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If you have followed this column for any length of time, or even if you haven’t but you have been a firefighter for more than a few years, you have been able to figure out that most fire service tragic events have also happened “previously.” Of course, not the actual event, but something very similar occurred to another fire department, and then it happened to “us.” It’s the events that have “already occurred” that we can use to minimize the chances of that happening to us.
An example is a tragic fire that occurred years ago on the West Coast, where a firefighter was trapped in a garage fire after the door came down. That firefighter suffered serious burns. A few years later, several firefighters were operating at a very similar working fire, in the garage. The door came down and trapped them.
History repeats itself in our business, just like in society. Unfortunately, little information was provided from the first incident to “get the word out” to help prevent it from happening again. As firefighters, we seem to be great at passing on some information (especially juicy gossip), so then why is it so hard for us to “get the word out” and absorbed so we can learn about past incidents that can affect our survival? It’s probably human nature. Of course, the purpose of this column is to help “get that word out” – absorbed.
One only has to look at firefighter line-of-duty-death reports to see many common denominators. Here is a sampling that we can use as a “check list” to see where a fire department stands, before the run comes in. These below considerations continue to be found in most structural firefighting close call or line-of-duty-death reports. Considerations such as:
- Firefighters providing the incident commander with timely interior size-up reports.
- Incident commanders ensuring that adequate staffing is enroute or on the scene to provide enough personnel for all assigned tasks. Mutual aid and automatic mutual aid should be considered a part of this as required. Planning ahead can ensure that adequate numbers of staff are available to immediately respond to emergency incidents. Considerations should include time of day, route of travel and station locations.
- Incident commanders ensuring that structures are evaluated (initially and continuously) for collapse potential prior to assigning firefighters interior.
- Firefighters investigating and opening concealed spaces to determine whether the fire is in these areas (also use of thermal imaging cameras).
- Conducting the pre-emergency planning that is critical for mercantile and business occupancies. Essentially, pre-plan every non-single-family dwelling structure in your district.
- Ensuring that a qualified rapid intervention team is established, in position and properly staffed.
- Recognizing that a thermal imaging camera should now be considered a standard part of the interior size up operation to aid in locating fires or victims. A thermal imager assigned to every interior tasked crews? Why not? It’s 2004, gang. The technology is here, now.
- Making sure that all firefighters receive regular and relevant training with clear documentation.
- Officers ensuring that self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) and all firefighting equipment is properly inspected, used and maintained, with documentation to ensure they will function properly when needed.
- Incident commanders always maintaining close accountability, command and control for all personnel operating on the fireground. Odds are you can’t do that yourself, so insure enough command personnel are responding or on scene.
- Ensuring that department standard operating procedures/guidelines (SOPs/SOGs) are followed and that regular refresher training is provided. Keep in mind, if you have SOPs, operate by them. If you have them and don’t operate by them, why have them? Determine which ones work, then use them and enforce them. Dump the ones that don’t work and replace them with easy-to-understand policies.
- Ensuring that team continuity is maintained. All personnel must stay with their assigned crews and officer. Officers, you are the supervisor, so supervise.
- Having a lifeline in place to guide firefighters to an escape.
- Instructing and training firefighters on operational radio use as well as initiating emergency traffic (Mayday-Mayday) when they become lost, disoriented or trapped.
- Making sure that a backup hoseline is manned and in position to protect exit routes. A backup hoseline backs up the initial line to insure safety.
- The incident commander continuously evaluating weather conditions (i.e., high winds) during fire operations, especially at high-rise fires.
- Making sure that the communications center receipt and processing of alarms is completed in a timely manner and that your radio system, and dispatch personnel are able to maintain the support needed during a working incident.