January at Backstep Firefighter

A monthly review of our popular postings and the editorial cartoon.

January was an interesting month of issues for Backstep Firefighter as we looked at the vacant, abandoned building searches and hyped-up commentary as well as victim survivability profiling. Dave LeBlanc reminded us that a significant part of our job is search and that’s where we start.

From Sir Lancelot To Wyatt Earp to Dick Winters, Putting Others Ahead Of Ourselves
On the heels of the passing of Dick Winters, the hero behind the Band of Brothers, Dave asked if the Everyone Goes Home ‘mantra’ – not the initiatives, but the phrase we see many toss around – conflicts with our duty to search for life. The comments brought in a look at how law enforcement approaches risk and LODDs as well. EGH will be an item we will definitely be looking at critically this year.

Make A Hole, Make It Wide
A good friend of Dave’s is Ray Pfeifer of the FDNY. Ray got his feet wet working with Dave on the importance of keeping the pathway along the initial hoseline clear from obstructions – both material and the firefighter-kind. A friend of mine from Hyattsville, Jeff Shaw, was severely burned years ago in a house fire where the stairwell was crowded and members were trying to bail out. I remember Jeff telling us at the firehouse about the Calvert Street fire that he knew he had two choices; jump out of the second floor or dive down the stairs. In the post is a video Channel 8 did as Jeff was making progress, healing from his burns. Some of the crew on the engine had to literally shove members, push them back with a Halligan bar, to clear the stairs during the flashover. Everyone in the engine company has an assignment – or should – and for most, that assignment might not be in the fire room. Keep the path clear.

Why We Search: Shared Post Courtesy of CMD-FD, on Squatter Resourcefulness
Our Why We Search page got a great boost from Gabriel Angemi. You might not know him, but you probably know his blog, CMD-FD of Rescue 1 in Camden, New Jersey. Angemi had a awesome post on a vacant structure that revealed a functional was of life for some squatters. No way you say? All vacants are ‘vacant’? Well, the Why We Search page is an updated reminder of the “proof of life” that exists in some of these run down joints. We don’t advocate reckless, stupid firefighting with these updates. Instead we remind you that there are reasons why vacant buildings must be searched – so long as fire conditions permit it. Check out the Camden post and Angemi’s blog. You might see more of it in the future.

Victim Survivability Profiling Takes A Hit
We took the story of a Seattle house fire rescue and challenged the budding belief that we should included the survivability of possible victims inside based on fire conditions showing. While that may sound pretty much like the normal sizeup, VSP is being squeaked out as a overriding factor, one where you can simply write occupants off and drop either parts of the search or whole search from your operations. We disagree with that as “every situation is a situation”. In the case of this Seattle fire, the crew from Ladder 8 made successful rescues despite the amount of fire showing.

Vacant Hyperbole, or “Janet Doesn’t Ride Here”
This was a another item we challenged, that came on the heels of the deaths of two Chicago firefighters in an abandoned building. I may not agree with your post or comments and you may not agree with mine, but as firefighters, we should be able to agree to disagree in a constructive dialogue. Many times comments related to line of duty deaths are maybe ill-worded or poorly timed, but I would say that the sentiment – that no firefighter freely dies – is universal. Over at Fire Chief magazine one reader wore his heart on his shirt sleeve as a contributor and it ended up being taken down – only to question the worth of the people inside such buildings as in Chicago. ““- but who decides whether vagrants are worth looking for in a burning building?”” is what the editor wrote in a spin/apology/save face post. I believed that’s worse than the original post – and, I question how much leverage editors should have when these debates come up. Are they looking to control debate or save face? I’m confident it won’t be the last we see of this problem.

2011 Challenge: Last Year’s Show Opportunities
This is a new feature we’re working on this year. I stated over on Firefighter Netcast that it would be worthy of all the life safety initiatives if each of the fire expositions gave up a day in their program to give every attendee free medical and fitness screenings. To start, I took a look at what was offered in 2010 Firehouse Expo, FDIC and FireRescue International. You can follow along with more on this subject under the LODD Challenge at the top of the blog.

Our “cover photo” is courtesy of Mark Filippelli of Fire In The Hole Photography. Mark captured this Fruitland, Maryland house fire on 21 January. Click the photo to see Mark’s work at this fire. This year we’ll share a monthly highlight of FITHP’s work as a thank you to all the photographers for allowing me to use their work.

And finally, the funny page

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