Friday, November 30, 2012

The Bureaucratic Personality - Book Smart and Fireground Stupid

We all understand the fireground can be a very dynamic working environment. If you've been around long enough to know, new fire service veterans will often say "that no two fires are the same" or there is no such thing as the "routine fire" today. This can be especially true if you are charged to work for a fire department that has an "all hazards" mission statement.
All hazards mitigation in fire suppression, technical rescue, hazardous material response, terrorism and/or pre-hospital advanced life support can make the job challenging. The fire service of today has become a very dynamic place for firefighters to operate and survive in. The citizens for which we are charged to protect often hope we have all the answers for their declared emergency. That being said I find it hard to believe with today's demand for a battle ready firefighter, that we still see candidates being hired for a position that are primarily book smart. The problem with the one dimensional, book smart firefighter is he or she will eventually become eligible to test for a promotional examination. I bet you can see where this article is heading, these testing candidates are usually top of the leaderboard when the exam results are posted. Eventually our next generation of firefighters and future officers are now working under a command officer who is more concerned with following correct procedures (the rules) than they are with getting the job done correctly. Columbia University Professor; Robert K.
Merton, introduced back in 1968 the term called "Bureaucratic Personality". When reading Merton's work, he wrote that these workers are usually capable of handling routine situations effectively but are frequently incapable of handling a unique problem or an emergency. Thorstein Veblen used the term "trained incapacity" to characterize situations in which workers have become so highly specialized, or have been given such fragmented jobs to do that they are unable to come up with creative answers to the problems encountered. We have already established that the fire service is a very dynamic place to work, so much so that we often encounter unique or specialized emergencies in a magnitude of different disciplines. A common problem faced with the bureaucratic supervisor is the resistance to seek advice or suggestions from fellow firefighters / fire officers. Without tapping into the knowledge base of the more educated or experienced peer in a specific arena, the operation will often fall back on what is safe for the bureaucratic supervisor's career. Resistance to change often leads to what many outsiders see as fireground incompetence. It is a vicious cycle with this type of behavior and can lead into bureaucratic enlargement. This occurs when officials or administrators of an organization decide to push for larger budgets and justify their growth with taking on more tasks, functions or disciplines for the workforce.
Taking into consideration the strong push in the past for an increase in fire prevention, compounded by the focus on training personnel on "additional disciplines" we now provide as an all hazards fire department... the simple task of putting out a fire can become the high risk / low frequency event for some. When a department is faced with a challenging emergency and comes up short, don't be too quick to point the blame. Organizational behavior has a far bigger role in finding the root cause rather than targeting the end user. The environment for which firefighters and officers are subjected to can breed many internal and external problems. Once these traits have been instilled in an organization, it can drive a strong resistance towards change. This resistance can be based from Maslow's consideration for security. But eventually the bureaucratic leader will reach a performance level that is beyond their knowledge base, fireground experience, and/or capabilities. Hence the common referral as "Book Smart and Fireground Stupid."
Remember brother and sisters.... "Prepare as though your life depends on it!" Because when the tones drop and it is time to gear up and go to work, your investment into the preparation for battle is all you have to bring you home. Have a Safe and Happy Holiday Season. Billy

Monday, October 1, 2012

Tactical Mastery

What makes an "elite" firefighter? Well elite firefighters have invested a tremendous amount of time mastering his or her skill set through thousands of hours of training and experiences. Now looking at experience alone, the elite firefighter has been provided opportunities to succeed from other people who invested time in said development. The author Malcomb Gladwell wrote in his book "Outliers" that "People do not rise from nothing. We do owe something to parentage and patronage. The people who stand before kings may look like they did it all by themselves. But in fact they are invariably the beneficiaries of hidden advantages and extraordinary opportunities and cultural legacies that allow them to learn and work hard and make sense of the world in ways others cannot." If we were to overlay Gladwell's quote to the fire service, firefighters in reality are molded or influenced by the people for which they work for. Each of us one way or another are a reflection of our cultural upbringing. Some of those "opportunities" Gladwell speaks of in the fire service would be the instructors and officers who trained and provided the very first exposure to the brotherhood.
Tactical Mastery and the 10,000 hour rule - Physcologists have studied many elite people from different professions to see how much time was invested to master their chosen skill set. Many have concluded that investing 10,000 hours takes the average to the elite. One of these studies conducted by K. Anders Ericsson looked at violinists and divided them into three classifications. These three categories were "Stars", "Good", and just "Average" players. The third category was noted to most likely never play the violin professionally and would probably become music teachers. The study revealed that stars... "the elite musicians" had invested 10,000 hours during their career development. The good players were in the 6,000-8,000 hour range, they played well and with a high level of confidence and the latter was in the 2,000 hour range. Now if we were to look at one of the greatest rock and roll bands of all time, The Beatles had a unique development back story. You see John Lennon and Paul McCartney started playing together in 1957, this was (7) years prior to the Beatles invasion of the United States.
Up until 1960 The Beatles were just a struggling high school band that was mediocre at best. But in 1960, they were afforded an opportunity by chance to travel to Hamburg, Germany to play regularly. These Hamburg, Germany gigs were (7) nights a week and the performances were (8) hours per night. Prior to their success in the United States, The Beatles had polished there live act an estimated 1,200 times. That developmental time was a critical component to their mastery. Even today, many bands will never play twelve hundred times in their entire career. Adding up "The Beatles" investment in mastering their act, it totaled around 10,000 hours. By the time they landed in the United States, they had been together for over (8) years and took the music scene by storm.
The fire service has many different levels of fire service delivery. We can see on the internet many exceptional videos but along with good comes many that are lacking quality. Many service delivery levels are decided by the Fire Chief, but looking internally, we can see different levels of service delivery within our own personnel. There can be three categories of firefighters within the fire service similar to what Ericsson concluded. Many times, I hear the standard internet forum arguement, that we are all trained the same. I will agree on paper that we truly are trained the same if we all attended a nationally accredited program. But looking deeper into the statement, why do many fire department's have a few, elite, "go-to-firefighters or fire officers"? And in the same scan of the fireground, you can find some firefighters who are just sliding by as well? Alot can be attributed to a personal desire to provide the best service possible, but in a side by side comparison of equally trained brothers, it can also be the committment towards mastering the job. This mastery takes an enormous amount of time and often can be related to the 10,000 hour rule. Firefighters who take the fire service seriously, regardless if they are paid, paid-on-call, or volunteer, the one's who treat everyday as a training day, the brother or sister who is always following the latest training materials, techniques or scientific studies are investing in their own mastery. I often tell my students to "Invest in your mind and become a student of the fire service for life". Another motivational phrase I use is "Be a master of your domain". You see when I was a younger firefighter, I will admit I had low self esteem and lacked confidence in my fire service skill set. I believe to this day, that many new recruits have the same concerns. That being said, having a solid foundation of basic skill sets combined with field experience starts to provide personal character growth. While the firefighter gains confidence in his or her abilities, he or she is ultimately building self esteem. As a student for life, your committment toward obtaining mastery is important toward self preservation. Firefighters who feel they know everything about the job, are a danger to themselves and others. This mentality will eventually catch the complacent firefighter off guard and undertrained. To achieve mastery we must be a student for life.
Alot of people ask me why I choose to teach while off duty. My answer to them is while training others, I am constantly practicing my basic and advanced skill sets which ultimately make me a better firefighter. I like to tell firefighters that "time on the bottle" is critical. I am not talking about the beverage type either, "the bottle" being my SCBA. You see the more that I wear my self contained breathing apparatus, the more comfortable I become with the unit, it's capabilities, the limitations and ultimately the environment for which I am expected to work in. Now I understand not everybody has the opportunity to be exposed to 300-400 hours of training annually. But if you are training to the bare minimum, like 2 hours per month which category are you naturally going to fall into? If and when you do obtain the 10,000 hour rule within the fire service, those experiences will provide you with a high level of confidence. Like I said earlier, many will achieve this later in their career. It all depends on the time available to commit to training, response and daily exposures to the job in general. One thing that is fact, is all of these experiences will better align the firefighter to become an officer. There is a clear reason why some promotional candidates present with a high level of confidence. Command presence is all about having the right amount of tools in your toolbox, the knowledge of how those tools work (training) and the field experiences that all equate towards tactical mastery.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Has the Integrity of "The Game" been Compromised?

If you were to walk into a fire station on any given Sunday, most if not every dayroom television will probably have the big game on. Die hard football fans who rep the team hats, sweatshirts and jackets of their favorite team have a new dilemma. It seems the recent turmoil over pensions with the NFL official's has soiled the game most of us love. So much so that the game has been affected. Games have a new pace..... record number of penalty flags, coaches challenges, and big brother video play backs all of which have effected the tempo. These constant start and stops have some teams scrambling to get into a flow or rhythm.
In the end, whether it is positive or negative the players and coaches have been told by big brother they are not allowed to speak about the officials. The challenge we as die hard fans have, is we had "expectations" on how the game was going to be run... The fire service is no different, Fire Chief's have an expectation on how the day-to-day and emergency operations are going to be run. If your department has a strong officer development program then the transition of a firefighter to a newly promoted officer goes un-noticed. But without that officer development or mentor program in place, the transition can be brutal. This is exactly why we are all upset at the NFL. They have adjusted the rules and modified the game over time, to make it viewer friendly (greater scoring) and ultimately made it safer for the players. When you remove a key component of "the team" in the NFL, the game has to be affected. What we are seeing now is frustrated players adjusting their mindsets to see what they can and can't get away with. It is no different in the fire service when we appoint a firefighter to acting lieutenant or captain. Being passed the badge without proper mental and physical preparation will lead to loss of integrity of the mission. Just imagine if tomorrow your entire officer staff was told they are no longer supervising and the firefighters who have never taken an officer development class are instantly field promoted.
Would the department have turmoil? Would the integrity of the mission, (enforcement of those policies, procedures, and fire ground operations) be affected? Absolutely, would you see good intentioned people just winging it? I think so.... the difference in what is going on in the NFL and the fire service is much more similar than one would think. If a non-prepared officer leads his brothers into an ill fated battle (what I like to call a born loser) the outcome will surely be bleak. When a middle linebacker see's the wide receiver coming accross the middle for that pass, two trains are going to collide, if the delivery of that hit has a lack of concern over policies, procedures or enforcement one will likely come up injured or worse. There was a reason that over the past decade the NFL has been protecting quarterbacks, and the defense-less receiver. Because the integrity of the game, the safety of these massive players, and the business model of the NFL needs these players, coaches, and fans onboard with the mission. Fire Chief's take note, do not fall into the trap of false expectations. You must send your soon-to-be fire officers to an officer school, seek out fire officer development leaders and instructors to come in, or better yet design an in-house fire officer development program so your industrial athletes (our firefighters) are prepared for the expectations of their future mission. It can be as simple as allowing line officer's to mentor future officer's while on duty.
There is nothing wrong with letting the promotional candidates ride in the front right seat on the next automatic fire alarm. Getting a feel for the hot seat, reading the (MDT) mobile data terminal, assisting with clearing the intersections for the chauffeur's blind spot, signing off on the radio with a nice windshield size-up and the establishment of command. I personally think the preparation of the next line officer is not only the responsibility of the Fire Chief and Training Officer, but the candidate's current line officer as well. In my absence, the firefighter on the current promotional list is most likely stepping up to fill in for the troops. It is our responsibility to make sure we don't let the acting officer end up looking like the debacle we currently are seeing on any given Sunday. Because these guy's in pin stripes are truly acting...
Just a quick reminder to check out our other articles on Fire Engineering's Training Blog Network. You can also listen to us live on "Tap the Box" with FETC Services. We host a radio show on the latest fire service training and leadership topics. We would love to hear from you , connect with us on FaceBook, search FETC Services. Take Care and Stay Safe Brothers..... Billy

Monday, August 6, 2012

Twitter Olympics

Many athletes competing in the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London were reminded that they are restricted from releasing olympic related information through the use of social media. "Rule 40" states from the IOC, that use of social media (twitter, facebook, or other related websites) that athletes or authorized persons, shall not release information (Ie: name, photographs, media press releases) associated with the athlete's sponsors during the 2012 games. Many athletes feel this is a violation of their right to freedom of speech. Can the fire service learn from this? Well if your fire department doesn't have a social media policy they better get one soon. Social media is becoming the fastest growing headache for Fire Chief's, City Managers, Mayors and/or Labor Lawyers. It was noted that in the past month alone, that Philly, Baltimore City, and Indy have released new social media policies. Alot of firefighters will say, is there really a need for such?
Well in the past, through internet stories I can recall images of an accident showing a victim’s face, or the accident scene with some gruesome details. These actions may violate privacy concerns, and/or federal HIPAA laws, etc. It wasn't long ago we were debating about cartoon figures that depicted firefighters, medics and hospital staff interactions. Then there was the youtube release of a duty crew hanging in a dayroom being video taped during a staged prank with a bad guy coming in with a gun. And lately their have been "tweets" releasing operational readiness or as some see it as "lack-of-readiness" during the economic downturn. Releasing information about the lack of manned apparatus, or paramedic staffing may seem like the best way to gain public support for the cause, but is it?
Many firefighters feel that our right to freedom of speech is the "catch all" for not accepting a newly implemented social media policy. Curt Varone has told his audiences that our First Amendment Right is a complex law that doesn't give a person broad rights of free speech like many often assume. So before anyone decides to speak negatively about your chief, officer, fellow co-worker or the department itself, you might want to rethink before clicking the post tab. Often times these actions are the end of a firefighter's career. The reputation of the person being attacked can become tarnished and ultimately never regained. This can and has tarnished the career of many good leaders as well. Social media policies are not designed to restrict your voice, it is to protect the employees, the department and everyone's reputation. The fire service is built on the trust and security with the public, media relations is a big part of that protection. The absolute best protection for the entire fire department organization is to have a well thought out social media policy. A policy that everyone understands and can adhere to. For those who were in the fire service before the influx of personal computers, tablets and PDA's, it was unheard of for a firefighter to write an open letter and send it to newspaper with a signed signature. Why was that? Well to be honest, everyone knew that "pen to paper" was powerful, and if written in the negative, it always had reprocussions. What the fire service of today needs to do is educate the latest generation of "computer savy" firefighters, that the power of the keystroke has the same consequences.
Take Care and Stay Safe Brothers..... Tap the Box Baby!

Friday, May 18, 2012

Blinder Mentality

Life moves at a fast pace these days. So fast you can easily miss an opportunity to improve one self. The pace affects everybody from the firefighter on the floor, right up to the chief’s office. There are two common management models during these busy times, the first would be the progressive management model. Being progressive involves supporting the needs and requirements of the organization and predicting the future. The latter is called crisis management modeling. An organization that remains stagnant and waits for the next crisis to manage is often like going through life with horse blinders on.
After returning from this year’s journey to Indy, I took note of a new horse in our stable. For those who don’t know, we have horses at our small farm in New Hampshire. One common misconception about horses is that we (humans) teach them. What many people don’t understand about horses is how the horses can teach us (humans) a multitude of lessons. Things like developing life, responsibility and communication skills. Many of these leadership traits are similar to the fire officer’s responsibilities for supporting his or her organization. For example for those who know me, understand I am a fan of the fastest two minutes in racing. In preparation for those two minutes of brute power, “the horse’s development team” had to put in thousands of hours of physical and mental training toward the mission of winning. Sometimes in the process of training a young horse who has difficulty concentrating, a trainer will use blinders to make the horse focus on his task. Taking away the outside distraction(s) often yield positive results in getting to the finish line ahead of the pack. Our annual pilgrimage to the greatest fire service convention in the world is essentially my way of keeping the horse blinders off. FDIC is truly an annual tune up for the fire service. When firefighters get comfortable with their daily routine(s), they can easily get caught with blinders on. While seeing one view or perspective is purposeful for horse racing, it may not be beneficial if you decide to train that same horse for other disciplines.
In the movie Backdraft, Engine 17's kitchen had a fictional sign on the wall stating, “150 Years of Tradition… Unimpeded by Progress” The saying is often recited by firefighters throughout the world and piggybacked with “That won’t work here.” I usually reply with the standard, “May I ask why?” Then the firefighter provides a long winded answer saying…. “Well because we have always done it that way!” Can you imagine if the world never changed the way things were done? If so we would all be dragging a steamer to the next fire with horses or holding our breath while attempting a rescue. Get my point yet? Why is the fire service so caught up on being set in our comfortable ways. Let’s face it the world is changing almost daily. Things are now developed to make life easier, produce products faster, or to make greater profits. The down side to all of these luxuries, is in the process of mitigating an emergency we now have new hazards to deal with. When we overlay training, tactics and techniques that were developed or delivered many years ago, it may be incompatible or incorrect for the modern day hazard.
This is why when we look at our mission, the focus should be on maintaining our training to the highest level. Simply put, without adequate preparation for the environment you are expected to work in, you are essentially walking around with horse blinders on. We all agree times are busy…. but they can be financially challenging as well. Training budgets can be one of the first things politicians aim to eliminate. Don’t get caught in the crisis management mode when the budget is targeted. Progressive leaders understand the impact quality training has on our firefighters and can explain how that training benefits the public as well. Solid training for our troops is what keeps the boots on the ground working safely. Many progressive firefighters would rather work with older apparatus (that was obviously well maintained) with highly trained brothers than work with a shiny new fire truck and poorly trained brothers. Getting out of the house once in a while is a good thing. Going to a convention to see how other fire departments are operating, training, managing, gaining funding, and working at peak performance levels with the financial budget they currently have is one benefit of the “national convention” networking system. Even if you can only send one firefighter per year, the benefits of returning with a fully charged and battle ready brother will benefit the company or department he or she is working for.
On the road to life, don’t be caught regretting that you spent your fire service career with blinders on. Stay focused, stay progressive and situationally strong of the mission's requirement for a battle ready - battle tested firefighter. “Train as though your life depends on it, because it truly does.” - Tap the Box Baby..... TCSS - Billy

Friday, March 16, 2012

FDIC 2012 - Interior Benchmarking Class

Any interior firefighter who spends enough time in an immediately dangerous to life and health (IDLH) atmosphere will eventually encounter some type of bad situation. Unfortunately, interior firefighters can become overwhelmed under these conditions and unable to escape the hazard. Part of the reason for these problems may be our ever-increasing budget cuts and the resulting lack of personnel on arrival, which leave officers no choice but to ask the responding firefighters to multitask. There are too many “bad situations” to list. The focus here is on lost and disoriented firefighters and identifying severe thermal insult conditions.

“Interior Benchmarking” for greater firefighter situational awareness can assist us when we are caught in a bad situation. Over my fire service career, I have found that if firefighters can adopt this behavioral modification and acknowledge interior benchmarks, they can be safer interior firefighters or fire officers.


Interior benchmarks are situational points we acknowledge at every fire. Locating the fire, knocking down the fire, completing the primary or secondary search on a floor, pushing down the basement stairs for fire attack, advancing to the floor above for fire attack or searching for extension are all traditional interior benchmarks.

With my interior benchmarking concept, the interior crew acknowledges the benchmark and completes a quick firefighter safety and situational assessment. The next time you enter an IDLH atmosphere, stop yourself and your crew. Ask for quiet, gain control of the adrenaline rush, and assess the atmospheric conditions. This approach is as valuable for recruits as it is for seasoned veterans. To use the interior benchmarking concept, you must obtain baseline information you can use to compare with your next interior benchmark.

Ask yourself these potentially lifesaving questions: What do I see? What do I hear? What do I feel? Where am I? What is the floor made of? Is my crew intact? Do we have a personnel accountability report (PAR)? What is our remaining SCBA air pressure? Let’s break down these questions in detail.

What Do I See?

Can I see the fire? Is there rollover? What are the smoke conditions like? What does my thermal imaging camera read? Can I see thermal layering or smoke travel? Is the fire already rolling over my company? What is the floor made of?

Should you become lost, disoriented or experience a floor collapse, you should use your last interior benchmark for comparison. Did the floor construction change? What is the construction now and where am I? Am I in the kitchen, living room, bathroom, or cellar? All these rooms typically have distinguishable flooring or more common floor plans and window configurations. Identify them and report your location.

What Do I Hear?

Do I hear the fire crackling to my right or left? Many times we are too eager to enter and stick to a left- or right-hand search pattern, following basic habits instilled as a recruit. What if you stopped for a second and really listened? Listen as if you were a blind civilian searching for day-to-day directional cues.

If you still can’t determine the direction, cover one ear with a gloved hand. Does the sound get closer or farther away? Your uncovered ear will lead you to the fire or victims more quickly.

Also, pay close attention to the audible response from sounding the floor with a tool. Thermal imaging cameras have given our vision back to a degree, but the vision has created some bad habits, such as forgetting to sound the floor.

What Do I Feel?

This is a big one. What was the heat like on initial entry? Think back to your last building fire; now, ask yourself how much time was spent getting off the truck and gaining entry. Most of us will say, “As little as possible” This is a great attitude to have, but let’s face it: Sometimes rapid entry without making mental notes creates bigger problems for us in the future. The American fire service prides itself on quick, aggressive interior fire attack. Our forefathers created this tradition, and we should carry it on, but we must change our behavioral traits. Let’s face reality: We have fewer building fires and less live-fire experience (firefighters and officers included). We are now wrapped up in greater head-to-toe protective clothing. Our battle with the red devil entails a much greater thermal insult from quick burning fires, and we all too often operate in underventilated structures because of tighter, energy-efficient homes. So I ask you: Can we really afford this “rush-in” mentality?

The interior benchmarking question “What do I feel?” provides a baseline for future heat-index comparisons. Without the baseline input, you have nothing to compare until the seat of your pants computes, “Damn, it’s really hot in here!” By taking note of the thermal insult during a benchmark, maybe we can identify rapid heat build up before it is too late.

Completing the Company PAR

The fire officer must maintain control and be held accountable for his crew’s actions. The crew members must also have discipline and confidence to communicate their own individual hazardous situations. Never ignore situations such as not feeling well, a lack of crew integrity, firefighter disorientation (report it early), entanglement, or a low-air warning alarm.

SCBA Air Consumption and Management

The last component of the interior benchmarking process is the constant monitoring of your air consumption. How much air was used to get to your current location? Do you have enough air to make it back to the entry door? Calculating the distance traveled on the air already consumed drives the decision of whether you continue to advance; back out; or give a clear, concise, and early Mayday report. Given the right set of hazardous circumstances, sometimes our SCBA’s low-air warning alarm provides a false sense of security and will not give us enough time to safely evacuate the building.

• • •

Note I did not mention “What do I smell?” We cannot operate as our predecessors did. We cannot allow ourselves to go in too deep and not have enough air to safely exit the IDLH environment. Nobody can tolerate a few breaths of superheated gas and the ever-present hydrogen cyanide from the modern but routine building fire.

If you implement the interior benchmarking concept at your next building fire, you will have ascertained an incredible amount of potentially lifesaving information. If you should encounter a bad situation, the more information you have the more likely you will feel you can manage conditions that are rapidly spinning out of control. Constantly compare your last download of information with what you are now experiencing, and make educated decisions. As you advance to locate your victims or the seat of the fire, continuously ask yourself these same interior benchmarking questions. If you do this on a regular basis, you not only will increase your situational awareness, but you also will find victims quicker, extinguish fires faster, and greatly increase your personal safety.

We will be in Indy teaching "Interior Benchmarking" on Thursday April 19th, 2012. We look forward to meeting everyone who chose to attend the greatest conference in the world! Take care and stay safe brothers. Billy

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Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Turning Down Time Positive

Today during some down time between runs I took my company out on a building familiarization tour. The tour included looking at a really large, 4 story lightweight residential dormitory being built in our first due. The tour affords firefighters with the opportunity to get out and mingle with contractors, see new construction materials or techniques and really get to see behind the walls of a specific dwelling before they are covered up. A fire service x-ray of the structural support system(s). Firefighter survival within the modern construction era is the responsibility of progressive fire service leaders. History is played out time and time again within our service. NIOSH reports do not lie and many of us whether we are volunteer, paid-call or career continue to not learn from our "brothers" unfortunate incidents.

Fire sprinklers are designed to provide the occupants of a dwelling the chance to get out when a fire strikes. The protection industry has produced some wonderful results and often the system controls the fire to the point of total fire extinguishment. That said, the fire service must remember that the sprinkler system was not designed to extinguish every fire within that same building. There are many voids within a dwelling that are not protected by the sprinklers. Pipe chases, electrical conduit holes, heating / ventilation duct work, and the structural support materials themselves may afford lateral heat, smoke and fire spread underneath your feet.

We all know that drop ceiling tile construction is loaded with many, many feet of grid wire which can entangle us firefighters. With the advancement of newer fuel efficient forced hot air furnaces (high pressure FHA for example) newer construction contains miles of basically "dryer vent hose" in the walls and ceiling. As the ceiling tiles drop and the plastic burns off the vent hose the wire is exposed. We are now faced with being entrapped in a gigantic slinky. Any of us who owned a slinky can appreciate just how difficult it was to untangle the coils when they became twisted. Imagine being literally trapped inside the coils while wearing our full PPE and SCBA.

Getting out and seeing a building in the early stages of construction will produce a huge amount of life saving information. Things like that nice exterior brick or block wall from the street may not actually be true ordinary construction. There are many really lightweight exterior wall finishing’s or “facades” that are really cost effective and go up relatively quickly today. This type of information will be important during the operational decision making process during a large fire.

Newer single or multi-family and even commercial construction are now using lightweight laminated I-Beam or Box Truss materials. The height of these beams (from top chord to bottom chord) are determined by the strength needed to hold up the weight above and the span from bearing wall to bearing wall. This dimension in turn, creates a larger than usual void space compared to our traditional 2” x 10” (or) 2” x 12” floor joist construction. Not only do we have to worry about the burn rate and collapse time of the lighter materials used for glue-laminate or I –beams, but the increased voids are now holding miles and miles of slinky duct work waiting for us as well.

Today's firefighter needs to carry wire cutters and a rescue knife, both of which that can be operated with your gloves on. We must be proficient in self-disentanglement to the extreme and not just wiggling by some small diameter rope tied off to the bannister railing in training. Don't be fooled by the fire prevention officer's creed of "I want to sprinkle everything". Remember sprinklers are designed for life safety - to provide time for the occupants to egress the building before we arrive. A relatively small fire in any one of these void spaces listed previously may go undetected and uninterrupted by any sprinkler head.

Maybe we do not burn the place down, but losing a company or two to an early, no warning, lightweight construction failure should be a concern. So get out and tour your construction sites before they are completed.

Take Care and Stay Safe Brother and Sisters… See you all in Indy!

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