Protective equipment. Why is it so hard to get some folks in our business to wear it? The lame excuses can be found everywhere, from "it is too uncomfortable" (develop better specs and maybe, just maybe don't go low bid on the only stuff that may be between you and the fire) to "I want to be able to...
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Protective equipment. Why is it so hard to get some folks in our business to wear it? The lame excuses can be found everywhere, from "it is too uncomfortable" (develop better specs and maybe, just maybe don't go low bid on the only stuff that may be between you and the fire) to "I want to be able to feel the heat from the fire and bunker gear provides too much protection."
Are you insane?
The lame excuses are just that — lame. Firefighters are better protected today than we ever have been. Gear is lighter, more comfortable (when it is custom fitted) and does a better job of protecting us — as long as we wear it. And, as long as we have officers who are not afraid to speak up, act like officers and require their members to be properly protected. Feel the heat? Training, and lots of it, along with experience is the solution. Additionally, these days, technology can also help solve the problem such as the use of a thermal imaging camera. Any firefighter who wants to get "just a little" burned as a way of determining whether it is too hot has never been burned.
This month, the firefighters of Hazleton, PA, give us another extremely dramatic example of why wearing our bunker gear with no exposed skin can make a difference in ending up in a burn unit or worse. This column is not a lesson about bunker gear specifically; rather, it is one of wearing what you are issued — all of what you are issued — to increase your chances of getting out alive. Our sincere thanks to Chief of Department Don Leshko, Deputy Chief Brian Mandak, Captain Thomas Tutko, Firefighter Joel Mumie and all of the members of the Hazleton City Fire Department operating at that fire for their cooperation in preparing this month's close call.
The following account is a combined effort of several firefighters and officers operating at the fire event of that evening:
The Hazleton City Fire Department is a combination department made up of three stationhouses with five volunteer companies and IAFF (International Association of Fire Fighters) Local 507. Staffing consists of three chief officers with 18 career firefighters and approximately 40 volunteer firefighters. The vehicle fleet consists of one 102-foot ladder tower, one 100-foot tiller ladder in reserve, three class A engines, one rescue engine, a chief's truck and deputy's truck.
The coverage area is a lot of older homes, with only a handful of newer construction, a downtown business district and an industrial park. The fixed population that we provide fire and rescue services to is now about 24,000 residents. We do not provide any EMS service at this time. Our paid staffing is 100% Pennsylvania state certified to at least the Firefighter 1 certification level; all of our chief officers are at least Officer 1, Inspector 1 and Investigator 1 certified. Our current volunteer staff is about 40% certified to the level of Firefighter 1, with about half of the staff holding higher levels or with more than one level of certification.
The evening of the fire, we had Engines 2 and 5, Rescue Engine 3 and Ladder 1 in service. The HFD was dispatched at about 12:25 A.M. and all units on scene and operating at about 12:28. Volunteer firefighters report directly to the scene. Original units on the alarm were Engine 2, Engine 5, Ladder 1 and Chief 3. When the IC (incident commander) arrived on scene, he radioed county dispatch with command. At that time, he asked for additional tones for manpower and Engine 3 to the scene for suppression. During his 360-degree assessment, the IC noticed firefighters on the front porch roof and a civilian was yelling down to them that she was going to jump. The IC moved a roof ladder closer to her and started to climb it to bring her down when he noticed a firefighter in full PPE (personal protective equipment) and SCBA (self-contained breathing apparatus). The IC came down and the firefighter then went up the ladder and talked the woman down.