Every firefighter is issued personal protective equipment when he or she is accepted onto a fire department. The PPE has been designed to provide limited protection to the exposures that we encounter in many different environments.
Are we lazy, complacent, or maybe just stupid when it comes to wearing our personal protective equipment at all times?
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While limited, the PPE does protect us from harsh environments. The key to the protection value is to wear it and to wear it all the time, every time.
Complacency sets in over time. When we repeatedly respond to the same types of calls or the same false-alarm call, we can become complacent. This is where we get caught: that one call when we expect it to be the same as it always has been is all of a sudden not the same.
Our exposure to a harsh environment such as fire, high heat or toxic gas, will make us a handicapped firefighter, literally.
Discipline and routine
Maintaining discipline and routine is the answer to complacency. By following a routine, you will become habitual in wearing your PPE all the time. Then, the PPE will be virtually unnoticed when you are working in it, almost like a second skin.
Sometimes complacency is not the reason why we do not wear our PPE; sometimes it is just sheer laziness and ignorance. In the accompanying two videos, you will see two examples of this.
One video has a chief officer becoming the victim of not wearing their PPE. The audio portion of the video can be ignored as it does not pertain to the topic at hand.
The other video shows another individual on a roof not wearing any type of PPE. It is not clear if this person is a firefighter or an officer of some type. Although the fire is not near, the exposure to the toxic smoke as well the potential for falling into or off the building exists. The other firefighter on the roof is dressed properly and will be protected as such.
Not wearing your PPE does not just put yourself at risk, it also puts other firefighters at risk. When a firefighter is injured due to not wearing his PPE, the other firefighters now have to focus their attention on helping him. This may put them into a precarious position or force them to go deeper into the building.
This is where the domino effect starts to set in.
The responsibility of wearing your PPE falls upon you — it is your responsibility. It is also the officers' responsibility to ensure that their firefighters are wearing PPE and to lead by example. And it is every firefighter's responsibility to make sure other firefighters have every component of their PPE and are wearing it completely.
About the author
Mark van der Feyst is a 13-year veteran of the fire service. He currently works for the City of Woodstock Fire Department in Canada. Mark is an international instructor teaching in Canada, the United States and India. He also a Local Level Suppression Instructor for the Pennsylvania State Fire Academy, and an Instructor for the Justice Institute of BC. You can contact Mark with feedback at Mark.email@example.com.
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