Unless this is your first time reading this column, you are pretty much aware that we feel that among the best ways to minimize injury and death to firefighters is through a system that uses policy development, validation, classroom and hands-on training, training verification, testing, policy...
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Unless this is your first time reading this column, you are pretty much aware that we feel that among the best ways to minimize injury and death to firefighters is through a system that uses policy development, validation, classroom and hands-on training, training verification, testing, policy enforcement, evaluation and regular updating. It goes full circle to ensure that risks that must be taken, such as at a fire, are taken with firefighter and civilian survival as the focus. While fire officers must have discretion, in some cases and based on conditions, to make needed adjustments, a successful department is one that is built upon "realistic" standard operating orders and policies (less discretionary) and standard operating guidelines, which are a bit more discretionary.
Please note the important difference between policy as opposed to guidelines. Policy, you generally must do. Guidelines are direction with user discretion. An example would be that if it is your department's policy for all members to wear self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) in or near immediately dangerous to life or health (IDLH) environments, you will do that. No one is particularly interested in what you think at the moment. As the saying goes, "just do it."
When we think about standard operating policies, we usually think about the more dramatic ones such as training, driving, operating at a fire, engines stretching and flowing hoselines, truck companies searching — situations like that. But all standard operating policies are critical, not just the dramatic ones. We just normally don't think about the less dramatic ones. And in many cases, the "less dramatic" ones may fall through the cracks and be missed. Sometimes, they are ignored. And sometimes, they are not ignored — and they lead directly to the saving of a firefighter's life.
We thank Fire/EMS Lieutenant (ret.) Jeff Chandler of the Prince George's County, MD, Fire/EMS Department for his sobering close-call story this month. Additionally, we thank Prince George's County Fire Chief Eugene A. Jones and Acting Lieutenant Colonel Steven L. Hess for their support and cooperation in the sharing of this information.
While this month's close-call story may not be as dramatic as some we have written, it certainly is to those it immediately affects. As firefighter line-of-duty death statistics go, this story is much more likely to affect you, as a firefighter, than any other kind of line-of-duty death, so read on.
Fire/EMS Lieutenant (ret.) Jeff Chandler, Prince George's County Fire/EMS Department:
I am a 47-year-old firefighter lieutenant who had a profound experience while participating in my fire department physical in the spring of 2009. I am now retired, but feel strongly that my story should be told through Firehouse® Magazine Close Calls.
I have always been active in sports and worked hard to stay in good physical shape to perform as best I can as a firefighter. With a career spanning 22-plus years and while still serving in the Prince George's County Fire/EMS Department, I encountering a serious health issue that caused me to retire.
The story begins with my shift on April 15, 2009. Like any other shift in that particular station, we were very busy. The normal call volume for our crews in that station range from 40 to 50 calls per shift. At about 8 P.M., a box alarm was sounded for a hotel fire at 3131 Branch Ave. We arrived to find heavy smoke showing from a second-floor window. After the incident ended, I noticed that I was a more tired than normal, but didn't think anything of it. At the time, I did not know that April 15, 2009, would be the last shift I would ever work with my crew and for the Prince George's County Fire/EMS Department.
On April 17, 2009, I reported for my annual required fire department physical, which had been scheduled about one month earlier. After completing the first phase of the physical, I moved to the treadmill stress test. The staff asked me to continue the test so they could further evaluate the EKG readings at a higher heart rate. After completing the stress test, my nurse asked me how I was feeling. I replied that I felt fine and at no point did I experience chest pain or anything abnormal.