Thursday, February 24, 2011

Anniversary - Erich Roden

By Erich Roden

Publisher and Editor, Urban Firefighter Magazine

Today is Urban Firefighter Magazine’s first Birthday. And yes, presents are mandatory…What began with two minds and a thousand ideas has become a magazine that has seen nearly four million page views in its infancy in just four issues – that’s MILLION. The braggart in us aside, this number proves more humbling to me than it serves as the industry’s benchmark for success. And humbled was I this day last year: I’ll let you in on a little-known fact: Urban Firefighter Magazine was not supposed to launch on February 25, 2010; rather, like every Grand Opening, there were a thousand little things Ray and I wanted to add-remove and stew about before releasing our baby to the public; we actually planned on waiting another week. Furthermore, I was on the back-half of a tour at the firehouse that day when an early-morning fire came in…

We were second-due truck to a private-dwelling and the engine had already started water on the fire as we arrived. We proceeded to the floor above to poke around and dropped-down to the landing below to don our facepieces. As we knelt-down, we saw what looked like two bare feet near a couch on the fire floor, just inside the doorway. We crawled in a few feet and were startled by what we found: a young woman brutally stabbed to death lying on the floor. We radioed the chief of our discovery, let the first-due truck take their grab out (fire floor decorum); and I advised the first-due truck officer that we would finish poking around the fire floor for more victims. What we found in the bathroom was just as unimaginable: two kids murdered in a different fashion; I’ll spare the details. We removed the kids, handed them off to an awaiting ambulance and reported into the chief to discuss the mess we discovered. We were to later find out that this was a robbery-gone-bad-arson-cover-up; at least the bastards were eventually caught.

You can imagine what the ride back to the quarters was like and the thoughts going through everyones’ heads. We backed-in, washed-up and I began packing up my stuff up to head home for the day. That’s when I grabbed my phone…

On it was a thousand text-messages and voicemails. See: while we were witness to the worst of urban life and taking in what should have been a routine fire in my City, our web-designers were busy, early, building the final website on what they thought was the beta site (nerd-speak for: a hidden site used by web-designers to see what the product actually looks like ‘live’). Instead, they mistakenly assembled the magazine on the actual site – and those friends and others who were looking for it were able to see it before Ray and I did (we were the worst-kept secret in the fire service at the time). Perhaps that’s the way it was meant to be, it is your magazine by the way!

I will always remember the roller-coaster of emotions experienced in an instant that morning, vividly. Our urban firefighters needed a voice that detailed their operations, personalities, victories and defeats, specifically. I’d like to think that a simple mistake by our web-designers was needed-proof that – although we had just experienced the worst in our business – there was now something positive out there to tell the story…

Anniversary - Ray McCormack

By Ray McCormack

Publisher and Editor

Have I moved at all from one year ago today? Physically not really, because I am back at the Orlando Fire Conference where I was when Urban Firefighter magazine debuted. 'Urban' wasn’t launched: it was outed by persons unknown who were trolling the internet looking for signs of it. People found it - and like any media buzz, Urban quickly came to the attention of firefighters, authors, editors and pundits. I was surprised to hear the news, but was also glad that I could plug something that now was no longer a secret dream. Urban Firefighter Magazine was now out there for all to see and hopefully love.

We had many friends who were shocked to hear of our role in Urban. It was always hard not to share the development of the magazine with everyone - there were some leaks - but none were damaging. That February 25, was such a sweet moment of release. To finally be able to tell all who would listen that two firefighters just like them had done what was always whispered about: two firefighters created a fire magazine that rocked. Truthfully, I’ve moved quite a bit in the last year and Urban has been my guide. I’m back at the Orlando Fire Conference spreading the message of training and the beauty of Urban to all who will listen and travel along with us into the future.

Thanks for your support and Keep Fire in Your Life

Ray McCormack
Publish and Editor, Urban Firefighter Magazine

Monday, February 21, 2011

Tactical Safety: Lost and Found

Lost and Found

By Ray McCormack

The thought on declaring a Mayday is to announce it for all to hear - and to do it without fear. Fear, it seems, is a reason for delayed delivery of a Mayday signal. While we should not be ashamed to proclaim a May Day, we should also build in a personal checklist of the situation into to our proclamation. There are only two types of Maydays messages: One type is to describe a situation of danger or perceived danger for someone else on the fireground. The other type is based on personal need and is self-given.

Maydays are rarely immediately actionable by third parties. The message must first be sent out clearly enough to be understood by the receiving party. Once received by those in command, an assistance evaluation is made and the next notification in the chain is given to the recue team. This built-in Mayday answering system is the standard and does not include rescuer reflex time.

When declaring a self Mayday, the originator must realize that help is not instantly coming. Of course, no additional help will ever be forthcoming without a declaration. During the waiting period, the firefighter in need must understand that post-announcement time requires self-preservation skills. The threat to the firefighter may disappear soon after the declaration or continue. Having to declare a Mayday is a shock, sometimes the event causes survival complications while other shocks are based upon inner-conflict. The aftershock period is a stark reality and includes what you do – or what happens next. If given a choice, hopefully it will be prudent and self-sustaining.

A Mayday for a lost or missing firefighter is probably the most common May Day given. They can be given by the individual firefighter or those who now cannot locate the firefighter. When we cannot locate a fellow firefighter that was within our sight or voice contact – and now is not – we must ask ourselves if this initial loss of direct communication has reached the level of a Mayday. We must use our options such as attempted radio contact to the “missing,” organize and contact those around us to assist in the tracking and notification to command that a firefighter has become ‘unanswerable.’

When a firefighter goes missing, those working with them must take a breath and realize that the situation is initially theirs to solve. The reason is: you are located in the general area. How often do you check on your people? We have to develop a system of communication with our interior partners so that status updates are frequent. If you believe that an untenable area has been entered by the missing, or some other event has occurred, collect your thoughts first; prioritize your needs; contact command – and understand that you may have the best chance of quickly locating (the missing).

No doubt the mission changes when a May Day is declared. As much as we would like to think that things will progress smoothly once this transmission is given, this is hopeful at best. The location of this event plays a specific role in how our regular operations will fare. If the May Day is declared by or for the only team inside the building, then operational support beyond rapid intervention will be required. There is no set standard because all events differ; however, we must attempt to limit our exposure to events that cause us to become part of the rescue effort. This effort is enhanced by knowing your tactics and understanding how vital early mitigation is to future survival.

Losing contact with firefighters varies from equipment failures, disorientation and human error. While we strive to eliminate as many of these variables as much as possible, it is a never ending battle. We need to develop in firefighters an understanding of how to operate and communicate together – and realize that when smoke obscures your vision – and windows are breaking, people are screaming, radios’ blaring, and saws cutting, that it might be hard to “find” each other – and that Maydays, while given without guilt, must also be given with substance.

A Mayday is a distress call that stresses our people and requires the highest priority and respect on the fireground. We have built into our operations separate teams who are on scene just in case one is given. The fire service has tried to eradicate the shame factor of declaring a Mayday under the auspice of waiting; refusing or denying one does not help the firefighter. A Mayday does not relinquish our efforts to remain tactically safe, it increases it.

Next Tactical Safety – Urgent Need

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Welcome to Wonderland: Reports

Welcome to Wonderland: Reports

By Ray McCormack

There is such a wide range of variables in the fire service – even when all the results are in, differences often eat away at alleged concrete solutions. Reading reports that claim (no blame), but rip departments and individuals apart with the subtlety of a chainsaw should worry us all. Remember, their mission is to enlighten you. Are you feeling enlightened or just freighted? The best of reports chronicle our humanness; sometimes we make mistakes. The fireground does not clean up well: it takes what it wants and leaves bitter pills for us to swallow. Let’s learn the best questions to ask and develop real solutions that fix things instead of disorienting what we need to know in favor of inquisitional satisfiers.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Tactical Safety: Ha! Ha! Ha! That's Not Funny

Ha! Ha! Ha! That’s Not Funny

By Ray McCormack

Do you suffer from a lack of (HA) Hoseline Awareness? Incident commanders, ladder companies, special units and even engine companies occasionally suffer disconnect from the importance of the initial, backup and supplemental hoselines. Who is the worst culprit is a matter of interpretation – and varies from fire to fire.

When an incident commander (IC) does not have a firm understanding of the value of the initial hoseline – from its size to placement and method of fire attack – we have a problem. Many reviews can find the first domino tilting from this disconnect. HA has not made its way to the list of classes of self-improvement for incident commanders whose choices seem to revolve around 360 degree ‘walk a rounds’ to being cognizant of all things, sans fire attack. HA is gleaned by remembering how it was done – watching and observing firsthand; not by peeking through a windshield. Engine company operations at the command level are different than at the operational level. Fair enough. What must be understood is that a parade around the fire building by all ‘arrivers,’ conjoined with a zero-vision of extinguishment, leads to ineffective fire operations and increased risk. Some risk we create and escalate not by recklessness but by omission of understanding: the significance of extinguishment.

The use of ladder company personnel to assist with hoselines depends upon which culture you live in – and can range from blasphemy to standard operating procedure (SOP). Ladder company assistance with hoseline advance is fairly common with initial forcible entry and site clearance. Any firefighter who does truck work knows that water is still their best friend. The need for the initial handline on the fireground is so paramount that even ladder company firefighters may be pressed into engine work and in the future. When these firefighters assist with the stretch and advancement, they do so with the knowledge that their work may be on hold; but the need for extinguishment is critical. Unfortunately, the level of hoseline awareness by some ‘truckies’ is only expressed with a muffled request when the fire requires rapid attention from the nozzle team.

Special units within fire departments are often too special to stretch hoselines and usually just request them. This often occurs because special units do not act primarily as engine companies. It is always okay to report fire extension to command – it is another thing to feel or believe that handline operations are something that is done by others. Being truly special is enhanced by providing excellent fire extinguishment.

When an engine company does not HA we are in trouble. How does that even occur? There are as many reasons as there are required subject topics in rookie school that do not correlate to effective fire extinguishment knowledge. When the trigger is pulled to attack a fire from the interior of a building, HA needs to be at the top of the list of operational priorities. The offensive phrase “aggressive interior attack” is simply reality when we force gallons per second of water at our target within a hostile environment. Interior fire operations are the real deal and being at the head of the spear is not a place for complacency, it is a place of honor. When a firefighter is given the nozzle, they are given an opportunity to save lives. How many lives are saved by a properly positioned hoseline? We are told that it is the best live saving tactic we have – and it is. The untold number of lives it saves is that of firefighters: who are spared injury due to rapid extinguishment.

Make sure you have a keen understanding of ‘HA’ and how it impacts our operations both positively and negatively. There are many skills to learn and many fads that distract. Increase your tactical safety by knowing your way around HA.

Next Tactical Safety – Lost and Found