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    Default Systemic Breakdown at Fires

    There are several qualities and attributes that are needed by operational fire chiefs and company officers to ensure they are able to function effectively and safely in their role on the fire-ground. These include the following -

    * Knowledge
    * Desire to learn
    * Leadership
    * Experience
    * Management Skills
    * Ability to formulate strategy and make decisions under pressure
    * Self Discipline
    * People Skills
    * Ability to assert command

    There are of course many other attributes needed. However, there are clear issues concerning even the above basic qualities and I would suggest that many chiefs are lacking in some of these areas, to the extent that it makes them 'unsafe' chiefs.

    Two recent fires I was professionally involved with demonstrated clear failings in the incident command structure that directly lead to the deaths of several firefighters. I find this shocking, that we can operate as professional fire authorities and yet fail to recognize clear weaknesses in our ability to promote, train and support effective company officers and fire chiefs.

    In the two quoted cases there were vast inadequacies in the practical knowledge base of officers and their inabilities to implement and assert effective fire-ground control undoubtedly caused major systemic failures, that were primary causal factors in the firefighter's deaths.

    I also see such failings time after time through NIOSH reports where command failings have been concluded as primary causal factors in similar deaths.

    Community education & safety is of course a major objective in reducing life losses but this should not come at the expense of our own people. We must ensure that the safety of our firefighters is our primary concern and that their ongoing training, as well as the continuing professional development of their leaders, recognizes real world incident scenarios, even though these may not be every day occurrences.

    I would be interested in your views, comments and personal experiences.

    LINK TO COMPLETE ARTICLE

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    As a newly promoted Company Officer, I feel that your comments are deserving of some honest feedback. I have no knowledge of the specific incidents you refrence, but the overall situation apears to be a fireservice wide problem. In the way of commenting, I would make the following points:

    1. Some promoted Officers have limited experience in "firefighting". They could have been promoted from slow firehouses, or they could have come from other aeras within the department such as inspection, training , or code enforcement. I feel that the promotional process could be improved by having a system to give promotional consideration to real world firefighting experience and not just to senority. Give points for service in active stations. It is dangerous and unfair to have senority points equal for a 200 runs-a-year firefighter and a 1800 runs-a- year firefighter. I know of no system that adjust senority points for such things as alarm volume.

    2. I feel that when a person is promoted to a Company or Chief Officer position they may focus more on the new task and duties that they are now responsible for. A new Chief may neglect his fireground duties and not stay current in this aera, but focus more of his time in new aeras such as budgets, staffing, or management. This is not right, but I think it may be human nature.

    I say these things to try to give some explination to the problem. I feel that a Company or Chief Officers first and most important responsibility is to the firefighters under his command. The safety and well being of the firefighters he is entrusted with should never be compromised. It is a Officers duty to stay as skilled as possible in his first priority - that of firefighter survival.

    I am sorry to learn that you have suffered the loss of "several" firefighters. The fire service cannot afford to suffer such losses because the command structure failed. The fireground is dangerous enough without having to worry about your boss not knowing his job.

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    Firemedic037

    Firstly thanks for taking the time to respond. Considering that is only your second post on this forum I would like to say welcome. Your points are acknowledged and well made and demonstrate a sound awareness of the issues raised.

    1. Limited fire-ground experience - It is true that when I first became a firefighter, all the company officers I served under were hardened veterans who had surmounted a decent level of operational experience. The way they dealt with risk and hazards at that time instiled an amount of confidence in the firefighters who worked for them. Although LODD life losses were more frequent back then, I would state generally that there were never glaring errors in command as causal factors of these LODD. The officers always asserted command and there was a high level of discipline in the force that responded well.

    The time applied to training was certainly greater than firefighters seem to apply these days, considering the vast increase in additional roles undertaken and rescue services provided.

    I would also add, however, that I have served with firefighters who had served over 20 years in busy fire areas and yet I would never have trusted some of these men as officers! Therefore, experience is only viable as a selection factor in part.

    2. It is true that company officers and fire chiefs have far greater responsibility and workloads in current managment structures than twenty or thirty years back and this is ever increasing.

    Quote Originally Posted by firemedic037
    I feel that a Company or Chief Officers first and most important responsibility is to the firefighters under his command. The safety and well being of the firefighters he is entrusted with should never be compromised. It is a Officers duty to stay as skilled as possible in his first priority - that of firefighter survival.
    Now I agree wholeheartedly with that statement. I feel it may be a difficult balance to achieve but at all costs, don't neglect the safety of your crews. This means taking personal responsibility to educate yourself in the practical issues of firefighting; fire behavior; fire command; communication etc. Don't just rely on the certificate you have obtained, for whilst it might protect you from litigation one day it may not provide you with the level of knowledge or competencies required to function safely and effectively at fire scenes.

    I think that most of us that come to these forums regularly are either looking for a fight; looking to spread a message; or most importantly, looking to learn something! These forums have taught me so much over the years and it is great that we can share our experiences like this. However, not all company officers or chiefs are that inspired, or indeed have time

    Training needs to be advanced in the fire service. With the multitude of ever increasing roles being taken on, let us not forget the 'bread & butter' of why we are here and ensure that our approach to training is closer to realism as the level of fireground experience diminishes. We must search out and apply the means of selecting fireground commanders who possess the ability to take control from the outset of operations (ie; immediately on arrival) and train them more effectively in the decision making process so that they can function with greater confidence and ability.

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    paulGRIMWOOD,

    Sir,
    I agree with the points you have made. Less training, more responsibilities and duties other than "just firefighting", and a general reduction of actual working fires. All of these factors have combined to make todays fire service less focused on the primary mission - that being the extinguishment of fire. I believe that this has lead to the "glaring errors incommand" that you so correctly stated. It would seem to me that this fire service trend must be stopped. Unfortunatly, I can offer no solutions. Fire protection systems and codes have reduced the number of structure fires. Ironicly, buy doing our job of preventing fires, we have reduced the experience levels of our Officers. Improvements in fire drills and leadership classes may help, but nothing can substitute for real world, scared-to-death, combat firefighting. As I stated in my first reply, I am a new Company Officer. I dont have half of the number of fires under my belt as my first Company Officer had when he was in my position. I am trying to make up the difference by study and training, but the real-world experience is still lacking.

    I agree very much with your statements on a strong command and control presence. The ability to "take control at the outset" is critical.

    I have a question that may have importance here: How many of your newer Officers and Firefighters have prior military service? I know that when I first started in the fire service, almost all firefighters had some time in the military. Now that percentage is way down, much less than 25%. Without getting into the politics of the military, I do feel that most would agree that service in the armed forces teaches the basics of leadership, followship, and the chain of command.

    What are your thoughts?

    ( please forgive the spelling errors.)

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    Quote Originally Posted by PaulGRIMWOOD
    The time applied to training was certainly greater than firefighters seem to apply these days, considering the vast increase in additional roles undertaken and rescue services provided.

    I find this an interesting comment Paul. I find completely the opposite. We train MUCH more now then we did when I started 23 years ago. Not only that, but the training is much more intensive.

    Back then, a drill could be something as simple as stretching a line and flowing some water. Boots, helemt & gloves and not in any rush. Run it once and pack up.

    Now, a simple drill would be to catch a hydrant, lay a couple hundere feet of supply, stretch a 3" and wye to 1 3/4" then flow foam. All with full PPE/SCBA (on air) and the evolution is timed. Pack up and run it again (3 or 4 times) and if there is an issue with performance or time, run it even more. Its not uncommon for us to spend 3 1/2 to 4 hours on daily company drills.

    And this is just in house drills. There is much more inter-agency training, more trips to the county drill grounds, more aquired structure training. Also, the requirements for training have increased over time. State requirements, ISO requirements, OSHA requirements and NFPA recomendations.

    And thats just the fire side. We also have required EMS & Haz-Mat training as well as EVOC and what is required by the state to re-certify individual certifications such as company officer, instructor and inspector.
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    Firemedic037

    Yes there was a far greater percentage of ex-military personnel when I joined the service in 1971 than there is now. I state this on gut feeling rather than recruitment stats. I would also state that 'political correctness' has gradually eroded the levels of discipline from the force here in the UK over the past two decades. This to me is a root cause of the problems.

    Dave1983 -

    That is excellent. We have spoken before about your department's concerns for the professionalism it strives far and that is admirable. I wonder, in this day and age, if the increase in training time is widely experienced? I would ask others if you find that your training time has increased or decreased over the past ten or twenty years? If so, is it because you are applying more time to field and rescue training (due to our changing role) than fireground operations?

    I would finally ask those communities who are placing the concept of 'community safety' projects ahead of 'firefighter safety' projects - is this culture the right way round? Are we getting the balance wrong?

    LAFireEd??

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    Quote Originally Posted by PaulGRIMWOOD
    If so, is it because you are applying more time to field and rescue training (due to our changing role) than fireground operations?

    I would finally ask those communities who are placing the concept of 'community safety' projects ahead of 'firefighter safety' projects - is this culture the right way round? Are we getting the balance wrong?

    LAFireEd??

    I can answer for us...One reason we train more on fireground opps is due to increased requirements on a state and federal level. But its also because we dont face the number of fires that we used to have and we dont want to lose our edge. Thats the big reason we use more aquired structures now.

    As for community safety v. firefighter safety, I think we do a good job at both. Not only due we reach out to the community more, but we practice our own safety constantly.

    We have RIG (RIT/FAST) drills, bail out drills and self extrication drills on a regular basis. These are all things that we never used to drill on. About the only time any of these were covered was in firefighter basic school.

    As far as other departments go, this increase in training is pretty much the norm for my area. Training is a BIG deal in my neck of the woods.
    Last edited by Dave1983; 09-19-2006 at 03:38 PM.
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    paulGRIMWOOD,
    Political correctness has taken its toll on my department also. PC added with a lot less dicipline adds up to a lot of problems for a Company Officer. I was never treated bad as a younger firefighter, but I could never get away with the things that were done to me. I am not saying that it is a bad thing ( I dont want to lead by intimidation anyway), but the new firefighters are so easy to offend.

    Dave,
    I am sorry to say that training is not a big deal with my department. I have the responsibility of a Engine company in a house with a Ladder company. I am eager to train and enjoy "what if" training and try to keep it exciting, but I fear it is "cool" to not want to train and to have the "know-it-already" mentality here. I do not have the support of the Ladder Officer. He has a few years of experience on me and has a very laid back attitude.We DO train on my company, but it is a challenge.

    Please dont get me wrong... I love my job and the challenges that I face every day. its the greatest job in the world. I take the development and safety of my firefighters very seriously. Our responce aera has a wide alarm variation. It is a good department. Some of the Engine companies I run in with are the best could ask for. we have a core of younger Company Officers that are always pushing each other to higher levels.

    I just dont think we are as good as we were 10-15 years ago, when we had more fires and less "spill control" and "cell phone heros"...

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    Quote Originally Posted by PaulGRIMWOOD
    I also see such failings time after time through NIOSH reports where command failings have been concluded as primary causal factors in similar deaths.
    Yet we still continue with the practice of Affirmative Action promotions based on race - not ability.
    I am a complacent liability to the fire service

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    Chicago I take your point on board. In the vast majority of cases I have looked at it is not possible to say if affirmative action (for gender as well) might be a causal factor in LODD. We can only summise in this respect. It is clear, however, that LODDs in several situations were directly caused by poor command and lack of leadership.

    In the few cases I have been directly linked with I would suggest that a lack of training was the overriding cause for concern.

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    I think the problem is partially excacerbated by a general lack of career development within most departments.

    The path may involve several competitive examination promotions followed by a merit appointment to chief officer level.

    Each level will usually have a time-in-grade requirement, and sometimes an educational requirement. Rarely, there is a requirement for time serve in a non-firefighting division, for promotion to chief officer.

    Usually, the difference between a company officer (Captain) and a field officer (Battalion Chief) is merely a promotion. There may be a very short training program, or possibly a mentorship program. It seems most departments assume that a senior Captain with approval of the Fire Chief, is qualified to act as a Field grade Command Officer.

    Most Fire Chiefs face very little accountability for the merit promotions they make: the government assigned with responsibility for the oversight of the Fire Department usually has very little knowledge regarding the quality of the product they are receiving. They know the budget, and how many stations are operational. They know what embarrassing stories have been told by the media. They may know an average response time, or more rarely, an ISO rating. They know how many senior officers are friends of the elected. Other than that, not much. Department Chiefs that do have strict performance measures and reporting requirements must do what they can to meet those objectives. If these measured objectives are chosen carefully, this can ensure accountability in the chief officers. NFPA 1710 comes to mind, as does a real commitment to drill and training. ISO Ratings have a place. Percent of fires suppressed at the room & contents stage should be reported.

    Experience is necessary, but it is not a sufficient requirement for a good Chief Officer. Furthermore, experience is getting harder and harder to come by. Potential officers need to be able to learn from the experience of others. To this end, I believe that formal education should receive a greater emphasis than it does in most departments in the US. However, those departments that require degrees for their chief officers and not for their membership, are often left with a very narrow field of qualified company officers. None of this is to suggest that education is a valid substitution for experience & training, but rather that it tends to allow a synergistic effect when combined with experience and training.

    Officer experience is further degraded by the columnar organizational charts of most career departments. With three person companies, every third employee is an officer of some sort. Degrading experience further is the common practice for most firefighters to spend 25% of their time serving on an ambulance with little or no fire duty.

    I've been mulling the idea of having the company/station officers (Captains) serve as a bridge position between the unit officers and the chief officers. For example each shift might have a LT riding the right front seat of the fire truck. A captain might be incharge of all the shifts for a given company or firehouse. These captains would split their time each week between managing their companies and serving as part of the Battalion Command Team. This is in comparison to a system where one of the rotating company officer is the Captain and the rest are lieutenants.

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    From Firemedic037:

    "1. Some promoted Officers have limited experience in "firefighting". They could have been promoted from slow firehouses, or they could have come from other aeras within the department such as inspection, training , or code enforcement. I feel that the promotional process could be improved by having a system to give promotional consideration to real world firefighting experience and not just to senority. Give points for service in active stations. It is dangerous and unfair to have senority points equal for a 200 runs-a-year firefighter and a 1800 runs-a- year firefighter. I know of no system that adjust senority points for such things as alarm volume."

    Run volume has nothing to do with experience. My company is usually in the bottom third of the monthly run volume of 22 engine companies. However, we make more fire runs than ems runs. We are in the top 5 for number of working fires and as a Rescue Engine (read squad RIT, Technical Rescue) we make additional structure fires as RIT.

    I am sure there are also "outstanding" firefighters on busy companies throughout the country. You know the ones "out standing" on the side walk.

    I'd take the 200 runs-a-year firefighter that makes mostly fire responses versus one that makes 1800 runs-a-year, 1700 ems and 100 fire.

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    LEXFD5,

    I agree 100% with your point. Your statement "run volume has nothing to do with experience" is correct. It is the FIRE experience that I am refering to. This is the point I was making when I said "promotional consideration to real world firefighting experience".

    Though possible,very few Command and Control mistakes can be made at a single company respiratory distress alarm.

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    Quote Originally Posted by firemedic037
    LEXFD5,

    I agree 100% with your point. Your statement "run volume has nothing to do with experience" is correct. It is the FIRE experience that I am refering to. This is the point I was making when I said "promotional consideration to real world firefighting experience".

    Though possible,very few Command and Control mistakes can be made at a single company respiratory distress alarm.
    This method puts subjectivity into the promotional process. You'll end up with the "Good Ole Boy" syndrome. If you are grading subjectively on firefighting experience there is no way to remove any personal bias the grader might have towards the canidate. It may not be a conscious decision but it will still enter into the equation.

    From SBrooks:

    "Most Fire Chiefs face very little accountability for the merit promotions they make: the government assigned with responsibility for the oversight of the Fire Department usually has very little knowledge regarding the quality of the product they are receiving. They know the budget, and how many stations are operational. They know what embarrassing stories have been told by the media. They may know an average response time, or more rarely, an ISO rating. They know how many senior officers are friends of the elected. Other than that, not much. Department Chiefs that do have strict performance measures and reporting requirements must do what they can to meet those objectives. If these measured objectives are chosen carefully, this can ensure accountability in the chief officers. NFPA 1710 comes to mind, as does a real commitment to drill and training. ISO Ratings have a place. Percent of fires suppressed at the room & contents stage should be reported."

    Most municipal fire departments' fire chiefs are political appointees by the mayor or other head of the execuative branch. Sometimes with approval of the legislative branch of the local government. And in some cases with no regard to prior experience. Carrye Brown, former head of the USFA during the Clinton Administration, was given the position after having worked on Capitol Hill for 18 years as a "specialist" in disaster and fire legislation. Where's the firefighting experience there? About the same as appointing a horse guy, Michael Brown, to head up FEMA.

    Some are quick to jump to NFPA standards when it agrees with their point of view. You mention 1710, but what about 1001, 1002, 1021, 1051, 1410, 1500, 1521, 1582, 1720, and 472. How many appointed fire chiefs can meet all these "standards"? How many elected by their departments?

    As for Paul's original comment:

    I believe we are now getting to the point in the fire service where experience is being replaced with book knowledge. In the past it was experienced firefighters teaching new firefighters based on what they had actually done. As the number of fires decreased experience decreased. To replace experience we started to write books (take a look at the Library of Congress and see how many texts there were on firefighting before the mid-1980s, there were not many.) Today there are books on almost every imaginable subject regarding firefighting, including one on 3D Firefighting (anyone know who wrote this one?) .We are now at the point where our instructors have less experience and teach new firefighters out of books. Is this a good thing? No. But for now it is what we have.

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    lexfd5 makes some very good points. I think it is important to establish some guiding principles here.

    At a certain point in their career line, fire chiefs may cross over and become politicians wearing a badge. Their objectives, aims and priorities differ from those on the front line and this is appreciated. In fact, in most cases the most part of their fireground responsibility & accountability may devolve down to operational chiefs below them.

    I really want this debate to stay with the 'company officers' or 'field chiefs' who are responsible, accountable and are actively making life and death tactical decisions at fires. These are generally also the same people who hold the key to training, although they may have to work within time or budget constraints handed down by the politician wearing a badge!

    Yes any opportunity to build on first hand experience may be strictly in decline in most areas but those books may offer some sort of lifeline, even though lex is essentially right in that sometimes (often) even our instructors lack adequate levels of experience to impart effective training.

    But you know .... good firefighting is all about following protocols .... but the protocols have to be based on past experience. Your SOPs should be built upon sound experience and updated each time new experience comes to light. Then it i down to company officers and operational chiefs to ENSURE that (a) firefighters are aware of the protocols and; (b) they follow them!

    This means TRAINING in SOPs and ensuring that the level of DISCIPLINE enforced (met) through sound LEADERSHIP on the fireground is good enough.

    It also requires company officers and chiefs to be inquisitive and personally motivated .... always searching for a better way ....

    Mike Degrosky's article says it all for me ....
    Last edited by PaulGRIMWOOD; 09-21-2006 at 11:59 AM.

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    Mr. Grimwood, and others, raise very valid points and questions.
    A few months ago, as part of research for future articles on the site, and for one in the magazine, I posted a questionaire to willing firefighters who had military experience and combat experience. My hypothesis is that those with a military instruction background have a better decision making ability - with regard to fire service instruction - as opposed to those without. I also tested this with those who had experienced combat. Those who participated were asked to compare their military experience with their fire service experience. My point is to give consideration that today's fire service training has been weakened by outside society influences, i.e. EOE, violence in the workplace, sexual harassment, etc. Those influences have an undetermined impact on the decision-making ability of the firefighter while on the fireground. Note, I am not saying that these subjects are irrelevant or unimportant, but that today's fire recruit has to spend as much time on these subjects as they would hydraulics, ventilation, or physical conditioning.

    Many of the participants, particularly those with combat experience, state a belief that if their introductory fire service training were conducted similar to their military training, there would be a greater sense of discipline and responsibility in their department, many of the current recruits working today would not have passed, and injuries/fatalities would be decreased. The only exception to this comes from the World War II and Korean War participants. They do agree that today's recruits would have the better discipline and respect, however they believe that military style fire training would not have an impact on fireground injuries and death.

    The decision making process impacts:
    Leadership
    Management Skills
    Ability to formulate strategy and make decisions under pressure
    Self Discipline
    People Skills
    Ability to assert command
    and is at fault when there is no training for "antagonistc situations" on the fireground (see Rogers' Rangers and the Mentality of the Modern Firefighter I, II).

    "Two recent fires I was professionally involved with demonstrated clear failings in the incident command structure that directly lead to the deaths of several firefighters. I find this shocking, that we can operate as professional fire authorities and yet fail to recognize clear weaknesses in our ability to promote, train and support effective company officers and fire chiefs."

    I don't because the fire service, in general, does not train officers to make the succesful "thinking" transition from firefighter (focus on self) to fire officer (focus on crew).

    "In the two quoted cases there were vast inadequacies in the practical knowledge base of officers and their inabilities to implement and assert effective fire-ground control undoubtedly caused major systemic failures, that were primary causal factors in the firefighter's deaths.

    I also see such failings time after time through NIOSH reports where command failings have been concluded as primary causal factors in similar deaths."


    You will see this more and more become issue of litigation for the families of the deceased and the dpeartment or municpality, as a means to prove or disprove negligence.

    Very good discussion.

    William Carey
    Last edited by bcarey; 09-21-2006 at 12:43 PM.
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    bcarey offers some most valid points for us to think on, here in his post and the articles he refers us to (damn cost me $23 to access them)

    His articles discuss how simple but effective military strategy (Rangers) was based on 28 rules that eventually became written into SOPs. (There are the protocols I mentioned) He went on to discuss how anxiety can affect the front of the brain which is the bit of matter we use to assist us in formulating a plan). He referred to the late Andy Fredericks (FDNY) who said once

    "the garbage man doesn't get excited when he turns the corner and sees trash .... he's expecting it" likewise you should be conditioned to expect fire on every run!

    I think that point is valid because in the earlier fires I discussed the firefighters clearly act as if they were 'surprised' there was actually a fire and then acted with some elements of confusion during those first vital moments following arrival.

    Carey goes on to discuss the levels of 'stress' we put on our fire officers when we train them .... in fact very little stress! He calls it the 'everything has gone crap' drill! This method of teaching should be used to create a thought process at real incidents that functions by second nature.

    His evaluation of military events in Mogadishu, Somalia drew some close comparisons with other firefighter LODDs and noted similarities in 'systemic breakdown' caused by familiarity of a 'non-event' .... that brought about some complacency in the 'routine' approach oh how many times in my career have I seen this)!.

    Carey - 'Soldiers who have not been trained under stressful conditions do not react well when confronted with antagonistic situations' ....

    'Complacency and miscommunication kill just as well as falling trusses and flashover' ....

    Let me say to you .... those two statements say an awful lot!

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    This is a great thread, I'm really enjoying following along with it. I hope other "grunt" firefighters are reading this and taking notes, because one day they might not only become officers themselves, but in any given situation they may find themselves having to perform the role of company officer. While I'm certainly not suggesting that every firefighter should be able to assume the role of Chief at any given moment, it certainly never hurts to have a greater awareness of your surroundings than just "I have to stretch this here line to the front door". This is especially true in volunteer depts, where you might not have the luxury of having senior officers...or ANY officers for that matter...on the fireground. Even more to the point, they often don't arrive until a few minutes into the incident, leaving the first arriving driver or senior member to take command. My personal opinion and experience is that the first few minutes of an incident are perhaps the most critical of all, and I'm sure many would agree. Putting an effective operation into effect from the start is key to winning the overall battle.

    As far as training, I have to say I'm a bit torn on this. I should state that my experience is volunteer, so it will obviously be vastly different from most or all career depts. I feel that in some respects, we have gone more to "book" learning than actual hands on, sometimes for better and sometimes for worse.

    We deal more and more with HazMat it seems, which all but requires you to bury your nose in a book for a few hours or more, depending on your expected role in those incidents. It's no longer a specialized, obvious thing anymore where you roll up and know immediately you need to call the HazMat team. In today's day and age just about everything we deal with is or has the potential to be very hazardous, and that's without even taking the threat of terrorism always looming into consideration. In that example, book and classroom study is very important.

    There are times, however, where I've sat in a classroom for hours on end discussing fireground tactics and operations, and I've thought to myself "We should be outside making this a practical evolution." I'm not talking about the first half of a class either, where you would give an introduction and discuss the exercises to be performed the next night, clearly there is a need for that. The firefighters have to understand just how and why they'll be doing certain things. I'm talking about classes that have dealt with fireground activities that were based solely in the classroom or textbook. In my humble opinion, that is no substitute for getting dirty.

    I have other points and issues about training in today's world, but I don't want to hijack this thread. Suffice it to say that I believe the training I got when I first became a firefighter was a lot more hands on, but didn't sacrifice the importance of classroom lecture where appropriate. In some respects today it seems we're trying to condense more training into a shorter time period because of busy schedules (again, I'm speaking mostly from a volunteer standpoint) which concerns me. Almost as if no one has the time to set up the evolution that may take 4 or 5 hours, instead it's easier to pop a video tape in and have guys sit around watching it for 1 hour, then give a quick lecture and have a quick Q&A session. That doesn't sit well with me. Couple that with the fact that, as mentioned, actual fires seem to be in decline in some areas for various reasons, and I think many new guys and new officers are losing a lot of hands on experience. It's hard enough recreating that sense of urgency during a class or drill, we don't need to further water down the training on top of that.

    Sorry I got off subject a bit, once I got going I had to get my thoughts out.

    Quote Originally Posted by PaulGRIMWOOD
    He referred to the late Andy Fredericks (FDNY) who said once

    "the garbage man doesn't get excited when he turns the corner and sees trash .... he's expecting it" likewise you should be conditioned to expect fire on every run!
    If I had a nickel for every time I heard Andy say that particular quote or one of his other thought provoking ideas, I'd have a pretty full coin jar. I feel so blessed to have been taught and mentored by not just Andy himself, but the many other great instructors we have here.

  19. #19
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    Default Todays Firefighters

    Lack of fire experience is a significant factor and I would extend the concept of not being surprised beyond simply expecting a fire on every run. In my experience, all surprises on the fireground are a bad thing. Not only do firefighters need to expect to encounter fire, they also need to be able to anticipate fire development and loss of building stability in time to do something about it.

    I am not so sure that increased diversity within the fire service or movement away from a strict paramilitary focus is part of this issue. In conducting probationary firefighter trainng, I find that todays firefighters (both men and women, whites and persons of color) learn effectively in a collaborative environment with considerably less emphasis on rank and structure. While this is quite different than my experience as a recruit 32 years ago, these individuals go on to perform extremely well in the field. The key is training them to be thinking firefighters and not just someone who is "strong and obedient".

    Our in-service training program covers the wide range of topics required to maintain proficiency in todays fire service. However, we place substantial emphasis on firefighting with quarterly live fire training, simulations, and use of case studies to keep all operational personnel engaged with the high risk/low frequency activity of firefighting.

    Cheers
    Ed Hartin, MS, EFO, MIFireE

  20. #20
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    Ed your post stands out and thanks for taking some of your valuable time to join in the debate. As a frontline Chief and training officer you are aware of the issues and I know we are close in our thinking.

    I would like to take some your points and inject my stance.

    Quote Originally Posted by hartin
    Lack of fire experience is a significant factor and I would extend the concept of not being surprised beyond simply expecting a fire on every run. In my experience, all surprises on the fireground are a bad thing. Not only do firefighters need to expect to encounter fire, they also need to be able to anticipate fire development and loss of building stability in time to do something about it.
    Being 'surprised' in finding a fire is most certainly a factor in what you so rightly term the high risk/low frequency activity of firefighting. I have noted time and again that 'routine' calls cloud the thinking of the firefighter/company officer and affect their tactical approach. The more routine calls they attend the greater the tendency to become complacent. The element of 'surprise' comes as a shock and the sudden realisation that they are scattered out of position, without the right equipment to hand, creates the anxiety that leads to mental blocks. The ability to recover is greatly hindered and what I term as 'systemic breakdown' (a lawyer's term) places the initial attendance into an irretrievable position.

    I have seen this so many times and can attest that it is usually the second and third waves of responding firefighters arriving before systemic control begins to return. Much, if not all, of the energy directed from latter waves of fire response are directed at getting things back to 'normal'.

    Whilst I undoubtedly agree that they also need to be able to anticipate fire development and loss of building stability in time to do something about it what comes first is training and discipline in removing complacency from that initial response.

    Quote Originally Posted by hartin
    I am not so sure that increased diversity within the fire service or movement away from a strict paramilitary focus is part of this issue. In conducting probationary firefighter trainng, I find that todays firefighters (both men and women, whites and persons of color) learn effectively in a collaborative environment with considerably less emphasis on rank and structure. While this is quite different than my experience as a recruit 32 years ago, these individuals go on to perform extremely well in the field. The key is training them to be thinking firefighters and not just someone who is "strong and obedient".
    We can never prove but only summise over fire service diversity issues. I know for a fact that standards have been lowered in some cases to assist affrmative action and one would imagine this might have some effect on the quality of leadership, in comparison. However, we can still address these quality issues, if indeed they ever existed, through training and discipline. The terms LEARNING and PERFORMANCE go hand in hand but do not necessarily promote the fact that people WILL perform effectively if they are taught well. There has to be more to it (I know you know this Chief) There has to be effective SOPs that are enforced by stringent controllers, or leaders. Your statement of a collaborative environment with considerably less emphasis on rank and structure. worries me because I am seeing that here in the UK. We call it 'rank to role' and in some fire depratments (brigades) the rank markings are coming off. We are calling our leaders 'managers'. A company officer might now be termed a 'crew manager'.

    What is wrong with terms like 'LEADER' or 'COMMANDER' and hell bring me back some rank markings so I can recognise my leaders and give them the respect they should have! All I see is a fire service around me that is crumbling through a clear lack of leadership, discipline and respect where its due, with very little training time for the 'high risk/low frequency activity of firefighting'.

    My advice to all you aspiring young leaders is to make sure your SOPs are up-to-date; based on a sound foundation of knowledge and experience; are trained for and practised; and applied EVERY time; that you become ASSERTIVE in your control of the force under you; that you learn outside of the remit of your basic requirments and never end that search for knowledge; and that you learn and are able to ADAPT to changing circumstances; as these are some of the necessary attributes of a true leader.

    Quote Originally Posted by hartin
    Our in-service training program covers the wide range of topics required to maintain proficiency in todays fire service. However, we place substantial emphasis on firefighting with quarterly live fire training, simulations, and use of case studies to keep all operational personnel engaged with the high risk/low frequency activity of firefighting.
    Some fire departments around the US could take a lead from your excellent training program in Gresham that I know was nominated for a national award most recently. Congratulations Chief.
    Last edited by PaulGRIMWOOD; 09-23-2006 at 05:45 AM.

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    Paul ...

    Sorry I'm late to this discussion, and I'll try to answer your question.

    In the the states, I don't think most departments have hit the balance yet between "firefighter safety" and "community safety" projects yet.

    As I see it, there is still too much of an emphasis in the fire service in the US on supression and firefighting operations as compared to getting out in the community with the firesafety message. Does that mean all departments still have this train of thought? No, there are progressive departments that do an excellent job balancing thier resources between firefighter safety issues and community safety issues. They have learned that getting the message out will reduce fires ... which both makes the community a safer place and the firefighters job safer as well, as they now have less fires to deal with. And does that statement mean that I beleive that departments are over-training or spending too much time on firefighter safety? Certainly not, as firefighting and EMS skills will always be needed as no matter how proactive a department's public education program is, there will always be fires and wrecks and hazmat spills and medical calls that need to be handled. However the ugly truth is that in this country the average FD spends 1% of it's budget on public education or community safety, and I'm sure if you took a hard look at the manhours spent on pub ed on average, that percentagewould be similiar. It's a balance, which overall, we still haven't even come close to meeting.

    That being said, do I beleive that a department can put too much emphasis on community safety? While I haven't seen any examples of it, yes, I guess they could. But given the fire service's mentality towards public education in this country, I really could not imagine that currently happening. However the sad fact is that there are many departments in this country that don't put enough emphasis on either firefighter safety or community safety projects. In this day and age of increased demands, and the resulting need for increased firefighter safety, I see way too many departments that are still far behind the curve on that issue. Unfortuantly, many of them are also way behind the curve on getting firesafety messages to the community in avariety of ways to the folks that need to hear them. Neither situation is good .... but having both situations in a department can be diasterous. The combination of poor (or no) public education efforts .. which leads to a high number of fires in the community .. and poorly trained firefighters or the presence of uncorrected firefighter safety issues in the department ... can only lead to one thing at some point down the road - LODD.

    In closing, would I ever advocate a reduction in training time to allow for more community education time? I really can't see a situation where I would, as both are critical to what we do. What I do advocate is that most departments need to increase the amount of time spent on public education. That could mean hiring additional staff trained and dedicated to delivering public education. In some situations, it may mean the elimination of some line company duties (such as hydrant maintanence, etc.) to a allow for additional time spent on community safety. And in far too many situations, a department may need to increase the time spent on both firefighter safety and community safety.

    The reality is this country's fire service, by and large, still has yet to realize the importance of community safety education. Europe has gotten the message, but we haven't. It's sad to say that many depatments are also still not hearing the firefighter safety message as well.

    We all need to find that balance.

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    Hallelujah !!
    25 September 2006 ....
    I applaud the actions of Fire Commissioner Sir Ken Knight and London Fire Brigade who are finally addressing some serious neglect of fire-ground training issues over the past few years. There have been a series of 'near miss' incidents in London over recent months where several firefighters almost lost their lives at fires. It is being acknowledged that more training is needed with a 'back to basics' approach at fires.

    London are making available an additional 1.75 million to provide additional training resources. The extra investment will focus on the risk critical areas of breathing apparatus wearing, gaining real fire experience and incident command. They are further evaluating their current tactical and command approaches through an operational review assessment.

    Now those of you who know me will appreciate how pleased I am to hear this news, in fact I'm ecstatic! I have been campaigning publicly for over a decade to get the training of UK firefighters back on track. When I was told a Metro brigade in the UK were, just last month, commenting on how they believed 'less realism' was actually needed in training firefighters to deal with fires, I was deeply shocked. Our firefighters of today need even more 'realistic' training than ever due to the reduction in 'real fire' experience.

    What is absolutely key in London's plans is the additional training for Crew Commanders on tactical decision making during incidents, provided through a new two day residential course. A similar two day course for fire chiefs will also be introduced. (Let us hope they get the content right)!

    Take note, this targeted training of firefighters comes as a result of several 'near miss' incidents. Don't wait for YOUR firefighters to experience some form of 'systemic breakdown', or allow their lack of experience to lead to similar events in YOUR response area, before taking action!

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    Developing training can have unexpected benefits as well.

    Houston has developed a simulator for chief officers to practice command procedures. By running the higher ups through the simulator, the training officers have shown a need for Chief's Aides. Running our local government people through will help with this as well.

    Our district recently went through a multi-company drill at the academy. Only one guy really complained, and that's just his way.

    I don't understand the no-training mentality--unless you intend on doing nothing. Many who don't want to train have their lack of action in mind. I've heard an officer quoted as saying: "Our DROP is too good to go into those burning buildings." This supposedly came from a guy on a pumper that's on the box at my house. It gives me the **** shivers to think there are losers like that pretending to be firemen.

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