Near Hits and Direct Hits - Lessons Learned

Chief Goldfeder will provide his opinions in "Near Hits and Direct Hits, Lessons Learned" on a monthly basis. The goal of each column will be to provide you with quick, simple and easy to understand information of what happened at a specific incident and what you can do to minimize the risks. Readers are encouraged to share related information with others through Chief Goldfeder's column. Please e-mail him directly at in confidence.

Another couple of "normal" months in our fire world, right? Sometimes don't you feel like saying, "what the hell is going on?" I know I do, and that feeling never seems to go away. Unfortunately, when I usually find out the answers, I find out that the lessons learned are nothing new, but the same old song. Maybe here in we can help minimize the opportunity for "bad stuff" to happen to your fire department, or you, by taking a close look at some of the issues in a "dead serious" straight forward atmosphere.

While the civilian population of this country continues to recover and move on since 9/11, and as the American flags continue to disappear, we continue to do our jobs. As I read about civilians becoming "tired" of the constant reminder of the past year's murders, firefighters continue to make sure that no one forgets. As Far as I'm concerned, spend time everyday and take every opportunity to make sure they remember. I don't care how painful or annoying it may be to some civilians - they need to ALWAYS REMEMBER.

Actually, it's the ones who are trying to put it in their past that I respectfully want to never forget. Life isn't that simple and we are not back to "normal" and I doubt we'll see "normal", whatever it is, anytime soon. "Normal" may need to be redefined. Be it the murders of our 343 brothers in the FDNY, the 3 brothers in Keokuk, the 3 brothers in Worcester, the 3 FDNY brothers lost on Father's Day, the 2 brothers in St. Louis, or any of the ones you have read about or may have personally known. "Normal" clearly includes death.

Until 9/11, so many civilians seemed to be oblivious to what firefighters do. Following 9/11, as horrible as it seems, the deaths of the 343 brothers in the FDNY nationally brought to light what it is that firefighters do. In 2003, I will have been a firefighter for quite awhile, and like you I have heard the suggestions, ideas, innovations, but I will continue to maintain that most of it comes down to a SERIOUS commitment by ALL, towards safety, aggressive training, experience and competent fire ground leadership This includes, and is not limited to, radios that work, enough people to get the basics done, as well as bosses, budget analysts, and politicians that genuinely give a damn and understand what we do.

Bad stuff happens in our business and we'll be talking about it as we continue each month within the MembersZone. We'll do it in a factual, respectful way, but always with our opinions on the focus of "what can we do to avoid this" without a lot of political correctness.

Right now though, lets just look back over the many years that have passed. As we read about the horrible deaths of St. Louis firefighters Derek Martin and Rob Morrison, we remember the Father's day fire in New York, the six killed in Worcester, the three in Keokuk, the firefighter in Phoenix, and the two from Manlius, NY. We remember the brothers killed in the Texas church fire, the two in Ashton, IL, and the FDNY-EMT killed by a drunk driver. We also remember the Roslyn, NY Captain killed by a drunk driver, the Roswell, NM Chief and Medic, the Miami Twp., Ohio firefighter, the Detroit firefighter and on and on and on. It never seems to stop. What about the accident that killed an off-duty EMT by another responding EMT, and left two neighboring companies in long term pain? And then there is the 14 year-old junior firefighter, responding on his bicycle to a reported fire, is struck by a teenage driver, and dies from his injuries.

At this point you may be wondering, "What's his point". A writing expert once said to me that when I write, I should provide some answers, suggestions, ideas or directions. I responded back, "Why?" and then he said that it's what is expected. Okay. Here are some general suggestions. Have plenty of staffing, train aggressively and safely, get radios that work, don't drive like a lunatic, know where your firefighters are at all times, make sure those who run your fires have a clue about what they're doing. That was easy wasn't it?

It isn't that simple. As a career and volunteer firefighter for the last 29 years, as well as a Chief for the last 20, I am still amazed that we (all of us) sometimes just don't seem to be able to "get it right" when it comes to two primary areas of safety, structural firefighting and fire fighter training.

The fact of the matter is that in some departments, we don't seem to take structural firefighting seriously! Oh, we "think" we do, and we sure breathe fast and yell loud when the tones are set off for a structure fire, but, in most cases, we are not prepared. We talk a lot of "bs" about how dangerous the job is but, when we get back to the firehouse, our priorities seem to be the meal and "Jerry Springer". Then, when it's training time, we whine, bitch, and moan that we don't want to do that. We offer up "It's too hot", "It's too cold", "I'm tired" and every other lame, death-inviting, excuse.

How often do you train? Do you train like you respond? Does everyone who rides your apparatus know how to operate EVERY tool, and perform the expected tasks like an expert? How is your radio system? Is it one of those new radio systems that work worse than your old system? How are your pre-plans? Do your firefighters do the pre-plans or are they given to you? Do you even have pre-plans? What kind of handlines are you using? Can your lines reach you risks? How do you know? What are the qualifications of those running your fire? Is your next Incident Commander an "EMS convert" who just sort of made it up the line and now has "Command"? Does that person think Incident Command is an SUV with lettering? How quick can your department deploy a large caliber master stream? Are you investigating some of the new technologies such as Class-A/CAFS foam, thermal imaging, and GPS accountability? Are you spending equal time training on the "basics"? Are you spending so much time on everything else (haz-mat, trench rescue, high angle rescue, EMS, pub-ed, fund-raising, parades, mowing grass, etc) that your department has forgotten the basics? When was the last discussion in your firehouse related to these kinds of issues? Are your members even focused on the "important stuff", or are these priorities off base?

We must remember that basic structural firefighting is what we are expected to do. The fact that there are fewer fires nowadays is NO EXCUSE for less training and less staffing. If anything, we need more training and more staffing, in order to meet today's challenges. Changing thinking is not easy. I still get strange looks from people when I insist that a minimum of 18-20 fire fighters respond to an unconfirmed fire in a single-family dwelling! I don't care how they get there but I know, and can prove, that we have specific tasks that must be accomplished in the first few minutes of that fire. It takes people to rescue occupants, ventilate the dwelling, and put the fire out. It's just that simple. A safe and successful fire ground can usually be identified by:


2. The strategic and tactical set-up of the apparatus and Pre-Operational plans. (Pre-Operational means planning the operations of your department on specific runs, before the fire is reported!).

3. A response plan that identifies to the dispatchers the correct amount of resources to send on the first alarm, based upon the situation requiring assistance. In my mind a reported toaster oven fire should get the same response as a reported fire in the bedroom. It's a fire until we, and not the cops, get there and say it's not.

4. The timely arrival of trained and qualified firefighters and officers.

5. The overall number of firefighters arriving on the scene to handle ALL tasks.

6. The amount of firefighters on the scene based upon the risk. A commercial fire requires more firefighters than a house fire. (Why do so many departments send the exact same response to various different kinds of incidents?)

7. An effective radio communications system and applicable procedures.

8. "Like the back of your hand" knowledge and strict enforcement of the IC system and personnel accountability.

9. Proper leadership that runs a fire?with strict discipline.

The above items can be generally used as a guide to determine how well a fire ground operation will go. In some cases, they may not be enough, and certainly you can think of a lot more to add to the list.

So, what does all of this mean? How will it apply here in the MembersZone? Well, the goal of this column will be to have you "log off" with being more knowledgeable and more importantly, thinking about your role and your department's responsibility in getting everyone home ALIVE. The subject matter will usually relate to structural firefighting, firefighter training, and firefighter safety, with the "lessons learned".

We will discuss and include information, fact and opinion, on subjects that will, for example, demonstrate the critical need for adequate staffing and preparation on the first alarm no matter what the initial reports are. We'll discuss how critical time plays into your role, be you an Incident Commander or a firefighter. We'll apply the specific tasks, roles, and duties than must be accomplished at a various structure fire. Various meaning anyone's backyard, from California to New York, from Maine to Florida, wherever you are. You must follow some of the "basics" when it comes to structural firefighting. We'll be sharing ideas about training programs that work, and we'll be evaluating why we seem to keep getting firefighters hurt as much as ever.

Does any of this sound interesting? If so, we'll see you next month in "Near Hits and Direct Hits". If not, go back to the TV room and watch Jerry Springer. You'll probably be able to relate to the subject matter better.