Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Training, Luck, and being a PUPIL

I just read this excellent post on the nuances of terminology by Willie Wines of Iron

Willie was taken to task for his comments on some of the recent firefighter near-misses that have been reported nationally, specifically for stating that luck was one of the reasons that these incidents were not LODDs.

One of his readers replied that luck was not involved and that it was Training, Experience, and Heart, or alternatively Training, Experience, and Discipline that led to these firefighters survival, although with severe burn injuries.

Willie did some public soul-searching and then used the word "Fortunate" as a replacement for his previous use of "Lucky". I have to admit I don't really see the difference - those two terms are essentially the same thing, at least as I understand them.

More importantly though, Capt. Wines' post brings up the topic of just how much luck plays in things that happen on scene, particularly when it comes to surviving a close call. Obviously, Training, Experience, Heart, and Discipline are all involved. So are SOGs, staffing, protective equipment, teamwork, and being smart.

And yes, sometimes having the best Training, lots of Experience, good PPE, and all of those other things can let us down if something unexpected occurs. There's a chance that Training, Experience, and all the rest can get you out of the situation...and there's a chance that it won't. In fact, the unexpected occurrance might just be a factor of luck.

An old friend, Dr. Jerry DeVane and I spent a lot of time at large fires, complex rescues, and the occasional hazmat incident earlier in my career. Dr. DeVane wasn't one to stand around the command post - he usually could be found wearing turnout gear, treating patients, or even working the Jaws if that was what was needed. He taught me a very useful mneumonic for how to not only survive, but to thrive in stressful, dangerous situations. Jerry said "It's easy. You just have to be a PUPIL. He described PUPIL as follows:

P - Preparedess. This involves Training, Planning, Teamwork, SOGs, and everything else that makes individuals and teams ready to tackle the job and survive the unexpected.

U - Understanding. You must have the gut-level ability to know the job inside and out. You must know how your equipment works, its' capabilities, and its' limitations. You must also know your individual and team capabilities and limitations.

P - Practice, Practice, Practice. 'Nuff said on this one.

I - Intelligence. We must not only have the mental ability to learn the job and to find ways to improve it, we must be smart about how we operate. That means following the rule that sometimes the brave thing to do is to NOT go inside. It also means that we must call the MAYDAY as soon as it is indicated while avoiding a misplaced sense of courage, individual effort, or embarassment get in the way of personal survival.

L - LUCK. Yes, Willie, luck. Jerry's point is that we will have either good luck or bad luck both when we arrive on scene and during our operations. We cannot choose where incidents occur or how bad they may be. Sometimes we cannot intervene in time to prevent either a good luck or bad luck situation from occurring. Dr. DeVane didn't discuss whether or not luck is involved - he KNEW it was involved. His point was that we need to be able to recognize when a bad luck situation occurs and overcome it, and we need to also recognize when a good luck situation occurs and take advantage of it.

This made such an impression on me that I use it in training, especially driver/operator training. I sometimes ask driver/operators to describe the locations of certain tools on their rigs, usually like this; "So, in what compartment do you carry the pickhead axe?" I ask them the same question when it comes to luck: "In what compartment do you carry the good luck." So far, none of the drivers have been able to find good luck on their rig checklist.

The bottom line is that luck does play a part in what we do. The smart thing to do is to plan for bad luck and when we find good luck, make sure that we don't count on it lasting through the end of the incident. After all, Mr. Murphy likes to show up on our calls, and Mr. Murphy is a real SOB.

I'm very glad that we are talking about near-misses and not more LODDs in the cases Capt. Wines describes, whatever variables may have ultimately led to those firefighters' survival.

There is no better way to celebrate this joyous time of year than by knowing that the skeletal guy with the scythe lost his shot at a few of us...this time.

Oh, and Willie, thanks for making us think just how much luck may play a part in "Everyone Goes Home".

Friday, September 9, 2011

10 Years of Remembrance

Sunday is the 10th anniversary of the 9/11/01 terrorist attacks - the worst terrorist attack in the history of our world. It is appropriate that we honor and remember the nearly 3,000 people who died.

We should remember those who died on the four hijacked aircraft. Some were traveling to take care of business or to visit family. Some were aircrew just doing their job. Some were members of the military working in the Pentagon or their support staff or business people simply going about their workday in Lower Manhattan. The loss of every one of those people is a tragedy.

We also should remember those who were injured in the attacks. In particular, several survivors from the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were terribly burned - a horror with which firefighters are all too familiar.

We should remember the NYPD and PAPD police officers and the civilian EMS personnel who died responding to the World Trade Center attack. Their heroism should never be forgotten.

As a firefighter, I especially cannot forget the 343 members of the FDNY who died on that terrible day. They truly exemplify one of the most honorable things about our profession - running into buildings from which everyone else runs out. FDNY's losses do not stop there. Along with NYPD officers, steelworkers, and others, many of them have been dying by inches from respiratory disease, cancer, or other health problems acquired.

Our losses do not stop there. Members of our military have died by the thousands in the subsequent military actions whose intent is to root out sources of terrorist activity whose motive is nothing more than to kill Americans and others who are targeted for no reason other than having different values. I have a very personal reminder of how important this is; my son is one of those military members fighting the group that sheltered and assisted Al Queda as they planned the dastardly 9/11 attack.

I wear a 9/11 memorial bracelet honoring Captain Terry Hatton of FDNY Rescue 1. It is an everyday reminder to Never Forget. Remembering our fallen every day is important, but with the Pentagon rebuilt, the Shanksville memorial in place, the Ground Zero memorial pools flowing water, and the new World Trade Center rising from the ashes of its former site, it can be tempting to simply get on with life. Life indeed goes on for the rest of us, but it is important to take the time to set aside our daily routine and to celebrate the lives of our fallen.

Never, never, NEVER Forget.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

No Blood is Thicker

I was devastated to learn of the death of Fire Captain Jeff Bowen of Asheville, NC's Rescue Company 3. He leaves a wife and three children without a husband and father.
Any LODD is a terrible tragedy, but this one hits - literally - close to home for me.

You see, Asheville is my home town. I was born in Memorial Mission Hospital, located less than a block down Biltmore Avenue from the fire that killed Captain Bowen. The funeral home that handled Captain Bowen's arrangements is virtually next door to the office that housed my father's physician practice before he retired. One of my earliest memories is a 3rd-grade field trip to the Asheville Fire Department's Pack Square headquarters station. I have many family and friends in Asheville, including members of the fire department.

My department and the AFD share information, promotional examination assessors, professional respect, and friendship.

I attended Captain Bowen's funeral last Tuesday. I was impressed by the strength shown by the Asheville firefighters and the regional solidarity shown by fire departments throughout North and South Carolina who were there to honor Jeff's memory. I was also impressed by the thousands of citizens who lined the processional route waving flags, hands placed over hearts, and many crying their eyes out. The citizens of Asheville "get it". They understand at a very basic level that the Asheville firefighters literally put their lives on the line for people that they don't even know. They understand how important the fire department is to protecting the public's lives, property, commerce, and the environment. They understand that even in a down economy that fire and rescue services are essential to us all. Most importantly, they understand that an Asheville firefighter gave his life so that others could live.

I did not know Captain Bowen personally, but Chief Burnette, Chaplain Baird, and especially Jeff's daughters made all of us at the funeral wish that we had known him. In addition to being the captain of Asheville's rescue company, he was an expert in technical rescue, a member of the department's hazardous materials team, and a member of the swiftwater rescue team. As I do, Jeff loved the water. He obviously had a great love for his family, too.

At the funeral service, one of Jeff's daughters described being adopted and how Jeff helped her handle some of the cruel things other kids said to her about not being his biological child. While comforting her, Jeff told her something that was not only a loving comfort, but that was truly profound; "Blood is no thicker than water, but no blood is thicker than blood you would shed for another."

Jeff not only shed his blood for another, he died while making sure that 200 patients and medical staff made it safely away from the fire. Many of those patients were very sick and mobility-impaired. Every one of them made it out of the building. Captain Bowen and sixty other Asheville firefighters made sure of it.

Two days after the funeral, I was stunned to learn that the fire cause was arson. The contrast could not be more stark; someone with callous disregard for human life set fire to a five-story office building packed with people during the middle of the day. Another gave his life to ensure that the arsonist only murdered one person instead of hundreds. Not only did that arsonist kill a firefighter, he injured several other fireighters, some seriously. If not for Capt. Bowen and the other Asheville firefighters, hundreds of doses of chemotherapy drugs in short supply would have been destroyed. Medical treatment for thousands of people has been disrupted, and over 20 million dollars of damage was done. There is truly evil in this world, personified by the arsonist. There is also much good in the world, personified by Captain Jeff Bowen.

Rescue 3's Oregon Avenue firehouse is a sadder place these days, but the rescue firefighters still show up every day. The heavy rescue rig that Jeff loved so much still rolls out the doors, staffed with firefighters who share his dedication to helping other people who are in need.

My department and I are proud to stand in the thin red line with the Asheville firefighters who gave so much to save the lives of so many.

The Memorial Mission Hospital Foundation has started a memorial fund to assist Captain Bowen's family. The hospital foundation will match contributions dollar-for-dollar up to $10,000. You can donate online by contacting the Fallen Firefighter Fund. I urge you to donate to help Jeff's family with the struggles that come with losing a husband, father, and provider.

Jeff Bowen is - simply put - an American hero. So is every other one of the Asheville firefighters who responded to 445 Biltmore Avenue on July 28, 2011.

Blood doesn't come any thicker.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

You Probably Won't Die - No Matter What You Do

Does it sound crazy for a firefighter to say that? Maybe it does, but statistics show that approximately 100 U.S. firefighters die in the line of duty each year, with a smaller number of annual non-firefighter EMS LODDs.

There are approximately 1.15 million firefighters in the USA. That results in a LODD rate of 8.69 to the power of -5...a fraction so tiny that I don't think I can count that far without help from a math professor, a computer, and a calculator with advanced math functions. Or, to put it the same way my basic calculator put it, that number is 8.6956521739130434782608695652174e-5

Adding the 20 or 30 annual non-fire EMS provider LODDs to that number doesn't change the fraction in any way that is meanigful either mathematically or statistically.

So, eat at McDonald's all you wish, smoke and dip tobacco, don't work out or do any cardio, pack in the sugar and the caffiene, drive way faster than the speed limit, don't stop at controlled intersections, don't wear your seat belt or SCBA, don't perform size-ups, run blindly into every building no matter how little - or how much fire or smoke issue from it, freelance, ignore orders, and you'll probably live to tell the rest of us how tough and cool you are...

...this year.