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In some fire departments, there may or may not be any entry-level or continuing training – and that can then create a problem. For example, imagine that several “gung ho” firefighters do all they can to attend as many training sessions as possible. They go locally as well as nationally to learn as much as they can. They do this because their fire department offers little or no training. They are hungry for training – and they get it on their own.
The problem comes up when they return home. They may be more trained than their officer. That is what happened in this situation. The firefighters had more training than their officer, who did not keep up with issues such as roof operations, but ended up supervising them. Unusual? It isn’t very common, but it does happen, and the solution is to have a department mandated (and department-enforced) program that requires everyone riding the apparatus to attend the same training sessions – together and hopefully available locally.
This particular problem can be compared to a situation in which a football coach is not attending training with the players. It would be unheard of in professional football for the coaches (officers?) not to be there, training on the plays (tactics?) with the players (firefighters?) – but in our business, many times, firefighters attend training – or are required to – while those responsible for their supervision do not participate.
By having a department training program in which everyone participates, the chances of a “rooftop” disagreement are minimized.
Let’s assume that everyone has attended the department training sessions. A good rule of thumb would be that if an experienced and trained firefighter provides the officer with good information, such as in this case, the officer uses that information to the overall advantage and orders the firefighters off the roof. If, after clearing the roof, conditions indicate that firefighters can go back, the carefully evaluated return to that roof can be ordered. If, however, a senior and/or trained firefighter provides information to the officer and that officer chooses to ignore it, the result could be a serious problem. Yes, the officer is clearly in charge and the failure of a member to follow an officer’s order is extremely serious. But when a firefighter says the roof is soft and spongy and it’s time to get off, the failure of that officer to heed and strongly consider that information can also be devastating.
The problem can be eliminated by everyone operating with the attitude that if we are going to respond together, we are going to train together, thus assuring that everyone has the required amount of information needed to do the best in getting everyone back to quarters safely. Simply put, if everyone attends the “roof operations course,” there is a much better chance of everyone agreeing on what to do – and what not to do – when up on the roof. The same applies to nearly all tactical scenarios; if everyone trains, there is a much better chance of everyone agreeing on what to do – and what not to do – when performing a specific task.
Avoid “rooftop arguments” by making sure that everyone going to the roof is well trained and qualified to be operating there, and that there is a mutual respect of the experience and education of all involved, especially by the officer who is ultimately responsible to take care of the crew.
Readers are asked to share their accounts of incidents in which firefighters found themselves in dangerous or life-threatening situations, with the intention of sharing the information and learning from one another to reduce injuries and deaths. These accounts, in the firefighters’ own words, can help others avoid similar “close calls.” We thank those firefighters who are willing to share their stories. We invite readers to share their experiences. We will not identify any individuals, departments or communities. Our only intention is to provide educational information and prevent future tragedies.
We thank Contributing Editor William Goldfeder for compiling these reports. You may send your reports to him at email@example.com.