extricated himself from the garage. Neither he nor the other firefighters had been wearing SCBA. Alkire suffered third-degree burns on the face and head, second-degree steam burns on his upper arms, and second-degree thermal burns to his forearms. He also suffered second degree burns to his lower back, and left thigh and calf.

In his recovery, he spent 34 days in the burn unit and one week on a ventilator to clear his lungs from the effects of one breath of air he took. Since then, Alkire has had 30 to 40 surgeries, with more still necessary. Potential complications as a result of this incident include an increase risk of lung cancer and skin cancer from the numerous skin grafts he has undergone.

Goldfeder’s commentary focused on the importance of situational awareness, risk/benefit analysis, wearing appropriate PPE, freelancing, and water supply preplanning, all of which were deficient in this incident.

The third video, from Cyanide Poisoning Treatment Coalition, introduced students to the dangers of hydrogen cyanide gas during all fireground operations. It discusses the dangers of the “toxic twins” (carbon monoxide and hydrogen cyanide), emphasizing that the treatment for smoke inhalation must include evaluation and treatment for cyanide poisoning.

The workshop was geared to instruct participants in delivering the To Hell and Back classes that were developed through the U.S. Fire Act Grant program for use in the public domain. The programs can be accessed at www.pbfeducation.org. Tom DeMint is a member of the Fire Engineering Training Community at fireengineering.com and the author of the article “So You Want To Be Promoted” (Fire Engineering, July 2006).

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