All posts by plamb

Tactical Fire Problem – Electrical Substation Fire

A fire at an electrical substation this week, which in some ways might be an easy one!

1.) Why is this an easy one? Simple, we do not belong beyond the fenced area until deemed safe multiple times by the power company. That was no mistake, I did say confirmed multiple times. The modern power grid will attempt to re-route power automatically in some cases when a fault is detected. What is de-energized now may not be in a minute. Get multiple confirmations from multiple levels and sources. Treat it almost like Haz mat identification of a chemical, multiple sources of information are needed.

2.) Consider the fact that extremely high voltage lines can drop and fall. Establish a safety zone for personnel and apparatus.

3.) Learn and pre plan these facilities in your area. Learn about arcing and safe distances. How close do you really have to be to a 60-70 thousand volt transmission line before there is a problem? Does thick black smoke have enough carbon in it to conduct electricity? (SPOILER….ANSWER IS YES!)

4.) As the fire department, what affect will this substation fire have on your community? Did you just lose all of the traffic signals, resulting in accidents, did the power go off to the nursing home, hospital, or supermarket refrigerators? Will home owners begin using candles, stoves inside for heat (carbon monoxide emergencies) will improperly wired generators begin to back feed the electrical distribution system?

The problem of the fire at this substation might actually be the least of your worries.

5.) When do you cut the lock on the gate to go inside and rescue the downed electrical worker in this scenario?

Please go and check out the substation in your communities. Call the power company and they will usually be more than happy to come out and train your folks.

Stay safe, and stay thinking!

Pete Lamb
Copyright 2013

“Lazy bunch of bastards…”

So on a usual saturday morning routine of doing errands I am in a hardware store, and looking for something in the aisles i hear the following conversation between two men….”so we can’t have these where I live because the fire department won’t allow them, the bunch of lazy bastards….”. I don’t know what item he was talking about because I did not see it, and I walked away disgusted.

As I perused the next aisle it was eating me alive, so I walked back an aisle to where the two men were and I said” I couldn’t help but hear you before, I have been a firefighter for 35 years and I have never really thought of myself as a lazy bastard”. He commented that it was none of my business he wasn’t talking to me, and “all firemen do is sit on their ass and wait for an emergency.”

I told him I forgave him for his comment and that I hoped he never ever needed the fire department for a fire or medical emergency because if he did it would mean that something horrible was happening to him, his family or his property, and then I walked away. An old adage came to mind that said never argue with a fool, because nobody will be able to tell which is which.

As I drove home, I could not help but wonder, what toxic thing had angered this man so much against his local fire department? How many other people has he caustically spread his venom to?

Does his local department even know that that could be a public perception about them? Do they care?

We will never please everyone that we serve, and I am clearly aware of that after all these years, but I have not had an encounter like this in a long time.

You see he wasn’t just slandering his own department, he was slandering all of us. Firefighters everywhere.

Take some time this week and make sure you do not give the citizens you serve any reason to think like this man.

Do public education.
Provide home inspection and free smoke detectors to those in need.
Help at the local food bank.
Help disabled veterans, and all veterans.
Help the elderly and children.

…and many other things…

If your community is looking for a positive example, let them be able to find it at the fire department, before they ever dial 911. I know it will be a positive experience after they need our help.

Stay safe, and stay thinking!

Pete Lamb
Copyright 2013

Define The Issue…..

I hear and see a lot of discussion going on in the fire service about lots of different topical issues, and I think that maybe we as a group, are trying to work on the symptoms rather than the actual problems.

This week lets take a couple of these issues and see if we can get to the root cause. I am not sure that I have the correct actual cause but at least I will offer my two cents worth.

None of us have enough manpower. Career, paid on call or volunteer, I am sure we would hear a common theme that there is not enough help early on at fires. Ok, that’s the issue not enough help. I have heard a bunch of ways we are working on this problem from hiring, more help, to volunteer recruitment and retention.

My first choice would probably be to get more personnel and have the community try to solve this issue by any normal financial means available. Not a bad choice.

A second method would be to get a larger pool of people to deal with as in the call and volunteer sector.

One possible solution is that people should call and use more automatic aid on first alarm struck boxes so that sufficient and adequate help is arriving on the fire scene sooner. Now someone would and could argue that this becomes a burden to other communities. I am certain that is the case, but unless you are in a major city you are probably not having more than 12 working structural mutual aid parties per year anyway!

Your city manager, mayor, council, or selectmen, may all be the root of your financial concerns, but not one of them would accept the responsibility for you acting unsafely at an alarm. You are the professional and it is your job to arrive safely, and do whatever you can safely do to mitigate the problem before you. Maybe you, and your department have dictated that you will assume these risks, and that you can easily blame the city government, but the reality is the decision you make on the fireground as they relate to personal safety are primarily yours.

A very scary and unpopular thought, but we should at least consider it. I am not quite ready to adopt it yet but it certainly does need to be entertained.

I have often heard at many a fire department kitchen table, “…If anything ever happens to me, I will have my family sue this city….”, and maybe that is the rightful and just answer.

I would hate for that to happen and have the city throw some decision or action we take back at us. There are lawyers that would love to do just that.

Sad but true these days.

OK another issue I hear a lot about….”These darn, paramedics just don’t act like we think they should…” Ok, OK, I watered down that sentence a lot, but you get the idea.

If the paramedics on your department feel superior, or act superior, try to find out what the issue is.

Ok we could say it is the way they have been trained, or we could say it is some culture that they don’t understand firefighters or words and phrases like a “different breed”.

Ok so what have YOU done about it. The issue is anyone will behave anyway they are allowed to and that is acceptable to their organization. It is that simple. If the paramedics behavior is not acceptable, then clearly have someone who is their superior sit down, calmly, and professionally advise them, coach, counsel and correct them to follow your department rules and regulations or standard operating procedures.

OH… don’t have any of those? Oh, you have some old ones that nobody follows? Oh, that makes the officers uncomfortable and they don’t like to talk to others about performance issues, because after all they are one of the members too?

I get it now, the ISSUE is not really the paramedics behavior, it is that we have not trained counseled and corrected their behavior, so it continues.

Hmmm, what is the REAL issue then?

When trying to solve fire service problems, let’s look at the real root or core ISSUE and try to work on creative different solutions to resolve that.

Ever been asked the promotional or oral board question, what do you do if you suspect your partner has been drinking? I was first asked that question well over 15 years ago and heard it asked just recently at another promotional exam. If we had fixed that problem correctly 15 years ago as a fire service maybe we wouldn’t still have to be asking that question.

If firefighters are getting killed while lost and disoriented, lets not only figure out fancy ways to rescue them, lets figure out how to prevent them from getting lost and disoriented.

Sometimes the issue gets lost in the argument..

Stay safe and stay thinking!

Pete Lamb
Copyright 2013

National Firefighter Day – Feast of St. Florian

On this May 4, 2013 I thought it would be appropriate to repost an article written by Chief Jim Blanchard, (ret.) Saugus Massachusetts fire department.

Saint Florian Patron Saint of Firefighters

All firefighters are aware that Saint Florian is the patron Saint of firefighters. Many have purchased and are very proud to wear the Saint Florian medallion around their neck. These medallions are usually gold and many are shaped in the form of a Maltese cross with the image of Florian stamped in the center of it. If you ask who Florian was or why he is our Patron Saint, most firefighters don’t know. They assume it is because he made some heroic fire rescue or maybe he was a priest who was involved in the fire service. These answers are the typical response but neither is accurate.
Florian was a Captain in the Roman army. He was a brave soldier and a tenacious fighter. Rome recognized the danger of fire and was the first to employ a fire department. This first fire department was made up of slaves. They had no real desire to risk their lives battling the flames of their captors. Rome desperately needed fire protection. They called on Captain Florian to organize and train an elite group of soldiers whose sole duty was to fight fires. Captain Florian indeed organized such a group. They were highly trained and very successful at protecting Rome from fires. A brigade of firefighters followed the army and provided fire protection at their encampments. These firefighters were highly respected and easily recognized. They wore the traditional Roman soldier uniform except the skirt was green. The most famous picture of Saint Florian depicts him with a young boy pouring water from a pitcher onto a fire. This picture if seen in color reveals this green skirt.
Rome was very impressed by this young Captain and all that he had accomplished. They decided to reward him by making him a general. Generals were often given large tracks of conquered land to govern. The only rules were that they had to enforce the laws of Rome and collect the taxes. Florian’s area included almost all of Poland.
Rome began to hear some rumors about the way Florian was governing his land. It was reported that he was not enforcing Rome’s law forbidding Christianity. Rome did not believe this, but they did sent investigators to check. They reported back that it was true. Rome sent a group of soldiers to confront Florian. They warned and threatened him that he must enforce the laws of Rome and abolish Christianity. Florian not only refused he confessed that he had embraced the faith and become a Christian himself. Rome was furious. They tortured him and demanded he renounce his faith. Florian steadfastly refused. Rome ordered his execution.
Florian was to be burned at the stake. Soldiers marched him out and secured him to the post. Villagers gathered around to witness the execution. Florian begged his executioners to build the fire higher. He implored them to light the fire so his soul would rise up to heaven on the smoke from the blaze. The soldiers had never seen this kind of reaction from a person about to be burned alive. They were frightened. What if his soul did rise up, right in from of all the villagers? They could not afford a martyr. The fire was not lit. Florian was taken away by the soldiers who decided to drown him. He was placed in a boat and rowed out into the river. A millstone was tied around his neck and he was pushed over board and drowned.
After his death, people who were trapped by fire reported that they invoked Florians name and his spirit delivered them from the flames. These occurrences were reported and documented many times. Florian was confirmed a saint for his commitment to his faith and the documentation of his spirit delivering trapped persons from the flames.
It is only fitting, that firefighters, committed to their duty, and instilled with the spirit to dedicate themselves to the protection of life and property, should choose such a man as their patron saint.

Honoring Our Past Makes Us Appreciate Our Future
James L. Blanchard, Saugus Fire

You can hear about this article and. More from Chief Blanchard in our podcast on history and traditions at The podcast page.

Pete Lamb
Copyright 2013

Tactical Fire Problem – Vehicle Fire at Gas Station

This week a vehicle fire at a crowded gas station. Take a look.

1.) This is an extremely crowded station parking lot. Think of the impact of “moving exposures” and how it would relate to apparatus placement and stretching the attack line.

2.) What’s in the van?

3.) How familiar are you with activating the suppression systems at your local facilities? Would you ever activate it manually?

4.) What would you do as you arrive, if the suppression system discharged with the station island so crowded and congested?

5.) Where would you locate medical staging and triage for potential breathing and contamination issues?

Stay safe and stay thinking!

Pete Lamb
Copyright 2013

Concealed space and void space fires

This week just some random thoughts so that you can create a drill or sit around the firehouse and discuss and expand upon the topic of fires in walls and ceiling areas as well as other concealed spaces.

* Generally difficult to fight and in many cases lead to large loss fires.

* If you enter a structure fire without any visible flame your first thoughts might indicate basement fire or fire in the walls.If smoke is throughout the building it is more likely a cellar fire.

If there is little or no smoke on floor 1 and 2 and large volumes of smoke on upper floors and attic then the fire is more likely to be in the walls and partitions.

* While the use of a thermal imager is warranted here early on, the older signs and conditions of a fire in the walls should still be taken into consideration: These include, browning wall paper and paint in older structures, smoke from wall outlet openings around baseboards, moldings and door trims an frames.

* Get lines in position on all floors and get a line to the topmost floor as soon as possible.

* Consider rooftop ventilation early if the fire has reached the attic area and prevent it from banking down and mushrooming across the entire building.

* Do not delay or hesitate in opening up very agressively these interior wall areas. The damage from the fire will certaainly be worse than the damge caused by you opening up.

* Pull ceilings very agressively. This will take manpower as it is a very exhausting job. Try to hold up as long as possible from applying hose streams in the room where the ceiling is being pulled. This will maintain good visibility and better conditions in the room. The line should be operated when all the ceiling area has been exposed and the working crews have backed out slightly. The line must also be operated at any point where the operating crew might be in any danger. There is a tendency for a crew with less experience to want to spray water as soon as the first pulls expose fire. An experienced officer may guide them to held back a little longer.

* Although it is somewhat rare there have been cases where there could be the possibility of a backdraft happening when a concealed ceiling space is opened.

* Consider fire spread in all pipe chases and electrical openings and raceways.

* After the source of the fire and fire spread has been dealt with, overhaul the building slowly and methodically to prevent any hidden fire from redeveloping later. Use the thermal imager in any and all areas that you have questions about.

Stay safe and stay thinking!

Pete Lamb
Copyright 2013