Monday, September 26, 2011

Radios What do you know?

In my opinion, one of the most neglected part of the Firefighter's PPE is the radio.  Firefighters think of cool melted bourkes, stained leather helmets and dirty gear as their PPE, but we forget about how important that radio is to a person until we need it or forget it in the truck.  In my department, we are fortunate enough to have a radio for every seating position in the truck, and I understand that many departments are not as fortunate but the point is the same, radios are important.

Sure I can tell you my department operates on a P-25 capable, Motorola Smartzone, 800 Mhz system with XTS 3000, 5000 and 2500 portables but what fireman actually cares about all of that?  Our primary focus is that when we need to talk that they work and we can talk.  But when was the last time you sat down and clicked around the radio, hit the mayday button, or heard the evacuation tones?  I'm sure the answer is too long ago.  My point is that we are so dependent on the radio yet we devote no training time to using it or understanding it. 

As I referenced in a previous post here :

We have to control the variables we are able to control all of the time and one of those is our radio.  Too often we get on the truck in morning, check our airpack, put our gear on the truck only to wait until we get to the grocery store or run the first call to find that our battery is dead on our radio.  In recruit school your are taught how to don and doff gear, how to check an airpack, how to pump, but very little emphasis is put on the one thing that can summon help from miles away, the radio.  Let's think about how we store our radio, take care of our radio, or even hold our radio.  I assure you of one of the last three items, you are doing one incorrectly.  The antenna isn't a handle or a place to clip the speaker mic to, the radio should be cleaned of all debris just like an airpack, and balling the radio up with the antenna curved isn't the recommended storage method.
The next question I have is, how do you operate your radio?  Do you know what your radio does when you press that magic orange button? How do you reset that same button?  Can you access you mutual aid company's channels without asking for help.  Most folks are on 800 MHz systems so you have hundreds or talkgroups programmed in, but can you navigate your template?  I have done some radio training throughout our department, and I have come to find that the majority of people don't have a clue where talkgroups are in our current radio.
We need to remember that besides our training, experience, and knowledge the radio is our primary lifeline.  The IC can't tell us that we could be in danger or that there is a victim in a particular room if we can't hear him because our radio is dead, not turned on, or on the truck still.  On the flip side, we can't let the IC know that we are in trouble or call for help if the same conditions mentioned before exist.

I make a challenge to each of you (All five readers) to answer the following questions about communication the next day you are at the Firehouse:
1) What happens when I press the Mayday button?
2) What is the comm procedure for a mayday? (Who switches channels etc)
3) How do you access your mutual aid department's primary tactical channel?
4) Do you have a contingency plan for simplex communications if you cannot get a repeater in a building?
5) Do you know how to make contact with adjoining counties/cities if called to assist in a large scale incident?

These are just some questions to get you started, but I think you see how much we all really don't know about our primary help line in what we do.  Communication lines are always listed as a contributing factor in LODD's, but what have you done to improve them where you are?  Remember folks who had comm problems on an emergency scene never thought it could happen to them, but it did.  Prepare yourself by controlling the communications variable all of the time, instead of letting it take control of your emergency scene.

Until the next one,

Stay safe, and stay trained.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Charlotte, NC 9/11 Stairclimb

We all know how tragic the events of September 11th changed this country and the fire service.  Now the phrase "Never Forget" is thrown around like hello, some mean it and some don't.  Our Union recently hosted a 9-11 stairclimb to remember the 343 as well as the Police and EMS who were killed that tragic day.  It was unbelievable to be a part of the planning of this event, but it was even better to be a part of it on 9-11 with all of the participants.  Our committee climbed it prior to 9-11 as a press getter and it worked.  I climbed in full gear and carried 50 ft. of 2.5 for the first 55 and then went on air for the last 55.  It was a humbling and difficult experience.  I climbed in memory of Steven Siller of Squad 1.  This firefighter came in off duty ran 3 miles to the towers with his gear and perished.  My kind of guy.  This experience brought a range of emotions that can't be put into words, but it took me back to that day as I'm sure it did to many of the participants.

I remember being on the phone with my mother when the first tower fell, the first words I said were "Do you know how many firemen just died?"  I wasn't on the line at the time but it was a dream of mine to be a fireman.  That day solidified that for me.  These guys were heroes in every sense of the word.

One of the coolest parts of our climb was that we had 60 police officers and 10 EMS workers participate.  This gave us the chance to show that not just the FDNY lost people.  It was incredible to see CMPD and other Police officers climbing side by side with Charlotte Firefighters and other Firefighters from all around.  Everyone honored the memory of someone and carried them up the 110 floors that we all climbed.  The point I want to make is that we need to remember what happened that day not just in our country but within our profession.  Many saw that we rush in when everyone else is going out.  They began to hold us in a more heroic light, sure politicians will depending on the day, but our profession changed. 

Make sure you prepare yourself with knowledge and skills to help you if you encounter such a difficuklt situation as many FDNY members did that day.  Never forget that 343 brothers were lost that day, and that 343 families have a hole that will never be filled.  Take care of each other around that station, and don't forget that telling your family "thank you" every now and then can go a long way too.  When they watch 9-11 stuff they put our face in one of the 343 boxes they see on the shows.

Until the next time, stay safe, and stay trained.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Redmond Symposium

A few weeks ago I was honored to be sent to represent our IAFF Local at an international convention in New York City.  It is called the Redmond Symposium and it is one of the best conventions/symposiums I have been a part of.  The IAFF holds this symposium every other year and they present the latest and greatest ideas and practices in health, safety, and wellness.  As you know these are all passions of mine so this was right in my wheelhouse.

I arrived a day before everything got started to see the big city.  I did go to two fire houses spending approximately 2 minutes at each, just enough to show interest but not be that guy who says "Hey I'm ______ and I'm a Firefighter in ______ can I look at your firehouse?"  I got to see Ground Zero, the new Freedom Tower and numerous other sites in the city.  On Sunday morning, I registered and the most interesting week of my life began.  I ran into some folks I knew from DCFD or DCFEMS whatever they are today, and met countless folks at the opening ceremonies.  As the week went on, I continued to network and talk to people who had the same passions as mine when it comes to the IAFF and the Health and Safety of its members.

This symposium gave me countless ideas for posts on this blog, but I'll roll them out as I can remember them.  I attended a great presentation on the IAFF Fireground Safety and Survival Class that is currently in its rollout phase.  Battalion Chief Alkonis from LA made some great points in the presentation and presented some interesting information on why firefighters get in trouble.  However, out of this presentation two quotes stuck with me.  They both came from Laurence Gonzales in his book Deep Survival.  This book discusses the lives of extreme mountain climbers and how some make it and some die in their pursuit of making the summit.  To paraphrase his exact words "There will be things that you cannot control, for those you must have a plan".  The one that touched me more was "There are variables that you can control, therefore you must control them all of the time." 

During his presentation he also made the statement that when a firefighter uses a predetermined set of actions (SOP's/SOG's) to get himself out of trouble he aides in his/her own rescue more than they could by doing anything else.  If we know how our people will react to a MAYDAY we can rescue them more effectively.  As I stated above, the statement that got my attention more was that we need to control controllable variable at all times.  I began to think about this to figure out what this included.  Think about all of the variables we can and can't control at a fire......We can know our airpack, our SOG's, our apparatus, and numerous other items.  We need to understand all of these prior to even operating at a fire.  "Knowing" these doesn't mean learning them in recruit school 5 years ago, this means keeping all of the skills up at all times.  Too often we would rather watch HBO rather than look over our airpacks, too often we would rather run our landscaping business than go over an SOG for our department.

We must realize that we should live by the statement about controling variables every day.  We must control them every time we can.  Our job is dangerous enough by itself, we don't need to increase our danger by not preparing to deal with the dangers many of us look forward to facing each shift.  If we control the things we can control all of the time there is no doubt we will be a safer and more efficient fire service.

Thanks for reading everyone. And there will be more to come on the lessons learned from the Redmond Symposium.  If you would like to view any of the Redmond presentations, they are online at:

Stay Safe and Stay trained....