Thursday, December 16, 2010

Think About It!

The Importance Of Plan A,B,C,D,E,F,G………

Post courtesy of Patrick McKay, Fairfax City Rescue Engine 33 Chauffeur

Company officers are tasked with strategizing and using their personnel to employ tactics during emergency incidents. When making these decisions, an alternate plan should be established in the instance that our initial actions do not mitigate the problem. Yesterday I responded to a unique, somewhat complex incident that further emphasized this. Fortunately due to proactive decision making by several good fire officers, multiple plans were established and employed without delay. If you do this job long enough, you will likely respond to a variety of emergency incidents where the first tactics that are employed are unsuccessful. With that said, we cannot simply freeze up and look around waiting for a solution to the problem to drop from the sky. This article will look at how to prepare for and employ multiple tactics during emergency incidents.

Training is probably the best way to ensure to your company is able to employ multiple plans. Incorporate elements into scenario based drills that cause failure of Plan A such as: the FDC is damaged and unable to be used yet you still need to get water to the fire on the 10th floor, your initial preconnect stretch does not reach the fire area, your saws won’t start yet the roof still needs to be opened, the stairs are burned out to the second floor and a search still needs to be conducted because there is a report of occupants inside, your hydraulic rescue tool system fails and the occupants of a vehicle are still trapped. These are certainly not the only drills that can be conducted but are merely examples of a few drills where companies need to initiate Plan B and so on. It is better to work out the kinks during training than on an actual incident. This training will create thinking firefighters and fire officers and allow them to make sound decisions quickly to overcome obstacles on emergency incidents.

Being proactive is essential to successful emergency incident operations. If we’re not proactive, we’ll be reactive and continuously playing catch-up. During rope rescue operations we always attempt to establish redundancy at least one time for each component of our systems and we incorporate elements such as load releasing hitches in case our initial plan fails. Constructing our rope systems with these elements and redundancy initially will allow us to overcome events that may cause our initial plan to fail, without delay. This is one example of taking a proactive approach during emergency incident operations.

As I mentioned in a previous article, it’s important to not only know how to use your equipment but also the limitations of your equipment. This allows personnel to identify all the equipment on their rig that may be used to cut something and also which tool or technique to utilize in the instance that your “Plan A” cutting tool fails or breaks. If all of the battery powered reciprocating saws are successful in cutting something but fail due to the battery, a company may simply need to place an electric reciprocating saw in service to continue on.
Hopefully the company has been proactive and already staged this equipment near the scene where it can be quickly deployed. If a company is unsuccessfully trying to displace something utilizing hydraulic spreaders with a spread force of 32,000 pounds and a 40,000 pound spreader is also on the scene, it would be a good idea to put the 40,000 pound spreaders to work. Knowing your equipment will allow you to make these decisions quickly on emergency incidents. The same kind of decision making can be used on the fireground dealing with handlines. If you are not making any headway on a fire utilizing a handline flowing 150 GPM’s, a decision needs to be made to increase the GPM’s. This could be accomplished by switching nozzles (a proactive move may be placing a 15/16” slug between the shut off and nozzle), bringing in another handline that flows 150 GPM’s thus providing a total of 300 GPM’s, or bringing in a larger line that’s capable of flowing 250 GPM’s or more. This decision needs to be made quickly and may be influenced by factors such as personnel available, water available, and the area that the line is being maneuvered in.

I hope this article provides some insight or merely initiates thoughts on developing and employing multiple plans to mitigate an emergency. A good rule of thumb is to always develop at least one back up plan to whatever plan you are utilizing (e.g. if we are on Plan C, then Plan D needs to be established). This will allow you to stay ahead of the game and prevent long periods of inactivity. Nobody has the answer to every problem, however we can effectively work towards solving these problems by developing multiple plans. Another important element of developing and employing multiple plans is having someone who is standing back from the immediate work area and can provide insight as to what’s working and what’s not working. Sometimes when we are actively involved in an operation we become so engrossed with what’s taking place that we lose track of time or fail to see what’s taking place in the big picture. Happy holidays and stay safe!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Rescue Company Member

Post courtesy of Patrick McKay, Fairfax City Rescue Engine 33 Chauffeur

Lots of American kids grow up with hopes and dreams of being a fireman at some point, many of these kids grow out of it and some are lucky enough to fulfill their dreams and ride fire trucks. Growing up in a fire department household, I always wanted to be a fireman and more specifically a Rescue Company fireman. Due to my father’s assignments, I was introduced to the Rescue Company at an early age and everything about the Rescue Company seemed larger than life. The rig carried so many cool tools, the guys loved their jobs, and it seemed like they got to do all the “fun” stuff on calls. I loved watching VHS tapes that showed footage of FDNY Rescue Companies in action, they really got to do “fun” stuff whether it was cutting cars, rope rescues, or searching a tenement building on fire. Whatever needed to be done, they did it and they did it well. As I got older I made it a point to learn as much as I could about the Rescue Company and what it really means to be a member of the Rescue Company. This article will outline what I believe it means to be a member of the Rescue Company, because it certainly goes far beyond just showing up for work and jumping on the fire truck.

Members of the Rescue Company should not be new members to the fire service and should have significant fireground experience before assuming the position on a Rescue Company. Being an experienced firefighter is critical to operating as a member of the Rescue Company, as there are many skills and responsibilities the Rescue Company has. While basic firefighting skills should be maintained, they shouldn’t have to be learned while riding the Rescue Company. If a member of the Rescue Company doesn’t have the knowledge, skills, or abilities to conduct a primary search or force doors, surely we cannot expect them to take on more advanced tasks that the Rescue Company is responsible for. The reality is, not every member of the fire service is meant to be a member of the Rescue Company nor does everyone in the fire service want to be a member of the Rescue Company. We, the fire service as a whole, cannot simply place any warm body on the Rescue Company. While it may keep people happy for the short term, eventually it will lead to problems for everyone, the citizen’s and fire department. We cannot afford to waste precious time upon our arrival to an incident to catch someone up to speed on how we conduct operations.

Members of the Rescue Company should take a significant amount of pride in their work and realize that everything they do or don’t do is a direct reflection on the company as a whole. Just doing enough to get by doesn’t cut it on the Rescue Company, it entails going above and beyond. If it didn’t, there wouldn’t be a need for the Rescue Company as any firefighter would be able to carry out these duties. Many of the tasks the Rescue Company is responsible for are on “high risk, low frequency” events, meaning it is even more critical to carry out these tasks in a proficient manner as the results of not doing so could be disastrous. Attention to detail is critical and a simple oversight could result in things such as the failure of a haul system due to improper rigging, shifting of a vehicle in a precarious position due to ineffective stabilization, or failing to locate a victim in a fire because we didn’t complete a primary search of all areas in the fire building. Nobody wakes up in the morning and wants something like that to occur, however if we don’t operate in an efficient and precise manner they can happen.

Members of the Rescue Company need to have courage. It takes a certain amount of courage to knowingly place yourself in harm’s way to protect or save another person. With that said, the Rescue Company member needs to be intelligent which will allow them to operate in a dangerous position while minimizing the risk as much as possible. The majority of Rescue Company fireground operations occur independent of a hoseline, meaning the benefit of having a hoseline to protect you or lead you back to a safe position isn’t an option. This is why it is essential for the Recue Company member to be intelligent by taking note of egress points as they search, deploying a search rope in a cut up occupancy, or understanding what the fire is doing by observing smoke or heat conditions. Intelligence will also allow Rescue Company members to minimize the risk on other “high risk, low frequency” events such as water rescues, rope rescues, or confined space entries. Knowing what tactics to employ, what PPE to utilize, and how to “safe” an area (i.e. atmospheric monitoring, maintaining a zero mechanical state, placing upstream and downstream safeties) will allow us to minimize risk while still operating efficiently and effectively in a dangerous position.

Members of the Rescue Company need to have a thorough knowledge of their equipment. Knowing how something works is a good place to start, however knowing the limitations of your equipment is essential as well. Many folks don’t believe it’s important to remember the “numbers”, meaning to know things such as spread or cutting forces, WLL’s, or lengths of winch cables. Guess what? Those folks don’t belong on the Rescue Company! It may seem harsh or not PC, but it’s reality. Failure to fully understand the limitations of your equipment is dangerous to you, your fellow firefighters, and the citizens. If you are trying unsuccessfully to cut a “B-Post” with a cutter that has a cutting force of 152,000 pounds, it wouldn’t make much sense to try utilizing a cutter with a cutting force of 72,000 pounds. If the Rescue Company was tasked with winching one vehicle away from another, it’s important to know the weakest link in the system. Knowing the “numbers” on your winch, winch cable, snatch blocks, and chains will allow you to complete this task in the safest manner possible. If the Rescue Company is assigned to free someone from a machine, knowing how many CFM’s your whizzer saw or impact wrench consume will ensure you have an adequate air supply to complete a cutting or disassembling operation without delay. The point is: knowing how to use your equipment, when to use your equipment, and the limitations of your equipment are all very important for members of the Rescue Company. While you as an individual may not remember every number tied to every piece of equipment, conducting frequent company drills will reinforce this information and allow the Rescue Company as a whole to stay proficient with their equipment.

Members of the Rescue Company need to be able to function as members of a team. The Rescue Company is truly a team concept and it is imperative that all members are on the same sheet of music. A good Rescue Company can go to work with very few words having to be spoken, meaning that the members are part of a team that know their responsibilities and are entrusted to carry them out. This solid teamwork is established in the firehouse and on the fireground. In the firehouse, conducting frequent company drills will get everybody on the same sheet of music, reinforce skills, and expose individual strengths and weaknesses and allow the team to capitalize on individual strengths in specific areas. For example, the rig I ride has 4 members of which 3 of us ride in the same spot everyday. The 4th position is rotated between 2 members that split time on the Rescue Engine and Medic unit. The 3 of us that are on the rig everyday have pretty well established our respective roles on a rope rescue based on our strengths and weaknesses: the Captain is a tactician in every sense of the word and effectively lays out a game plan for us and works the edge, Bill is our member that is in the best physical shape and is our member that will likely go over the edge, I am good with rigging and constructing systems and will likely serve as the rigger. We are all capable of doing the other’s roles, however to operate in the most efficient and effective manner we take the job that best suits us. That is what being part of a team is all about. There is no better place to solidify teamwork than on the fireground, especially for a new member. All members on the Rescue Company need to be able to trust each other and know without a doubt they will do whatever needs to be done to get the job done and ensure we all go home at the end of the shift.

The final thing I will discuss is attitude. Having the right attitude is essential to being a member of the Rescue Company. Folks that are go getters with a “can do” attitude make excellent Rescue Company members. To quote a FDNY Rescue Company member from the 1980’s, “when the public needs help they call the fire department, when the fire department needs help they call the Rescue”. Giving up or quitting is not an option, the citizens AND your fellow firefighters are counting on you to show up and do what needs to be done. This is what makes or breaks the Rescue Company. In my company we have the motto “Whatever It Takes” and our members truly embrace that concept. We will do whatever it takes to get the job done and do whatever we can to ensure everybody goes home in the morning.

In closing, some folks look negatively upon the Rescue Company and refer to the members in a sarcastic manner as “the heroes”. The best thing a Rescue Company can do is train hard and perform at the highest level which will allow your actions to speak for themselves. At the beginning I said not every member of the fire service is meant to be a member of the Rescue Company. With that said, every member of the fire service is capable of becoming a member of the Rescue Company. It is incumbent upon the person to possess the qualities and traits that are essential to be a member of the Rescue Company. With hard work, initiative, and drive you could make yourself marketable to be the next member of the Rescue Company. Stay safe!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Engine Company

Engine company hose beds should be configured based on that individual company's needs and response area.  Larger departments tend to set up all of their engine company's hose bed configurations the same.  That way, regardless of what engine company a member gets assigned to (overtime, detail, or transfer), he/she is already familiar with the locations/lengths of all supply and attack lines.  While there should be some consistency, with the amount of supply line for example, this allows little room for companies to 'customize' their engine to match the needs of their first-due area.  -Keith

How is your company's rear hose bed set up?

In your department, are all of your engine companies' hose beds set up identically, or configured based on the needs of their individual first-due?