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Monthly Archives: June 2012

A romance for firefighting begins in each one of us, just as unique as those involved. Our stories are diverse, similar, extraordinary or maybe just ours. My love affair with this calling, the Fire Service, is not special or enthralling, it is just mine.

Chief Chris Huston and Firefighter Chris Huston

Sunday is Fathers Day. Some will mark the occasion possibly by serving breakfast in bed or a family cookout. My life has not led me down the path of parenthood in the traditional sense; our puppies are my “kids”, so Fathers Day is strictly about my dad. If yours is like most, they have everything they need. The best gift you can give – is love and appreciation. These words are my way of showing my dad how much he means to me.

In 1979, a young man entered the Fire Service. His father-in-law was a Captain on the local Volunteer Fire Department. As with most young, new Firefighters (at the time Firemen), he found the exhilaration of running to emergencies and the feeling of community pride when the job was done. At this same time, the newly married man had a six-month-old son at home. The family began and embraced what would be many years of Fire Service dedication. Growing up around the Fire Station was just what I did. Playing on the backstep and pretending to drive is what any kid in my shoes would do. When the company came to school for Fire Prevention I did not get excited, I had seen it all before. When the other kids were afraid to participate in the drills they were teaching us, I would not flinch to show how it easy it was. For me it was an everyday situation. Proudly I would say to the children around me, “that’s my dad and that’s my grandpa.”

My dad and my Grandpa

As years passed the child became a teen and the awkward stage of youth took control. We had our differences and life could be both complicated and bitter. Yet time past, life as a young man and his father started to take shape. The event that led to my becoming of a Firefighter is simple and common; I saw in person what my dad did. Seeing this small event occur and the feelings of pride took hold. Within 7 days I started my journey, my romance with firefighting began. My dad was in the Front Seat the first time I drove the engine. My dad was my partner the first time I entered a working fire. My dad was the first to let me lead a training. No matter how much more I learn, my dad will always be my mentor.

Here we are, years later. My dad is now the Chief of the department that he has nobly served for 33 years. His father-in-law, my Grandpa still serves as his Assistant Chief, with nearly 50 years of service. While I, with less then 10,  have only grown fonder of this great profession with every passing day.

Chief Chris Huston serving NBCFD since 1979

Dad – thank you for always allowing me to follow my dreams yet keeping me grounded. Without your support, I would have never found my passion, my calling and my life’s work. On this Fathers Day 2012, I hope you read this and know how much you are appreciated and loved. We are Fathers, we are sons, we are Firefighters.

We are all a little different, like school kids.

There is an argument being made that we cannot have a safe fire ground. This
job, inherently filled with risk, will never see a day where everyone goes
home. Can we find middle ground where safety and our duty receive equal
treatment? Life is overflowing with risk and we perform life altering/ending
actions on a daily basis just as human beings. Life as a Fire Service
professional gives us a different perspective. We have training and education
to handle when those risks of living life catch up to our neighbors. The
question we must pose, do we all see the same way?

A personal perspective on the fire service. Sometimes I look at the fire
service as school. Brand new personnel go through pre-school and kindergarten
to get basics of playing with others and what its like to be here. As time
passes, you move through the levels. Some really enjoy third grade and chose to
stay there. They know enough to get by and decide to learn no more. Some have a
good idea of what is going on, but are nervous about moving on to junior high
and puberty is setting in making them feel awkward. Then their are those that
have the sophomore attitude. They know a few things, are cocky about it and want to
impress the seniors. What they lack however is experience, a
broader perspective and maturity. Then there are the academics that seek higher
education. They not only learn what is required and excel at it but also
include after school activities to be well rounded. As a whole, the Fire Service is
like a bunch of sixth grader. We are chasing girls, rather be playing football
and we get an attitude with our parents.

Look at the public perspective of firefighting. The person watching an
operation on the street may have no idea of what is happening and it may look
like a horrific scene. The seasoned personnel on that same scene look at it as
routine. Add a newly certified Firefighter to that picture, they are excited,
nervous, curious and to some degree scared. Their perspective is completely
different then the public and veteran member. Put that same working fire or
accident into two places, the large metro department then the smallest village.

What are the contrasts in perspectives? The engine company composed of six
professionals that see multiple fires in a shift compared to the nine member
volunteer department that is may see fire once in their life. How can you
justify that each of these perform to the same level, work within the same
parameters and accept the same level of risk?

Several significant goals exist in the fire service. The most notable is
service to our community. We accomplish this goal by being prepared to
undertake any issue they may call us for. A company should show up, offer
solutions in a professional manner then if needed provide a resolution. Highly
trained and experienced people can only accomplish this feat. “When others
can’t, call the Fire Department” we take pride in this notion. Training
and the passing of information and gathering experience is only second to the
service we provide, yet without our qualities what would that service be like.

Once you have committed to providing a level of service, you now must commit
to meet expectations. At the same time, others must not expect to do more than
you are qualified, certified and experienced to perform. The level of service
you are willing to give far out weighs the expectations that others place upon
yourselves.

The world has changed significantly; we have been slow to keep up. Is that
the real issue? We know we have to change, but is it too fast, are we expecting
results to quickly, is this why we see such a divide in the camps? Do some have
experience yet it is not relevant to current conditions? Can experience expire?

Are we resistant to change because it is change? If we are seeking change, too
quickly we fail more often then succeed? Is our perspective blinding us to the
truth? To these questions, I have no solutions, but they need to be asked
nonetheless.

What we see as a norm is high risks maneuver – driving. Millions of people
get behind the wheel of vehicles everyday. This has the potential to be cause
bodily harm and death, yet it is looked upon as routine. Our perspective, more
easily defined as our point of view, sees driving as a normal situation. A
brand new driver may be terrified the first time they are behind the wheel, or
possibly the first time they enter the expressway. Over time that same driver
with practice, training and confidence will not think twice when the ignition
is turned over. Their perspective has now changed. As times change and auto
manufacturers evolve and dictate what our transportation needs are, does our
perspective change? Our course is does. It is evolution, it is necessary. The
cars we drive must take new forms in safety, comfort and features based on
those who are behind the wheel. As new drivers enter the lanes, their needs
differ from their predecessors and their perspectives.

Serve to protect your community to the degree YOU have committed. The fire
service is a global team that plays different games. Our perspective will
dictate what we are willing to do and what we are capable of doing. We can find
our operations satisfy both safety and duty. Risk cannot be legislated away
entirely. A perspective that understands who we have command and control over
must direct operations with the abilities and knowledge of our people on scene.
Our mission, the fire service as a whole, must share best practices. We can
learn from everyone but it must be applied to our game, the way we play it.
Part of our duty, an obligation even, is to seek knowledge and education to
operate at a level that best serves those we swore to protect, including those
we serve with. Before throwing stones try to see the view from their
perspective.

At 0700 hours, county fire dispatched Engine 22 to an elementary school for “smells and bells.” Upon arrival, our first consideration – student drop-off was just beginning. Nothing was showing from the exterior so school officials held students and parents in the parking lot while we made our way to the main annunciator panel. Pre-planning and prior knowledge were assets on this early morning run. The alarm was quickly silenced and the alarms zone was transmitted to command, Roof unit #4. The addition of a new gymnasium a few years prior, created an increase in alarms at this location. The HVAC units on the roof were notorious for burning up belts, which in turn activated the duct detectors. Our mission – make the roof to ensure no fire conditions existed.

OSHA 29-CFR-1910.27 has a laundry list of requirements for FIXED LADDERS. Knowing where and how they are maintained in your first due, can help gain access to various areas. For the situation above, we chose to use the fixed exterior ladder to make the roof. Having a basic understanding of fixed ladders can help you with perform a ladder size up and determine if this is an option.

 

Key points:

  • Rungs must be designed so the foot cannot slide off.
  • Metal ladders shall be painted or treated to resist corrosion and rust.
  • 30 inches of clearance must be available on the climbing side for a 90-degree ladder.
  • A ladder cage is required for all ladders longer than 20 feet and must extend 42 inches above top landing.
  • All ladders must be maintained in safe condition, inspected regularly – based on use and exposure.

Use good judgment when using the buildings fixed ladders. Before committing, give the rungs a quick look. Fixed ladders are designed to hold a minimum concentrated load of 200lbs. A bad rung could fail under the weight of a fully turned out Firefighter with SCBA and tools. Check the welds and the anti-slip covers, if applicable. Check for rust and peeling paint. Is there a cage? If so, is there a fall protection system attached? Look at the fasteners to the structure. Going up a rung or two may help you decide if the connection is proper.

Fixed ladders also include pit ladders that are formed by using metal rungs embedded into concrete. These can be a valve pit or leading down into a waterway. Most commonly, the rungs are made from rebar. Keep in mind that pits stay moist and corrosion will be more prevalent.

Regarding safety while using fixed ladders, a different climbing pitch is used in comparison to portable ladders. Three points of contact is even more important. Having a soft tool bag on the apparatus with utility rope is a good idea. Just like in probie school, climb up to the roof, drop your rope and the firefighter on the ground can attach the rope to the tool bag, then hoist up. Keeping two hands to climb is much safer on a 90 degree ladder, even more so when it is taller than 20 feet and your climbing in a cage. Using the fixed ladder can help us quickly make access but consider having the next in engine or truck throw a ladder. This not only provides egress if we decide not to come down the fixed ladder due to possible failure but also as a second means of egress.

Many reasons exist that may cause us to use a building fixed ladders. Roof access, confined space rescue and internal elevations. Being familiar with fixed ladders can save time on scene, however how well as the owner maintained them. Get out and look for fixed ladders in your first due!

 

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