Countdown..5…4…3…2…1…MAYDAY!

For a number of years the topic of the mayday and mayday training has flooded the fire service. Most of the training that is out there is excellent and the range and scope is wide. We have classes for drags, carries, wide area searches, commanding the mayday, orientation training to help prevent mayday and a ton of SCBA training.
I am approaching this commentary on the prevention aspect and I want you to read it and take whatever action you can at your level in your department.
I want to consider those things that are occurring every day within you department that no one ” has the bravery” (yes, clearly I was going to use another term) to address.
A couple of weeks ago I think, Bill Carey at The Backstep Firefighter did a story on a tanker accident and the seatbelt pledge. Take a look by clicking the link.(if you haven’t been to the site before to check it out, there is great stuff there.)
Lets talk about some things that happen all the time that will get us in trouble.
The shift, group or member who really does not check equipment and tools and just pencil whips the check sheet. Wen a piece of critical equipment fails or spare air bottles are not filled, those things can cause a problem.
The firefighter in a department that everyone talks about at the kitchen table who just for whatever reason can no longer perform their job. (Or maybe they were a political hire and never could perform their job) do you want them on the initial attack to get lost injured or hurt, or do you want them as your RIT team while you are down and inside.
How about the driver you have that has hit everything but the lottery and we still let them drive. Speed through intersections, unable to secure a hydrant and a lousy pump operator to boot! (Ok, tell me you have never been waiting for water and had to go to the pump panel yourself to open the correct lever to charge the correct line)
How about the 375 pound career firefighter who is taking blood pressure pills like tic tacs? Or on call or volunteer member as well.
How about the volunteer or on call firefighter who has been with the company forever but is really too old or in poor health to continue, but we let them stay on the job because no one wants to hurt their feelings.
How about the person who cannot wear and SCBA or climb an aerial because of claustrophobia or a fear of heights and they have never been caught or discovered yet? They did it to get by recruit school and never since.
When was the last time you had a medical physical? A real one that complies with the NFPA standards. Even that won’t prevent everything but in many cases around the country it is finding health problems before they become an issue.
The list could go on and on, but I think you get my point. In every fire department, paid or volunteer , large or small, there are a variety of ticking time bombs waiting for us to be mixed with the right circumstance or incident and we will have an injury, mayday or worse a LODD.
We don’t have the strength to tell uncle Joe the older volunteer that he can’t respond anymore, because we will hurt his feelings or he will get mad, but we can somehow find the strength to let him suffer a heart attack and take him from his wife of thirty years and his grand children? There is something just wrong with our thinking. We have the strength for that?
Keep training on RIT and all of the current stuff we are doing. But while you and your department are doing that make some tough decisions and try to recent the things that we clearly know are wrong but we turn a blind eye to because of “the brotherhood”.
Brothers do not knowingly let brothers get killed, when it is preventable. We owe it to their families, the citizens we protect, and each other.
So I started this post with a countdown….5…4…3…2…1, I guess the question is was I talking about 5 years, 5 months, 5 weeks, 5 days, 5 hours, or 5 minutes?
Do not just go to work and be an “empty uniform” be fully engaged all the time. Give your best. Be the member in your department that everyone hopes is on the RIT team when they are in trouble. By in physical, medical and mental shape to prevent a MAYDAY.
Pete Lamb @ Copyright 2012
For information contact pete@petelamb.com

The gas leak….never let your guard down!

On Friday night November 23, 2012 there was a catastrophic gas leak in the city of Springfield Massachusetts. I was not on scene and certainly do not know all of the facts, but this close call should be a time to review our normal procedures for gas leak responses.

From listening to the radio audio last night, seeing pictures and videos it appears that the SFD did a very good job in handling what could have been a horrible tragedy.

Lets just run through a basic “to do list” at this type of incident.

Treat the gas leak for what it is a hazmat response. Identify if it is natural gas or propane gas, and attempt to locate the source.

If the source can be located and shut down by fire department personnel, then do so, but notify the appropriate utility company upon your arrival anyway.

If firefighters are entering the hot zone then they should have metering capability and full protective gear. Expect explosion or ignition. ( I can tell you from experience that I have always been leery of gas emergencies ever since the Buffalo NY 5 LODD incident from the early 1980s but I will also tell you that there have been some times that I have not dressed appropriately at some gas emergencies that I responded to. Be different from me, be smart and not lucky!)

Isolate the area and deny entry and eliminate all sources of ignition, including us and the apparatus we drive in with. Consider eliminating electrical utilities if it can be done safely and remotely. Do not attempt to shut off mains etc, inside the building involved.

If there is so much gas when you arrive (that is to say that the gas is above the UEL or upper explosive limits) then as you passively ventilate the area the gas will pass through its explosive range, while you are on scene. This could occur some time after arrival and it is a time when on scene firefighters who do not have an assignment will tend to wander away. Strict scene control is important. Stage personnel behind fire apparatus whenever possible.

As I listened and watched the incident from afar last night here are some things I heard.

The first due company officer staged out of the way, established a hydrant line, met with gas company officials, correctly identified “free flowing gas” with an unknown source, called for electric company to secure power, called for additional resources and manpower, and had the police isolate and secure the area. It simply doesn’t get much better than that, and there was still an explosion the injured about 18 people, leveled 2 buildings and damaged many others. There are reports that the explosion was felt ten miles away.

This explosion occurred after the gas company had located and stopped the leak and SFD took it seriously throughout the incident and did not let their guard down.

So they have had the gas leak and the explosion and 9 firefighters, a couple of policemen and some gas company workers were injured. (Non life threatening), so what can we do who have not had this experience?

Over the next few days, learn study, research everything you can about this incident.

Make sure on Monday morning you find out from the chief if your meters have been calibrated and if you have meters on EVERY piece of apparatus. NO EXCEPTION. We have hose, air packs and nozzles, we should have meters….it is a life saving piece of gear that should be on all apparatus.

Read the DOT guidebook and look up the procedures and guide number for natural and propane gas. We handle these incidents so many times we never even look at the book anymore. Look at it on your next shift.

Study the properties of each gas, vapor density and flammable limits and understand what the mean. Use the NIOSH book, or MSDS sheets.

Make sure you know what your meter reads. Is your meter giving you percent of gas, or percent of LEL lower explosive limits?

Our thoughts and prayers go out to the first responders who were injured, and lets take this teachable moment and use it to help teach firefighters with less experience how to stay safe.

A gas leak is not over until we are back in service and back in quarters.

Pete Lamb @ Copyright 2012
For information contact pete@petelamb.com

The portable monitor drill

Here is a quick and easy drill for this week. If your engine company has a deck gun that is capable of being portable and ground mounted, this is for you.

Pull into an open parking area, and set out some cones or a stationary “target” 300 feet away from the rig. It is even better if there can be a couple of twists or turn obstructions while you are at it.

Set up the gun 300 feet away from your rig as if you were ordered to get it in position into an alley for exposures or to the “Charlie” side for a heavy stream.

Once the gun is in place, charge it and flow tank water.

How long did it take you and your crew?

In a small department, did it take two companies to do it?

Is there an easier way to do it?

Do you have a BLITZFIRE gun, have you looked at them?

Can the gun be mounted on the rear step for easy access?

If you do not have a ground mounted gun, use a similar drill and put some cones out 100 feet from the apparatus, have the driver get into position with the rig, and operate the gun from the top and hit the right cone, then swing left twenty feet or so and hit the left cone to simulate directing a stream in an alley operation. Time that also and see how you did. Have the driver repeatedly try and spot where the top mounted gun has the best angle and use.

Deck guns are not used all the time, but when they are it is usually “the big one”. Those rare high risk, high hazard low frequency events when time means everything.

You don’t have to do it all the time, but when you do this little 1 hour hands on drill you might just make a difference and might make you the company that the chief is always happy to see at a big job!

And besides we both know that you can do it better and faster than….

The other shift……..the guys and gals at engine XYZ…….the neighboring department etc..

Pete Lamb @ Copyright 2012
For information contact pete@petelamb.com

Is There An App For That? – Tactical Fire Table

This week, the App for review is a great one with a lot of uses. Tactical Fire Table (and there is a tactical police table as well) allows the user to drag and drop icons, and mark up the screen with drawings for an actual graphical command worksheet. I have used the tool for actual incidents, planning events, and post incident analysis.

The software allows you to choose a photo from your camera roll, or any image you take, or it allows the background to be a map taken from an Apple Map search. (This was previously taken from a Google map search, but we all know the story about Apple and Google, so now it is Apple maps.)

Lets take a look.

In this case there is an overhead shot of a building and a parking area and I have just added hydrants in there.(Every icon can be resized and rotated as needed)


In this next screen I have added fire apparatus, a command post FD marker and I have hand drawn a large diameter hose line running in. I have added a fire icon to the building and I have freehand drawn X s to show which occupancies have been searched and cleared.


This screenshot shows some of the hazard icons available.


This shows some objects available.


Some of the unit designations.


Vehicles and other items.


And for folks involved in wild land firefighting all of the needed symbols there as well.


Remember in the beginning I said any graphic you had could become the background. Here is an example of a sample command worksheet that you can free hand mark off, put icons on or do whatever you need.

One other great feature is that the software has a replay mode and when you press it, it replays the sequence in which items were added and modified to the underlay image. You see what was done first second, third etc..

Bottom line for this one is easy. I think this is by far one of the most versatile pieces of IOS software on my iPad. It can be used for anything at all even for businesses outside of the fire service . The screen and icons are small when using an IPHONE, but that certainly cannot be discounted.

I might also add that the developer, (like many I have found) is extremely responsive to suggestions and feedback. There are lots more icons and things to see but I have given you the basics and you should try this great app. It’s use is rely only limited by your imagination.

Available in ITUNES.

Pete Lamb @ Copyright 2012
For information contact pete@petelamb.com

“Do The Right Thing”…..for whom?

The phrase “Do the right thing” is often heard in our modern life. It can be heard in a variety of places but certainly around the kitchen table of any firehouse. There are all sorts of meanings for this and I want to tell you today that much like “beauty”, “do the right thing” might be in the eye of the beholder also.

There has been a minor accident with the apparatus and at the kitchen table we hear the driver and other members say ” I hope that Captain “does the right thing, here”. Hmmm, just what exactly do you think they mean? Would the captain “cover” them, hide it from the deputy or the chief? Is that what they mean?

There has been a patient treatment error in the back of the ambulance and the driver says to the attendant in charge, “you need to do the right thing” about this incident. Is he suggesting that he knows something went wrong and he wants his partner to self report it to the ER Doc or the OIC on the job?

There is a horrible economic crisis and the fire chief has been ordered to make dramatic cuts to the department. The members are all around the table and say ” I hope the chief does the right thing” about these cuts. What is the expectation….the chief will fight for the appropriate level of fire protection, the chief will refuse a directive from the mayor and citizens, or the chief will do the best he can for the safety of his personnel and the taxpayers, and live to fight another budget battle for the department.

You see as I look at the phrase in the fire service world, it could mean any of the following examples:

Do the right thing for the member involved.
Do the right thing for the department as a whole.
Do the right thing for the union or volunteer or call association.
Do the right thing for the citizens and taxpayers.
Do the right thing for yourself and your family.
Do the right thing for the good of the entire fire service.
….and many other examples.

My point is, if your action does not fit in any of the categories above, then you are probably not doing the right thing. If it only benefits you and your family, then you might be a bit selfish and it may be good for you but not good for the organization. A good solution is some compromise that fits as many of the above categories as you can. That means you might be leaning towards doing the right thing.

We have all seen examples of firefighters getting into trouble and in many cases the thought of how any action might be construed or perceived, never enters their mind.

Try to “do the right thing” even when nobody is watching, it will always pay off in the long run.

Pete Lamb @ Copyright 2012
For information contact pete@petelamb.com

Tactical Fire Problem 2012-03 – Storefront

This problem is a typical one found in an older city. There can be a number of solutions to this one and I want you to think it through for your own department and resources.
Remember you can use the video player controls to pause it between the periods of fire growth which are highly compressed in these short clips.


Some considerations…
1.) It appears the 1st floor storefronts are vacant? What does that say about conditions inside…abandoned stock still there, a set fire to get rid of the building, squatters or homeless,
2.) Second floor apartments above. Life hazard?
3.) Look at the windows on the second floor and think about approximate ceiling height? What do extremely high ceilings mean in terms of heat buildup etc.?
4.) Space between the top of the ceiling and roofline. Cockloft?
5.) What type of roof would you expect and what ventilation challenges might be expected?

Pete Lamb @ Copyright 2012
For information contact pete@petelamb.com

60 Second Safety – P C A N

I am trying a new feature where I will give 1 minute little podcasts that might just be a small tidbit that you can use. We will try it out and see what folks think.

Let me know by sending an email to pete@petelamb.com

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Pete Lamb @ Copyright 2012
For information contact pete@petelamb.com

Veterans Day November 11

There certainly are not enough words to portray my thanks for all of our veterans. I was fortunate to have been brought up in a family where my dad was a WW II veteran from the Pacific Theater of operations.

I was taught at very young age to have respect for our flag, our country and our veterans. Many, many years ago the VFW had a program called “Sons of the VFW” which my dad got me involved in. (Later in my life other words followed sons of, when describing me, but i digress) It allowed me to be around a number of WW II veterans and I helped with fund raising, scraping and painting and maintaining cemetery grave markers and on holidays going out and putting the flags and flag stands on grave sites to honor and remember the fallen.

I found a couple of images and a link to a YouTube video that I thought could better express my feelings about the day. I thought that these things would be my simple and humble little way of saying thanks to those who served.

I know this is a fire service blog, and firefighters, paramedics and EMTs do great things everyday in this country. I have been proud to be a firefighter for much of my life. Many times people refer to us as heroes, and often rightfully so.

Lets save the term hero for our veterans. We are what we are, and have what we have because of a veteran!


I found this floating around the Internet and it struck me, because some people don’t remove their hats anymore when the National Anthem is played, sometimes people don’t show the simple respect that they should. In my minds eye this is probably an older veteran who is doing all that he physically can do honor the Marine Honor Guard walking by with our flag. I like it.

The picture above was from a tweet received from Danny “mav” Robson who has a twitter name of #soldier_danny. It speaks about remembering and taking time today to honor our veterans. It touched me and I wanted to share it with you.

Here is a link to a seven minuteYOUTUBE VIDEO. This video is from a retired naval corpsman that served in Vietnam and the Gulf war. It is a speech he gave at an elementary school. I am not sure if the young children got it but I did!

It is worth a listen to a perspective of someone who has had their life changed by serving.

Pete Lamb @ Copyright 2012
For information contact pete@petelamb.com

Fire from the outside in.

In the wake of the Chicago LODD last week (Herbert Johnson) there was a flurry of articles about flashover and attic fires.

All of these were great stuff and right on point. I wanted to take an opportunity while we were talking about these topics to talk about fires that start on the outside, climb and penetrate the building sheathing and wall covering and then we get the call.

There have been many circumstances where this type of situation has occurred, not the least of which was the Kyle Wilson incident.

My comments and thoughts below are not about any specific fire but just about these types of fires in general.

How do they start?

There are a variety of ways these fires can start. A gas grill fire that extends, grass and brush and mulch fires in contact with wood siding, careless disposal of smoking materials, external electrical (decorative lights cord) and many, many others.

In many if not all of the circumstances I will be referencing will be TYPE V wood frame construction.

Fire will generally enter an attic space through the small overhang of the roof line. This fire entering the soffit can rapidly find fuel (exposed wood Andorra attic storage) and rapidly spread. There is clearly an upward draft which exists and usually more than enough air to sustain free burning and fire growth.

There is generally little or no detection in uninhabitable attic spaces.

If occupants are home, they hear no alarms, see no smoke, and feel little or no heat . The fire continues to develop until it actually burns through or generates enough smoke that might be seen by a neighbor.

We arrive and have a well developed fire in a building void apace. Usually our best access (at least here in the northeast) will be a small 2 x 2 scuttle hole or attic hatch , with or without a ladder.

I have previously described and painted a pretty good picture of the conditions in the attic, now lets add some air from underneath. If the fire has free burned through the roof and venting well, things might be ok. If the fire has started to burn through but not quite, there is a tremendous amount of built up heat, products of combustion (read flammable gases) which might very well be forced down upon the scuttle opening with explosive force.

In addition certainly in wood frame construction there will be some drop fire down wooden petitions etc. balloon frame construction should be considered depending upon the age of the structure.

The bullet points or take aways from this quick post should be this:

Fires that spread from the outside in will generally have a pretty god head start.

After arrival of the FD we have a couple of tasks….search for life and search for the source of the fire. If interior companies are having trouble locating the source of the fire consider void space fires.

Exterior conditions might give the incident commander a better picture, because interior crews may not see and feel much from the inside.

Use EXTREME caution if you suspect lightweight roof construction. Consider the length of burning time and the fact these structural members are ready to fail.

Fire attack with simultaneous ventilation is always the solution to these problems, but more and more small suburban departments may not have the personnel immediately on scene to accomplish this. I am currently working on an article which discusses what we could do in the cases. Do I deploy all of my resources at the ventilation task while delaying attack, or do I start a cautious attack, knowing that my ability to advance might be limited, until ventilation occurs? (More on that later on)

Think about what we have discussed here today. Basement fires with extension, balloon frame construction issues etc, all present a similar circumstance, but when it comes from the outside in there are some different considerations.

Take a minute this week to review any case histories you know about, and talk its up around the kitchen table about any of these fires you might have responded Tao and operated at.

Stay safe!

Pete Lamb @ Copyright 2012
For information contact pete@petelamb.com

"Changing the fire service, one mind at a time"