Words may inspire but actions reveal the truth. We must be able to demonstrate and defend both. (Bill Carey photo)
What is it that we really need to know about Polk County, Florida and their fatal house fire? Is there anything more that can be revealed? What good comes from us trying to overturn every stone to justify our call for firing and to grandstand our own view of service, duty, and sacrifice – especially if we don’t live or work in Polk County. I will tell you that there is one thing we all must learn from it and it is that we are all one incident away from being the next Polk County.
Maybe it will be a fire fatality. Maybe it will be a personnel issue. Maybe it will be a matter of trust betrayed. Whichever way it plays out, the most important thing for all of us to do with the news from Florida is to ask ourselves how will we react when it happens? What should we be looking for now in our departments that we can fix so we are not the next headline and Facebook discussion?
On a practical matter the department report notes inexperience and being overwhelmed. Find a department today that does not have at least one officer who would be victim of those two hurdles. Calling for firings and libeling an entire department in social media does nothing positive for anyone (see: brotherhood my a#@) and again, unless we live or work there, it is worthless. Drop the broad brush, pick up the information and then take that chip off your shoulder and look at your own department – your chief officers, company officers, senior firefighters, everyone – and ask, “what can we do to make sure it doesn’t happen here?” It happened in my county decades ago. A pregnant mother and her children in their burning home on the phone with 911. Aggressive firefighters in a department known for being at times overly aggressive and the incident commander pulled firefighters out and kept others from going in. There were a lot of sore feelings after that, some still linger today, but it happened despite all our bravado.
Take the Polk County news and report and use it to find the flaws lingering in your department. It’s better to ask the hard questions now yourself than do nothing and have the politicians, citizens, and reporters ask them later.
February on FireRescue Magazine
Nothing helps with teaching in the fire service like a good war story. Seattle Ladder 9 officer Steve Crothers gives us good advice on how to best use your personal stories when teaching other firefighters so that you reinforce an emotional connection with the lesson being taught. There’s a good part in it on the negative side to stories and once you read it I’m certain you’ll be able to recall that one instructor who got sidetracked and rambled on and on about some job in his past leaving you wondering how the lesson got off track.
Oklahoma City Battalion Chief Greg Lindsay shares lessons learned from a house fire where a flashover drove first-arriving firefighters out of the house. This near-miss lesson comes from the incident commander who asked for the initial progress report when he arrived was immediately faced with firefighters injured while bailing out of a window and while performing ventilation. The 360, door control, and ventilation are just a few of the items looked at in this article. It can happen to you so spend some time reviewing this with your crew.
Deputy Chief Jack Reall from Columbus, Ohio addresses compassion fatigue and how to determine if you and I have it. It’s a good article that in my opinion should get a lot of promotion. The fire service in general presents a lot of information focused on helping brothers and sisters out regarding stress and depression. Jack’s article gets us to that helping point the moment the slightest warning signs begin to show. If you have a coworker who is showing signs of compassion fatigue - or, ‘who gives a damn anymore’ – this will help you help them before matters get worse. Our people are our greatest asset so why not take advantage of a tool that can help them fight against the grind and toil of the job and life.
Director Ben May wrote about marketing the fire service in February. That word can put many firefighters to sleep but consider how I started, with Polk County, and some of those questions being asked of the department. Ben takes questions thrown at your chiefs and gives you lessons on how to market your fire department beyond the ‘you call 911 and we respond’ message. At some varying degree your department is a business and you need to sell yourselves to the public. Your product is your service, their safety, and your firefighters’ training. Why not take advantage of all the tools out there that can increase support for your team?
The NIOSH Fire Fighter Fatality Investigation and Prevention program released three line of duty death reports in February. They involve sudden cardiac arrest and carbon monoxide toxicity. Most of our line of duty deaths are due to stress/overexertion and heart attack so take the time to read each one. While you are at it, have you had your yearly physical exam? We’re not ignorant to what can kill us on the fireground so don’t be ignorant about your health.
FDIC is weeks away and spots in classrooms are filling up. Don’t waste any more time in registering for some of our hands-on training. Some are new this year such as “Stretching for Success.” Find them all here.
As we close February we remember three fallen firefighters, their families, and their brothers and sisters in the job.