Pride and service attract volunteer firefighters

“Rethinking Recruitment and Retention for the Volunteer Fire Department” by Ed Geis (Fire Engineering, April 2015) was a breath of fresh air. Well-intentioned, but misguided, legislators always want to “throw money at the problem,” which is their standard procedure.

As the author correctly points out, individuals do not volunteer for firefighting for money and perks but for pride and satisfaction in being part of a team that serves their fellow man. Extensive perks would probably not be beneficial, as some who will join for these reasons will participate only to the extent necessary to achieve eligibility.

Many fire departments do not want to admit it, but poor and misguided leadership is a primary reason the fire service has a personnel problem. The best thing the volunteer fire service can do to recruit and retain members is to “get their houses in order” and offer the effective leadership that motivates members to want to be part of a professional and dynamic team.

Harvey Eckart
Volunteer Firefighter (Ret.)
Berwick, Pennsylvania

Thoughts from the back step

Today’s firefighters need to be more efficient than crews of the past. Fires are growing more quickly, and we are already behind when we arrive. If we can do one or two things to expedite our operations, we need to do them.

A few weeks ago, my rescue company was dispatched to a fire in a two-story, single-family structure. The engine company did everything right: gave a size-up report, the officer completed a 360˚ walk-around, and a line was pulled and stretched through the front door. The officer confirmed a small fire in the kitchen and radioed this message to Command. Our job as the rescue company in our jurisdiction is to search. At this fire, because of the order in which we arrived, the rescue company split crews (two inside to search, two outside to assist ladder company operations). I was on the outside throwing ladders, and it occurred to me that I did not know the exact fire location. Because of this, I did not know if I was throwing the ladders to the most beneficial location for the crews inside. It was not a big deal at this fire because it was contained by the first-in engine company, but not having the ladders in the most beneficial place could have made the difference between a firefighter’s bailing out safely or getting injured.

Consider the following scenario to see how we can improve as professionals:

You are dispatched to a reported house fire and do not arrive on the first-in engine. The first-in engine company marks on scene; two-story, wood-framed dwelling with an attached garage, nothing showing on all four sides, and quickly gives water supply instructions. The officer completes a walk-around of the structure, gets on the radio, establishes command, and proceeds to give a situational report. The front door was forced, smoke is in the structure, a handline will be taken in for an interior attack. The following units are still en route: two additional engine companies, two ladder trucks, a rescue, a battalion chief, and an emergency medical services unit.

One of the most important things the first units working their way through the fire can do is to determine the location and extent of the fire as soon as they can and relay this information over the radio. They will not only advise command of the situation, but they will also make incoming units aware of the fire’s location so they can deploy the best tactics.

From a truck company standpoint, knowing the fire’s location and extent is imperative. A truck’s job, among many others, is to search the fire floor for the fire’s location and search for victims. If the truck company finds the fire, this needs to be relayed over the radio to allow the engine company to make a stretch without having to search through the smoke and heat. In some cases, though, the company will arrive later than the engine. If the engine has confirmed the location of the fire, the ladder company’s job will be easier.

For example, if the engine company states that the fire is in the Bravo quadrant on the second floor, truck company personnel should know what to do. This means that the priority for outside work is laddering the Bravo and Charlie quadrants. Once these ladders are in place, a disciplined ladder crew will wait for an engine to get the knock on the fire and then will take the window- coordinating the attack. This will prevent fire from spreading in directions we do not want it to go and will get the heat, smoke, and steam off the engine companies inside. While one person is throwing a ladder to this area, the remainder of the building should be laddered.

For the truck company going inside to search, knowing the location of the fire will help them to know which way they need to go. Unless there is confirmation of a trapped victim in a specific room on a specific floor, truck companies should operate from the fire out-very basic. For this example, crews should make their way upstairs to the second floor and conduct a primary search from the fire room through the reminder of the floor. Knowing where the fire is will expedite the search.

If the first-in engine company did not announce where the exact fire location is, the inside truck crew can always follow the line, but remember that each crew needs to do its own individual size-up. There have been times that engine companies did not confirm the exact fire location and stretched hoselines into the wrong areas; multiple companies followed the first line in. This delays getting water on the fire and rescuing victims and puts everyone in a bad area.

As a second-in engine company, it is just as imperative to know the fire’s location. While responding to the fire, the fire crew should continuously size up the information presented by computer-aided dispatch or over the radio. The back step firefighter needs to start estimating the stretch in his head based on the information given and on what he already knows about the order of response. Once on scene, the second-in engine company needs to know the exact location of the fire before making a stretch. It is imperative that the engine crew’s stretch is based on what they see and know.

Suppose the first-in engine company announces that there is a working kitchen fire on the Delta side. If they know it is a two- story, single-family dwelling with a fire on the first floor, they know they should bring enough hose for the first floor and more for the second. By doing this, the second-in engine company will now be able to wait by the stairwell on the first floor to make sure that the first-in engine company is getting a good knock on the fire. After the first-in engine company makes progress and darkens down the fire, the second crew proceeds up the stairs and toward the same quadrant of the fire to check for extension. Knowing all of this information makes the stretch quick and efficient.

Rapid intervention is one of the most important jobs on the fireground. Although these crews may be disappointed that they are not inside fighting the fire, the rapid intervention team (RIT) needs to be proactive and on top of its game. The RIT needs to know where everyone is located in the fire building at all times. This begins when/if that first-in engine company states exactly where the fire is in the building. Once the location is known, the RIT can now “preplan” having to go in and rescue a down firefighter. By knowing where crews are operating, they can determine which ways they can get into the building quickest to begin the rescue. They will need to have all their tools ready to enter the structure by the quickest route. By having tools staged and the egress opened and controlled, they will be able to make entry and save time during an operation where seconds matter. Sometimes, the RIT needs to enter with a hoseline for protection, just as the first- or second-in engine’s knowing the exact location of the fire will allow for a quick deployment of hose and search techniques.

Andrew Hale
Technician I, Rescue Company 10
Prince William County, Virginia


Editor’s note: In William C. Peters’ article “Understanding Air Brakes on Fire Apparatus” (Apparatus Supplement, June 2015), under the section “Stopping Distances,” the last paragraph should read as follows: “To control speed on downgrades, use a technique called ‘snub braking.’ This involves allowing the truck to speed up to the maximum safe speed as it descends the hill, then firmly applying the brakes to allow the truck to slow down five mph, then repeating this process until you arrive at the bottom of the grade. This method allows the brakes to dissipate some of the heat of friction between applications and the air system to maintain full pressure.”

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