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Set the example for new firefighters: Wear your SCBA and PPE!

Video shows senior firefighter without gear teaching new firefighter how to extinguish a car fire

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As humans, we naturally learn from the behaviors exampled for us – and firefighters are no different.

Examples or scenarios are essential in the fire service so that others who are coming up the ranks or just starting out in the field will learn from them. These examples help firefighters establish a good foundation of habits that will pave the way for a long career.

When we set the wrong example, we are setting in motion a series of dominos that will eventually fall toward a bad outcome.

One such example that needs to be set relates to PPE and SCBA. Every firefighter needs to know when, where and why to wear their PPE and SCBA.

In our corresponding video, we witness a bad example being set with respect to PPE and SCBA. A small car fire is being extinguished by a newly trained firefighter who is being mentored or coached by a senior firefighter – the chief – in how to do this. While this sounds beneficial for the newly trained firefighter, is it really?

What was the new firefighter trained or taught during that car fire scenario? The individual was essentially taught that it doesn’t matter what you wear to fight a fire, no matter how small it is in size or nature, as long as you put it out.

In this situation, the car fire was extinguished without incident. But aren’t all car fires hazardous and potentially dangerous? Don’t today’s vehicles contain many hydrocarbon materials that, when heated, give off nasty, toxic, infectious byproducts that have the potential to cause illnesses like cancer if we inhale them into our respiratory system? Don’t our vehicles contain materials, such as magnesium, that can react with water to produce a violent reaction, sometimes causing the firefighter to be the victim of that reaction?

So why then is a newly trained firefighter being taught to fight a car fire without wearing proper PPE and SCBA? The bad example being shown and taught to this new firefighter could have repercussions on their life in the years to come. This example could not only affect their health and welfare but also their skill development for the future. They might learn that taking shortcuts is the only way to go and that taking the extra second or two to do something right is not worth it! Will they later pass on these dangerous ideas and practices by doing the exact same thing in showing another new firefighter this scenario?

This situation/example is a complete failure of that department’s ability and responsibility to produce a well-trained firefighter – something that appears to be a systemic problem because other involved firefighters are seen in the video also not wearing their proper PPE and SCBA.

One of the basic tenets of firefighting is to wear all of your PPE and SCBA when you are dealing with an immediately dangerous to life and health (IDLH) environment, which includes situations like car fires. For your own protection as a newly trained or even veteran firefighter, always wear the equipment that you were issued; and for all the instructors or mentors out there, be sure to set the best example possible by wearing the exact same PPE and SCBA yourself.

Mark van der Feyst has been in the fire service since 1998, currently serving as a firefighter with the Fort Gratiot Fire Department in Michigan. He is an international instructor teaching in Canada, the United States and India. He graduated from Seneca College of Applied and Technologies as a fire protection engineering technologist, and received his bachelor’s degree in fire and life safety studies from the Justice Institute of British Columbia and his master’s degree in safety, security and emergency management from Eastern Kentucky University. van der Feyst is the lead author of the book “Residential Fire Rescue” and “The Tactical Firefighter.” Connect with van der Feyst via email.