Of Bunsen Burners, Thermocouples, Big Mustaches and ¾ Boots

 

The musings of a confused firemen firefighter

bunsenburners

 

 

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Disclaimer: I am not, have never been, will not be, against any research that can be used to make our job safer. We all know firefighting is ‘inherently dangerous’ because it says so on every piece of equipment we wear. Anything we can do to improve our ability to accomplish the mission, protecting life and property, should be thoroughly investigated.

 

Like so many of you, I am only passing through this job. I may have spent most of my adult life as a firefighter, but in terms of how long we have been fighting fires, that’s just a drop in the bucket. The fire service was here long before I started and will be here long after I am gone. I only hope to leave it better than I found it.

But with all the current research ongoing, there is a huge divide in the service. Like so much, everything is open to interpretation and some are willing change abandon everything thing they have ever done, because they see something new and different. Others are convinced that nothing has changed, and they don’t need to either.

I am not so arrogant as to say I have nothing left to learn, in fact it is rather the opposite, the day I stop learning is the day I stop working. This profession requires constant education, training, and improvement. If you didn’t sign up for that, then maybe you are in the wrong job.

I also do not believe that everything that was done up to this point in my career was wrong. That there was this sudden ‘fire suppression epiphany’ that drastically changes how fires should be fought, how things burn.

At its most basic form, fire suppression is not a complicated thing. Your Gallons per Minute must exceed the British Thermal Units being produced. You get that done, the fire goes out. Otherwise, you just keep it in check until it runs out of fuel with the same result, just more damage and a longer event.

Never before has the most junior firefighter had access to the information available today. From official, reliable, vetted sources to the opinions of 2 to 30 years veterans with a Facebook page and the ability to spell (sometimes). One question to ponder, is this a good thing or a bad thing?

Now I know, because I read it on Erich Roden’s interview with Steve Kerber [1], that the goal of the UL/NIST is not to eliminate interior firefighting. I know that the studies have revealed some things we didn’t know, as well as confirmed the reasons for some things we did know.

I am interested to see what will come out of the Interior Fire Attack Studies [2]. I don’t expect a wholesale shift from what the research has already shown; that cooling from a distance works, that controlling ventilation is critical, that the materials in today’s buildings burn hotter and faster.

I do not believe that any of these things mean that fires can’t be attacked from the inside. I do not believe that somehow the paradigm has shifted and that the victim’s lives are no longer important. You want to believe that a firefighter’s life comes first; I will challenge you that we only come first when it comes to preparation and training for doing your job. Once we cross the threshold we are doing it for the people we protect. They come first, not us.

I completely understand that everyone’s experience level is different. As the number of structural fires declines, officers are being promoted with less and less fire duty. And we can only make up for so much of that on the training ground. Perhaps this leads some to search for an “easier” way to do the job, a “safer” way.

Now consider those that have had bad experiences on this job. Bad leaders, bad training, close calls; all things that lead to being uncomfortable every time you have to go to work, perhaps this is also a contributing factor in why some seek such a dramatic change in how we conduct fire attack.

As we go forward with discussions about the research, experience will be key. Firefighters need to be able to look at things through the eyes of others, or at least understand that not everyone arrives with the same manpower and resources. Rolling up to a one-room fire with a company strength of two will always be different than arriving with four and another four, one minute after.   The job is the same; the priorities are the same just how we go about doing them will be different.

No doubt there are departments that have taken the research, studied it, applied it to their own circumstance and then trained on it to make it part of their operation. This is what makes the most sense and I believe how the program intended the research to be used. What works for me, may not work for you. Doesn’t mean I am wrong, doesn’t mean you are right. There will never be a national consensus standard for fire attack unless every department is set up and operates the same way.

Many departments will not research and apply. Instead they read an article and decide this is for them. Someone will read a Facebook post and decide a change needs to be made. The research gets applied in a half-assed manner, and the results are what took minutes to change will take years to correct. Look at how many departments have had, and still have issues with PPV. Historically we are bad students. This may not be the case in your department, but it probably is next door. Maybe change based on a Facebook post is a stretch, maybe not. Time will tell.

I would like to believe that everyone has the best of intentions and that all of the efforts are for the betterment of the fire service, and improvement of firefighter safety.   I know that in most cases this is true, but sadly there are some that have chosen to misinterpret, twist, and change the research for, what I can only assume, is their own benefit. Maybe I am wrong, and it is just their own understanding that leads them to put forth a different message.

There is a quote that circulates the vast interweb that reads “You can never train too much for something that may kill you.” The solution for much of our safety concerns lies in our training. Not sitting in a class, or standing around going through the motions, but good, realistic, hands on, repetitive, relevant training. It is really just that simple.   Training on fire attack, coordinated vent, searching, reviewing the basics, practicing and practicing not until you get it right, but until you can’t get it wrong.

Stuck for training ideas? It happens. Perhaps you are not confident in your own understanding of the topic or skill, maybe the mix of your crew makes it difficult. Jim McCormack of the Fire Department Training Network just wrote a great article about training ideas, where to get them and how to make them work [3]. A fire officer that has spent his life devoted to the passion of training firefighters, Jim gives us all some insight into how to get your people learning and making them better firefighters.

If you are still stuck, go down to your truck floor and open a compartment. Each one is a drill, in some cases several. Touch the tools, and go over their use. Maybe even clean them in the process. You will be amazed at what happens.

Just like the transitional attack isn’t designed to replace interior attack, the research isn’t meant to replace your training. Get the right information, study it and decide where it fits into your departments operations (if it does) and then train on it. Don’t get hung up on what some guy 200 or 20 miles away says you should be doing, chances are he won’t be in the hallway with you at the next fire.

 

“New guys, don’t try and change the place to suit your own needs” – Tom Brennan

 

References

1. Erich Roden, “Thought Leader,” FireRescue Magazine/FirefighterNation.com 1 May 2015

2. UL Firefighter Safety Research Institute, “Study of the Impact of Fire Attack Utilizing Interior and Exterior Streams on Firefighter Safety and Occupant Survival” 27 February 2015

3. Jim McCormack, “The Secret to Training a Firefighter”, Firehouse.com 20 May 2015

Related

Billy Goldfeder, “First Due with So Few,” FireRescue Magazine/FirefighterNation.com 13 March 2015

 

Photo courtesy of Wayne Barrall, HitThePlug, used with permission

 

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LeBlancProfilePhotoDave LeBlanc is a Captain with the Harwich, Massachusetts Fire Department. Dave entered the Fire Service in 1986 as a Call Firefighter with the Dennis Fire Department. He worked full time during the summers in Dennis, while attending the University of New Haven in West Haven, Connecticut. While at the University of New Haven, Dave studied Arson Investigation. He also was a volunteer with the Allingtown and West Haven Fire Districts in West Haven. He spent his sophomore year as a Live In student with the Allingtown Fire District. His education included internships with the Aetna Insurance Company and the Boston Fire Department Arson Squad.

In 1993 Dave went to work full-time with the Harwich Fire Department as a dispatcher. In 2000 he transferred into suppression and was promoted to Lieutenant in 2008. In addition to his regular duties, Dave also manages the Department’s Radio system, is responsible for conducting Fire Investigations, and assists in maintaining the computers systems.

Dave’s blog tends to focus on current day issues and maintaining a commitment to the ideals and principals that created the fire service, while keeping today’s firefighters safe.

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2 Comments

  • Ron Ayotte says:

    Dave has put into words what many of us have wanted to say for a long time.

    When it comes to this business, I keep get reminded of a few things…

    Everything old is new again… just with a newer name and with someone trying to take credit for coming up with the idea.

    “New and Improved” should be called “updated and improved” and some updates are really not improvements.

    Change just for the sake of change can demoralize an organization. Change must be made for a reason and done in small steps in order for the members to grasp the concept. Force feeding change will only be regurgitated and will have no “nutritional value”.

  • Simple yet brilliant.

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