Automatic Fire Alarm Becomes High-Rise Scare

Before we get to this month's close call, we congratulate California Highway Patrol Commander Captain Gordon Graham on his retirement. Many of you know Gordon as one of the biggest fans of the fire service and an expert in fire service risk management...


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In our business, which is clearly a risky business, we encounter situations that do not give us much time to "think out" a problem. We have to be able to count on and rely on something to "automatically" help carry us through a bad — or terror-filled situation — and that "something" is your training as a firefighter.

There is nothing instinctive about knowing to cool a ceiling or sweep a floor with your line. There is nothing instinctive about knowing to open up and vent a building — or not to. And there is nothing instinctive about knowing how to get out alive when terror kicks in — unless you have been trained. Once you are trained and only after that coupled with experience do you then gain the instincts to react when things turn bad, or — better yet — know the signs on what to look for, listen to and follow before it turns ugly.

Here we go again. It's all about training. In a very simple example from the 1970s, my crew and I were operating at a working car fire in an unsprinklered below-ground garage of a multi-family dwelling. As described above, we had rubber pull-up boots, duck coats and leather helmets. As we crawled and stretched our 1½-inch line through zero visibility, we listened and looked; someone had taught us that. We followed the sounds and found the working car fire. As we started to get water on the fire from the corners of the car, a bumper exploded — but since recent training had covered this as an "expect it" factor, terror didn't take over; our training did. A fire instructor had taught us that. Nothing hit our crew. We didn't bail. We didn't panic.

At some point in his career, that Wilmington firefighter was taught that if he got in trouble, he was to find a window. He did — and there was a ladder. It was instinctive due to the fact that he was trained. Someone also taught that aerial operator that aerials are useless if left in the bed. Someone taught that first-due lieutenant to give a report that painted a clear picture. Someone taught that first-due battalion chief to size-up immediately and call for additional alarms. All these actions speak volumes about the professionalism of the firefighters and leadership at the Wilmington Fire Department.

Did some things go not so well at that fire? Ever been to one where something didn't go wrong? Those in our business who are trained may take successful actions for granted. Those in our business who are un-trained (but have only been successful by luck) will run out of that luck — and soon, because as proven time and time again, without training, untrained instinctive actions can, have and will create tragic results.


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.