Saturday, April 26, 2014

PPE Layers

Today's structural turnout gear enables the firefighter to get up close and personal to the heat, smoke, and flames during an interior fire attack. A few of the first concepts Firefighters learn during the initial fire behavior course are the methods of heat transfer. Basic laws of thermodynamics state that heat(energy), as a process, moves by conduction, convection, and radiation. Conduction is object to object transfer of energy. Convective heat transfer is gas movement, and of course radiation is light waves. Understanding how the energy of a compartment fire moves throughout the container, along with the capabilities and limitations of structural PPE, will ensure Firefighters operating inside maintain appropriate posture and position during a fire fight.

Image from Du Pont.
A key element in achieving a higher understanding of how to conduct business inside of a structure, during fire control evolutions, is recognizing what the gear we wear actually does for us. Several layers make up the total package for Firefighter protection. The outer most layer protects the wearer from cuts, abrasions, and the "stuff" we may run into during fire control or search. The next layer is the moisture barrier which keeps liquids such as water, oils, and others out. Thermal protection comes from, which is quite interesting, the innermost layer. Several manufacturers boast that 50% of the total thermal protection comes from this inner layer. Small percentages of the outer layers do protect the user from heat, however this inner thermal layer provides protection from thermal energy transfer. Could more thermal protection be constructed to provide more protection? From what I understand the answer is yes, but that creates more stress on the body. Current protection factors seek to create an equilibrium of protection and heat dissipation of the user.

In between these layers is air. Air is a great insulator as the atoms are spread apart and it requires a lot of energy to have them increase their speeds (the electrons bouncing around) which in turn, transfers heat. When these layers become compressed the air is reduced, and even eliminated, allowing less of a buffer between the heat energy and the Firefighter inside. You may have seen or read about this in regards to compression burns on the knees of Firefighters as they advance hose lines or search. The air is not able to reduce the heat transfer and it is then allowed to penetrate quickly and interact with moisture inside the pants, causing a compression burn. A personal experience was similar. I was operating inside a burn can and I felt something like a knife cutting the side of my face. As it turns out my hood had slightly moved from my face and a bead of sweat traveled down just in front of my ear causing a burn. It only caused a minor inconvenience, but it sparked my curiosity of how the human body, PPE, and high temperatures all relate to each other.

Simply understanding that our bunker pants and coats have these layers, as well as the importance of the air layer, will start you down the path of understanding how critical using and wearing all your PPE is. This is not only true from a thermal protection standpoint, but from a carcinogen aspect as well. They buy it, you wear it! Look for more short snippets on how Firefighter turnout gear and the Firefighter interact in the months to come.

Learn more about superheated turnout gear and proper doffing  by watching a great video by Frank Ricci and Justin McCarthy here -

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Adapt, Survive

There is a thin line between adaptation and verbatim. For years I have seen intelligent, properly trained, and devoted Firefighters take on new strategies (hard & soft environment) only to fail in the replication. The element that was lacking, adaptation. Personal experiences, too were foiled, as the plan was devised for someone else in another space. Even the smallest detail, if not adapted for the end user can cause less than expected results. Great consideration must be given to the means and methods used in our fire districts when reproducing policies, procedures, training methodology, and most significantly, emergency scene strategies and tactics.

"There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being evolved." The Origin of the Species- Charles Darwin

The fire service will continue on, in various forms. Most honored and respected, our profession has gone through various evolutions through adapting to the needs of those who need us, those who look to us to do the right thing and at the right time. From buckets to hoses, horses to diesel, and suppression to ems, the fire service has adapted to survive.

The mighty hunter, the lion, will hold steadfast watching, plotting, and planning for the opportune time to strike its prey. Yet, when the chance presents itself to take immediate action, the beast has the abilities and instinct to strike. When the situation dictates a quick and early attack, because of all the planning and patience through past hunts, the lion knows its enemy and can fall back if needed to progress in another fashion. The hunter knows when to attack and when to defend. Adaptation equals survival.

This notion came to mind after spending the day at UL for the attic fire test. The group observed and studied the building while the fire took hold. The information that was collected and will be analyzed is in-valuable to the fire service. These experiments are an opportunity for us to hunt the enemy before we strike. The actions taken recorded, as reactions documented, then compiled for the moment when they are needed. This is adapting to survive in action.

There is a time and place for almost everything and anything. Our variations of interventions are plentiful and time tested. What we are seeing now is exactly what happens when we act that may have not been obvious before. We are adapting to survive. Some information supports what we already knew and reinforces why we do it, while at the same time reveals insight to erase the unknown for improvement and enable adaptation.

Our training programs and hiring processes have changed and must adapt to the workforce coming through our doors. Yet once again, verbatim may set you up for failure. Flashy gadgets, quirky catch phrases without substance and that adaptation for your needs are nothing more than passing trends. Be diligent in the implementation process and do not surrender the war because of one losing battle. Identify what needs improvement for next time. You may be surprised on how simple changes are the difference between win and lose, more so with battle hardened audiences and those who are not easily impressed. Adapt for survival.

Once again I will echo the words spoken already on the subject of social media and the ability to share insight at light speed. This connects us, brings us together, sparking thought, imagination and dialog among people who would have never connected before. Keep doing that. Do so with an open mind and sponge like characteristics. Understand that adaptation must occur as you are not exactly like them. Use the ideas, substance, and theories to put a plan in motion that works for you. As Darwin said, the grandeur is the endless forms, past and present, and the wonder of what will be evolved from them. What will you evolve through your adaptation?

Monday, October 7, 2013

Fire doors, do they know to keep them closed?

Fire Prevention Week is the perfect time to get out and spread the message. The great people at the NFPA do a wonderful job of making sure a theme is ready to roll. For those departments that have a Fire Prevention Division, utilizing the NFPA theme each year can create diversity in your programs from one year to the next. For those of us that must combine prevention and suppression activities, this can be a daunting task.

National Fire Prevention Week gives us an "in" we may not have the rest of the year. The private and public sector may have internal communications, drills and other events concerning fire prevention that they have asked us to attend. Many times this is our one shot to share the message so we must make it count. Personally, as much as I would love to talk fire prevention every day, we simply cannot spend the time. While we have their attention, reinforce topics that help us if we do respond to a fire emergency. One of those key topics is Door Control!

We have been reminded here as of late about the importance of controlling the door to limit the amount of available air to the fire. John Shafer has really reinforced this message not only to the fire service, but the public as well. "We cannot control how much fuel is in a compartment and we cannot always control the heat. We can limit fire growth through controlling/closing doors" as he recently told me. People will always have "stuff" and we cannot always immediately get to the source of heat with our fire streams, but when we reduce the amount of air that the fire needs to grow by utilizing closed doors, we buy time for occupant rescue and fire control.

Door control is not just for the front door of the single family home. Office complexes and commercial buildings are just as, if not more critical! In fact, they are so important that NFPA has several standards in regards to the types of doors and their required positions based on occupancy.

In many buildings that house a significant population, a successful means of fire control is compartmentalization. Fire doors are a key feature. NFPA 80 Standard for Fire Doors and Other Opening Protectives outlines much of the requirements for the construction of these fire protection components. One critical aspect is the ability of these doors to close on their own. This can be self-closing, automatic and powered. This in turn means they cannot be obstructed or blocked in anyway. If the door is unable to fully close, it will not be able to perform its intended function, the stopping heat and smoke from spreading. Other NFPA standards to review include 1, 101 and 5000, when it comes to the requirements of fire doors.

One common configuration you may encounter and should speak on, is the corridor. Fire doors that break up long hallways into sections must be able to close and provide its intended purpose. These also include doors that lead to stairwells that access upper/lower levels. (As Fire Service Professionals we can certainly urge the building owners to ensure annual fire door inspections are performed, however this can be outside the realm of Fire Prevention activities. These points fit in better with Fire Inspection/Survey tasks.) Educate those who occupy the space to always ensure these doors can open properly and close without assistance. They must be able to latch, which in turn keeps them closed. Ensure they understand these doors should not be blocked open unless they are constantly attended while doing any work in the area.

Office or room doors, although they may not be true fire doors, can still be utilized to reduce fire growth. Let them know that it is good practice to close these doors when they go home or when they are out of the office.

Be creative in your methods of conveying this important fire education message. Coach occupants to ensure doors close if you asist with fire drills. Even briefly speaking with building managers can help shape a healthy practice of closing doors and spotting those they are not working. Closed fire doors not only help stop the spread of fire but also ensure any other passive and active fire protection equipment performs as intended.

A life can be saved through the simple act of a closed door.


Saturday, September 7, 2013

See, Hear, Watch, Do!

"My frustration started early in the session, the students just didn't seem to catch on. We went over it many times in the classroom but when it came to the practical application, they fumbled all over the place." Whether you have said those words to another or thought them to yourself, you felt disappointed in your abilities to teach a particular skill or task. The best presentation coupled with the best delivery may not touch all students when discussing the practical application. Firefighters are performers, doers, we are very hands on. A lecture, although still needed, is a small piece of the puzzle when it comes to the execution of skill drills.
Before teaching in an official capacity, you must attend a course designed to certify and qualify you to instruct new and veteran Firefighters alike. Whether it is a weekend crash course or a full semester's worth of receiving information on the organization, dissemination and record retention methods, of a fire department training program, should all contain knowledge for a success path. The topic of learning styles should come up and lays a foundation for instructional techniques. Without going into great detail and speaking generally, people learn by: Reading, Watching and Doing. Our training sessions should cover all three. When you encompass all three of the major learning styles, the outcome will yield better results.

Often the new Firefighter sits through a class before putting their hands on the tools and equipment they will be expected to use. For many recruits this is there first exposure to the Fire Service. The tools, the gear, the equipment and more so the "firefighter jargon" can all be overwhelming when the student is only seeing the words from a textbook. Some departments may have some sort of orientation that the new member can sit through to see some of this for the first time as well. Seeing is certainly better, but can it be too much all at once? What about the 20 year veteran seeing a new piece of equipment or a tactical method for the first time? Sure the bulk of the lesson can be understood but what about the finer details?

Getting it to stick! From my personal experience from both in front of the room and the view from the seat, I as well as see students "get it" when the task is seen first in real time, talked about, watched as it is broken down step by step, then performed by the student. For a better picture, these should be broken down and discussed.

See - The students should see the task at full speed, giving them a visual of what the desired tempo, steps and final execution looks like. Giving a demonstration allows all the students senses to be engaged. The sight and sound can impact their grasp of the skill more than reading about it in a book. The preferred method is performing the task on the drill ground or the apparatus floor. Hearing the bells, the clangs and the performer’s actions pulls them into the environment. Taping the execution to show in the classroom is a great alternative method and fits easily into your training session. This also allows members to reference time and time again. The student now understands what the expectations are.

Hear - It should not matter if the session is all lecture, all hands on or a combination of both, you must explain the act step by step and allow for questions. Brief everyone on the desired outcome, outline the tools, steps and procedures for accomplishing the task. Base these on the level of knowledge that the group has.
Watch - The third part is to demonstrate the task again at a reduced speed. You want to point out the finer mechanics and details that may not have been obvious during the real time demonstration. If the session started in the classroom and shifted to the training grounds this step in the process is more critical. How long ago did they see the task performed real time? Break it down step by step.

DO - Last but most important is the student performing the actions. The skill level of the member should be taken into consideration, however with new skills the Crawl, Walk, Run method should be implored. One example that I use when teaching the donning and doffing of SCBA is. First evolution the student only wears bunker pants, then coat is added and finally perform entire donning process while wearing structural gloves. Not only does this provide a progressive means but also forces repetition. Develop good muscle memory by allowing students to create their own groove, not by expecting them to perform it all out when they just were taught the skill.
Once the student has the basic procedure down, then slowly progress the evolution to what would be expected on the fire ground. This may include being dressed down at the first level, not masked up on the second, not breathing air on the third and full speed 100% PPE on the final evolution. Some evolutions may be performed as a team and slowly progressed to a single member’s performance. This also provides a much needed opportunity for the student to ask questions and see immediate feedback on performance based skill sets.

Lastly during the DO step, do not expect to see perfection from your trainees. This step in the process is just as much about you seeing if they understand as them learning how to do. Keep vigilant eyes on each evolution ensuring the task is being performed, as directed. Step in to correct and coach as needed. Many bad habits are created during training; do not let them walk with bad habits! Show them good habits by explaining how this same training evolution can be performed back at the firehouse with just the company.

Understanding that all students, new recruits and veterans alike, will learn in many different ways and at different speeds. Use all the tools you have available, so you will provide members with the Knowledge, Skills, Abilities and Attitudes for growth in the Fire Service.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Training out of trash

"One man's trash is another man's treasure." We can absolutely apply this to our training program. With many counting on the use of technology to serve us our training these days, almost zero cost goes into building props and training aides out of trash.

Computers, tablets, smart phones and whatever the next hot device will be, certainly play a vital role in our organizations training regimen. We want those tools available to all of our personnel, so we can stay on top of changes and more importantly deliver training clearly, often and right into the hands of those who need it. What we cannot get out of those circuit boards wrapped in plastic, the skills and mentoring that comes with hands on training.

Many departments have state of the art training facilities that include computer labs and training grounds. But what about those who do not? What about those crews housed in stations many miles away that cannot make the trip while on duty for a short company session? We need options, we need training props that our members can get something out of while not needing a purchase order. Become a "dumpster diver!"

Do not take dumpster diver literal. Utilize local resources such as utilities, contractors and even your own backyard projects. The following is a "grocery list" of items to be on the look out for in which you can build your own props.
  • Large pipes (culvert, drainage, sewer)
  • Wooden pallets
  • Doors
  • Windows
  • Door parts (knobs, lock cylinders, mortises, etc.)
  • Truck tires
  • Electrical wire, phone cords, cable, network cables
  • Out of service items such as
    • hose
    • rope
    • SCBA
    • hand tools
All of these items can be used to either build a type of prop or be used so in service equipment can stay in service. Examples of props I have built with the above list include:

Confined Space prop from culvert pipes for doing horizontal drags. You can also use this for an SCBA confidence prop. Drill holes into it then using dowel rods create change of profile distractors. Run rope and/or wire through for entanglement hazards.

Wooden pallets can make great temporary walls for search and rescue obstacles/detours.The members may know the room they are in, but with a few of these in place, the layout can easily be changed. Take out 2-3 pieces of the deck board to create an opening for change of profile entry way.

    Truck tires can be attached to rope that can be pulled to mimic a charged line. They also can be part of a SCBA/Search course. They also work great for a "chopping station" during physical fitness.

Have doors and windows around for forcible entry. Keep door parts that can either be through the lock props or table drop drills to show their inner workings.

Don't throw out that old hose! Use it in an apparatus floor maze. Practice "Smooth, bump, bump to the pump!"

Out of service hand tools and SCBA can be used in the scenarios. On old SCBA can be thrown into a duffel bag to mimic your On Deck or R.I.T. bag. You can also create a scavenger hunt with old tools and appliances. Scatter them in a blacked out room and have members try to find them all. To make it more difficult put in the tools and equipment to make a certain type of connection like a standpipe or hose line that they must complete.

Get creative! Some of the above examples many of you have seen before. This post is simply reminding everyone of the items you probably have in your firehouse right now that could be used for training. Adding some recycled materials can increase the options that you have without making the trek to the training grounds or needing an all hands training session.

Not everything has to be used. Last year we contacted a local hardware store about "scratch and dent" items. We were able to finish our roof ventilation prop with shingles very cheap. They sold us damaged packages and mismatched bundles at a fraction of the price. This gave our prop a realistic feel and all it took was a morning of pounding nails. See what local resources are willing to sell you at a discount or even donate.

Do not let budget and space constraints weigh you down. Even if you only get one valuable training session out of your recycled prop, it was well worth it!

Thursday, July 25, 2013

The choices we make.

"Today I want to do a poor job and get someone hurt."
Have you or someone of your crew ever woke up and thought that? Most likely not. No one wants to do a bad job. No one purposely injures themselves or others while on the fire ground, training ground or in quarters. From time to time good people make bad choices, poor decisions and make mistakes. Multiple factors influence when and why errors are made. The severity and effect of those sub-par judgments are situation based. A narrow window of decision making time, pressure from others or a lack of information, can all lead to an event. Our line of work presents itself with minimal time to act, minimal information and extreme pressure under volatile circumstances. Therefore, we must provide responders with the prowess to be deliberate in their actions. At the very least, minimize the severity of any negative results.

Since I began my career in the Fire Service, I have seen various methods to perform any one of the tasks we are assigned. From the crew you work with all the way to the country you work in, everyone seems to have “their way” to get it done. This notion can add to uncertainty on the fire ground. We should all have our “best practices” and be on the same page while operating. Take out the guesswork, take out the doubt and prevent any hesitation. The solution for many of these uncertainties is training and preparation. Have a department standard for actions that will be taken on incident scenes. Of course there will be times when the standard cannot be performed. Typically these are not the situations that get us hurt. The routine task get us in trouble, as complacency sets in. The routine task gets us hurt when we do not work as a team, while all knowing our individual roles, responsibilities and what is expected of each of us.

In 2011 over 30,000 fire ground related injuries were reported, with over 70,000 total. Reported is in bold as I believe many are not reported and the statistic may be much higher. Strains and sprains have traditionally topped the list. Many times due to overreaching, not having proper footing and a lack of teamwork/communication while performing the task. A drastic reduction could be seen in these statistics by having a better understanding of expectations. The emergency scene is a dynamic environment, even without the problem we came to fix. One way to disseminate what is expected, outline crew and department expectations for the tour promptly first thing in the shift. For those that do not stay in quarters, use assignment cards on the apparatus. Also, use email or text messages to put out critical information. Several free programs exist to help communicate department and operational information to the troops. Minimize surprises so everyone can focus on the task at hand and have the frame of mind to make good choices.

Company Officers, Senior Firefighters and other leaders need to be consciousness of performing with a “do as I do” attitude, which reflects the organizations procedures policies and guidelines’. Both good and bad habits can be picked up, especially by young and new personnel. Make sure to perform in the same manner each and every time. Deviating or skipping a step just once can give others the mindset that it is okay for them to skip steps as well. Critical steps could be missed, leading to injury or worse. Just recently a firefighter lost his life due to the lack of a spotter while backing up apparatus. Department policy is to always have a spotter when backing. Was this a single deviation or common occurrence? We can quickly develop the “it won’t happen to me” attitude when we disregard processes even just once. When you get away with it once, you will do it again.


“Perfect practice, makes perfect. Then practice some more!”

Repetition is the key to mastery of a skill. From the first day at the academy we are honing our skill set. However a gap can be created when we do not practice how we will perform at the emergency and with the people we will be working with. This is another reason to standardize our basic actions. When we can perform a given task with little to no doubt of successful completion, we free up our minds to focus on the decision making aspect. If more concentration is focused on the physical act of throwing the ladder, are we able to place it in the best place? Are we looking for any hazards around us? Are we maintaining good situational awareness? Teamwork, looking out for others as well as ourselves and knowing your role can all help to make better decisions.

We all know our job is to show up when called and help solve the problem. Our intentions are never to add to the problem by involving a responder. Having a solid foundation of base skills, understanding your role within the team and making solid decisions can drastically reduce fire ground injury.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Moment in Time

"A picture is worth a thousand words." Words coined by someone long ago, noting that a single image can convey a complex idea. From the stories told by a Neanderthal through his simple etchings to our modern day capture of life, man has told his story through image. A moment in time or emotion of man has inspired, enraged, saddened and brought courage to those who see past the mere ink on paper (or pixels on screen).

What does any of this have to do with the fire service? Everything. Where ever you are your attention can be instantly transferred to another place or another time. A fire burns in Chicago as you watch in Dixon Wyoming. But your reality of the situation is skewed. Your mind can concentrate on the image not the sounds, the feel of the wind, the chaos of the fire ground and your elevated pulse rate fueled by adrenaline. Your attention placed on watching as others act, perform and make critical decisions. They senses flooded, their bodies exhausted and emotions driving them. "Fight or Flight" is on the brink, which will they decide as you analyze and compare this image to what you would do in their situation. Time is on your side. Minutes, hours and days exist for you to react, then change your decision upon any new information you find. Those in the image, make a choice in a seconds time and must execute it right.

Use as LESSONS LEARNED, not to finger point.

There are positives to the influx of media we have available to us. We are not seeing the fire ground as those before us. We must use image and video to see how fire lives, breathes and moves. Imagine yourself on that scene making a split second decision then acting in a manner as if it was happening now. Resisting the urge to cast stones without knowing all sides is difficult to do. As I recently fell prey to this very notion. Do not focus on what "they" do, focus on your response, your actions. Take these situations and build your personal slide show so when you are "that guy" you will have the advantage.

An image is worth a thousand words, those words can also be lies. Do we have the facts, do we know the situation? A photo can stir emotion and action. A video can be misguided as it is from a certain point of view. Consider the following when reacting to an image or video.

  • Do not confuse peer pressure as conviction.
  • Do not mistake genius for lack of talent.
  • An image can be used to capture the moment or tell a lie.
  • Our senses react to time and space. Behind a keyboard is in a different space then the operation.
  • Absorb the intent of the captured image, why was this taken and what purpose does it serve.
  • Consider your reaction before reacting. What compels you to act?

Our time is unique, continue to capture our world. Be an artist, find emotion and the human spirit in life's canvas. As a Fire Service Professional document what we do and why. Use our collection of imagery to empower our people to be at our best. Perhaps the next image you see will tell the story of a Firefighter and their courage, bravery, honor, pride and conviction to help fellow man. Decide to advocate for positive change, if the opposite is seized.

Photo Courtesy of