Sunday, July 26, 2009

Getting Familiar with Unfamiliar Dirt

I recently spent a week on vacation that included a lot of reading on the beach. I was able to complete a six-book series, the Corean Chronicles by L.E. Modsitt, Jr... an excellent read if you're into the genre. In one of the books, a group of soldiers is deployed to an area with which none of them are familiar. They're tired from traveling and just want to set up camp and relax, but their officer immediately sends out patrols. They complain, but the officer tells the soldiers that they need to "Get familiar with the unfamiliar dirt" where they're operating in order to prevent any nasty surprises from the enemy. Frank Brannigan always told firefighters that buildings were our enemy, and "Know Your Enemy". Driving around a beachfront town that I hadn't visited in several years reminded me that there was a lot of unfamiliar dirt there, and that the unfamiliar dirt had a lot of unfamiliar buildings on it.

How will getting familiar with unfamiliar dirt help firefighters? It helps us learn how to gain access to places we may never have been, it helps us learn occupancy-specific hazards, and it helps us plan firefights in places that aren't directly conntected to the dirt.

Some firefighters don't like to spend time on the dirt at the Training Center.
The places you train are built on some very important dirt.
I spent four hours on this dirt yesterday (Sunday) with several companies of very dedicated firefighters. So did two other chief officers, one of whom was off duty at the time.

Some of your dirt has structures containing bad things like hazardous materials containers...

...or hazardous materials processing.

The dirt may be open and inviting on Side A.
No matter how familiar you are with Side A, if you have to bail out the Side C door of this occupancy, you're in trouble.

How about this dirt? Which Side C door connects to which strip mall occupancy?
How well will the cantilivered awning hold up if fire attacks the interior anchors?
If you need to force entry on Side C, will basic engine tools get you through the fortified doors, or will you need the additional power carried by a ladder or rescue company?

Is some of the structure built a long way above the dirt?
How will you access the upper floors of this structure...especially if the 1st due is a single-station volunteer fire department? Are there fire protection systems to help you keep this building from becoming part of the dirt?

Does the structure extend horizontally away from the dirt?
Do you have a way to handle emergencies in places that are not readily accessible from the dirt?

Are some of the structures on the dirt crammed tightly together?
Can you safely walk between the fire building and an adjacent exposure, or is there a chance that you'll be trapped or burned if part of the fire structure collapses or autovents while you're walking the 4-foot wide dirt between the buildings?

Does the dirt include an antique building modified into apartments over an industrial occupancy with no fire protection systems?

The officer in the Corean Chronicles had an important teaching point for the fire service...learn the unfamiliar dirt to which you're first due... that you don't get familiar with this kind of unfamiliar dirt.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Mutual Dependence on Independence Day

Independence Day - July 4 - is a uniquely American holiday. Many of us treat it like just another summer holiday - a barbecue, swimming or boating, relaxing with friends, and concluding with an evening of fireworks. This year, I ask you to take a few minutes to do something a little different. The American Revolution was the brain child of a few people who resolved to risk their businesses, their fortunes, and their very lives to gain independence from Great Britain. After a war that destroyed lives and property, they achieved their aim. How did they achieve independence? They achieved it by working and fighting - together - to overcome a common enemy. They were not willing to give up, to back down, or to compromise on the essentials of what they believed to be right. When he said "We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately", Benjamin Franklin understood the dichotomy that in order for America to become independent, the people fighting for that independence had to be mutually dependent by "hanging together". Benjamin Franklin was a firefighter, and he understood the community's mutual dependence upon the fire department as the protector of lives, property, and commerce, too.

Patrick Henry, another early American patriot, advised constant vigilance when being faced with the loss of freedom and mutual happiness and prosperity. He also understood the value of being able to jointly determine our common fate. His comment..."The battle, Sir, is not to the strong alone; it is to the vigilant, the active, the brave. Besides, Sir, we have no election."

In 2009, the American Fire-Rescue and EMS services are under attack, in a different way from how our country was in 1776, but under attack no less. We are under attack from the global economy that steals revenue from our cities and counties. We are under attack from increasing call volumes while under pressure to reduce staffinug and to make that old apparatus last "just one more year". We are under attack from citizens that want us to be there in their hour of need, but who don't understand the realities of making the services available in a rapid and safe manner. Our funding is under attack from politicians and administrators that see the economic meltdown as a way to permenently reduce the costs of providing fire, rescue, and EMS services.

So, how do we "hang together" to overcome these problems?

An example is the Boston firefighters who - on their own time - staffed firehouses that would have otherwise been browned out. Columbia and Irmo, SC firefighters recently worked together to fight a house fire near both city's boundaries. Sylvania Township, OH firefighters set up a live burn for some of their elected officials - officials that had previously opposed a 1.5 mil fire tax increase. My department jointly operates three special teams (Hazmat, COBRA/WMD, and USAR) with our good friends from Bluffton Township Fire & Rescue. These are just a few examples of creative ways to work together to maintain and improve Fire/Rescue and EMS services when we can no longer just throw money at every problem.

Like it or not, we're mutually dependent on our neighboring Fire/Rescue and EMS departments, our elected officials, and our public administrators. We need to foster creative ways to use that mutual dependence to our mutual benefit. If you don't like running mutual aid or automatic aid with a neighboring department, get together, work out the problems, and start helping each other. If your services are being cut due to the economy, do your homework, get the facts, and enlist community support to help minimize the cuts. If you are at odds with your public administrators and/or elected officials, invite them to participate in a live burn, extrication demonstration, or a CPR class to find out just how physically demanding our jobs really are...and why it takes that expensive manpower to do the job safely.

Once you determine the best way to foster the mutual dependence with the other stakeholders, follow Benjamin Franklin's advice and "Resolve to perform what you ought. Perform without fail what you resolve."

Tomorrow is Independence Day in the United States. Remember the people who fought to make it so, and in the words of our most famous early firefighter "Where liberty dwells, there is my country." Let's foster our mutual dependence to provide the people whom we serve Liberty - Liberty from fire, entrapment, and the loss of loved ones and livelihood. Pointing out our mutual dependence can go a long way toward improving bad relationships. Remember Great Britain, our enemy in 1776 and again in 1812? They're now our closest ally, sharing mutual dependence.