Routine? Routine? Wake Up! We Don’t Do Routine!

Before starting this month’s fire case study, I want to make a few comments regarding “routine.” In the past few weeks, we have read about or even attended funerals for some wonderful people: Los Angeles City Firefighter Jaime Foster lost...


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Before starting this month’s fire case study, I want to make a few comments regarding “routine.” In the past few weeks, we have read about or even attended funerals for some wonderful people:

  • Los Angeles City Firefighter Jaime Foster lost her life when she was backed over in what is a routine action (the backing of apparatus) by any of us on any fire department on any given day.

  • Polk County, FL, Firefighter Benjamin Matthew Lang was helping Polk County EMS with the transport of a patient to a hospital when the ambulance in which they were riding left the road and struck a tree, resulting in Lang’s death.

  • Beaver County, PA, Firefighter David Vinisky was killed and another firefighter was injured when the new apparatus they were looking at suddenly backed up and over them in front of their firehouse. Vinisky, 49, a longtime member of the Raccoon Township Volunteer Fire Department, died in the accident, which has led to the driver of the rig being charged. Can things get any more routine than backing the apparatus at the firehouse?

These “routine” events led to the loss of some wonderful people who were your brothers and sister. And each of us, when reading about these events, feels the grief and sadness – and the wonder.

While these events have not yet (as of this writing) been fully and officially investigated, they have one common denominator. They each occurred in a “routine” run.

  • The backing up of a rig returning from a minor dwelling fire – routine.
  • Firefighters assisting EMS with a transport of a serious patient – routine.
  • Apparatus backing up at the firehouse – routine.

So what is “routine”? Webster defines it as “1a: a regular course of procedure b: habitual or mechanical performance of an established procedure.” The way I read it, it means that “routine” is habitual, something we do with regularity. But also notice the word “procedure.”

So now, let’s redefine the word “routine” in the Firehouse® Magazine dictionary. “1a: a regular course of fire and rescue work that is defined by strict written, enforced and trained-upon procedures that can, in the course of the day, become lax or forgotten; b: habitual or mechanical performance of an established and trained-upon fire and rescue procedure that is supervised and is performed with full accountability and the safety and survival of all on the scene or responding.

We often use the word “routine” in our business and, because we deal with so many “unknowns,” we have to operate as if nothing is “routine.” What is the best way to get that accomplished? Strict and enforced policies and procedures, and a “no-excuses” attitude by officers to insure that no matter what, an extreme effort is always made to have all members follow firefighter safety and survival policies, guidelines and procedures.

Take a look at each of the above “routine” details that led to the untimely deaths of those firefighters and apply them to your fire department. Could it happen at your fire department? If so, what will be done so it never does? If you feel it can never happen at your fire department, that’s a good thing – but also worth asking the question, why not? What is in place to insure it doesn’t happen? Are the rules trained on? Are they enforced equally? Is it clear to the members what the consequences will be if they don’t follow the “firefighter safety and survival” rules?

Working in a restaurant may be routine, delivering mail may be routine and baking cakes may be routine. But in the business we are in, it can sometimes be so easy for us to become laid back and relaxed with an attitude that says, “don’t worry, we get away with this all the time, it is all ‘routine,’ ” and then suddenly, a tragic situation occurs with far-reaching consequences. A simple failure to take care, use caution or follow/enforce established policies and procedures can lead to horrific results. If the policies don’t exist, then that’s this month’s homework assignment. If they do, they must be enforced by officers who are not afraid to enforce them. Worried that your firefighters may not like you if you strictly enforce these kinds of standard operating guidelines (SOGs) and standard operating procedures (SOPs)? Odds are, they don’t like you anyway, so go ahead and enforce the rules so no one is injured or killed. It is that simple.

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