From the first day in the firehouse we learn about the importance of properly checking all of our gear and equipment to make sure it's ready for action. We are told to make sure our SCBA is functioning properly, that our cylinders are full, that all of our PPE is in good shape and laid out properly, and that all of our tools are cleaned and prepped. The preparation we do is endless and of critical importance.
Why do we do all of this? The obvious answer is for our own sake. No one wants to step off the rig only to find out our cylinder is half full or that our gloves are still in our gear locker. It's not only embarrassing, but it means we aren't ready to go. The reality is that the effort, or lack of effort we put into ensuring readiness doesn't just affect our selves, it affects every person around us.
Think about it. Going back to the cylinder being half full, what effect does this now have on every one else? The rest of our crew is now waiting for us to fix the situation. Whatever task we were assigned to will now be delayed. If we were assigned to stretching the first line we have now delayed the process of getting water on the fire. Knowing what we do about the importance of synchronized fire attack and ventilation, the vent crew is now going to have to wait on us before they can perform their tasks. The search crew is now going to be either held up, or forced to operate longer in a hostile environment without the benefit of a hoseline in place. All of this could have been prevented by doing a proper check of your SCBA at the start of the shift.
During the Combat Ready Firefighter presentation, Nick Martin talks about a situation he was in involving his flash hood. He was headed to the roof to vertically vent. Halfway up the aerial he realized he hadn't pulled up his flashhood. He could have easily waved it off and continued with his assignment. Instead he stopped to properly place his hood. Upon finishing his cut fire immediately vented from the h***. Nick was blasted with heat which would have instantly burned him if he hadn't pulled up his hood. It is easy to imagine what could have happened had he not stopped to correct the issue. Not only would he have been burned, but he could have been disoriented and either fallen through the cut, or off the roof. These two options would have forced other members on the fireground to drop their assignments to come to his aid. This is a prime example of how paying attention, or not paying attention to the little things has an immediate impact on the entire operation.
Drivers, think about the importance of properly checking your rigs. Why do you do things like check nozzles and the water level in your booster tank? Is it because if you don't you might get in trouble? Is it just so you can fill out the apparatus check off without feeling bad? Think about the importance of having a full booster tank. If your tank is not completely topped off, who is going to pay for it? If the vent saw isn't completely topped off with fuel, what are the consequences? If your guys are up on the roof in the middle of a cut and the saw runs out of fuel how does that affect the rest of the operation? Not only does the vent crew need to come up with an alternative, but the interior crews are now forced to operate in high heat and smoke conditions longer. Again, this could be prevented by spending a little more time making sure the saw is full of gas. Obviously these duties may not be solely the drivers responsibility, and I would argue they shouldn't be. That being said, as the driver, everything on that rig is your responsibility.
As the guys riding in the back seats we have a ton of responsibility. Every piece of gear and equipment we rely on needs to be ready for action. Look at your TIC as it sits in the charger. Is it properly placed in the cradle? Are the charging lights on? Have you recently rotated the batteries? Do all of the flashlights on the rig work properly? How about your hose loads. Are the lines packed neatly? Are the nozzles positioned so that the line will clear the bed? What does your hydrant bag look like? Are the appliances covered in grime? Is anything missing from the bag? Imagine getting dropped off at the plug, grabbing the hydrant bag and the LDH. The engine tears down the street as you go to make your hook up. All of a sudden you realize the hydrant wrench is missing. Now your closest hydrant wrench is 500 feet down the road. How worn out are you going to be after running to the rig, back to the hydrant, and then back to the scene? Now the rest of your crew is going to have to pick up the slack. A few extra minutes to properly check the hydrant bag at the start of the shift would have prevented this.
Do you see how all of these little things impact the entire operation? I used to be guilty of being alright with my cylinder being anywhere above 4000psi. My rational was that the old, out of shape officer in the seat would run out of air long before I did. In my mind that fact meant I could be alright with not having a fully topped off cylinder. See the problem with my thought process? What happens when either myself or my officer goes down? Now the air on my back is the limiting factor. Do you think that extra 500psi makes a difference when you are trapped and running out of air? Having a fully topped off cylinder is not about saving your own butt. Making sure you have 4500psi (or whatever is full on your cylinder) is about caring for every one else, not just you.
When you are performing your gear and equipment checks, realize that it's not about you. Realize that any oversight may potentially be payed for not just by you, but by the rest of your crew, anyone else on the fireground, and most importantly the people we serve. The next time you feel like skipping over a small detail stop to think about what effects that might have down the line. It might not happen today, it might not happen tomorrow, but at some point it's going to bite you. Don't do it because you were told to, don't do it because it's own the check list. Do it because it's the right thing to do, and at the end of the day it shows that you care about everyone else. That right there is the moral of the story. Being thorough in our preparation demonstrates compassion for others. It's not about you. As always, stay smart, and stay combat ready!