Leader

Collapse

Announcement

Collapse
No announcement yet.

Systemic Breakdown at Fires

Collapse
X
 
  • Filter
  • Time
  • Show
Clear All
new posts

  • Systemic Breakdown at Fires

    There are several qualities and attributes that are needed by operational fire chiefs and company officers to ensure they are able to function effectively and safely in their role on the fire-ground. These include the following -

    * Knowledge
    * Desire to learn
    * Leadership
    * Experience
    * Management Skills
    * Ability to formulate strategy and make decisions under pressure
    * Self Discipline
    * People Skills
    * Ability to assert command

    There are of course many other attributes needed. However, there are clear issues concerning even the above basic qualities and I would suggest that many chiefs are lacking in some of these areas, to the extent that it makes them 'unsafe' chiefs.

    Two recent fires I was professionally involved with demonstrated clear failings in the incident command structure that directly lead to the deaths of several firefighters. I find this shocking, that we can operate as professional fire authorities and yet fail to recognize clear weaknesses in our ability to promote, train and support effective company officers and fire chiefs.

    In the two quoted cases there were vast inadequacies in the practical knowledge base of officers and their inabilities to implement and assert effective fire-ground control undoubtedly caused major systemic failures, that were primary causal factors in the firefighter's deaths.

    I also see such failings time after time through NIOSH reports where command failings have been concluded as primary causal factors in similar deaths.

    Community education & safety is of course a major objective in reducing life losses but this should not come at the expense of our own people. We must ensure that the safety of our firefighters is our primary concern and that their ongoing training, as well as the continuing professional development of their leaders, recognizes real world incident scenarios, even though these may not be every day occurrences.

    I would be interested in your views, comments and personal experiences.

    LINK TO COMPLETE ARTICLE
    Euro Firefighter 2008 - Strategy & Tactics from the World's Firegrounds

  • #2
    breakdown

    As a newly promoted Company Officer, I feel that your comments are deserving of some honest feedback. I have no knowledge of the specific incidents you refrence, but the overall situation apears to be a fireservice wide problem. In the way of commenting, I would make the following points:

    1. Some promoted Officers have limited experience in "firefighting". They could have been promoted from slow firehouses, or they could have come from other aeras within the department such as inspection, training , or code enforcement. I feel that the promotional process could be improved by having a system to give promotional consideration to real world firefighting experience and not just to senority. Give points for service in active stations. It is dangerous and unfair to have senority points equal for a 200 runs-a-year firefighter and a 1800 runs-a- year firefighter. I know of no system that adjust senority points for such things as alarm volume.

    2. I feel that when a person is promoted to a Company or Chief Officer position they may focus more on the new task and duties that they are now responsible for. A new Chief may neglect his fireground duties and not stay current in this aera, but focus more of his time in new aeras such as budgets, staffing, or management. This is not right, but I think it may be human nature.

    I say these things to try to give some explination to the problem. I feel that a Company or Chief Officers first and most important responsibility is to the firefighters under his command. The safety and well being of the firefighters he is entrusted with should never be compromised. It is a Officers duty to stay as skilled as possible in his first priority - that of firefighter survival.

    I am sorry to learn that you have suffered the loss of "several" firefighters. The fire service cannot afford to suffer such losses because the command structure failed. The fireground is dangerous enough without having to worry about your boss not knowing his job.

    Comment


    • #3
      Firemedic037

      Firstly thanks for taking the time to respond. Considering that is only your second post on this forum I would like to say welcome. Your points are acknowledged and well made and demonstrate a sound awareness of the issues raised.

      1. Limited fire-ground experience - It is true that when I first became a firefighter, all the company officers I served under were hardened veterans who had surmounted a decent level of operational experience. The way they dealt with risk and hazards at that time instiled an amount of confidence in the firefighters who worked for them. Although LODD life losses were more frequent back then, I would state generally that there were never glaring errors in command as causal factors of these LODD. The officers always asserted command and there was a high level of discipline in the force that responded well.

      The time applied to training was certainly greater than firefighters seem to apply these days, considering the vast increase in additional roles undertaken and rescue services provided.

      I would also add, however, that I have served with firefighters who had served over 20 years in busy fire areas and yet I would never have trusted some of these men as officers! Therefore, experience is only viable as a selection factor in part.

      2. It is true that company officers and fire chiefs have far greater responsibility and workloads in current managment structures than twenty or thirty years back and this is ever increasing.

      Originally posted by firemedic037
      I feel that a Company or Chief Officers first and most important responsibility is to the firefighters under his command. The safety and well being of the firefighters he is entrusted with should never be compromised. It is a Officers duty to stay as skilled as possible in his first priority - that of firefighter survival.
      Now I agree wholeheartedly with that statement. I feel it may be a difficult balance to achieve but at all costs, don't neglect the safety of your crews. This means taking personal responsibility to educate yourself in the practical issues of firefighting; fire behavior; fire command; communication etc. Don't just rely on the certificate you have obtained, for whilst it might protect you from litigation one day it may not provide you with the level of knowledge or competencies required to function safely and effectively at fire scenes.

      I think that most of us that come to these forums regularly are either looking for a fight; looking to spread a message; or most importantly, looking to learn something! These forums have taught me so much over the years and it is great that we can share our experiences like this. However, not all company officers or chiefs are that inspired, or indeed have time

      Training needs to be advanced in the fire service. With the multitude of ever increasing roles being taken on, let us not forget the 'bread & butter' of why we are here and ensure that our approach to training is closer to realism as the level of fireground experience diminishes. We must search out and apply the means of selecting fireground commanders who possess the ability to take control from the outset of operations (ie; immediately on arrival) and train them more effectively in the decision making process so that they can function with greater confidence and ability.
      Euro Firefighter 2008 - Strategy & Tactics from the World's Firegrounds

      Comment


      • #4
        breakdown

        paulGRIMWOOD,

        Sir,
        I agree with the points you have made. Less training, more responsibilities and duties other than "just firefighting", and a general reduction of actual working fires. All of these factors have combined to make todays fire service less focused on the primary mission - that being the extinguishment of fire. I believe that this has lead to the "glaring errors incommand" that you so correctly stated. It would seem to me that this fire service trend must be stopped. Unfortunatly, I can offer no solutions. Fire protection systems and codes have reduced the number of structure fires. Ironicly, buy doing our job of preventing fires, we have reduced the experience levels of our Officers. Improvements in fire drills and leadership classes may help, but nothing can substitute for real world, scared-to-death, combat firefighting. As I stated in my first reply, I am a new Company Officer. I dont have half of the number of fires under my belt as my first Company Officer had when he was in my position. I am trying to make up the difference by study and training, but the real-world experience is still lacking.

        I agree very much with your statements on a strong command and control presence. The ability to "take control at the outset" is critical.

        I have a question that may have importance here: How many of your newer Officers and Firefighters have prior military service? I know that when I first started in the fire service, almost all firefighters had some time in the military. Now that percentage is way down, much less than 25%. Without getting into the politics of the military, I do feel that most would agree that service in the armed forces teaches the basics of leadership, followship, and the chain of command.

        What are your thoughts?

        ( please forgive the spelling errors.)

        Comment


        • #5
          Originally posted by PaulGRIMWOOD
          The time applied to training was certainly greater than firefighters seem to apply these days, considering the vast increase in additional roles undertaken and rescue services provided.

          I find this an interesting comment Paul. I find completely the opposite. We train MUCH more now then we did when I started 23 years ago. Not only that, but the training is much more intensive.

          Back then, a drill could be something as simple as stretching a line and flowing some water. Boots, helemt & gloves and not in any rush. Run it once and pack up.

          Now, a simple drill would be to catch a hydrant, lay a couple hundere feet of supply, stretch a 3" and wye to 1 3/4" then flow foam. All with full PPE/SCBA (on air) and the evolution is timed. Pack up and run it again (3 or 4 times) and if there is an issue with performance or time, run it even more. Its not uncommon for us to spend 3 1/2 to 4 hours on daily company drills.

          And this is just in house drills. There is much more inter-agency training, more trips to the county drill grounds, more aquired structure training. Also, the requirements for training have increased over time. State requirements, ISO requirements, OSHA requirements and NFPA recomendations.

          And thats just the fire side. We also have required EMS & Haz-Mat training as well as EVOC and what is required by the state to re-certify individual certifications such as company officer, instructor and inspector.
          Fire Marshal/Safety Officer

          IAAI-NFPA-IAFC/VCOS-Retired IAFF

          "No his mind is not for rent, to any god or government"
          RUSH-Tom Sawyer

          Success is when skill meets opportunity
          Failure is when fantasy meets reality

          Comment


          • #6
            Firemedic037

            Yes there was a far greater percentage of ex-military personnel when I joined the service in 1971 than there is now. I state this on gut feeling rather than recruitment stats. I would also state that 'political correctness' has gradually eroded the levels of discipline from the force here in the UK over the past two decades. This to me is a root cause of the problems.

            Dave1983 -

            That is excellent. We have spoken before about your department's concerns for the professionalism it strives far and that is admirable. I wonder, in this day and age, if the increase in training time is widely experienced? I would ask others if you find that your training time has increased or decreased over the past ten or twenty years? If so, is it because you are applying more time to field and rescue training (due to our changing role) than fireground operations?

            I would finally ask those communities who are placing the concept of 'community safety' projects ahead of 'firefighter safety' projects - is this culture the right way round? Are we getting the balance wrong?

            LAFireEd??
            Euro Firefighter 2008 - Strategy & Tactics from the World's Firegrounds

            Comment


            • #7
              Originally posted by PaulGRIMWOOD
              If so, is it because you are applying more time to field and rescue training (due to our changing role) than fireground operations?

              I would finally ask those communities who are placing the concept of 'community safety' projects ahead of 'firefighter safety' projects - is this culture the right way round? Are we getting the balance wrong?

              LAFireEd??

              I can answer for us...One reason we train more on fireground opps is due to increased requirements on a state and federal level. But its also because we dont face the number of fires that we used to have and we dont want to lose our edge. Thats the big reason we use more aquired structures now.

              As for community safety v. firefighter safety, I think we do a good job at both. Not only due we reach out to the community more, but we practice our own safety constantly.

              We have RIG (RIT/FAST) drills, bail out drills and self extrication drills on a regular basis. These are all things that we never used to drill on. About the only time any of these were covered was in firefighter basic school.

              As far as other departments go, this increase in training is pretty much the norm for my area. Training is a BIG deal in my neck of the woods.
              Last edited by Dave1983; 09-19-2006, 04:38 PM.
              Fire Marshal/Safety Officer

              IAAI-NFPA-IAFC/VCOS-Retired IAFF

              "No his mind is not for rent, to any god or government"
              RUSH-Tom Sawyer

              Success is when skill meets opportunity
              Failure is when fantasy meets reality

              Comment


              • #8
                breakdown

                paulGRIMWOOD,
                Political correctness has taken its toll on my department also. PC added with a lot less dicipline adds up to a lot of problems for a Company Officer. I was never treated bad as a younger firefighter, but I could never get away with the things that were done to me. I am not saying that it is a bad thing ( I dont want to lead by intimidation anyway), but the new firefighters are so easy to offend.

                Dave,
                I am sorry to say that training is not a big deal with my department. I have the responsibility of a Engine company in a house with a Ladder company. I am eager to train and enjoy "what if" training and try to keep it exciting, but I fear it is "cool" to not want to train and to have the "know-it-already" mentality here. I do not have the support of the Ladder Officer. He has a few years of experience on me and has a very laid back attitude.We DO train on my company, but it is a challenge.

                Please dont get me wrong... I love my job and the challenges that I face every day. its the greatest job in the world. I take the development and safety of my firefighters very seriously. Our responce aera has a wide alarm variation. It is a good department. Some of the Engine companies I run in with are the best could ask for. we have a core of younger Company Officers that are always pushing each other to higher levels.

                I just dont think we are as good as we were 10-15 years ago, when we had more fires and less "spill control" and "cell phone heros"...

                Comment


                • #9
                  Originally posted by PaulGRIMWOOD
                  I also see such failings time after time through NIOSH reports where command failings have been concluded as primary causal factors in similar deaths.
                  Yet we still continue with the practice of Affirmative Action promotions based on race - not ability.
                  I am a complacent liability to the fire service

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Chicago I take your point on board. In the vast majority of cases I have looked at it is not possible to say if affirmative action (for gender as well) might be a causal factor in LODD. We can only summise in this respect. It is clear, however, that LODDs in several situations were directly caused by poor command and lack of leadership.

                    In the few cases I have been directly linked with I would suggest that a lack of training was the overriding cause for concern.
                    Euro Firefighter 2008 - Strategy & Tactics from the World's Firegrounds

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      I think the problem is partially excacerbated by a general lack of career development within most departments.

                      The path may involve several competitive examination promotions followed by a merit appointment to chief officer level.

                      Each level will usually have a time-in-grade requirement, and sometimes an educational requirement. Rarely, there is a requirement for time serve in a non-firefighting division, for promotion to chief officer.

                      Usually, the difference between a company officer (Captain) and a field officer (Battalion Chief) is merely a promotion. There may be a very short training program, or possibly a mentorship program. It seems most departments assume that a senior Captain with approval of the Fire Chief, is qualified to act as a Field grade Command Officer.

                      Most Fire Chiefs face very little accountability for the merit promotions they make: the government assigned with responsibility for the oversight of the Fire Department usually has very little knowledge regarding the quality of the product they are receiving. They know the budget, and how many stations are operational. They know what embarrassing stories have been told by the media. They may know an average response time, or more rarely, an ISO rating. They know how many senior officers are friends of the elected. Other than that, not much. Department Chiefs that do have strict performance measures and reporting requirements must do what they can to meet those objectives. If these measured objectives are chosen carefully, this can ensure accountability in the chief officers. NFPA 1710 comes to mind, as does a real commitment to drill and training. ISO Ratings have a place. Percent of fires suppressed at the room & contents stage should be reported.

                      Experience is necessary, but it is not a sufficient requirement for a good Chief Officer. Furthermore, experience is getting harder and harder to come by. Potential officers need to be able to learn from the experience of others. To this end, I believe that formal education should receive a greater emphasis than it does in most departments in the US. However, those departments that require degrees for their chief officers and not for their membership, are often left with a very narrow field of qualified company officers. None of this is to suggest that education is a valid substitution for experience & training, but rather that it tends to allow a synergistic effect when combined with experience and training.

                      Officer experience is further degraded by the columnar organizational charts of most career departments. With three person companies, every third employee is an officer of some sort. Degrading experience further is the common practice for most firefighters to spend 25% of their time serving on an ambulance with little or no fire duty.

                      I've been mulling the idea of having the company/station officers (Captains) serve as a bridge position between the unit officers and the chief officers. For example each shift might have a LT riding the right front seat of the fire truck. A captain might be incharge of all the shifts for a given company or firehouse. These captains would split their time each week between managing their companies and serving as part of the Battalion Command Team. This is in comparison to a system where one of the rotating company officer is the Captain and the rest are lieutenants.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        From Firemedic037:

                        "1. Some promoted Officers have limited experience in "firefighting". They could have been promoted from slow firehouses, or they could have come from other aeras within the department such as inspection, training , or code enforcement. I feel that the promotional process could be improved by having a system to give promotional consideration to real world firefighting experience and not just to senority. Give points for service in active stations. It is dangerous and unfair to have senority points equal for a 200 runs-a-year firefighter and a 1800 runs-a- year firefighter. I know of no system that adjust senority points for such things as alarm volume."

                        Run volume has nothing to do with experience. My company is usually in the bottom third of the monthly run volume of 22 engine companies. However, we make more fire runs than ems runs. We are in the top 5 for number of working fires and as a Rescue Engine (read squad RIT, Technical Rescue) we make additional structure fires as RIT.

                        I am sure there are also "outstanding" firefighters on busy companies throughout the country. You know the ones "out standing" on the side walk.

                        I'd take the 200 runs-a-year firefighter that makes mostly fire responses versus one that makes 1800 runs-a-year, 1700 ems and 100 fire.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Breakdown

                          LEXFD5,

                          I agree 100% with your point. Your statement "run volume has nothing to do with experience" is correct. It is the FIRE experience that I am refering to. This is the point I was making when I said "promotional consideration to real world firefighting experience".

                          Though possible,very few Command and Control mistakes can be made at a single company respiratory distress alarm.

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by firemedic037
                            LEXFD5,

                            I agree 100% with your point. Your statement "run volume has nothing to do with experience" is correct. It is the FIRE experience that I am refering to. This is the point I was making when I said "promotional consideration to real world firefighting experience".

                            Though possible,very few Command and Control mistakes can be made at a single company respiratory distress alarm.
                            This method puts subjectivity into the promotional process. You'll end up with the "Good Ole Boy" syndrome. If you are grading subjectively on firefighting experience there is no way to remove any personal bias the grader might have towards the canidate. It may not be a conscious decision but it will still enter into the equation.

                            From SBrooks:

                            "Most Fire Chiefs face very little accountability for the merit promotions they make: the government assigned with responsibility for the oversight of the Fire Department usually has very little knowledge regarding the quality of the product they are receiving. They know the budget, and how many stations are operational. They know what embarrassing stories have been told by the media. They may know an average response time, or more rarely, an ISO rating. They know how many senior officers are friends of the elected. Other than that, not much. Department Chiefs that do have strict performance measures and reporting requirements must do what they can to meet those objectives. If these measured objectives are chosen carefully, this can ensure accountability in the chief officers. NFPA 1710 comes to mind, as does a real commitment to drill and training. ISO Ratings have a place. Percent of fires suppressed at the room & contents stage should be reported."

                            Most municipal fire departments' fire chiefs are political appointees by the mayor or other head of the execuative branch. Sometimes with approval of the legislative branch of the local government. And in some cases with no regard to prior experience. Carrye Brown, former head of the USFA during the Clinton Administration, was given the position after having worked on Capitol Hill for 18 years as a "specialist" in disaster and fire legislation. Where's the firefighting experience there? About the same as appointing a horse guy, Michael Brown, to head up FEMA.

                            Some are quick to jump to NFPA standards when it agrees with their point of view. You mention 1710, but what about 1001, 1002, 1021, 1051, 1410, 1500, 1521, 1582, 1720, and 472. How many appointed fire chiefs can meet all these "standards"? How many elected by their departments?

                            As for Paul's original comment:

                            I believe we are now getting to the point in the fire service where experience is being replaced with book knowledge. In the past it was experienced firefighters teaching new firefighters based on what they had actually done. As the number of fires decreased experience decreased. To replace experience we started to write books (take a look at the Library of Congress and see how many texts there were on firefighting before the mid-1980s, there were not many.) Today there are books on almost every imaginable subject regarding firefighting, including one on 3D Firefighting (anyone know who wrote this one?) .We are now at the point where our instructors have less experience and teach new firefighters out of books. Is this a good thing? No. But for now it is what we have.

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              lexfd5 makes some very good points. I think it is important to establish some guiding principles here.

                              At a certain point in their career line, fire chiefs may cross over and become politicians wearing a badge. Their objectives, aims and priorities differ from those on the front line and this is appreciated. In fact, in most cases the most part of their fireground responsibility & accountability may devolve down to operational chiefs below them.

                              I really want this debate to stay with the 'company officers' or 'field chiefs' who are responsible, accountable and are actively making life and death tactical decisions at fires. These are generally also the same people who hold the key to training, although they may have to work within time or budget constraints handed down by the politician wearing a badge!

                              Yes any opportunity to build on first hand experience may be strictly in decline in most areas but those books may offer some sort of lifeline, even though lex is essentially right in that sometimes (often) even our instructors lack adequate levels of experience to impart effective training.

                              But you know .... good firefighting is all about following protocols .... but the protocols have to be based on past experience. Your SOPs should be built upon sound experience and updated each time new experience comes to light. Then it i down to company officers and operational chiefs to ENSURE that (a) firefighters are aware of the protocols and; (b) they follow them!

                              This means TRAINING in SOPs and ensuring that the level of DISCIPLINE enforced (met) through sound LEADERSHIP on the fireground is good enough.

                              It also requires company officers and chiefs to be inquisitive and personally motivated .... always searching for a better way ....

                              Mike Degrosky's article says it all for me ....
                              Last edited by PaulGRIMWOOD; 09-21-2006, 12:59 PM.
                              Euro Firefighter 2008 - Strategy & Tactics from the World's Firegrounds

                              Comment

                              300x600 Ad Unit (In-View)

                              Collapse

                              Upper 300x250

                              Collapse

                              Taboola

                              Collapse

                              Leader

                              Collapse
                              Working...
                              X