Taking Advantage


Making a lesson out of every opportunity







I have been reading a lot of replies lately in reference to the unfortunate circumstances of short staffing. You should know first and foremost that Mike and I not only feel your pain but we completely understand your frustrations.

I have the luxury of responding to any working fire with over 30 people where I work full time. In the firehouse alone, I could work with anywhere from 5-13 other members at any given time. In the small Pennsylvania borough where I work part time, on the other hand, we consider ourselves lucky if we get as many firefighters as I have shift mates to respond in on a box. The similarities end outside of providing emergency services between the two organizations.

This exemplifies why it becomes even more important to take advantage of the time to train when you can. It doesn’t have to be a long, drawn-out, and complicated process to captivate your riders’ attention and get them to participate. Furthermore, if you ask most building representatives and home owners for permission to focus on doing something quick and nondestructive while you’re there, the majority will be happy to comply. Will it cost you if you break something? Sure, but if I had to bet, I’d say it won’t cost anywhere near the price of being complacent. Not to mention, if you’re careful and considerate, it probably won’t happen.

In the first picture, Truck 1-2 was dispatched to an odor of smoke in the residence. Upon arrival, the chauffeur backed into position in the driveway to maximize the reach of the shorter aerial. The engine chauffeur had established a primary water supply with a hydrant across the street. The crew also stretched a 1.75″ line to the front door. A lap was taken and the truck crew investigated inside. The entire home was searched from the bottom to the top. Using their senses as well as thermal imagers, absolutely nothing was found. A four-gas meter was then used to monitor for harmful, less evident conditions in the house.

The homeowner doesn’t know whether or not we do this on every call. In fact, this particular one appreciated what we were doing and was so impressed, she started taking pictures. As it turns out, it’s not every day that the fire department responded to her house. We can take advantage of this to some extent by making the purpose of our response two-fold. The first and foremost is that we attempt to mitigate or solve the problem we were called there for (obviously). The second is that we can accomplish several meaningful tasks to keep our basic skills sharp through repetition. If and when it’s discovered that the actions were not only justified but needed (sooner or later it will), we will already be way ahead of the game simply because we practiced them so much.

In return, the desire to train and become more confident then becomes contagious. Members want to share what they’ve learned and all of the sudden, practicing the basics takes on its own life form. It feeds on itself, if you will as you can see here with the other two pictures provided.

(Bill Schnaekel photo)

(Bill Schnaekel photo)

(Bill Schnaekel photo)

(Bill Schnaekel photo)

On the way back from the incident just described, the crews from these two trucks (one of which only had two members) met at a school to conduct aerial operations and work more on deploying ground ladders. -Bill



Photos courtesy of author unless noted otherwise


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BillSchnaekelBioPhotoBill Schnaekel was born and raised in Erie, Pennsylvania, Bill is a fifth generation firefighter who has had eight other relatives in the fire service since 1898. He served as a volunteer for six years prior to getting hired in 1998 by the Fairfax County (VA) Fire and Rescue Department, one hundred years after his great-great grandfather had joined the service. In addition to his full time career as a Lieutenant in the bustling 4th Battalion, Bill works part time as a firefighter / chauffeur with the West York Fire Department and as a State Suppression Instructor in Pennsylvania. In the past, he has served as a Battalion Training Officer and assisted in training both recruits and field personnel at the Fire and Rescue Academy. Currently, he is working on a degree in fire science through Tidewater Community College. In February of 2013, he created the Facebook Page “Holding1and1“, a resource to discuss fireground operations and firefighter interests with his friend, Lt. Mike Dowling.

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  • Great piece, with great recommendations. I would submit you have a 3rd goal building public relations with your taxpayers. The same taxpayers that support you. This is when you can informally educate them on what you’re doing and why;,and how it benefits them.

  • Very good point Chief.

  • Kiel Samsing says:

    I’m fairly certain the good Lt. touched on that fact when he talked about the resident taking pictures. But hey, commenting when not reading the whole piece is a good look for most people right? Whatever makes you feel better.

    • Michael Furci says:

      Kiel Samsing, were there good public relations as a result of their training at the residence? yes. Was it stated as a goal? No. You’re the one that needs to read the whole piece you douche bag.

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