As Firehouse Sees It: Getting Back to Basics with Safety Stand Down Week

May 29, 2024
Peter Matthews urges departments to take Safety Stand Down Week to heart, to ensure members of every rank refamiliarize themselves with basic skills and tactics to strengthen the foundation of their efforts.

As Frank Leeb said during his Firehouse Expo 2022 keynote address, “[A] winning mindset entails many small tactical nuances that are executed proficiently to position members to achieve the greatest possible outcome.”

The collective fire service voice has set the tone for the annual Firefighter Safety Stand Down Week with a look back at the foundation. Departments are asked to pause their regularly scheduled trainings and events to focus on themselves for this one week each year. It’s an opportune time to reset your agency and to ensure that standard operating procedures and tactics are aligned.

The theme for 2024 is “Fire Training: Back to Basics,” and the stand down kicks off on June 16. Although the week takes place next month, I wanted to address it while departments are working on their June training calendars, for the purpose that they take the annual event to heart.

This year’s stand down is an ideal opportunity for departments to look at some of those basic skills—not necessarily stretching lines and throwing ladders, if that’s a regular drill with crews—but tactics that should be the base of a department’s response foundation. This could include fire behavior; use of hand and power tools for forcible entry if you have younger, less experienced members; softening the structure; and establishing water supply via drop tanks.

In the mid-1990s, Firehouse ran a lengthy series of “back-to-basics” articles on the heels of FDNY’s Back to Basics Program that followed a number of injuries and deaths. During that time, FDNY attributed its losses and serious injuries to a move away from basic firefighter skills being the root cause of those incidents.

With the fire service busier than ever, rolling out to non-fire responses and other responsibilities, take the week to reset and refocus while preparing for that next working fire.

No shortcuts
I was on the phone with John Dixon out of Teaneck, NJ, a while back, and he was writing a piece for us on the topic of normalization of deviance. That article was exceptionally popular for years, because, despite being a society that looks for hacks and tricks to shave off seconds on both basic and complex tasks, sometimes, there are no shortcuts that can be used. You must understand each step that’s in the process, because each incident is different, and shortcuts can have deadly consequences.

Beyond the basics, there’s also a great opportunity to take out the tools and equipment that your department uses on a low-frequency basis. For example, how about that foam trailer that that no one flowed since the manufacturer delivered it and provided departmentwide training? This would be an ideal time to get all of your members refreshed on the topic, particularly if you have high target hazards that would need it. The same goes for technical rescue tools and a deck gun, where every second counts in ensuring a proper and quick deployment.

The back-to-basics approach also should expand beyond fire/rescue techniques and skills after the stand down week. Back to basics should be focused for each rank, whether it’s a driver/engineer, a company officer, a battalion chief, a training and/or safety officer or other various roles on the fireground.

With what seems to be an increase in apparatus accidents in the past few years, a review of not only policies but changing road conditions and larger rigs might be good areas on which to focus.

For a company officer, it could be that first-five- minutes checklist and then the ongoing reevaluation of an incident, including fire and smoke behavior. The same for chief officers, who ultimately take command of a scene.

For today and tomorrow
Over a decade ago, Capt. Ryan Pennington wrote in a blog, “Let us look at why the back-to-the-basics term simply needs to be eliminated from our vocabularies. We should change it to ‘never left the basics.’”

As you plan training for next month’s Safety Stand Down Week, the process should serve as the framework for annual training in your organization. It can shore up the foundation that each of your members have been built upon.

About the Author

Peter Matthews | Editor-in-Chief/Conference Director

Peter Matthews is the conference director and editor-in-chief of Firehouse. He has worked at Firehouse since 1999, serving in various roles on both Firehouse Magazine and staffs. He completed an internship with the Rochester, NY, Fire Department and served with fire departments in Rush, NY, and Laurel, MD, and was a lieutenant with the Glenwood Fire Company in Glenwood, NY. Matthews served as photographer for the St. Paul, MN, Fire Department.        

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