Thursday, April 18, 2013

Give Them An Inch, And They May Take A Mile

      While growing up, I heard this phrase all too often “ We give you an inch, and you take a mile”. Most of the time this was because my curfew would get extended an hour, and I would show up three hours later. I used to just blow off the phrase and say “I know, I’m sorry, and it will not happen again”, but it often did. I was always taking that inch that was given to me, and stretching it as far as I could. Nowadays, I embrace this phrase and channel the “Mile” part in a positive way.

     When new candidates begin a journey in the greatest profession on earth, they are   given the basic tools necessary to satisfactorily complete a task. Many times the academies just scrape the surface of what the actual fireground will look like. Many fire departments do not have a training facility like “The Rock”( FDNY ). Some departments do not have a training facility at all. For example:  During the academy we spend several hours talking about and performing forcible entry on props, and then expect our firefighters to be able to gain access to any door that we ask them to. Anyone who has been on the job for several years, will tell you that this basic level of instruction is nowhere close to teaching our firefighters all that they need to know regarding forcible entry. This holds true for any fireground task, which can then cause candidates leaving the academy with a feeling of false confidence. Although they are unaware of it at the time, they feel that they have been given the proper training and preparation to handle any job that is thrown their way. Here is an example of how a group of firefighters are addressing this exact issue of forcible entry. I read a recent post on Facebook from Irons and Ladders LLC, which stated that they were able to instruct the forcible entry class for the new academy. (If you have not been following Irons and Ladders LLC, I would highly recommend that you begin to). They stated that they forced almost 500 doors, and spent 24 hours of training on forcible entry. This type of training will put the candidate years ahead of many firefighters.



     Now let’s take a trip down memory lane. Do you remember your first year as a firefighter? You were full of questions, and maybe at times were afraid of asking them, in fear of appearing incompetent. But, you would ask them anyway, and the answers would range from a five second response to a ten minute response. After months on the job it was easier to tell who actually knew what they were talking about. The person, who seemed to have all of the answers, may have been the senior guy, or the station captain. Regardless, this was the person that you found yourself going to when you had a question, and more importantly trusted and respected their answer. This person played a vital role in opening your eyes, and showing you just how big in magnitude the actual fire service is. This person shared their knowledge, because they knew that someday it would be you returning the favor to a new candidate.

     For me, as a candidate, when I asked a question regarding a fireground task, I was given an inch of information, and would then take that inch and turn it into a mile. That inch of information may suffice for some people, but for me it was never enough. That initial mile has turned into an odometer that continues to turn, and will not stop until I stop.

     I made a promise to myself that I would share as much knowledge as possible to anyone who was willing to listen. I have seen this “inch into a mile” take off with new firefighters who are so eager to learn the craft.  When you open the door for that new firefighter and help them stretch that inch of information, you might get lucky and that inch will turn into that mile. The more firefighters that we have stretching that inch, the further everyone else’s mile will become. People will feed off of one another and strive for greatness. The craft of firefighting takes countless hours of dedication. We may never master the craft of firefighting, but we will work diligently in an attempt to reach mastery.

Here are some tips to aid in stretching the mile:

·  Lead by example           

·  Let them know that it’s ok to fail during training

·  Create competitive evolutions

·  Listen to them and ask for their input

·  Show enthusiasm regardless of the training topic

·  Push them to improve their skills

·  Advise them that satisfactory is just above failing

·  Give them a topic to research and have them    present it in a drill

·  Ask them what type of firefighter they want protecting their family

     These are just several tips to help any firefighter stretch that mile. By investing a little time, effort, and quality leadership, we can unlock doors that will lead them to finding the drive and dedication that this profession requires. Remember the title to this blog the next time that any firefighter asks you a question. You may be the one to open their eyes to the magnitude of the fire service, and also inspire them to stretch that inch of information. Share your knowledge, as we are only as strong as our weakest link.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013


 Tactical efficiency is vital on today’s fireground. What is Tactical efficiency?

Tactical: Definition-  from Merriam-Webster:

                   (1)     : of or occurring at the battlefront <a tactical defense<a tactical first strike>                                                                                                                                                                                                 

                   (2)      : using or being weapons or forces employed at the battlefront.

 Efficiency:  Definition- from- Merriam-Webster

               (1)            a : efficient operation

                                 b : effective operation as measured by a comparison of production with cost                       (as in energy, time, and money) (2) : the ratio of the useful energy delivered by a dynamic system to the energy supplied to it.

     Or, how I like to put it, performing tasks efficiently on the fireground. In today’s fire service it is extremely important to operate efficiently. With departments who are short staffed, see brownouts on a daily basis, departments who are laying off fire fighters, today’s modern lightweight construction and all of the plastics inside the structures, open floor plans, the list can go on! A question that many departments face is, how can we be efficient and effective on the fireground with less manpower and less time to operate? For many, this question has been around since the first day that they opened the doors for business.

     We all know that engine companies may need to operate as a truck at times, and trucks as engines. By training our firefighters to operate this way, we become more tactically efficient on the fireground. This allows tasks to be accomplished in a timely manner instead of waiting for the first due truck. Now, let’s take that mindset and break it down to the individual firefighter. For this blog we will focus on the task of ground ladders.

 The ground ladder is a staple of the fire service.  This wonderful piece of equipment that we carry is so much more than a piece of wood or aluminum. Some departments out there have a great pride in their ladder work and it shows in photos that we see on the Internet. The photo below shows a ground ladder placed at almost every egress point in the area where fire was involved. This is a great photo demonstrating the pride that this fire department has in its ladder work. Any firefighter who needed to rapidly egress, or remove a victim had a way out. I applaud them for their work!


       For others, this tool is often overlooked and only placed on the fireground if we have an immediate need for the ladder (i.e. VEIS). There are plenty of documented cases in which a firefighter needed to immediately exit a structure from above grade and had to wait for a ground ladder to be placed. Can every fire department make their fireground look like the picture above? The answer is no. This is due to the size of the department, apparatus responding, number of ladders available, and manpower. Whether you have two ladders on scene or fifty ladders on scene, utilize these life saving tools that are given to you and stay ahead of the power curve! If you set up five ground ladders and none of them are needed on the fireground, so be it. But, remember it is much better to be looking at a ladder, than looking for one!

How can we efficiently perform the task of placing ground ladders with limited manpower? The answer is very simple…Practice! By building a solid foundation of lifting, carrying, and raising ladders, we can improve our fireground operations. If we normally use two firefighters to carry and throw a 24-foot extension ladder, can we train our firefighters to carry and raise a 24-foot extension ladder by themselves? You bet we can! For some of you, this is standard practice, but for others it is not. If we were taught that any time we raise an extension ladder it must be done by a minimum of two firefighters, we tend to stick with that mindset. You would be surprised how many firefighters feel defeated before they even attempt carrying and raising a ladder by themselves, only because they have never tried it! If we can train our firefighters to become comfortable with raising ladders by themselves, we can now place two ladders in the same amount of time. We are now operating in a tactical efficient manner.

 A solid foundation of ladder skills must be mastered before jumping in to a 24, or 28-foot extension ladder. The ground ladder, just like any other piece of equipment that we lift must be done utilizing proper technique. We lift with our legs, not our backs.  To become comfortable and efficient with ground ladders, utilize the crawl, walk, run method. If this is a new method of operation for you, start with just your helmet, coat, pants, and gloves. Once this is mastered, add your S.C.B.A. Then add tools to the drill. Perform as many repetitions as necessary to perform this task until you cannot get it wrong! Start with a 16-foot roof ladder and perform multiple repetitions of lifting, carrying, and raising the roof ladder before moving on to the 24-foot extension, and once comfortable with that, move on to a larger ladder. There are several ways in which we can carry a ground ladder to reach our objective, so pick what works best for you and use that method. Although, in a single firefighter ladder carry and raise, it is easiest to carry the ladder in the high shoulder method.

This method allows your skeleton to bear the weight, and also makes it an easier transition when moving the ladder from the shoulder to a vertical position. When raising the ladder be sure to check for overhead obstructions, and always face the building when raising a ladder. This will allow you to observe fire conditions as well as allow you to see your objective. By raising the ladder this way, the fly section will be in. For an immediate rescue the ladder could remain with the fly section in ( See Duo Safety Statement photo at the bottom of the page).  Two other options for efficiency include, closed halyard systems, and marking of the balance point on the ladder. Follow your departments SOP/SOG when carrying and placing ground ladders. 

      With a ground ladder that is marked at the balance point, utilizing a closed halyard system, fly in, and a firefighter who is capable and comfortable with performing a single firefighter ladder carry and raise, we can operate in a more effective and efficient manner. This will allow us to accomplish more fireground tasks in a timely manner, and also provide a rapid means of egress for victim or firefighter removal. Again, we are now raising two ladders in the same amount of time it takes for two firefighters to raise one ladder. This in turn makes the fireground twice as safe for egress for all members operating in an IDLH atmosphere. The ladder that you place at a window early on in the incident may very well be the tool that you use later in the fire to save your life! So, Get out of the firehouse and build you ladder skills! Practice, practice, practice, become comfortable, create muscle memory, and make yourself more effective and efficient on the fireground.

Below is a link to an excellent article from Fire Engineering on single firefighter ladder carries and raises, and a statement from duo safety regarding using a ladder with the fly in.

Single firefighter ladder article From Fire Engineering