Thursday, January 12, 2012

Tactical Safety: Annual Attack Certification

Annual Attack Certification

By Ray McCormack

There are many topics in fire service training that hinge on annual certification: annual hose testing, pump testing and nozzle testing, but no test for putting it all together - that is a disconnect. Material testing, minus the human element. The problem is firefighters put out fires, not objects. If you wish to advocate for something worthwhile, try annual attack certification, where all the components are put together for us to evaluate how good we are at our trade.

This certification testing can be broken down into components like exterior, flanking, and aggressive-interior. Participants can then formally recognize the differences between the methods if they didn't know already and work their way through the progression. While testing of water delivery components is important, where is the importance placed on knowing how to use these tools within the system of fire attack? While it's comforting to know that individual pieces are working, what comfort do we draw from not knowing what we are collectively capable of?

You can always drill on fire attack by stretching some hose and simulating how it's done. You may even be able to add some fire to that training, but none of it is required. There is no certification, no paper to check off that you know how to fight a fire, and that your skills have been 'refreshed.' This is not about adding another layer of bureaucracy, it has to do with a missed opportunity to deliver training in a constructive standardized manner.

Who is to blame for this lack of annual certification? Us. Like many things in the fire service, somehow we missed this one. Do you need certification? Definitely. We have myriad other certification requirements, but none for actual firefighting, when lives are on the line. That is curious, indeed.

Even if we don't have it formally, what we need is to do is get to the place where we place operational hose line skills on a platform equal to or above other disciplines. These other topics did a better job of marketing their importance to the fire service while extinguishment lagged behind, and we let it happen.

It's actually disheartening to think that fire departments need to embrace fire, to build and rebuild the skills in their people to handle fire events, but without a formal 'push,' many lag behind. The entrenchment of auxiliary topics and specialty education only push the basics back. Ever hear of "Back to Basics" classes? They exist mainly because on the fire service super highway, the basics are often overtaken by current certification demands, new initiatives, and cultural training programs.

I don't see the fire service adding another annual certification any time soon, its too busy worrying about other things. It would seem, that at least for the near future, it is up to us to get our primary function: extinguishment, up to at least the recognition level. Imagine the fire service needing to recognize fire. Crazy. We embraces change in many areas, one change that would benefit us all would be to make sure our fire extinguishment skill sets - with or without annual certification - are the best they can be, now that's tactical safety.

Next Tactical Safety - Paint Us Resistive Red

Friday, December 23, 2011

Tactical Safety: Beginner's Luck

Beginners Luck

By Ray McCormack

Everyone hopes for beginner's luck when they start a new endeavor. Success can be assisted by the luck of good timing or opportunity. For the new firefighter who is not totally comfortable with their surrounding or job, luck is just another positive assist to move you along. Beginners' firefighters are not very picky and often take information from all sources without much of a filter. At a recent fire operations seminar, one of the students was a new firefighter with only several months on the job. While attending his first seminar, he realized - along with many in attendance - that there is a lot more to firefighting than what is provided at rookie school and department texts (policies). This firefighter knew one key element: that you can make your own luck.

While attending firefighting operational seminars, you can pick up a tremendous amount of self-help. Ideas and tactics that work for all firefighters , whether urban or suburban, narrow the playing field, and dismiss cultural roadblocks that many throw around as devicive. Studying our profession is a journey that starts on day one - and doesn't end until you want it to. There is always a provider; your rate of information collection and capacity is up to you. Fireground tactics and base-knowledge culled from textbooks, media and studies all work to together to blend your continuing education.

While there are many programs that explore peripheral issues and rare emergency events, firefighter operational tactics need to be fully understood. Departmental and other institutional classes may be taught by instructors who lack subject matter experience; however, that is just the way it is in many structured educational programs. When you attend a class on your own time -and on your own dime - instructor experience is part of the educational package. Their bio says a lot; their bio 'blanks' say a lot more. Stay alert for signs of instructor distress when talk of experience comes up. Information served up on a plate that lacks subject matter experience doesn't provide for a balanced diet. The starch of experience never hurts. Maybe it doesn't matter who gives you the information as long as you "get it." Make sure you really get it by knowing where the product originated.

Some programming may be hard to recieve due to a poor fireground connection. The only way you can truly educate yourself is through research and self-study. Want to increase your tactical safety? Start with beginner's luck.

Next Tactical Safety: Annual Attack Certification

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Tactical Safety: Laughing my Fire Assessment Off (LMFAO)

Laughing My Fire Assessment Off (LMFAO)

By Ray McCormack

Having the opportunity to create a fire assessment is not something that is just relegated to a promotional exam. Your opportunity to assess is there at every fire you attend. While a 360 may or may not be part of your pre-entry actions, there is still plenty to take in just from the front. The sides may be blank, and the rear might be done via radio. No assessment is a solitary event.

Depending upon your rank, your assessment needs to include more than just smoke reading, consider: life, rescue, extinguishment methods and entry decisions. While all of the arriving firefighters need to note this intel quickly - while performing other operational tasks that lead to stabilization - the amount of time spent on various aspects of the assessment differ with rank and assignment.

The assessment by a firefighter that handles 'truck work' is different than those bound to the task of extinguishment. This is just how it is: the brain is trained to look at different features due to indoctrination, repetition, and area of responsibility.

While we all believe the incident commander (IC) is taking in the 'big picture,' that may not be the case, especially if they can not see the fireground. If that is the reality, radio reports will have to fill in many blanks - Talk about old school! LMFAO.

Could you imagine bringing a fire photographer to the fire and telling them that staging a block away truly provides the best "picture" of the fire? Talk about progressive fire scene management! LMFAO.

If the amount of time taken for the assessment is too long, it can lead to incident decline and paralysis by analysis. Many fireground incidents are mismanaged, not because of a lack of effort, but a lack of know-how. Those that scoff at standardization, when the majority of the fire district contains similar structures, are inviting fireground troubles that flourish. This is based on a lack of planning, and beliefs that all fires are different. Fires are so different in our area that you can't have a plan, you have to be flexible! LMFAO.

Fires at their core are not different, they cover portions of building, spread and they endanger lives and properties. The way they are extinguished may vary, except for the fact that hose lines need to be stretched and nozzles opened into rooms to put fires out. Use your situational awareness at every fire, even the different ones, and don't get caught up in a tactical safety lapse by "LYourFAO."

Next Tactical Safety - Beginners Luck

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Tactical Safety: The Fire Will See You, Now

The Fire Will See You Now

By Ray McCormack

Even with a scheduled appointment, your visit to the doctors office typically entails a waiting period: A time out in the waiting (reception) area where your choice of activities range from staring off into space, reading a magazine or perhaps using your smart phone. You are not in charge of the waiting period, the doctor is. The waiting period between fires can be back-to-back, or it can drag on and on. Once again, you're not in charge of the wait, that is up to the fire.

How long we wait between fires is one issue; the other is what we do in the fire 'waiting room.' If you spend your time doing nothing to improve your response to the next fire, either formally or informally, operational improvements will be hard to come by.

When you respond to a fire on the fourth floor of a multiple dwelling, your wait for an operational hoseline should be longer than it would be for a fire in a one story ranch. How long does it take your crew to stretch one and get it ready for entry? After watching some recent extinguishment follies on video, maybe the fourth floor fire would be seen first.

There is one standard that all fire departments must follow: that is to get the attack hose line in service quickly and efficiently. An engine company crew that has difficulty with, and is sloppy about stretching a pre connect forty feet to the home's front door, should ban all on scene photography and get their act together.

For all the cultural change proponents out there, this is the culture that needs changing - A culture of apathy and excuses that allows substandard operations to take place when people's lives and property are at risk.

When a fire occurs in a dwelling, the risk of losing everything is heightened when the fire crew that shows up can not get the attack line in service quickly. We can attend all the schools and create all the programs that make us more business-like, but when the bell rings, extinguishment skills are the hallmark of the fire service's promise to it's community.

The need for fireground intervention, whether it's rapid or slow, increases proportionally to the time it takes to knock down the fire. Time and energy and training in extinguishment proficiency reduces the likely hood of intervention. Many videos tell us through shaky fireground imagery that operations would be best enhanced by a second function being brought into view than sidelining functional crews for potential intervention.

Your risk assessment will have to be dynamic if you do not focus on extinguishment as Job One. If you command even a portion of fireground operations, you'll be turning blue as you hold your breath and await extinguishment by some of the crews that call themselves firefighters. You don't have to throw in the cards yet, as long as you understand extinguishment skills are what fire departments are about. Don't believe it? Then change your title from firefighter to responder. If you lose your foundation or do not understand our core mission, then you may be acting in the next video we all laugh and cry at.

Keep your crew tactically safe by having a strong core understanding of what a fire department does and be great at it. Be ready for you next visit to the fire as you can never truly predict when "the fire will see you now."

Next Tactical Safety - LMFAO - Laughing My Fire Assessment Off

Monday, November 14, 2011

Tactical Safety: Never Mind My Air-Supply, How Much Gas is Left?

Never Mind My Air Supply, How Much Gas is Left?

By Ray McCormack

How much gas is left would depend on the amount you start with, and how quickly you use it up. Every firefighter's personal gas tank varies due to demand, capacity and efficiency. We can always spy a view of remaining air via the remote gauge, but your gas tank is not always so easily readable or reliable.

Roaming around the fireground uses up your air supply at different rates, depending upon the intensity of the performed tasks. It might seem correct to equate the two usages: air and gas; however not all fireground tasks require an air supply, but all require gas. Your personal gas usage is very important to you and your crew, and your capacity does not have to remain static, it can be increased before hand to limit rapid consumption.

Everyone's gas capacity diminishes over time. How long of a time period it takes is measured in minutes and years. Some firefighters run out of gas quickly while others take the long slow ride to diminished capacity. How do we maintain output while keeping a healthy reserve? We can always work smarter instead of harder, that helps a bit. We can make use of tools and techniques that lessen fatigue, and we can train our bodies for the work we do.

Your air supply is reduced as your demand increases; your level of air consumption even when increased does not increase your physical work capability, that is already predetermined by your fitness and recovery rate. I am not one to hammer anyone about fitness; however those are the facts. If you have a small gas tank or you rapidly deplete whatever your capacity is, you need additional capacity so that you can work beyond any artificial ceiling you've created for yourself.

While we should be concerned about our air supply when we turn that valve, a bigger concern is our capacity to work and finish the tasks at hand. If you are out of gas soon after climbing several flights of stairs, you need to do something about that. If you think that time-outs are something you can call for because you are winded, it's not going to happen, and if it does there should be consequences. Maybe the best consequence is that you get a wake up call and commit to a more efficient and capable you.

No one is telling you to do anything except to make sure you have the capacity to work when the time comes. Your air supply is there to help you gauge your level of need, listen to your rhythm of use and monitor how quickly the bell tolls for you. Realize that your tactical safety is based on every breath you take, ensure that you keep them coming with an enlightened commitment to physical capability.

Next Tactical Safety - The Fire Will See You Now

Sent from my iPad

Monday, October 31, 2011

Tactical Safety: Getting an Opinion

Get an Opinion

By Ray McCormack
Getting an opinion from a firefighter is not usually something you have to request, they are generally handed out like candy on Halloween by the full. What do firefighters have to say on grant money, cutbacks, and the future of fire attack, just to name a few? Many will say something on cutbacks; some might say something about grant money, but many are silent on the future of fire attack. Why is our range of pertinent subjects so vague when we have abundant media available to us, as well as an instant knowledge extension? This may hurt a few of you out there, but you don't have a solid opinion because you don't care enough to bother. Cutbacks hurt us in many ways: from service arrival delays to accomplishment barriers and a loss of livelihood for some. Our profession is more than just a job, and to lose that center in your life is very difficult and painful. We can share that opinion and for most of us any depth beyond the surface will suffice; however when we want to do more than hope and dream, an education in government and economic factors are the lessons we need to brush up on. So why don't we do more? We have the time, we have collective thought opportunities; we have media access, but we are lacking one basic – and that is we don't care enough! Looking for leadership is just another example of waiting on the sidelines and being told what to do. Forget leadership and act. Doing something on our own and owning it is leadership. You don't have to ‘knight’ someone special, knight yourself and then do the work. Grant money is a wonderful thing, and the fire service should get its piece of the pie so that we can test theories, tools and products. Do you know who gets the biggest dollar grants and how much they receive? And have you ever seen the results of all this Federal largess? Most of us have not and why is that, what excuse sounds the most plausible? Go and look up the Fire Prevention and Safety Grant program (it's under FEMA) and see for yourself. It's not that any monies have been misappropriated, it is about educating yourself; information that the well rounded opinionated firefighter should possess. You might be surprised at how the money is dispersed. Thirty six million so far this year, ($36,000,000) just to associations and colleges – not fire departments! The future of fire attack is another interesting topic that many in the fire service have no real clue about. Things will change on the fireground, and if we look around, many places do it differently from the way you do it already. You must look beyond tools and technology and examine trends that are being pushed forward and by whom. You must also understand the impact of independent testing events and how event outcomes morph into new operational guidelines often without proper vetting. A new future on the fireground is up to you to develop or you can just pick a prepackaged option from the shelf it is up to you. Dig deep. It is certainly worth your time and effort to see how the playing field is set up, who plays, and what the score is on many fronts. If you do or do not like what you see, then that is a reward for personal research. An opinion that is based on knowledge allows you to decide what is good or bad for yourself and anytime we are thinking things through our tactical safety will benefit. Next Tactical Safety - Never Mind My Air Supply, How Much Gas is Left?

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Tactical Safety: Demolition Derby

By Ray McCormack

I went back and forth on this piece trying to decide what the title should relate to – at least this time around. There are good things that occur in the fire service that move us along in a positive direction, and there are other events and movements that can set us back a bit. I know because even I have been accused of the latter. In a Demolition Derby, the last car banged up, but still limping along wins. So the fire department that takes the hits and keeps going wins in the end? Perhaps; however, not without adapting and modifying. The hits can accumulate as small dents or as a devastating blow; it depends, and no department remains unscathed, eventually the dents occur.

Using modern technology to send an electronic dent is very popular these days. There is no shortage of fire folks who wait like snakes in the grass to spit their venom and put their fangs into their latest victim. It's okay to dislike something that has occurred, we are still entailed to a free will and mind, but doing it as sport is another thing. There are web sites where individuals base their whole existence on going against the grain, and it's not about opinion, it's about being noticed and spreading angst. Their enlightenment of the rest of us grows tedious; without a true identity, you are masked and can be seen, too and not just heard.

So what do we do? Take it! Take it all in, and hold it up for appraisal and then move forward.

What type of fire department would you be if your work load changed to a steady diet of multiple fires in vacant buildings? You would be forced to adapt your current model for sure. What you ended up with would be quite different than the utopia you dream of, and if you don't think so take a better look. The dings that are so freely exchanged and expressed towards fire department models we don't fully understand should give us pause. The fire service derby will never end, but maybe we should all do a few laps under the caution flag.

I appreciate something substantial that can be tried, not just phrases linked together that sound like something. This ‘something’ being a mystery to most readers, until the developer finally figures out a way to attach the catch phrase to a previously understood model, thereby making it palatable for general consumption – but not always.

Derby participants adapt to maintain tactical safety to their needs and circumstances; venomous observers and new age pontificators are off track.

Next Tactical Safety - Get an Opinion