As the title says, if your life is in the balance, you want to be sure that you are as prepared as possible right?
Then why is it that on fires in cities and towns big and small, you can find videos or pictures of firefighters getting off the rig without tools? Or worse... carrying a tool then not using it?
I work with some great firemen who you know will grab the same tool everytime they get off the rig because they are masters at using the tool efficiently and expertly. I also work with some people who almost never grab a tool because they "forgot it." My favorite kind of people are those who get off the apparatus with a tool, then when they get to the front door of the house and find that it is locked, set the tool down on the porch and decide to donkey kick (think watching COPS) the door open.
........... I hope that you are as stunned by this as I am.
Let's evaluate a few reasons why people don't use the tools available to them and how to correct these problems.
1- Lack of proper training and/or guidance.
Solution: Maybe you or your officer could pull the member aside once you get back to the firehouse and explain the importance of having a tool or two and how it can affect the entire course of the fire if you can't force the front door but more importantly how a tool can save their life or the life of a brother.
2- (I think this is the most common) Lack of the proper mindset/adrenaline rush/inexperience
Solution: It's a well known fact that as a whole, the fire service is running more EMS calls and less fires than ever. However, less fires does not mean NO fires. This is where the importance of training comes to light. By "practicing like you play" (sound familiar?) you learn the muscle memory that it takes for you to automatically grab a tool as you are getting off the apparatus. If you're a guy who rides in the back, as you're on your way to the fire, take a deep breath and close your eyes for a second. Get in the right mindset. You should be able to get an idea of what kind of structure you will be responding to and what kinds of challenges you will be facing. Remind the other guy in back to grab a tool or maybe ask if he wants to split irons with you. If you're riding the seat, make sure the men in back are coordinating who is grabbing what tool. It does no one any good if someone grabs a flathead axe and someone else grabs a flathead axe then you need to force a door on side Charlie of a commercial occupancy.
3- The firefighter who thinks they are a one man wrecking crew
Solution: This is the hardest mindset to change. Every department has at least a few of these types of people who see themselves as invincible and that they can kick through any door or wall that they need to. While this may be true if you are 6'4" 275, why not bring a tool with you? You can't give me a good reason. By acting like a fool you are only increasing the chances of hurting yourself, which doesn't only affect you, but everyone else on the scene and the outcome of the fire. If you get injured, a few people are going to have to stop their fire suppression activites to at least assist you outside or to the ambulance. I don't know of too many places that have a bunch of people to spare on a fire, manpower is tight everywhere, but taking just 2 or 3 people away from attacking that fire or venting the roof or even throwing ladders for FF safety can have a HUGE impact on the overall outcome of the fire.
For another example, let's say that while kicking in a door you tweak your back, but you're big and tough and you'll fight through it and if it still bothers you when you get back in quarters, you will tell your officer so you can get checked out. Toughing it out is just as bad if not worse than sitting in the ambulance because now no one else knows that you are injured, and they expect you to perform at your best. Your brothers and sisters will be depending on YOU to do your job and do it well because their LIVES depend on it.
Though I don't like to admit it, I have made that mistake before. It was a hot day in early summer and I had been helping with some burns at the local college's fire academy all day. I was in the burn rooms for a majority of the day. We had just finished and I went home and got a shower, downed a bottle of water and some bad weather came in. Here, when we get a tornado warning, we respond to the station to take the appratus out to help spot any funnel clouds and so that if the station takes a direct hit, we aren't out of commission. Anyways, I was driving our Rescue Squad from one wires down call to another with a few accidents in between through a pretty hellacious storm and we finally got permission a few hours later to return to quarters. As soon as we backed the rig into the station we got tapped out for a house fire. Our Life Squad (medic unit) was conveniently about a mile down the road from the house and got on scene fairly quickly. They gave their size up and said that there was smoke showing from both floors on two sides. We arrived shortly thereafter and ended up beating the engine as they had to detour due to wires down. So I put the truck as far off the road as I felt comfortable to keep it open for the rest of the apparatus and for the tanker shuttle I knew would have to be in place since we were in a non hydranted area. We met up with the crew of the Life Squad at the garage door (neighbors who had the combination opened it for us and confirmed that the family was out of town) who said that they had some decent heat and smoke conditions in the house but they could not find the fire.
We had a crew of three on the Rescue Squad that day so my officer sent my backseat man with a can to search for the fire with the Life Squad crew and myself and the officer started a search. As we were coming from the living room through a hallway towards the foyer I noticed some fire coming out of a wall socket and went to investigate. Due to the smoke conditions we were walking at a crouch instead of crawling. My partner was finishing his search of the last room as I took a few steps to investigate the fire in the wall when I suddenly dropped. I fell into the floor up to my armpits and somehow dislodged my mask, I pulled myself out and rearranged my mask before I really even knew what had happened. I then popped a door off its hinges and placed it over the h*** in the floor and met back up with my partner and advised him of the h***. At this point I thought I was going to be fine. We ended up continuing the search and started opening up walls once the search was completed.
Turns out this house had been struck by lightning and pretty much anywhere there was electrical wiring, there was fire. The reason I fell through the floor was because the lighting had struck the meter apparently and where the service entered on side charlie, it traveled along a truss to the Alpha side of the basement to where a panel was and it had burnt out the truss .
So we continued opening up walls to check for extension and helped the engine companies move their lines around to chase all the fire. It was then that I started feeling a little funny. I was light headed and couldn't really catch my breath. I didn't want to be "that guy" to have to go outside and get checked out so I just kept my problems to myself and kept going. Well after about another 10 minutes I could barely stand or see straight and figured that I better go outside for a breather and some water before I had to get carried out. So I got my officer and we headed out front. Pretty much as soon as I took my mask off and the Chief got one look at me, he called over the medics we had standing by out front. Apparently, I looked even worse than I felt. They got me into the back of the ambulance and started a couple of large bore IV's, got me on some oxygen, and got vitals. Then they got a 12 lead. When it printed out of the lifepak, everyone was very quiet and started passing it around. It was showing an acute MI. All the guys I work with know that my Dad has had some pretty serious heart issues in the past few years requiring some serious surgery and very long recovery time and I was rushed to the hospital. Turns out the findings on the EKG were a textbook example of smoke inhalation and dehydration so luckily I didn't have a heart attack, but I ended up spending the night in the hospital getting poked and prodded for arterial blood gases ( these things hurt like HELL! I'm pretty sure my fingerprints are still in the metal hand rail of the bed in Room 11 at St. Lukes), chest xrays, CT scans and all other kinds of fun stuff.
So if you still remember what I was talking about before this long drawn out story, bringing the right tools for the job are more important than you know and it is IMPERATIVE that if you are feeling at all under the weather, you let someone know immediately and you get checked out. Thinking that you are a big tough bulletproof fireman will only get you or a coworked injured or killed. Fireground operations are a team effort and missing one person is just as devastating as a football team going onto the field without a quarterback.
Sorry for the long winded post....