Above is the link to news coverage from Statter911.com on the deadly Seattle fire that happened a few days ago. While I do not know all of the circumstances and I am not insulting this or any other fire department, this has gotten me thinking. One of the big factors in the unsuccessful outcome was an apparatus failure, simply stating in the article that the first engine “broke down”. Again I don’t know what they mean by “broke down” but when I read it I began to think of all of the things that could go wrong at a fire that we often take for granted.
Recently on an episode of “Firefighter Netcast” www.firefighternetcast.com I called in and was discussing this topic with Rhett and John. I simply stated that firefighters often to not build “failure” into their plan of action. We rarely think we are going to fail so we often forget to make contingency plans, or asses the what if factor. If you really sit back and think about it firefighting has become very dependent on technology (apparatus, apparatus pumps, SCBA, Thermal Imaging Camera, Portable Radio) what happens when these things begin to fail? Do we have a back up plan?
Some might say that this may be planning to fail and it could lead to less aggressive firefighting, and indecisive company, and incident commanders. I obviously disagree. While confidence, intestinal fortitude, and any other adjective you use to describe why and how we do what we do are important, things still go wrong. It is our job as professionals to be prepaird, and ready for failures, and have the ability and know how to correct them.
It may be something as simple as keeping an extra company on scene, or as complicated as replacing a section of large diameter hose during the active phases of firefighting. Just the other day an engine company in my department responded to a working fire, and laid a supply line from a hydrant. The hydrant turned out to be dead. So a plan was immediately formulated and put into action to complete the water supply. A key success point was the company officer knowing his district. He knew were the next closest hydrant was, and ws able to give directions on how to complete the water supply. He also built-in a failure plan and had the responding tankers (rural area of the county) come directly to the house to supply his engine. So while the water supply plan was being completed he made sure he had water to continue the fire attack.
This again was another instance that spoke volumes of being prepaird for failure.
Here are some drills that I think are important to train on regularly:
1. Manual Pump Procedure: Simply how do you place you apparatus in pump when the electronics, or air actuators fail
2. Short Stretching: How to complete your stretch when you misjudged the length and come up short
3. Water Supply Failure: Whats your plan for a burst section of hose, or a dead hydrant in your water supply plan
4. Radio Failure: What do you do when you can not transmit, or have a dead battery
5. Air Pack Failure: When your air pack fails, how do you stay alive
What drills are you doing in your department? Are you building some contingency/failure into your action plans? Leave your thoughts in the comments section, or drop us a line we would love to hear from you. And as usual please spread the word about the blog.