It’s All About Me

I think I’ve said this before so forgive me if I’m repeating myself. I don’t know why I read the comments written by other “firefighters” posted under some story or other regarding a fire or rescue situation. All it does, in general, is infuriate me. And so it has again. Buckle up lads and lasses.

Last Thursday evening there was a 2-Alarm apartment fire in Prince George’s County, Maryland. Five firefighters and one civilian were injured while four additional civilians were rescued. One of those rescues, in particular, has brought a lot of media attention and drawn the ire of many keyboard incident commanders. Captain Scott Kilpatrick of the PGFD entered a second-floor apartment above the the fire apartment, located a conscious victim who was unable for unspecified reasons to assist in her own movement, and then stayed with her for approximately 15 minutes after being unable to remove her on is own and radioing for help. Captain Kilpatrick shared his airpack with the victim, alternating breaths off his mask, while they awaited assistance from other firefighters. This resulted in both Captain Kilpatrick and the victim being transported to the hospital for treatment of smoke inhalation as well as thermal burns to the civilian. This is what the KIC’s or the keyboard firefighters are bashing Captain Kilpatrick for, and why I am supremely pissed.

I distinctly remember more than 18 years ago now, sitting in the training room of my first paid-on-call department, on the first day of the training academy, the training Captain giving his opening speech. In it he outlined what it meant to be a firefighter, what it meant to serve and that it was so much more than just a job. He also told us something that I already knew full-well and expected but something which I could tell some others in the room might not have thought much about before that moment. I’m paraphrasing a bit here so indulge me, but he said words similar to the following;

“Odds are ladies and gentlemen, that at some point in your careers, if you keep doing this long enough, you are going to get hurt. Hopefully it won’t be serious but it will probably happen. It’s just the nature of our job. We work in a dangerous environment that cannot be controlled all the time as much as we try. And of course, there’s always the chance that someone could make the ultimate sacrifice. Someone might die. Look around the room. There’s, what? Fifteen or so of you in here? By the time you get done with this academy, if you all make it, you will be a tight group. You’ll be close. Can you imagine if someone in here is just suddenly gone? You go to a fire together one night and only one of you goes home. It can happen. On average it does happen about 100 times a year. But we are here to save other peoples lives. To make a difference. Because if we don’t, no one else is going to.”

I thought those were powerful words back then and I still think they are powerful words today. But if we fast-forward those 18 some-odd-years now that training Captain would be delivering a different kind of speech. A speech that I think is at the center of a problem in today’s fire service and one that crops up in the comments made against firefighters like Captain Kilpatrick who go out and successfully save a life while making a conscious decision to risk his own. Here’s how today’s training Captain’s speech would go on the first day of the academy;

“Good morning and welcome to the first day of what will hopefully be a great career in the best job in the world. You know, this really is the best job in the world, isn’t it? We get to help people. We get to do some pretty cool things. We get to ride around in big red shiny trucks. But all of that doesn’t matter at all if you aren’t around AFTER your years of service to enjoy your family. Your grandchildren. Your pension you’ve earned. You can’t enjoy those things if you make bad decisions on this job. Bad decisions like not wearing your PPE. Not wearing your mask. Going into buildings that the fire is advanced to a point where there is nothing left to save and there is no viable human life left. You cannot be around to enjoy those things if you put yourself at risk! There is nothing, NOTHING!, that is worth risk to yourself, your health, your safety. You cannot save anyone else if you yourself are injured or incapacitated.”

Now, to be clear, I heard a variation of that speech too. But the focus was not on me. It was not solely on me first, mission an optional second and civilians a distant third. I feel that is what we are smashing into our recruits brains these days, and they are buying into it.

I am in full support of safety standards and of physical fitness. I believe in wearing all your gear, eating healthily, exercising and not taking unnecessary risks on emergency scenes. I am, however, in full support of doing our jobs and in knowing that in order to accomplish certain things on the emergency scene I may have to place myself in a position to risk my health and safety. This does not cause me to shy away from those tasks. This does not cause me to avoid those tasks or automatically label them as unattainable simply because they involve risk. Yet I feel that many in today’s fire service are doing exactly that. Take Captain Kilpatrick’s situation for example. One KIC in his reply to another KIC stated; “The [firefighter] did in fact put the Lady’s Life first. He demonstrated real Fire and EMS Dedication”…Dedication? By removing his mask? Please tell me you would NOT do the same.” I am standing up to say that I would absolutely do the same given the same circumstances. And here’s why: 1) I have a CONSCIOUS victim who is communicating with me. Are you telling me you are going to listen to her cough and gag and slowly loose consciousness while you continue to breathe off your tank? Oh, yeah. You would. It’s all about you. 2) I can leave. I came in off a ground ladder placed at a window. I know where that window and ladder are. If the victim becomes unconscious, my air runs out or conditions become untenable and I still cannot move her then I can leave and save myself. 3) It is a human life that you have taken an oath to protect. I don’t really think I need to expound on this one but maybe I do. For whatever reason the victim could not move. For whatever reason Captain Kilpatrick could not effect a rescue by himself. Captain Kilpatrick made radio and 911 contact and reported where he was and what he needed, help was coming. He made the decision to essentially shelter in place, for lack of a better term. He made the decision not to leave her. To do everything in his power to preserve her life until more help arrived. Even at the risk of himself.

Since 2009 our LODD numbers have been under 100. Thank God! Maybe we are finally listening. Maybe we are all exercising, eating better and training. Some would say we aren’t taking as many stupid risks. Some would point to VSP and other such “tools” as new innovations that have helped us to not place firefighters in harms way thus lowering the numbers. Maybe it’s a combination of numerous factors. But any way you slice it firefighting is always going to be an inherently dangerous profession that will never be able to be made 100-percent safe. It will require, yes require, firefighters to place themselves in positions that will risk their health and well-being in order to perform our job. If you do not subscribe to this treatise or worse yet do not believe it, maybe you were like some of the people in my academy class that first day and didn’t quite think this whole thing through.

Until next time,

Be as safe as possible in the course of carrying out the job you freely undertook and swore an oath to carry out.

Chris

Obviously This Is The Next Step In Safety

Heads-up displays in our masks; tracking software that allows Incident Commanders to see our movements inside a building on a computer screen; the new low-profile SCBA under development; fire extinguishing grenades; and somewhere, I am sure, someone is working on a robot to go in and put a fire out for us so that we don’t have to needlessly risk firefighters anymore. But until then, there’s this. The next logical step in firefighter safety. Because after all, nothing is really an emergency any more and no one else’s life is worth risking our own.

OSHA: First job at scene of fire is paperwork

As a clarification, when I end my posts by saying, “Stay safe!” I mean stay safe in the course of our job. While doing our job, not as an excuse not to do our job. And I certainly don’t think that more government agencies with little in the way of practical firefighting knowledge or experience should be handing down mandates that actually make the job more unsafe by removing a company officer and allowing the fire to build. <Shaking my head> I just don’t get it.

Stay safe while continuing to do the job we have all sworn to do.

Chris

P.S. I know this is childish, but, know how we have that other name for the NFPA? Maybe OSHA’s should be the Occupational Stupid Head Administration. Just a thought.

English: Logo for the United States Occupation...

Image via Wikipedia

P.P.S  Then, no sooner do I get done posting the above then I go over to get my daily fix of Fire Geezer and I see this article. I almost tested for Grand Rapids back in the day as my wife went to school there and loved the area. Glad now that I didn’t.

Fire Chief Wants to Replace Fire Engines with Pick-ups

Something That Needs to Piss You Off

In case you haven’t read Taj Meyers’ article, “Complacency or Cover Up?”, over at Fire Service Warrior yet, here’s the link. Go read it. Now! And I hope that it pisses you off, right to the core. Because then maybe we’ll really “change our culture”, as much as I hate that catch-phrase that’s been chasing us all around for a while. If you get pissed off after reading the post it means one of two things. 1) You agree with Taj and know that something in our job needs to change or, 2) You’re one of those “LODD” statistics waiting to happen and you took personal offense to it. Good. Maybe you’ll get it.

Chris

Hallway Sledge is Involved in a Great Debate

Hey everyone. Just a quick post to give you a heads-up on a debate I am involved in over at FirefighterNation.com. Someone who goes by the username of EngineLadder reposted my post, “The Pussification of the American Fire Service”, to his FFN page. Well, that automatically gave me quite a bit of exposure which of course brings with it both supporters and detractors. Someone who probably fits the latter is a gentleman named Ben Waller. Mr. Waller and I have been involved in a back and forth tennis match of comments and replies since I first posted a reply to some questions that readers were asking in regards to my post. I genuinely think it has been great fun as well as a very good and informative debate between the two of us. If you’d like to take a little while to see if I’m completely full of B.S. or not click here to go to EngineLadder’s page on FFN and check out the comments. Any comments, for or against my position, are always welcome.

Stay Safe!

Hallway Sledge