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5 ways to be a better firefighter

By bearing these areas in mind, you can help to improve both your fire suppression efforts and your safety on the fireground.

For me, there are some simple ideas and concepts that can make a firefighter exceptional versus middle of the road. These concepts not only apply at the firefighter level, but to all ranks within the fire service. By bearing them in mind, you can help to improve both your fire suppression efforts and your safety on the fireground.

Know your district
Preplanning is a concept that goes beyond knowing basic hazards of your district occupancies. Be familiar with everything about them, such as:

  • Their construction
  • Their placement amidst their surrounding structures
  • What exposures are present on all four sides of the building?
  • What security and fire protection systems do they have installed?
  • What obstacles may slow your ability to force entry?
  • Are people on site after regular business hours?
  • Does a church also serve as a rescue mission after hours for the homeless?
  • What problems have you had recently in these structures?
  • What type of clientele spends time in them and could they present safety hazards to your personnel?

Pay attention to the stories the senior firefighters tell around the kitchen table regarding those buildings you may have to fight fire in. They may tell of difficulties they faced there in the past and you can learn these tough lessons without having to figure it out for yourself. Know your first-due district as if you lived there, because you do for a third of your life!

Be proactive
Problems faced during your career can be approached in a number of directions. You can ignore them and hope they go away, you can tell someone else in the hope they will solve the problem, or you can jump in and be part of the solution.

Dwindling budgets have created an environment where it is difficult to merely throw money at a problem to solve it. Take the time to look at a problem from all sides and be a part of the system that attempts to solve it.

Not only will this enable to you to learn more about the equipment or process that needs attention, you also learn more about the way to utilize your department’s process for problem solving.

If your department needs something that it does not have, take the time to do your homework and find an affordable or acceptable solution to existing problems. Knowing how to get what you need now will help your department get what it wants in the future.

Train, train, train
I can’t say enough about how critical it is for a team to train together to ensure all individuals know their place and role on the team they are part of.

  • How often does your crew pull attack lines just to re-establish the muscle memory required when you will really need it?
  • Does your team practice like they play?
  • Do all team members utilize current SOPs during training so that when they really have to initiate a Mayday or be part of an RIT team, they know the process inside and out?
  • Is every member of the team practiced and capable with every piece of equipment of the apparatus?
  • Is every member of the team trained to operate as a team leader in case the company officer goes down?
  • Does the team depend on every member to have some level of knowledge regarding every possible call type they may have to respond to?
  • Are your acting engineers, officers, etc., as capable as those who are in the positions regularly?

Don’t make safety an afterthought
There is a current rumbling going through the brotherhood that the safety pendulum has swung to the conservative end of the spectrum; that we are taking safety far too seriously and that it takes up too much time.

This is a dangerous path to tread and leaves an individual in a position of making singular decisions about what safety measures should be taken and what should be ignored.

While I agree that our job at times requires us to risk ourselves to save others, we should never approach a risky decision in a cavalier fashion. If we are forced to place ourselves at risk, we should be utilizing every piece of equipment, every safety concept and every manner available to reducing the risk as much as possible.

If you simply walk into situations thinking nothing can happen to you or your crew, you are a fool and a hazard to the team you represent. Train so you know how to be safe, train to be able to get out of hazardous situations and train to get civilians out as rapidly and safely as possible.

In addition, train so you know when a situation is a downright loser. When a room and contents fire is completely involved, you must ask the hard question: “Could an individual survive that environment without the type of gear I use?” If not, consider making a calculated approach for suppression, not an aggressive rescue evolution! You have a lifetime of fighting fire to survive -- don’t become complacent!

Fit is fine
I can’t stress enough how important it is for a firefighter to be in good shape. We see consistently high numbers of firefighters who die in the line of duty from cardiovascular events every year.

We know what the problem is most of the time, yet we fail to act. NFPA 1500 pushed the fire service forward by making fitness a necessity for our survival. Yet I still see brothers who do not take the opportunity to be fit and miss out on their best method to ensure they can survive to enjoy their retirement.

Recent literature is showing that long-term aerobic activity may not be sufficient, and that high intensity training is the prescription to ensuring our brothers and sisters obtain and maintain elite levels of fitness.

I have recently seen the light and while in good shape, have moved forward to higher intensity training to get into great shape to be sure my body can continue to take what every physical insult I may receive until I can retire.

Take the time to find what process will not just help keep weight down, but that will enable you to keep doing the job well in the years to come.

Michael Lee teaches firefighters the ‘Street Smarts’ they need to survive in some of the most dangerous situations they encounter: ice rescues, basement fires, and structural collapses. Read Lee’s advice in his FireRescue1 exclusive column.