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WHEN IT’S GO TIME

I was asked to write this account some time ago for the benefit of young people and I have honestly found it difficult to write. The difficulty in telling the story comes from my wish to teach and to make    IN THESE BOOTS about the learning and never about me. I’ll focus on that and share some of my random thoughts on go time.

Readiness in the Fire Service means coming to work prepared for whatever is thrown at you. It means being personally prepared to make a difference, it means your team is trained, your equipment is checked and ready for any situation you may encounter, when it’s go time.

On three occasions, since becoming a Chief Officer in 1986, I don’t recall the dates, I found myself on scene alone, except for citizens who greeted me with their most urgent cry for help, their loved one was trapped in their burning building. It was go time. Fortunately, on all three occasions a successful outcome was achieved.

I was greeted upon arrival by a father with facial burns. He was crying and he told me his child was still in the apartment. I passed this message to the responding units via radio and went inside of the two level apartment with a Police Officer. We were unable to move past the second level landing, due to extreme heat.

I quickly directed the Lieutenant of the first arriving Engine Company. He had dropped one crew member at a hydrant; another operated the pump, leaving the Lieutenant and the remaining crew member to stretch and advance the fire attack line.

As the fire attack crew made entry and knowing the heat conditions, I threw a ladder to the second level window and climbed with my trusty axe to make the badly needed vent. After clearing the window, I leaned into the opening and swept with my gloved hand around the window in all directions. On my second sweep attempt I encountered an obstruction on my right. I swept that area twice and on my second sweep I grabbed the leg of a fourteen month old child from inside a baby crib. She was badly burned but through the efforts of our crews, the rescue squad, Evans-Haynes Burn unit at VCU Medical and by grace she survived.

I was greeted by a baby sitter who advised me that all of the children, except one, were out of the ranch style home that was burning in the front. I advised responding units via radio and forced the rear doors. I searched the rear kitchen and then entered a small room to the left that had been converted to a bedroom. By now the first arriving Lieutenant was in the smoke with me and I later joked with him that he was knocking over so much stuff that I moved into the small bedroom for my own safety. The bed search was fruitless, but unconscious under the bed I found the small child and removed him to safety.

It was snowing heavily around midnight. Several inches of snow had already accumulated when I was greeted by a family member who was screaming that his brother was trapped. The house was a small bungalow and several rooms in the front were burning and had vented the windows and front door. I entered in the back and crawled toward the fire. In a room next to the fire I found an adult male unconscious on the floor. I found a mattress on a rear porch and I threw it in the snow and placed the man on it. I directed the crews to fire attack and I assigned a company to EMS for the patient. Our crews, the ambulance crew and Evans-Haynes Burn Center saved another one.

Try always to be ready for go time. You may be waiting for assistance from crews who are responding from great distances. There may be two fires at the same time causing delayed responses, units may be committed on EMS calls, and a unit may be at the repair shop or delayed by a train. Lots of things can impact go time.

Training and experience is a great asset. Sharing your training and experience is better. At each of the three incidents I have briefly overviewed here, we conducted what I like to call a post incident in the alley. This is where we talk about the incident, candidly discuss what went well and what needed improvement, we read the burned area, we discuss the strategy and the tactics used and what results came from each. Many times, we expand the lesson in a coffee table critique later in the tour or during the next tour. This is an informal and open discussion with only learning in mind.

At every post incident in the alley, whether I am speaking or listening, I always see a crew member and sometimes more than one, who really enjoys the post fire tour and is absorbing every lesson that is being shared. They are mentally preparing for their go time, just as I did many years ago. I hope some have done the same IN THESE BOOTS.

I embrace the incident command system. It is the foundation that makes our job more teamwork based, it assures accountability, scene safety, task completion, vital communications and it helps me to complete my only job – sending the troops home.

 No victim or their family member every asked me my rank.

Any negativity about my actions at go time came from people who didn’t go out much.

Athletes prepare for the season before opening day.

Get ready for your go time, every time.

Take a tour, visit the alley, teach and teach again, young people are listening.

It’s GO time.

Thanks for reading and sharing.

Have a great day – it’s a GREAT day for it.

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