St Patrick’s Day Musings

Because it is St. Paddy’s Day this weekend and because of my Irish heritage I thought it only appropriate that I would make some Irish analogies that might relate to the fire service this week. My dad always made a great deal about St. Patrick’s Day as my grandfather came directly from Ireland during the large migration. My Grandfather and his brothers ( Patrick, Mike, James, and Edward ….go figure!) lived in America all of their adult lives but always enjoyed and re-surfaced their Irish heritage at any moment they thought they could gain some mileage out of it!

Isn’t the fire service like an old traditional Irish family? We complain criticize and beat the heck out of one another verbally and critically in the fire station. Let some other person outside of the fire service criticize some of those same people and we immediately rush to their defense! It’s OK if we do it ” …’cause we are family and brothers!”

The legend goes that St. Patrick chased the snakes out of Ireland. Why the hell did he do that? Now the have only become politicians!

(Hey I was one, I can say that! – Lighten up will you!)

The Irish are noted for the quick temper, tenacious spirit, and a willingness to fight. OK, OK, maybe there could be some connection to the fire service there, let me think about that one.

There is always discussion about the luck of the Irish! Remember that there could be a significant difference between the luck of the Irish and the fire service. In this case I always refer to the saying that has been around for many years, and that is the difference between skill and luck is how long it lasts! A narrow escape is a free pass and a stroke of luck, skill allows you not to happen again!

An Irish toast and greeting says “May the road rise to meet you, and may the wind be always be at your back….” Who would have thought that they were talking about a hazardous materials incident where you should be upwind and uphill all the time!

Then there is the Blarney Stone…..hmmmm a connection between Blarney (Bologna) and the fire service, wait I can do this …wait I know I can!

Leprechauns….those little mischievous guys that play tricks on other mortals all the time. Maybe, just maybe those are the guys that keep moving the equipment around on the apparatus and that’s why we can never find anything. Maybe that’s why all the stuff from our food locker is gone, and maybe just maybe they are the guys who throw dirt on the floor, because after all I know I did my house duties, honest I did!

The “pot o’ gold” and the rainbow. I always liked those and I think the easiest thing I could write about those is a very simple message. The pot of gold and the rainbow vary from person to person and in some cases from day to day. Chase an elusive dream that may be waiting for you and when you get to the end instead of being disappointed, think about the treasure you really have. Your friends, your family, your health and all of the things that really matter. The chase and the dream are fun but do not lose sight of the things you have that allow you to get there!

The Irish can make a seven course meal out of a six pack and a boiled potato! Have you ever seen how a meal is prepared in a fire house. The only thing better than a large fire house meal is working the next night when there will be some extravaganza made from the leftovers!

If you want a neat Irish Story go searching around for some information on a guy by the name of Ronan Tynon one of the three now famous Irish Tenors. I just learned some pretty neat things about him this weekend, and you should take a look as well…he has an entirely different profession, has faced some enormous physical obstacles, and has a personal passion for many things that should be admired. You can’t get more Irish than that!

Hey, lets get serious here this is not all fun and games…the Irish are a dedicated, hard working, fun loving people who share a spirit of family and friends and life’s simple pleasures. Hey maybe that is the best analogy and description of the fire service I know!

No Serious message this week just a chance to smile and relax and not take life so serious. I need to do that and I thought I would share these whimsical thoughts with you. As we as a country move forward in very uncertain times, a smile here or there can’t hurt.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day and for all of my Italian friends Happy St. Joseph’s Day Too!

(reposted from an few years back on my website)

Pete Lamb
Copyright 2013

What is Acceptable on the fireground today?

This will be just a quick post to promote some thought. Like many of you, I continue to be a student of the trade and watch a bunch of youtube videos, read a bunch of blogs in my efforts to stay current. (It scares me that I do this regularly and cannot seem to learn enough and it scares the hell out of me to see people that try to learn nothing about their trade, but that is a completely different post!)

I won’t cite specific videos or departments but I will throw out a couple of examples just for discussion purposes.

I consistently see the incorrect line choice and placement at fires that are way beyond the capability of the rate of flow for the line chosen. How and why is this still occurring? Is it a failure of training? Is it a complacent attitude on the part of the first due? Is it lack of fortitude and direction from company and chief officers? If you are an officer and you see these things, fix them! I really don’t care that it happens, I care that it is not being addressed and fixed.

I still regularly see firefighters (volunteer, on call, and off duty paid firefighters) albeit well meaning, but operating within the hazard zone with no protective gear. Again I ask the same series of questions from the first one…. How and why? Now let me be clear about this, I have in the past, and I have witnessed and allowed off duty folks with no gear to assist outside the hazard area to change air bottles, operate REHAB and in some cases to even run pumps when we have operated short handed. I realize that even running the pump you could get whacked with a coupling etc., but a person with no gear should not be on a line, up a ladder, or entering the structure. It is just unacceptable today with all we know and all we have learned.

I consistently see haphazard PPE with SCBA half on, straps hanging etc. The way to fight a fire is from the inside. In today’s modern fire environment, protect yourself from any source of heat so that you can make the push when you have to under some difficult high heat conditions. Be responsible for your own SCBA and prevent yourself from being entangled in any way. (Before you go in, take a look at the curb and see who the RIT team is….then roll the dice!<grin>) If you don’t dress right and have to back out, what does that say about you and what you think of the crew you work with?

I see incident commanders distracted, getting involved in fire operations, rather than directing.

I see ladder pipes spraying ineffective streams at un-opened roofs when there could be hand lines using that precious wasted water, making a direct attack on the seat of the fire.

So what? All of you folks see it too, what I am ranting about?

We cannot fix anything that we see on the news feeds that we follow, but we can take care of us, our personnel and our own department.

Here is what we can do:

Wear ALL of our PPE, wear our SCBA correctly and BE READY to enter a crappy environment and do our absolute very best until we are spent and can give no more before we have to leave.

Train, train and train.

If you are a supervisor, then damn it all supervise, give orders and stop waiting for somebody else to fix, what you know should be fixed now. I don’t care what rank or what level, intervene.

If a fire stream is having no apparent effect on the fire, pay attention, redirect, increase flow or shut it down and redeploy it, or fix the supply problem. We are the fire department and it is out job to move water. They give us hose, fittings and pumpers, and then we say we have water supply problems! (I made this mistake of saying this once and get seriously chewed out by a friend and mentor and he pointed out that it was what I was paid to do)

If you are an incident commander, take a position where you feel comfortable either on Side A, or a corner position or whatever works. After you are in a position where you think you want to be, look at the distance you are from the incident and double it! Thats right back up, see the entire picture. I am serious give it a try. You will be surprised what you now can see in your area of vision. (I am not going to discuss the “command from the front seat of a closed car” mode) You should remain in a fixed position wherever you land.

Develop the concept of a command team with specific duties. If you are the IC somebody else has to run the accountability and status board. You can be near them to have voice contact but the IC should be paying attention to what is going on. Train, understand your limitations and how the stimulus of the scene will affect you. (Follow SA Matters for a ton of great information on this theory)

That is enough for now, lots more to come.
Share your thoughts using the send voicemail folder tab on the side of this page.
Stay Safe, and Stay Thinking!

Pete Lamb
Copyright 2013

Tactical Fire Problem – Loading Dock Fire

This week, the cab of a tractor trailer at a loading dock. Take a look.

1.) Let us start with the basics, what size and how many lines, how much water and how many personnel?
2.) Under the category of where is it going, what it is in the box trailer, is it empty be cause it was just unloaded, or is it full because it was just loaded? Have you ever operated at a fully loaded tractor trailer fire? What is it like to get water at the seat of the fire and what is it like to overhaul?
3.) I believe extension into the building is not likely at the moment, and hopefully the building is sprinklered but what is your plan to make sure fire does not get in? How much manpower does that take?
4.) While I don’t believe there will be extension, I certainly believe there will be extensive smoke spread into the building. What is your department’s plan to clear smoke out of a structure this large?
5.) Get out I your response district and look for the large buildings and develop a plan before you need one!
If you want to leave feedback or interact use the send voicemail tab at the side of the page.

Stay safe, and stay thinking!
Pete Lamb @ Copyright 2012
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Harrison New Jersey – Random thoughts

By now everyone has seen the video, the links, still shots and maybe have even weighed in on what the cause was and whether is was a backdraft or smoke explosion and everything else about this incident.

Here is the link VIDEO

After seeing a lot of stuff about this on social media I had a few thoughts that I will offer for consideration. These are in no specific order.

This is a significant incident that was captured on tape. It should be studied and not critiqued. The departments involved should do a post incident analysis, not the viewers from afar.(I have been guilty of this myself in the past and have learned from my errors)

Whatever it is investigated and determined to be (either backdraft or smoke explosion) it clearly was a catastrophic foreground event. Use this video experience to determine what you would have done just after this explosion.

If you are a chief officer what would your actions be, a deputy or safety chief, a company officer, or a firefighter on the line…..what would you want to do versus what would you do?

Give your thoughts to the department and the members that were injured and to their families. Sometimes we get so wrapped up in these dramatic videos we forget about the human consequences that result. How do you think any of the injured firefighters significant others will feel after watching this video? We need to support them so they can support the injured personnel to return to work.

Study the situation without making judgements about the operation. We are looking at a 30 second (+/-) video here, pretty hard to draw conclusions. Replay it and pause at various places.

It appears this event occurred on the B Bravo side of the building as shown by the google street view links. If you are the incident commander for your department where is your position usually? Side A? In the car? In a mobile command post? Circling the building? Inside the front door? How does the IC in your department receive information? What types of information should be reported?

If you watch the video and you notice some things that you may not like (smoke colors, movement etc.) how long did you have to react to it? Not very long at all. Things like collapse and explosions can not be “reacted” to in a timely manner.

I am not sure what point during the fire that this occurred, but this was a 4 or 5 alarm fire depending upon which report you read. To me this indicates some long duration and probably lots of personnel on the scene on most if not all sides of the building. Think about your own department’s accountability and incident management system and how it would work minutes before and minutes after the explosion

Remember that class in the early days of your recruit school about fire behavior? Fire behavior is truly science that continues to change as structures change, and fuel load and composition changes. Always continually study fire behavior and smoke movement. There is a ton of reading smoke training material out there, absorb it all like a sponge. NOTE: I am not in any way suggesting that the department did not read smoke, I am merely trying to make sure all of the readers use this incident as a teachable moment. The nature of the Internet and sharing of this video is a positive thing.

I personally hope to learn more about this incident as the days and weeks and months unfold, and I hope you will also.

Until we meet up next time, make sure you do whatever you can do at your rank, to prevent a catastrophic fire incident from happening at your next fire. If you cannot do anything to prevent it be sure that you come to work “expecting and anticipating it”, and be sure you are trained physically and mentally to be prepared to deal with it after it occurs.

Nobody expects anything less from you.

Pete Lamb
Copyright 2013

SCBA Blackout / Blindfold Drill

This is a repost of a previous article reprinted by request.

This week I will be talking about a blackout facemask drill. I will stress the objectives of this drill which is something I have been a bit remiss about doing in previous drills. This drill involves working in SCBA with a blackout mask, or wax paper obscuring the face piece, but it is not an SCBA drill per se. The purpose and objective of this drill is as follows:

The firefighters shall obtain a comfort level while working under air, in low visibility and gloved hands.

This drill should be to let personnel work in full turnout gear and also checks their familiarity of SCBA landmarks and equipment.

Drill set up: Get an open area that is large enough for about a 15 minute evolution. An apparatus bay is suitable but resist the attempt to make it too large so that it cannot be finished.

Instructors should be placed throughout the area and at each training station so that instructions can be given, and safety of students under blackouts can be monitored.

The drill can be timed or not and it can be repeated for a better proficiency level.

Students get in full gear and don blackout masks and then enter the area as individuals rather than teams.

Students begin crawling and either follow a hoseline or a wall depending upon what you choose.

They encounter a second pre set hoseline of 2 1/2″ or three inch and they are instructed to make up the couplings and put the hose together keeping their gloves on.

They proceed past that station and the instructor disconnects that second hose for the next student.

At the next station they discover they are given three nozzles and an 1 3/4 line and told to select a combination nozzle and set it on a straight or fog setting. They must connect the nozzle and then by the sense of feel adjust it correctly before proceeding. This line is uncharged and remains uncharged. The instructor then re prepares this for the next student.

At the next station they discover another air pack. They are to remove their airpack they are wearing and re don the one they find.

As they proceed further they must find a portable radio in a designated area, turn it on, place it on a designated channel transmit a message and then leave it.

At the next station they proceed to they should find a mannequin with an airpack on and they should find the regulator and place the regulator in the facepiece of a downed firefighter.

At the next stop they should be told to manually activate their own pass device for about 30 seconds and then reset it. The instructor should actually know and time with a stop watch if they realize at this point what 30 seconds is.

At the next station there is a pile of tools and they should be instructed to proceed to select a certain tool and then exit with it.

There are a number of variables that can be included in this scenario. The real issue is the student comfortable enough working under air, can they perform simple tasks by the sense of feel, and if you time the exercise there is an artificial sense of pressure.

After a student proceeds past the second station you can start another to help maintain the flow.

All students should be closely monitored for signs of difficulty and stress while under air.

Develop your own ideas of skills they can perform and add them at the next time you do this drill.

Pete Lamb
Copyright 2013

Tactical Fire Problem – Large Older Home

This week we look at an advancing fire in a large older home, that could be a colonial or an old farmhouse.

1.) Think about the age of this structure and consider the possibility of balloon frame construction with a large number of void spaces.

2.) Just looking at the structure, do you believe it is occupied, or vacant and what things might lead you to your conclusion.

3.) What is the impact of that fence in front on your hose stretch? How much training do you do to prepare for that? Do you always “shoulder” the hose load and pay it out that way? PRACTICE!

4.) What size ground ladder do you need to reach the dormer windows?

5.) Considering your department’s resources and manpower, how long will you be operating at this fire, and how big of a deal would this be for your organization?

Please feel free to use the SEND VOICEMAIL BAR on the right hand side of the website for feedback, or send and email response to

Stay safe, and stay thinking!

Pete Lamb
Copyright 2013

The Firefighter Academy Awards

I know, I know it was last week but I was a little busy, I’m sorry!

I really have very little interest in the Oscars and all of the phoniness that goes along with it, but it did cause me to pause and chuckle about what if the fire department hd it’s own version.

There should not be a department in this country that cannot relate to this one.

Best Actor / Actress
This is the guy or gal that hangs around the kitchen table and tells all the tall tales about fires that nobody ever remembers seeing them at. They tend to overcompensate for everything they have ever done, and they really might not be that good. They have 427 fire emblems and insignias and will be the first to tell you they are fearless but have no sick days left because they have called out for every hangnail they ever had!

Best supporting Actor / Actress
In my book this goes hands down to the best pump operators on all of your departments. There is some firefighter on the 6:00 PM news all dirty and macho, who would not be anything without the guy or gal that tied in their own feeder and managed a couple of handlines and maybe a master stream by them self!

Original Musical
Thats right, this is the guy or gal who makes more noise with the Federal Q or electronic siren and air horns while responding to a water emergency or pump out. You are all smiling right now because you are beginning to name names aren’t you?

Costume Design
These folks actually come in two categories. The ones that decorate their duty uniform or belt with more tactical or paramedical stuff then if batman were a surgeon. Then there are those that sew patches and add gadgets to their turnout gear. On some rare occasions you might find one that excls in both categories

Best Dance Direction
This usually has something to do with a production that involves much drama and usually some yelling around the front door. (Never actually entering the front door however!)

Makeup and Hairstyling
Don’t you just hate they guy or gal who can go through a second alarm, remove their helmet, remove their SCBA mask and they do not have a hair out of place? 20 years ago I worked with a guy who thought the front windshield of the truck was his makeup mirror. He would often be seen combing his hair while looking at his reflection in the window!

Hey have some fun with these, lighten up and smile this week. I am sure with this little seed there will be folks in stations actually making up their own actual little FF Oscars to be handed out in the kitchen at meal time!

Stay safe, and stay smiling! Firefighters have the greatest sense of humor of any profession.

Pete Lamb
Copyright 2013