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Challenges and Concerns of Underground Parking Garages

Blog by Will Anderson
Platoon Chief with the Euclid Fire Department in Ohio

In a previous blog, I mentioned how the Euclid Fire Department (EFD) in Ohio protects dozens of high-rise buildings. To accommodate the residents of these residential properties, both above- and below-ground parking garages exist. Any fire below grade will test the responding department, but when the fire occurs in a large open area, unique concerns come to mind. This blog discusses these concerns and helps prepare crews for the challenges of a below-grade fire, or any fire in a large, open building.

Recently, my department, the EFD, responded to a vehicle fire in an underground parking garage. While the fire was confined to one vehicle, the incident served as a reminder of several important training topics that most departments only experience every few years. We received a call about a vehicle on fire in an underground parking garage. This garage did not have sprinklers or standpipes. The first engine arrived on scene, only three minutes after the call.

The engine officer established Command and reported they had smoke showing from the 400- by 60-foot garage, but couldn’t determine how far into the garage the vehicle was located. As the on-duty platoon chief, I arrived one minute later and assumed the role of incident commander (IC).I had a ladder truck, an ambulance, and another engine responding since the fire had occurred inside a structure.

Lt. Banning performed a quick reconnaissance and instructed his crew to begin pulling 2inches of hose, while another crew member obtained the apartment pack of 1 s hose off of their apparatus. As his platoon chief, I know how important Lt. Banning takes his training. His crew performs extremely well at fire scenes and they are as equally well trained. I was very comfortable with the actions he had begun.

Shortly after their initial stretch into the garage, I was able to obtain this picture:

Description:

Crews make their initial stretch into an underground parking garage fire using 2 1/2-inch hose, which was reduced to less than 2 inches inside the structure.

By reading the smoke, we should be able to tell this fire isn’t of much significance, but that’s no reason to become complacent and assume everything will be fine. As an IC, this is what I want to avoid at all times. At this point, my thoughts were now on providing some form of ventilation to the attack crew. By now, Truck 21 led by Lt. Pete Bernacki had arrived. I instructed him and his crew to assist in getting the first line in operation. Once that was completed, their orders were to provide horizontal ventilation by breaking garage windows and performing forcible entry of a man door at the far end of the garage. There was a strong northerly wind in excess of 30 mph, which would aid the removal of the smoke.

Medic 41 was instructed to control the elevators and stand by in the basement to protect any unsuspecting occupants from entering the smoke-filled garage. After this assignment was given to Medic 41, Engine 12, led by Lt. Chris Herak, arrived. Their orders were to perform RIT duties and set up near the attack engine, Engine 13.

The fire was roughly 200 feet inside the 400 foot-long garage. It was confined to one vehicle and quickly controlled. However, the picture shown above made me think of several areas of training we must be proficient in to make sure we go home at the end of our shift. In no particular order, these topics include:

>> Proficiency in large area searches
>> The need for air management
>> Proficiency in buddy breathing
>> Understanding your ventilation options are limited, but still required
>> Carrying and deploying personal rope for use in large areas
>> The importance of staying on the hoseline
>> Understanding the dangers of cold smoke
>> Effectively communicating conditions, actions, and needs
>> Knowing your buildings
>> Blocking track of garage door

This is a short list of topics that initially came to my mind. Perhaps after you see the picture, you or your crew can think of others. Discuss your findings and work toward proficiency in these skills. All of these are important and serve a purpose. Since the attack crew made entry through the open garage door, Lt. Banning instructed one of his crew members to block the track to prevent the door from closing. They accomplished this by the methods shown in the images below:

Description:

Vice grips block the track of a garage door on left side.

Description:

A pike pole is used to block the garage door from closing on the right side.

Ironically, a few weeks prior to this incident, some firefighters from neighboring departments and I were discussing the topic of fires in underground parking garages. For us, they’re few and far between. Regardless of how small a fire may be, I still believe every fire serves as a reminder of how we can improve for the next one. Learn from your mistakes and those of others. None of us are perfect, but that doesn’t mean we can’t try to be. On the way to perfection, well eventually come to excellence. Excellence in this business helps ensure we go home at the end of our shift. Be safe, be well, and be smart! Thanks for reading.

About the Author

Will Anderson is a Platoon Chief with the Euclid Fire Department in Ohio.Hes in his 18th year in the fire service and is certified as a State of Ohio Firefighter 2, Fire Instructor, and Paramedic. He recently completed his Fire Officer 1, 2, and 3 training in addition to his Blue Card certification. He has an Associate’s degree in Fire Science, another in Emergency Medical Services, and is nearing completion of his Bachelor’s Degree in Fire Science Administration.

 

Competition, Peer Pressure and Situational Awareness

Blog by Dr. Richard B. Gasaway, PhD, EFO, CFO
Retired Fire Chief and Web Master for Situational Awareness Matters

During a recent situational awareness program we were talking about near-miss events and I asked the class if anyone had experienced a near-miss. As is typical, a few hands went up. With their permission, we used the students’ real-life experiences to discuss how things unfolded and we extracted and applied powerful situational awareness lessons. It’s a great way to learn because these are not made-up “what if” scenarios or a dissection of videos snagged off the Internet. These are real events that, if only by luck, the student is still with us to share their lessons.

During this particular program a participant shared how his crew arrived on the scene of a working residential dwelling fire where smoke was coming out the front door. The crew pulled the line and advanced it in the front door in search of victims and to extinguish the fire. But they didn’t get far. The floor collapsed under their weight and into the basement they went.

A mayday was called and, as luck would have it, the second-in company arrived quickly and was able to lower a ladder into the basement and extricated the two firefighters from their imperiled situation. The two firefighters suffered fall injuries and thermal injuries. But no fatalities! So the firefighter telling about the event classified it as a near-miss.

In the process of constructing how the events unfolded, he shared that a 360-degree size-up was not completed. Sadly, the failure to complete a size-up is often cited as a contributing factor in casualty reports. This is understandable. The size-up is the first, and sometimes only, opportunity for responders to determine what the problem is before they start throwing around solutions. Shortcut the size-up and you risk operating with flawed situational awareness.

The crew thought the fire was on the first floor. It wasn’t. It was in the basement. The front of the house was on-grade. The back of the house, however, was a walk-out with plenty of windows that would have revealed the volume of fire in the basement if the 360-degree size-up were completed.

While it is easy to see how the failure to complete a size-up contributed to this near tragic event, it is critical to understand WHY the size-up was not completed. There are many possible explanations, ranging from accessibility issues, to tunnel vision, to task fixation, to imminent rescue pending, and more. But in this case, the explanation was none of those. The reason was rooted in competition and peer pressure.

The officer shared this explanation with the class:

“I am a newer company officer and our fire companies are very aggressive interior structural firefighters. We pride ourselves on getting inside and getting the job done. I know I’m supposed to conduct a 360-degree size up but if we charged our line and then did a walk around there is a chance another company would come in and take our line and go put the fire out. And if that happened, I’d never hear the end of it. The other firefighters on our shift would kill us and eat us for pussy-footing around instead of putting the fire out. I simply could not afford to take that kind of risk with my career and gain a reputation of being a non-aggressive officer.”

I give this officer a lot of credit for sharing his honest assessment, especially in the presence of his peers. The aggressive, competitive culture of his organization, coupled with peer pressure kept him from completing the size-up. I found it particularly concerning when he said he could not afford to take the risk of getting a reputation among his peers. In saying that, he was rating the risk of peer rejection higher than the risk of death.

Firefighters are competitive by nature. They train hard and work hard to win. But the opponent in this fight is not each other. The opponent is the fire and when a culture lends itself to cut-throat internal competition, coupled with peer-pressure to shortcut or bypass best practices (like size-up), the potential for flawed situational awareness increases as does the potential for a casualty.

About the Author
Dr. Gasaway is widely considered to be one of the nation’s leading authorities on situational awareness and decision making processes used by first responders. In addition to more than 30 years in the fire service, including 22 years as a fire chief, Dr. Gasaway has a second passion: Uncovering and applying research in brain science for the benefit of first responders. His website, Situational Awareness Matters (www.SAMatters.com), has enjoyed more than a million visits since its launch in October 2011.

 

Good Data Doesn’t Just Happen: A Few Steps for Better Recordkeeping

Blog by Brian Drolet
www.FireRMSData.com

Are you frustrated you’re not receiving the data you need? Do your reports provide you the information you were expecting? Before ditching your records management software, you should examine your data business practices to ensure the processes for collecting data, the configurations and reports that hold and present your data, are functional and effective.

The elusive mystical data we are all chasing can be obtained, but the process has to be managed. If you want specific data, all participants in the collection and reporting of that data need to adhere to the same criteria, and all components must be defined and coordinated.

Do you have established business practices regarding workflow and data collection? Are your firefighters knowledgeable and trained regarding your data collection wants and needs. Is there a plan to get you the data you need, or are you thinking, it should all be there?

To get what you need, you will have to organize, plan and execute the work before seeing good data reporting. Your data needs to be reliable, dependable, consistent and repeatable. Without a data management plan, you can only hope you get the data you want or need; but hoping can lead to doubting, and doubting impacts the reliability and usability of the data.

The records management system you’re using is probably a good container of data holding area per se, but you have to establish how the programs are best utilized, how the data should be collected and what specific data should be reported.

As a first step, what may be needed is a review and recommitment to the goal of good data collection and reporting.

Secondly, set your data goals and define the work that needs to be performed. Set accountability and responsibilities, and be sure to implement training regarding data collection and review, prior to needing the data.

Good data management starts with a plan. Do you have one?

About the Author
Brian Drolet is a 25 year Career Firefighter with a Southern California Fire Department. He operates a Fire Department Data Consulting Service assisting over 100 Departments in various aspects of collection, reporting, Data Management Planning and defining business practices regarding the Fire Service. For more information, please check online at http://firermsdata.net/.

 

Need Help Implementing Online Training at Your Fire or Police Department?

Blog by Bill Booth
Interact Business Group

How did you answer the question raised in this articles headline?

Yes, we need to do something.

Yes, we tried, but we have to make a change.

Yes, we need to get started, let’s give it a try.

We have already started, its working, but we can do better.

I recently taught a class titled, Strategies & Tactics for Success with On-Line Training and Education. The class focused on online training in public safety departments. The audience was training officers, directors, chiefs, department budget staff, technology officers, and instructors.

Sound Familiar?
Most class attendees fell into one of the following four categories:

1. We have been meaning to look into computer based training, but can’t seem to find the time or budget.

2. We don’t know really how or where to begin.

3. We need to reduce our training budget; will computer courses help me do that?

4. Yes, we bought some online courses, it’s working OK, but we can do better.

NOTE: Although the class was attended primarily by fire service staff, the subject matter of online and e-learning could easily crossed over to law enforcement and all areas of safety training.

Why You Should Keep Reading
Attendees to the class or readers of this post (you) have an interest in learning about how to:

1. Start using online learning courses and technology.

2. You are in the early staging of incorporating online training and want to avoid rookie mistakes.

3. Develop a tactical (short term) and strategic (long term) plan for using and benefiting from online learning.

Following is a summary synopsis of the class:

Start With The End In Mind
If a public safety department, police, fire, EMS, etc. is considering implementing online training technologies, the training chief or project team leader must establish their end game goals. Using the following three principles when developing the specific goals and objectives for the project will serve as the guiding principles for the project.

>> Be specific: Identify exactly what you want to accomplish with as many specific details as possible.

>> Be measurable: As the old adage says, You can’t manage what you can’t measure.

>> Be realistic: Set goals and objectives that reach beyond the comfort zone, but are also realistic. Be careful with this one.

Establish Implementation Tactics
There are ten key implementation tactics needed for successful implementation of online learning for a public safety department; they include:

1. Establish a project team. Include other banner carriers and allies.

2. Define the vision and goals. What does a successful program look like?

3. Define learning needs and wants. Why are we doing this and what solution does it provide?

4. Define established technology infrastructure. What does your existing technical infrastructure look like?

5. Define existing courseware. What do you already have that can be used or repurposed?

6. Baseline available technologies and courseware. What technology is available in the marketplace?

7. Develop implementation and phasing scenario. What is your step-by-step approach?

8. Develop cost budgets. Consider purchasing equipment, software, hired technical assistance, and so on.

9. Measure and evaluate cost benefits. Set milestones that are measurable, observable, and serve as progress markers.

10. Management buy-in and funding. Get everyone on the same page and get them to support the endeavor.

Where and How To Begin
As illustrated in the 10 implementation tactics, getting started requires considerable planning, management buy-in, technology understanding, and funding. When first staring out ask yourself the following seven questions. This a good starting point and the questions will help you to understand the full needs, impact and depth of the project:

1. What authoring system should we use?

2. Should we buy off-the-shelf prepackaged software?

3. Should we develop our own courses?

4. What type of hardware do we need?

5. Will it keep us compliant with legal requirements?

6. How do we track and schedule our training?

7. What class topics will be best learned through e-learning?

This post is intended to provide a short synopsis of how to get started with implementing online training programs for your department. Again, this is just a guideline to get the ball moving.

About the Author
Bill Booth’s organization, the Interact Business Group, is recognized as a national leader for the development of strategic business plans for the public safety training centers. In 2012, Booth started ResponderGateway.net, which is a news, opinions and technology website. He lives in Northern San Diego County with his wife Carole. He can be followed on twitter @InteractBill.

 

Safety Should Always Come First for Firefighters

Blog by Ed Hadfield
www.firetowntrainingspecialist.com

Some will say little has changed in the fire service in the last 200 years. Others will tell you much has changed. The fact remains that one very critical aspect of this noble profession remains the same: The fire service continues to lose firefighters nationwide to hostile events on a regular basis.

Many of those deaths are needless, and could have been prevented. This article looks at safety measures for firefighters, but the bottom line is this: It’s your life. Take safety seriously.

Air Management
According to a study completed by the NFPA, more than 30 percent of firefighters killed in the US since 1990 died of smoke inhalation after they became lost inside a structure and ran out of air.

“Air Management” is not a new concept in the fire service. It is, however, a newer concept in fire service in the United States. The UK national fire service has long believed of self-reliance air management concepts. From the first day of rookie school, the UK demands firefighters are constantly aware of their personnel air management, and company officers are held accountable for the entire crew’s air management.

Listed are a few key items regarding air management, please utilize these concepts to provide a safer working environment for you and your fellow firefighters:

>> Know your personal “rate of consumption.” Each and every firefighter has a differing rate of consumption. Physical fitness and workloads either increase or decrease this factor. Bottom line, the fitter you are, the less air you utilize. Note: Average30 minutes SCBA, 18.5 minutes working time.

>> For company officers, be aware the harder the work effort your personnel are accomplishing, the greater the rate of consumption. Keep constant tabs on your team’s air and rate of consumption.

>> It is recommended all personnel working in an IDLH atmosphere leave the environment prior to the low-air warning device activation. The low-air warning device is not the indication to leave the building. It is an indication you have been in the IDLH environment too long.

Seat Belts
Everyone at this point should be saying, “Well, yeah, always wear your seatbelt. That’s obvious.” Unfortunately, the truth is, most accidents involving fire apparatus resulting in injuries and deaths are a result of personnel failing to properly wear seatbelts. There is absolutely no excuse for not wearing your seatbelt while riding/responding in an apparatus.

One particular item of concern is when firefighters attempt to slip into SCBAs while responding to reported structure fires. SCBAs that are placed into seatbacks encourage this process and in most cases, those responding firefighters are NOT wearing their seatbelts while slipping into the SCBA.

Seatbelt designs that have shoulder harness straps limit the ability to properly wear the seatbelt and also slip into the SCBA at the same time. Therefore, in most cases firefighters simply do not wear their seatbelt, opting to slip into their SCBA while responding to the reported structure fire.

This has proven to be a lethal option for firefighters the greatest likelihood of a vehicle collision is while responding to a reported structure fire.

Captains need to maintain a zero-tolerance policy on seatbelt usage. Here are a few points to remember:

>> Seatbelts are NOT an option, they are mandatory.

>> Never remove your seatbelt while apparatus is moving to put on PPE or SCBA.

>> Remove items in the cab that can fly about in a collision.

>> Remember you didn’t create the emergency, don’t become part of it.

Risk Management
The following is a list of safety items that I have collected over the years from respected mentors and friends. I call these items “wise words from wise men.” Enjoy them and share them with others.

>> We will begin our response on the assumption we can protect the lives and property.

>> We will risk our lives a lot, if necessary, to protect savable lives.

>> We will risk our lives little, and in a calculated manner, to protect savable property.

>> We will not risk our lives at all to protect lives or property that are already lost

>> The best way to make an aggressive attack is to give interior crews a safe environment to work within. Vent early and vent often.

>> If you think you’ll need a 2inch line, pull it first. You won’t get a second chance.

>> Firefighting is like herding cats maintain crew accountability and discipline at all times. No freelancing!

>> LCES goes way beyond wildland. Apply the principles to all fire ground activities.

>> Buildings are always talking to you. Listen to signs of collapse.

>> Defensive water festivals are far superior to funerals.

>> Safety prevents meetings and pink slips.

>> Vomiting firefighters are ugly firefighters!

>> Firefighting is like an airline ticket. Every firefighter gets a round-trip ticket to the call and back to their family. Every. Single. Time.

About the Author
Description:

Ed Hadfield has more than 26 years of fire service experience after rising through the ranks from firefighter to division chief. He is a frequent speaker on leadership, sharing his experiences within the fire service and also with corporate and civic leaders throughout the United States. For more on Hadfield, please check online at www.firetowntrainingspecialist.com.

 

Pre-Arrival Situational Awareness Looking to the Past to Predict the Future

Blog by Dr. Richard B. Gasaway, PhD, EFO, CFO
Retired Fire Chief and Web Master for Situational Awareness Matters

The foundation to forming your situational awareness is size-up the capturing of clues and cues in your environment. Those clues and cues are then used to comprehend what is happening and that, in turn, helps you make accurate predictions about future events. Your understanding of the clues and cues can be improved when you look into the past.

As I think about pre-arrival situational awareness I am reminded of the movie Back to the Future. There, we are introduced to Marty McFly, his family, and a few other essential characters. Then, when Marty is transported back in time, he begins to see the back story of how a chain of events led up to his modern day life as he knows it. This improves Marty’s understanding of why things are the way they are.

The ability to look into the past to get this back story is the essence of pre-arrival situational awareness. And while, unlike Marty McFly, you don’t have a time machine and you won’t be able to alter the course of history, you can construct a look into the past through your mind’s eye.

Assessing the current situation and then constructing a coherent understanding about how the facts of the incident came into existence forms your pre-arrival situational awareness. For example, let’s assume you respond to a traffic accident where a car slid off an icy highway and rolled down an embankment. As you arrive you see a car about 100 feet down over a hill and a person is still inside the vehicle. You grab your essential medical gear and start making your way down to conduct your triage.

STOP! Before you even exit your vehicle, develop your pre-arrival situational awareness by asking: How did the situation I now see come to be? In other words, how did that vehicle, which just a short time ago was traveling safely down the highway, end up where it is now? Questions like this may be difficult to answer because you are lacking the facts. Maybe a deer ran in front of the vehicle and they swerved to miss it and lost control. Maybe they fell asleep. Maybe they were texting and were distracted. Or, maybe the vehicle hit a patch of ice on the bridge overpass that is just short distance up the road from the accident scene and they lost control.

SOMETHING caused that car to end up there. This is where youd ask the critical second question: Could history repeat itself? In other words could another driver fall victim to the same fate as the first and end up in the very same place? If the plausible answer is yes, then you need to take steps to protect yourself from becoming a casualty if that happens.

Looking to the past to predict the future pits us in a war between possibilities and probabilities. Is it POSSIBLE that another car could do the same thing and end up in the same place. The answer is yes. In fact, the possibility of anything happening, regardless of how bazaar it may seem, is always 100 percent. Anything is possible. But is it probable? And this is where it can get challenging for you. The more unusual the event, or the less experience you have with dealing with past events of similar circumstances, the more you may explain the incident away as an isolated occurrence freak event that is not likely to repeat itself.

It is not by coincidence that I chose the example of a traffic accident. Unlike most fire incidents, the unforeseen future event at a traffic accident, potentially putting you in grave danger, will be caused directly by the actions of humans. And human behavior can be terribly difficult to predict.

As you think about it, the list of probably causes that led to the vehicle losing control and rolling down the embankment is relatively small: Medical problem, distraction, mechanical (like a tire blow out), swerved to avoid (another vehicle, animal, debris in the roadway), lost control (slid on the ice, hydroplaned, excessive speed), impairment (drugs, alcohol, fatigue) and maybe a few others.

The probability of a subsequent driver losing control of their vehicle due to a medical condition at exactly the same place and rolling down the same embankment and ending up in the same spot as the previous vehicle is relatively low. But depending on the circumstances, the probability of another driver being distracted, impaired or losing control and ending up in the same place is much higher.

So, before you put yourself into harm’s way, fire up the Flux Capacitor and travel back in time and construct the back story see how the event ended up as you now see it. Then come back to the future and take steps to protect yourself just in case history decides to repeat itself.

About the Author
Description:
Dr. Gasaway is widely considered to be one of the nation’s leading authorities on situational awareness and decision making processes used by first responders. In addition to his 30-plus year career in the fire service, including 22 years as a fire chief, Dr. Gasaway has a second passion: Uncovering and applying research in brain science for the benefit of first responders. His website, Situational Awareness Matters (www.SAMatters.com) has enjoyed over a million visits since its launch in October 2011. He can be reached via e-mail at Support@RichGasaway.com.

 

Helping Emergency Responders Identify Hybrid and Electric Vehicles on the Roadway

Blog by Jason Emery
Courtesy of NFPAs Electric Vehicle Safety Training Website

As hybrid and electric vehicles become more popular on the roadways, it is more important than ever for responders to understand the best identification methods. Most responders tend to rely on external badging as the sole identification method; this however can result in some vehicles not being properly identified. First keep in mind that there are no industry standards for external markings. Vehicle markings can range from all four sides to a complete absence of external badging. Responders must also consider that the potential exists for external markings to become hidden or dislodged as a result of a crash.

During an emergency response, the most appropriate action is for first responders to treat any vehicle as if it is some type of alternative fueled vehicle until you can make positive identification one way or another. Additionally, if at first glance you do not see any badging, be sure to look for less conventional identification methods such as battery vents, dashboard logos or indicators, orange cabling, etc. to ensure that you are not dealing with a hybrid or electric vehicle. For more detailed information on proper identification methods take the online class available soon on our website, or be sure to attend a training class in your area using the NFPA classroom program.

Hybrids vs. Plugin Hybrids
With the release of more and more hybrid and EV models, it may be difficult to understand some of their more subtle differences. In the case of hybrids and plugin hybrids, while there are certainly some engineering differences, from an emergency responder perspective they are handled the same.

Hybrids are self-contained units that use both electric motor(s) and an internal combustion engine (ICE) to propel the vehicle. The high voltage battery is recharged through power taken from the ICE and through a process called regenerative braking that captures energy from the braking process. Both of these methods ensure that the user never has to consciously make an effort to charge the battery, it’s done automatically.

Plugin hybrids are simply an offshoot of that concept; they allow for a connection to be made to a Level I or Level II charging station for another charging source for the high voltage battery. These vehicles also include a larger capacity battery to store that extra energy and improve the overall energy efficiency of the vehicle. In the event that you cannot connect to a charger, the high-voltage battery is recharged through the same means as a standard hybrid. Ironically enough when hybrids first were released, there was a concern among manufacturers that people would not understood that they did not need to be plugged in. A decade later that concept has become more acceptable to the general public and the plugin hybrid was born.

There is essentially no difference for the first responder in how we handle these vehicles in an emergency situation. Both types contain a high voltage power source and an internal combustion engine with a fuel source and should be treated as such. The only real difference would occur if the plugin hybrid was attached to the charging station at the time of the incident. In this case you would want to secure the power source supplying the charging station as a first step in mitigating the scene.

As always, be sure to use the Identify, Immobilize and Disable approach on all vehicles and assume there is a potential to be dealing with a Hybrid or Electric Vehicle when approaching a crash or fire scene.

>> Blog courtesy of Jason Emery of NFPAs Electric Vehicle Safety Training website. For more information on hybrid and electric vehicles please visit http://www.evsafetytraining.org/. For a more in-depth look at this vehicle and its emergency response procedures, please be sure to take the NFPA/GM Volt safety training course.

 

About the Author
Jason Emery, who has more than 21 years in the fire service, is a lieutenant with the Waterbury Fire Department in Connecticut. Emery is assigned to the rescue/hazmat company. He has a BS in fire science from the University of New Haven and is a member of the International Society of Fire Service Instructors. He is a subject matter expert for the National Fire Protection Association, a member of its development team, and the lead instructor for its Hybrid and Electric Vehicle Training program.

Why Excellent Customer Service Is Critical to Excellent Emergency Response

Blog by Bill Sturgeon
Retired Division Chief

As professional responders, we all feel burned out at times. Some grow unhappy with this profession. Some neglect giving their very best effort during calls for service.

If you feel this happening, it’s time to stop and think about what you can do to serve your citizens better. The answer may be to look at how other industries, which have nothing to do with emergency response, handle their customers.

The cruise line industry is a perfect example. If you’ve ever been on a cruise, you know how positive and upbeat the crew treats everyone. You know that if you need anything, someone will provide it without question and with a smile.

During these tough economic times, it’s extremely important that we treat citizens like they are on a cruise. Granted, emergency response situations are far from a vacation, but the need for first-rate customer service is just the same.

Always be professional, compassionate and kind to your customers. If you treat everyone well, you will feel a sense of pride that will pay dividends in the future when emergency services need public support.

Most of the staff on a cruise ship barely earns a surviving wage. But they still provide a high level of professional service. They work long hours, and most of them have more than one job aboard a ship. That sounds kind of familiar, doesn’t it?

Low pay, long hours and more than one job is standard for most emergency services workers. But our job was never intended to make us rich. Emergency service has always been about putting the needs of others above our own.

To operate in this profession at the highest level, you need to take care of the details. Make sure your appearance is professional, make sure your equipment is clean and functioning properly, and most of all, make sure your focus is on the needs of your victims.

Times are tough. We can read stories on a daily basis about government officials cutting services. Even emergency services are not immune to the budget axe. Many corporations in America have become extinct because they lost focus on the customer. We need to learn from that.

We shouldn’t forget who our customers are and why we exist. We need to remain above reproach in everything we do and provide customer service in emergency response. We need to be prepared to respond by maintaining a high level of readiness, competency, and cruise ship customer service during calls for service.

Integrity is doing the right thing when no one is watching, but it’s important to remember somebody is always watching your actions.

>> This blog was originally published with TargetSolutions in March of 2011.

About the Author
William Sturgeon is a 30-year veteran of the United States Fire Service. During his career, he served as a volunteer, military, municipal, and county firefighter and held many positions, including paramedic, EMS supervisor, company officer (special operations), safety officer, battalion chief, assistant chief and division chief.

Garden Apartments: What We’ve Learned

Blog by Will Anderson

Platoon Chief with the Euclid Fire Department in Ohio

Garden apartments are found in virtually every community in the United States. Typically, garden apartments are grouped together on a large parcel of property with some being set back far off the main street. If these buildings are not properly pre-planned, a fire or serious emergency will prove difficult for responding fire departments.

This article will cover the characteristics of older garden apartments and how sticking with the basics of firefighting leads to a better operation.

There are many characteristics that make garden apartments unique. The first one we might notice is the entrance into the property. The property is usually served by only one driveway. Add in parking for residents and apparatus placement can be very difficult. If were fortunate, we will have at least one operable hydrant on the property. If not, are your engines capable of long lays to the main street? Also, certain buildings may be set back hundreds of feet off the main drive. Pre-connected hoses may not be an option. Are your apparatus set up with static-hose loads capable of reaching buildings with excessive setbacks? And who will carry the equipment needed to mount an attack on the fire? Your arrival at a working fire in one of these buildings is not the time to figure out who will take what equipment to the front door.

More questions to consider: Is access to the building a problem? Are fences or other barricades in your way? Are there security bars on the windows? In short, pre-planning is essential to success.

Garden apartments usually house up to 12 apartments and are around three stories in height; although some may be taller. Most apartments are served by a common entrance with an open interior stairwell serving each floor of the building. These buildings represent an extremely serious life hazard, regardless of the time of day. Also, these buildings attics are most likely an open and unobstructed lumberyard of dry wood underneath the roof surface. While roofs may be peaked or flat, newer roofs will likely be supported by trusses. Older garden apartments will not utilize truss construction. My experience is that garden apartments are not protected by sprinklers or standpipes.

As we enter an apartment from the stairwell hallway, the first room we usually enter is the kitchen. This is followed by the living room, which is connected to a short hallway where we encounter a bathroom and one or more bedrooms. Most living rooms will have a large opening for horizontal ventilation if there is a balcony with sliding doors, or large picture window, as seen in the picture above. Remember, apartments are stacked in a multi-story building. This means routes for fire extension exist in kitchens and bathrooms where plumbing voids run the vertical length of the building. If the fire has reached flashover, the fire may extend via auto-exposure up to the floor above, and possibly even the attic space. This could result in a fast-moving fire as seen in the picture below.

At this particular fire, the fire originated on the second floor (Division 2) in a bedroom of a three-story garden apartment. There was a delay notifying the fire department. At this incident (pictured above), the door to the apartment on fire held. Conditions in the stairwell were clear as the first line was being stretched. Had the door failed prior to the arrival of the fire department, any civilians evacuating would have been overcome by intense heat and deadly smoke making a bad situation even worse.

Crews at this scene were met by a fast-moving fire that had possession of two apartments with extension into a third apartment and the attic space. Life safety must be given the highest priority. Remember, most lives are protected and saved by strategically placing the first hoseline between the fire and any trapped occupants. Before additional hoselines are put into operation, make sure the first line is up and running. Water kills fire. If we darken down the fire and put it out, everything else usually gets better. Searches are less punishing, overhaul is easier, and property and lives are saved.

Part of a successful incident is the prior knowledge we have of the buildings in our first-due area. Make it a point to get out and learn what types of buildings youre up against. A quick walk around the exterior can make you aware of hydrant locations, overhead obstructions (wires, overhangs, etc.), grade/terrain changes, parking issues, and exposure concerns. Once inside the building, make it a point to locate the utility shut-offs, attic access or roof hatches, and learn the layouts of a typical apartment.

EMS incidents are an excellent opportunity to do this. Identifying these building features will take no more than 10 minutes. Its time well spent. You owe it to yourself, your crew, and your family to make sure everyone goes home at the end of the shift. Thanks for reading and be safe!

About the Author

Will Anderson is a Platoon Chief with the Euclid Fire Department in Ohio. He’s in his 18th year in the fire service and is certified as a State of Ohio Firefighter 2, Fire Instructor, and Paramedic. He recently completed his Fire Officer 1, 2, and 3 training in addition to his Blue Card certification. He has an Associate’s degree in Fire Science, another in Emergency Medical Services, and is nearing completion of his Bachelor’s Degree in Fire Science Administration.

Steps for Improving Your Working Memory During Stressful Situations

Blog by Dr. Richard B. Gasaway, PhD, EFO, CFO
Retired Fire Chief and Web Master for Situational Awareness Matters

It probably comes as no surprise that we have a limited capacity to remember and recall things. This is true of both short-term (or working) memory and long-term memory. This article addresses some of the vulnerabilities of working memory and how you might overcome them.

Capacity: The capacity of working memory is far smaller than most of us would like to believe. The proof of this first came into prominence in the 1950s when Princeton psychologist George Miller discovered the average person can take in, process, comprehend and recall about seven (give or take two) pieces of unrelated information. Miller’s research has been robustly confirmed with additional studies conducted worldwide. Subsequent studies revealed that by adding stressors into the environment, the average of seven pieces of information can be reduced to five.

Five to seven pieces of unrelated information is the limit of working memory. It is no coincidence that span of control is recommended to be in the five to seven range. That number was not randomly selected. Rather, it was based research that started with Miller and continues today.

Forgetfulness: It’s a cruel fact, but when your working memory begins to get overloaded or overwhelmed, it begins to forget things. Unfortunately, unlike your computer, your brain is not equipped with a convenient delete key you can depress to forget something. The delete function is present, nonetheless. You just are not in conscious control of it. What your brain chooses to forget is determined at a level you cannot control.

Sadly, your brain isn’t very good at prioritizing the short-term information storage and retrieval based on what you may, at the moment, think is important. The process for what moves on to long-term storage (termed consolidation) and what is not yet completely understood. But it appears that past experiences and emotions play a big role in what is stored and what is lost. You need to know that some of the most important information (as you perceive it, anyhow) may be shed by the brain and, once shed, is lost from memory. This can include incident information critical to survival.

Fixing the Problem: I probably don’t have to spend much time convincing you that if you are vulnerable to forgetting critical information under stress, your situational awareness becomes at great risk of loss as well. There are ways you can reduce the impact of short-term memory loss and improve firefighter working memory. Here are just a few suggestions:

1. Don’t Try to Multi-Task: It is, virtually, impossible to multitask when it comes to paying attention. Going back and forth between tasks (termed interleaving) is very demanding on the short-term memory and some memory of both tasks is subject to degradation.

2. Share the Workload: The old adage that two heads are better than one is true, so long as there is an understanding between those two heads that each person will play a certain role in managing information and avoid duplication by remembering all the same stuff. Assigning someone to monitor radio traffic is a good way to shed short-term information processing workload.

3. Write It Down: Writing down what needs to be remembered, which as seemingly simple as that advice may appear, is not done often enough in the haste of incident management, especially in the early stages of the incident when information is coming in at a furious pace and the focus is on mission critical task completion. This is also the time when stress is highest and the potential for memory loss is greatest.

4. Prioritize in Advance: Identify in advance the most important pieces of information you’ll need to manage. Use a checklist to ensure you’re gathering and documenting that information. Checklists also serve as a good to-do list of things that need to be accomplished.

Checklists and Worksheets: You are attempting to manage two types of short-term memory: Retrospective memory, the memory of everything that has already been done; and, Prospective memory, the memory of everything that has not yet been done but needs to get done. Under stress, the prospective memory is the more vulnerable. Checklists help manage prospective memory. Worksheets help manage retrospective memory.

About the Author
Dr. Gasaway is widely considered to be one of the nation’s leading authorities on situational awareness and decision making processes used by first responders. In addition to his 30-plus year career in the fire service, including 22 years as a fire chief, Dr. Gasaway has a second passion: Uncovering and applying research in brain science for the benefit of first responders. His website, Situational Awareness Matters (www.SAMatters.com) has enjoyed over a million visits since its launch in October 2011. He can be reached via e-mail at Support@RichGasaway.com.