Fire departments must be prepared at all times for all possible incidents. To maintain this level operational readiness, firefighters need to be fit and skilled.
But that's only part of the battle. Fire departments also must have equipment that is just as ready to roll as its firefighters.
And chief among that equipment is the fire apparatus. If it doesn't roll, nobody rolls. Regular inspections are critical; it was something I saved for the end of my daily checks.
Avoiding personal improvement meetings
At the start of every single shift and after each use, even before that all-important first cup of coffee or tea, you must personally inspect your turnout gear — no exceptions.
Conduct the inspection in a systematic fashion each day in a well-lighted area. Make it a standard routine process, like brushing your teeth.
I always started with my helmet and worked towards my boots. Don't forget the hood, flashlight and any other tools that you carry in your pockets.
There is nothing more embarrassing than to get a run at shift change and not have your stuff. If your assignment was to go into the hazard zone, standing in the front yard would be noticed and dealt with later in the shift.
I was never interested in attending any of those personal-improvement meetings. So to avoid the lecture, check your gear first thing when you get to work.
Next, is to perform the full functional test on your SCBA and pass device. Do not cut any corners here; focus on this task. Handle this testing just like your life depends upon it, because it just may during the course of a shift.
Make sure that you complete this in a well-lit area so that you can clearly see what you are doing. Most likely there is an SCBA check sheet that should be completed to document the shift-change checks.
It makes sense to get into a routine of testing each step in order. I always started the SCBA checks with my facepiece, then moved to the cylinder hand wheel and ended with the regulator. Once your gear is ready and the SCBA checks out, now you can have that cup of great firehouse coffee.
The last part of being prepared to respond to an alarm is checking the rig. Everyone assigned to the company needs to play a part and be responsible for the equipment that they are most likely going to be called upon to use that day.
The driver should look over the entire mechanical aspect from bumper to bumper and wheels to roof. This process is so entailed that we had a three-page apparatus check sheet to document that all items were checked.
The company officer should check all of the pre-incident plan books, map books, hydrant books and other tactical-level items that he or she would be using that shift.
That leaves one firefighter to give all of the medical equipment a through and complete check. And a fourth team member to check all of the loose firefighting equipment — hose lines, water tank, fans, hand lights, etc.
With all hands working on the apparatus and equipment checks, it should take about 60 to 90 minutes to complete and record the efforts. Next was breakfast before we started housework to cleanup the place (a clean firehouse is a happy firehouse). Always loved getting directly involved in working on the apparatus from the days of a junior firefighter to now. What a great way to learn and better understand all aspects of your job.
When the alarm sounds be calm and professional; no one should run to the apparatus. Chief Alan Brunacini best described the response process as a controlled hustle to get the trucks out the door.
If you are the officer, be the last member to climb on the rig.
I prided myself in being the first one on the apparatus if at all possible. One day Chief Bruce Varner (at the time he was the safety chief in Phoenix) was observing when my engine company turned out for a building fire.
I was busting with pride when we cleared the bay door in less than 45 seconds. Having watched many Phoenix companies start their responses, there was no doubt that we were on the street at least 15 seconds quicker than the fastest PFD engine.
Last on the truck
The alarm was very minor and in 30 minutes or so, I was back at the firehouse waiting for Bruce to congratulate me for the great turnout by my company — that did not happen.
Instead, Chief Varner took me aside and point out that if I was the last member on the apparatus, I would make sure that everyone was on the truck.
That was a good item to consider, I thought, but Bruce didn't stop there. He pointed out that because I was in the cab, I could not see if everyone was seated and buckled in their riding positions.
Finally, he said that I had no idea if all of the compartment doors were closed and secured or if anyone might be walking in front of the rig just when we started out the door, like we were shot from a cannon.
Of course the guy was right, and for the balance of my time as a company officer I never ripped off a compartment door, had members falling off the rig or had a near miss with someone walking past the station.
What a great bit of advice, but I wish I had learned it earlier in my career.
Until next time, be safe out there.