BY BOB LEONARD
Every day, we say to each other, “Have a good shift.” Let’s see if we can back that statement up so everyone goes home safe. It seems that the emphasis in training is on “back to the basics” and “firefighter survival.” This is appropriate considering that each year we lose around 100 firefighters in the line of duty. These are fathers, mothers, husbands, wives, brothers, sisters, and someone’s child or friend. The topics and ideas in this article are not new; this is a “refresher” of items we sometimes forget to do or overlook. The purpose of back to basics and firefighter survival is to help ensure that everyone goes home safely. Hopefully, this article will help to ensure the same.
Let’s start with personal protective equipment (PPE), since we all have it, and it is something that is, usually, ours alone. Let’s wear the correct ensemble for the task at hand.
For EMS, wear your gloves and eye protection on every call. These two items will do more to ensure your safety than any vaccination or shot. Be aware that sometimes both you and the patient need a mask. Remember to fill out your exposure forms when the situation warrants. And, wash your hands.
For wildland fires, if you have the option of wearing wildland PPE, wear it. Turnouts are just too heavy and cause you to overheat when on an extended wildland operation. Remember to stay hydrated; cool down; open up when rehabbing; and stay informed of the local weather forecast, fire conditions, and the area’s fire history.
For structural firefighting, the key is being intimately familiar with your gear. We teach recruits to don their turnouts the same way every time so they don’t forget any steps or equipment. We also teach them to store their turnouts in anticipation of a fire—not for the convenience of riding on the rig. When was the last time you checked your turnout pockets to inventory your personal tools? When was the last time you tried to access your tools with a gloved hand without looking? Maybe some tool changes or tool location changes need to take place for you to be prepared to go to work. Remember to wear the appropriate PPE on every call every time because the next smells and bells or frequent flyer could be the real deal. Will you be prepared?
Attitudes: We all have them. Have you checked yours lately? Attitudes are contagious. They can be positive, negative, I just don’t care, or every other Friday (payday). Whatever your attitude is, most of your peers know it and deal with you according to their perception of your attitude. Are you someone people have to work with or someone people want to work with?
Remember your oral board, “Why do you want to be a firefighter?” Most of us want to help people and save them from the “ravishes of fire.” With that in mind, take every advantage to prepare for your next fire. Spot the rig as you would for a fire on those frequent EMS calls. While inside on the EMS call, look at the layout of the residence. Is it common for that area? Are you beginning to see patterns in floor plans, room locations? Before taking up from an EMS call, do a size-up or two. Talk tactics, line placement, life safety concerns, and any hazards you might notice. This will help keep the firefighting morale up and help crews to stay focused, especially between those all-too-seldom fires.
Another way to stay focused on your local fire problem is to critique others’ fires. If possible, go to the scene; talk about what they did and what you might do. It’s easy to start bashing others at this point, but don’t let that happen. Remember, you’re there to improve your operation for future fires. Consider getting a copy of the dispatch tapes, including the command and tactical channels. This will help to paint a picture as to how the incident evolved, especially the “who,” “what,” “where,” “when,” “why,” and “how” of the operation.
Stay abreast of the current trends and training in the fire service. This can be accomplished within your own department or outside. On the outside, there are various hands-on training classes, lectures, community colleges, magazines, and Internet sites all helping to keep you abreast of the current trends in the fire service.
Hopefully, this article is a starting point for us to reflect on our own personal operations and think of ways to prepare for our next incident. Remember, the basics are what everything else is built on, and the basics will help to ensure that we all go home safe.
BOB LEONARD began his fire service career in 1984 and has worked for the San Jose (CA) Fire Department since 1990. He is a captain on Engine 26. He is the chairman of the department’s Engine Company Operations Committee.