September Schedule: Plan and Prepare for Months Ahead
It’s almost impossible for me to believe that September is here again. Vacations are over and schools are reopening. My 15-year-old daughter is on the phone with her friends, comparing classes, teachers, and, as always, what clothes are in and what clothes are out.
Fire department functions, such as parades and clambakes are coming to an end. Our children are enthusiastically anticipating a new school year. Our wives are frantic trying to dress these models within our budget. And the fire service is looking at another long, cold winter.
The fires we fight in winter seem endless. Fingers and toes are numb. Noses feel like they are falling right off our faces. Coats freeze. Hoses freeze. And, by God, I freeze.
How do we prepare for this type of punishment? What can we do to reduce exposure injuries?
First, it is most important to realize that, despite the cold, a speedy response is necessary. We can never overlook our responsibility, especially to the department’s younger members, to reinforce the fact that, once on the scene, you, as a firefighter, must function.
Last summer, I went after the people who feel it’s okay to run from the barbeque to the incident in shorts and sandals and expect to be an asset inside the fire building. Dressing properly in summer and winter are equally critical. Take a minute to dress warm.
Many departments are issuing fire clothes (helmet, coat, boots) to each member. This may be expensive, but it sure beats running around in circles to find a pair of boots that fit. This practice also allows for another advantage. If this is my coat and only my coat, I can load it up with the necessary small tools (screwdriver, water pump pliers, knife, etc.) that can be used for a variety of tasks. Also, this allows us to put a few goodies, like a pair of heavy socks and a pair of woolen gloves or ski mittens in the other pocket.
Don’t get me wrong, these gloves cannot be worn while firefighting; but during takeup, they can be a godsend. You can even put them in a Ziploc bag to keep them dry. If you respond to a fire in your own car, put a complete change of clothes in a cheap overnight bag [something like a FIRE ENGINEERING bag (got you on that one, Tom)]. Throw it in the back seat and leave it there until spring. These clothes may also come in handy if you get stuck in the snow with your private car and all you need is a dry pair of socks and sneakers to get you home.
Fire departments that respond with a tower ladder should also be looking at ways to keep their members warm. I can remember some long operations with the tower. The water spray covering us and the bitter winds freezing it as fast as it hit our bodies.
One day our captain walked in and put two ski masks in the glove compartment. Everyone laughed—until the first real cold job. After that job, I couldn’t believe no one thought of ski masks before.
Another hint for the tower is to throw a few heavy wooden planks on the rig. These can be placed in the bucket so that the members will be standing on wood rather than on the cold metal floor.
Chief and company officers must keep the weather in mind and rotate members at a reasonable rate to avoid exposure and frostbite-related injuries. Mutual aid may also be needed so that your man can shower, dry off, and get some good hot food and coffee inside them. Alcohol should be avoided. The sensation of warmth is temporary and you actually get colder in the long run.
This time of year also reminds us of another very important function of the fire service, fire prevention. Next month will be on us in a flash, and our programs should be in full swing now so that fire prevention week isn’t confined to just visiting the schools and telling children not to play with matches.
Visiting schools is important. And teaching children fire safety is important. However, I feel we place too much responsibility on the children by asking them to go home and preach our message.
In September, we should be getting the word out that we care. And, more importantly, that we are willing to share our experience with our neighbors so that they will be as fire safe as possible. How do we do this?
The best way is by personal contact. Open house in the fire station is fine. We get to meet a lot of people. Our emergency medical technicians (EMTs) or ambulance personnel give free blood pressure checks and maybe we even have a small non-toxic smokehouse set up so that children can learn the proper way to leave their bedrooms in case of fire. We may even capture an adult every once in awhile.
This is all good, but can we go that one step further that firefighters are known for? I think so.
I was working on my boat early this summer, and a couple introduced themselves to me. We chatted for awhile and then he hit me with it. “Paul, I’m a member of the Coast Guard auxiliary. How would you like a courtesy inspection?”
Of course, I invited him aboard. But first he went back to his boat to get a checklist.
As this methodical process of checking each item against his list progressed, I couldn’t help but wonder why we, the fire service, don’t do this within our towns. Why can’t we make up a checklist for private homes? Have you cleaned the chimney for your wood-burning stove this year? Do you have smoke detectors? Are they installed in the proper locations?
The list was going on and on when I was abruptly snapped from my daydream as John started to go over his findings with me. A few minor repairs to my boat and I was set for a summer of safe fun with my family and friends. It was a real good feeling. It’s the same feeling that you could be giving the owner of a private home.
Yes, September is an important month in the fire service. It is a month of preparation and planning. Preparing our members for the winter months and planning our fire prevention programs so that they are as effective as possible.