Let's Talk Fire: 5 Dangerous Practices We Can Do Without

Safety First

One of my department members demonstrating proper use of turnout  gear.
One of my department members demonstrating proper use of turnout gear.

Introduction

I need to include a small disclaimer here. I know these things are as boring as a probie's war stories but still on occasion I need to make these bad boys clear. This text is in no way meant to reflect on any individual or department but instead is meant to be used as a tool or resource to better your department. If you feel I have wronged you in this please be an adult and confront me as opposed to posting negative comments on other sites.

Now that we have all that jazz out of the way we can get down and dirty. No probie not like that put your shirt back on. As firefighters we often find ourselves drifting into two areas I commonly call the danger zones. (Cue Top Gun soundtrack here) Those two areas are complacency and tradition. First let me elaborate on the later. Tradition is great and a huge part of what we do as firefighters. The idea of a firefighter having to search for a hose stretcher or having to run a mile in turn out is priceless and adds to the brotherhood. Traditions like these are not the ones I feel we need to avoid.

Traditions like going in a burning structure without an SCBA so you can earn respect are the types I am referencing here. Those types f traditions are absolutely unacceptable and should not be tolerated. These barbaric traditions are as stupid as trying to pee out a 12 acre forest fire. I am going to look at 5 practices that are not only hurting the fire service but are getting firefighters killed. These practices need to be done away with and new, better ones put in their place.

Use the buddy system

5. Going In Dry

Of course the probie cracks an evil smile but no this is not a dirty joke, although it could easily be one. This term refers to dragging a dry, uncharged hoseline into a structure to fight fire. I will be the first to admit an uncharged line is a lot easier to handle and move into a structure, I will also admit no water plus fire equals crispy firefighter.

We always, or at least we should always be opening our nozzle prior to entry to bleed off air and of course make sure we are getting water. Not charging the line prior to entry means we are not going to get to test that hose inside the burn structure. If it is malfunctioning we will not know until we are to far in to really do much about it.

100 times you may do this and be fine but that 101 or 102 could be the one that takes you on the ride in the big red engine in the sky. A charged line may be heavier and a bit odd to maneuver but it will also be a lot harder to get entangled around obstacles and will provide you that protection that only water will have in a fire situation.

Think of NIOSH reports. How many firefighters have lost their life because of hose entanglement? That answer is easy, to many! We have to start thinking. The fire scene is dangerous enough without us adding to it by eliminating the ability to attack the fire as soon as we find it.

Stay aware!

Firefighter using the accountability system to track fireground operations.
Firefighter using the accountability system to track fireground operations.

Great for fire departments

Video Resource

4. Accountability

This is another one of those phrases we see way to often on firefighter line of duty death reports. If your chief, assistant chief or hell, anyone tells you the best method for on scene accountability is to be accountable for just yourself they are a jackass. Any officer not concerned with this issue is one who should not be wearing an officer's helmet.

Accountability is a vital aspect to a successful fire ground operation and must not be neglected by any means. I want to know where my crew is at all times. This will ensure you have everyone accounted for as well as cut back on freelancing which is as dumb and dangerous as leaving a twinkie at Fat Albert's house and expecting it to be there when you return.

Let me throw an example out at you.

I arrive to a working structure fire and report to the incident commander that I am ready for assignment. He, in turn gives me the job of working with a senior member of the department to attack a fire on the back side of the structure. At the same time a crew is handling interior attacks on the other side of the building. I look over and notice the tell tale signs of backdraft in a bedroom. I alert to command our progress on the attack and make known the backdraft indicators. IC reports them to every crew member on scene.

Now firefighter Derp arrives and without ever reporting in and being assigned thrust a pike pole into the bedroom window. My interior crew is now in the front yard and myself and partner have been thrown off the porch we were working on and are now looking up at a scene from the inferno that ate my face! This fire fighter could have avoided this if he simply went to the incident commander and got an assignment and became a part of the on scene accountability system.His failure to do so resulted in several near miss situations.

Same fire a little later. I am assigned to pull eaves in the front of the structure. A crew is assigned to ventilation on the roof to try and eliminate some of the heat. That team decides they do not want to handle that job so instead of reporting and being accounted for they began to spray through a side window. I am working outside pulling eaves on a part of the structure with no visible flames or smoke when suddenly I am hit in the side of the face with a full stream of nice piping hot steam from the second crew's attack line.

I go down with severe steam burn and spend several hours in medical care while having my left eye swell shut and still to this day I have trouble out of that eye. All it would have took was a good accountability system be in place to have prevented me from becoming temporary Quasimodo.

Having an idea of where the crew is and what they are doing can assist in maintaining a safer fire scene. I myself am a big practitioner of using tags to tag in and out of assignments and have a clear cut idea of where each member of the crew is operating at a fire scene. While fancy boards and systems are great you can make a board with posters and use simple keychain tags to id firefighters. Simple but effective will win this race.

The old way may not be the right one

SCBAs are not optional accessories
SCBAs are not optional accessories

3. We Have Always Done It That Way

Old dogs should always be willing to learn new tricks or get off the damned porch! The fire service is always changing. The fires we fought ten years ago are not the same ones we face today. They are hotter and filled with more toxic smoke than ever before. Flashover is being reached far quicker and rapid fire spread is so abundant now we are almost forced to take defensive posts at every fire we arrive on,

Back in the day kicking a door and charging in with no SCBA was just as common as eating chili back at the station when you got back from a routine call. Firefighters used to bust every window they could find and at one point that was an OK practice. It is now considered a quick means to burn a house down.

Things change and while they do some folks are still stuck in theold ways, or stuck in stupid as I like to say. They will cling to the age old adage "that's how we always did it before" and will never adapt to newer techniques.

The reason tactics change over time is so we have a better way to accomplish a task or job. Not willing to accept these changes is in my opinion is a poor attitude. There are still cats swinging inch and a half line inside a structure set to fog and they fail to realize the thermal layer is being disturbed and they are bringing all that nice hot super heated gas right on their big dumb heads. Firefighters are still running in without tools or sounding the floor with their boots. It has to stop.

So true!

Pay attention to this!
Pay attention to this!

2. Poor Leadership

I want to express that this is not referring to just a chief or assistant chief but anyone who wears an officer hat. Those hats are more than just fancy colors on your big ole head! Many departments lack the right kind of leader. I have said it many times you usually get a leadership role that is to leniant or one that is to strict.

My biggest peeve with leadership roles in the fire service is the buddy system. I am all for two in tow out but I am not for people being awarded an officer role by a higher up simply because they are buddies. It makes for a very uneasy work environment.

In today's fire service sadly there are to many people handed leadership positions who lack the skills to maintain that role on their department. There are skills that just can't be overlooked in this business.

Here are just a few:

  • People Skills- You have to be able to communicate and understand people to be an effective leader in any field you choose.
  • Decision Making- On and off scene you will be faced with a ton of choices and how you pick one or the other will dictate your ability to act as an effective leader.
  • Unbiased Behavior- This one has me in awe! Good leaders don't play favorites and don't allow their pals to destroy things the department has worked so hard building. It is the simple truth.
  • A Solid Knowledge Of The Fire Service- You can't fight an enemy you do not know. This is just common sense.

As firefighters we are not in this for fame, or at least we should not be. Treat that helmet not as a way to display your authority or power but as a means to advance yourself and the people you work with.

1. This ain't a game! Train to gain!

I am very big on this aspect of the fire service. To many times we drill in ways that make no sense to the overall picture of what it is we really do as firefighters. We do victim search and rescue training and as soon as we find the victim the training officer says "alright get up and get out and send the next two in", Are we truly done just because we discovered a victim? Absolutely not. We need to finish that training evolution and pull that victim out of the fire structure to safety. If we do not practice it we will not be able to do it in a real time, real life situation.

How many times do we work hose mazes and have them wrapped around obsticles that just make no logical sense because a charged hose would never work that way? My guess is to many times. We need to make our training reflect what we will encounter inside a structure during fire ground operations.

How many of you were asked to train in a smoked up dark room but not use flashlights? We use them during the real thing so why not use them during training. We encounter to many dangerous things to leave so much to chance and training is how we get around those obstacles. It is vital we take it seriously.

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