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Thoughts About A Structure Fire Emergency Evacuation

Whether you want to or not at some point in your career you will be ordered out of a dangerous building. If you are an officer you may be the one giving that order. We give out recruits some basic training about this tiopic but should we be saying just a little bit more?

Each agency and jurisdiction has it’s own procedure for how the evacuation is initiated. Often it is an order over the radio followed by a sequence of blasts from airhorns or sirens on apparatus. The notification is important but what happens after that really matters.

After the notification to withdraw has been made the first action is that all companies shall acknowledge receipt of the message. “Engine 2, second floor, received, leaving the building”. (Some of you might be familiar that in The Hackensack Ford Fire, the order to evacuate was given, but never acknowledged.)

What do you tell your people to do? Take the lines? Take your tools? Does everyone leave at exactly the same time? here are my brief thoughts.

I am never a fan of leaving tools. You carried them because you need them, and you may need them when evacuating.

We have all ben taught to follow a hose line out in difficult situations. My initial thought is that you may leave hosel ines in place because it might take too much time to back them out. There could be a delay that is unacceptable. However, if the evacuation is called because of extending fire, there may be a time when you need to take the hose line with you to fight your way out.

Emergency evacuations should be responded to in haste and with purpose but not panic or confusion. There should be some thought given and an awareness of where companies are operating.

If you are a crew on the first floor you may be able to get out quickly and could be the first crew out. My suggestion is get to a doorway, but insure the safety of the crews that might be exiting from upper floors if they are using stairs and not ladders. Do not delay but if you have a hose line you may need it to protect those stairs and get that crew down.

I am not suggesting delay in any way here but I am saying at this most critical time, critical thinking might be in order.

Have this discussion with your crew at the kitchen table or on training night. The time to train and discuss this is now, not when the air horns are sounding.

4th Of July Independence Day 2017

We are Americans. We Are Firefighters.

Have a great day. be Safe. Enjoy your family and friends.

pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

Watch Out !! ….but watch out for what?

Watch Out !! 

This is great advice for firefighters. This could be during a response while driving, it could be operating exterior at a collapse situation, it could be interior for signs of hostile fire conditions.

But today I am talking about non fire situations. We as fire service prfessionals should be like the wise old owl with their head on a swivel. We should be watching many, many things.

Look around at our crew. Are we the best we can be? Does someone appear to be “off” suffering from personal problems or issues?

Look around for positive actions from the superiors. Watch out and catch your troops doing something right.

Watch out for the political climate in your community. Watch out for the slipping of public support.

Watch out for each and every learning situation and teachable moments. Sometimes these maybe routine things in every day life that you could take a lesson and apply it to your situation in the fire service. I have made teachable moments from eating in a restaurant, to a song playing on the radio. Sometimes even the most routine or mundane things can trigger a thought that makes a difference.

Watch out for the ability to improve yourself.

Look in the mirror often. Not to promote your ego or self importance but take the time for honest self reflection.

Remember when someone yells watch out, you should duck, run, throw water, or do something! You see it is natural to take some action. Thensame goes in a non emergency situation. Ifnyounsee something, DO SOMETHING! Take an action always, but think first.

Think about these things, and maybe the next time someone yells Watch Out!, you will already have them beat because your have been watching all along!

Historical Fires & Training

This week in the Podcast we spoke of three historical fires. I cannot stress the importance of reviewing these fires in detail with our troops. I have had a passion for studying these LODD incidents for years. There are many instructors that share this passion for case history review but in my opinion, not enough. I would be remiss if I did not give a shout out to Chief Joe Pronesti from Elyria OH because he does as well if not better than most. In fact he just did a piece in detail on these same three fires for Fire Engineering. He included diagrams and details.

There is a famous phrase that says that if we do not study history then we are doomed to repeat it. As an older member we take for granted the fires we studied but there are generations of new folks that might not know what happened in Hackensack, Bricelyn Street, the HappyLand Social Club or many other catastrophic fires that killed multiple civilians or firefighters.

Don’t mistake us all LODDs are important but multiples should be reviewed. They all should be reviewed.

I know you might know the story, but the action key is when and how did you share it with others?

Non verbal fireground communication

There is much talk about fireground communication in relation to fireground emergencies and LODD.

As an experienced incident commander i have come to realize that all communication, does not have anything to do with radios.

I am am a firm believer that every firefighter should have a radio, but only half of them should get a battery!! I am joking of corse, but i think any of you might get the satire here. Not everything that is said in fireground audio is meaningful.

So what is non verbal fireground communication?

Sending a crew to floor 2 of a 2 1/2 story wood and telling them the fire is in an upstairs bedroom, then several minutes later you hear glass crash, you see steam and white smoke, and you see a fog pattern ventilating on side D (delta), that is communication. The crew made the top of the stairs, turned right, and got water on the fire, it is knocked down and the attack crew is ventilating after fire control. A radio message would be great, but an experienced incident commander should know and understand what it means.

For some reason the second due ladder cannot get a position on side A and has no access to side C, but suddenly 3 firefighters come down the street with a 35′ and or a 24′ or 28 ‘ and some tools and reports to you on the A (alpha side). That certainly is communication and speaks to the company charachter and the officer credibility.

As IC you assign a RIT and they report to you with no tools, PPE not on properly, and no ancillary equipment. That is communication.

As an IC you issue orders for an interior attack, and nothing is getting better and smoke and heat signatures are getting worse. That also is communication.

My point with these simple examples is that a fireground IC must be fully engaged and not distracted and must be attentive to all that they see, hear, and observe.

Communication has a lot more to do than radios!

Who is the patient?


It was a melancholy kind of day, and I was just doing something to keep busy on the computer. The ever present scanner was on in the background, and although I was hearing the drone of the radio, and the various traffic stops, and routine emergencies, I really was not listening. Suddenly a message that cut through the airwaves and cut me like a knife. There was a vehicle rolled over with a person trapped underneath. Although I did not always respond to motor vehicle accidents, I knew I should respond. The location was not far from me, and I arrived just before the first police officer, and just a few minutes prior to the ambulance.

I was met by a crushed vehicle sitting upright on its tires, and it appeared there was someone lying directly under the center of the vehicle. There was a frantic man saying that he was a physician, and if we could get the vehicle lifted he could help the person.

I looked from the driver’s side under the vehicle but I did not have good access, so I had to quickly go around and crawl on my stomach towards the victim. It was a young woman, and she had a pallor and lifeless stare that I had seen too many times before. There was a small trickle and pool of blood around her head and neck, and I felt it on my hands as I reached to check her pulse in her neck. I checked as I had been taught, and then rechecked and lingered, but there was none. She was dead. In addition it would take several minutes to lift the vehicle, as the engine company with the Jaws of Life, and the air bags had not even arrived yet.

I told the doctor, that there was nothing we could do, she would be DOA. I advised the rescue crews as they arrived, and had someone double check me, just to be sure as we always did in these circumstances. I advised the police officers as well as they would have to make arrangements for the medical examiner, detectives, and accident reconstruction persons. I turned my attention rapidly to yet another young girl who was unscathed by this accident, but severely shaken up and extremely emotional about her friend’s condition. I directed some of the ambulance personnel in her direction, and then I went to check on an elderly man and woman, sitting in their vehicle very confused and shaken. It seems they had been the ones that struck this vehicle and caused it to flip in the first place. They were OK and did not need any help…or at least the type of help that I could give.

As we began to stabilize the scene, and secure the area, and reroute traffic, I glanced down the road and saw a man, with the look of shear terror and panic on his face begin to run toward the scene. He made eye contact with me, and as our eyes met he began to run toward me and began screaming where is the lady driving that car, where is the driver of that car, that’s my car…that’s my wife. From his vantage point he could not see the twisted lifeless legs sticking out from under the vehicle, he could not see the pool of blood draining from his wife’s body, as we had covered her body. As he got closer he looked at the back of the vehicle and saw the legs, twisted at odd angles, with one shoe on and one off, and realized his worst fears. He began to scream at me, and get violent, wondering why we were not doing anything for her. It is difficult to explain to someone that the amount of head injuries she had, she was brain injured and died instantly upon impact. Further by law, we could not move her or extricate her from under the vehicle until the scene was investigated and the medical examiner arrived. A shocked and grieving husband does not want to hear any of these, nor does he understand any of these. With the help of some police officers we were able to restrain him, and get him to release his violent forceful hold on me.

We got the man into the back of a police car where he began to sob uncontrollably. I stepped away, and backed up as I always do to see the larger scene. It was a busy day, we were in the middle of a highway interchange, there were lots of flashing lights and emergency personnel everywhere, but there was no sound…nothing at all. I looked at the husband sobbing, I looked at the elderly couple unaware that they had just been the cause of the end of a young life, a small stream of blood was running from underneath the blanket, to serve as an eerie reminder of what had just happened.

 I checked with my Lieutenant in charge, I asked him if he and the crew were OK emotionally, I asked him if he needed any additional resources, and I turned, got into my vehicle, shut off my emergency lights and drove away. There was a burden of sadness that I have never felt before…I came to help…I couldn’t help the injured, I couldn’t help the living, and at that moment I felt like I couldn’t even help myself.

Memorial Day 2017

May 29, 2017 will be Memorial Day in the US. While many of us will have the “beginning of the summer season” cookout and barbeques, we should really take a moment of rememberance.

Somewhere between the burgers, steaks and chips, take a moment and have a discussion among yourselves about how lucky we are to have brave young men and women that have laid down their lives so that we may enjoy the things that we have.

Think about those intangible things, not just the material things. I often, think about how angry I get when I see someone disrespecting our flag. It is their right to do so, but I don’t have to like it. I have seen people step on it, spit on it, use it as a rag, and completely disrespect it.

I guess those same people do not realize that our soldiers died carrying that flag, or worked on a base under that flag, or have it sewed onto their uniforms……in fact when they lose their lives they return home in coffins that are covered in that very same flag.

On this Memorial Day and every day they rest in peace in graves that are covered by a flag.

As I say every week in the podcast when talking about our firefighters that have died, please make sure that this Memorial Day none of us “Never Forget”.

Give thanks. Go to a parade or a ceremony. Visit a local cemetery. Never forget is a meaningless phrase without action.

Today I am thinking of my dad who was a World War II veteran in the pacific. He died of natural causes many, many years ago, but his 100th birthday would have been this upcoming week.


You know there is a lot of talk about aggressiveness in today’s fire service. This is a coveted and complimentary term apparently. While I am not a big fan of the term it relates to wanting to do everything we can to make a rescue or do our job to the best of our ability. That I get and I am all in, I just wish there was a better term.

The term I will not tolerate is arrogance. There are some members of the fire service today that have arrogance as a trait. The arrogance may be caused by many of a variety of circumstances that might include the department and size that you are a member of, your level of training and education, or just a positive personal attitude that is being portrayed rightly or wrongly and being cocky.

I write this article because I am currently watching someone on social media that is destroying their personal and professional reputation by exhibiting this behavior. I have never engaged or had any contact with this member but his interaction with other members of professional departments and different ranks without any compunction.

It is interesting that the person displaying this behavior has no idea how they might be being perceived. More importantly I am not sure they care or even if they notice.

My thought for all of us today is that we tale a moment of self reflection and make sure we do not display arrogance.

Arrogance is not compatible with the fire service in general. It does not compliment the team concept. It does not generally support departmental mission and ideals. It does not endear us to the public we serve.

Think about it for a minute, if you want to be known as aggressive, so be it….but do not let yourself be known as the one who is arrogant.

Just sayin’

The Station Nightclub Fire Memorial

It is Sunday May 21, 2017. Today, less than a mile from my house, in West Warwick RI they will be dedicating a memorial park to the victims of the Station Nightclub Fire. 100 people died during that fire making it the 4th largest loss of life in a nightclub fire in the US.

Several hundred people were severely hurt and burned, their lives changed forver.

Today’s dedication is about the families of those that lost their lives, their families, the survivors, many of whom are horribly scarred and have endured multiple surgeries. I speak every weekon the podcast of never forgetting. This is a time that we should let the families try to gain some sort of closure. I hate that word;closure. Their lieve will never be the same despite, monuments memorials or anything that will remember but never replace their loved ones.

Because of lots of reasons, some legal, some personal, and many other complicated social situations the firefighters and EMS personnel that responded never got to share their story. There was much anger  directed at the local fire marshal about code enforcement issues, so in some people’s mind the fire department was a silent enemy. My purpose for this blog post is not to venture down that path.

There were a couple of minor firefighter injuries that night. Nothing serious.

However, many firefighters “mentally died” that night. Growing up in this area and being a former callman for the West warwick fire department I know many of the firefighters involved. My first department (The Harris Fire Department in Coventry) was sort of the farm team for the larger career West Warwick Fire department. I know many of the firefighters personally that responded to this tragic event. Several members have been forced to leave the job, never to return to the profession they loved and have chosen. Many of them have had serious emotional consequenses that linger to this day some 14 years later. None of these things equal the loss of a loved one, but I write about it here because it is a risk that we take when we take the oath of office. No firefighteron duty that day expected to respond to a life changing event that evening.

From a firefighting standpoint many heroic events took place that night with the on duty crews, much mutual aid that responded statewide and from outside the state gave it their all. The rapid speed of the fire, the overcrowding, the furnishings and the use of pyrotechnics did not allow for a level playing field.

  • On that night there were some 300-400 + people in that establishment. The closest fire station was within a few hundred yards away. 2 firefighters responded on the first pumper and were faced with an inferno with several hundred people trapped.
  • A  review of the studies from NIST and review of on scenbe news footage from cameras that were filming that night indicate that the carnage took about 56-58 seconds before flames were coming out the front door.
  • Probably no other firefighters other than our brothers in Boston faced something like this since the 1940s and the Coconut grove fire.
There were many other issues that ocured that night which are too numerous to mention and should be mentioned by someone who was there. I was not and I had no involvement other than talking with my friends after the fact.

As firefighters we tend to focus on ourselves sometimes and think about tactics, strategy, command and all of the technicalities. As many firefighters there suffered from CIS and PTSD we must also remember that the families and survivors have had as much counseling as any of the members involved.The difference is that we have to continue to respond to those incidents again tomorrow.
Today on the dedication of this memorial let us remember those that we have responded to, and those who we will respond to tomorrow. It is who we are there for and who we have sworn to protect. It Is what we do.
We are in a business that requires are all out effort every time the bell hits or the town drops.
As we remember lets us think about the following:
  • Fire prevention and public education matters. Help educate the citizens so they can help us save them.
  • Sprinklers save lives. Sprinklers in places of assemblies are imperative.
  • Be trained, be ready for duty mentally and physically.
  • Never forget our brothers and sisters on duty, and never, ever forget those that we serve. It’s about them.