letters to the editor
Clean cab concept: A survivor’s point of view
A new initiative starting in the fire service is the “clean cab concept,” essentially removing all items that have the potential of carrying carcinogens, including self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA), from the cab. This initiative raises a lot of questions such as, how does that affect our initial on-scene and rescue times? Are we pressing the issue of cancer over rescue of victims? Where do we draw the line? Why do we think the clean cab concept is the first step in preventing cancer?
Looking at this from a cancer survivor’s standpoint, why do we make a clean cab but do not improve the station to prevent cancer? Most firefighters spend one-third of their life inside of a firehouse and less time inside of the apparatus cab, making the exposure time from a cab minimal compared to exposure to fumes inside of the bay. Why should we remove an SCBA from a cab for a what-if? Likewise, if you are designing apparatus now to remove hazards, can you incorporate a vent fan like in an ambulance? Most departments are running headsets to reduce decibels inside the cab, so adding a vent fan wouldn’t be that loud. Everyone has cancer. Cancer is rapid or abnormal cell growth. It takes just one thing to trigger that. As a survivor, I wish we had better screening.
We are taking an initiative to reduce cancer but subsequently are adding time to fireground operations. Say a department has taken the initiative to go “clean cab.” Is that enough? What else has it done to reduce the cancer-causing issues? Has it improved around the station during day-to-day operation, or after a fire? We should also be improving in areas like procedures for on-scene decontamination, having multiple sets of gear to swap into and new hoods to change into after fires, and exhaust ventilation systems, for example. We should purchase half-face respirators for overhaul operations and eliminate smoking and tobacco use; they have been proven to cause cancer.
Yes, we all fight the proverbial low budget game every year, but let’s take the decontamination step first. Spend about $7 per truck for a bucket, a couple of packs of baby wipes, a large roll of industrial trash bags, and a departmental policy of wiping down and containing the gear in the bags before departing the scene. Work on plans to equip employees with multiple sets of gear, isolate the turnout gear from the bay to a well-ventilated room, and mandate a washing cycle for gear; emphasize procedures that do not delay potential life rescues. When you design that new rig, talk with a dealer about placing ventilation fans in the cab that automatically turn on with the master switch; this will provide continuous ventilation. If that isn’t enough, create procedures to wash SCBA after each fire and during your weekly check. Theoretically, if you have pride in your job, you will keep your SCBA clean and operational. What I am saying is, if you are getting on the “clean-cab” train just to be able to say you are on it, you essentially aren’t doing anything productive. Why should our victims suffer an extra 30 seconds or a minute while you are standing in the front yard putting on your SCBA?
Note: In 2011, at the age of 19, I was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s T-Cell Lymphoblastic Lymphoma. I had just started my first full-time fire career a month prior after volunteering since 2010. After being intubated for a few days, I woke up at UNC-Chapel Hill to be informed that I had cancer. I completed my in-patient chemotherapy from October 2011 until March 2012 and then continued monthly treatments as I continued to work. With prayers and family (both blood and fire service), I received my bill of clean health in 2016. Currently, I am a full-time firefighter/paramedic for the Newport (NC) Fire Department.
“What’s in your backyard?”
I believe this is a great title for all in the fire service today and should be used as a guide to help you become a better firefighter and fire officer in the community you serve. Knowing what’s in your “backyard” can be the difference in being a good company or a great company officer. The choice is solely up to you.
Enthusiasm. I love this word; it plays such a vital role in the company’s performance on and off the fireground. When you have enthusiastic firefighters and fire officers, you can accomplish many things for the overall well-being of your department. Where do you begin?
Gather intel. You have been assigned to an area in your community where you have never worked before. You need to understand what’s in your backyard and gather intelligence to learn some of the inherent dangers you may face there while performing your duties. Go to work a little earlier and drive through your backyard while it’s relatively quiet and pick up some needed intel to bring into the firehouse that morning.
Share information. Whether you are a firefighter or a fire officer, it’s your obligation to help keep your crew safe by doing those little extras and gathering that important information that will help you become a more disciplined and effective company.
Community relations. When out in the public eye, a good company should try to interact with the citizens in its backyard. Sometimes, a simple wave from the passing apparatus can be a great start. One day, you may get flagged down by that person to whom you waved who might need medical attention or have a fire safety issue at home. A simple wave helps open the doors to the community members you serve, so keep your apparatus windows rolled down and listen for someone who might be calling for your assistance. There is nothing worse than hearing a civilian say he tried to flag down a fire engine and the driver just rode by him while his kitchen or bedroom was on fire. Remember, many communities have close-circuit cameras and those cameras do not lie.
Review information. Good officers will review reports of what happened in their backyard while they were away or off duty. Review log books, the National Fire Incident Reporting System, company journals, and newspaper articles for incidents that may have affected your first-due area.
These suggestions are from some of my old bosses and mentors who paid it forward to me. I, in turn, am passing them on to you who serve in the greatest profession in the world. Remember, it’s all up to you.