When I was writing my previous article, “What They DIDN’T Teach You in Fire School” (March), I made a list of the different tricks that I wanted to share with Firehouse® readers. The more that I thought about the subject, the longer the list became. I soon realized that I would not be able to...
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When I was writing my previous article, “What They DIDN’T Teach You in Fire School” (March), I made a list of the different tricks that I wanted to share with Firehouse® readers. The more that I thought about the subject, the longer the list became. I soon realized that I would not be able to include all of my thoughts in one article. Therefore, what follows is a continuation of techniques that only experience can teach.
As a battalion chief, I am responsible for all the firefighters and officers in my firehouses. In a large city this means that the turnover of personnel is never ending due to retirements, new hiring, transfers to and from other stations, and new officer promotions. I make it a point to meet with every new person who comes onto our team. I welcome them and get to know a little about their background. I make an extra effort with newly promoted officers. These officers are now facing new challenges and greater responsibilities than ever before. When talking with rookie officers, I always try to remember what my thoughts and feelings were when I was in their place.
My main concern is to help make their transition easier. I always start by outlining their responsibility for the health and safety of their teams. Next, I explain the enormous responsibilities and powers that have been delegated to them as fire officers. They could evacuate any size building without question, block any major highway if they deem it necessary, call in multiple alarms and manpower with a simple radio code, and break down almost anyone’s door with just cause.
How I use this power properly was learned through my experiences and by learning from the wiser senior officers. They don’t teach this subject in fire school.
Follow Your Nose
Once, while I was a junior officer, my crew and I were dispatched to a call for a strange smell in an older downtown apartment building. Investigating the cause of the smell led us to the rear of the first-floor hallway, where we found a locked, unidentified door with a strange mechanical sound. A slight burning odor was coming from behind the door. No tenant or manager was available to unlock the door or identify what was behind it. While my crew looked for another way past this door, I wondered if we should force open the door. I thought about the damage we might cause and about the consequences of these actions. What if it was nothing? How would we then explain the damage? Was I allowed to break down a door just because of my suspicions?
As I was pondering this dilemma, my battalion chief arrived. I explained the situation to him and his answer was, if you have any suspicion about a possible danger, then that is sufficient to later justify your actions. Our mandate is to protect the lives and the safety of our fellow citizens. Any threat or danger gives us a just cause to investigate further. We forced the door open and found that it led to the basement furnace room. Inside, we found that the noise and the smell were being caused by the furnace’s blower motor. A rubber pulley belt was disintegrating and heating up. But the clincher in this situation was that we found leaking heating fuel accumulating in a pool at the base of the furnace blower. There had been a real possibility that this fuel would have eventually caught on fire.
My lesson on that day is one that I still teach new officers today: if you have a suspicion and can justify your actions, then you have just cause.
We have all pulled ceilings as firefighters. We were taught that it is usually very simple – stick the hook in, twist and pull. What we were not taught was that if you pull the ceiling at the wrong time, or in the wrong manner, a disaster can happen. Many materials can be found in the make-up of a ceiling. The most common materials used today are sheets of gypsum board or squares of acoustic tiling that are used in false or floating ceilings. In older buildings, we can still find plaster on wooden laths or even embossed metal tiles being used as ceiling coverings. All of these materials are held in place by the use of simple connecting devices. Nails, screws, wire or glue may be all that is stopping this enormous ceiling mass from crashing down on our heads.