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How to Handle Lax Attitudes on Safety

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  • How to Handle Lax Attitudes on Safety

    I've been a volunteer firefighter for more than 20 years, and due to many job changes, I've been a member of several fire departments. I've been on my new department coming up on two years, and I am pretty shocked about the lack of attention given to training, safety and updating/maintaining equipment. This is a department that does not run a lot of calls or get many working fires, which, in my opinion, should put a greater emphasis on training. The word in the department is that the town will not fund signficant new equipment purchases. This translates into the department being unwilling to spend any of its own funds (and they have significant funds) to buy any equipment for the members or apparatus. A case in point is that the PASS alarms (SCBAs do not have integrated PASS alarms) were removed from over 1/2 of the packs on the apparatus because the batteries went dead. I've been around long enough to know the "rules" of not coming into a new department and trying to make changes right away, but I think there are some seriously unsafe attitudes in the department. I heard one officer remark about the PASS alarm situation that if you rely on the "buddy system", the lack of a PASS alarm should not be a problem. Anyway, this is just the tip of the iceberg with this department. Training is infrequent, the trucks and equipment are not checked reqularly, and there is very little communication from the officers to the rank and file members. Any suggestions on how to proceed here, other than quitting and joining another department?

  • #2
    Wow...sorry to hear about the situation. I take it with two years on, you don't have much say?

    Do you have a training officer or commitee to bring this up to?
    Have you brought this up to the chief?....who's responsibilty it is to have trained FF's and safety in place. Maybe a reminder of legal ramifications may light a fire under his butt.

    Ok I can understand if you don't want to go that route.

    What about at your next meeting you bring up some LODD information. There is a lesson in each one of a brother or sisters death...and it is a shame if others don't want to learn it.

    I would also recommend watching the DVD..Brotherhood, Life in the FDNY. You may be a volunteer, but the message is pretty clear and could serve as motivation.

    Maybe come up with different training ideas that you could implement on the next drill night. Maybe something like a FF down and have them activate their "fully functional" PASS device. That can point out the issue of the dead batteries.

    Go to firefighterclosecalls.com (I think that is it)...there are plenty stories there to learn from.

    Try setting up a drill with a neighboring department...it may embarass member enough to care.

    Just some things I just thought of. I never had to worry about that because when I was a volly, we didn't have many fires or runs either, but we trained like we did. To say though should you just leave? Would you go to a dept that runs mutual aid with this one? I think you should make all the efforts to improve your current dept. You are obviously concerned about it, if you leave, you'll just compound the problem.

    As for rigs checked....why not take a day you have and go through them yourself, or with help from others that you can. It takes a lot, but shows you care and want to see things improve. Also does the dept have an account at local store for items like batteries, saw blades, oil, and so on? Go through things and run up a bill if you need, when it comes to be paid, tell them your butt won't go in without proper safety in place.

    I really hope things work out a bit for you, and keep this posted how it goes. If it gets so bad you have to leave....well then there is the whistleblowing to the town, city, village board or what have you. Point is...it is not only the departments personnel in jeopardy, but other departments they respond with. If one of them calls a mayday....will your guys be able to get the job done?
    The thoughts and opinions posted here are mine and mine alone and do not reflect the thoughts and or views of city or dept affiliation.


    • #3
      Sounds eerily and painfully familiar, I went through the same thing several years back.

      I echo some of the above ideas. If drills can be arranged with neighboring outfits, perhaps some of the members can be shamed or "coerced" to straighten up. Leaving photocopies of some of the short anecdotes from firefighterclosecalls.com lying around is a nice hint, too.

      Attitude reflects leadership. If there are problems at the top, or above the top (local government), there may not be much you can do. If you're patient and wait to get to the top, do you think you'll be able to effect change from there? As hard as it is to start over (and I am in the midst of starting over for the third time from moves myself), you might need to do just that to save your own neck.
      You only have to be stupid once to be dead permanently
      IACOJ Power Company Liason
      When trouble arises and things look bad, there is always one individual who perceives a solution
      and is willing to take command. Very often, that individual is crazy. - Dave Barry.


      • #4
        If you want a quick link to one story that is perfect for the "If you use the buddy system you dont need PASS" line...here it is:


        An entire company, not just 2 guys on the buddy system, got lost and used their pass devices so other crews could find them easier.

        Apparently whoever said that quote above has clearly been on the firescene for the entire history of firefighting and clearly knows that firemen only get trapped when alone and it never EVER happens when they are in groups....


        • #5
          Thanks for the info. That firefighters close calls story was a good one, and I'll pass it along.

          No training officers of committee in our department. Our meetings are like funeral parlors. Guys just want to get out as quick as possible. I don't recall a significant chief or officers report at a meeting in nearly a year. No scheduled monthly drills.

          I didn't say we didn't have any drills--it's just the drills we have, in my opinion, are frequently on specialty topics that are not encountered that often. On other companies I've been on, the company would drill several times a year (and some once per month) on hitting a hydrant and getting water flowing to an attak line, raising ladders, knots, SCBAs and other fundamentals. Ladders and Engines were checked at least once per month--every SCBA, every piece of equipment, oil, fluids, etc. I don't think this gets done or anyone keeps records. I realize every company has a different style, but I'm a little disgusted with what I see. Speaking up would wind up coming off as whining or complaining. I'm going to try to lead by example. I'm going to start checking the apparatus at least once per month, and I'm going to make a checklist for each apparatus. There are a couple of younger guys who want to train and learn, and I'll work with them to start training on the fundamentals. Well see how this goes for the rest of this year, and I'll make a decision on whether to keep going or move on at the end of the year. As far as moving into a leadership position, I'm not sure that's what I want to do. I've got a very busy job, and my time with my family is much more important than the fire department. The fire department is important to me, but it's my third priority. I like where we live, and I'm not interested in moving again. Thanks again for your thoughts.


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