Dave LeBlanc on whether or not the fire service has shifted too far from basics to last chance training.
For those of you that follow the news and happenings of the fire service, you may have noticed an increase in the number of bailouts reported. Now certainly some of this is a result of the media figuring out that a firefighter bailing out isn’t a normal occurrence, so as one outlet begins reporting it, others follow suit. But it begs the question, why? Why are so many of our brothers bailing out? Have that many incidents occurred where things have gone that wrong?
This year’s Safety Stand Down had the following theme: Surviving the Fire Ground: Fire Fighter, Fire Officer & Command Preparedness. Now that is a great topic, and certainly one that should be a part of every firefighter and every officer’s training. Knowing what to do when you get in trouble certainly goes a long way toward saving firefighter lives. But what about preventing our members from getting in trouble in the first place? Is that something that we focus enough on?
How many hours did you spend on fire behavior this year? Two, five, ten? How many more did you spend on building construction? Until we understand our enemy, the fire and the building we operate in, how can we expect not to get in trouble? Until we understand what the environment we work in feels like through our PPE, how we can expect our firefighters not to go in too far. Until we address the need for an awareness of the hazards of the situations we operate in, how can we expect our firefighters and officers to make good decisions?
John Norman writes that a firefighter should never put themselves in a position where they have to rely on someone else to get out. Think about that one simple statement. It covers a lot of territory. As firefighters we must constantly evaluate where we are operating, what the conditions are, and what our way out is. We need to do this while trying to accomplish our goals for that particular fire.
If we become too focused on the objective, then we may miss certain clues that tell us not to overextend. If we don’t spend enough time training our firefighters about fire behavior, those clues may be missed as well. There has been a lot of discussion regarding Situational Awareness. SA is the understanding of the environment around you; the conditions and clues that you see, heart and feel. But how are we supposed to interpret those signs, if we have little or no training in their meaning? How do we know what is happening if we do not have the experience factor of having seen, heard and felt those conditions before?
It is amazing how much training is offered in MAYDAY and bailout operations and techniques, but at the same time so little is offered about Fire Behavior. In no way does this suggest that the MAYDAY and bailout training isn’t important. Nor does it suggest that any of the recent cases of firefighters having to egress via bailouts are a result of anything but unavoidable circumstances. But as we have seen from various NIOSH reports and others readings, our lack of understanding of fire behavior and building construction has a significant impact on ability to survive in the hostile conditions we encounter. Situational Awareness also involves an understanding of how our actions will impact those same conditions. This means that we must have the knowledge of what ventilation, fire attack, and searching will do to the building around us; as well as an understanding of the potential dangers it places us in.
But if we continue to limit our training in fire behavior and building construction, how can we really expect to understand?
Another issue is that classes on fire behavior can be so “scientific” that the average firefighter struggles to understand so of the most basic concepts. While there is science behind it, does the average firefighter need to know the formulas for determining wattage to effectively understand Heat Release Rates? Building construction material can be equally as confusing, which is why we need to develop training that keeps the interest of our firefighters while providing them with the critical information they need to stay alive.
One problem that is more difficult to overcome is developing the experience levels to compliment the increased knowledge we are discussing. While increasing our understanding of how and why fire does what it does will go a long way toward making our firefighters safer, we still need to develop and improve better ways to see it, hear it and feel it. Certainly the flashovers and backdraft simulators go a long way toward this, but how many are taking advantage of their existence? In service building familiarization can be used to “show” our firefighters different types of building construction, and at the same time offer discussion about tactics and strategy that will apply in our Towns and our buildings.
Until we put the emphasis on knowing our opponent and the playing field, we can expect to continue to read about firefighters getting injured and killed, incidents going badly and close calls. They represent the cornerstones in the foundations of our training and yet are topics we often we spend the least amount of time learning about.
Three out in under 30 seconds. Have we also learned how to not get in that spot as well?
“Safety Week 2011” Padgett, FirefighterNation.com May 2011
“A Closer Look at the UL Ventilation Study” Hartin, FirefighterNation.com May 2011
“The Art of “Reading Fire”” Raffel, FirefighterNation.com July 2011
“New Rules for Modern Building Construction” Naum, FirefighterNation.com February 2010
“Our “Reserve Chute” Should Not Be the Operational Norm” Sendlebach, FirefighterNation.com July 2010
“Understanding, Anticipating & Avoiding Flashover” Hartin, FirefighterNation.com August 2008
“Impact of Ventilation on Fire Behavior in Legacy and Contemporary Residential Construction” Steve Kerber PE, Research Engineer, UL
Photos courtesy Wayne Barrall/FITHP.net
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