Safety – It’s Everybody’s Job

July 1, 2005

Some will say little has changed in the fire service in the last 200 years. Others will tell you that much has changed. The fact remains that one very critical aspect of this noble profession has stayed the same: the fire service nationwide continues to lose firefighters in hostile events on a regular basis. I contend that many of those deaths could have been prevented. In this article, I will talk in serious terms about safety. The bottom line on safety is this: It’s your life. Take safety seriously.

AIR MANAGEMENT. According to a study completed by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), many U.S. firefighters killed in the line of duty died of smoke inhalation after they became lost inside structures and ran out of air. Air management is not a new concept in the fire service. It is however, a new concept in the U.S. fire service. The U.K.’s national fire service has long held to the belief of self-reliance in air management concepts. From the first day of rookie school, the U.K. demands that firefighters are constantly aware of their personal air management, and company officers are held accountable for the entire crew’s air management.

Listed below are a few key items regarding air management. Please utilize these concepts to provide a safer working environment for you and your fellow firefighters.

  • Know your “rate of consumption.” Firefighters have differing rates of air consumption. Physical fitness and workloads can increase or decrease this factor. The bottom line is, the fitter you are, the less air you utilize. On average, a 30-minute bottle provides 18½ minutes of working time.
For company officers, be aware that the harder the work effort your personnel are accomplishing, the greater the rate of consumption. Keep constant tabs on their air and their rates of consumption. It is recommended that all personnel working in an immediately dangerous to life and health (IDLH) atmosphere leave the environment prior to the low-air warning device activation. The low air-warning device is not the indication to leave the building. It is an indication that you have been in the IDLH environment too long.

SEATBELTS. Everyone at this point should be saying, “Well, yeah, always wear your seatbelt. That’s obvious.” But the truth is, most vehicle accidents involving fire apparatus that result in injuries and deaths are a result of failure to properly wear seatbelts by fire personnel. There is absolutely no excuse for not wearing your seatbelt while riding/responding in an apparatus.

One particular item of concern is when firefighters attempt to slip into self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) while responding to reported structure fires. SCBA that are placed into seatbacks encourage this process and, in most cases, those responding firefighters are not wearing their seatbelts while slipping into SCBA. Seatbelt designs that have shoulder-harness straps limit the firefighter’s ability to properly wear the seatbelt and slip into the SCBA at the same time. Therefore, in most cases the firefighters simply do not wear their seatbelts; instead, they opt to slip into SCBA while responding. This has proven to be a lethal option for firefighters; the greatest likelihood of a vehicle collision is while responding to a reported structure fire.

  • Maintain a zero-tolerance policy on seatbelt usage.
  • Seatbelts are not an option. They are mandatory.
  • Never remove your seatbelt while apparatus is moving to put on SCBA or personal protective equipment (PPE).
  • Remove items in the cab that can fly about in a collision.
  • Remember: You didn’t create the emergency, don’t become part of it.

WISE WORDS FROM WISE MEN. The following is a list of safety items that I have collected over the years from respected mentors and friends. Enjoy them and share them with others.

  • Risk management:
The best way to make an aggressive attack is to give interior crews a safe environment to work within; i.e., vent early and vent often. If you think you’ll need a 2½-inch line, pull it first. You won’t get a second chance. Firefighting is like trying to herd cats. Maintain crew accountability and discipline at all times. No freelancing! Buildings are always talking to you. Listen for signs of collapse. Defensive water festivals are far superior to funerals. Safety prevents meetings and pink slips. Firefighting is like an airline ticket. Every firefighter gets a round trip ticket to the call and back to their family every single time. Ed Hadfield will present “Company Cohesion: Development of the Probationary Fire Recruit” and “High-Rise Ventilation Practices” at Firehouse Expo 2005, July 26-31 in Baltimore.Ed Hadfield is a fire captain and training officer for the Huntington Beach, CA, Fire Department. He is nationally recognized for his expertise in Truck Company Operations, Rapid Intervention Tactics and Strategies, and Firefighter Safety and Survival Techniques. A previous recipient of the California Training Officer of the Year Award, Captain Hadfield provides training programs nationwide to fire department and training organizations through his company Firetown Training Specialist. He holds an associate’s degree in fire science and a bachelor’s degree in organizational leadership from Azusa Pacific University, where he is completing his master’s degree in leadership studies. Hadfield is a California state-certified Fire Officer and Chief Officer.

Voice Your Opinion!

To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of Firehouse, create an account today!