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The Butcher's Bill
by Tom LaBelle
Sponsored by Globe

Why firefighter safety is a team effort

When command knows we will stay in control, then they tend to give us the room to do what needs to be done

By Tom LaBelle

As I sat down to write this article, I was called by one of my co-workers to inform me that two of our friends had been caught in a house explosion while responding to a natural gas leak.

It appears, as of a few hours later, that both will be well, though they suffered burns and got knocked around quite a bit.
Having seen both these men in action in the past during training, I know their ability and their level of safety is beyond reproach. I shudder to think what might have happened to more "casual" firefighters.

This event doesn't take me far from the original idea of this month's piece. I spent much too much time watching NFL playoff games.

Actually that's a lie, as you CAN'T spend too much time watching football, but I digress. There were lots of opportunities to see the fact that football, unlike many other sports, is a team sport from beginning to end.

We watched as individual players would fail, and bring down the whole team. And although the press likes to focus on singular members (particularly quarterbacks), the reality is that if the whole offense isn't doing its job, the quarterback will be out on a stretcher fairly quickly.

If the defense doesn't do its job, the offense waits a long time to get its hands on the ball.

What Mrs. Smith wants
The fire service is like this. We joke that when Mrs. Smith calls 911, she seldom asks for the chief's buggy — she wants the big red vehicles with the tools and personnel prepared to overwhelm her particular problem.

When the whole team performs, then we tend to "win." Win means we make the situation better for the property owner, or at least the community.

As I've written before, our priority for a win must be OLTL/TSOS; Our Lives, Their Lives/Their Stuff, Our Stuff. Its OK to lose (break) our tools/equipment to save their property. It's not OK to lose our lives on the un-savable.

Although it's much too early to tell what happened to our friends, I am sure that they were wearing the appropriate PPE, and clearly they maintained team integrity. They were being good team players.

And although I haven't talked to the officers in the department yet, I'm sure the fact that they had good team players made it possible to stay focused on the bigger strategic picture and make faster order out of the chaos of a building explosion.

At another recent event in the Northeast, at a large complex fire, reports are flowing out that teams continued to push inside for interior attacks LONG after command had made the clearly communicated decision to go exterior/defensive.

Not acting team-like
Command had to get on the radio and order units out of buildings or off of roofs several times. Actually as I write this, it dawns on me that I shouldn't call them teams as they weren't acting team-like.

All of this is to point out how necessary it is for company level units to stay focused on the "little" things and stay on task. When you're standing on the second floor of the charlie side, it's a little difficult to know what's happening at the "front door."

When command knows we will stay in control, then they tend to give us the room to do what needs to be done.

But that trust is earned by them seeing us drill, seeing us care for our equipment, provide conversations other than what we like to eat, and ultimately by how we've acted on the fireground in the past.

Just like not being able to see through the building, we can't see ahead in time. We don't know what the "routine" call will bring. But if we're prepared, if we do the right thing, then our friends get to tell us to get well soon" rather than "goodbye."

About the author

Sponsored by Globe

Tom LaBelle serves as an assistant chief with the Wynantskill (N.Y.) Fire Department where he is responsible for training. He has been employed by the New York State Association of Fire Chiefs since 1995. Prior to joining NYSAFC, Asst. Chief LaBelle served as the legislative director for the New York State Assembly's Sub Committee on Fire Protection Services. He provides support for career and volunteer departments from the nations largest to smallest. He currently sits as a voting member on the NFPA 1720 committee. He is a certified fire instructor and fire officer. Chief LaBelle can be reached via email at Tom.Labelle@FireRescue1.com.



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