The article below illustrates why I have such a passion for fire service training. Quality and realism in training may someday save a life, a career or perhaps keep a firefighter out of jail. I believe as an instructor I am responsible to ensure that every responder or student that attends our training receives the skills and knowledge required to safely and effectively respond to a hazmat incident. I am driven to provide quality training because I don’t want to read an article or watch on the news that a student that attended our course made an ignorant mistake or a poor decision that has caused injury, death, or possible prosecution.
HazMat response has changed drastically since September 11th. Many of these changes in tactics, responsibilities, and equipment have yet to be put to the test. This is why cutting edge, realistic training is an absolute must. Simulation must be limited only to safety and realistic budget concerns.
We are training a new generation of students, young men and women who are accustomed to technology, constant change, and have a thirst for information. To keep these students engaged in training we must break out of the traditional methods. It’s our responsibility to answer the question “why” with a better response than “because that’s the way we have always done it”.
A trend I find alarming within the fire service today is the loss of experience and ability to train. We have seen a decrease in the volume of fire, hazmat, and rescue calls and an increase in retirement. This makes realistic training even more important. However fire departments statewide are facing shrinking budgets and staffing with additional responsibilities and duties this subsequently affects the department’s ability to maintain current training levels. Training needs to be realistic and scenario based as well as cost efficient.
We must not settle for mediocre training that simulates everything but the student, - rather, we must think outside the box and strive to develop a progressive training program. I feel this is our responsibility to those that will come after us.
My greatest accomplishment as a hazmat instructor would be that a hazmat tech we trained responded to an incident, handled it safely, and it made the 3rd page of the hometown newspaper.
UPDATED AT 11:32 A.M. — YAKIMA — Ellreese Daniels, the incident commander charged for the deaths of four Central Washington firefighters at the Thirtymile fire, is set to be sentenced Wednesday. More than seven years after the deaths, the sentencing at U.S. District Court in Spokane will be one of the last formal steps associated with the Thirtymile saga.
Killed at Thirtymile were firefighters Tom Craven, Karen FitzPatrick, Jessica Johnson and Devin Weaver. Weaver, 21, Johnson, 19, and FitzPatrick, 18, were from Yakima; Craven, 30, lived in Ellensburg.
The four died July 10, 2001, while battling a blaze ignited by an unattended campfire. They were trapped by flames when an inferno swept over them on a dead-end road along the Chewuch River in the Okanogan National Forest.
Another Yakima firefighter, Jason Emhoff, was burned, and a pair of Thorp campers, Bruce and Paula Hagemeyer, were trapped with the crew.
Investigations by the U.S. Forest Service and the Yakima Herald-Republic found that a series of supervisors did not take steps they should have, including selection of a safe escape route.
Some of the victims’ relatives will always believe that Daniels should have faced a trial on the original manslaughter charges. Instead, he pleaded guilty to two counts of making false statements to investigators.
Firefighters from across the country have voiced support for Daniels.
While they mourn the tragic loss of their colleagues at Thirtymile, many do not feel that Daniels deserved to face criminal charges. He was the only one prosecuted in the case, the first time the federal government has ever sought such charges in a fireline death.
Daniels could face a maximum standard sentence of six months in federal prison. Prosecutors have indicated they will ask for four months; his defense attorney wants probation.
Daniels’ attorney, public defender Tina Hunt of Spokane, argues in her sentencing brief to Judge Fred Van Sickle that probation is more appropriate than prison under the circumstances. Unusual fire behavior and terrain were responsible for the deaths, Hunt said, contending that Daniels never meant to act negligently.
Hunt said the case has already cast a pall over the federal fire service. Firefighters now must wonder whether they will face prosecution for decisions made in the dangerous, rapidly evolving environment of a wildland fire.
Since the Thirtymile tragedy, Kathie FitzPatrick, Karen’s mother, has been one of the most vocal critics of Daniels and the Forest Service. She plans to read a five-page statement in court Wednesday. The presentation will cover her memories of her daughter and her feeling that the Forest Service continues to fall short in securing the safety of firefighters.
Other relatives are also expected to speak.
The government will call two witnesses, Daniels’ acquaintance Jim Furlong and Thirtymile firefighter Rebecca Welch. Welch was credited with saving the lives of the two campers from Thorp who were trapped along with Daniels’ crew. Altogether, 14 people survived by diving into last-chance fire shelters.
Since Thirtymile, Forest Service officials say they have continued to improve firefighting safety.
The biggest shift has come in the Forest Service’s emphasis on principle over policy. The new approach, known as "doctrine," strives to replace dozens of rules with broader principles.
Rules and standards — everything from wearing boots to cutting trees the right way — won’t be discarded. But doctrine-based decisionmaking, based in part on the principles of military leadership, should make it easier for firefighters to think more dynamically about their situations, according to Forest Service officials.
This development began in earnest in 2005 with a national conference on how to craft better safety guidelines. Previously, the agency had spent much of its firefighting history studying fire behavior. Now the focus is on how to better understand human behavior that guides firefighting decisions.
While Forest Service officials say it’s unrealistic to expect no more firefighters will ever die, as evidenced by entrapment deaths since Thirtymile, they hope to continue reducing the statistics.
sure the lessons really did get learned," said Larry Sutton, a fireground operations specialist at the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho