Readers Weigh-In: Why aren’t We Changing Our Ways?

By:  Robert Avsec

If you are a fire service leader who’s REALLY interested in attaining zero firefighter deaths and injuries, you must take 32+ minutes to watch this video that was produced by Dr. Burt Clark.  (Dr. Clark has served the American Fire Service for 40+ years and is one of the “founding fathers” of the Executive Fire Officer Program at the National Fire Academy, along with the now-retired Charles “Chuck” Burkell).

[youtube=http://youtu.be/mjTwYTFgRQ0]
Why is this firefighter breathing smoke?

Why is this firefighter breathing smoke?

In one of my more recent blogs, I wrote on the subject of why we keeping killing and injuring firefighters despite HUGE advances in technology and equipment that should be preventing both outcomes.

The following are reader comments that I’ve compiled from comments left on this site and on various LinkedIn Groups in which I participate, e.g., National Fire Academy Alumni, Fire Service Chiefs, The Firefighter Network, and more.

I enjoy reading your blog, especially the recent pieces on firefighter deaths caused by improper PPE usage.  We consistently witness the “monkey see, monkey do” effect where a less experienced member will inhale all manner of “nasty things” to stand by a senior member that should certainly know better. The challenge is ongoing.  Policy and procedures, combined with illustrating the ROI [Return on Investment] on a bottle of air are definitely helping. I look forward to your next article.

Stan Metcalfe, B.A M.Sc

Deputy Fire Chief at Beaverlodge Fire Department

Janet Wilmoth, former Editor at the now-defunct Fire Chief Magazine and STRONG Fire Service Advocate!

Janet Wilmoth, former Editor at the now-defunct Fire Chief Magazine and STRONG Fire Service Advocate!

They tell us smoking is bad for our health and it applies equally to fire fighters exposed to toxic fumes. We have no idea of the toxicity of the smoke or fumes left over from fires and even when they are out.

One of the biggest problems we had with noise, as an ex-regulator, was not communications, but the amount of court cases from retired employees going deaf. Is it the same that fire fighters are exposed to carcinogenic chemicals when they enter seemingly safe locations after a fire is out.  How long should BA [breathing apparatus] be worn? When is the environment safe to enter?  Not easy questions to answer.

I have been looking at how our devices [fire streams] will bring down toxicity levels in smoke during a fire and know that many chemicals are not soluble in water so the spray from a fire hose or even our device will not scrub out all the danger.  We cannot even do that with industrial scrubbers and no two fire events are the same.

It may be time to start looking at wide ranging gas analysis devices are applied to ensure health defects are picked up. There was a time when on site we would wash oil off our hands with Benzine and now we don’t as it’s a carcinogenic.  Bit too late to find out.

Dave Atkinson
Technical Director CEO at BLUERAD

Dr. Burt Clark

Dr. Burt Clark

Bob, every day I am more and more convinced that the challenge is in our genetic code as explained in the video: American Fire Culture: Needs Gene Therapy.  [Video that is included in this post]

Dr. Burton A. Clark, EFO, CFO

Keynote Motivational Speaker

After reading the comments I think about the many firefighters killed because of roof collapse, not wearing their SCBA equipment properly, or in many cases not at all.

I think about early in my career studying offensive and defensive fire attacks and recognizing the difference regarding both.  We all have read about firefighters killed while making entry into abandoned structures, structures where life saving is not of question and old structures already partially collapsed.  None with exposure concerns.

I believe in these cases we faced these questions: was there a proper size-up conducted; was the commander briefed on the actual results of the size-up before a decision was made to conduct entry operations; was the safety officer involved in the decision making process; and were all firefighters trained and certified?

This brings to question, are fireground officers and today’s firefighters receiving adequate training?  The question remains, are proper size-ups being conducted to allow for a decision regarding whether it is an offensive or defensive fire attack [situation]?  It all comes down to decision making capability and fire ground safety. We simply need to focus on the basic fundamentals of fire fighting.

We have been placed in a position as firefighters to be experts in every hazardous category Extrication Training Firefightersknow to man. This thought process simply isn’t possible. No one can be an expert in everything. Think about it:  firefighting, Hazardous Material Operations, Vehicular Rescue, Technical Rescue, Rope Rescue, Swift Water Rescue and the list goes on and on.  Firefighters may be trained to fight fire, but are they truly focused on firefighting with all of these other training expectations?

Many firefighters in their youth feel that their indestructible. Others are very lucky and carry this same culture throughout their careers until they die of lung disorders, skin cancer, etc.  In many cases this mindset continues over into the next group of rookie firefighters and allows for the same culture or mindset.

Over the years I’ve overheard firefighters at various fire conferences, make the statement, “that if you don’t burn the toes out of your fire boots and melt your face shield, you’re not fighting fire.” Is it any wonder why we lose firefighters?

Jerry L. McGhee, Chief

Marmet Fire Department

Two by two: Too many….My thoughts and prayers are with the families, friends and fire team members that have ever experienced a LODD or LODI.

Moons ago (served 1967-1999), we were losing our FFs one by one, so we changed to fighting fire in teams of two on each nozzle thinking there was safety in numbers.

Great Chicago Fire

The city of Chicago is destroyed during the conflagration that becomes known as the Great Chicago Fire.

The lives to be saved are before any fire begins. Good codes [that are] enforced, early detections, training of our citizens [in fire] prevention and to get out at the sound of their alarm.  Owners should expect a loss stop defensively.

Nope, I am not chicken to fight fire; was burned and injured more than once for being too deep, and as a Chief/Incident Commander, got FF’s burned or injured more than once for sending them too deep. As an “old goat”, I can look back and see my mistakes.  Two by two is too many!

Beth Nevel

Retired “old goat”

So what are your thoughts?

About Robert Avsec, Executive Fire Officer

Battalion Chief (Ret.) Robert Avsec served with the men and women of the Chesterfield County (VA) Fire and EMS Department for 26 years. He’s now using his acquired knowledge, skills, and experiences as a freelance writer for FireRescue1.com and as the “blogger in chief” for this blog. Chief Avsec and his wife of 30+ years now make their home in Cross Lanes, WV. Contact him via e-mail, rpa1157@gmail.com.