A controversial topic that doesn’t seem to have enough said about it is one that I’ve been examining in my head lately as I join my new department. The subject of “pulling meters” is one that varies from department to department, and I can’t help but wonder. With everything becoming so nationally standardized, why hasn’t this become standardized as well?
Let me begin by saying that there are many schools of thought on this, and the following is merely my opinion on the matter. I’m a big believer in safety and training and that EVERYONE goes home, and that’s what I am basing my opinions off of.
First and foremost, in ideal and optimistic conditions, we should have the utility company come out and disable the power to the structure. The utility company has the proper training, safety equipment, and knowledge to get the job done with little to no risk to the first responders on scene. They also have the ability to ensure the power is fully shut off to the structure.
Knowing that “ideal conditions” don’t always happen, whether it be due to response time or unavailability, there are ways to protect yourself. Give your crews the best chance of safety and survival if you do happen to have to disable the power to the structure yourselves.
Most important is proper training. If removing the meter is the policy or practice of your department, most utility companies are more than willing to put on a training class in all aspects of electrical safety. Usually, all it takes is a phone call.
After training, proper equipment/safety practices are second in importance.
With these tools under your belt, your first step is to inform dispatch, so they can inform the local utility company that the meter has been/is being removed.
The second step, if at all possible, is to turn the main off at the power box from the house. This takes the electrical load off the meter and prevents any dangerous arcing as the meter is removed. Be advised, this doesn’t cut the power. It just removes the load and makes for an easy transition as the meter is removed from its housing. After checking the meter to ensure that the load has been removed, an attempt to remove the meter can be made.
Believe it or not, there is a special tool made specifically for removing residential and commercial electrical meters. For a quick look, you can click on the link here.
One of the major benefits of using this tool is that it helps prevent meter glass breakage that can make your small problem into a much bigger problem. In addition to structural firefighting PPE, using gloves rated for high voltage and standing on solid ground is a must!
One of the schools of thoughts I’ve discovered is that meter removal is a job that falls on the Chief or OIC. The reasoning behind this is that taking the responsibility as the Chief/OIC takes it off the shoulders of the other firefighters. The problem I see with that, however, is that it’s still putting someone at risk when it may not be necessary. If the Chief/OIC does happen to be injured while pulling the meter, the focus shifts from the structure fire at hand to the injured firefighter.
You must understand that just because you pull the electrical meter, it does not mean the power is completely removed from the building. Electrical theft is becoming more and more common in low-income settings and completely bypasses the utility company’s meter to the structure. Even though you’ve removed the meter, crews should still treat all electrical as if it is still energized as a precaution until it has been confirmed by the utility company.
Lastly, I’ve heard it said that some departments don’t have a policy on meter removal and most likely won’t have one until something happens. From a department’s standpoint, this is a terrible attitude to have. Waiting on an adverse event (reactive) instead of anticipating one (proactive) can create “knee jerk” policies that become unfavorable to operations and other policies, but that’s a whole article in itself.
I want to hear your feedback on the protocols and practices you have in your local jurisdiction. What are your department’s policies? Do you agree with them?
DISCLAIMER: This article is an opinion based article and is in NO WAY meant to be used for instructional and training purposes.
What does Brotherhood mean to you? Is it a phrase, slogan, t-shirt heading that you cling to as a firefighter? Are you willing to hurt others feelings to say what you need to say or do what they won’t ask help for?
There is a tradition in the American fire service when it comes to the Brotherhood. But at what point do we let that 5-word phrase take affect? One firefighter committing suicide is a failure in all of the brotherhood. One firefighter dying from obesity and its related medical conditions is a failure in all of the brotherhood. One firefighter dying of cancer from not wearing/cleaning their PPE is a failure in all of the brotherhoodI grew up as the little brother. There was always a competition in who was better, me or my 22-month older brother. I wanted to be just like him, as many with older siblings do. It wasn’t until the summer of 1998 that I truly put that to the test. He had been going up to our local volunteer fire station as a Cadet, to learn what it would become to be a firefighter. At 15 years old, I saw the passion in him. I saw him strive to learn all that he could, and the beginning of what I learned to be as the brotherhood. A few weeks later, I joined also. I knew after a few weeks that this was our calling. I felt that helping others in their worst day would be one of the greatest things I could do with my life. I also learned what it takes to be “IN” the brotherhood. Sure, we all got the t-shirts, the gear, the mundane calls; but when the tones dropped, we knew all of our anger, animosity, and hostility was put aside for the greater good of our service.
Now, many years later, I still feel that no matter where in the country I go, there is that same emotional draw. I have been to small, rural fire stations – the brotherhood was there. I have been to large, metropolitan departments – and there too was the brotherhood. People I had never met, and most likely will never see again, would offer me a handshake of kindred spirit and the look of knowing – I have been there too. That is the easy side of the Brotherhood.
Then there is the other side. The side of, “I don’t want to get into his business.” Or, “He knows I am here for him if he just asks.” Or, “I don’t want to say anything to correct his actions and risk him being mad at me.” At what point to we stand up for what we believe to be right, put aside the feelings of possible rejection and scorn, and tell our BROTHER what he needs to hear?!?
At the sake of friendship, are you willing to let your fellow firefighter face his demons by himself? Something as simple as taking him out for a meal, hitting the batting cages, or meeting him at the gym can swing their emotion back to one that others truly care about THEM! Stepping up and owning the phrase “I am my brother’s keeper” means that you will not make everyone your best friend all the time. Telling a fellow firefighter at an emergency scene to go on air, wear their seatbelt, or maintain situational awareness on the side of the highway is not you being a Safety Overlord; it is what is right. Will they always appreciate it? NO! But will you be able to live your life knowing that that FREE air on his back could have saved him and his family from the cancer? What about the 2 seconds it took for him to put on the seatbelt that could have made the fire truck accident survivable? Or the vehicle coming too close and escaping its path at the wreck? How many times do we have our conscious tell us to do it, yet we are too afraid to tell our BROTHER the same thing for the same risk that you are trying to avoid?
So much on fire related social media today is focused on opinion; roof operations (when to use it), SLICERS/DICERS/VES/VEIS/too many abbreviations already, NIST Studies, etc…but what is STILL killing firefighters on the top averages? Heart-related illness (mostly preventable) and going to and returning from calls (almost entirely preventable). We want to claim the Brotherhood, but at what cost? It is a shame that as a profession that saves lives, we have such an attitude of invincibility. “It will never happen to me” was one of the last thoughts going through many of our deceased brother’s minds on the way to their final call. We cannot tell them after it is too late.
So I ask you this, brothers….when are you going to say what needs to be said, lead by example, and be the best embodiment of what BROTHERHOOD truly means? We have all heard the Bible verse from John 15:13, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” If that is the highest calling for a friend, what more can be asked for a brother?
“Braithre Thar Gach Ni”
– Joel Richardson
The physical and mental well-being of the firefighter is a topic that must be considered when handling all other personnel management functions. It’s long been known that firefighters bear witness to, and experience some of, the worst things humanity has to offer. These adverse experiences strain an individuals mind.
To an average person, witnessing a motor vehicle accident or a death is typically distressing, shocking, perhaps even life altering. The frequent and sometimes prolonged exposure to these critical incidents begs to question the physical and mental well-being of the firefighter.
It’s no surprise that job stressors have always been present in firefighting; but the consequences weren’t fully identified, analyzed, mitigated, or even diagnosed until recent decades.
The long and short-term psychological effects of being a firefighter are easily identifiable today. It’s not entirely possible to bear witness to disasters, mass casualty incidents, the death of children and other terrible incidents without it affecting your ability to function properly in some facet of life.
Incidents aside, there are also physical stressors that assist in compounding the psychological stressors. Lack of consistent sleep, a poor diet, family difficulties, medical issues and the like can contribute to the degradation of overall performance and add to the complexity of firefighter mental and physical stress.
The answer to this problem can be found in the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) standard 1500. The establishment of the NFPA 1500 in 1987 was the first real push in creating an occupational safety and health framework for the fire service. Chapters 11 & 12 of NFPA 1500 cover firefighter well-being. NFPA 1500-Chapter 11 suggests the creation of a behavioral health program and a firefighter wellness program. Both of these programs require a task force of internal and external agencies to comply fully. Entities such as: Clinical psychological health workers, personal trainers, therapists, doctors and support groups together will offer a well-rounded support structure for a firefighting workforce.
According to NFPA 1500
“The behavioral health assistance program shall include the capability to provide assessment, basic counseling, stress crisis intervention assistance, and triage and assessment regarding, at a minimum, alcohol, and substance abuse, stress and anxiety, depression, and personal problems that adversely affect fire department work performance.” (Section 126.96.36.199)
NFPA 1500 Chapter 12 requires a firefighter wellness program that maintains medical oversight by the fire department physician. The wellness program can tie in closely with the behavioral assistance program. The lingering factors involved with firefighter behavioral and psychological health lead fire service personnel managers to pay special attention to contributing factors when deciding to provide disciplinary action and gauge the content of performance reviews.
The reason these NFPA chapters exist in 1500, in the manner they do, is because the well-being of firefighters is a clear and present problem. Firefighters are at greater risk for all forms of cancer, heart disease, cardio-vacular problems, and divorce. It’s nearly a perfect storm that’s ripe for intervention.
Take the time to evaluate your department’s Health and Wellness Program, if there isn’t one, push to create one.
Next time you mull over a decision for discipline, take into account the bigger picture. Take a 40,000 foot view looking down and see if there are any recent incidents or personal problems affecting your firefighter. If you’re a tight-nit bunch of guys then you should be able to recognize a change in behavior.
Granted some actions are inexcusable, but taking a few extra hours to identify the root cause may provide some insight which changes your path from disciplinary action to health and wellness check. Your Firefighter might thank you and you may have earned some personal respect. You want to ensure you are helping to correct the real problem and not compounding it with write-ups. Be safe, Be thoughtful, Be a Brother.
You can view the next in this series: Thoughtful Leadership – Disciplinary Action
” So, what is this sticker all about?”
This question is one that I have received quite frequently. Let me take a few moments to tell you what it means to me.
This sticker says that even though I do not know you, you are my brother and sister. This sticker says that no matter what state I live in, we are all unified. This
sticker says that no matter what happens in my life, I will never have to stand alone. This sticker says that if you are ever down on your luck, I will be there for you. This sticker says that I will help you raise money and awareness for the less fortunate. This sticker stands for duty, leadership, and sacrifice. This sticker signifies honor, dependability, selflessness, trust, and bravery. This sticker reminds me that, whether I’m a 1 year person or a 30 year person, I have a responsibility. This sticker says everyday, EARN ME.
This sticker says…….UNION
President – Local 1045
Professional Firefighters of Concord, NH
As a young child in a small town, I grew up as the son of a paramedic, the grandson of a firefighter, and the great-grandson of a large town career fireman. I was raised watching my family, including my mother as an LVN (Licensed Vocational Nurse), help people daily. I remember wearing my grandfather’s hip boots, his long coat and an old yellow “salad bowl” helmet. I would run around, kicking in imaginary doors and dragging in the “green line” and fighting the biggest imaginary tree fire you could find in my granddad’s front yard. This happened almost 2-3 times a week if not more.
I used to listen to the scanner in my parent’s living room all hours of the day and most nights. I would listen for my dad’s voice as he arrives on scene and then again giving his radio report of the patient’s condition to the Emergency Room. Sometimes even getting to go on an emergency with him back then was a really big deal. If I was riding with my dad around town, and he’d get dispatched to a call, he would stop so I could get out and get in my mother’s car. We never went anywhere in the same vehicle, so he could speed off to meet the ambulance or go to the EMS station. Back then, that was life, and I never knew any different.
Now, I am a career fireman. My dad is in his 60’s and still serves as a paramedic as he has since 1979. My grandfather passed away several years ago. I now see that this business or career choice is not just a career or even a calling, it is in my blood.
In May of 2004, I graduated high school and exactly a week later, I went to work at a hospital in Amarillo, Texas as a security guard. Not having any idea what I wanted to do with my life, I had looked into the police academy and just wasn’t hooked. I worked at that hospital for about 10-11 months when an unimaginable accident happened to a firefighter of the Amarillo Fire Dept. While responding to a run, he was donning his turnout gear in the back of the engine. While rounding a corner, he fell against the door. It opened, and he fell to the street.
He was brought into the ER of the hospital where I was working and was eventually moved to the ICU for quite awhile. I don’t even remember how many days or weeks he spent there. What I do remember is, part of my job at the hospital was to make “rounds” of all the units and floors of the hospital during the 8 hours I worked. During the entire ordeal, I witnessed the strength and bond of the brotherhood of firefighters. I saw these huge, grown, intimidating men weep and console each other. I saw family members being taken care of by fellow firemen. That flicked the light switch, which set my mind free. That summer, I applied and was accepted into the Amarillo College Fire Academy.
A few weeks before the academy started, I talked with an old paramedic friend of my dad’s and went on to join the Randall County Fire/Rescue Dept as a volunteer. Back then, as a probationary firefighter with Randall County, I was issued a baby blue “salad bowl” helmet and told that when I become a rookie, I would receive a yellow salad bowl helmet. I was so excited. I was going to get a lid just like my granddads. Then I learned that I would be voted on by the members of the department and, if voted in, I would receive a black traditional style helmet. My heart skipped. My pride was oozing out of me. From my overly “whacker-ish” fire stickers on the back glass of my truck to the fire service T-shirts that were worn and washed so many times.
By January 2006, I was given that black helmet. I was in heaven. At this point, I was living in the Randall County Fire Dept. dorms. This was part of a program that allowed members going through the academy a place to live, as long as they performed chores and ran calls.
I wore that black helmet to almost every call I ran like I was going to lose it or something. I remember my very first structure fire that I wore that helmet. I packed up, knelt on the porch of a trailer house, prepared myself to make my first interior attack… when one of my biggest mentors in the fire service came walking up the porch. It was as if the house wasn’t on fire, and with the biggest smile I’ve ever seen on that guy, as he handed me my helmet. He made some crack about me forgetting my ass if it wasn’t attached.
After graduating the academy, I began the testing process to get hired on in Texas. I discovered quickly that the amount of kids looking for firefighter jobs greatly outweighed the amount of actual jobs available. In July of 2008, I finally received an offer. I was officially a paid firefighter. I was given my first career lid, a yellow “salad bowl” helmet, just like my granddad’s. I remember not being able to sleep my first few shifts because I was begging the fire gods for the fire of a lifetime. I came to work knowing that I might get to grab the nozzle that day. But for the most part, I was met with several EMS calls during each shift. While I am a fireman, I did get hired on at a department that runs the ambulance as well. I am one of the few that enjoys the EMS-side of the job. It’s in my blood.
I honestly cannot remember my first fire while on shift. I cannot remember the first time I got my ol’ yellow lid dirty. That helmet has since been replaced by a couple of black traditional style ones. As of today, I am a newly hired Engineer at a very quickly growing county dept. I have roughly 15 years in fire/ems and after 12 years I started my career over almost at a new dept. Excited is an understatement. I’ll update this as my career tales off again so check back in!!
Feel free to also check out another article similar to this one, titled “It’s In My Blood”:
How many times have you seen a T-shirt or patch from the FDNY, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Detroit, Miami-Dade, Boston, Virginia Beach, Charleston or (fill in your own local area), and thought; “Are they a member, or just someone who bought the shirt?” If they just bought or traded for the shirt, does that make them a wannabe? If they are a member of that FD, does that affiliation somehow by itself make them better than you if you come from a small jurisdiction? Does it make them better than you, or somehow more qualified, simply because they are on a paid job, and you’re a volunteer? How about rivalries or perceptions between companies?
Most of us know the truth. But some still struggle to answer this question honestly. I am not trying to minimize the amount of dedication, or professionalism by being affiliated with any of the previously mentioned departments. Quite to the contrary. They are all well-respected departments that we often look to for experience, leadership, and examples. Most of those examples are good…nah, scratch that. They’re great, sometimes legendary. But sometimes, we learn by poor examples as well. The fact is that I have been blessed to meet firefighters from all walks of life, jurisdictions, and from multiple countries and cultures. I have been impressed by many and disappointed by many as well. The point of this article is to get you to consider something that has been eating at me for years.
I have fallen victim to it. I’ve been seduced by it, mentored by it (at times), and finally I have found my way back to the truth. Ironically, the truth had been spelled out for me back in 2002 but I chose not to consider it as truth until years later. Instead, I passed it off as a polite way of brushing me off. I will share that story with you now and then return to my points about perceived status.
The scene was 220 W. 37th St. in Manhattan, NYC at the quarters of Engine 26, “The Batcave”. My brother and I were on our way back to the hotel after taking in the night-time view of Manhattan from atop The Empire State Building. We had closed down the viewing deck, and were walking west. We spotted 26 returning from a call, and backing into quarters. After the rig was safely tucked in, we stopped and spoke with one of the firemen. After some small talk, asking us what had brought us to NYC and learning that I was also on the job, he welcomed us inside for a cup of coffee. Introductions were made, and soon the place felt like home. Now this guy knewthat I wasn’t from the city, but he encouraged me to apply, as the FDNY was still in full rebuild mode after 9/11. In fact, the Battalion Chief forced an application into both my brother’s and my hands and told us to apply immediately. He would do anything to help us in the process, to help us get on the job. Now, I don’t know too many firefighters who wouldn’t feel their hearts skip a beat just by the thought of gearing up with the legendary letters FDNY on the back of your black turnouts. I was no exception. However, I was on a city department back then, and I was also in the midst of my own rebuild. Recently divorced, single dad, financially strapped…you get it. Making the move to NYC to start over again wasn’t really an option for me at the time.
I felt down on myself for several days and weeks. I wanted to apply so bad, knowing full well that getting the chance to attend the academy at “The Rock” would be a long shot anyway. I phoned up a friend who used to be at Ladder 15 and told him about the story. In his direct NYC way, he told me what I instinctively knew but chose to ignore because I felt he was just brushing me off. He told me that being a firefighter for the FDNY is the greatest thing in the world…for him. He is, and always has been a New Yorker. But what he followed up with is the real meat and potatoes of this thought. Following 9/11 everyone wanted to be a firefighter. Or thought they did. Even more thought that the FDNY was the pinnacle of becoming a firefighter somehow. But the point he was making is that you can still be just as much of an asset…in many cases MORE so, right in your own hometown community.
The FDNY employs over 10,000 uniformed firefighters. Mutual aid is not an issue for them. They have some of the most amazing equipment, training, and experience that can be found in the global firefighting community. But does that make them “better” than any of the rest of us?
The answer is no…it does not. Each and every community has its own limited resources available to it. This includes staffing, apparatus, equipment, etc. The trick is learning how to do more with less.
Chief Frank Viscuso says that with problems, comes opportunity. I couldn’t agree more. But only IF you have the courage to recognize that and then act upon it. I have used this theory in my own career. Stepping up to run the programs that no one else would, or several others failed or gave up because the going got tough. I’ve made mistakes, learned from them, and then had great success with some. This leads to a certain reputation. Hard work and willingness to tackle what needs to be done, can lead to that reputation as a hard charger, or even be looked at favorably when it comes time for promotion. Sometimes, if you’re a guy who can mess up once in a while (like me) it can cushion the blow just a bit if the big bosses know you were trying your best. They’ll still give you your lumps for messing up, but it tends to be easier somehow because you know that they’re giving it to you because you deserved it, but then they mentor you at the same time.
How about perceived status within the same organization? Say, between stations or companies. Many times the guys at the busy houses get to lay claim to that kind of “swagger” because they get more opportunity to see fire, or run more calls. But simply because you’re assigned to an outlying house, or slower company doesn’t mean that you can’t find your own “swagger”. Become the best. The best at anything. Something that you’re either very good at naturally, or make the decision to be the best at something because no one else wants to. Learn everything there is to learn about locks or ropes or auto extrication. Become the “fix-it” guy around your house. Learn every single street, hydrant and FDC in your territory and become the map person. Be the first on the rig to respond and the last to quit working. Become the focal point for your neighborhood community for tours, information, or social events. Ready for me to blow your mind? It doesn’t even need to be that complex. Be the best cook in the house. Conduct research. Be the fitness guru. Become the company historian. Organize company outings. Be the mentor. Be the firefighter who always…always has a pen, a pocket notebook, a multitool and a pair of latex gloves in their pocket. Be ready (without turning into “Ricky Rescue”) for anything. If you’re a driver, don’t just put ice in the water cooler each morning. Be sure to have a bottle of water on everyone’s seat upon returning to the rig after the call. They will appreciate it, and you will be respected for looking out for them. Above all else, when you have ideas to improve your companies image, or to provide a better service to your community don’t hold back. Even if you meet some opposition initially (we all know the fire service is not welcoming of progressive change) don’t let it deter you. Speak up, own your ideas, and learn. Know and prepare how to sell the idea ahead of time.
Coming back to the real purpose of this article – YOU can make a difference right where you are. Today. NOW.
If your aspiration is to make it onto the job for one of these big metro departments, then by all means go after it. But having the local name on your bunkers is not going to make you any less of a hero to your local community when they call you for help. In fact, they may just appreciate you more. I think most of us all want to make it to the “big leagues”, but just like the old adage says, “Home is where you make it.”
I’ve had friends over the years ask which I thought was better to work for, the big city or the small county departments. My answer is always going to be the same. My opinion is not ever going to be truth for everyone. In fact, my opinion is just that. It is never truth. Truth is different for everyone. For me, working in a smaller department seems to be my cup o’ joe. A department where you have to get creative to get the job done despite smaller staff, and often even smaller resources and budgets. But that’s just me. I’ve had the experience of a larger department, in both volunteer and paid departments, so I know where I thrive. Given the opportunity again, I would always choose a smaller department where I can make my mark.
I’d love to hear from some of you with similar experience, from either side. Whether it’s from a volunteer to the “big city”, or from one community to another. Sound off and share it with us if you have your own version of this. Stay safe!
Why don’t we work an 8-5, sitting behind a desk? Easy- we as firefighters love the constant moving and changing of every call, training event, and research study. Fluidity is the essence of the modern firefighter. The constant need to adapt and overcome is a tool that only experience and training can build. The highest risk/highest reward job function we as a fire service can do is rescuing one our own. This, in turn, must be the most fluid time of all. This article will cover the options available to rescuers to have the highest positive outcome. Certain facts have to be covered, in order to establish a basis for thinking. These come from the Phoenix Fire Department’s study after the death of FF Brett Tarver.
1. It will take on average 12 rescuers to save 1 downed firefighter
2. A 30 minute rated bottle will last 18 minutes during a rescue
3. It will take, on average, 22 minutes to get a downed firefighter out of a residential structure
4. 1 in 5 rescuers will become victims themselves
5. Total time in building for Rapid Intervention is 12 minutes
So, we know the first team must provide air and package, second and third team remove through closest point or the way they came in, while taking their own safety and air consumption into consideration.
Time in the IDLH, air for the victim, and safe removal is the keys for a successful outcome. There are many acronyms for Rapid Intervention- the article will give one, and discuss the options with each.
The RIC officer leads his team to the command post. The team does a RIC 360, and a quick plan is devised on entry points, exits, and primary/secondary plans. Another question to ask is “How long have the crews inside been working?” This gives a lot of information on a simple question. Information gathered includes each company’s LUNAR, based off of the Incident Command’s answer, strategy, and tactics.
A is for AIR.
As the RIC is activated, the primary function of at least 2 of the rescuers is ABCD. Air is the stand alone highest priority in Rapid Intervention. There are 2 cases I can immediately name that AIR was a contributing factor for the death of the firefighter- FF Brett Tarver (Phoenix FD) and FF Mark Langvardt (Denver FD).
Is the victim on air?
- Mask Integrity/ Seal intact
Level of consciousness
- Alert, Voice, Painful Stimuli, Unconscious
- With careful consideration, unconscious victims should be removed as soon as possible. Nothing inside of the structure can benefit an unconscious firefighter more than being outside the structure on the way to a medical facility.
Update the LUNAR
- With the “MAYDAY” being a last second, desperate cry for help, updating the MAYDAY can give the RIC Operations Officer/Incident Command an accurate portrait of what is going on inside. Consider it an “Internal Size-up”. This will allow command to determine the next appropriate flow for actions.
Check for Breathing/Spontaneous Respirations
- Purge the bypass. This will allow 2 things. First, it will show the integrity of the seal, and second, it will determine the progression of thought for how to secure AIR for the victim.
B is for Bottle.
- Checking the bottle pressure can be done based on the physical orientation of the downed firefighter. Bottle gauge, remote gauge, digital gauge, and (if equipped) Heads up Display (HUD) can all be used to determine the bottle pressure remaining.
The MSA air pack in the photo has all 4. By pressing the green Data button, the HUD will display the air pressure in the lights of the victims mask. This will also illuminate the other two gauges- digital and pressure. This information will control the next few steps.
RIC bags can be equipped with Spare Masks, 2nd stage regulators, and Universal Transfer Connectors (UTC, Trans-Fill, etc.). A full mask replacement is the most difficult for a stressful, low visibility operation. With training and practice, it can be accomplished by controlling actions and pace.
The UTC/Trans-fill should, in my opinion, be a last option. While training with them, the MSA air pack has an intake “pop off valve” that limits the air coming into the cylinder through this UTC. They can be rated at many pressures. If a RIC pack has a 4500 psi bottle, and a Firefighter pack is a 3000 or 2216 psi bottle, there will be a free flow (waste of precious air) out of this valve. While some air will reach the bottle, at best, it will balance the pressures between the 2 systems. My argument is simple- why not just use the mask, 2nd stage regulator, and 4500 psi you brought in with you to secure the most air to the victim. If the study previously mentioned (Phoenix FD) shows that the first team to contact the victim will not be the one to remove the victim, why waste time and air using the UTC? In further discussion, if the firefighter is equipped with a harness, Drag Rescue Device (DRD), or is placed into a hasty harness- why not remove the SCBA altogether?
Pro’s– less weight, less resistance when turning/making corners, less height when having to remove from window sill (Denver Drill), and smaller profile for wall breach/ vertical removal (Nance Drill).
Cons– might be only harness system for the drag, not equipped with DRD or webbing/rope for hasty, PASS if team has to leave for next team (can be solved with manual PASS attached to RIC Bag).
C is for Convert.
This is where a lot of the fluidity comes into play. If you have a system that you have mastered, whether rope or webbing, stick with it. Have a secondary system for a back-up. There are many options, I will cover a few.
Air pack conversion to harness
- Once you grasp the buckle of the waist strap, DO NOT LET GO!
- Slide the victim side to side to loosen. Lift leg onto shoulder to reattach waist strap under leg. Keep the button depressed to allow easy reconnection in limited visibility.
- For larger victims, drive the victim’s leg into their chest to reattach waist strap.
Webbing offers a wide variety for securing the victim and the RIC pack. The following are some examples:
- Webbing through shoulder straps
- Carabiners on handles- the handles on the sides of the MSA air pack are rated at 500 pounds and top hole rated at 750 pounds. This is a quick way to snatch and grab the downed firefighter.
- Chest wrap with webbing (also can be used when SCBA removed for ease of dragging, lifting, etc.)
- Secure the RIC bag in the integrated or hasty harness, chest strap, the lapel microphone opening of the jacket, jacket snaps, etc. These options allow for the SCBA removal with consideration for ease of dragging and lifting also. The hose in most RIC bags is long enough to reach from most attachment points on the trunk of the body.
D is for Drag
The victim has air and removal device in place. Now comes the most physically demanding- the drag. A second means of egress, while ideal, may not be an option. The search rope placed on entry will lead to a guaranteed escape route. Options exist for removal through a team approach. Rotating rescuers and management of personnel becomes essential for the officer. Transition/trade out rescuers, after strenuous activities (up stairs, down stairs, through debris, through wall breach, etc.), to get the most work, strength, and efficiency of each rescuer. This takes discipline of the crew to switch, during long removals, to allow for work and recovery, instead of one rescuer doing all of the work and using all of their air. Efficiency is the key to safe and rapid removal.
- A belt/harness attached to the webbing/DRD allows for power muscle use. Driving with the legs at a low angle allows for full strength of the legs through efficiency.
- The integrated DRD can also be utilized for rapid removal. This can be checked after air is applied to the victim by the rescuer at the head.
The options become endless when rescuing a down firefighter. Be fluid, adapt, and overcome. The ONLY way to become familiar and comfortable with any removal technique is to get out and train on them. Reading and seeing pictures adds no value in a true emergency. With the content of the article, remember, use what you have and have trained on. If none of these options are your first “go-to” in a down firefighter situation, make them your secondary or tertiary method.
I hope this has refreshed and sparked interest in your idea of victim removal. A lot of these techniques can be used a fire victim removal techniques also.
The fire service is a very special field. Those of us that work in it know this, and those aspiring to enter the field hope to find out. I don’t think I have ever talked with a firefighter who didn’t love this job. Now, that’s not to say that there aren’t those of us who experience burnout, depression, or just a general lack of zeal from time to time. But I believe most would say they LOVED being a firefighter. I wonder how it is that we love a job so much. Especially one that can expose us to such sorrow and destruction. Since 2001, I have had that type of love for this job. I have volunteered and understand the daily struggle of those departments. And now, I am fortunate enough to make my living riding the officers seat in a fire truck. I think I know why most of us love what we do amidst all the pain, and I also believe there are ways to make it an even better profession.
If you have been in the emergency services for any length of time, you know what you can see. Make sure you are no stranger to the programs and help offered for responders who may be “at the end of their rope” or battling the numerous demons that may creep up. We are given the numbers to chaplains, peer counselors, suicide hotlines, and employee assistance programs, and yet we still find emergency services professionals coping with things like alcoholism, depression, drug use and suicide. Why?
PTSD seems to be the buzzword/acronym of the moment. According to the Mayo Clinic, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that’s triggered by a terrifying event — either experiencing it or witnessing it. Symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares, and severe anxiety, as well as uncontrollable thoughts about the event. To me, this definition may not fit the problem that responders are experiencing. After much reading and research, I think that responders are more than likely suffering from another condition called Combat Operational Stress (COS).
The reading list for a promotional exam I was studying included a book by Christopher Brennan called The Combat Position. This is an excellent book. I highly recommend it for any rank firefighter. This book was the first time I had seen any reference to COS, and the points the author makes seem very valid. The United States Marine Corps defines Combat stress as: sometimes called combat and operational stress or combat and operational stress reaction, is a common response to the mental and emotional effort active duty personnel exercise when facing tough and dangerous situations. In other words, PTSD is better used to describe the mental stress created by one event, where COS seems to reflect the cumulative type of stressors that first responders encounter.
The Marines go on to list some of the risk factors as:
– Sleeping less than 6-8 hours per day on average
– Witnessing death close up
– Losing a close friend or valued leader in combat or other operations
– Being physically injured, especially if seriously
– Close brushes with death, especially if the individual believed they were going to die
– Handling remains
– Being impacted by family, relationship, or other home front stressors
– Being young and inexperienced
I am in no way comparing the fire service to the Marine Corps, but I do find the risk factors for COS to be strikingly similar to the types of stressors that firefighters around the country may encounter. And we need to be aware of the dangers of these common stressors.
It seems clear that the fire service is made up of mostly “type A” personalities. We don’t show weakness or ask for help easily. I believe that could be the reason for the following statistic.
“Firefighter Suicides by year.”
And these numbers continue to climb as we move past 2012. One hundred and four firefighters committed suicide in 2014. We as a service should be truly shocked at these numbers. We are losing almost, and sometimes more, firefighters to suicide than we are Line of Duty Deaths. All of these “type A’s” who have dedicated their lives, and well being to making sure the people they serve stay alive, are not taking care of themselves. We don’t reach out; we bury our feelings and continue to go fix other people’s problems. WHY?
Recently my “area” has experienced the suicides of four members of the emergency services community. These have included firefighters, fire officers, and paramedics working for three different services. Receiving the news always has the same effect on my mind. It is a crushing feeling, and my thoughts seem to progress like this. Why? But he/she had so much going for them. They always seemed ok. Is there anything I could have done for them to change what they did? And it is in these times that we tend to focus on those around us. We ask members of our crew “Are you doing OK?”, “Do you need to talk about anything?”, and a genuine sense of caring arises out of such tragedy.
In the opening paragraph of this article, I spoke about the love of the job, even through the bad things we see. We love this job because we find an enormous sense of pride knowing that we have an “extended family” that will be there for us whenever we are in need. We love this job because it gives us the opportunity to be a part of something much bigger than ourselves. We love this job because we build relationships that are closer than some siblings; we always call it “Brotherhood.” We love this job because we love each other. We don’t hesitate to ask for help to fix a roof, pour concrete, work on a car, or build something. But we need to make this “Brotherhood” stronger. We have to find ways to combat our people feeling like they have nowhere to turn. Let’s put down macho-ism. Let’s put away the fear of being mocked. Let’s be the family that we can be. Talk to each other, and truly get to know each other. All of us should have at least that one person that we can talk to; at least one person that understands you. The only hurdle to jump is to trust these “brothers” and “sisters” and be willing to talk to them.
Station-Pride author James Cook wrote an article titled “Ghosts”. If you haven’t read it, please do. I have provided a link for your viewing enjoyment at the bottom. This article is one that most of us can relate to, and may be a source of comfort for some.
I would like to share a personal experience in closing that relates to my “ghosts” and those brothers of mine that helped me through my rough time.
Sleep wasn’t coming easily. A recurring dream was keeping me awake. A vivid dream that seemed to be set on repeat, and I was getting fed up with it. My family could tell that I was distant, but it comes with the territory sometimes, right? I had been to all the classes. I was up to date on how to recognize if the guys I was working with were “too stressed out” and I was willing to help should they need me. I knew that I needed more sleep, and I knew that recurring dreams could be a symptom of stress, but I was way too tough and smart for that. I was sitting in a class with several of my peers, two of whom were sitting in front of me were good friends of mine. During a break, I asked them both this question: “What do you guys know about sleep patterns?” One of them was very knowledgeable and began to tell me all about fatigue, and its effects on the body. When he finished talking, I remember asking them: “What do you know about dreams?” They both asked what kind of dreams, and I was comfortable enough with both of them to open up.
I am walking down the highway, but there are no cars anywhere in sight. I am wearing a department t-shirt, my turn-out pants, and boots. Ahead of me, in the road, single file, I see people sitting in chairs on the highway. I approach the first chair in the line ofhundreds and recognize its occupant as a patient that had died while I was there. While I am standing in front of this chair, the person opens their eyes, looks at me, and says: “I am dead because you didn’t help me.” They then close their eyes, and I move on to the next chair, with the same result. OVER and OVER and OVER again.
I go on to explain that this dream is happening every time I fall asleep, and it’s starting to wear me out. When I look at my buddies, they are both looking back at me with a total look of concern and begin to offer any help they can to get me through this problem. One of the guys explains that what I described is a “textbook” symptom of very dangerous stress. I spend the next few weeks seeking out other brothers, and mentors trying to talk it out of my head. It worked. But I found out that I am not immune from mental stress, and certainly not too tough for mental stress.
The things we see, we can’t un-see. The dangerous things we have to do are part of the job. But I urge you to keep your eyes and ears open. Watch for the signs, in others and yourself. And be your brothers keeper. I am lucky my brothers were mine.
Stay Sharp, Stay Safe
John 15:13 Greater love hath no man than he who will give up his life for a friend.
Firefighters, all too often, may lose their lives protecting the lives of total strangers.
Ghosts by James Cook:
Welcome to my series on thoughtful leadership and personnel management. It is my wish to pass along my thoughts, ideas, and firefighter personnel management theory with the hope that you’ll employ these concepts to create a level of thoughtful harmony within your shift or your department. Whether career, combination, or volunteer, personnel management differs very little. Professional organizations whether paid or unpaid must operate with a set of values and common goals in order to be successful.
Unlike most professions, personnel management in the fire service requires special considerations. These considerations are driven by the dynamics created in fire department the shift schedule, the volunteer culture, and the social aspects within the firehouse.
The reality of the commitment required to be a firefighter can be apparent when compared to an eight-hour per day office worker. The daily work activities of firefighters vary so much that no other work environment can compare in scope, pace, sensory, or knowledge requirement.
The average non-fire service job within the civilian workforce does not require employees to: sleep in relatively close quarters with each other, share shower and personnel hygiene space, prepare and eat meals together, while depending on one-another for survival, protection, and trust.
The variables within the career fire service routine possess a complex environment with which to manage personnel and likewise will require a tailored personnel management plan. Similar to career departments, Volunteer organizations require structure, common human respect, defined expectations, and boundries defined in a set of values.
The average corporate personnel management template is not specifically well suited for a fire service application. This series will cover topics that highlight issues and solutions related to fire service personnel management. The immediate topics in this series (among others) will include, the physical and mental well-being of the firefighter employee, employee health and safety in the fire service, professional development, fire certification system, performance reviews, and disciplinary action. Individually, some of these topics relate and interlace with others but together represent a solid portion of a fire department personnel manager’s responsibilities. Each of these topics requires specific attention designed for firefighters.
We have all sat in the corporate sexual harassment training class, we have all cringed through diversity training, inclusion training, cultural sensitivity training. It’s long passed time for a tailored personnel management education plan designed for firefighters who live, work, and risk everything, together.