Philadelphia RescueIs Taking Off Your Facepiece For a Occupant a Bad Thing?

Risk. Is it a matter of actual policy or personal interpretation?

NOTE: I'm kicking myself for not catching this earlier; back in May, FireRescue Magazine/FirefighterNation had the stories of the clash between the union and the Philadelphia Fire Commissioner and mayor. In that feud, the union was calling for the resignation of the commissioner for the lack of a collapse zone at the fatal Kensington warehouse fire, "Philadelphia Union Says Commissioner Lied About Collapse Zone". So there we have it, a case of safety tit-for-tat, in my opinion and one where if the "top administrator" hadn't delivered his critique at the hospital, this may well have not been a story. – Bill

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MyFoxPhilly has a follow-up to their coverage of a rowhouse fire rescue that you would think came out the District of Columbia considering everything going on downtown.

Hours after Firefighter Fran Cheney (Ladder Company10) had rescued Mary Jackson from the second floor of her burning home a “top fire department administrator” visited Cheney at the hospital and told him that his act of removing his facepiece and placing it on Jackson “wasn’t very smart.”

FireRescue Magazine/FirefighterNation:
“Video: Philadelphia Firefighter Criticized for Rescue”

Undoubtedly many will consider this to be an act of administrative nit-picking. It can also be a sign of a department that takes seriously (too serious?) the safety of its members. Dave Statter posted about the Philadelphia Fire Department’s controversial firefighter burn injury policy in February,

"More on Philadelphia Fire Department Burn Policy"

Already on Facebook, readers are beating up on education ("this came from diploma firefighters"), and safety. “Getting it done” and taking risks is one thing, as I wrote about earlier in this story from Alabama,

“Getting it Done” Absurdity on Alabama Fireground”

While standing outside in your everyday clothes, taking a feed fighting a trailer fire, is one matter it is not the same as taking a feed while walking an occupant down and out from the second floor.

Or is it?

While we push aggressive attacks and searches, as well as smart firefighting, we also push being aware of the cancer that comes from the job’s effects. It’s true that there are certain actions that require pushing to the edge, but they may be rare and hard to reoccur.

So for serious discussion is the department official correct in saying that removing the facepiece wasn’t the smartest thing? Is it a matter of “the eye of the beholder” where the distance covered (down the stairs and out the door) isn’t that far or is it one where the occupant was in that much distress? How much benefit is there for an occupant to be “on air” to go down one flight of stairs and out the door, if EMS is waiting outside?

Or, is this a matter of a department still reeling from the deaths of two firefighters and wanting to make sure everyone goes home?

Be sure to note a big part of this story and that is Firefighter Cheney's response. Note the respect, professionalism, taking the "high road". No banter, no using risk and tradition as basis for challenging the administration. In other words, he's not coming off as a "I Fight What Your Fear" whacker.

Thoughts to pick your brains.



Bill Carey is the daily news and blog manager for Elsevier Public Safety (FireRescue Magazine/Firefighter Nation, JEMS and LawOfficer sites.) Bill also manages the network and is a former volunteer lieutenant with the Hyattsville Volunteer Fire Department in Prince George's County, Maryland.

We encourage and support constructive dialogue and debate. View our comment policy.

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1 Comment

  • Chris Huston says:

    Split second decisions will and must be made. Setting our people up to make the best decision in these moments should be our focus. We know why we wear SCBA. This decision was his alone, in that moment. His mind must have quickly thought "What will be the greater good – my mask on her because I can quickly remove us or keep my mask on so I can remove us quicker?"  As with anytime we enter an IDLH atmoshpere we must perform and act according to a basic plan but have options and adjust to actual conditions, we need some wiggle room.
    Not everything comes down to right or wrong, but just best for the moment. He apparently came off the rig wearing an SCBA, probably had tools and quickly got to work. Recent stories show us some cannot even get the basics done or even be prepared to them.

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