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Response time: Slow down to go faster

Running to the rig and dressing on the fly adds to firefighters' risk and stress, erasing the value of any time savings

Editor's note: In light of a recent decision to allow firefighters to sprint to the rig when a tone drops, Chief Adam K. Thiel looks at compelling reasons not to over rush turnout.

From my first day in a fire station, I was taught to walk fast, but not run, to the apparatus and get dressed before boarding.

It probably goes without saying that I didn't always do that and, if I'm being honest, sometimes my personal turnout time depended on the call type, address or a combination thereof. I can, however, truthfully say that I've always prided myself on quickly getting dressed in my turnout gear, regardless of where that evolution occurred.

I can also say, with complete honesty, that despite being a 99.9% compliant seatbelt wearer, I almost fell out of a fire engine once, and only once, while getting dressed in the back. Why? Long story short, we were all rushing; and not to get to a fire with trapped victims, but to keep from getting a "CAD ticket" requiring explanation for an extended response time.

We know that too many U.S. firefighters are killed or injured each year when they are tragically ejected from, run over by, or otherwise impacted by fire apparatus. You might also know from near-miss literature that time pressure in the fire service and other high-risk occupations is often cited as a contributor to "near-hits," as Fire Chief Alan Brunacini likes to call them.

Now I completely understand the importance of response time, and truly believe it's our duty to get to every call as quickly (and safely) as possible. So that probably means that we should do everything we can, safely, to reduce turnout times for every call — not just the big ones.

But I'm not sure that duty extends to placing firefighters at risk of harm from known, and easily mitigated, hazards. I also tend to think that starting a response "on the run" could have physiological and psychological consequences downstream, both tactically (driving faster, talking faster, rushing through the size-up, or even promoting the dreaded "big eye") and in terms of firefighter health and wellness (increased stress).

I guess I've always admired, and tried to emulate, the firefighters and officers who calmly, quickly and smoothly moved through a response — without visibly rushing. They saved time by doing things better and more efficiently, not just faster. When asked, they would say, "you gotta slow down to move fast."

It's something to think about.

Stay safe!

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