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I’ve Got The Power

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.Pulling an electrical meter.

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.

Residential meter pulling tool.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.

 

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You Don’t Know What Brotherhood Means

Brotherhood is a word that is preached endlessly in the Fire Service.  However, for the majority of you, I don’t think you know what it means.

wordNow before you all get offended, hear me out.  I think the majority understand the concept of brotherhood.  However, until you have a personal tragedy in your life, the full impact of the brotherhood isn’t fully understood.  We may do little things like help each other train, move, or be an ear to listen and give advice.

I speak from experience when I tell you there is so much more to the brotherhood than those small things.  I’ve seen first hand the extent of the brotherhood when recently, a local Fire Department lost a long time member .  The members of the department were contacted by other firefighters they had never even met who called and told them, “we’re here if you need ANYTHING.”

When I was diagnosed with Leukemia, I hadn’t even finished fire academy.  Yet, the brotherhood stood up and accepted me as their own and supported my family and I in our fight.  That support was paramount in me reaching my goal.  As a result, I beat the Leukemia, went back to Fire Academy and graduated.

tragedy  The brotherhood isn’t something that just “is” either.  It’s an attitude.  It takes hard work and dedication.  The concept of the brotherhood should always be to put more into it than you get out of it.  Think of the brotherhood as a glass of water.  Without putting more water into it than you take out of it, it will eventually be empty.

As current members of the Fire Service, it’s up to us to keep the heart of the brotherhood strong.  Without us working to keep the heart of the brotherhood pumping, it will die out and be no more.  We all have to work hard to maintain the best part of the Fire Service, the brotherhood.

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Accepting Mediocrity

Mediocrity is a dangerous blight on the fire service.  In volunteer and full-time departments alike, we accept mediocrity in our equipment, personnel and even in ourselves.  Unfortunately, as a result, our brothers and sisters, families and community all suffer.

Low manpower is a large problem in a lot of rural volunteer departments.  In some cases, they take what they can get, but is this always homer_fireman_1what’s best?  In my opinion, a lack of firefighters is far better than a bad or dangerous one.  Firefighters who don’t hold themselves to a standard, don’t train, or don’t think they should are far deadlier than the fires we are fighting.

The majority of our line of duty deaths in the fire service are result of this mediocrity at times.  Our health not being a priority results in heart attack LODD’s.  Not wearing our PPE as it was designed results in failures and deaths or injuries.  Not wearing our seat belts on every call at all times can take a life on that one time it isn’t worn.  Even a cultural attitude in your department can be detrimental.  Having a “just deal with it/get over it” attitude can breed depression and other mental issues that can ultimately take over and even end a person’s life.

Holding ourselves and our brothers and sisters in the fire service accountable to the standards we should be at is key to ending the mediocrity.

Mediocrity Green Road Sign with Dramatic Clouds, Sun Rays and Sky.

Even at a low level in the department, you can create change by leading by example.  It will take time, and it won’t be easy but it can be done.  I myself am, by far, not the perfect firefighter, but as of today, I vow to better myself mentally and physically and hold myself to a standard that I should be at.  I have a long ways to go, but it needs to be done.  I will no longer accept myself in my current state as I am not in the best shape to help my community and support my brothers and sisters.  Will you do the same?

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The Rookie Attitude

As a rookie, our most important job is to earn the respect and trust of our brothers and sisters in the fire service.  Too often, departments get fresh recruits with very little life experience and no idea what they are truly getting into by joining the Fire Service.  Here are some general rules of thumb and mindset to follow as you start your journey in the best job in the world.

Know your place.  Realize coming in that you have to prove yourself.  As you go through your time as a rookie, the rest of the members in the department will be watching you like a hawk to find out if you have what it takes to be a valuable member of the team.  Going in thinking you know better than someone else will get you nowhere.  If you are a valuable member, the fire service will do wonderful things for you, as will the brothers and sisters that make it up.  Recognize and acknowledge the time and experience that others have put into the service.  Respect the other members of the fire service and do everything you can to earn their respect in return.

Be willing to learn!
Be willing to learn!

Be eager to learn.  One of the most important things you can do as a rookie is to go in with an open mind, open ears and a closed mouth.  Speak less and listen more.  If you’re talking, you’re not learning.  Go out of your way to learn every aspect you can.  The more knowledge you gain, the more valuable you will be as a team member.  The older experienced members are a fountain of knowledge and most will be eager to teach you the ways!  Basic Fire Academy can only teach you so much, it’s the knowledge of the veteran members that will help you fine tune your skills.

Do any job, nothing is beneath you.  From loading hose to cleaning the toilets, every job plays a part in running a successful and efficient firehouse.  Do any job asked of you and do it with a smile on your face.  When I was a kid, it was an honor to clean the toilets of my heroes.  As corny as that sounds, that’s exactly the attitude you need to have in these daily tasks.  Every job done right reflects on your pride as a firefighter and in your firehouse.  Never think you are too good for anything.

Go above and beyond!
Go above and beyond!

Go above and beyond.  Go out of your way to do the best you can in everything you do.  Do more than is asked of you.  If you see something that needs to be done, don’t wait to be told to do it.  If you see the trash needs to be emptied, take the two minutes and get it done.  If they see you can do these simple things without being told, they will be more likely to trust you with bigger and more important tasks on a fire scene.

Bond with the members of your department.  Join in on the extra curricular activities and group events.  This is more than a job and these are more than just your co-workers.  Bonding with the members of your department creates a relationship and trust that is paramount in our line of work.

Maintain a strong sense of honor.  Among the many moral values you should hold true to, I feel honor is the most important.  Holding yourself to this standard ensures that you will make good decisions.  Holding true to your word helps build that foundation of trust with each other.  Respecting your fellow fire service members, and the job will help keep things in perspective for you as a rookie.

Listen to and value criticism.  All the positivity in the world will not better you as a fire fighter the way criticism will.  We learn more from our mistakes than we do our triumphs.  When someone tells you how you made a mistake, rather than get angry and butt-hurt, use it as an opportunity to learn.  The majority of the time, your brothers and sisters aren’t criticizing you to be mean, they are doing it to help you become better.

With these basic rules kept in mind, you will quickly become a valued part of your fire service team and the brotherhood as a whole.  Firefighting is a humble and honorable job and it takes humble and honorable people to keep the fire service at it’s best.  Going into it from the start with the right attitude is key.  When in doubt, ask someone.  We all play an important role in making the fire service what it is… even the rookies.

What do you think makes up the perfect recruit?  Leave a comment and let us know!

On your way to becoming a part of the team!
On your way to becoming a part of the team!

Co-Written by Joshua Vanopynen

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Private Fire Service, Reporting for Duty!

Privatized Fire Service.  A term that strikes fear into the hearts of the true and traditional Fire Service members.  The concept and practice has been getting a lot of bad press lately, and rightly so.  However, I’m not here to fear monger and spread panic on the practice.  I feel that if operated correctly, private fire departments can be beneficial.  I also feel that there is a very fine and difficult line to walk.

First and foremost: I believe the majority of firefighters in private services are much like us. Private firefighters are on duty providing a service to their community and not just for the paycheck.  But I do believe a profit driven Fire Service doesn’t hold true with the heart and mindset of the Fire Service.

Fire Mark

Here’s a brief history of the privatized Fire Service.  Privatized fire service started in the 18th and 19th century with the use of Fire Marks.  These signs were placed on the buildings who’s owners purchased a company’s fire insurance.

When responding to a fire, these fire insurance companies would see their fire mark on the building and extinguish the blaze. This is a similar type of concept that private fire companies in our age are using, albeit, an outdated concept because it disregards the interests of humanity in favor of a bottom-line.

I see the financial benefits of a privatized company.  It can save a municipality thousands of dollars and yes, maybe even operated more efficiently by an experienced business man.  However, these things should not be the primary focus of the Fire Service.  I strongly believe that when our priority shifts from community service to profit margins, that’s when we lose our identity as a Fire Service.  Our priorities have always been life safety, incident stabilization and property conservation.  That should never change and most definitely, money should never show up on that list.

The dangers of a privatized fire service are many and deadly.  Subscription based and competitive based private fire companies are often put in a position to refuse services.  As we’ve seen time and time again in recent news stories, for-profit fire companies show up on the scene of a home ablaze, and stand at the end of the driveway watching the show because the homeowner didn’t pay their annual fee or subscription.  Half the time the homeowner wasn’t aware the service existed and assumed they were covered through the taxes they paid yearly.  As firefighters, we should never be in a position to refuse service to anyone.  I feel that if you are able to look someone in the eye with their home burning in the background and say, “sorry ma’am/sir, you didn’t pay your annual fee.” , then you don’t belong in this line of work.  This job, my brotherhood, isn’t about the money, it’s about the service, and anything that sullies this principal is a affront to the brotherhood itself and what we stand for. This scenario is a deplorable breach of public trust and reflects poorly on all of us.

Response times are another issue.  While a municipal Fire Department may be within minutes of your home, the subscription based service may be several minutes away.  With current building construction and possibly even lives on the line, those minutes could be the difference between a life or home lost or saved.

Competitive fire fighting shouldn’t even be a term in our vocabulary!  Profit based firefighting breeds competition with municipal and private companies alike.  Mutual aid is a mindset every department should have in the modern culture of the fire service.  We should never be afraid to ask for help from our neighboring brothers and sisters!  Being in competition with these other departments as a private service breeds resentment along with that competition and puts the firefighters at unnecessary risk.

Who regulates the costs and fees and keeps them from becoming astronomical?  In a recent news article, i read how a family was charged a nearly $20,000 bill for firefighting services  on a home that was burned completely to the ground.  Read the full news article here http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/11/08/justin-purcell-fire_n_4242734.html.  For a period until legislation and regulation can be put into effect by local, state, or federal governments, what is to stop these companies from charging an arm and a leg to provide the same service your taxes usually cover?  Even more so, some of these companies don’t even have to follow the same standards and levels of professionalism and licensing that the municipal departments have to hold to.

Another problem comes from when management is profit/business driven and employees are service driven.  When the upper and lower employment levels have two different missions, it’s difficult to run an efficient department.  A car drives best when all the wheels are spinning in the same direction.  How can we all accomplish the same goal when our goals are different?

Privatization, when done wrong, is deadly. Without proper goals, regulation, and mindset, two results will occur:  you will have a failed business on your hands or you will kill someone.

 Now it’s time to hear your voice.  I want to hear your opinions, experiences and takes on the privatization of the fire service.  I ask that you comment on the Facebook post or the story itself and tell me what you think!

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Renewing Your Self Motivation

How many times do you find yourself losing your self-motivation?  It could be caused by low department morale, losing faith in humanity, or just getting bored. It happens to all of us.  The real question is, how do we get that lost motivation back?

If you feel that your motivation is being lost due to low department morale and  while I agree this can be a

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contributor, I believe that overcoming it, as it pertains to your personal motivation, starts with you.  It’s a lot easier to change your own attitude than it is to change the attitude of your entire department.

When you lose that motivation, one of the best ways to get it back is to start at the beginning.  Remembering and revisiting what or who made you passionate about the job in the first place can help re-light that fire inside you.  Everyone always has that one mentor that sticks out in their memory.  That mentor is that person who emulates what a firefighter should be in your mind.  Reconnecting and visiting with that person can be the kick-in-the-pants that you need to get back on track.

If you find yourself getting bored, maybe it’s time to branch out into other areas of the fire service.  There are so many all-hazards areas you could explore, a person could fill their entire career with just learning all of them.  Hazardous materials, dive teams, search and rescue and technical rescue teams are just a few specialized areas that you can you delve into.  Sometimes branching out into other areas can give you a new perspective on the same job and reignite that passion.

Sometimes after a particularly bad call, we can find it hard to see the good in humanity.  We start to question why we even do the job.  What’s the point?  When you start getting to this point, it’s time to take some time off and

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talk to someone.  This is a career ending attitude for firefighters and it’s paramount to get outside help in this instance.  With the customer service aspect of our job, compassion is important to have.  However, it’s difficult to have compassion when your outlook on humanity is a pessimistic one at best.

Everyone hits a low point in their career when they start to question the job.  It doesn’t even have to be something big.  The smallest detail of a call can be enough to shake your foundation.  The important thing to do is to counteract these times as soon as you can.  The longer you wait, the harder it will be to pick yourself back up and relight your passion for the job.  Most of all, never be afraid to talk to someone about it.  Remember, in the fire family, no one fights alone.

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The Importance of Cooperative Training

For many volunteer fire departments, low manpower is a major issue.  Therefore, mutual aid is a necessary piece of equipment in the proverbial “tool box” in order to do the job effectively.  However, to maximize the effectiveness of this tool, just like any other one, we must train with it on a regular basis.  The benefits of cooperative training with neighboring departments are endless.

Fostering a personal relationship in a non-emergency environment with the members of your neighboring departments builds a level of trust, respect and understanding that is tantamount to effective team operation on a fire scene.  Getting to know the strengths, weaknesses and personalities of each member ensures that the scene can be mitigated in themost effective manner possible.  Having a pre-existing relationship with them puts cohesiveness in place before you even get on scene.

Knowing the availability and readiness of their resources is another important part of this tool.  Being familiar with the equipment your mutual aid departments has available can save time and ensure that the right resources are being requested for the job.  Knowing their equipment and procedures ensures the job is done with enough people, without having to figure out who can and who cannot operate the equipment.  Even knowing the small things can make a huge difference in scene mitigation effectiveness.  Knowing the coupling or thread type for their hydrants can save precious minutes in establishing a water supply.

An emergency scene is not the place to “work out the bugs”.   The best place to do this is in regular training sessions with each other.  However, just like any other tool, be it metaphorical or physical, it must be practiced regularly.  Remember, we don’t train until we get it right; we train until we can’t get it wrong.