Sunday, May 23, 2010

Ladder Dogs

Ladder Dogs

By Emmett "Pat" Nichols, Boston Fire Department Tower Ladder 10 (photos by author)

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Ladder Dogs, also known as dog chains, are used in Boston and surrounding communities as an additional margin of safety when placing ladders at precarious angles and/or sloping terrain. There are two chains which are placed at the tip of the ladder and crossed when the ladder is placed in a rescue position (See photo 1). One chain is used when the ladder is placed at the left side of the window when the ladder is placed for firefighting; utilizing the window frame to secure the ladder from moving to the left (See photo 2). One dog chain would also be utilized when the ladder is placed adjacent to a metal fire escape to secure it from sliding across the building. In that case, there is a hook on the chain to allow it to be looped around the fire escape and clipped back on itself.

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The dog chain consists of: a chain approximately 18 to 24 inches; a metal 2 or 3 inch loop at one end (See photo 3);  and a sturdy hook/spike at the other which would be driven into the wood window sill or roof line.  To apply the dog chains, you bring the ring end of the chain through the top rung between the beams, bringing it under the beam;  then,  feed the spike end through so it will cinch down when the spike is brought across and driven into the wood sill or roof line.

This procedure should be utilized when there is a risk of ladder movement or hose line operation over the ground ladder. It should not sacrifice proper technique or placement, but when added safety is required, then the dog chains will offer the desired safety.

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Saturday, May 22, 2010

Tactical Safety: Equal Opportunity for Life

“The fire service’s weekly safety column”

By: Ray McCormack

Tactical Safety examines the process of firefighting to see if there is a better and safer way to operate.

Equal Opportunity for Life

Do we question life on the fireground? Yes; we question if it is present; we question where it may be present; and we question if we can get to it in time. Do we question if life still exists upon arrival? Yes, we do that too. If we believe that there is no savable life contained within, then a search should be considered dead too, should it not? All buildings need to be searched at some point so that we can collectively close the case with the assurance that we did our best. Active searches must always err on the side of life.

For as long as you play this game, no firefighter has seen everything. Firefighters are not always correct, just like they are not always wrong. Firefighters must always be the most dedicated advocates for the trapped and incapacitated. When the bedroom fire is knocked down, do we not bother to look around and see if someone is laying on the floor or the bed? We search because we are in the pursuance of life; we search everywhere and every time because life, even damaged life, is precious. We do not just throw up our collective hands in defeat. We must make sure that we are never predefined for defeat by inaction or dismissal.

We do not always save people in dramatic fashion; some are just discovered while we conduct our operations. However, all firefighters must provide equal opportunity for life by being determined to assist that victim. The first step in assisting them is to recognize that they may actually exist. We must base our tactical actions on sound principles to best ensure our personal effectiveness and safety while creating opportunity for the saving of lives.

There is a fallacy in wanting to help others when we act negatively and lack diligence towards creating alternatives that could bring about positive results. For every horror story there is one of hope that defines and balances us toward why we truly do this job. When you are refused entry or would be denied exit, your actions will be placed on hold, and you must know it when you see it. Denying recognition is a training flaw; the denial of victims from giving your all once you are: able, have access, and an escape, is a character flaw.

The truest appraisals are best acquired from those that do not have a stake in the value of the purchase. Firefighters, however, must always be their own appraiser for every action or decision you make on the fireground. You must be skilled in appraising safe entry and exit by yourself first, even while being encumbered with your charge. The idea behind working together and in groups, ranks and experiences allows for additional appraisals of the same plan.

People can survive and have survived- to our collective surprise- through events we might think were impossible. We should not be so quick to judge because it puts us in the wrong frame of mind. We must be positive.  We must answer the victim’s unheard cry for help. We must find them, remove them, and pass them forward to those that make life calls. We must allow ourselves to excel at returning life to those that would not have any chance without our efforts. We make judgments all the time at fires, that’s part of firefighting!

Another part of firefighting is to remember why we signed up in the first place: to help people. Within the boundaries of safe and reasonable firefighting, we will come upon the trapped and incapacitated whose last hope is to be discovered by us and saved. By internalizing equal opportunity for life, we are fulfilling our personal mission collectively to save lives especially ones that are hidden from view.

Next Tactical Safety – Was Old School Unsafe or Just Poorly Dressed?

Friday, May 14, 2010

Tactical Safety: Glimmers of Training

“The fire service’s weekly safety column”

By: Ray McCormack

Tactical Safety examines the process of firefighting to see if there is a better and safer way to operate.

Glimmers of Training

Everyone says: “we need to train;” “we need to train every day;” “we do not train enough;” “training is the key to better performance;” “training is the key to survival;” and “training keeps us safe.” What is reality when it comes to fire training? Is it frequency, relevancy, or outcome? Much like the best of intensions in life, training sometimes gets relegated to the back of the to-do list. We must not get so hung up on just the idea of training, the formal set up of training, and the check-mark mentality of completion that we miss the value in glimmers of training.

Training at the company level is the most frequent type of training firefighters participate in; and hopefully the most relevant; training that is local and specific to the needs of the company and the demands of the response area. My three rules for company training are that it be: relevant, realistic and repetitive. There are many time hooks pulling us in various directions in the fire service, and we want to be good at our ever expanding job; however, there is one discipline we must shine in, fire duty.

To assist us in making our training more enjoyable, memorable and marketable to our people, we must first be relevant. Training that seems far-flung and is hard to stamp with relevance will automatically have a learning gate placed in front of it that firefighters must jump over or pass through in order to comprehend it; and that of course hinders understanding and program buy in.

Realistic training does not have to be the real thing, but we have to attempt to come close. We must not be so quick to jump into realism without first knowing if our people are up to the task. When we practice stretching and flaking-out a hoseline in smoke, how do we do? It will be difficult to assess due to lack of supervisory vision until the smoke has lifted. You should not expect good result unless you have gone over what the ideal actually looks like, and how the participants would arrive at that level without some smoke free drills first.

Repetitive drills should not be carbon-copies of a same drill. They should cover the same elements but should be varied as to either add a new element, a new location, or an increased level of difficulty. We should work on a core of drills that revolve around what we do the majority of times. Once we get these foundational skills up to par, then branching can occur. Many times it is the fundamental skill that corrupts our operations causing fireground problems and injury.

If you are positioned to provide training, you must find a way to increase interest in your subject matter and your delivery. It is not necessary to organize extensive drills that last a long time. This is probably the biggest killer of good information ‘pass-along.’ We must learn the correct way to approach training. Sometimes the best training occurs through glimmers. Training using short, yet relevant examples to sustain and support the main focus of the learned or polished skill is often the best received and remembered effort.

Next Tactical Safety – Equal Opportunity for Life

Friday, May 7, 2010

Tactical Safety-Raising the Bar above the Ground Floor

“The fire service’s weekly safety column”

By: Ray McCormack

Tactical Safety examines the process of firefighting to see if there is a better and safer way to operate.

Raising the Bar above the Ground Floor

Raising the bar to improve and go beyond expectations in search of excellence is admired in athletics, science and firefighting. How high is the fire service bar when it comes to hoseline operations? For many, the bar is sedentary and easily forgotten. When engine companies stretch dry to the second floor of a private dwelling, because advancing a charged line would be too difficult, do we nod in agreement? Or do we ask that the bar be raised to fight against such apathy?

The role of the engine company on the fireground is to raise the safety level for all those involved. When an engine company does not command a charged hoseline, or does not cover areas of extension or egress, it is not fulfilling its secondary role. The primary role of the engine company is to protect life with direct intervention. If no visible life is endangered by a flame front, then the engine transitions to its secondary role of: life protection through “egress-ownership.” Once the travel and rescue route is claimed, suppression can begin. The tertiary role of the engine company is undoubtedly fire extinguishment.

The majority of times, the best laid lines cover the last two roles. We must not only know the mechanics of stretching, we must also understand the ‘why’ behind it. Why place a line in a particular spot? Which one of the three bases are we trying to cover? You must know what will work in your area and devise plans accordingly. You must understand that setting the bar high is not an encumbrance to success, rather, it is a benchmark of professionalism.

Anyone can open the bale of a nozzle; that is not difficult; what is difficult is getting the nozzle close to the point of application by using the correct pathway. The hardest fights often present themselves before we see any fire. It is the hot and dark journey that is the true test, not necessarily a room of fire.

When an engine stretches a dry line inside a home, it is taking a risk that the fire will not only behave for them, but also will allow them time to prepare. This as we know, is not a good bet. The role of the engine is to have water at all times while inside a house, so that if an error or an omission comes to light, it can be dealt with swiftly. Some get confused as to when to charge the hoseline. The building makes your decision for you. Those that have fire rated public areas and homes which do not afford the same level of security are dealt with differently.

To think that an engine company would consider the task of stretching a charged line to the second floor of a private home difficult is not something to be shared. If we allow a level of “stretching mediocrity” to reach the second floor, then perhaps it is time to raise the bar so that everyone is better protected; and tactical safety is maintained above the ground floor.

Next Tactical Safety – Glimmers of Training

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

One Picture-Bumps to the Pumps

There are many ways to describe the proper method of following the hoseline out of the fire area. Which one were you taught? Whatever method is taught in your department, it must be 100% clear to an individual whose life depends on it.