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Posted by Francesca Solano | General, Health, Leatherhead Instructors, Performance, Safety
Thursday, March 19th, 2015 1:03 pm

Leatherhead Thursday: Physical fitness in the fire service

By Shane Wells

of the Leatherhead Instructors

Many departments across the United States require that new recruits pass a physical fitness or abilities test of some kind prior to their appointment to the position. So why aren’t more departments requiring their firefighters to keep up some type of physical fitness performance level? One reason might be a rejection from the local union. They may fear losing their job if unable to meet the fitness requirements. Many cities have or are implementing work place wellness programs that are voluntary. These programs are sometimes encouraged by workers compensation for lower rates. My question is why aren’t more firefighters proactive in starting physical fitness programs in their own departments? Core training is gaining in popularity among firefighters.

The National Occupational Research Agenda has identified traumatic injury and intervention effectiveness as two of its priority research areas. Injuries are the leading cause of mortality and loss of potential years of life for working individuals. This study focused on a unique method of injury prediction and prevention in high risk workers using a functional movement screen and core strength intervention. Many workers must deal with physically demanding tasks that involve awkward positions and less than optimal ergonomics. Firefighting is a particular hazardous profession with exposure to a host of chemical, biological, and physical hazards including musculoskeletal trauma. Firefighters perform physically demanding tasks such as forcible entry and rescues that are injury prone because of maneuvers that compromise trunk stability and ergonomically hazardous conditions. Because of the nature of firefighting, these physical conditions are often difficult to control. There are over one million firefighters in the United States and the injury rates of firefighters are among the highest in all occupations. In 2006 U.S. firefighters sustained 88,500 injuries while on duty. Forty four percent of all U.S. firefighters have suffered from sprains and strains while on duty. It is important for firefighters to be fit because they work in physically unpredictable settings, and must maintain a high level of fitness for at least 20 years before they are eligible for retirement. Various strategies have been evaluated to decrease the occurrence and the severity of the firefighter’s injuries. These methods have focused on exercise, training, ergonomic coaching and flexibility improvements. A physical fitness intervention for firefighters was shown to effective in reducing injuries, but the scope of the study was limited to back disorders. A firefighter flexibility training program did not find improvement in injury incidence, though lost time, severity and costs improved. Workplace injuries are multi-factorial, especially in occupations where work events are unpredictable and task completion places rigorous demands on the body. Furthermore, many ergonomic interventions have limited applicability in certain firefighter tasks. For example, a firefighter who must crawl under wreckage and control his or her body to rapidly rescue a trapped individual has severe ergonomic challenges that are difficult to address with standard ergonomic suggestions such as “lift with your legs not with your back.” Although many firefighter exercise programs have focused on upper and lower body strength, they have paid less attention to core stability and strength and the other dimensions of movement that might decrease the chance of injury in the above scenario. Core stability is the ability of the lumbopelvic hip complex to prevent buckling and to return to equilibrium after perturbation. Although static elements (bone and soft tissue) contribute to some degree, core stability is predominately maintained by the dynamic function of muscular elements. There is clear relationship between trunk muscle activity and lower extremity movement. Current research suggests that decreased core strength may contribute to injuries of the back and extremities, that training may decrease musculoskeletal damage, and that core stability can be tested using functional movement methods. The study goes on to talk about how a group of 433 firefighters were ran through a battery of seven tests over a four week period in 2004. After that they were enrolled in a training program designed by multi-disciplinary team. Participants were all taught techniques to strengthen core muscles and to decrease mechanical load on the affected parts of their musculoskeletal system during these ergonomically challenging job tasks.

For one year following the training, information on the type and number of injury cases, cost of treatment, and the lost day’s due to injury were gathered by the organization’s worker’s comp department. Comparing the number of injuries pre and post-intervention of these 433 firefighters, lost time injuries were reduced by 62%, whereas total injuries were reduced by 44% compared to a historical control group. In my area there are several Cross Fit gyms that have continued to gain in popularity. Cross Fit is a core building focused workout program.

Reference: Peate, W. F., Bates, G., Lunda, K., Francis, S., & Bellamy, K. (2007). Core strength: a new model for injury prediction and prevention. J Occup Med Toxicol, 2(3), 1-9.

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Posted by Francesca Solano | Fire and Rescue, General, Health, Leatherhead Instructors, Performance, Safety, Training
Thursday, February 19th, 2015 3:02 pm

Leatherhead Thursday: The importance of precision

By James R. Dennison

of the Leatherhead Instructors

Saws, hand tools, ladders, hoses, nozzles, rescue equipment, and gas tools can be found on all fire trucks across America. There are many similarities between manufacturers of the equipment, but there are also many differences. The manufacturer of the equipment is unimportant, but the knowledge needed to use your departments’ equipment is absolutely monumental. The operations and abilities of the tools that we regularly use are second nature to us, but the stuff that seems to spend more time on the rig than in use may be far from familiar.

The proper start up procedures for your saws can make or break you in an emergency. Small engines can prove to be challenging in themselves due to their “cold blooded” nature, but knowing how to properly handle the equipment and how to overcome things such as a flooded engine or loose chain can keep you in the game.  Regular maintenance of the equipment is imperative to smooth operations, but can also provide an understanding of the more technical aspects of the saws.

Hose loads and lays are never the same between two fire departments, and often are different between the trucks in your bays. The loads, lengths, and nozzles are typically set up for the area in which you respond and departmental preference. Understanding the proper way to deploy each type of load on your trucks can save time, property, and lives. Knowing your loads and lengths will enable you to quickly add sections when needed to reach the fire, ensure efficiency of deployment, and allow you to be an asset instead of liability to your company. Knowing and understanding the type of nozzle, its flow, operation, and pressure is also necessary to be successful on the job.

Routine care of your hand tools, personal equipment, and PPE will greatly reduce failure on the emergency scene. Keeping your hand tools clean, properly assembled, and sharpened is your responsibility; don’t rely on the previous crew or user to maintain them. You better know where and how to use the tools in your pockets if you are going to carry them; it is ignorant to have a mass pile of items on you that you have no idea how to use or where it is. Do you like to wear the same underwear several days in a row? I hope not! Treat your turnout gear the same way. If you use it, clean it! Proper maintenance of turnout gear can prevent you from absorbing carcinogens on a regular basis and allow the gear to effectively work when needed.

Keep in mind that even the simple things can be reviewed and a lot can be gained. Take five minutes and look at your hydraulic rescue tools; which way do you move the control to make the tool operate? How far does the hydraulic reel reach? What type of oil does the hydraulic reservoir use? Are the tools clean? I bet you can refresh your mind and maybe gain something you didn’t know in that five minutes!

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Posted by Francesca Solano | Fire and Rescue, General, Leatherhead Instructors, Safety, Training
Thursday, January 8th, 2015 11:01 am

Leatherhead Thursday: Training Props and Aids

By Shane Wells

of the Leatherhead Instructors

Firefighter educational services use training props or aids almost every time that we train. The costs range from free or inexpensive to multi-million dollar training towers or burn buildings, but they provide  a hands on experience. The training props and aids are a more interesting training method than a standard lecture, and they also allow us to test skills and gain an understanding of how the student is doing.

There are many companies that manufacture training props, BullEx is one company that offers many options for professional and innovative training aids.  BullEx offers everything from smoke generators to training towers and aircraft simulators. They not only provide props for the fire service, but they also offer props for public education, workplace safety training, and fire brigades. Some of the props pertain to forcible entry, roof simulators, window props, and lock cutting stations.  However, not all departments and facilities can afford to purchase props; they simply build their own. They key to building props for your department or organization is safety.

The internet provides many resources for building the props or aids that your department or organization may need or want. VentEnterSearch is one website that offers weekly training prop ideas, ranging from basic to complex. My department has historically built our own props varying from a forcible entry door to a confidence maze that has been set up in a training house. Our most utilized training prop is a shipping container that acts as a burn building, the container has a ventilation hole cut in the roof that has a hinged cover that can be controlled from the ground. We have submitted a grant for a training tower that can serve multiple departments in our county.

A training prop can be as basic as a kids puzzle from the store that acts as a training prop for dexterity when wearing a level A hazmat suit. Don’t allow budget constraints hamper your training, there is always a way to make your training better with or without a large training budget.

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Posted by Francesca Solano | Fire and Rescue, General, Leatherhead Instructors
Thursday, December 18th, 2014 10:12 am

Leatherhead Thursday: Holiday Season and Appreciation

By James R. Dennison

of the Leatherhead Instructors

As another holiday season rapidly approaches, we are faced with the challenges and unique calls that we may receive.  The way that we provide customer service this time of year really makes an impact on our “customers”.  The season presents us with emergencies that stem from the weather, large family gatherings, faulty Christmas decorations, and the increased use of heating due to the cold.  The compassion that we portray when dealing with our “customers” in their emergency is a subtle reminder that we truly care about our jobs.

This season is also a time for us to reflect on what the job means to us and how we got here.  As our careers progress we sometimes lose sight of why we do this, and what it meant to take the job.  The years and years of time that some of us have on the job has taken its toll and a rejuvenation is important if we want to continue being part of the progression of the service.  The attitudes that we carry at the station, around our brothers and sisters, and to our “customers” is what we build ourselves on.

Take a look at the “new guy” on the department; I bet he or she is full of excitement and is headed in every direction because they cannot get enough.  I bet that each of us can look back and reflect on the days that we were the same way.  Spend some time looking at what your career has meant to you and how you may or may not have arrived at your present attitude.  What things can you change?  What things can you not change?  I bet there are some simple things that you could do to improve your attitude and vision.

This season is about giving and appreciation.  I think that the holiday season is a perfect time to reflect on our individual strengths and weaknesses, and the time to make changes.  Set some achievable goals for 2015; maybe there is a class that you want to take, or something within the department that you want to be part of.  Start 2015 with a fresh slate and a rekindled fire within yourself; be part of the solution!

Take the time to talk to people when you are on calls, your kindness will go a long way.  You never know just how much a “customer” will remember when you go the extra mile; this is why we should be doing the job!  We are the fortunate ones, not everybody has a job that they love!  Have a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

Stay safe and train hard!

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Posted by Francesca Solano | Fire and Rescue, General, Leatherhead Instructors, Training
Thursday, December 4th, 2014 10:12 am

Leatherhead Thursday:The nozzle person

By James R. Dennison

of the Leatherhead Instructors

It has been a long standing tradition within my organization and many others across the country to allow the senior person on the apparatus to be the “nozzle person”.  The concept of the most senior person being on the nozzle comes from the thought that this particular person is the most knowledgeable, experienced, and trained.  I agree that this person should be on the attack line, but I believe that they should be the backup or second in line.

I bet we could teach a monkey to spray water on a fire, but the ability to monitor the ever changing conditions would be difficult at best.  I have heard a lot of things as to why the most senior person is on the nozzle: they have been doing this a long time, they are really good at attack, they have put the time in and should get to have the best job, etc.  These points have no validity in the progression of the department!  How do you think a new firefighter gets the experience so that when they are a senior member of the department they can teach new firefighters? They won’t if they are not put in the position to be taught.

The fire service is now starting to look at the concept of putting the junior person on the nozzle and placing the veteran member behind them.  This idea comes from a teaching position and the ability of the veteran member to monitor the changing conditions.  The veteran member can guide the nozzle person as to where to spray, how to spray, changing conditions to look for, what the fire is going to do, where the fire is going to go, etc.  This allows for the junior member to receive guidance, and the veteran the ability to effect the progression of the junior firefighter and the department.

The junior firefighter should be competent in methodically searching for the fire and monitoring the stability of the floor, but having the veteran firefighter right behind them will allow for guidance when there is a question.  This approach will allow for a positive experience for both firefighters, and strengthen the individuals on their weaknesses.  It is necessary for the veteran firefighter to understand why he or she is being told to be second in line; they need to know that their experience, knowledge, and training can help shape the future of the organization.

I encourage you to look at the information available on firefighter related articles, blogs, magazines, and websites to better understand this concept!

Stay safe and train hard!

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Posted by Francesca Solano | Fire and Rescue, General, Leatherhead Instructors, PPE
Thursday, November 6th, 2014 7:11 am

Helmets of the fire service

By Shane Wells
of the Leatherhead Instructors

I have had a large variety of helmets in my 20 plus years as a firefighter; they range from inexpensive fiberglass helmets to quite expensive leather helmets. The first helmet that I had was a Cairns Fiberglass “salad bowl” Helmet, and now I have a Sam Houston Leather Helmet. There are differences in style, comfort, fit, and weight between the two; both have acceptable ratings.

I consider there to be three types of helmets that we typically see in the United States; leather, composite, and proximity. There are many styles that can be chosen among them, but the three listed types cover most of the bases. Each department really needs to do their research as to what fits them, and uniformity should be considered. Do not allow “what’s popular” to dictate what you get!

There are several things that should be considered when deciding what helmets to purchase for your department. Cost, amount of calls that you respond to, types of service provided (structural, technical rescue, airport crash rescue), turnover rate of your department (applies more to part time and volunteer), and ratings. Some departments opt to use different types of helmets for technical rescue, or wild land firefighting. A leather helmet is a poor choice for a department that uses one helmet and does technical rescue, due to the weight. Be wary of the first salesman that walk in your door and offers the cheapest price; cheapest is NOT always best! Something in the middle may be a good place to start.

I received a LION American Heritage Classic Helmet about two years ago to use while teaching classes, and I have to say that it is one of the most comfortable helmets that I have had the privilege of wearing. It has the look of a traditional leather helmet, but the weight of a composite. The helmet has held up well during the trainings that it has been worn during, and I look forward to wearing it for years to come. We wear Leather Sam Houston’s for our primary helmet, a Cairns 1010 composite as a backup, and a separate helmet for wild land and technical rescue at my department. We are given a leather helmet once our probationary period is met and these helmets remain with us for our career; we get to take them when we retire.

I hope that this helps you in your decision making regarding the purchase and use of helmets.

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Posted by Francesca Solano | Fire and Rescue, General, Leatherhead Instructors
Thursday, October 9th, 2014 9:10 am

Leatherhead Thursday: Multipurpose Gear

By James R. Dennison

of the Leatherhead Instructors

The fire service revolves around responding to a wide variety of emergencies and non-emergencies; most of these responses require us to wear either a hazardous materials suite or our turnout gear.  The gear that we have can be viewed as overkill in many of the situations that we must deal with, but the simple Nomex or cotton uniforms we wear are just not enough.  What is the solution?

Multipurpose gear is a great tool to add to the toolbox.  Wild land firefighting gear and rescue response suits are offered by several manufactures, but they do not appear to be multipurpose.  Offering a set of gear that has fire protection, comfort, and reinforcements in the most vital places is the next step in reducing firefighter fatigue, while still offering protection.  The lack of a liner system will reduce the weight of the gear for situations other than structural firefighting.

This type of gear would be well suited for extrication, wild land firefighting, and any situation that does not require structural firefighting or bloodborne pathogen protection.  You lose the ability of having necessary protection from structural firefighting and bloodborne pathogens when you remove the lining of the gear, but we already have structural gear and Tyvek suites when dealing with significant bleeding, trauma, or other body fluids.

Customization of such equipment would simply add luxury; as we already have with our turnout gear.  The ability to add reflective striping, department names, and pockets where you wish is a nice touch that adds workability among firefighters.  It is certainly nice to be able to add pockets for tools or gloves, and a clasp for flashlights.

The needs and wants of firefighters is a top priority among safety equipment manufacturers; LION is no exception.  I encourage you to write a letter or send an e-mail to let them know what you are interested in seeing to better our field.

Stay safe and train hard!

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Posted by Francesca Solano | Fire and Rescue, General, Leatherhead Instructors
Thursday, September 11th, 2014 8:09 am

Leatherhead Thursday: Living at the firehouse

By James R. Dennison

of the Leatherhead Instructors

Firefighters have a second family that most people know nothing about.  These families are unknown to everyday working folks, people that view their counterparts as co-workers, or that dread having to deal with people at the office or factory.  What we have is rare, awesome, and yet difficult.

Our days at the station revolve around conversation, meals, television, and responding to the emergencies in our communities.  Many of our calls bring stress, emotions, anger, and disappointment; the relationships that we have with our brothers and sisters is what gets us through it.  We spend time talking about calls and somehow those conversations help diffuse the feelings that we have formed from the emergency.  The ability to have conversations with people that know exactly what you are felling is rare.  Many of the stories, conversations, counseling sessions, or whatever you want to call it never leave the firehouse.  This prevents a lot of problems in our personal relationships with our husbands, wives, or children.

Many meals, joking, and general good times take place at the station.  Many departments across America have long standing traditions regarding meals and partaking together.  Some places have a steady cook, or crew members take turns cooking, or maybe your big meal together is lunch instead of dinner.  Whatever the regimen is, it is taken seriously!  Meals bring people together, and this is no different at the station.

Down time is spent playing cards, shooting hoops, working out, studying, or watching television.  You will rarely find a member of a crew hanging out alone when all the work is done.  There are always stories to share about your kids, vacation plans, or whatever is going on daily at home.  The relationships formed at the firehouse are unlike any other.

The firehouse contains many people from different walks of life with different views; there are going to be times where you butt heads.  The realization that life is truly fragile almost always helps the disagreements blow by.  Rarely do you find firefighters behaving in an unacceptable manner to resolve a conflict.  The reality is that you get out of these relationships what you put into them.  Unlike most jobs, I guarantee that each firefighter has a unique story to tell regarding their decision to do the job.

I find myself quite thankful to be part of such an amazing profession, with amazing people, and I hope that you do too.

Stay safe and train hard!


Posted by Nick Hrkman | Fire and Rescue, Leatherhead Instructors
Thursday, August 28th, 2014 9:08 am

Leatherhead Thursday: It’s about time for some pink!

By J.R. Dennison
of the Leatherhead Instructors

There is no secret: October is the month that is dedicated to breast cancer awareness and, of course, wearing pink!  There is no doubt that all cancer deserves awareness, but breast cancer alone takes so much from us all and can be drastically changed if the word and awareness is continually spread.  We all have special women in our lives that lose that battle each year, and that hits us right in our hearts.  Our lives revolve around strong co-workers, mothers, sisters, daughters, wives, and friends and we want to do all that we can to protect them.

Firefighters across the U.S. and Canada have been able to support the fight with their public standing.  Firefighters are looked at by communities across the U.S. and Canada as role models, upstanding citizens, and generally good people.  We have an opportunity to support the research and awareness through raising funds and advertisement in the pink shirts!  The International Association of Fire Fighters has been a top supporter of the Susan G. Komen Foundation for several years; in 2012 the IAFF and its affiliates raised about $108,000.00 for the foundation.

Around 300,000 women and 2,500 men will be diagnosed with breast cancer in 2014; about 40,000 women and 430 men will succumb to the disease.  These numbers are terrible, but they are on the decrease since 2000.  The reason for the drop is funding for research, treatment, and awareness.  It is imperative that we do not allow any of these three paths to falter in any way!

The Susan G. Komen Foundation website ww5.komen.org can provide you with tons of information regarding the disease, its research, treatment, early detection, and support.  The IAFF website www.iaff.org can provide you with information about what fire fighters are doing to support.  I encourage you to take a look at these sites, and talk to the women in your lives about self-exams.  This disease can be detected early and the battle can possible be won if the right steps are taken.

Stay safe, train hard, and wear that pink!

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Posted by Nick Hrkman | Leatherhead Instructors, Training
Thursday, August 14th, 2014 2:08 pm

Leatherhead Thursday: Lines Down

By J.R. Dennison
of the Leatherhead Instructors

The fire department is one of the first agencies that the public turns to when situations arise that pose any type of threat or emergency.  Fire departments across the country respond to countless calls involving downed utility lines and poles each year; the risk of injury or death is always there.  We are going to take a few different looks at how these calls can be handled and what our function should be once on scene.

Our job description varies, but at no point are we capable of determining if a downed line is energized or not.  Every line should be treated as if it was energized and our scene management should be accordingly.  A downed tree across utility lines can present a great danger in itself, because of the potential of transferred energy through that tree and any people in the immediate vicinity.  It is important to not only look at the downed utility lines as being energized, but the objects in which they are now touching.  Remember that you are the ground, and a direct route for that energy to ground.

Our primary function on the scene of downed lines is to provide safety for ourselves and the public.  Many times we respond to calls that involve lines down on a vehicle while occupants are still inside; it is best to keep these folks right where they are until the power company can de-energize the lines.  You limit the risk of grounding out the vehicle, the occupants, and the first responders when you wait.  One wrong move can be the difference of life and death!

Think about the operations and care that we take when using our aerial devices.  The platforms at the pump panel and aerial control area are not for comfort; they are keeping you from being a ground should the aerial device strike a live line.  This same concept should be viewed when operating at scenes involving downed lines.

Talk with your local power company about providing training for your department regarding utility lines.  Most providers will be glad to work with you to better educate about their profession and things to look for.  Awareness is absolutely the first step in helping yourself and others!

Stay safe and train hard!

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