Thursday, September 13th, 2012 10:09 am
By J.R. Dennison
of the Leatherhead Instructors, LLC
Today’s fire service is ever changing and, with change, comes additional responsibilities and obligations to our communities, our families, our brothers and sisters, and ourselves. Twenty years ago, you would not have typically had any concerns about cutting high voltage wires during a vehicle extrication because they did not exist; you would never have thought about wearing “high visibility” clothing while working an accident scene because the research was not available to show the injury rate among public safety personnel at accident scenes. You wouldn’t consider not wearing an SCBA during overhaul today. My point is, years ago, most of us would never have imagined the fire service being the way it is in 2012. We wouldn’t have thought of all of the new and additional information to help us do our job more efficiently and more safely. We cannot possibly be better at our job or approach it more safely if we cannot overcome the problem: change.
A part of the fire service that has come to light in the past several years, and was not as widely practiced in the past, is rapid intervention teams (RIT). Looking across the nation at the departments that are implementing this program, reading the NIOSH reports for our fallen brothers and sisters, and realizing that it is not a matter of “if it happens,” but “when will it happen,” you cannot help but recognize the significance of having a program in place at your department. The idea that going in and getting the job done if the event arises should not be good enough; we should have a SOP or SOG in place for RIT. We need to train regularly so that, when the event arises, we are prepared as much as we can be to mitigate the problem. “There is no reason to not be 100 percent ready to save our own” a quote by Jim McCormack, Indianapolis Fire Department, The Fire Department Training Network.
In the fall of 2011, a member from my crew and I took a RIT class at The Fire Department Training Network outside of Indianapolis, IN. The class consisted of four days of brutality, breaking you down, putting you in situations that you hopefully never encounter, and at the end, successfully mitigating a mayday situation. If they would have given us a downed firefighter scenario at the beginning of the week, we would have rescued the firefighter, but with many more problems than we encountered after three and a half days of training for it. I spoke with many participants during the class and all agreed that this was as real as it could get. Having a plan and knowing your equipment is the first step in safe and effective rescue. Although no situation will be the same, being educated about the approach, knowing your equipment and your partners, maintaining your PPE, and training will greatly improve your likelihood of avoiding a problem that results in a mayday situation. If confronted by such a situation, you will have the tools and training to get the job done efficiently.
When we returned to our department with the information and training that we had received, we were faced with many oppositions. We were told “That will not work here,” “We will just go in and do what we have always done,” and many more excuses. I was dumbfounded that there was such an opposition in progressing with something that could significantly better us as a department and potentially save one of our own. I realized that “change” was the true problem. Nobody likes change, but we have to change if we intend to be good at our jobs and if we want to go home at the end of the day.
Through the last year, we, as a department, have put together a maze in the basement of our training house. We plan to begin sending crews through as we give scenarios, let them mitigate the problem as they always have, and then incorporate another way to do it. Sometimes, allowing someone to do things their way first (only in training), and then showing them another way to do the same task, gives them a different view. Some people may never change, but you should still attempt to introduce them to the different ideas.
“We are not a big city and we don’t do things that way.” This is a phrase I have heard too many times. I agree, not all of us come from big cities and have the benefit of such a large amount of resources and personnel on the scene. For example, in large cities, your only job may be to ventilate a roof or force a door, and you are damn good at it. Nobody is telling you that this is the only way, but you may consider taking something from that person. It could allow you to be more efficient at your job and allow you to move on to the next task quicker. I have taken many classes with instructors from large cities and there has not been a single time that I have not been able to take something away from it or improve on the way I perform a task.
I hope that this blog helps you understand that there is always going to be that person that opposes what you are offering, but by making changes, both personally and within your department, progress can occur. There is no reason why you cannot implement programs into your department because of its size or amount of personnel. Change is not easy and the only reason for lack of progression is lack of effort!
For more from the Leatherhead Instructors, visit their site.