Technology with a Purpose

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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, 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

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

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


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
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 ( has enjoyed over a million visits since its launch in October 2011. He can be reached via e-mail at


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 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 ( has enjoyed over a million visits since its launch in October 2011. He can be reached via e-mail at

Soften the Structure: A Rapid Intervention Company Safety Solution

Blog by Ed Hadfield

Firefighters are injured and killed in structure fires at an alarming rate. According to the NFPA, residential structure fires account for 79 percent of all occupancy fires in America. With that said, as Incident Commanders, we often fail to recognize the importance of providing a Softening Solution on our residential structure fires. In this article I will explain the importance of:

>> Structure Identification
>> RIC Assessment
>> Access and Egress Portal Softening Techniques
>> Portal Identification
>> Softening Techniques on Residential Structures

For the last few years, fire service agencies across America have done an adequate job addressing the issue of Rapid Intervention and the use of Rapid Intervention Company (RIC). However, we still find fire service organizations fail to utilize the RIC in a proactive fashion.

As Incident Commanders and Rapid Intervention Group Supervisors, it is important to recognize the primary goal of identifying and removing all potential hazards on the fire ground in an effort to reduce the chances of deployment.

In the event of an RIC deployment, the keys to success are: firefighter identification, location of the down firefighter, and the reason for entrapment. Once those factors have been established, the quickest access route and egress portal must be identified and used if the down firefighter is to be found in a sufficient amount of time. This should be done prior to the MAYDAY being called, and well planned by the RIC.

Structure Identification:
Structures typically fall into the following categories:

>> Residential
>> Commercial
>> Industrial
>> High-Rise

Each structure type also has a number of different groups. Therefore, we must break our occupancies into both structure type and group. For example, the residential structure has multiple groups including: residential single story, residential multi-story, multi-family habitations and the ever increasing residential care facility. Each group presents various hazards associated with the firefighting operations that must be addressed by the RIC team during their softening phase.

Additionally, any structure that is heavily secured or has multiple protected openings should be declared a high-density structure. This declaration gives clear direction to RIC personnel and a warning to all other personnel that are operating in or on the structure itself.

RIC Assessment:
Once the RIC has conducted primary structure identification, their initial actions to soften the structure should begin.

The RIC needs to assess the primary access portal, determine the number of personnel interior the occupancy, and address the primary portal for known hazards. Typical known hazards in this situation include the rather small orifice of the access portal given the number of personnel that have entered it, the potential of access portal closure, and lastly the lack of lighting at the access portal itself. All access and egress portals on any structure need to be addressed in this fashion.

Access and Egress Portal Softening Techniques:
For the purpose of the article, we will assume that personnel have responded to a large two-story residential structure that is considered a high-density structure, meaning it has multiple protected openings. Given this scenario, your company is assigned RIC responsibilities. Again, the goal of RIC is not only the protection of those personnel assigned to the incident, but you are also tasked with providing them support in the event of a civilian rescue. One of the best methods of support in this instance is to soften the structure for all personnel and RIC operations.

Portal Identification:
Once we have arrived on scene and identified this as a high-density structure, the next actions are to identify the primary access portal, determine which companies have entered this area, as well as determine approximately how many personnel are operating inside the occupancy.

For example, let’s say the first-due company went in the structure with a 1hose line after forcing the security screen door and the inward swinging front door.

As a softening technique, your goal would be the elimination of the security screen door from the structure and removal of the front door completely from the occupancy. First, utilizing a rotary saw cut the security screen door off its hinges and remove it completely from the occupancy. This will leave only the metal frame, which is lag-bolted into the occupancy itself. Then with your Halligan bar; pry the inward swinging front door out of the door frame at the hinge points. Once you have completed this task, drop a box light approximately 18 inches on the inside wall with the light shining across the floor area.

Next, you must identify the area of most danger to interior personnel. By conducting a structure assessment, you are looking for the area of greatest pressurization and generation of smoke. This is a general indicator of where the main body of fire may be located.

Given this is a two-story occupancy, it is safe to assume personnel will be working on the second floor conducting search operations, checking for extensions, and potentially engaging in firefighting operations.

At this point, personnel must be assigned to remove any protected opening from the upstairs windows or balcony doors. As part of an RIC assignment, it is imperative that you pay particular attention to the first-arriving officer’s size-up. When he/she has indicated they are on scene of a two-story residential occupancy that is a high-density structure, it should give you clear direction to bring a ladder as part of your RIC tool complement. Once the bars or other security devices have been removed, attempt to force the opening without breaking the glass. Unless horizontal ventilation is being requested, the glass will remain intact, but the opening should be forced to provide interior personnel with an egress portal that will allow for a rapid egress should it be required. Again, the key is to work from the area of greatest risk to interior personnel back to the area of least danger. Typically, this is the area where the initial attack has been made.

Lastly, once you have cleared a protected opening, it is important to immediately sweep and search inside that particularly opening. Much like the technique of Vent-Enter- Search, this technique includes Force-Sweep/Search-light-identify. As we all know, civilians will usually attempt to leave a burning structure. Given that fact, as you soften the structure, you will be accessing areas that interior crews may not be capable of searching immediately. Therefore, as part of your softening task, you could likely come across a civilian rescue just inside the door you are forcing for your brother firefighter.

The technique of Force-Sweep/Search-Light-Identify includes creating the access/egress point, placing a foot on the door jam or frame fanning out with your body and Halligan bar, and sweeping/searching the area of the portal for anyone that may be in the immediate vicinity. Multiple civilians have been located through utilization of this technique. Following your forcible entry or softening operations, a rapid search/sweep should be conducted. After an all-clear is accomplished, provide some lighting to the access/egress portal.

Finally, clearly identify to all companies operating inside which division or area has been softened, searched, and cleared.

The key element of any RIC operation is to remember, Any RIC deployment is a defining moment. The contents of this article clearly identify a change in the methodology and operations of most RIC operations. These operations are taking RIC operational set- up procedures, forcing you to think outside-the-box of conventional RIC wisdom.

Remember that 79 percent of all fires occur in residential structures. Of those, a majority of all firefighter fatalities occur in these seemingly benign fires. Dont let the routine fire become the one that takes the life of your brother or sister.

About the Author
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

The Essentials of Honorable Leadership

Blog by Mark Emery, EFO
President of Fire Command, LLC

If all learned skills must begin with the fundamentals, what are the fundamentals of leadership?

Many experts define leadership as the action of leading a group of people or an organization. What that definition describes is supervision and management, not leadership. The evidence is that a person can be promoted to a position of supervision or management without being a leader. Thus it is imperative to prepare leaders at all organizational levels.

Again, it is important to not confuse leadership with supervision or management. The distinction is crucial; not making this distinction is why groups and organizations experience ongoing conflict.

While it is possible to draft a job description for a Supervisor or a Manager, it is impossible to draft a job description for a Leader. Imagine saying to someone, starting Monday morning you will be a leader.

Consider this: The actions of a prison guard ensure that the inmate group gets things done; goals like cooking meals, mopping floors, doing laundry, meeting license plate production quotas, etc. Does that mean that the prison guard is a leader? Of course not, prison goals will be met whether or not the guard is a leader. The supervisory success of the prison guard is entirely based on position and authority.

Although the role, responsibility, and authority of people may vary, the intrinsic template of truly honorable leadership does not vary. Often missed by traditional leadership programs is the fact people should be a leader before they become a supervisor or manager. Each member must be able to lead themselves before they attempt to supervise others.

It is not uncommon for so-called leadership programs to morph into supervision and management programs. Thus, a leadership gap is perpetuated. Fundamentals of leadership essentials must permeate the organization, top to bottom. Not all people will supervise, but all people should possess the template for honorable leadership.

Once the honorable leadership template has been internalized individually, and institutionalized organizationally, honorable leaders will proliferate and the ultimate manifestation of organizational development will emerge: Trust.

About the Author

Mark Emery is president of Fire Command, LLC in King County, Wash. He is a graduate of the National Fire Academy’s Executive Fire Officer (EFO) Program and has a degree from California State University Long Beach. In 2010, he retired as an operations battalion chief with the Woodinville, Wash., Fire & Life Safety District.

Scenario-Based Simulation Training Helps Firefighters See ‘the Big Picture’


Blog by Joe Pronesti
Captain with the Elyria Ohio Fire Department

In almost 25 years in the fire service, not a single day has gone by in which I didn’t thank the Lord for my blessings. But I’ve come across a few who weren’t as grateful. The types who come in at 8 a.m., or whatever time their shift begins, and are simply there just to collect a paycheck.

If you are a company officer or a command level officer in a small- to mid-size department and you haven’t seen a ton of fire, I have one word of advice: Beware. The easily contracted disease of complacency can reach out and infect you. Its important you don’t let this happen.

My recommendation is to keep your head in the books. Study video, audio and constantly challenge yourself to be ready to face a fire or emergency, no matter how long it’s been since your last one.

Be prepared so you will always have the capability to see the big picture. Never stop studying and analyzing fire, smoke behavior tactics and strategy. People who have been married a long time say the key to a successful marriage is being able to put forth an effort every day to your spouse. The same holds true in firefighting. Put forth an effort — even when you’re off-duty or not in the station — and you will have a successful and happy career.

Keep in mind, almost everything we do at a fire impacts the safety of other firefighters, as well as the success of the operation. Fortunately, technology is here to help us prepare, including software for simulations. Consider picking one up in an effort to help with bell hits.

One of the greatest things about these simulators is their ability to localize simulations. All you need is a camera to get out of the station and take some pictures of your buildings.

To help you get started, below is a template of a scenario you can incorporate into your own simulation training.

Simulation Training

Here’s the scenario: A call comes in around 7 p.m. on a hot summer night. Dispatch states police officers are on the scene. There is a working fire in a truck parked between an occupied multiple-family dwelling and a long time vacant. Upon arrival, this is the only information you have.

You can incorporate any questions you want, but below are some standard ones to help you get started:

1. Do you need more help?
2. Where would you spot first engine and truck?
3. How does the construction involved effect fire spread?
4. First line position/size?
5. Second line position/size?
6. Search to start where?
7. Would you start search ahead of line(s)?
8. Ventilation issues/profile?
9. Additional thoughts concerns, etc.

Now in this particular simulation, I used nine questions, but you may want to follow a known fire service acronym, like COAL WAS WEALTH, for example. Use your imagination and remember, keeping your skills sharp is critical to success.

So next time your crew is sitting at the kitchen table drinking coffee, instead of talking about city politics or the state of your department, put a picture of one of your buildings on fire on the table for everyone to analyze. I guarantee you will generate excellent banter, leading to knowledge. The end result will be a more educated, safer department, more prepared to see the big picture.

About the Author
Joe Pronesti is a 24-year veteran of the Elyria Ohio Fire Department where he currently serves as a shift captain. He is a certified fire instructor and teaches at the Cuyahoga Community College Fire Academy near Cleveland. He is also a graduate of the Ohio Fire Chiefs’ Executive Fire Officer Program Class VI.