Fire Prevention Week for 2009 held more promise than just about any other one that I can recall over my career. There were the detailed plans for many demonstration events and a lot of additional work hours. There were many television appearances over the weekend, early-morning ones as well to...
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The demonstration for the several hundred college students was very impactful. The viewers were also given the opportunity to witness the capability of the protection provided by our turnout gear. As well, the ever-present danger of being a firefighter was clearly demonstrated that day. All three firefighters were transported for observation to the Washington Hospital Center Burn Unit. Two of our members were checked over and, thank goodness, not injured. This was a real testimony to the quality of the turnouts and wearing all of the component parts properly.
Our company officer was banged up a little. He received a facial burn close to his ear. Further, the top of his hand had a minor burn. Because of the location of these two wounds, the sergeant was held overnight at the burn center for observation. He is doing well and is expected to make a full recovery returning back to full duty soon. To my surprise, the turnout gear and airpacks were cleaned, inspected and placed back into service. Only the one Nomex hood and glove that our officer was wearing was not usable. Both were "dissected" by our Safety Office to determine whether they performed satisfactorily, in that this was the one where the second-degree burns occurred. Our safety chief, Deputy Fire Chief William Flint, is conducting an investigation to help us learn from our mistakes. Look for this report to be added to our website soon or obtain a copy by contacting him at email@example.com.
This was a very difficult day for me, both personally and professionally. I need to state that I take full and complete responsibility for everything that happened during this fire prevention demonstration. Our members engaged in extinguishing activities performed properly and within our protocols. In fact, I am deeply in the sergeant's debt. He insisted that all members properly use their gear and because of his actions, the injuries were very minor. I express my appreciation to our Community Relations and Public Education Division for doing a great job with the demonstration preparation and execution.
So, you are asking, what failed and caused such a graphic near miss? I would submit to you that simple everyday complacency got the best of me that day. A few fire service leaders have contacted me to ask whether the subordinate members who set up the demonstration knew their jobs. The answer is of course! We have trained 300 to 400 recruits in the past three years without incident, so trust me when I say our department knows how to conduct live-fire training based on National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) Standard 1403.
It is not a question of trusting the preparation work, but better described as verifying that all items were handled correctly. Several items were forgotten or missed, such as a back-up line with a crew and an incident safety officer. I should have taken the time to verify that all aspects were covered before I stepped up to the podium. I did not do that and I do regret not confirming that all aspects of the 1403 were covered. Some folks (mostly bloggers) are going to be critical of me and describe this action as micro-management, and perhaps it may be. However, my role at an emergency incident is to verify everything that I can as soon as I can. At the demonstration, I should have taken the time before starting. Another difficult lesson, but with a reasonable positive outcome. Again, my apologies for allowing this to happen. Pay attention at all times and remember your life may depend on your attention to details.
DENNIS L. RUBIN, a Firehouse® contributing editor, is chief of the District of Columbia Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department.