Safety: When to "Back the Truck Up"

In the fire service you will find that a little education mixed-in with experience will provide the wisdom it takes to make a safe environment to work in.We all believe that we belong to an aggressive fire department who works hard for all that they have...

So is there a solution that we have forgotten to mention? Well, maybe. Pre-planning, we all do it as part of protecting our citizens. We learn about our surroundings and plan how to be prepared. If you dig a little deeper into each shift and are prepared with things as simple as making sure your gear is ready before kicking back in the recliner and talking about the local high school football scores. Is it easily accessible and ready for combat? This one step alone will take away the need for thinking about your personal protective equipment (PPE) as you prepare for the response. Follow that up with talking to your crew members as we approach the scene and call out hazards as we encounter them. Finally, let's prepare for entry into the scene only when all of these things are complete. I believe the hardest thing to do in the fire service is to just slow down and make sure that we are being as safe as possible!

EMS Response Awareness
Now what about that EMS run with a mother and teenage daughter in a verbal argument? How many times to we think to ourselves "It's just a mom and daughter we can go on in" without waiting for our friends in blue that carry the guns. Yep we need them because they can shoot back! Well not really, but they are more trained in the area of scene stabilization in this instance. I believe that once again our egos can get us in trouble. We really have no idea of what's going on with the scene until we get there. This particular mother could be the kind that walks tall and carries a shotgun or the daughter could be a 25th degree black belt in Judi Chopin and she's looking to kick some butt. I would prefer that it is not mine.

So, once again your saying what can I do sitting in the backseat? My answer would be not much. Maybe you could voice your opinion, which depending on your officer could be met with mixed reaction. Possibly as you approach the scene you can keep your tunnel goggles off and keep your eyes open for possible signs of danger. Maybe when you get inside the house you keep an eye on the other people in the room and not just the patient. Can the path between your crew and yourself be kept open in case you need to leave fast?

The best thing you can do is begin to develop your habits for the future. Someday you will be riding in the seat and making these types of decisions. Everyday that we are on the job we are gaining job experience that can affect all of us, but remember that just because this particular call comes out good the next one might not!

So what does all this information do for me? Well first of all let it start a discussion in safety with not only yourself but the officer in your station. Bring up the topic of scene safety to him or her and ask questions. Start simple, be careful not to be aggressive, that will go along way in getting your point across. If we ran a call like this how would you handle it and what would you expect out of me? If he gives you answers that you either don't understand or agree with ask them to explain. Maybe they have a good reason. If you don't necessarily agree, remember that safety is the most important thing so follow. That way you will learn what is expected out of you when you arrive.

In the fire service you will find that a little education mixed-in with experience will provide the wisdom it takes to make a safe environment to work in. Most of all , always work as a team and right now you may be just like me a team member, not the leader, but you can still be an important part of the team and maybe even say "Beep, Beep...Hey guys let's back the truck up"!

RYAN PENNINGTON is a firefighter/paramedic for the Charleston, WV, Fire Department. He is currently assigned to Station 7 and a member of the West Virginia Task Force 1 USAR team. He has over 15 years of combined fire, rescue and EMS experience. Ryan is currently a West Virginia State Instructor 2, Hazmat Technician, and Certified Fire Officer 2. To read Ryan's complete biography and view his archived articles, click here. You can reach Ryan by e-mail at and view his blog at