Survival Lessons Learned from FDIC

“Suddenly, It Hit Me: Firefighter Survival Begins with What We Do When We’re Not on Scene” 

By Mary Jane Dittmar

“I attended several outstanding presentations at FDIC last year. Two, however, hit home with me,” Jesse Marcotte, training coordinator for Northville Township (MI) Fire Department began as he recalled some of his outstanding recollections of FDICs Past.

The first presentation, he continued, was “Top 20 Tactical Considerations from Firefighter Research (Steve Kerber) and “FDNY Black Sunday: A Firsthand Account” (Eugene Stolowski).  Although these classes were not designed to build off each another, Marcotte, continued, they will be forever linked in my mind. They helped to reinforce how important it is to make every day a training day. Choosing how we spend our discretionary time in the fire service helps guide us in non-discretionary time events. It also highlighted our safety limitations as firefighters (based on research) even when in full personal protective equipment.

Although as the department’s training coordinator, he understand the importance of training its personnel, Marcotte added: “However, the combination of these two classes provided the information I needed to hit home with our members and help to create a mindset that firefighter survival begins with what we do when we’re not on scene. The reason those two classes stood out to me is that they emphasized just how much can go wrong in 17 seconds. Kerber mentioned that our PPE is designed to protect us in flashover conditions for no longer than 17 seconds. After that, we will sustain global second-degree burns even with all of our PPE. Of course, it will only get worse if we continue to stay in that environment.”

Stolowski shared his personal experience of Black Sunday, explaining how six firefighters went from operating in an environment with no observable fire conditions to being forced to jump out of a fifth-story window in less than 16 seconds.

For Marcotte, the lesson is not just that instructors have to teach people when/how to jump out of windows.” Rather, it is to reinforce how the culture of our department needs to be focused on training and preparedness,” he stresses.” If we are simply going through the motions with training, we are missing the desired outcome. When things go bad, we revert to our habits. It is imperative that we make it a habit to perform at a high level during every training session.”

The Northville Township Fire Department conducted a window egress drill under live fire conditions to reinforce how important it is to get it right when it matters, Marcotte reports. “I could speak about this subject for hours,” he concludes.

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