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Is your Fire Department an “All Hazard” Fire Department?

Recently, I was researching some topics for an upcoming training session when I ran across a fire department that states themselves as an “All Hazards” fire department. I thought about that for a second and thought to myself shouldn’t every fire department be an all hazard fire department? As firefighters we train for the unknown situations.  We prepare our tools, trucks and gear for the unknown. A fire department should not limit themselves on one or two response hazards. An organization should be there and prepared for every hazard.

An “All Hazards” fire department represents every level of a hazard response whether it is trench rescue, hazardous materials, confined space, building collapse, rope rescue, fire extinguishment, EMS, dive rescue, swift water and vehicle extraction. Typically a large city fire department would consider themselves as an all hazard fire department. They have the personnel to train, they have the money to spend on equipment and they have the call volume to support it, but shouldn’t every fire department have an understanding in all hazards?

Firefighters are said to be the jack of all trades. We are trained to think on our feet, we are trained to keep your head on a swivel and we are trained to think outside of the box. Just because your department does not have the money, personnel, or call volume to support all hazards, does not mean that you can not train or raise awareness on all hazards. Now, I’m not saying that your department has to go out a buy a half million dollar trench/collapse trailer or everyone in the department has to become certified in hazardous materials technician. What I am saying is that the public counts on every firefighter or fire department to have knowledge in every hazard. As an organization we are called upon for every situation possible. We need to better our knowledge across the field. Becoming more aware in other responses rather then structural firefighting or EMS should be more then just a thought. The general public does not know if your department is trained on building collapse or not. What they do know is to call 911 for help. What they expect is a fire truck to show up, personnel to hop off and are prepared and ready to help in whatever need.

A part of this problem is becoming complacent. Complacency stops the fire department from thinking. Just because your department has never had “that call” does not mean it can not happen in your area. This disease takes over your brain and puts blinders on your eyes; it traps your mind from thinking outside of the box. Another issue is the fire service has changed on what we do. We are no longer required to be trained on just fire suppression. Prevention, education, EMS, technical rescue and even terrorism are parts of a fire departments response.  I once heard a firefighter’s brain is like a tool box, each drawer is a different response. As the firefighter opens a drawer the tools and knowledge are there to respond appropriately. We should not fill our tool boxes with just one or two responses. 

Every fire department and firefighter should become aware in all hazards. A department should not limit themselves to a few responses, or have a thought of “that will never happen here.” The public trusts that we as an organization will be ready and prepared every time they call.  We are the public’s only hope for success. We are called to do something that no one else can or will do, so don’t just stand there, do something. Train on different responses that can or will happen in your area. Bring up new topics for others to think about. Sit around the kitchen table after dinner and discuss high impact areas that can become a problem. Every fire department should become familiar in all hazards. The public is counting on us to be there. Stay safe.

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