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We received a 911 call for a building fire at a local inn. It is a 21¼2-story bar with apartments above. The caller, who was the building’s owner, advised that a wall heater was on fire. A member of a neighboring fire company who was drinking there had suggested that the owner call the fire department to check it out. As the owner was alerting the fire department, the firefighter from the neighboring company walked a half-block to our firehouse, where he asked a brand-new officer whose gear he could wear. The new officer, not sure what to do, told him to wear a fire engineer’s gear. The visiting firefighter then got on the first engine out with the officer. Another firefighter and two assistant chiefs were riding the engine and no one ever questioned who this person was, his training or anything. He donned SCBA as they arrived with smoke showing from the back of the building, where the heater is located. The senior assistant chief, who was supposed to be in charge of the call, exited the rig without donning SCBA. He never established command, never did a size-up and never gave a status; he just went inside with the engine crew to investigate. Still, no one knew who this mysterious firefighter was – and the assistant chief in charge didn’t even know he was there.
Once inside, the assistant chief found the fire had been extinguished and placed the incident under control. As they left the building and the person from the neighboring fire department was doffing his SCBA, a few of our firefighters realized that something was not right and started wondering who this guy was. Nevertheless, he rode back to the firehouse on the engine, put away the gear he used and left.
That’s when the questions started to fly. The other firefighters finally realized who this person was, that he belonged to a neighboring fire company and that he had no formal training. They soon find out that he had been at the bar drinking before walking to the firehouse and going on the call. The accountability system on this call was completely thrown out the window. Personnel accountability tags were never given to the officer riding the front seat. An untrained person under the influence of alcohol was allowed to ride on the call and then go inside, all geared and packed up. Even though smoke was visible from the firehouse, they never laid in from a hydrant and never pulled handlines or tools off the apparatus, among a number of things.
This call had potential as every call does and everything that we are taught was thrown out the window. I was disgusted by this call and it appears to me that nothing will come of it. The new officer was chastised by the chief for allowing this guy to come in the firehouse and use someone’s gear, but the assistant chief who was ultimately responsible for everybody took no responsibility. I felt compelled to share this “close call” because this could happen elsewhere and it is important for all of us to be aware of everything and everyone around us during a call.
These comments are based upon Chief Goldfeder’s observations and communication with the writer:
This month’s “close call” is a great example of a “true” close call from a leadership and operational standpoint. The issue of personnel accountability means something different to different people. In the firehouse, before the run, accountability is tied into tasks such as apparatus and equipment preparedness, training, facility upkeep, reports and related details that support the mission. Essentially, when we (career or volunteer) are not out on a run, we have specific assignments for which we are all responsible – segments that all make up the success or failure of the fire department. If we get our “portion” done, and everyone else does his or her part as well, then we are successful because we all took our responsibility to be accountable seriously.