Monday, June 28, 2010

Tactical Safety: Bleeding Control

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.

Bleeding Control

Surprise! Bleeding control is not about emergency medical care. It is however, the midpoint of an series of checks that should be performed by the hoseline attack team so that they lessen their need for future medical care, or worse. Bleeding control is about removing the entrained air contained within your hoseline. It is also about where and when to perform this vital operational component of fire attack.

Remember, it is the little things that lead us down the tunnel of trouble. There are no little things when getting the hoseline into proper service. The cornerstone of all successful fire attack operations is the role of the engine company: The type of attack, appliance or hoseline chosen must be correct, as well as having proper integration at the fire’s seat. The knowledgeable use of hoselines (management) is extremely critical because hoselines bring us inside the fire building.

This interior attack capability not only allows for the seat of the fire to be hit most directly, it also provides: egress protection, search orientation and a rescue path. If your fire attack normally starts with outside streams into the fire building through windows, then bleeding control is not a factor; nor is inadequate flow, because you were in an outside safe zone when you started. When that line eventually goes interior, you must compensate for your new environment by having adequate flow which creates your best effort interior safe zone. This is one example of the importance of fully understanding fire attack. Having a properly charged hoseline for interior work is about flow rate. Nozzle technique now becomes the crux of operational tactical safety when we advance through the interior. You will have to do a lot more than just aim at windows now.

An initial LODD report of a charged handline in operation was further clarified later to report that an uncharged handline was deployed inside the fire building. To understand why such an event might occur, we have to examine several factors and mindsets: First, where do you believe the attack line should be bleed?  To develop a sound understanding of when and where to perform this operational check, you must first understand protective building features. Private homes should be considered the fire area because they rarely provide safety barriers to an uncharged hoseline and its crew. The fire area is an area that either contains fire, or includes an area of extension that does not provide reasonable safety.

Single story homes should be assigned the rule that entry with an uncharged hoseline is unacceptable. Why be so rigid? This proclamation when followed will go a long way in providing tactical safety for a future crew. By always insisting that the hoseline be charged before entry we are doing all we can for ourselves and others. Taking a charged hoseline into every house develops a fire-smart mentality that provides the best safety insurance we can buy and optimizes our effectiveness against sudden fire development.

If we enter a two-story home and the fire appears above the first floor, shouldn’t we just charge the line on the second floor or the stairway?  When an engine company gets into trouble because they have a dry line, then we really have a problem. If your size up was incorrect and fire is below you, will have a charged line ready to handle that oversight. The role of the engine company is to raise the safety level on the fireground, not lower it.

Firefighters should not call themselves such if they cannot stretch a charged hoseline up a flight of stairs. Period! The effort expended to complete that task is not a viable excuse in the face of professionalism, and understanding the principle of being covered for unexpected fire events.

A variation of hoseline bleeding control occurs when we operate in code-compliant multifamily dwellings and within protected stairways. Buildings that contain fire-rated doors and hallways allow us to stretch dry hoseline closer to the point of operation. Private homes typically do not provide such protection.

Bleeding a hoseline is simple stuff really; it is the location you choose to do it in that becomes the critical element. Placing your attack team inside the belly of the beast is bad policy. The biggest problem is you don’t always know that you are already inside. Bleed then proceed - toward tactical safety.

Next Tactical Safety – That’s Wrong, Maybe

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Tactical Safety: It's All About the Break-In

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.

It’s All About the Break-In

New firefighters; new ideas; new methods; and new challenges need to be met head-on and with clarity. A new baseball glove is not at its best when first purchased, it must be carefully broken- in so that it works for you and not against you. New firefighters need to be broken-in correctly too. What is seen as correct and necessary varies between companies, departments and shifts. One thing is for sure, if the break-in period is not handled correctly and reinforced, we will be facing a shorthanded situation. This version of being shorthanded has nothing to do with staffing levels per say…it has everything to do with not realizing full potential.

Firefighters need to realize their full potential, but they cannot do it alone.  They must have people around them and on them to instill proper work habits and routines. How many firefighters just ride it out and coast through their experiences? You do not always have to be ‘all over it’ but you do have to have that capability. The way you get that capability is to have people in your corner from day one. The place you will find them is in the firehouse; they are the ones who broke you in and set you off on the correct path.

There is more to the fire service experience than just fire; that’s true, but few components require the study and attention to detail that firefighting demands. You must be up to the demands of increased developmental changes and tactics, and learn to be curious and question what people are telling you to do. Developing a mindset of discovery should also have been a portion of your extended break-in period. There are many people who have ideas on how things should be done, and that is expected in any trade; what the knowledgeable firefighter has on their side is the ability to exclude tactical noise from tactical pragmatism.

The emphasis on new recruits learning fire skills and the ways of fire operations is never a wasted effort and should not take a back seat to learning other forms of response or day tasks. The reason is simple: to make sure we develop life-saving skill-sets for firefighters. The most critical thing we can do for a new recruit is to show them how to handle fires. If you believe that new recruits would be better served by other disciplines, that is of course your choice, but just remember that what you don’t share or develop in the new recruit will be almost impossible to recreate later. And in that time, the potential for exposure to the enemy-and losing- is heightened by utilizing this new age form of complacency.

You can be complacent and do harm by omission too. If you do not help new firefighters learn what needs to be learned, and do not develop in them the tradition of helping other firefighters learn the craft, then you are forfeiting legacy. Fire is the true equalizer because it does not care if you haven’t learned how to effectively battle against it. Your fellow firefighters from the chief on down- and from the rookie on up- must understand firefighting and realize the importance the component knowledge. Knowing all your assignments, tools and gear are life saving segments that can not be ignored if we are to have tactical safety for firefighters.

The knowledge and good habits you pass forward and reinforce could save a life on day, maybe even someone else’s.

Next Tactical Safety – Bleeding Control

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Tactical Safety: Was Old-School Unsafe or Just Poorly Dressed?

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.

Was Old-School Unsafe or Just Poorly Dressed?

When we think of old school firefighting, the time line will be different depending upon how long you’ve been around; and your perception of old in general. A common theme is the personal protective ensemble (PPE) and how it dates our past. The majority of departments use bunker gear for structural firefighting. Without getting into a debate over gear and its collective protection properties, a question to ask is: which came first, being unsafe or poorly protected?

The protection level of modern bunker gear is more inclusive and constant, and it has lowered the number of burn injuries and their severity; and that’s a good thing.

It is interesting to note that firefighters who only know one level of protection (bunker gear) would probably be aghast at observing those who may still wear (old-school) gear. The resistance would most likely be based on the fear of less protection and increased opportunity for injury. In some instances, this would be correct, but not always. The idea that gear has “saved the firefighter” is not shared by all, especially those who came before ‘bunkers.’

A firefighter who is fully geared-up using modern PPE will suffer less injury and be much better protected from sudden event changes than an old-school firefighter would be in the same spot. The difference in injury is not the hazard alone; it is the depth of firefighter involvement.

Does modern gear warn us? Does it take too long to warn us? All of that is subject to debate. What old-school firefighters always knew was when it was getting too hot. Did they get into trouble also? Yes, they did, and we do too. The question is: does better gear make you unsafe? Of course it doesn’t, lack of knowledge does that.

When you look at the photos of Michael Dick taken in the early eighties, you see moments in time that showcase firefighters doing what firefighters do, just with less protective equipment. Certain injuries would be worse because it occurred to an under-protected part of the body. The advent of a more encompassing protective envelope blocks routine injuries and some would argue invites exposure to sudden events.

We must wear our gear fully, and be aware that it is only temporary protection for sudden events. Sudden events don’t care about your protection level. Only you can lower your injury risk by gaining knowledge, and feeling your limitations like those in the (old-school) so that you remain tactically safe.

Next Tactical Safety – It’s All About The Break In