Safety Is Responsibility Of Company Officers
The Volunteers Corner
Although safety is everyone’s responsibility in the fire service, leaving it at that insures the accomplishment of little or nothing.
First, safety must be a known objective of the chief of the fire department. That gives safety the status that will gain it some attention. Secondly, safety must be made the responsibility of company officers. That will put safety into action both on the fireground and in quarters.
Hasty actions on the fireground and thoughtlessness in quarters combine to erode safety on a 24-hour-a-day basis. Basically, fire fighting is unsafe, so more than general instructions on safety are needed in the fire service. The company officer must be the enforcer.
Safety on the fireground starts when the bell hits in the fire station. The company officer must take the time as he gets in the cab to make certain that all fire fighters are in their positions on the apparatus, in complete turnout gear and ready to ride. In addition to the preparedness of his men, the officer must make certain that the door is fully open before ordering the driver to roll. Station doors have been sheared off by apparatus and men have fallen off apparatus because they were not in position when the apparatus started. There have been times when tractor-trailer ladder trucks have left the station without the tillerman.
Driver shares responsibility: Placing these departure responsibilities on the officer does not relieve the driver of his share of the same responsibilities. In volunteer departments where an officer is not always on the apparatus, the man sitting on the right-hand side of the cab should assume the officer’s responsibilities.
While the immediate control of the apparatus during the run is the driver’s responsibility, the officer is in charge. The officer has a duty to see that the driver does not use excessive speed and observes state traffic laws, which in many states give emergency vehicles less freedom of operation than drivers think they have. For the safety of the men riding the apparatus, the driver must maintain control of the apparatus at all times. Unsafe driving practices call for driver retraining, and the officer should be held accountable for the actions of his driver. Officer accountability can do much to improve safe driving practices in a fire department.
Upon arrival at the fireground, the officer should be insistent that no member of his company get off the apparatus until it has come to a full stop and the proper order has been given. Injuries occur when men drop off an apparatus the moment it stops in the fire area and the officer then orders the apparatus moved to a more advantageous position.
Stretching hose: When a pumper stretches hose, the driver must avoid speeds that whip couplings out of the hose bed, endangering anyone on the rear step and letting the couplings drop to the pavement with a force that can damage them. As a safety measure, some fire departments try to keep men off the rear step when hose is being laid. Although he may be off the apparatus, the officer still has a duty to see that the driver maintains a safe speed.
Another unsafe practice on the fireground that an officer can control through observation is running. It’s easy enough to trip over hose, slip on ice, or make a misstep while carrying equipment. There is no excuse for running to increase the probability of an injury. Officers should exercise constant supervision to see that men walk quickly when necessary but never run on the fireground.
Safety with tools: The use of both power and hand tools require safety supervision by the company officer. He must be constantly alert to insist that safety practices developed in training are maintained while fighting fires—and particularly during overhaul when there is a general tendency toward carelessness.
The changing structural condition of the building must also be the responsibility of each company officer. He must look for early signs of any degree of collapse—from partial ceiling collapse to total collapse of the building. The officer should report any danger indications to his superiors and immediately remove his company from an area when danger is imminent.
Attention to safety does not alter the fact that fire must be fought aggressively, but it does mean that avoiding injuries is a primary concern.
How well the company officer makes safety a part of fire department operations will depend on how well the chief officers supervise the company officers. That is why safety in any fire department must start at the top.