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It's obvious that more and more fire departments, firefighters and fire officers are learning from what has happened to "the other" fire departments. Because firefighter safety and survival are their top priority in actions and in words, they make their ability to provide the best service (which benefits the public, but most critically, their firefighters) No. 1, without excuse. There has never been a time in our business where there has been so much intense and coordinated focus on the issue of firefighter survival. Although it may not be happening as fast as any of us would like, cultures are changing.
When referring to some fire departments, I like to use the term "they didn't forget what they are here for." By that, I mean the department, as a whole, stays focused on its mission; the mission of what it is there for, which is the firefighters, and the public. Unfortunately, there are departments that have lost focus on their mission, be it issues such as:
- Lack of local support either in the community or city hall.
- Lack of regular, aggressive training to insure the troops are ready.
- Lack of experienced, trained and disciplined leadership.
- The prominence of personal agendas.
And, of course attitudes and cultures that refuse to change for the greater good. And the outcome of their response to fires are generally predictable. Sometimes, the building simply burns down, but even worse is when the firefighters (or their families) end up being the recipients of the failures. In this month's close call, that is not the case.
This month's account provides another example of how more and more fire departments are writing to us and providing information so that other firefighters can learn. We are going to look at a true-to-definition "close call" involving the Columbus, OH, Division of Fire that occurred on June 28, 2005. A close call, but not a tragic outcome because these firefighters and officers were prepared, their training paid off and everyone went home.
Our sincere appreciation goes out to the officers and members of the Columbus Division of Fire and especially Lieutenant Steve Robertson, a 15-year veteran of the fire service, for his outstanding cooperation in the preparing of this month's column. We also thank Lieutenant Bill Ross, an 18-year veteran (10 as a company officer), and Firefighter/ Paramedic Chad Gabriel, with 10 years of service in Columbus, for their insights.
On the day of the incident, the Engine 3 crew consisted of Ross, Gabriel and John Dewitt (13 years of experience), Jason Vincent (nine years) and Ryan Sweetman (three years). Engine 2's crew consisted of Robertson and Firefighters John Barrett (18 years), Jason Bendure (seven years), Dan Mentel (eight years) and Larry Stimpert (10 years).
This account is provided by Lieutenant Steve Robertson:
The Columbus Division of Fire has 1,580 career firefighters. We operate seven battalions with 32 stations, 34 engines, 16 trucks, five heavy rescues, 32 advanced life support (ALS) medic units and eight rescue boats. The division covers 221 square miles and protects a population of 755,000.
The alarm came in at 2:25 A.M. at 1555 West Mound St. as "tire shop on fire" at our second-due district. The smell of smoke filled the air, but without visible fire. We went through the neighborhood, but still found nothing. We all knew we had a fire, we just couldn't find it. They put a "situation contained" on the fire and everyone started back to their station.