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• Training for a Mayday – A Mayday is the unthinkable moment when a firefighter’s personal safety is in imminent danger. Fireground-fatality data shows that firefighters becoming trapped and disoriented represent the largest portion of structural fire fatalities. We don’t plan to be lost, disoriented, injured or trapped during a structure fire, but it happens. We often teach how to put the fire out, but so many firefighters don’t practice what to do when they get in trouble. This bread-and-butter fire helped the WFD reset and rethink. As Captain Boutin stated, the WFD is taking a back-to-basics approach on training to ensure successful outcomes.
In my discussions with Captain Boutin, she referred several times to her experience as a student and as an instructor at the Massachusetts Firefighting Academy, specifically with the flashover simulator. The training and experience she received in the simulator made her familiar with the conditions in this close call.
“The heat and conditions we encountered that day were very much like the environment I have experienced in the simulator,” she said, and because of that, she was able to recall the survival training she had received and taught several times over. Have you and your department members been through a flashover simulator? If so, do it again. If not, find the nearest one and schedule training in it for every member.
Among the best survival programs available is the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) “Fire Ground Survival” program, http://www.iaff.org/hs/FGS/FGSIndex.htm. The program incorporates federal regulations, incident-management best practices and survival techniques and case studies.
Here’s what else you can do now. First, get out of the firehouse! Know the buildings in your first-due area. Next, know every tool on your rig (see John J. Salka Jr.’s The Fire Scene column on page 146). The public regards you as an expert because you are expected to be an expert. That’s why they called 9-1-1. For you! Go to http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/fire/ and download structural fireground firefighter line-of-duty death reports. Learn what happened and ask yourself whether it could happen to you. Even if you can’t leave the firehouse, you can do hands-on training. Set up scenarios in your quarters and stretch lines, search and then call a drill Mayday and determine whether your department’s planning and training works. After that drill, decide where improvements are needed.
• Taking care of the troops after the fire – As Chief Regan noted above, the emergency was so serious that afterward the department brought in a crisis team. When unusually bad things happen on the scene, it’s a big deal; don’t minimize it. But also don’t expect all of your personnel to deal with bad stuff the same way. Some people want to talk, some don’t. Make resources available as the first step in ensuring that everyone is OK after an extremely traumatic event.
Many no-cost resources are available for those times when the “unthinkable” becomes reality. Reach out to your regional or state training academy and find out what is available to your department. By thinking about the “unthinkable” and planning ahead, we can learn to have positive outcomes, learn from others and become better firefighters, officers and chiefs. n