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 Nick Hrkman | Fire and Rescue, Performance
Tuesday, July 22nd, 2014 2:07 pm

New NFPA 1670 chapter gives guidance on conducting animal technical rescues

By Ryan McGinnis
For NFPA Journal July/August

Two years ago, John Haven was sitting down to eat dinner with his wife in his Gainesville, Florida, home when his phone rang. It was a local fire chief calling with the news that a dog had fallen down a 50-foot sinkhole in a city park while playing fetch with its owner. First responders were on scene and preparing a rescue, but the chief was concerned about the plan, which involved an improvised rope-and-pulley system that would lower a responder into the hole, then lift him out as he held the dog in his arms. “Your team can do this better, smarter, and safer, right?” the chief asked.

“Sure,” Haven said. “We’ll be there in 30 minutes.”

Haven’s team is the University of Florida Veterinary Emergency Treatment Services, part of the university’s College of Veterinary Medicine, which Haven directs. The 50-member team includes a smaller core group trained in both advanced human technical rescue and animal technical rescue, and Haven was part of a five-member crew that responded to the chief’s request for assistance with the dog in the sinkhole. Haven’s group had conducted previous training exercises with Alachua County Fire Rescue, the first responders on the scene, and the team was in touch with the chief while they were en route to the park, allowing it to get a compete picture of the situation and assign tasks before it arrived. Haven described for the chief the type of rigging setup they’d need for the rescue, and the chief told him it would be ready to go when they got there.

Read the full article on NFPA Journal.

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Posted by Nick Hrkman | Fire and Rescue, PPE, Performance
Monday, July 14th, 2014 10:07 am

Flame Resistant T-Shirts May Replace Cotton

By Guy Lucas
for Safety Components

The Firehouse Industry Insights blogs are contributed by experts in various areas of the fire service industry.

A hot topic being discussed these days is the idea of fire departments adopting flame resistant base layer garments to replace 100% cotton t-shirts or polyester t-shirts. The U.S. military has already gone through similar evaluations and found inherently flame resistant knits like Sigma™ as the optimum fabric for flame resistant base layers. Explored below are a few reasons why your department may be on the brink of retiring cotton and should be banning polyester t-shirts.

Why replace 100% cotton t-shirts?

100% cotton t-shirts are good for one reason and one reason only…price. Cotton shirts are made of inexpensive cotton fiber and therefore produce inexpensive cotton t-shirts.

The downside of cotton is threefold: poor moisture management, poor color retention, and poor durability.

Moisture Management – You can drop water on top of cotton fabric and it will disappear quickly—the same way certain thermal liner face cloths perform. What happened of course is that the fabric simply absorbed the water, it didn’t wick the moisture, which is an important part of good moisture management. The cotton absorbing fabric becomes heavier and stays wetter for a longer period of time (like thermal liner face cloths that perform the same way). This type of poor performance increases fatigue and makes working conditions hotter and more difficult for the firefighter. It is important that firefighters do not confuse “water absorbent fabrics” like cotton as having good “moisture management”.

Poor Color Retention—Image is Everything - In a time where firefighter budgets are threatened every day, the look and image of the firefighter is as important as ever. The fire service needs the support of the public, and a good image is critical in influencing a positive opinion. A shirt that retains color/looks newer for a longer period of time is one that will aid in presenting the firefighter in a positive light. Shirts made of cotton fade and wash out quickly—reducing the usable life of the shirt or risk displaying an unprofessional image.

Subpar DurabilityDurability is the final Achilles heel to cotton under garments. Aside from color retention, cotton wears out quickly and loses strength much faster than fabrics made of high performance fibers.

Read the full article on

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Posted by Nick Hrkman | Fire and Rescue, Performance
Tuesday, July 8th, 2014 11:07 am

Fire Hazards of Exterior Wall Construction: An NFPA Research Report

By Owen Davis
For NFPA Today

In the commercial building industry, many combustible materials are used in exterior wall construction to improve energy performance, reduce water and air filtration and allow for aesthetic design flexibility. These exterior wall assemblies include Exterior Insulation Finish Systems (EIFS), metal composite claddings, high-pressure laminates, and weather-resistive barriers (WRB). Given a number of documented fire incidents involving combustible exterior walls, a better understanding of these incidents was needed to inform current material test methods and potential fire mitigation strategies.

The Fire Protection Research Foundation initiated a research project to develop the technical basis for fire mitigation strategies for fires involving exterior wall assemblies. The goal of this first phase project is to compile information on typical fire scenarios, relevant test methods and listing criteria, and approval/regulatory requirements for these systems. In addition, phase I worked to identify the knowledge gaps and the recommended fire scenarios and testing approach for potential future study.

The full report “Fire Hazards of Exterior Wall Assemblies Containing Combustible Components” is available as well as an executive summary.

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Posted by Nick Hrkman | Fire and Rescue, Performance
Wednesday, July 2nd, 2014 10:07 am

FireRescue1: 4 ways for fire chiefs to not get steamrolled by details

By Dennis Rubin

The top official of any agency is the responsibility party for everything that happens in the organization. During World War II President Harry S. Truman put it best: “The buck stops here.”

Truman was taking responsibility for the escalation of the war effort and placing the lives of many of America’s military members in harms way. The president took personal accountability for the decisions that were being made on the battlefield based on his position and authority to engage our nation in combat against a foreign enemy — that’s true leadership.

Make no mistake, the senior official of any organization must take the same approach and be held accountable for the actions (sometimes inactions) of the troops. If the big boss is going to be held accountable for everything occurring within their department, she must pay attention all of the time to all of the details.

That’s a huge responsibility for a fire chief and it is not fair. However, the community expects the top firefighter will lead and the rest of the outfit will follow.


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Posted by Nick Hrkman | Fire and Rescue, Performance
Monday, June 9th, 2014 10:06 am

Fire Engineering: Social media tips and tricks for volunteer departments

By Thomas A. Merrill
For Fire Engineering

What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. And on Facebook. And Twitter. And anywhere else people decided to post their photos and comments for the world to see. Of course, what people post is their own personal business. However, the professional volunteer firefighter has a duty and obligation to ensure his posts do not negatively impact the image and reputation of his department or our great fire service.

Used correctly, social media can be a great tool and can contribute greatly to a department’s professional reputation. But, if used inappropriately, a firefighter and a department’s reputation can be destroyed very quickly, and that damage can be hard to repair.


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Posted by Nick Hrkman | Fire and Rescue, Leatherhead Instructors, Performance
Thursday, May 1st, 2014 9:05 am

Leatherhead Thursday: Are you “good enough”?

By J.R. Dennison
For the Leatherhead Instructors

The fire service is full of all types of people, from all walks of life, with many different goals.  Some of us are second, third, or fourth generation firefighters that have dreamed of the job since childhood.  Others discovered the fire service as young adults or even older adults.  The fire service is truly diverse in its makeup, but so are the standards that each firefighter holds him/ herself to.

Regardless of the age, gender, or ethnicity of the firefighter; they were probably quite ambitious at the beginning of their career.  You could follow this firefighter and find that their tools were clean and sharp, their S.C.B.A.’s were filled to their max, the knowledge and understanding of the equipment that they used was sharp, and they had an excitement about them for the job.  Time, influences, and laziness are all things that contribute to the demise of the new firefighter.  Making certain that our new firefighters are properly mentored can be the beginning or the beginning of the end for them; along with personal choices/ goals.


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Posted by Nick Hrkman | Fire and Rescue, Performance
Wednesday, March 19th, 2014 9:03 am

New research to examine fire safety concerns of green buildings

By Fred Durso Jr.
For the NFPA’s Fire Sprinkler Initiative

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is funding a three-year project through the Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) aimed at identifying and reducing potential risks posed by “green” elements in newer buildings. The $1 million project is a follow-up to the 2012 report commissioned by the Fire Protection Research Foundation that identified dozens of these concerns and how research could pinpoint mitigation tactics.

In his initial research, Brian Meacham, associate professor of fire protection engineering at WPI, compiled a list of 78 green building features and construction elements that could pose risks to firefighters and occupants. Lightweight engineered lumber, for instance, uses less material and could present risks during fires for its propensity to collapse more quickly than conventional timber construction.


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Posted by Francesca Solano | Fire and Rescue, General, Performance, Safety
Tuesday, January 28th, 2014 10:01 am

Ventilation Limited Fire: Keeping it Rich and Other Tactics Based Off Science

By P.J. Norwood and Frank Ricci

For Fire Engineering

Scientific research and data is critical to increase our understanding of the dynamic environments we face as firefighters. However, it is important that the message does not get lost in the noise. Although our service has been attempting to reconcile the Underwriters Laboratories (UL) and National Institute of Safety and Technology (NIST) studies, we will focus on the practical application.

We have found that the new understanding is not as scary as it seems. What we consider as new is based off tactical pieces of the puzzle that have been in practiced by experienced truck and rescue companies for years.

No, we are not talking about the engine member who is riding the truck and getting his first taste of breaking windowsindiscriminately! We are talking about how venting and limiting venting has to be coordinated. There is no change; tactical discipline is and has always been critical in controlling the building. What we are learning is that it is even more important than we thought, and the fire behavior model of the past is not the same model of today.

As we discuss the UL and the NIST studies, we are finding that the latest science has just given us the full picture to link understanding and improve on our tactical disposition.

Terminology is critical to understanding. However, just because an event has a new name doesn’t mean it is something altogether different. A fuel-limited fire is no different than a fire that is producing high volumes of smoke that firefighters were taught not to break windows until the line was applying water. We have called this “keeping it rich.” This practice should continue with a better understanding of the implications of your actions and inactions. The fact is the fire environment has become less forgiving. As an example in truck school, we were taught not to vent before the application of water. We have all witnessed a member taking windows indiscriminately in violation of this rule and getting away with it. Now, we are seeing these faults resulting in catastrophic consequences.

Read the full article here.

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