One of the great challenges facing firefighters these days is the staffing issue. In some fire departments, staffing is generally consistent day or night — such as in a career department or an in-house-staffed volunteer department. But for departments whose members are responding from work or...
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Additional comments by Chief Goldfeder: When discussing "wind-driven fires," most firefighters think of high-rise or wildland fires. In this case, we have seen that wind-driven private-dwelling fires present an extremely dangerous situation and serious consideration needs to be given to think outside the box. Given this same fire on a calm day, it would have been more of a bread-and-butter and more predictable operation.
Bunker gear selection should figure for the worst-case scenario. Just because you are a small department in a small town does not negate the possibility of an extremely hot, smoky fire and the danger of being caught in a rollover or flashover. There is nothing but bunker gear between the firefighters and the fire — especially when it turns ugly. The best protection at a cost that reflects the best design features must be the priority. Whether a department has one working fire a year or 100, bunker gear must be a top priority. But no matter what brand of gear you buy, full, proper use, care and cleaning of your gear is critical and can directly relate to your ability to survive or not. Prior to operating, make sure you and all your members are using all of their bunker gear — head to toe — gloves included, with absolutely no exposed skin — ever.
More and more, fire departments are understanding the risk-vs.-benefit model and the fact that firefighting is task oriented and that we must have enough firefighters on the fireground initially to perform the needed tasks. Having the right amount of firefighters on a first alarm allows us to much more effectively determine and manage the risk to your members vs. the benefit of taking that risk. If adequate staffing is not initially available, the incident commander must immediately determine what the firefighters can and cannot do, based on conditions. This factor is also critical when planning for responses.
From establishing water, to pumping, to commanding, to stretching the right amount of lines, to forcing entry, to venting, to searching and all the other required tasks, it takes firefighters. The more firefighters we have on the first alarm, the more effectively and safely a department can operate and gain control over the fire — and when we have the fire under our control, the risk to our members is reduced. Calling for mutual aid or more alarms as soon as we know we might need help is good. Having a system in place that sends help automatically can be better. By developing plans with mutual aid departments, dispatchers can automatically send a heavier response based on what is reported, time of day, conditions, etc. And all that extra help doesn't have to come from one fire department either. If two engines and a truck (each with four firefighters) are desired as an extra mutual aid part of the first alarm, three different fire departments can provide that as opposed to one mutual aid department having to muster those resources.
Naturally, the goal of any fire department is to help people with a problem without becoming part of the problem. The South Farmingdale Fire Department had the insight to get extra help quickly, was fortunate to have senior members with years of experience and training turn out for the run, and used multiple lines to gain control of the fire and stop it from spreading up the stairs — while also experiencing their close call.
Firefighters must always reasonably consider the worst-case scenario when planning before any run. From water supply to gaining access to staffing to equipment and so much more, we have to expect the worst by planning and responding that way. If conditions had been different at this fire, such as people trapped, the outcome might have been different as the tasks would have been even more challenging. But because of the willingness of the South Farmingdale Fire Department to provide this report, we can all learn and consider how "we" might have done it before — and how perhaps we might change after reading this close call.
WILLIAM GOLDFEDER, EFO, a Firehouse® contributing editor, is a 32-year veteran of the fire service. He is a deputy chief with the Loveland-Symmes Fire Department in Ohio, an ISO Class 2 and CAAS-accredited department. Goldfeder has been a chief officer since 1982, has served on numerous IAFC and NFPA committees, and is a past commissioner with the Commission on Fire Accreditation International. He is a graduate of the Executive Fire Officer Program at the National Fire Academy and is an active writer, speaker and instructor on fire service operational issues. Goldfeder and Gordon Graham host the free and noncommercial firefighter safety and survival website www.FirefighterCloseCalls.com. Goldfeder may be contacted at BillyG@FirefighterCloseCalls.com.