Goldfeder Commentary on Massachusetts Training Issue

This article accompanies a news story in the Fitchburg, Mass. Sentinel and Enterprise Newspaper regarding the death of Lancaster Firefighter Marty McNamara. As you read, the issue of training continues to rise.

While inappropriate for discussion the day after the fire, predictably the issue remains a hot topic now at a more appropriate time.

The issue appears to be one not just specific to his tragic death, but to all firefighters in Massachusetts and beyond. His death has raised the issue to levels of visibility.

It reminds me of a story. When I was a kid, the town we lived in had a small bridge on a specific roadway near the old Grist Mill, a pretty busy area. For years there was public concern that the bridge was too small for both cars and pedestrians. But for years, the bridge, cars and pedestrians all squeezed through until one day.

On that day, a young kid attempted to cross the bridge and horribly killed by a car trying to share the same small space. A tragic loss.

The death of that kid suddenly created the political energies (which means priorities and funding) to get the bridge widened. And today, that bridge has enough room for two lanes of traffic, a pull over area as well as pedestrians walkways.

What could have prevented the death of that little kid? Some "squeaky wheels", people who never give up, people who keep pushing and people who systematically and through whatever process, got stuff taken care of.

The combination of some "squeaky wheels" and predictable problems being preventable can result in the minimization of potential tragedies.

The news story says that the Lancaster Fire Department has an "informal and poorly organized training program". That may be true. But it isn't a whole lot different from many, many fire departments around the USA. While so many areas are focused on other important training issues such as EMS, WMD, terrorism, hazmat and numerous other related services, the BASICS OF STRUCTURAL FIREFIGHTING have gotten lost in the shuffle.

A FD with an "informal and poor" training program? A shock? As some say: PAH-LEASE!

It's no shock when firefighters show little or no interest in participating. It's no shock when officers lack the motivation to take those half-interested firefighters and get them interested. It's no shock when programs are offered and few students show up at their local fire schools.

A fire department with "informal and poor" training?? It's probably more the standard than not these days. At least that's what the majority of LODD reports seem to indicate, training issues.

No funding. Another lame excuse although, the fact that it is a problem-really sucks. On the Internet alone there is free, daily training on numerous BASIC STRUCTURAL FIREFIGHTING subjects. For example, go to our site, www.FirefighterCloseCalls.com and click "weekly fire drills". And that's only a small sample of what is available for free at numerous WWW fire sites including www.Firehouse.com.

There are many, many training lesson plans available for free. Should there also be funding? Absolutely. If we can fund pretty parks and fancy streetlights, we can fund basic firefighter training. Squeak!

Of course, on the issue of funding you can send a firefighter at no local cost to numerous WMD and related terrorism training. All expenses paid from the Feds. But when it comes to basic structural fire fighting training, there is little available in the same manner. Squeak

WHY is that so important? Sure, WMD and related homeland security training is important. But if we have so many firefighters in the USA with such poor levels of fire training, how will we possibly be able to handle a WMD related complex incident if we can't handle the basic house fire without getting hurt or killed? We have got to walk before we can run.

The bridge tragedy with that little girl was predictable but not enough "squeakers" squeaked. Some of the firefighter deaths in recent times were also predictable, but not enough "squeakers" squeaked.

Tip O'Neill, the well-known Massachusetts politician, had a great term and he wrote a book about it called "All Politics Is Local". Like his theory, in this situation all BASIC FIREFIGHTER TRAINING IS LOCAL.

Basic firefighter training starts with the firefighter who is half interested in learning and then it requires an officer who has the knowledge, the interest and the leadership skills to train that firefighter to the senior level. Chief officers must make sure the department is focused on related priorities all in the "local" firehouse using recognized state standards that insure that we have a chance at survival.

If the state has no standard, use the NFPA standards. And none of this "career standards" and "volunteer standards" or "part-time standards". How about just firefighter standards? Standards that match the job and the risk that all firefighters must do. Squeak!

Maybe Firefighter McNamara's fire department training wasn't as good as it could have been. It's not for us to say as of yet. But if it wasn't, it is no different from many fire departments, volunteer, call or career. So maybe, his tragic death serves as a wakeup call in Massachusetts. And maybe to other firefighters, officers and bosses following the story in all the other states too.

Or, just like the Station Nightclub fire in Rhode Island, Rhode Island takes local action to change fire codes while the rest of the states wait for their fire to give them their local wake up call. Or, like the town with the bridge. They had to find out for themselves before they widened the bridge. Squeak!

The choices are: Sit, wait, hope and do nothing until something bad happens. Or Learn from the tragic events of others so we minimize the risk of something bad happening by instituting applicable firefighter training.

Unfortunately, the first choice is what typically happens. So maybe "BIG BROTHER" captain, chief, commissioner or local government does have to step up and require firefighters have basic training. Then step up.

Maybe it has to happen at the regional level, state level or even the federal level in order to manage that risk. Federally mandated basic national firefighter minimum standards? Hmm.

Required firefighter training gets some firefighters, all in a tizzy. Comments like "who are they to tell me I much go to training", is a typical whiney cry heard throughout. And, while we sympathize with volunteer and call firefighters time issues, it's a lame excuse. There is time.

If you are going to go to fires you must have relevant and regular training. Squeak.!

All fire training starts locally and regularly, in the firehouse, by a good, competent and no nonsense qualified fire officer using state or nationally recognized standards.

It isn't that difficult.

Now go start "squeaking"!

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