Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Automatic Fire Alarm Complacency

Automatic Fire Alarm Complacency

By: Tony Kelleher and Ricky Riley

Recently, we have had several discussions; both within my own areas fire department and in other departments across the country with regard to their policy and attitudes towards automatic fire alarms.  While we at Traditions Training continue to preach our Combat Ready attitude to firefighters and officers, the topic of automatic fire alarms continues to creep into the conversation.  The focus, mainly on the attitude that firefighters and their respective departments take on these type of alarms.

While we fully understand the consistent physical and mental drain on personnel and resources while we respond to a great many of these alarms, we must not allow the complacency that many times accompanies these repetitive calls for service to creep into the way we answer them.


·      What is the number and type of apparatus are you sending to your automatic fire alarms?

·      With your current response policy, if units find a fire or other emergency, will they be able to operate in a timely and safe fashion?

·      How long may initial units have to wait to operate to ensure they achieve ‘two in, two out’ or your individual cities or towns policy on entering a structure with an IDLH environment?

·      What mode are the units responding in ‘non-emergency’ or ‘emergency’ or a combination of both?

·      Are you sending a command officer to supervise the units?

Recently outside of Washington D.C. a single engine company was sent to an automatic fire alarm. This call was received at 3am and the dispatch center received no more supporting calls to which was sent a single engine response. This engine arrived to find a working fire in a split foyer home with confirmed civilian trapped. The company worked diligently to complete all their tactical tasks and rescue the civilian. Unfortunately the civilian succumbed to her injuries the next day.

We certainly do not like to ‘Monday morning quarterback’ at Traditions Training, but, we can ask ourselves for our own departments: “what can we do to dispatch the right amount of units to incidents like an automatic fire alarm.” Would increasing the response to an engine and truck/squad better assist civilians and firefighters and provide a better outcome if confronted with a true fire-situation? This high frequency/low probability type incident should be afforded the correct resources based on your local jurisdictions area and resources.


·      What is the common attitude among the firefighters and officers concerning their response to automatic fire alarms?

·      Does the company and the officer fully dress out for fire alarms regardless of the number of units dispatched or if you are going emergency or non-emergency response?

·      How quickly do you think that your personnel and equipment can recover from a complacent attitude, if we arrive and find a true fire emergency?

·      If you have to play catch-up by putting your gear on, are we really delivering the service that our citizens expect of us?

A department in Pennsylvania that Traditions Training has had the good fortune to instruct with over the last few years responded to two automatic fire alarms in a 36-hour period. Upon arrival at one they were greeted with heavy fire and smoke from a commercial structure, which eventually required three alarms to control. At the second, once again they were greeted with another working fire.

The outcome of these incidents lays squarely on the department’s commitment to being ‘Combat Ready’ and their understanding that automatic fire alarms cannot be taken lightly. They had dispatched the appropriate number of apparatus and the personnel were fully dressed and ready to go to work. This commitment and understanding should be the norm rather than the exception.

We fully recognize the determination, dedication and energy that it takes to always be Combat Ready when responding to automatic fire alarms. But, we as the fire service must take all of them seriously till we arrive (with the correct number of apparatus dispatched and personnel fully prepared) and determine the cause of the alarm and that there is no true fire emergency.

We should all remember that regardless of the ratio of true fire events to faulty alarms, it only takes ONE lapse in our approach that can increase property damage to a structure or home of our citizens or worse, a civilian or firefighter death or injury.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

A Mentor and Friend

June 14th, 2005 is a day that lives with all of us at Traditions Training, The FDNY, Kentland VFD and the Lund Family. That was the day we lost Peter Lund in a hometown house fire in Woodmere, N.Y. Seven years have passed and although the days have not gotten any easier without talking to him, his knowledge and experience is passed on everyday. As a founding member of Traditions Training, he just wanted to get out and share all that he had learned in his storied career in the FDNY, and the experiences as a volunteer firefighter in his hometown and at Kentland. His teaching method was by far not from any book or class. His own unique style could capture any audience from the youngest firefighter in the room to the veterans. And although his vast knowledge was passed on, sometimes you would not even know you were learning something. He would tell you one of his famous stories and relate all the details in his unique NY accent and humor. This humor would usually have you laughing so hard that your stomach hurt and you were crying. But when the story was over and you thought about it, you were always able to extract the information he was trying to get across. And God knows he had a lot of stories to tell you. To the members of his "Rescue 2" in New York he was known as Lt. Vulcan "God of Fire", and those of us that were not as fortunate as the men he worked with,we can only imagine how he earned that name.

When you talk about Pete, or hear people talk about Pete it is usually the same sentiments. Humble, Always ready to listen, Loved to talk, always willing and able to spread his knowledge to any firefighter regardless of rank, age or experience and above all a great friend. Seven years have gone by and there is not a class that Traditions Training teaches that we do not honor him and pass on the lessons that he passed on to us. What anyone of us would give to hear one more story and see that smile or hear that accent. And although we lost a great fireman and instructor, we have to remember that he also was a fabulous father and husband. And our thought are always with Andrea, Matt and Val.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Waving Red Flags on the Fireground

Thanks goes to Fire Engineering Magazine, PennWell and Chief Halton as Traditions Training Instructors Larry Schultz (DCFD) and Ricky Riley (Clearwater Fire and Kentland VFD) have been chosen to present our "Waving Red Flags on the Fireground" class. This class will be given Monday morning on April 16th at 0800 hours. At many incidents, all the signs and sounds are there for the firefighters and incident commanders to predict that an emergency or injury is about to happen. This class will set a foundation for companies to have a plan in place to take away some of these issues and problems. Learn how these firefights can be successful through the model of an SOP-driven fire where tactical assignments are already preplanned and assigned to companies prior to the fire happening, thus reducing the unknowns and frantic calls on the radio. This approach will teach you to be proactive and not reactive to problems as they arise on the fireground. But with every plan there are issues that can arise, and the IC and company officers should be prepared to react and have the ability to accomplish tasks without delay. Will we use a series of videos and audio to illustrate some of these flags, and help you develop a series of incident commander habits to make your incident scene a better fireground.

We know that you have a lot of choices on this day, but we hope you can join us for our program. And as always "Stay Combat Ready"


Monday, November 21, 2011

The Attack Line is not Magic

Over the past few days, compliments of the Internet, several videos have been posted that show the “lost art” of getting the first attack line in service. There has been plenty of talk about the first line, from numerous training companies and instructors alike... but the nuts and bolts of are often overlooked. The art form that is the stretching of the primary attack line is not for the weak; not for a weak officer and not for a weak crew.

After attending a recent conference and watching various new burn rate videos and the accompanying lectures, I was pondering how this new information translates to where the rubber meets the road. Even though I am sure that there are many topics that this new information could be applied. Many of those topics, would be on a much grander scale than what I am writing about here. The relation it has on what I am going to talk about comes down to a very simple task.

Lets take our most prevalent type fire, the single-family dwelling. The studies show that with newer building materials and highly combustible contents, these fires are going to grow faster and burn hotter than the “good-old” days.

This information demands that if we make the tactical decision to proceed with an interior/offensive fire attack that as a department and company we are prepared to make this attack. This last sentence is very easy to say and I hear it repeated numerous times across the country. But, how prepared are you really as a company and a department to implement this strategy? This implemented interior attack, with all the information about burn rates and hotter fires, should make all of us rethink how well we do the simplest task.

That task is pulling the first line, getting it into position and finally...OPERATING the line on the fire. Yes putting water on the fire.

The task of stretching the first attack line, I believe has been taken for granted for to long. It is something that most departments teach in their recruit schools or Firefighter 1 classes. From there, most departments believe that maybe conducting a drill once a year on pulling the lines is enough. Not to mention that most of these drills are in a beautiful parking lot or training grounds that has no obstacles or obstructions. Isn’t it nice for the crews and the department when they pat each other on the back and commend each other for a great job! The bosses take note that everyone did great on pulling lines this year!

Heck, we could even give each crew a trophy for pulling the lines in the vacant parking lot so they feel good about themselves. Okay, sorry I got on my soapbox for a second, I will now deploy my escape device and get off of there.

The pulling, stretching and operating that first attack line is not something that you should happen upon. Or worse, feel lucky that you got it in place and operating. It takes a dedication to yourself as an officer, and yourself as a firefighter to get this vitally important task done. What is needed is to make it a well-practiced and developed habit.

We constantly hear at conferences that runs and fires are down. Statistically this may be correct, but that does not lessen the responsibility or obligation for you as the company officer or the backstep firefighter to complete your tasks with the upmost efficiency or professionalism. This efficiency and professionalism is regardless if you receive a check for riding that engine or if you are volunteering in your hometown.

Fire does not care, it will take advantage of any crack in your armor, in your operation, regardless of affiliation or size of your town or city.

You have to practice, practice, practice and yeah practice some more. This simple task of the first attack line cannot be mastered by sitting in a recliner at the station, preoccupied on your X-Box or Wii, or by telling yourself that you are good at it and not practicing it. Believe me when I tell you that I have had officers and companies tell me that they are proficient at pulling attack lines and when the call or incident occurs, Larry, Moe and Curly would have been a great improvement on the crew. And sadly, probably less entertaining.

When we have incidents regardless of how small or insignificant as they may seem, or whatever time that they are called in, we should be taking advantage of each and every one of them to train.

So let me make this a little clearer, it’s 2:30 AM in the morning and you are dispatched for an odor of smoke in an apartment building. It has been a long day of medical runs, training, and cleaning the firehouse. But this is our first structure fire call of the shift or day. You as the officer and your crew must now take full advantage of the call and deliver your best effort for yourselves, the department, and the citizens you serve.

As you pull into the block you locate your hydrant and lay a supply line to the scene. You have pre-planned this project type building and know by the address that this is a 300’ foot stretch to the apartment with 50 feet of hose left for the apartment. You can smell the odor of burnt food from the cab as you pull up.

The parking lot is jammed with cars and this Saturday night has many of the apartment occupants hanging out in the courtyard waiting to see you and your crews show. You order the crew to make the stretch and all of you proceed to work yourselves and the line to the apartment of origin. The line keeps getting caught on vehicle tires and fence posts, your crew constantly is moving the line away from these obstacles and continues the advance of the line.

As you the officer keep checking the line you see that there are no bundles of hose left anywhere, the line is not under any tires and, that at the apartment door, they have 50 feet of line still on the nozzle person’s shoulder. All the doors have been chocked open and your crew is ready to deploy the line if needed.

This practiced and proficient operation does not happen by accident, this operation is completed by non-complacent, Combat Ready, and dedicated professional firefighters and officers.

We have to become proficient at the task of getting that first line in service and operating first, followed by the second line and maybe the third line. All this should be done without complication, fanfare, and not be overly time consuming but... proficient. These do not happen by “miracle” they happen by having good officers, crews, department philosophy and dedication. All must have the understanding the VITAL importance of that first attack line. Getting the line there is just one step in the battle. Now you have to charge it and have the ability to advance it when charged and put water on the fire. This last task is a class in itself and is taught by great hands-on instructors across the nation, better than I could possibly write about it here.

So get out there on your runs and pull that hoseline every time, if nothing else, to be an expert when lives hang in the balance.

As always BE COMBAT READY...

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Attack Line

While searching for information for our radio show on Fire Engineering Blog Talk Radio I came across an article written by Captain Charles Gibbs of the Arlington County, VA. Fire Department. He retired out of Engine 107-C last year and he had written this article for our website MutualBox.xom when I still worked in Fairfax County, VA. Captain Gibbs is a well disciplined and respected fire officer and will most definitely put a fire out. The information in this article is timeless and can be used by the newest recruit, the veteran firefighter and fire officers as well. So please enjoy this educational article from one of my mentors in the fire service.


Charles A. Gibbs, Captain Training Division

Last month we discussed the priority of actions to take on any structure fire: Civilian life safety, locate the fire, confine the fire and put the fire out.

This month we will discuss some specific considerations for deploying and advancing handlines.

In order to get the initial handline and additional handlines in the best position for fire control, you must know the limitations of handlines carried, resources available on your unit to overcome these limitations and be able to identify rooms and parts of buildings from the exterior.

The only way to know the limitations of handlines carried on your unit is to be familiar with the building construction in your box alarm response area. Your must be familiar with the communities in your response area. Single family dwellings (SFD) in neighborhood communities are usually similar in design and floor layout. Garden apartments are similar in design and floor layout across the country. Since most fires occur in the home we will discuss handline specifics for single family dwellings. You must go out to all types of buildings in your response area and practice deploying handlines to determine what can and cannot be done and what you must do to overcome these obstacles with your company.

In SFD’ the functional areas are usually on the first floor. You usually enter through the front door into a foyer. The living room and library are usually directly off the foyer near the front door. The dining room is usually located beyond the living room; the kitchen is usually located opposite the front door towards the rear of the dwelling. If there is a family room it may be located near the kitchen or in the basement. The stairway to the second floor is almost always located at the front door in the foyer. The basement door may be located between the foyer and kitchen or directly off the kitchen. Bedrooms and bathrooms are on the second floor, left and right of the stairway. Access to the attic is from the top floor, either by a stairway, pull down steps or an access panel. You are probably asking what does this have to do with specifics or handline deployment. Read on.

By being able to identify where rooms are in a SFD from the exterior you should be able to determine what length handline you are going to deploy. You should be able to identify most rooms from the exterior by their respective window locations. Windows tell you the floor layout. This will tell you how much hose you need inside the dwelling, what rooms to search first, what rooms to ventilate first and where the fire may extend. You must have enough hose at the front door to advance to all areas of the dwelling without having to call for more hose. Plan on it, don’t be caught short, it is poor planning and embarrassing to come up short.

It is the basics of handline deployment that are the most critical. You must chock the screen door open. You must chock the front door open. Even though the front door swings in you should still chock it. The door may close on the line before the line is charged. You must never allow an uncharged line to advance under a door. When the line is charged the door becomes a hose clamp. For the most part chock open any door you enter. There are many ways to chock open doors. You should carry something in your running coat to chock open doors without relying on another firefighter. There may be times you do not want to chock open the door if you are making a room search in conjunction with handline advancement. This is when a search team is branching out to search rooms on either side as the handline moves in for attack. You must position a firefighter at every turn you make. This firefighter is responsible to make sure enough hose gets around the corner so the handline can move in on the fire. This firefighter may be the most critical to interior handline operations. Once you’re at the fire area you must have enough hose to move through the room for complete extinguishment and hydraulic ventilation. A firefighter should be positioned at the front door to push the hoseline in as it is advanced.

It is essential to have enough hose available at the front door to move in. The hose should be flaked out near the door you are entering. It must be flaked out in a manor so it will not get knotted up within itself. Take the time to flake it out in accordion fashion or in a circle. When the line is charged it should not knot. It is the company officers responsibility to ensure there is enough hose at the entrance to advance through the dwelling to extinguish the fire, serve as the backup line to the first line, go to the floor above the fire or the top floor. You usually do not want to have any of the shoulder load on your shoulder when entering the dwelling. The time you take to properly flake out the hoseline outside will be made up on the interior. It does result in more fluid operation.

It is essential that the engine crew keep the handline in their hand when advancing. If a member of the company drops the hose or doesn’t pull their share of advancing the handline other members must pick up the slack. When one member doesn’t carry their share of the advancing handline the entire company is using up unnecessary energy, breathing air and time. This will result in the company being more exhausted than was necessary, the company having unnecessary difficulties getting the handline in proper position in a reasonable time and a delay in applying water to contain and put the fire out. In the worst case scenario the handline will not get to the fire. Remember putting the fire out is the single biggest life saving tactic to be done on the fireground.

The Engine Company must take their time to ensure everything is in place and ready to go before entering the dwelling. They must ensure the handline is at the door, the handline is flaked out not just thrown on the ground, the nozzle is closed and the line charged if necessary. Charging a handline before entering is at the discretion of the company officer but it must be communicated to the crew before an alarm is transmitted. This part of the action plan.

The key to handline deployment no matter what type of occupancy or what type of construction is training. Companies must go out and practice pulling and advancing handlines regularly at all types of structures. You must practice in structures like it was an actual incident. You must practice the “what ifs”. What if the line is too short, how are you going to overcome it? What if you have to extend a charged handline to operate in a different area, what if the front door is six hundred feet away and there is no other access, what if Side C access is from an adjacent street, what if you have to advance through an adjacent building.

When you are dispatched to a fire it is because the citizen truly believes there is a fire. You should respond and act like it is going to be a real fire. We assume an awful lot just from dispatch information, previous incidents and experience. Relying totally on this results in failure and you are “catching up” to the situation that you were dispatched for the first place. Remember failure results in firefighter and civilian injury and unnecessary property loss.

The United States Marine Corps and The United States Army would never send a foot patrol on a mission in the enemy’s arena without the weapons and power to defend themselves. Why would an engine company ever approach a reported structure fire without taking their weapons and power with them to overcome the enemy? You must not rely on “smoke or fire showing” to indicate a working fire. Always assume there is a fire.

Communication is paramount for a company to be effective. Communication from the company officer to the crew must begin long before the alarm is transmitted. The action plan must be established and practiced before the alarm is transmitted. There must never be any question on the incident scene of who is responsible for what. It is the basics of fire suppression that are the most critical; engine company operations, hoseline deployment and self-contained breathing apparatus operations. The communication must begin in the station and in the training arena. The basic functions and responsibilities of the company and its members must be pre determined for all hoseline operations.

You must practice and train. You must practice an train on the basics of handline deployment. You must practice the unexpected. You must practice and practice more. You have never practiced and practiced more. You have never practiced enough.

Fail to plan, plan to fail. Don’t get caught in this trap. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Big Fire, Big Water...Easy for the Chief to Say

This weekend Traditions Training delivered a two-day class in Quakertown/Coopersburg, PA. The class was in a large acquired structure that offered many challenges to the hose crews as they advanced lines all day into the structure, flowing water and simulating making the push.

My mind was going a mile a minute as we simulated fires in the structure. I thought about all of the tactics I would employ if I was in command for an actual fire. The structure was an old school building, two and three stories high and built to take a beating from a fire. So, as I sat at my imaginary command post and in my mind saw a heavy volume of fire, I said those words..."Big Fire, Big Water".

I motioned to my Engine Company and gave the command to start a big line and operate in an Offensive Attack Mode. I moved the accountability tag for the company given the assignment on my command board and jotted a note next to it "2.5 line first floor".

My job in deploying this line was done. I wiped my brow and moved on to the rest of my tactical assignments by moving my velcro tags and writing with the dry erase marker.

I watched the afternoon station that was being led by one of our instructors, showing students the art of moving and operating a 2.5" attack line inside of a structure. Speaking from my own experience when I rode an engine, I can probably count on both hands the times we practiced stretching and operating 2.5" line. It was never a positive experience. As a result when we had to deploy this line at a fire our performance was never as good as when we stretched our coveted 1-1/2 or 1-3/4 attack lines.

Looking at the students and our instructor move that 2.5" made me once again realize the high level of effort, coordination and technique that must be utilized to SUCCESSFULLY deploy and operate this line inside a structure fire. By the time the one hour station was completed the students had picked up new and refined old 2.5" hose-line tips and techniques. They were able to knock down the fire at the front door and then move the line inside, around corners and down the hallway to extinguish the large imaginary fire.

Were they exhausted when they were done? Yes... they were, but they accomplished the task assigned to them by the IC. They did not fail or have to resort to giving the usual excuses for why they were not able to stretch and operate a line of that size. Rather than sitting in the TV room and explaining all the reasons for not being able to stretch this line, get them out and learn how to make it happen!

As Command and Company Officers we have to realize that a catch phrase like "Big Fire Big Water" must be supported by training, training and more training. Training is even better is when it is made as realistic as possible. Stretching a 2.5" attack line in a straight line in a parking lot or in a pristine burn building will not help you as an Incident Commander or help your firefighters.

Mastering 2.5" hose-line techniques will allow your members to do it efficiently and make the task easier when ordered. Remember, "Big Water" has to be delivered by people. Your members have the best chance to deliver that "Big Water" if they are well trained and prepared ahead of time. As the IC, "Big Fire, Big Water" is an easy phrase to say, but are your crews prepared to deliver it to the seat of the fire? It's your job to make sure that they are!

As always be Combat Ready...

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

It Is Just Not About You

At Traditions Training we consistently state at every program we teach... we must to be "Combat Ready" as firefighters. For some "Combat Ready" might just be taken as a "slogan" or a "buzz -word" of the week. Other's see it as something they have to do personally, a facet of readiness that may just save a life: be it your own, your brother or sister firefighters, or a civilian.

In our recent programs, we have started to hammer home personal, company and departmental accountability. This accountability is not just about having a "system"; a tag, a velcro passport or a magnet with your name on it. It is the responsibility of every person to make themselves ready for the battle ahead.

Recently I have seen a trend of "being overly comfortable" with some members and companies. The attitude of we can "just get by" and "if it had been a real fire I would have been ready" has started to take hold. They say: "nothing ever happens here, why go through all the work of being Combat Ready?" Recently, I personally have heard and seen some examples of this, such as:

- The homeowner says the fire is out, why should we lay out?
- Choosing to not have all PPE on and in place for a call for smoke in a house.
- Leaving the thermal imager on the rig on a house fire.
- Showing up to training with dead flashlights, dead portable batteries and already low air supply in their SCBA on in service units.

Now, did every company at that drill or on that house fire fail all these simple tasks also? The answer is no, they did not. It may have been one individual, one company or one department, who let this occur. But where does the responsibility lie with these failures to be "Combat Ready"?
We can break it down on several levels, we must strive to have every member, company and department on the same page.

Let's start at the first level, it all starts with personal accountability. These examples above demonstrate a firefighter or officer not having the right mindset or was not trained and developed/mentored correctly. We have to work to change the downward spiral they are in, correct their bad habits and lack of personal accountability in being Combat Ready. This can hurt not only themselves, but others on the fireground... including the delay and possible failure to save and protect citizens and trapped occupants. Someone has to modify this behavior, so now we move to the second level, the company.

Whether this is particular unit is in a multi-unit fire station or you own company, someone must be responsible. You, as the company officer, must take steps to correct this behavior. Now trust me, this is not going to make you popular. You might actually have to earn your "extra pay" by being an officer and/or use the "trumpets" given to you by your volunteer department. Dealing with this issue at the second level does not mean that you can go around with blinders on pretending to not recognize the problem, or to let your company pride/ego get in the way of the big picture. Good company officers will not only work and train with their own unit or company members, but will not turn a blind eye to bad habits or deficiencies across the floor or across the department. We all know about excuses... A common excuse for sub-par performance at a personal or company level is: "well my guys/gals did a good job, but the xyz-truck, I don't know what they were doing". It is the company officer's job to see that the whole department and all the units are working at a high level of Combat Readiness.

You and your personnel are in the fight, in one of the most dangerous areas on earth at that very second. You have to not just be out there looking out for yourself, but for all the units on the fireground. If you see other members not dressed properly and not carrying the right equipment, you can't just ignore it and look the other way. Notify the other company officer, make the point to him/her, we are all in this fight together! Make sure that other unit officer is aware that his or her member are not ready for the fight. Remember it is just not about you...

The third level is the department level. As a department in whole you have to develop a "Combat Ready" attitude. Even if this means that the Xbox, Play station, TV or recliner will have to wait another 15 minutes. By embracing this attitude the department bosses will not only have to talk the talk, but walk the walk. They certainly cannot turn just their heads, look the other way, and steer away from conflict. Recently a chief officer with over 40 years of commanding fires in a busy department told me "When we get sent to a fire, we have to plan for it being a catastrophe and then work backwards."

All three levels require a certain amount personal accountability, a sense to do the right thing and a dedication to all your members regardless of their position within the organization. You cannot be the only "Combat Ready" firefighter on your unit, all of you have to be ready. You cannot be the only unit that is "Combat Ready" in your department. You cannot be the only department in your municipality or county/city to be ready. You have to spread the attitude across the members, regardless of ranks and boundaries. It starts by having good personal accountability and a dedication to doing the right thing. As we have said before, this will take courage and a strength. The fire service cannot be just about you... it has to be about all of us.

Stay safe and always be COMBAT READY.