When Seconds Count,You Don’t Have Minutes To Lose

Dave LeBlanc offers a practical solution to offset the current trend of reduced staffing and brownouts. It’s called showing up, ready to work.

It is “interesting” that in discussions about this weekend’s four alarm fire in Lowell, that the Fire Chief and the Mayor were mum on the rolling brown out issue. Wouldn’t the right thing for Hizhonor and Da Chief to do would be to point out that budget reductions have forced cuts in staffing? And that those reductions in staffing have resulted in companies being closed. And that if those companies were not closed nine more firefighters would have been available to respond. And that of those nine firefighters, six would have been responding from a station that was closer to the fire than those companies that did. (See “Lowell Brownout Update”, Firegeezer )

It should be no secret to anyone that has been in the fire service for more than a few minutes than seconds count. Whether an EMS response or structural fire, our ability to arrive at an incident quickly often determines whether there will be a good outcome or a bad one. Yet time and time again there are departments forced to operate with less staff and with less companies than are needed. And when fires like the one that occurred in Lowell occur, “The blinders go up and you hear the chiefs and politicians say, “we are not Lowell.”” as one veteran truck company officer from New England said.

Deputy Chief Vincent Dunn wrote a compelling letter that was used as testimony when New York City was considering closing companies several years ago. It his letter Chief Dunn wrote about how four to six minutes was the critical time for companies to arrive. He also wrote about how delays can cause more injuries, deaths and fire damage.

This video shows a room reaching flashover in three minutes. Now add in the dangers of lightweight construction and you can see that every minute and every second really does count. Time is of the essence. Where does the fire service own a stake in this problem? Certainly we can educate the public and try and change the political landscape, but what else can we do? How about when you are at the station?
Every day, every shift, every run you can work towards making those seconds count. It starts when you come to work and check you equipment. By ensuring your turnout gear and SCBA are ready to go, you are saving time. The sooner you are dressed and ready to respond the quicker out the door you will be. Not only will you arrive at the scene prepared to go, as the public expects you to, but you will have arrived sooner. Maybe you will have put yourself in a position to make a difference.

By moving with purpose rather than running helter-skelter when an alarm comes in. Like the old sniper adage, “slow is smooth and smooth is fast.” You should not be surprised when an alarm comes in, just as you should not be surprised when you turn the corner and see a fire. Certainly not every response you go to will be the big one. In fact most won’t be. You should however “expect fire” on every response. Being ready to go is as much a physical condition as a mental one.

You can save time by knowing your response district. By training and studying the streets and intersections. Learning the best routes to addresses and different routes in case you can’t go the way you planned. Knowing your districts can also help with apparatus placement and being familiar with the target hazards. You know, those nightmare building that plague every department.

By not doing these things, you can contribute to a delay in response as much as the brownout of companies does. Yet these issues never make the headlines. We never read that a victim could have been saved if the first due engine was better prepared for the incident. Let’s hope we don’t either.

We are in a profession that demands vigilance at every moment. Much like a goalie, we go from sheer boredom to complete chaos in minutes. Mentally we need to prepare for this so that when the time comes we are ready for whatever happens. Have you ever seen a goalie start putting their gear on as the ball was coming down the field? The answer is no. Because when they show up for work (the game) they are dressed and ready to play until the last whistle blows.

A recent report from Colerain Township Ohio identified the following as contributing factors in the deaths of Fire Captain Robin Broxterman and Firefighter Brian Schira.
Colerain Township Investigation Analysis Squirrelsnest Lane

Some personnel had not been complacent or apathetic in their initial approach to this incident.

Some personnel were in a proper state of mind that made them more observant of their surroundings and indicators.

The NIOSH report from Homewood, Illinois included this as one of the recommendations.
Report #F2010-10 Homewood, IL
Recommendation #11: Fire departments should ensure that fire fighters wear a full array of turnout clothing and personal protective equipment appropriate for the assigned task while participating in fire suppression.

In the opposite, there are cases of departments that are committed to doing their jobs to the best of their abilities. Just look at the following links:
Backstep – Vent, Enter, Search
Backstep – Why We Search (IL)
Backstep – Why We Search (MD)
Backstep – Nothing Good Happens at 3am
Statter911 – Lowell, MA

These are all cases of departments that were prepared to do their jobs and did it well. Some even searched vacant buildings and found victims. They all went out the door and expected to see fire and they all did their jobs, even under some severe circumstances. They all knew that seconds count.

Photo courtesy Jake O’Callaghan/Harwich Fire Department

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