Word of Mouth

In fire departments our most influential training opportunities are not necessarily the yearly recertifications or the latest seminars but the working fire. Our trade is a hands on service where the majority of learning is done by doing. We go to fires; we stretch hoselines; we search rooms; we open up the roof. And if we happen to not do any of those items on the last alarm, we certainly hear about it from those who did. Studies in occupational folklife reveal that the information workers share with one another, regardless of how uniform it may or may not be, has a great impact in teaching others. FDIC is over with and if you were fortunate to have been sent by your department, or paid out of your own pocket, you had plenty of opportunites to bring back something more tangible than Ray McCormack’s speech. Let’s face it, while it was a good speech and is the talk of the town, at the end of the day you’ll do what your department says and the other guy will do what his department says. When you came back to work, or to your duty night, were you able to tell the guys and gals more than who you hung out with? There were 22 H.O.T. Evolutions offered, 38 workshops and 168 classroom sessions scheduled. Budgets are tight; what did you bring back to the ones who couldn’t attend?

What important information are you passing on to the members riding across from you?

Photograph courtesy Billy Adkins, FITHP.net

Making Johnny a Poor Leader

FDNY Lt. says fire service needs culture of ‘extinguishment not safety’
FDNY Lt. Ray McCormack claimed the fire service needed a “culture of extinguishment not safety” during a keynote speech to FDIC on Thursday. In a hard-hitting address, Lt. McCormack criticized today’s leadership, and said too much emphasis is being placed on firefighter safety. “Too much safety makes Johnny a poor leader and a terrible rescuer,” he said. Lt. McCormack said firefighters are being taught to place their safety above all else, and said the lives of civilians could be put at risk because of it. “Attempting to make the job safer by teaching you to place yourself above those in need is wrong and goes against everything the fire service has ever stood for,” he said. Firefighters should be willing to risk their lives to save total strangers, he added. “When a parent meets you outside their house and their precious child is inside trapped, you’re their last hope,” Lt. McCormack said. “If it was easy, someone else would’ve done it already.” If firefighters stop taking risks when needed to save lives, the fire service faces “falling from public grace” and the “loss of our identity.” Lt. McCormack, a 27-year veteran of the FDNY, said the best way of achieving safety for everyone is simply extinguishing the fire. “If you put out the fire, safety is accomplished for everyone on the fireground,” he said.

Courtesy of Jaimee Thompson, FireRescue1 Editor

- “If you put the out the fire, safety is accomplished for everyone on the fireground.”
Where have we heard something similar to that before?

PGFEMS Safety Stand Down

In review of the fireground “mayday” in Prince George’s County (MD) involving Firefighter/Paramedic Daniel McGown[1], Acting Fire Chief Eugene Jones has issued a Stand Down for Safety[2] this week. The focus of the training is to review standard fireground operations; mayday procedures; SCBA use and emergency procedures; and crew integrity. Career and volunteer members from all companies will be participating. Firefighter/Paramedic McGown was found unconscious by members of another company, while operating at a house fire. His PASS device activation (due to his unresponsiveness) alerted a member from a special service to begin searching for the PASS source. When Firefighter/Paramedic McGown was found, a mayday was transmitted and he was quickly removed from the structure and transferred over to EMS personnel[3]. Thankfully, on 14 April, he recovered well enough to be discharged from Washington Hospital Center and continue his recovery at home.

I posted a thread at Firehouse.com titled “Mayday, LUNAR reminder”[4] to prompt some serious thought and discussion in an area where most users are mainly concerned with what brand of glove to buy and why the N5A is a better helmet than the Phenix leather. I prompted readers with the following questions:

Close calls prompt us to think of what we would do if the situation presented happened to us personally. It also prompts us to see where we may be weak and need some additional practice or training. The story above should cause us to consider:

You come in as part of a later arriving company and find a firefighter down; what do you do – or better, what are you expected to do?

What does LUNAR mean for you and your department? (I’ve learned that not everyone has the same words in the mnemonic)

Chief Officers, you have a mayday transmitted early into the fire attack, before all of the first alarm units/companies are on the scene; what do you do – or better, what are you expected to do.

If you follow the thread, you will see, amid the usual rants, a user seriously questions what I mean by “LUNAR”. From there it continued where users constructively discussed the details of the mnemonic. One interesting point that it appears the majority agreed on was having no need to transmit the member’s name (N) in the mayday. The biggest reason was that the actual name did not matter (not enough in the beginning of a search, for instance) as well as the fact that fireground transmissions are easily listened to via traditional and online scanners. I believe that is a good point, yet we still need to know the name of the downed or missing member. In departments where father and son, or brothers, may be operating on the fireground, it would be a good practice to quickly determine if we are looking for Mark or Mike Murphy.

Another interesting item, in a relevant thread, showed that not everyone in the fire service is aware of repositioning the SCBA waist strap[5]. The procedure I and others elsewhere, learned is that when we have to remove an unresponsive firefighter, we take the waist strap, lengthen it out and then run it between the legs and buckle it. This keeps us from pulling the SCBA, and some of his gear, off the firefighter as we drag, carry and lift him. This thread was not that constructive, as it appeared to begin as a bash. But just like the mayday thread, I learned that what I used to think was as universally known was an unknown in some parts of the country.

It is important that we (immediate department and mutual aid departments) are learning the same things as long as we find ourselves on the same fireground. I suppose it may not make a huge difference with what you or I do with a firefighter’s waist strap; however, if I use “mayday” and LUNAR and you use “priority traffic” and LIP then important information is probably going to be lost. When reviewing mayday communications within another department, ask the following:

When was the last time your department and the mutual aid department trained together on mayday communications?
Do we both use the same terminology to alert the incident commander to a firefighter in distress or missing?
Do we have the same procedure for fireground and rapid intervention communications in the event of a mayday?
Are the roles and responsibilities clearly spelled out for the rapid intervention crew, regardless of what department they are from?
What areas will be problem points for us (Do you have to carry a separate radio when responding mutual aid? What if that radio goes bad?)

If you call a LIP and the mutual aid department assigned as the RIC is still wanting the firefighter’s Unit, Nature, Assignment and whether or not he is Radio-equipped (or is it Remaining Air?), will communications be fumbled?

Additional Reading
Prince George’s County Fire/EMS Department, G.O. 3-26 Mayday Procedure
Montgomery County Fire Rescue, Standard Operating Procedure for Safe Structural Firefighting Operations
Salisbury Fire Department (MD) SOP 210-03 Mayday Policy
National Fire Fighter Near-Miss Reporting System Reports Related to Maydays
Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department, Firefighter Mayday, Sept.2008
Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department, Mayday Event/Collapse, June 2006
Photograph courtesy PGFEMS PIO Mark Brady

[1]Firefighter Critically Injured Battling House Fire” PGFEMS April 8, 2009
[2]Firefighters Stand Down for Safety” PGFEMS April 21, 2009
[3]Fireground audio from mayday during suspicious Maryland house fire” STATter911.com April 9, 2009
[4]Mayday, LUNAR Reminder” Firehouse.com Forums
[5]SCBA waist straps unbuckled” Firehouse.com Forums

Why We Search

The next time you run that report of smoke coming from the local Quick Mart or 7-11 will your attitude towards search be different?
Do you consider such occupanicies to be ‘unoccupied’ depending on the business hours?
What type of informal preplanning can reveal such conditions (i.e. medic locals, shopping for the meal)

3 rescued from fire at Houston convenience store
By Moises Mendoza
Copyright 2009 Houston Chronicle
April 19, 2009, 10:24PM
Luther Williams was sitting on his porch drinking coffee at 10 a.m. Sunday morning when he saw smoke rising from a building down the street. “The grocery store is smoking!” Williams told his nephew Wayne Norman. By the time Norman called 911 and started banging on the door of the S&P Convenience Store, it was in flames. People were inside the store, he told arriving firefighters. Folks sleep in the back of it. Firefighters faced a big problem — there were three sets of bars on the front door and parts of the building were in danger of collapsing. After using special tools to slice through the bars, firefighters entered the building and pulled out the three occupants. None of them were breathing so emergency personnel performed CPR and transported them to area hospitals, where they were listed in critical condition, said fire department assistant chief Omero Longoria. “With all the challenges we faced getting these guys out, this was pretty darn good,” Longoria said. The store, which locals called a neighborhood hangout, was gutted. There was a hole in the roof where firefighters had aired out smoke. The inside looked like a burned out hulk, with packages spread everywhere. Neighbors stood nearby, looking at the damage. Officials said they weren’t sure what caused the blaze.
Photograph courtesy KRTK ABC-13

Additional Reading
Three people pulled from burning building in 5th ward” KTRK ABC-13
Comments for the NIOSH Unoccupied Structures Alert” Carey, Firehouse.com March 2009

Wind Driven Fires, Houston

Some of the latest news developing from the early LODD investigation in Houston involves the possibility of high winds effecting the fire behavior. If so this will not be the first time we have heard of this regarding private dwellings.

Winds may have been factor in fatal fire
““One of the things that we’re looking at is the issue of wind-driven fire, did the wind cause the fire to accelerate?” said Tim Merinar program manager for the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health’s (NIOSH) fatality investigation program. Merinar said Houston fire officials asked the group to delay its investigation until after services are held for the two fallen firefighters.”"
Houston Chronicle, 13 April 2009

Additional Reading
Wind Driven Private Dwelling Fires” Carey, June 2008
Wind Driven Conditions – Lab Experiments” Carey, March 2009

Industry Standard

Another possible tool for us to add to the proverbial toolbox is a new gadget aimed at tracking people. Intelligence Safety Solutions released a prototype of SafetySet, an electronic device that is reported to be able to provide a definitive answer for determining if occupants are still in a building. According to researchers from the University of Pittsburgh, SafetySet “could enable first responders to pinpoint within a few feet the locations of people inside burning buildings or other structures where there is an emergency.” The device can also help us in times of disorientation according to Peter Hawrylak, of Pitt’s RFID Center of Excellence. “For example, a firefighter’s RFID tag would send electronic signals to a commander’s laptop computer outside a burning building. The commander could monitor the firefighter’s location and provide directions if needed.” RFIDs, or Radio Frequency Identification tags have been in use for quite awhile, mostly used to track cattle, luggage, boxcars, items shipped long distances. The retail market is developing RFIDs to speed our time purchasing items by nearly eliminating the checkout line and the self-checkout line. While not explained in detail in the news article, we are being led to believe that RFIDs can allow the first arriving companies to know the exact location of every single occupant in a structure with RFID tracking. Also, incident commanders will be able to know the exact location of every single firefighter on the fireground, should they be tagged with an RFID. If one member should become disoriented, then the incident commander can simply “provide directions” (we must theorize that the incident commander has pre-plans for this to work).

New items for the fire service are always viewed with skepticism, but two statements in this article should cause every one of us to question the intentions of Intelligence Safety Solutions and its partner, The Parallel Group.

“”We lose about 200 first responders a year in these situations,” said Grant, CEO of The Parallel Group and marketing chief at Intelligence Safety Solutions LLC in the South Side. “They’ll mount a search-and-rescue operation without knowing who’s in there.”" – Dan Grant (bold mine)

The way that Mike Cronin of the Pittsburgh Tribune Review writes the article, it is a guess that Mr. Grant means firefighters, and that he means lost while searching for occupants. 200? Somehow the USFA has lost count of this additional 100 first responders who may have been “lost” each year.

“”If we get this right and make it cost effective and easy to use, we hope that every first responder worldwide views this as the industry standard.”" – Dan Grant (bold mine)

What is our “industry standard” and what are the references used to qualify this device as a standard for firefighting operations, particularly search and rescue? We have a difficult time defining the standards among ourselves for the most basic operations. Just look at any fire service website forum and you will see debates about whether or not to lay a supply line when approaching the building, searching vacant buildings, and with regard to the Houston apparatus accident, what levels of response to use. When new equipment breaks the prototype barrier and begins to be promoted our way, especially when funded as a “standard”, we need to determine if the inventors are properly informed before the salesman gets his foot in the door.

In the meantime, another new tool was introduced to help firefighters in one department perform according to “industry standards”
“The truck confirmed the reported location of the fire, the engine stretched from the floor below, to extinguish the fire – the engine stretched off the standpipe to extinguish the fire.” Battalion Chief Jim McDermott

New device locates people in imminent danger” Pittsburgh Tribune Review, March 2009
How RFID Works” HowStuffWorks.com
$4.2M simulator on Randalls Island trains FDNY for high-rise fires” Daily News, March 2009
Preparing for high-rise hells” Daily News, March 2009
Photograph courtesy Daily News