The question firefighters need to ask

As the year draws to a close, asking yourself 'what if' can provide some telling answers


A great deal has happened in the world of PPE in 2010. To me, this is the perfect time of year to ask "what if." What if the testing labs, manufacturers and fire service members of the NFPA task group on Helmets, Boots, Gloves, and Hoods had not put in so much personal effort over the past 12 months? I hate to think about that. We owe them all ongoing thanks.

Much of what is being accomplished by this NFPA 1971 task group is cleaning up test methods and such to make the testing of the PPE less subjective and improve firefighter performance.

What if, by improving test methods and performance requirements, the fire service got better dexterity AND thermal performance in gloves? What if by improving test methods and performance requirements the fire service got better footwear that was protective AND comfortable?

I received many e-mails over the year especially on my column about altering the requirements for THL and TPP. The firefighter audience was vocal, split and not quite 50/50. I proposed those ideas as a way of starting a discussion.

The argument is also a "what if." What if we can alter the post retirement quality of life for firefighters by changing the THL and TPP values? What if every new firefighter is issued new, lighter, more breathable PPE that is more thermally protective as the old gear?

What if that can be accomplished and protect firefighters from exposures that might lead to cancer? What if the firefighters after us have a better quality of life than the generations before us? Isn't that worth considering?

The thermal imaging camera is well on its way to becoming an integral part of PPE, and TIC manufacturers are busy building imagers to meet the new NFPA 1801 requirements.

The NFPA TIC standard is focused on user function and interface as well as durability. Some believe that that a standard on thermal imaging cameras is unnecessary and will make cameras too expensive and not as user friendly.

I have even been asked why the technical committee thinks that all the power buttons need to be the same. What if, by requiring a thermal imager to be robust and simpler to operate, it saves just one life?

What if that new thermal imager works after falling down a flight of stairs when the previous would have failed? What if the life we save is one of our own? The new standard on thermal imagers was not forged in a cave, but represents a cooperative effort by the fire service and other members of the committee.

For me, this has been a year of "what if." I have put many thoughts into my column section and many of them are unconventional and out of the mainstream line of thinking.

But by doing so I hope that firefighters will read and discuss the topics at the kitchen table and say "what if." More and more, I have people calling me after reading my column and saying "what if this?" or "what if that."

My hope for the New Year is that the fire service will continue to say "what if" followed by "What's next?" More of the fire service needs to look beyond the comfort of our recliners and look into the future and ask these questions, and not be mired in the past simply because we have always done it that way.

That does not imply that what we do now is wrong, but can it be better? What if we can find ways to be more effective and minimize line-of-duty deaths? There is an unlimited number of "what ifs." The fire service needs to take the "what if" mentality and get the manufacturers to help propel us. If we tell them where we want to go, they will help us get there. 

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