Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Last Responder Not First Responder

Recently My Department was notified that a local business was removing an existing fire sprinkler system during a significant remodeling effort. Naturally the Fire Chief called to express his, and the department’s, disappointment and offer some suggestions about retaining the operating system. Principally he mentioned that there has never been a multiple loss of life in a fully sprinklered building and that fire sprinklers are widely recognized as the single most effective method for fighting the spread of fires in their early stages - before they can cause severe injury to people and damage to property.

The building owner was appreciative of the information but told the chief that it’s simple economics. According to the new building codes during his remodeling and improvement project he was able to decommission and remove the system thus saving money on future costs of upkeep. In fact his insurance company told him that he would realize no savings from continuing to have his property protected 24 hours a day by a properly installed fire sprinkler system. Needless to say the chief and the entire department were incredulous.

Much to my chagrin the chief verified that the building code provisions do allow the removal. Obviously the fire service is ashamed that we allowed these things to happen. However, there are other opportunities for recourse. For instance, even only contacting a few insurance representatives it is obvious to me that significant discounts are available at many insurers for maintaining a fire sprinkler system in a business. Other locales have instituted new ordinances or begun education campaigns to challenge widely held, but false information about performance of the systems. There appears to be a lot to do.

We call ourselves “First Responders” but in reality we are the “Last Responders,” is a quote from retired Phoenix, AZ, Fire Chief Alan Brunacini. As I reviewed codes for this writing, consulted with insurance executives, and spoke to state and local authorities I realized that this is absolutely true. Firefighters are the last line of fire suppression in a usually desperate attempt to stop the progression of loss from fire. We react to a perceived emergency based on a series of choices that were made long before we were notified.

The building code, government, architect, builder, inspector, decorator, and even the owner all have input far in advance of our arrival. It is the conglomeration of their decisions that dictate our tactics and strategy. If we attempt to intervene early in the process, as with the International Code Council vote on residential sprinklers, we are vilified and accused of being nothing more than a special interest group. Ironic isn’t it that the very things that could make our job easier, or more difficult, are not within the purview of the fire department?

Rest assured that when called upon we will respond, commit resources, and mitigate the disaster to the best of our abilities. But also realize that we intend to become a force for change locally and nationally. Watered down building codes and safety requirements help no one, it is that early intervention and prevention that pays the best dividend. We will have safer communities, less loss, and as firefighters we will all get more sleep.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Is It a Full Moon?

The belief in Fate, a divine hand, or just plain bad luck is encouraged and promoted by our understanding that call volume has some association with innocuous universal truths.  Friday the Thirteenth is a widely held bad luck date.  We adamantly hold that any shift during a full moon is automatically assumed to be both busy and filled with oddity.  That bad things come in threes and we just know that there are certain individuals that are a magnet for unusual calls.  And possibly the worst case, any confluence of the just mentioned idiosyncratic beliefs portends real disaster for us.

Just think, if we are unlucky enough to work on Friday the Thirteenth, during a full moon, after two bad calls, with a crap magnet?  We might as well receive Last Rights and make a down payment on a cemetery marker because the world is about to end!

You are chuckling to yourself, but quietly lest you bring down some form of retribution on you or your crew, because you know as soon as someone utters the phrase "it sure is quiet" all hell will break loose.  The same thing happens when you challenge any of these universally accepted truths.

How do we combat these assumed truths?  Should we even address them?  More importantly can we use them to our advantage for training, education, or safety?

Obviously if we believe these things we should prepare for them.  The full moon comes every 28 days.  Friday the Thirteenth occurs every year.  If we get two difficult calls can the third be far behind?  All of these things must trigger a response from those of us that lead.  We can use the coming full moon to plan for pending issues.  Training and equipment checks can be completed or at least encouraged based on these or any other belief.

Now I'm not advocating an immediate transformation or return to support for unsubstantiated superstitious beliefs, just turning negative belly-aching woe-is-me  mentality to our benefit.  Maybe you can see this in other avenues.  It takes time, it takes leadership, but the rewards are attainable with little or no cost.

Thinking, educated, trained risk takers developing strategies to prepare us for the future, or just a few officers using an opportunity to encourage learning and preparation.  Yeah, it just might work.  By the way, the next Friday the Thirteenth Full Moon is 6/13/2014.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Old School, When Did It Become a Negative?

Remember when...fill in the blank.  It usually has to do with someone telling or showing us something that made a difference in how we continued.  My memory is being taught how to draft with a 1966 Ward LaFrance.  The slight of hand that was needed to pull the tank suction, activate the primer, adjust the throttle control, and "hear" the water as it entered the pump.  I'm not sure how long it would've taken me to learn the complex operation but I'm sure that the officer with the patience of a saint streamlined the process.  That's what I'm talking about, spending the time, sharing the knowledge, and bringing your fellow firefighters up to another level.  Yeah, professional.

As a group of young guys prepare to take their certification test I picked up a 2.5 gate valve and mentioned that this item was a pass/fail when I took the test 20 or more years ago.  We talked about where it goes on the hydrant and why.  Simple and to the point.  Something that you usually skip over and no one notices until they need it.  Now other stations will notice and remember that they should be doing it too.

What's your story?  And better yet, what are you willing to share?