Captain Andrew Marsh Fire
Mount Oliver Fire Department, PA
A few of us attended the Pittsburgh Fire/EMS Expo. Some of us attended classes. The fire department picked up the tab for the training with the caveat being that those of us who did attend classes were requested to bring something back to share with our department.
So I will share this.
What I have listed below may be repetitious for some, however with as many firefighter injuries and deaths we suffer from locally, and as a State, and as a Nation, it begs to be repeated. But first, a word from a sponsor; in our department, and even as a fire service, we have come a long way. Speaking only to what I have been exposed to, over the past 28 years, we have improved our training; we attend more training; we provide more training; we have improved on our leadership skills; we have changed some by-laws; we have created standard operating guidelines; we have improved in our professionalism, and we are striving to improve our delivery methods as we serve our community and our mutual aid districts. If you haven't been around in a while, you may have missed out on some or all of these improvements.
There are several issues facing our Nation's Fire Service. #1 on the list has to be combating firefighter line of duty deaths. #2, in my mind anyway, is getting more people to train and train effectively as a team, as a unit, and as a department. #3 is finding that time. Look.... It ain't gonna get any easier. Why this is so is partly due to a lack of 'buy in' over the years of the safety equipment and initiatives developed over the years, and the failure to utilize it during firefighting operations, and during training.
The reality is when enough firefighters died because they were lost in structures; the personal alert safety system device was invented. What happened when more firefighters died because they did not turn their PASS on? The industry made them integral, so that when we turned our cylinder on, the device came on. However, firefighters continue to die and to get hurt. Thermal Imagers were introduced to the fire service, to find victims and to find fire, yet we do not thoroughly train to be proficient with them. We continue to rush into buildings we have no idea about, structures that are poorly constructed, and some that are vacant structures which have no value to us, especially when we talk about what we are risking our lives for. So what happened when our industry kept on losing firefighters? Accountability Systems were created. But, we still fail to 'tag in' at times. Firefighters still were getting lost in structures; firefighters ran out of air, so Rapid Intervention Teams were created. We have better turn out gear being produced, yet we don't buckle the chin strap, don't put on the gloves, etc. We fail to sound floors, sound roofs, recognize signs of flashover, rollover, and back drafts, so we got ourselves a safety officer. 25% of firefighter LODDs are due to crashes, and we are not wearing a seatbelt. So, we continued to lose firefighters. And so our training hours increased. Over the years, some of our members came in without the benefit of the "Essentials of Firefighting". We have seen the amount of initial training rise from a very basic 40 hour program, to a 66 hour program, to an 88 hour program and now to a 168 hour program.
The idea has been, if we train more we will live more. Somewhere along that line of thinking, something got lost. The fact of the matter is we are still losing 100 or more firefighters to line of duty deaths. We've got to wonder why that is? What's more is that the people who insure us have been very patient. How much longer will this be the case, before they deny a claim? We have national standards and guidelines to serve by, yet we ignore them because, generally, we think they don't apply to our situation or in our State. The fact is that if we ever have to go to court over a LODD or civilian fatality, we would be eaten alive by an attorney. Moreover, we are not the untouchable society we used to be. More and more, we are being more scrutinized in how we do our jobs. While we are and have been doing more to get ahead of the curve, a lot more needs to be done. Don't find out where we keep equipment at the time of the incident, by going compartment to compartment, come to training and find out. Don't wonder why we don't let you in the game, wonder how to get back into the game, and stay in the game, through training. Just hanging out at the firehouse? Great! We are glad to see you. But while you are hanging out, get better acquainted with what we are carrying, where it is, how to use it, and find out why we use what we use etc. Boy... there is so much more.
I think you get the point. We have been trying to make training more palatable. We have seen increases in attendance in some training and decreases at other times. If you have a suggestion, let us know. We will work on it. We have several classes planned in the near future. Some may be intense, all will be very beneficial. I believe that while I don't have "the answer", it may be found in our training, in our attitudes, and in our behavior. Stay tuned.
Get better acquainted with these. These should be the norm. Stay Smart and Stay SAFE my friends.