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Bridging the Gap: Using School Stakeholders to help you create a School Size-Up Plan

Today, Schools have had to expand on what they know about school safety and preparing for potentially dangerous events.  School Administrators have a multitude of responsibilities and many are not well versed on Emergency Planning.  Schools are complex places that can present numerous problems for first responders.  As School Administrators are expanding their knowledge on Emergency planning and looking into their plans it is also a good time for local fire departments to create a dialogue with schools and help them with their planning.

School Administrators and members of the fire service have something in common.  Time.  There is not enough time in the day to complete all the things that we want to accomplish.  When it comes to creating a pre-plan for a school this can take hours of work.  I created an in-depth one for my school.  I like to think I left no stone unturned.  I did multiple assessments of the building and looked at other sources to make sure I was not leaving something out.

I started with doing a 360 of the exterior of the building and took pictures of each side of the building.  Once complete, I gathered all of the pictures inserted them into clear plastic, labeled all the classrooms, and then inserted them into my pre-plan binder.  I went to the science lab and made a list of all the chemicals they use and then used the Emergency Response Guide, Material Safety Data Sheets, and the NIOSH guide to learn more about the chemicals and the potential harm they can do in a fire or other potentially dangerous situations.  From there, I did a walk-through of the building with the custodian to see what else I can learn about the building that I may not be thinking of.  Our walk ended on the roof where I took more photos of the location of HVAC units and the surrounding area such as the parking lot to look at apparatus placement.    While adding all of the intelligence that I gathered into my computer I went to google maps and printed out aerial photos of the school labeling important areas of the building along with hydrant locations.  I put all of my findings into a binder and gave it to my building leaders.  When all the work was done I figured this took me about 40 hours to complete.  Lucky for me I love my work.  Something such as this is very time-consuming.  It did make me realize however that this is something that does not necessarily have to be done by one person.

Fire Departments have pre-plans for schools but how thorough are they?  Depending on the size of the schools in your jurisdiction this can be a very time-consuming project.  Schools want to know how they can help first responders before they arrive but some do not know how they can help.  This is what we call in education a “teachable moment”.  Schools have safety committees and meet regularly.  Ask them if you can attend one of their meetings and let them know what kind of information you will need from them to add to your pre-plan.  When you are putting together a pre-plan it is not just simply you and members of your department walking around.  You stop and ask questions such as: How many people do you have in the building?  What are the hours of operation?  Do you have any hazardous materials in the building?  Do you have any special needs students in the building and if so, what is your evacuation plan for those students?  The list of questions goes on and on.  

Before you do a walk-through of the building for a pre-plan put them to work and have a list of these questions emailed to them prior to your arrival.  Ask that they have the answers to these questions before you arrive.  Some of those questions School Administrators may have to find out themselves and it may require them to ask a custodian or look at an outdated safety plan.   Letting School Administrators know what you will be looking for before you arrive will save you and them time and make your size-up plan more accurate.  The worst answer you want to hear is “I do not know all of the chemicals located in the science lab but I will look into it and get back to you”.  We all know that the “I’ll get back to you” does not always happen.

If you get the opportunity to meet with School Administrators and or their Safety Committee teach them what the 13 point size up is and how it is a tool that first responders use to respond to incidents.  I have encountered numerous administrators and school staff that share the same passion that first responders have for their jobs.  You will not be disappointed as to how helpful staff members in a school can be once you tell them what you are looking for and why it is important.

Below is a summary of how the Fire Service uses the 13 point size up.  I wrote this for School staff to educate them on how first responders plan and how it is used to aid in strategy and tactics.  It breaks down the size up and lets School staff know what the Fire Department needs and how they can help to provide that information.  This was designed to be shared with the layperson (school leaders) so that they will have an understanding of what first responders need so they can put together a comprehensive plan.  The Size Up details below can and should be shared with building administrators so that the dialogue you have with them will be focused on the important elements of the plan.

The 13 Point Size Up

When a Fire Department has to respond to an incident there are a number of things that officers, firefighters, and EMS members need to keep in mind when it comes to making decisions.  An emergency scene is very dynamic with many variables and a number of things that can go wrong.  First responders use Size Up to help them make informed decisions.  Size-up is the process of gathering information that will assist firefighters and fire officers in making efficient, effective, and safe decisions on the fire ground.  The more information responders have on a structures construction type, occupancy, the life hazard, the water supply, the location of the structure, possible hazardous materials, and other contributing factors, the more informed they will be to make quick decisions in scenarios where lives are on the line.

In Fireground Strategies by Anthony L. Avillo he breaks the information-gathering process into a useful mnemonic device COAL WAS WEALTH the size-up consisting of:

Construction

Occupancy

Apparatus and Manpower

Life Hazard

Water Supply

Auxiliary Appliances

Street Conditions

Weather

Exposures

Area and Height

Location and Extent

Time

Hazardous Materials

When responders use this acronym prior to an emergency incident and during an emergency incident it gives responders answers to questions about a building.  The more information that responders have about a particular building prior to an incident and during an incident at the said structure the better they will be prepared to handle the potential obstacles that come with a fire, a collapse, or disaster.  The 13 point size-up is geared toward fighting fires, however; no matter what the incident the COAL WAS WEALTH information gathering process is used for all incidents.   

When an emergency happens in your building responders are going to ask building leaders questions about the building and will want to know certain information about the building.  What they will want to know will depend on the situation.  The questions that responders will ask will be based on the 13 point COAL WAS WEALTH size up that they have been trained to use when responding to an incident.   When an emergency happens the building leader does not want to rely on their memory to answer questions when time is of the essence.  A building’s head custodian will provide a wealth of information to you and should not only be readily available during an emergency but should also be included in augmenting your emergency plans.  Prior to the incident, it is best for building leaders to have that information ready when responders show up. The building leader(s) and stakeholders in the school district can collect that information and have it available when it is needed.

 Below is a break-down of the 13 point size up.  Each step will describe what information responders want and how you can gather and provide that information. It would be best to have a collection of that data in a binder that will be with the building leader during an incident. In the binder be sure you place a date on when you completed the size up.  This will inform safety committee members and other stakeholders as to when it was complete and whether or not it needs to be updated.  

Construction

Knowledge of a building’s features enables the incident commander to decide on what strategy to use.  

What responders want to know

What the building is made of, if they are going to have problems entering, any recent renovations or extensions that may have been done.

What information school administrators can provide to first responders

Blueprints or maps of the building, locations of access to the roof.  Any information about recent construction or alterations that have been made to the building.

Occupancy

A building’s occupancy can provide responders with clues to what strategy the Incident Commander will have to take.

What responders want to know

The most important thing responders want to know about an occupancy is what and who are inside the building. A building’s occupancy can give responders an idea of potential hazards and the expected life hazard.  The buildings use and its occupants gives clues to other hazards that may impact what decisions responders make and what tools they need to complete a task.  

What information school administrators can provide to first responders

Information that administrators could have readily available that may be useful is the approximate number of people in the building.  Having exact numbers may not be important to responders, however; exact numbers could be important to school leaders for planning purposes or contingency plans.  

As  you gather  information your building and its occupants it might be helpful to answer the following questions when thinking about staff and students:

Staff

How many adults do you have in the building?  

How many teachers?  

How many administrators?

How many custodians?

How many Teacher Assistants?

Other support staff?

Having accurate numbers on the people in your building will help you in a number of situations that you can or can not anticipate.  For planning purposes knowing the number of Pupil Personnel Services (PPS) staff you have can be important.  In an emergency PPS (depending on their responsibilities) primary duties are not instruction.  Therefore you will have an adult that is not committed to supervising a classroom of students.  An administrator can find a situation where that freed up staff member can be useful.  Know what your staff members are assigned to do in the event of an emergency.  Do your best to utilize your people in a role that will put them in a role where they can be helpful.

Students

How many students do you have in the building?

Is there anything unique about your population?  

Do you have students with special needs?

Do you have students that have medical needs that need constant monitoring such as Diabetes?  

Do you have students that are in a wheelchair?

Do you have students in the building that are blind or deaf?

If you answered “yes” to any of those questions then your next questions should be What am I doing to meet their needs?  How are we going to handle students who need assistance if there is an emergency?

Building History

Do your best to become as knowledgeable about the building as you can.  Know when it was built.  If you have access to plans get a copy of them.  If alterations, renovations, or additions have been made when did the construction take place?  Do you have blueprints or plans?  

Apparatus and Manpower

An Incident commander wants to know what they have available to them during an emergency incident so that they can properly manage their resources.  

What responders want to know

How many personnel are they going to need at the incident? What additional resources are they going to need?  What kind of specialized equipment are they going to need?  Where and who will they get the resources from?

What information school administrators can provide to first responders

Pictures of the exterior of the school.  A picture of the doors will tell responders what forcible entry tools they will need to gain entry into the building.  Additional pictures of what the doors look like would be helpful to help determine what forcible entry tool would be needed.  Information provided to responders prior to the incident will allow them to determine how much personnel they will need at an emergency incident and if they need additional resources from a neighboring agency.  That information will enable the responders directly responsible for the school in question so that they can incorporate outside agencies into their response plan.   

Life Hazard

The life hazard is not often determined until responders are at the incident.  Prior to the incident Fire Departments gather this information to make it easier to determine how significant the life hazard will be.

What responders want to know

The location and the extent of the incident in order to decide how to utilize personnel and resources.

What information school administrators can provide to first responders

The locations in the building that will see a large number of students.  For instance the location of the Cafeteria, how many students in the cafeteria, the time that you begin serving lunch and when it ends.  Location of assemblies or pep rallies.   

Water Supply

In the event of a fire if the fire department does not have access to water or has difficulty ascertaining a water source this will interfere with getting water on fire quickly.

What responders want to know

The location of water sources such as fire hydrants

What information school administrators can provide to first responders

The locations of fire hydrants in the surrounding area.  If the hydrants in the area are sufficient.  Pictures of the locations of the fire hydrants.  Aerial view map from google map pointing out locations of hydrants.  

Auxiliary Appliances

What responders want to know

Whether or not a building has a sprinkler system or standpipe system.  What type of system it is, the location of the system, where the standpipe system is located, and how to shut it down.

What information school administrators can provide to first responders

Location of the systems on a map and pictures of the locations.

Street Conditions

What responders want to know

Best possible routes to get to the location. Areas under construction en route to the location of the incident.  Where to position their apparatus when they arrive at the incident.  The location of power lines that may interfere with using an aerial ladder vehicle from laddering the roof from the parking lot or the sidewalk.  

What information school administrators can provide to first responders

From the roof, you can take pictures of the parking lot and adjoining streets.  In addition, you could provide pictures of what the exterior of the building looks like at the beginning of the day when buses are in the parking lot and at dismissal.  These pictures, when provided to the responders, will help them to anticipate where to put their resources, possible traffic problems, where to place apparatus.

Weather

It is almost impossible to plan for weather.  Weather is a part of size-up during the day and during the incident.  Firefighters will be concerned with the wind because it will aid in spreading a fire. Another weather related factor is the presence of snow and ice.  A heavy load of snow on a roof that may be weak can be a contributing factor to a potential collapse.  

Exposures

Exposures are buildings located next to or behind the building.  The concern that firefighters have is the fire spreading from one building to the next.

What information do responders want

The construction type, occupancy, presence of hazardous materials, and the presence of auxiliary appliances for adjoining structures to the school.

What information school administrators can provide to first responders

Pictures from your building showing responders the adjoining building in relation to your building.  Pictures should show the proximity of the building as it relates to your building.  

Area & Height

What information do responders want

Knowing the depth and area of the building, along with potential setbacks, differences in elevations on different sides of the building, locations of stairways in relation to the entrance.  Information on the area and height will dictate what strategy to use, what resources will be needed, and potential problems.  They may also want to know potential dead spots in radio communication to the Incident Commander.

What information school administrators can provide to first responders

Exterior pictures of the building on all sides of the building.  On the pictures point out the classroom numbers, the location of stairwells, if it is a classroom where special needs students are educated include that as well. You may also want to include pictures and locations of emergency shutoff valves, location of HVAC unit, pictures of the roof, pictures from the roof of the surrounding area, and any additional information that you feel would be useful.

Location & Extent

What information do responders want

This part cannot be determined until responders arrive.  Location and extent determine the life hazard which will determine what action needs to be taken.  If a trash can was on fire on the exterior of the building responders apply water to the fire and everyone goes home.  If that same trash can was in the woodshop class of a school a host of challenges and decisions need to be made.  

What information school administrators can provide to first responders

Classrooms and locations of potentially hazardous materials.  Location of classrooms where students operate machinery.  

Time

The time of day the incident takes place will be important to responders.  If a school is on fire at 4:00 AM that changes the decisions they will make as opposed to the time being 11:00 AM on a Monday.  

What information can you provide for them

-your hours of operation.  

-when after school activities begin and end

-late bus pickups

-weekend activity hours

Hazardous Materials

What responders want to know

Knowledge of what chemical or compound is within an occupancy will help determine what actions responders will take if materials are involved.

What information school administrators can provide to first responders

If you have a school that has a science lab begin with making a list of all the chemicals that you have.  Many of these chemicals alone are probably harmless, however; if the conditions in a building change such as a fire, knowing what chemicals are present and where they are located will help responders in decisions they will have to make. Once you have a list of these chemicals locate Material Safety Data Sheets on each chemical.  You can find most chemicals on sciencelab.com.  You can also use a NIOSH (National institute for Occupational Safety and Health) guide along with an ERG (Emergency Response Guide).

Another area that you may want to pay attention to is where custodians keep chemicals they use for cleaning.  Again, make a list of those chemicals and find MSDS (Material Safety Data) sheets for those chemicals.

Building Maps

A building map can provide a wealth of information to personnel who are about to go inside to a structure to handle an emergency situation.  In the event of an emergency, the building leader will be outside of the structure with the Incident Commander answering questions about what is in their building and the location of key areas.  

A map showing the location of corridors and classrooms will be useful, however; a school map usually contains classroom numbers, the location of the cafeteria, and the gymnasium.  If you go one step further by taking that map and then labeling the classrooms that are different from your standard classroom with desks and books that will provide responders with information on potential hazards or obstacles.  On the map label:

  • Family and Consumer Science classrooms that have kitchens and appliances
  • Technology or Woodshop classrooms that contain power towels and leftover wood and other carpentry or electrical materials.
  • Location of classrooms where Special Needs students are located
  • Location of access points to the roof
  • Location of fire extinguishers
  • Location of fire doors in the hall that close automatically when the school alarm is activated
  • Location of the kitchen

It is important that when labeling additional information on the map that you take a walk around the building with the map to confirm that what is on the map is what actually is actually on the interior of the building.  You may find that classrooms are not properly labeled on the map.  This would be a good time to make those corrections. You may have a building map that has not been updated in 10 years or a map where a minor mistake was made and could not be fixed because it was too expensive to fix it.

Use of Pictures

When a Fire Department Officer arrives on scene they will try to orient themselves by getting a quick look at the exterior of the building by looking at all four sides so that they may begin to size up the scenario.  From there the Fire Officer will establish a command post where they can receive communication and monitor progress (usually towards the front of the structure).

As the building leader, chances are the Incident Commander is going to want you at or near the Command Post if they need additional information.  As the building leader, you are going to want to provide accurate information.  Having pictures of the all four sides of the building will provide a clear picture at the command post of what the area looks like and what additional resources may be needed in that area to accomplish a task.  In those pictures be sure to:

  • Provide the classroom numbers of the window(s) in the picture
  • Label, where emergency shut off valves and HVAC units, are located
  • Label locations of staircases
  • Offices
  • Cafeteria
  • Conference Rooms
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The Volunteer Solution Part 3

Before we get started on the meat of this 3rd leg… A fair amount of discussion occurred at the end of Part 1 and Part 2 which led me to an unplanned Part 3 discussing expectations. Expectations can be tricky to navigate. There are moments when expectations run parallel and other times when they meet. When and where they meet is when the engine that drives this paradigm begins firing on all cylinders.

The following are a list of expectations within the relative circle of our discussion.

  • The community’s expectation of the Fire Department
  • The Fire Department’s expectation of the community
  • The Fire Chiefs’ expectation of his volunteers
  • The Volunteer’s expectation of their Fire Chief
  • The fire department’s expectation of ourselves.

The most important expectation is that of the community.

What does the Community Expect of its’ Fire Department?

The answer is a fairly simple one. They expect that when they dial 911 for an emergency that someone will show up to help. In most cases, when it’s an emergency, whether routine or life & death, it doesn’t matter to them, at the moment, who shows up, as long as someone who can help mitigate or has a relative sense to handle the situation and/or means to communicate the problem to a higher echelon of mitigation.

The inner-workings of the fire service are largely foreign to the average citizen. I’ve responded as a volunteer where homeowners assumed their fire department consisted of paid staff and likewise, I’ve responded to calls as an EMT-Basic and the family couldn’t understand why I wouldn’t start a line and administer medication.  The general public isn’t likely aware of the numerous certifications required, the engine company/truck company rivalries, the turf wars, and the politics between career, combination, or volunteers. The public doesn’t care about the logo’s painted on the trucks, whether or not you are properly equipped or adequately funded or any of the trivial things we seem to focus on.  They don’t know the difference between TFT’s and smooth bore nozzles or even what that means for how we attack fires. They don’t understand 2 in, 2 out, or that most ladder trucks don’t have water, the list is endless. The general public, by and large, has no idea about the world we (firefighters) live in.

The hard point here is that, in a time of dire crisis, the citizens of your community care about none of our internal politics, as long as someone capable and/or anyone with flashing lights and a radio arrives to help them. What they do EXPECT, is that WE as professionals have all the backend issues figured out in order to provide a functional service. When it’s not functional, the residents of your community can pick up on that right away. It’s important to set aside the focus on our piety internal situations and realize all decisions made during the course of managing our fire department point directly to the product you provide the citizens of your community. Fire Departments don’t produce much as an organization, if anything, fire department’s naturally consume more than they produce, but in our consumption, there is value and a product we provide. Ensuring we’re providing the best possible product for the funding we’re given is our ultimate responsibility and it doesn’t go unnoticed.

The Fire Department’s Expectation of the Community.

First and foremost, the communities role with/for/in the fire department must be defined. If the community does not understand its role in supporting their fire department, then you will not be supported, plain and simple. Volunteer fire stations MUST act with calculated communication to

convey their needs, their challenges, and their situations to the residents they protect. Information and marketing campaigns are an important tool. There is power in social media, and it’s free. A community should know that without THEM there is no emergency response. Every community must provide its fire department with willing, able, and capable responders, as well as, financial backing. Without the community, there is no fire department. Understanding the role they play allows your community to better serve the needs of their fire department. Don’t be afraid to make your financial documents and spending public. For most of you this is a legal requirement, for others it’s optional. Bottom-line, transparency is critical, information is power, and it should be shared with the public.

The Fire Chief’s Expectations of his/her Volunteers’

The Fire Chief of a volunteer fire department does not have the luxury of hand-picking his/her volunteers. The Chief has to work with and develop the volunteers the community provides. Active recruiting can help bolster your roster but overall, a fire chief MUST manage the individuals who step forward. Expectations for firefighters must be defined clearly. A great place to begin in defining expectations is to create a signed agreement of the U.S. Fire Administrations Code of Ethics (here). You can alter or add to the code of ethics to fit your organization’s needs. A poster-sized code of ethics should be clearly posted in your firehouse as a reminder to the agreement. Likewise, new probationary firefighters must be provided with a roadmap establishing clear, realistic benchmarks for achieving full member status.   Likewise, a set of policies and procedures that clearly defines the parameters for membership, expectations, and requirements. No member of your organization should be unsure of his/her role within the department. Another expectation that should be sharply communicated is an overall culture of inclusion. Officers must actively participate in overcoming internal clicks and camps, it’s one team one fight all the way. Problem individuals or members who have difficulty fitting in will require more time and energy, it’s critical for leaders to lean into these individuals instead of shunning them.  We all have to work together and the sentiment of the department’s culture is set by a combined leadership. If your leaders are inciting division amongst the ranks, that leader should be professionally developed and provided a path to successful leadership within the organization. 

The Volunteer’s Expectation of their Fire Chief

The volunteer’s of your organization will have very simple expectations of the fire department and the fire chief. First, they’ll expect that you will provide them with the proper personal protective equipment and adequate training in order to keep them safe. Firefighting is risky a business and the safety of your members is paramount. They all have a living to make elsewhere. injuries while volunteering will likely affect their livelihoods.  Second, volunteer firefighters expect that their time will be respected. Running calls, attending meetings, training, classes, and the like add up to an enormous amount of time. It rivals a part-time job, if not more. Volunteer firefighters aren’t fairweather, it’s a lifestyle we’re asking them to live. As a fire chief, we have to ensure that meetings follow strict agendas and topics of discussion. Training must be planned well, be useful, and informative. Emergency calls must be emergencies. The amount of effort you give to meetings and training will be noticeable and it all amounts to having respect for the time they are giving you. The more respect you give, the more you’ll get in return. After all, time is the most precious thing a volunteer has to give, as they can never get it back.

The Fire Department’s Expectation of Ourselves

This one is really for each organization to decide for themselves. We should all expect that we’ll be part of an honorable and thoughtful organization. With its focus on developing its membership as well as the product that is provided to the citizens of the community. Every interaction with a member of the public is an opportunity to leave a lasting impression, whether routine or emergent. The most important aspect of this is to ensure you have a vision and a mission statement that actually means something and provides a beacon for your members to follow.

Be mindful, and be prideful.

Part 4 we’ll discuss clicks, camps, and divisiveness within the fire department. 

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Is Structure Fire Smoke Killing Us?

Hopefully, most Station Pride readers have seen, or have at least heard about, the results of research performed by Underwriters Laboratories (UL) to better understand the changing dynamics of contemporary residential structure fires.  To summarize, UL found that residences are now larger, have more open floor plans, contain increased fuel loads from synthetics and composites, and are made with substantially different construction materials and methods than those built just a few decades ago.  The consequences of those changes are faster fire propagation, shorter time to flashover, rapid changes in fire dynamics, shorter escape times, and shorter time to collapse.  (Kerber)  Additional UL research has identified the contaminants in today’s smoke, and their greater levels of toxicity, but the acute

Click here to Enter Storeand chronic health effects from exposure to that smoke is still being studied.  This article is intended to present currently available information so that firefighters and officers may have a more immediate understanding of the hazardous materials in today’s smoke, particularly carbon monoxide (CO) and hydrogen cyanide (HCN) because of their significant toxicity.

Fire service personnel are at least generally aware of the hazards from CO, typically because of having to respond to alarms associated with combustion-based heating systems and the resulting use of gas meters.  However, many may not be very familiar with the associated exposure limits.  The following table summarizes the legally enforceable limit from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), as well as recommended limits from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).  Both agencies express those limits as an 8-hour time-weighted average (TWA) inhaled exposure, which is intended to cover a standard workday, in parts per million (ppm).  As a mental reference, 1 ppm is roughly equivalent to 7/10 of a gallon in an Olympic-size swimming pool.

CO HCN
OSHA Permissible Exposure Limit (PEL) 50 ppm 10 ppm
NIOSH Recommended Exposure Limit (REL) 35 ppm 5 ppm
Ceiling (shouldn’t be exceeded, even briefly) 200 ppm N/A
Immediately Dangerous to Life and Health (IDLH) 1,200 ppm 50 ppm

Unlike CO, my experience is that many firefighters are not familiar with HCN, even though its existence is smoke has been known for many years.  They often have no way of measuring their exposure to it, so they typically have no familiarity the associated exposure limits.  Note that OSHA’s PEL for HCN is 5-times less than that for CO, which is the same as saying they perceive it to be 5-times more toxic.  Unfortunately, that’s only the tip of the iceberg.

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), a branch of the Centers for Disease Control, has published a medical management guideline for HCN which states that it smells like bitter almond and has an odor threshold of 2 to 10 ppm (compare that to the PEL).  However, the guideline also says that the odor threshold “…does not provide adequate warning of hazardous concentrations…” because HCN causes olfactory fatigue (i.e., you stop smelling it even though the airborne concentration could be unchanged or increasing) and the fact that 10% to 20% of the population can’t smell it at all due to genetic traits.  The guideline provides ominous warnings about the health effects of HCN exposure: (1) highly toxic by all routes of exposure and may cause abrupt onset of profound central nervous system (CNS), cardiovascular, and respiratory effects leading to death within minutes; (2) exposure to lower concentrations of hydrogen cyanide may produce eye irritation, headache, confusion, nausea, and vomiting followed in some cases by coma and death; (3) hydrogen cyanide acts as a cellular asphyxiant (prevents the utilization of oxygen in cellular metabolism), and; (4) the CNS and myocardium (heart muscle) are particularly sensitive to the toxic effects of cyanide.

We should pay particular attention to the effect that HCN has on the cardiovascular system and myocardium for this simple reason: the most recent National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) statistics indicate the nature of injury for 51% of the 70 to 100 annual firefighter line of duty deaths in the United States is “sudden cardiac death.”  Furthermore, Prehospital and Disaster Medicine, the official journal of the National Association of EMS Physicians, has reported that “…cyanide exposure is: (1) to be expected in those exposed to smoke in closed-space fires; (2) cyanide poisoning is an important cause of incapacitation and death in smoke-inhalation victims, and; (3) that cyanide can act independently of, and perhaps synergistically with, carbon monoxide to cause morbidity and mortality.” (Marc Eckstein, MD, FACEP, and Paul Maniscalco, MPA, DrBA(c))  I have to wonder if at least part of those 36 to 51 annual firefighter fatalities are the result of acute and/or chronic effects of CO and/or HCN from smoke inhalation?  If that is the case, then I also wonder how we could better detect and mitigate or prevent such exposures?

The bottom line is that structure fires these days should be thought of and managed, at least in part, as a hazmat incident.  That means personnel must be trained about the toxicological hazards and their significance, air monitoring needs to occur, an appropriate level of personal protective equipment must be worn, protective zones need to be established, and decontamination needs to occur for those exiting the hot or warm zone.  If you still think that approach is even somewhat extreme, take a look at the NFPA 704 markings copied from a Safety Data Sheet (SDS) for CO (left) and HCNNFPA 704 - CO (right).  What firefighter would not NFPA 704 - HCNbe thinking they’re in a hazmat situation when pulling up to a working fire at an occupancy having those markings on its exterior?  Some may argue that each SDS is for a pure chemical, not the mixture that would be found in smoke.  To that I say the National Institute of Science and Technology’s (NIST) June 2005 report on its technical investigation of The Station nightclub fire proves that very high concentrations of these extremely toxic chemicals can develop with surprising rapidity.

The Station fire occurred in West Warwick, RI in February of 2003 when pyrotechnic devices used by a nationally popular band ignited polyurethane foam used on the stage walls and ceiling as soundproofing.  The fire then spread quickly along the walls and ceiling area over the dance floor.  Smoke was visible in the exit doorways in a little more than one minute, and flames were observed breaking through a portion of the roof in less than five minutes.  One hundred people died because egress from the nightclub, which was not equipped with sprinklers, was hampered by crowding at the main entrance to the building.  The fire’s progression was captured by a local television station’s camera crew that was filming the show, which helped NIST define a clear timeline of events.  The NIST investigation involved extensive use of real-scale mock-ups, measurement of key parameters during live-fire testing, and computer modeling.  The parameter measurements taken at stations approximately 1/3 (Location C) and 2/3 (Location D) of the distance from the stage (raised platform) to the rear of the dance floor are particularly relevant to this article (The Station’s floor plan from the NIST report is provided below).  Both locations generated very similar results, so I’ll provide only those for Location D in the interest of brevity.

Floor Plan

 NIST considered any room to be untenable when any of the following fire conditions occur: (1) temperature exceeds 120° C (250° F); (2) oxygen content drops below 12%, or; (3) atmosphere beCOO2_crop.jpgcomes IDLH.  The graphs for CO and HCN at Location D, which was 1.4 meters (4.6 feet) above the floor, paint a dramatic picture of how quickly The Station’s dance floor became untenable.  Note that the readings are expressed as percentages, and understand that 1% equals 10,000 ppm.  Thus, CO at Location D was approximately 20,000 ppm (17-times IDLH) and HCN was approximately 1,750 ppm (35-times IDLH) at 90 seconds after ignition.  Interestingly, Location C showed consistently lower HCN readings than Location D, implying that parameter’s concentration may tend to increase as distance from the fire increases.  Another graph in the NIST report showed that the rising CO and HCN levels corresponded with declining oxygen content.  Yet another showed the room was untenable due to temperature at 80 seconds after ignition.  Not surprisingly, the tests also revealed that the room would have remained tenable had it been equipped with fire sprinklers.

Fire and emergency medical services in the RI region paid understandably close attention to what the NIST HCN_cropinvestigation revealed, and became sensitized to the potential for HCN poisoning from smoke inhalation.  Then, “…in March of 2006, a firefighter in Providence, R.I., was diagnosed with cyanide poisoning after responding to a building fire.  Over a period of 16 hours, seven more firefighters were diagnosed with cyanide poisoning, including one who suffered a heart attack while working the pump panel in the front of the residential structure. It was only through a series of coincidences that emergency room physicians checked that last firefighter for cyanide poisoning.” (Rochford)

The Providence Fire Department promptly formed a committee to investigate those casualties, then issued its report in May of 2006.  They found “…overwhelming evidence exists that cyanide is present in fire smoke more commonly and in greater quantities than previously believed due to modern materials such as plastics, rubber, asphalt and polyacrylonitriles.”  They also found that “…the cyanide problem has gone unrecognized by firefighters and the medical community…” for several reasons, including: “…symptoms of cyanide poisoning are similar and commonly attributed to carbon monoxide poisoning; the blood test for cyanide poisoning is not readily available in most hospitals, [and]; doctors do not routinely order cyanide test on firefighters or smoke inhalation patients because the test results for cyanide commonly take from two hours to come back, making [them] diagnostically useless given that the half-life of cyanide in the body is one-hour.”  The committee also determined that “cyanide can cause cardiac arrhythmias and other medical conditions commonly being experienced by firefighters.” (Varone et al.)

Varone presented the Providence report at the 2007 FDIC International conference, providing greater national awareness of the problem.  Fire departments began purchasing equipment to detect and prevent exposure to HCN.  In fact, air monitoring by the safety officer at a structure fire in Terre Haute, IN revealed that the exterior HCN readings were greater than those for the interior.  That corroborates my previous observation that HCN concentration may increase as distance from the fire increases.

By now it should be quite evident that CO and HCN present a real and quantifiable health and safety problem for the fire service, and the public, because to the fire loads we are now encountering.  Fortunately, the problem can be at least mitigated, if not prevented, by incorporating a few basic hazmat practices at structure fires.  First, the problem can’t be effectively managed if it can’t be measured, so air monitoring for CO and HCN is a must.  The exterior/downwind areas should be checked during active fire suppression and/or when there is substantial drifting smoke.  The interior should be monitored before personnel may doff their SCBA.  Exterior and interior monitoring should be periodically repeated until readings are consistently below any Action Level.  SCBA should be worn whenever an Action Level is exceeded, whether interior or exterior .  My suggestions for Action Levels would be an 8-hour time-weighted average of 35 ppm or greater for CO, and a 15-minute time-weighted average of 5 ppm or greater for HCN.  Monitoring could be performed with a calibrated meter or with non-expired colorimetric tubes.  Be aware that HCN, especially the calibration gas, may not be compatible with other sensors in a multi-gas meter, so it may be most practical to get a small, 1-gas meter if such a device is preferred.  I’ll also note that calibration gas and colorimetric tubes present an ongoing expense because they have an expiration date, and that shipping the calibration gas for a meter is expensive because it’s an inhalation hazard.

Second, decontamination and PPE control requirements should be established.  Potentially exposed personnel should wash at least their hands with soap and water before eating or drinking; also washing the face would be prudent.  Turnout gear should get gross decontamination while on-scene.  A soft bristle brush and/or fog stream can be used, but try to prevent saturation.  It should then be promptly washed and dried in accordance with the manufacturer’s recommendations.  Demonstrating your experience by maintaining “salty” gear is a seriously bad idea because it enables persistent secondary contamination!  For example, volunteers often keep their gear in their vehicle and could cause ongoing exposure to themselves, their family, or their friends.  Children have far greater inhalation risk than an adult. Their lung surface area is proportionally much larger and their mass is significantly smaller, resulting in a greater dose from exposure to the same airborne concentration.

Third, personnel should be monitored for symptoms of CO or HCN poisoning, which can be delayed by up to an hour, and need to receive immediate medical treatment should they develop.  Symptomatic personnel should receive medical observation for at least 4 to 6 hours. (ATSDR)  An acceptable blood cyanide level would be 20 micrograms per decaliter (Varone et al.) , beyond which appropriate medical treatment must be immediately provided.  “The…treatment for carbon monoxide inhalation can revive the patient, however, without a cyanide antidote kit, the lasting effects of hydrogen cyanide poisoning can create enduring medical  complications.” (Rochford)

Last, it’s best to develop a written procedure and a training program so that firefighters and the emergency medical services can have a consistent understanding of the problem, how to mitigate or prevent exposure, and how to recognize and manage any symptoms that develop.  I have both a procedure and a training presentation that I’m willing to share at no cost in the interest of firefighter safety. (You can download the Powerpoint here, Training sheets here, and the Instructor sheets here)

We share a vocation/avocation that can be extremely hazardous.  Smoke inhalation has previously been thought to be fairly simple and easily treatable, but it can now have lethal acute and chronic consequences.  We need to change our mindset.  The incorporation of basic hazmat practices at structure fires can have significant positive impact on our health and safety, as well as that of those around us.  Think safety, act safely, and let’s ensure that everyone goes home!

References:

  • Stephen Kerber, “Analysis of Changing Structure Fire Dynamics and Its Implications on Firefighter Operational Timeframes,” Underwriters Laboratories
  • 29 CFR 1910, Subpart Z, Table Z-1, “Limits for Air Contaminants”
  • NIOSH, “Pocket Guide to Chemical Hazards,” September 2007
  • ATSDR, “Medical Management Guidelines for Hydrogen Cyanide,” 2017
  • NFPA, “Firefighter Deaths by Cause and Nature of Injury,” 2017
  • Eckstein & Maniscalco, “Focus on smoke inhalation–the most common cause of acute cyanide poisoning,” Prehospital and Disaster Medicine, March-April 2006
  • Airgas SDS, “Carbon Monoxide,” 5/12/2015
  • Matheson Tri-Gas SDS, “Hydrogen Cyanide, Anhydrous, Stabilized,” 12/11/2008
  • NIST NCSTAR 2: Volume 1, “Report of the Technical Investigation of The Station Nightclub Fire,” June 2005
  • Rochford, “Hydrogen Cyanide – What Every Emergency Responder Needs to Know,” National Fallen Firefighter Foundation, November 2008
  • Varone et al., “Report of the Investigation Committee into the Cyanide Poisonings of Providence Firefighters,” 5/30/2006
  • Terre Haute Fire Department, “Daily Drill – Air Monitoring”
Blog

What are We Doing to our Future Firefighters?

A lot of older firefighters like to talk about ‘the way it used to be.’  But, does that mean that it’s the way it should be?

If you’ve ever spent any time in a firehouse you’ll inevitably hear a sentence that starts with “Back when I started…” quickly followed by a story about how things then were better, more efficient or easier to understand.

While that line of thinking is sometimes correct it goes without saying that this might not always be the case.

I’m not here to debate tactics or technical details of the fire service, I leave that to the officers.  But, what I do think firehouses should begin to reconsider is how we treat the future of the fire service.

You see, I started FirefighterNOW as a place where future and aspiring firefighters could have access to the best resources to understand what the fire service is about, learn what is necessary to be a firefighter and most importantly how to navigate the long hiring process.

It began with the intent of being a place where someone with absolutely no knowledge of the fire service can come learn and not be told they’re stupid or ‘maybe if you’re lucky someday you will be a firefighter.’

Since it’s beginning I’ve had the opportunity to speak and interact with hundreds of candidates, many of whom have since been hired by full-time departments.  One trend I’ve noticed is that many of them have experienced several less than pleasant station visits or ride times with their local department.


In fact, I know exactly where they’re coming from, as when I was in EMT school I did ride time at a local department where even if you doubled my current salary today, I would never take a job there.

We all know that one person in our department who is horrible towards students or visitors, and I’m wondering where they feel they get the right to treat the future of the fire service in that way?

Now I’m not saying we need to fall all over ourselves just to make that individual feel welcome.  But as someone who has worked with hundreds of candidates, and counting maybe we should rethink the way we treat our future firefighters.

You’d be hard pressed to meet a firefighter who claimed not to care about the fire service and the culture it has worked so hard to build and maintain.  But my question would be how much do you really care if we’re letting ‘that guy’ possibly push away some of our best candidates?Maybe instead of letting the one obnoxious guy on our shift treat someone like garbage, we should step in and stop it?

Unfortunately, I know some will read this and accuse younger generations of being ‘soft’ or ‘entitled’ and while I may not entirely disagree.  I’ve always found it prudent to take a look at our own behavior before we begin to judge someone else.

Health and Wellness

Understanding Fire Service Suicide, the Key to Prevention.

The article, PTSD, are we selling a lie, has quite a few great points and hits on so much that is true for the fire service. I could not agree more with the following quote: “We as firefighters hold greater respect and dignity in the public eye than nearly any profession on earth, and the reason is simple, we are there when you need us. It is time for the fire service to move beyond education of PTSD and psychological wellness in the fire service, and to shift its focus towards preventative measures that begin at the recruitment process and build from a foundation of personnel who are prepared for the task that lies before them, who are prepared to show up and perform, fully aware that no one else is coming if we fail.” This is the heart of the problem for those in the fire service. We are called to help folks in crisis, and as a result, we feel that we must always be prepared to be the helpers.

In as much, we fear that if we have any sort of weakness, we will be deemed unfit. However, where this article can harm more than benefit,  and what causes me to cringe is the title and the following: “According to the Firefighter Behavioral Health Alliance (2016), PTSD and its underlying consequences have taken the lives of at least 131 firefighters and EMS workers in 2016 alone (Dill, 2016), and that’s only in the United States.” When we attribute every fire service suicide to PTSD and the underlying consequences of PTSD, we silence those who are suffering from other issues unrelated to PTSD and issues that fester if left untreated into a major crisis: Depression, alcoholism, divorce, family problems, health problems, etc.

PTSD is a huge consequence of the job and is an injury that if left untreated can be devastating. We absolutely must take measures to ensure that people who have PTSD know they are having normal reactions to extraordinary situations. Treatment is available, and treatment helps! However, it is not the only cause of fire service suicide and to say that it can be damaging.  Public servants are human, and it is normal to have highs and lows in life.  However, if the lows are not cared for, they can snowball. Firefighters afraid to share their struggles tend to use unhealthy coping mechanisms such as alcohol.  However, like CO & HCN, depression and alcoholism can be toxic twins.  Alcoholism leads to poor choices and poor health which just makes everything worse and can be deadly.

So attributing 100% of firefighter suicides to PTSD only will cause members who are struggling with other risk factors to suffer in silence and be ashamed to admit the issues they are facing. Like I said, the article hit the nail on the head when it recommended that we need to shift towards preventative measures. However, these are not always going to be built during the recruitment process. Of all the work I have done and research I have conducted, Dr. Thomas Joiner has come up with a model that explains suicide. His model has yet to be disproven and is 100% relatable to the fire service. First and Foremost, Stigma = Fear + Ignorance. The stigma behind suicide is directly related to the ignorance surrounding the causes.  Fear is ok, but we must eliminate ignorance through education.

For example, science has proven that 95% of those who complete suicide had a mental disorder such as depression or alcoholism. What this tells me is, if we stop fearing treatment and learn how to admit that: “HEY, IT’S OK TO NOT BE OK!” then we will learn to ask for help when we need it, rather than suffer in the silence of our misery and continue to turn to other mechanisms.

Dr. Joiner’s theory is simple, while there are a lot of causes that lead to suicide: PTSD, Depression, Alcoholism, Divorce, Substance abuse, etc. , there is only one common final pathway that leads to suicide:  Loneliness plus feeling like a burden will create a desire to die, and this desire translates into lethal behavior only in the presence of acquired capability or a learned fearlessness. Most firefighters do not realize that the job allows us to develop this fearlessness quicker than the general population. This next quote is directly from Dr. Joiner in 2011 at the NFFF suicide summit: “Put more directly, it may well be that firefighting in itself does not increase a firefighter’s risk for suicide and may, in fact, provide some protection. But when those protections, for whatever reason, are weakened, and other factors in the firefighter’s life serve to compound risk, the capacity to actually take that final action may be greater. Accordingly, it is not necessarily that firefighters die by suicide at greater rates than others but rather that factors known to affect anyone’s life can become all the more difficult for a firefighter if the bonds and perceptions that make the occupation so attractive and compelling are lessened or lost. This provides a salient framework from which to consider the roles that fire departments and fellow firefighters can play in prevention, intervention, and survivor support.”

So yes, PTSD is a huge problem, and members must learn that it is an injury, and treatment can help. We can not try to get through on our own. BUT!!! PTSD is not the only thing that causes us to take our lives. This article, without realizing so, is just another reason for somebody who so desperately needs help for their underlying problem that may or may not be work-related to suffer in silence because they fear their problem is not worthy of help.

So what can we do?  We can encourage members to reach out for help. We can follow the amazing framework of the Illinois Firefighter Peer Support Team, http://www.ilffps.org/. Matt Olson, Executive Director, states: “I am reading this, and I think a problem with the PTSD awareness movement is it forgets that depression is a huge part of suicides. More importantly, if we look to PTSD as the “heroic” injury, it makes people with depression less likely to stand up and take care of themselves.” The ILFFPS team’s mission is to simply create a safe environment where folks can admit that they are not ok.  Peer support is available 24/7 and as a result has the ability to lessen the loneliness factor of Dr. Joiner’s theory.

Illinois Firefighter Peer Support

When peer supporters recognize that an individual needs more than just peer support, the team has access to their trained clinical team who possess the power to eliminate the burdensome component.  Feeling as though one’s death is worth more than their life is almost always a misperception that requires treatment.  A study by the American Association of Suicidology found that 78% of people who attempted suicide, had significant regret.  This means, these people simply needed help for their underlying problems and felt powerless.

As stated by Chief Dan Degryse of the Chicago Fire Department, “Suicide is just one outcome for an individual that can manifest for some time before he or she reaches the decision to die by suicide.” Intervention is key to prevention and making it ok to say you’re not ok is the key to intervention.  A seminal study was published in 1978 by Richard Seiden on 515 people who were restrained from jumping from the Golden Gate Bridge.  Of those who received mental health treatment, 95% were still alive decades after the study or died of natural causes.  Treatment works!

Spreading the message that the fire service must create a safe environment to admit when one is not ok and allow members to continue to serve while receiving assistance for their underlying issues is critical to prevention. Matt Olson and the ILFFPS are doing it right by spreading the message that it’s ok to not be ok and therapy helps. Sometimes just talking to a peer is enough and sometimes you need a little more help, but it’s ok to not be ok! And it’s ok for the reason that you are not ok to be something outside of the job.

Firefighters are human and susceptible to stress, depression, and anxiety just like every other human.  “At any given time, around 5 percent of the U.S. population is experiencing major depressive disorder. The disorder involves sadness, insomnia, loss of energy, and the like, and it causes serious distress and affects people’s lives negatively. But in the majority of the cases, it does not involve psychosis, dementia, intoxication, or delirium” Joiner, 2009.

There is no weakness in admitting you’re not ok, only strength.

Research

The Station Pride Journal of Firefighter Research & Wellness

We’re pleased to introduce The Station Pride Journal of Firefighter Research & Wellness. We will be publishing journal articles reporting our findings and conclusions drawn from data collected with the Station Pride Firefighter Survey that took place between September of 2016 and January of 2017. Ten Thousand Firefighters took the voluntary survey. An image preview is provided below, or you can download the PDF file under “Download”

Download

Volume 1 Number 1 

 

Blog

PTSD, ARE WE SELLING A LIE?

Post-traumatic stress disorder has jettisoned its way to the forefront of firefighter health and wellness in recent years. It is a problem that hits home for a substantial populous of the United States Fire Service, and for good reason. According to the Firefighter Behavioral Health Alliance (2016), PTSD and its underlying consequences have taken the lives of at least 131 firefighters and EMS workers in 2016 alone (Dill, 2016), and that’s only in the United States. This figure sadly includes my senior man and partner of the last 5 years.

The fire service as a whole has done an exceptional job of identifying and educating its membership of the problem, but the time has come to look inward. We must ask ourselves an even more taxing question. Are we responsible for creating and perpetuating the growing epidemic of PTSD and suicide in the fire service?

This question takes its’ roots in the ever developing process of fire service recruitment. Nationwide we dangle before aspiring professionals the bounty of solid pay, great benefits, and an overall culture of camaraderie and family. We sell the position of firefighter from the same platform as white collar business and industry, and we veil our sales pitch behind the shroud of our pop culture image, one that perpetually emphasizes the miracle save and the happy ending, the affluent and beautiful world of the Hollywood fire service where everyone goes home safe and suffering only last for 30-90 minutes (with commercials). Are we selling our future recruits a lie?

The truth is the members of the fire service live in a dark and complex world, one tucked away beneath the surface, where the majority of society will never venture to look. It’s not just the gore and the death; but the abuse, the poverty, and the barrage of sickness, pain, and suffering that will span nearly a lifetime; or at the very least a 20-30 year career.

We Are The Sin Eaters

We as firefighters are the ‘Sin-Eaters,’ tasked with stepping beyond the light of the world into the dark corners where few people choose (or even know) to look. We do this by choice, each and every one of us, and we bear the responsibility of what we see, hear, and smell. We do this, willingly, because as firefighters the public has entrusted us to be strong, calculated, and decisive where others can not because in doing so we ever so often have the opportunity to do something truly remarkable…save a life.

The most important takeaway of this concept is that we do this by choice. We expose ourselves by choice. However, in failing to paint an adequate picture of what we do for our future recruits, we have taken away from them the opportunity to look inward, and to truly ask themselves if they are prepared for what we are tasked with doing. How can we expect to mitigate the problem of PTSD and suicide in the fire service if we first fail to prepare those we recruit for the realities of what we do in the first place?

 

The first step in combating PTSD in the fire service is to ensure we take on the responsibility of recruiting those who are mentally prepared and discouraging those who are not. If we continue to fail in this respect, the responsibility of their disease or their death rests squarely at our feet, because we are the ones who brought them in under false pretense. The dark side of the fire service should be no less transparent in fire department recruitment, than the fact that we run into burning buildings.


After The Pitch

It is critical that the recruitment process be retooled in order for PTSD in the fire service to truly be mitigated, but it must also extend beyond recruiting, and into employment. The fire service as a whole is exemplar in educating its membership as to the existence of, and subsequent consequences of PTSD and psychological disorders. However, dissemination without resolution can manifest into a dangerous and detrimental environment.

In the age of digital information and social media, it is nearly impossible as a firefighter to log onto a
computer or smartphone without finding an email, memo, or social media post highlighting the prevalence of psychological distress within the fire service. Often these posts showcase a growing list of our brothers and sisters who have committed suicide or fallen victim to the grips of depression, anxiety, and substance abuse.

True to our nature as servicemen, we are quick to spread the word of this growing epidemic in our field. We are even quicker to honor those who have fallen. However, we are failing as an organization to reach beyond education, awareness, and mitigation to the real solution, prevention. Quite the opposite, we are (in fact) promoting the growth of the very problem we are trying so desperately to prevent.

We hire new members to carry on our profession and craft, and we have a responsibility to correct the massive misconceptions we have allowed to infiltrate the hiring and training process. Members are recruited under a false pretense of the mental stamina required of our position and subsequently saturated with education and information pertaining to PTSD, substance abuse, and suicide. Consequently, future generations of firefighters are taught to believe that the behaviors exhibited by those suffering from mental distress are the expected behaviors of persons in their position. This may very well be contributing to the 63% increase in reported firefighter suicides in the United States since 2012.

By over saturating our membership with information pertaining to this grave problem we are forcing them to ask the question “Is this how I’m supposed to feel?” Inevitably a portion of our members will manifest the ‘expected’ response. They will begin to believe that they are expected to be haunted by the things we do, see, hear, and experience because we as an organization have conditioned them to believe this response is ‘the norm”.

One of the greatest points of pride for firemen is the ability to handle an infinite number of situations that the general public could never even begin to imagine. We take great pride in the responsibility of being asked to mitigate any situation that our crews are tasked with resolving, and doing so in a manner that is calm, calculated, and professional. This is one of the greatest traditions carried on the backs of firefighters for centuries, the ability to show up and help where no one else can. It is the very essence of why firefighters have been held in such high regard since the inception of the fire service. However, we have an obligation to maintain this image in the public eye, and we have an obligation to staff our departments and apparatus with members who are prepared to be mentally strong when others can not. We as firefighters hold greater respect and dignity in the public eye than nearly any profession on earth, and the reason is simple, we are there when you need us. It is time for the fire service to move beyond education of PTSD and psychological wellness in the fire service, and to shift its focus towards preventative measures that begin at the recruitment process and build from a foundation of personnel who are prepared for the task that lies before them, who are prepared to show up and perform, fully aware that no one else is coming if we fail.

In 2014 while speaking to the concept of post-traumatic stress growth General James Norman Mattis stated that “while victimhood in America is exalted, I do not think that our veterans should join those ranks” (Mattis, 2014). I think the same should be true of nations firefighters. If we continue to tell our members that they are somehow damaged by what we do, it is only a matter of time before they come to believe this is true. However if we empower them with a sense of pride to be strong and courageous when others cannot, we will bread future generations of firefighters whom will rise to the call to serve their fellow man selflessly and without question, who will wear their battle scars with pride, as they tell a story of a life dedicated to the service of others.

This is our call to action for the fire service. We are not damaged, but rather forged in the fires of our craft to be stronger and more resilient than ever before, because we as firemen are called upon to exhibit this strength unwaveringly.

Bibliography:

Mattis, James N. General “General Mattis on PTG.” YouTube. YouTube, 06 Jan. 2017. Web. 06 Feb. 2017.

Dill, Jeff, Captain. “What Are These Numbers? « Firefighter Behavioral Health Alliance.” What Are These

February 4, 2017

Numbers? « Firefighter Behavioral Health Alliance. Firefighter Behavioral Health Alliance, 01 Jan. 2017. Web.

06 Feb. 2017.

Blog

The Death of Leather in the Fire Service

CLIFFWOOD, NJ – In an announcement made today by the U.S. Supreme Court, leather will no longer utilized in the production of firefighter ensemble or accessories, unless lawfully approved by a Board of Trustees that is comprised of members throughout the country that are trained and authorized to employ such use in a manner that would prove to be uninvolved with fire suppression activities.

 

The New York Times revealed several studies and interviews made by the founding members of Cairns & Brothers, a company that designed leather helmets has been named as one of the leading proponents of it’s product’s usage. “Leather is made more durable and outlasting today than ever before. If it weren’t for it’s usage in the fire service, we would be out of a job.” Cairns & Brothers have been the leaders in “lids” since the early 1850’s and have kept the design similar to that of it’s inventor, Henry J. Gratacap. Recent studies by consulting firms have revealed that leather helmets are being referred to as “top-heavy and unsafe.” Click here for current lawsuit information.

Other leather accessories such as front pieces, belts, and radio straps are also being included as a way to completely rid the profession of all types of leather, due to it’s apparent risk. Different types of leather are currently being tested in burn rooms for endurance, sensitivity, moisture release, conductivity to electrical hazards, and melt factor.

What could be done to prove the regulations are working? For years, safety stickers have been found inside the impact cap that indicate the date of manufacture, type of testing, inspector test code, and light refractivity rating. Over time, these stickers have stood up against the elements of the atmosphere most commonly found in fires. Manufacturers have become less strict on their placement/type of material used and it has been apparent in recent tests. “It is important for all manufacturers to comply with labeling requirements,” says Justin Paddock, Chief of Sciences at the Bureau of Exposure and Atmospheric Reactions to Headgear Factors under Thermal Insult (BEARHFTI). “These labels ensure consumers know if the products they are purchasing are new or used, contain added chemicals, may pose a risk to family members with allergies, and that products meet basic flammability requirements. In short, these labels protect the health and welfare of households.” For years these labels have stayed inside helmets, however it is becoming evident they are being removed, or more importantly, becoming less legible. Just so you know, some people probably didn’t make it this far. If you did, I would like to formally thank you very much for staying true to our page and following us. Without loyal viewers like you, we wouldn’t be what we are today. Since you are here, please be sure to bash the hell out of all the haters of this article in public forums and don’t let them talk too much trash about us. We appreciate your support and thank you very much. Now back to the end of the article, to “make it look good. “Labels have been required to assist in warranty and claim information, but have recently been of little help. Helmet labeling requirements in California began in 1911, in response to the fires following the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. At that time, there were no set standards for letting consumers know what materials were used in the making of their leather products, allowing unscrupulous manufacturers to use unsafe materials.

Furthermore, due to a national shortage of cowhide, there has been an incline in supply, which has caused an all-time low in “economical relative susceptibility to purity,” according to Paddock. Consequently, leather products and their by-products have been on the decline in recent months. For these reasons and more, leather has become a past-time in our great profession, and we all need to go out and rid ourselves of it’s usage. We at Station-Pride highly recommend putting it to good use and put some salt on it as quickly as possible…because it sounds like it won’t be around for much longer. Visit our friends over at Leatherhead Mafia for more details and literature on how YOU can prevent this from happening.

Blog

IAFF begins Unionizing Volunteer Firefighters

In an incredible policy reversal, the International Association of Fire Fighters(IAFF) has called a truce on a decades-long feud with the volunteer fire service. It’s widely known that 70% of the American fire service is comprised of unpaid or barely compensated volunteers, while the remaining 30% are career staff. The large majority of firefighters in the United States are volunteers.

It’s been a long-held position of the IAFF that volunteer firefighters take jobs away from career firefighters, thus threatening the sanctity and long-term viability of the union. The IAFF’s continued mission to grow the union has been happening at a slower pace than planned. Due to the financial crisis, department consolidation, and budget cuts, small career departments have been dissolving back into volunteer
stations.

IAFF President Christopher Montgomery stated that it was time to rethink the 100-year-old IAFF platform. During a brainstorming session with the executive board of directors, the idea of unionizing volunteer stations was presented. It was a game-changing Eureka moment, Montgomery said. After very little discussion it was clear the decision was pivotal and necessary for the health of the union.

IAFF President Montgomery further stated that hundreds of thousands of existing firefighters are under-represented and disenfranchised by a system that doesn’t support them. Volunteers are required to complete the same training hours and respond to the same emergency calls, performing labor with ZERO compensation and in most cases ZERO ancillary medical or psychological support. Exposure to cancer-causing toxins, emotionally taxing situations, and the risk of post-traumatic stress leave an entire segment of the firefighting community in dire need of representation.

Union dues are expected to range from $10-$25 per month, per volunteer, depending on the type of department and budget. Montgomery stated that the union was committed to all firefighters everywhere willing to pay dues. Of course, the union local for a volunteer station will have limited powers at first but the action has the potential to upend the entire volunteer system as we know it, effectively
bankrupting communities, forcing consolidation, thus triggering the need and means to hire career staff.

IAFF board of trustee Mark Burke spoke out against the decision to unionize volunteers stating it was the most genius trojan horse plan the union has ever concocted to completely dismantle the American volunteer fire service, all in the pursuit of dues.

It’s nearly unbelievable that a situation like this would occur. Only time will tell whether the IAFF’s position will make a positive or negative impact on the fire service. For sure, this will benefit individual firefighters in some fashion as they will finally have professional representation.

No matter which side of the fence you reside with this topic, unions have always stood up for the American worker, protecting us from big business and government. Volunteers represent an untapped resource for the IAFF to grow in strength while building a stronger more safe fire service nationwide. The unionization of volunteers will redefine the American fire service. It’s clear the IAFF is taking a large step forward, revolutionizing the idea of a union. We applaud their efforts to protect the union and we certainly hope they are good sports.

 

 

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Town Opens Firehouse to Homeless, Solves Volunteer Shortage

The Town of Corson, SD has been struggling with an incredible homeless problem for years. One by one, businesses packed up and left, leaving the town’s residents high and dry. Through State grants and town planning, Corson part-time Mayor Delbert Dezotell spent years expanding their response to the problem. Despite his efforts, Corson was never able to get ahead of their homeless problem.

As with most volunteers fire stations in the United States, they’re consistently coming up short on staffing. Chief Chris Andrews of the Corson Volunteer Fire Department said, “The people aren’t coming out of their homes like they used to. Video games, television, and the Internet have eroded their sense of community. We used to support each other.”

This winter was particularly unbearable, and the town’s volunteer shelters had been over capacity daily, resorting to turning people away. Mayor Dezotell stated that turning people away was not an ideal situation; he had been opening his home to accommodate the over-flow.

A brutal cold snap swept through Corson in the first week of February, killing a homeless man who’d been turned away from an overcrowded shelter. The Mayor refused to accept this situation or allow this to happen again. Chief Andrews was ordered to open up the fire station as a shelter for the homeless. Reluctantly, but wishing to comply with the town managers directive, Chief Andrews opened the firehouse out of compassion for the situation.

Twenty-three homeless men and women filtered into the fire station, setting up sleeping bags, taking much-needed showers, and washing clothes. At 2:23 am on the first night of occupancy, a call came in for a structure fire at the Corson railyard repair area. The in-house alerting system woke all of the temporary residents. Chief Andrews arrived at the station from home and waited for a crew, but only 2 volunteers arrived. The next nearest mutual aid station was 30 minutes away.

In dire need for manpower, Chief Andrews asked his temporary residents for anyone willing to help put out a fire. All twenty-three homeless individuals stepped forward, grabbing turnout gear off the rack and filling all the seats on every truck leaving the station. Three fully staffed engines arrived on scene. The crews worked tirelessly to extinguish the fire.

After a few days had passed, Chief Andrews couldn’t shake the feeling about what had happened that night when the idea dawned on him. Why not offer the homeless semi-permanent residence in exchange for signing up as volunteer firefighters?

For the first time since the mid-1980’s, the town of Corson Volunteer Fire Station has been fully-staffed for an entire month. Mayor Dezotell lauded Chief Andrews for his forward out-of-the-box thinking. One U.S. town solving both its homeless problem and it’s volunteer firefighter problem in one decision. That’s a pretty incredible feat. Could this become a new trend throughout volunteer stations country-wide?