Thursday, November 22, 2012

Stay Safe

It is a simple phrase, one to quickly say and it means so many things. Lately it seems to carry negative connotations, some even feel it is offensive. At times the Fire Service is a gigantic teeter-toter, the views and beliefs of one group on their side with the opposite on the other. Right now we are seeing a Safety Culture vs. Aggressive Culture. My own opinion; they are really one in the same, but that is a topic for another day. So to say "Stay Safe" to a fellow Firefighter could be met with a smile and a "you too" or the stink eye.

Stay safe, two words that mean so much. When I am telling others to stay safe it is intended to include,

  • Focused, smart, fit, ready, attentive, passionate, vigilant, on the look out, prepared and look out for yourself and others. Along with plenty of others that could come to mind.

No negatives there, no words that would go against our mission. Nothing that states if smoke is showing "don't dare you take the fight to the fire." Being and acting safe is to be in a state of readiness for all that could come your way. Expect the unexpected. Do not take what you see at face value. Look at the situation more critically and if all else fails, ask questions before blindly running into a situation that you cannot win.

This phrase is a simple reminder that I want you to go out and do your best. Do what is honorable and noble so we do not tarnish this great profession. But when you do have to take that chance, that matter of life and death, use all the tools you have been given in your career. Make the best choices and decisions you can so you go home the same way you came in, in one piece.

I want all of you to STAY SAFE and I want EVERYONE TO GO HOME.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Polishing the wheel

Have you ever been in the middle of a conversation and suddenly have an "a-ha" moment? The way our minds operate is extremely interesting. While you are intently listening to the other persons words, your brain is constructing thoughts at the same time. On shift the Engineer and I were discussing some changes to the way the fire service operates. The conversation turned to the concepts behind Redefining the Engine Company. The verb "polish" was used. Part of RTEC is being proficient at our basic skills to be the most effective we can. Essentially we need to be "highly polished." Whether it is pump operations, grabbing the plug or stretching the line, we get one chance to get it right or "to shine."

Anyone that has been around a few years has experienced a standard operating procedure change. When this was rolled out did some utter "reinventing the wheel" or something to that connotation? Maybe a new tool was purchased or a task became more involved. Evolution has a funny way of taking our processes and altering them simply for change. Please do not take this sentiment in the wrong direction, I fully advocate change for viable reasons. "Change, inevitable, constant." We must be at least open to change,even more so in our line of work,

Use a little elbow grease and polish instead of reinventing the wheel.
The wheel, since it's creation thousands of years B.C. has been refined, updated and used for more than what originally intended for. Over the years the fire service wheel has gone through the same type of progression. Many of these updates have improved our level of service, ability to complete our mission and commitment to bring home our troops after every tour. When sitting at the drawing board ask yourself this "will this change reinvent the wheel to enhance our goals or will polishing our existing wheel do the trick." Odds are your wheel is in good shape, just needs a good polish.

Company Officers can help this process by laying out crew/shift expectations at the start of tour. A simple reminder of what they would like to accomplish in the initial stages of an incident can be a tremendous help. This is even more evident when your department has "floaters." Working with a different crew, at a different house or rig can sometimes cause confusion. Laying it out ahead of time puts some polish on right away.

Getting out on the drill ground works out bent spokes on the wheel. The exact opposite might even be the cure. During training evolutions we shine, but on the streets something is lacking. Perhaps drilling needs to occur on the streets to see if it will actually work. If that is not an option, what about adding street-like obstructions to your drill grounds? A few parked cars, trash cans or landscaping adds the realism while enhancing the training experience.

The last two paragraphs were simply a few suggestions on ways to help get that mirror like finish back on your wheel. Everyday we grow and change, for the better, we hope. Instead of reinventing the way we conduct business, start by identifying if it's polishing that's needed. Underneath that coat of mud is a great looking wheel, it just needed to be polished.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The value of fiction.

For decades the only methods to capture fireground operations were through the stories told by those who experienced it and the still photo. Many historical fires are frozen in time by the few photos taken as the events took place. Even today we document these fires by the split second decision of the photographer. We do find ourselves in a difficult position as technology has given not only us, but the public, the ability to document every second and every action taken on our modern fireground.

Many have brought to light the issues and risk of social media in today's fire service. This post is not about that. What I hope to convey is the importance of educating our membership, how to properly use media such as video, audio and the still photo to increase knowledge.

Face it, as we experience fewer fires and lose years upon years of street knowledge the next generation, myself included, will have less information to poll from on the emergency scene. Spending ample time on the training ground is one way to gain efficacy and knowledge on task based skills. But what about the decision making process? This week I was fortunate enough to listen to Dr. Gary Klein speak.

Dr. Klein is the expert behind Recognition Primed Decision Making (RPDM). What is so interesting about his work is that he isn't teaching the fire service these skills, it is just the opposite. He spent years with the fire service to find out how we make tough decision, under stress and in a split second. We have what he calls a "Slide Tray." The ability to act quickly is gained from our years of experience that is recalled, compared, then acted upon. This should give you just enough to understand this process and why it is more critical then ever. Visit his website for more info.

Our "instincts" that flow from RPDM comes from our collection of experience. With fewer fires we are adding fewer events to this set. To overcome a portion of these missed opportunities we can turn to technology. How many remember when the overhead projector was overtaken by the electronic presentation? So much more content was able to be covered in the classroom setting with ease. We soon took advantage of the new found ability to add video. Not only could these videos add value to our classroom but they helped to keep students engaged. In 2012 it is nothing to perform a quick Internet search to show a video that proves your point.

The negative side of the new love affair with instant video, are the students focused on the actions of the those shown or the intent of your lesson? We have all seen it or heard it. Pull up a video and the incident commanders from behind the glowing screen let loose. Some times comments are positive others negative.  It is very easy to fall into the trap of watching the task performers rather than the fire behavior or the what the smoke is telling us. Granted from time to time we will use the videos to exercise a point about the actions taken. Use caution when having students view our modern means of documentation.

What we can do, create simulations. There are several applications on the market that allow the user to take a snapshot and create a scenario without the actions of responders to "muddy the waters." These fictional events allow the viewers to watch the fire growth, behavior, smoke and reading the building. Once they have their own opinion, free of bias they then can elaborate on what actions they would take and why. These situations allow for so much more control than having free time simply watching "fire porn." Use them as company drills where the experience of the Officer or Senior Firefighter can be shared with those without the soot on their face.
Another great way to gain valuable insight is to go out into your district, perform a simple pre-plan then take a snapshot of that occupancy. Using certain simulation products you can on the spot, add smoke, fire and explosions to discuss while on site. Talk about where the hydrants are and in that situation what would be some best practices. What this also gains for your crew is everyone is seeing the same picture rather than five ideas of what could be. It goes back to what "heavy smoke" is. Your idea of heavy is not the same as mine.
With training budgets shrinking, the amount of fires we run and the loss of valuable knowledge we must find alternatives to ensure learning is taking place. Find a product or method that works for you but consider the ramifications it may have on impressionable minds. Hours of "fire porn" will never equate to the real hands on education of the fireground. Give your people the most ammunition possible through simulations.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Long Driveway Solutions - Tools

Our first discussion about Long Driveway Solutions was a basic overview of the program. Gaining permission from the property owner, for sign placement, is a critical step in the program. Without this we can still establish a water supply, however our efficiency greatly decreases. A tool that is starting to be more common on apparatus is the Global Positioning Sensor. With a few taps on the screen your GPS can aid your long supply line evolution when LDW signage doesn't exist.

Technology has made it's way into the Fire Service just as it has in every other industry. Computer Aided Dispatch has increased our ability to arrive at the right location, in a timely manner and without taking up radio wave space asking for "crosses". Many departments have laptop computers in their apparatus to allow the "Right Seat" to see a map of the crews destination. This not only serves our customers but provides the extra layer of safety by allowing the driver to concentrate on driving. For those who cannot afford this type of system, a GPS unit is a great option. The GPS uses satellites to pinpoint your location anywhere that a line of sight is present. Dense trees or being in-doors decreases the signal and your location may not display.

How can the GPS help us during an operation that includes a Long Driveway? Many GPS units have "trip data". Depending on your device this can be brought up by simply tapping an option or two. This screen has various types of data including a trip distance box.

When you arrive to the entrance of a suspected long driveway that is not participating in your Long Driveway program, have the Driver stop in the driveway for a brief moment. Enter this trip data screen and reset the counter. Now you may proceed to your destination. Make note of every 1/10 of a mile. One-tenth = just over 500 feet. The engines in my area carry 1000ft of LDH and should be able to make a 2/10 mile lay. One point that should be made here, when performing this long lay blind, the first due engine may not drop line at all. Information regarding the driveways length is obtained and your second, third and fourth due will be setting up water supply.

Another option, depending on your response type, is the use of markers. While calculating your length on the way to the hazard area, drop cones or other visible objects at certain benchmarks. This could be every 500 or 1000 feet. As the next in engines arrive these markers will act just like the signage used in the program. 900 feet is the set point for our signage, however the calculation for 500/1000 is much simpler to perform under pressure.

Since the first days of the fire service our mission has been to solve problems. Having a Long Driveway Program is a great way to ensure quality service is given to all residents. Whether their construction design or location of property gives us issues, it is our duty to overcome them. Many of our customers that chose a setback that is not conducive to our operation, do so not to make our job harder but to have privacy. They also may desire not to have signage along their property. Using the trip counter on a GPS unit allows us to gain critical information about these Long Driveway Problems and turn them into Long Driveway Solutions.

(Make sure to review the operating manual for your GPS unit before use. Never operate the GPS while driving.)

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Introduction to the Long Driveway Water Supply Solution

Setbacks in the Suburban-Rural interface can measure 50 feet to 1 mile. Often when these setbacks extend off the road at these distances, your hose bed will not make it. Access can be a single lane driveway, making it difficult to bring in multiple engines. Regardless if the area is supplied by a municipal water system or water supply delivered by Fire Department tanker/tenders, the forward engine will have to drop large diameter supply line.

To understand a solution to these long supply problems one must look at the problem. For example, a two story single family home is set back 1100 feet from the road and access is via an 8-foot wide single vehicle driveway, which includes several curves. The forward engine has only 1000 feet of 5-inch diameter supply line. A hydrant is placed 200 feet south of the driveway entrance. Water source to forward engine is 1300 feet! Other factors can affect the supply, but that is a different topic. What is the solution? Relay Pumping, right? However, not just relay pumping- long driveway water supply pumping.

Long driveway water supply solutions start with identifying your areas needs. A list is created and owner’s permission to calculate distances is acquired. If the setback from access to possible forward engine placement is greater than your first arriving engines supply line then a LDWSS (long driveway water supply solution) is required. The next step is explaining to the homeowner the circumstances. Do not indicate that there is a problem but that you have a plan to improve your abilities in the event they ever require your services. You also want to take the opportunity to explain to them that signage will need to be placed along the driveway. These small street signs are about 6”x8” and are mounted on a green fence post. The main portion of the sign states "FD Special Hose Lay" or “FD Long Driveway” and underneath a number. This number indicates which engine and to stop at the sign. For every 900 feet a sign in needed.

Why 900 feet? Most engines can carry 1000 feet of LDH, which gives you an error margin of 100 feet (hook ups, bends, to far forward or back).

Executing the LDWSS, once in place, is a very simple relay operation. The initial engine drops their LDH at the sign that states “1” then goes to the best position at the hazard area. The next in engine will spot on the sign that states “2”, drop their 5 inch, proceed foward to connect the LDH from the Forward engine for supply. This continues until a water supply is fully established. A third engine at the street drafting from a porta-tank and pushing to the middle engine or hooked up to a hydrant as a Key Engine supplying engine 2.
Long driveways do not have to be problems but solutions to water supply woes. Some vital ingredients are enough large diameter supply line, engines to help the relay and establishing a water source. Get your local mutual aid companies involved to ensure resources are available and understand your LDWSS protocol. At 3 am, it does not matter if Mrs. Smith’s house is 22 feet from the street, where a 150 pre-connect will work all night or her house is 1.3 miles in the woods. Fire control occurs when we apply our agent after ensuring it is available. Our main agent is water and we must have water supply solutions. One more example of Redefining the Engine Company.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Redefining the Engine Company - The Concept

Organizations of all types see changes to the way they must operate. Economical climates, market trends and even the lack of service needs, dictate organizational structure, operating budgets and production. The Fire Service is not immune to these symptoms nor should they be overlooked. From the largest of Metro/Urban departments to the smallest of rural volunteer, organizational leaders must devise strategies and tactics to ensure the level of service we provide, is never compromised. Enter the new definition of the Engine Company.

The epiphany, for me at least, came a year ago. Preparing to teach at the academy I was reading through a well-known basic Firefighter text-book. Towards the beginning of the book the authors breakdown the different types of companies and their functions. Thinking to myself, "it would be nice to operate like this." Just to clarify I work for three very different organizations and I am very thankful for being able to see all sides. My experience has been riding as the "all-purpose" engine. Suppression, ladders, rescue, extrication, water supply...if it happens on the fire ground, the engine company performs it. So where is this department that the text-book talks about with all their companies? They should re-define the term, engine company, to reflect how the modern engine company really operates. To read more about the basics of Redefining the Engine Company, click this link.

So what is this concept all about? Some say we are doing more with less. Which is not possible, we can only do less with less. What we can do is realign what our priorities are based on the situation, our abilities and what we do have. Our success on the fire ground comes from our accomplishments off of it. Engine configuration such as tool selection and storage. Hose loads and setup that fit form and function. Realistic SOPS/SOGS that empower initial arriving units to make solid tactical decisions. Training programs that reflect how personnel will perform real world actions.Most importantly, our members understand the modern fire ground is dynamic and changing. We have such a short window to operate, so we must be efficient and get it right the first time.

Will you find all the answers here? No. Redefining the Engine Company concept is about questions. The fire service cannot afford to simply go with the flow, we must stop and question our actions. Are we operating and training to win on the fire ground? Just as sports teams scout their competition, we too must stay ever vigilant so we will be prepared for the call.

So if you are interested in helping to the Redefine the Engine Company join in on the conversation. This blog will serve as one resource, while you can find our groups on other social media sites.

"The traditional engine company role of securing a water supply and stretching the line is still a basic function. However, on the modern fireground, the engine company must simultaneously perform multiple roles while getting water on the fire. The engine company today must be refined and redefined to do more tasks with less than ever before. Therefore, it is essential that your training and standard operating guidelines match what really happens in the street, not in some standard text from a large urban department that has the traditional complement of different companies. It is now up to you to examine your operations and redefine how your engine will respond to these challenges."

So we begin.

Let's just say I am very excited about this opportunity. Since starting as a Firefighter, Fire Engineering has been such as tremendous resource for me. Whether logging onto the website to see the latest news or seeing the print issue as I open my mailbox, Fire Engineering is a trusted source for training, products, health, safety and news. To be part of this amazing resource is an honor and privledge, no matter in what capacity.

Look for some posts in the near future and I look foward to this amazing adventure! Thank you, Chris Huston.