Published Tuesday, May 1, 2012
| From the May 2012 Issue of FireRescue
Dear Nozzlehead: I’m a female firefighter on our volunteer fire department. I’ve been a firefighter for 17 years. I have my Firefighter 1 certification and have gone to many fires and fire training schools. Here’s my issue: We were toned out to a fire and didn’t have much information about the call. We were in the truck ready to roll when the other firefighters wanted to send a new firefighter with us. The new firefighter had ONE night of training, with about 30 minutes of SCBA training. I told the captain that he did not have enough training to go on the call. I did not feel that it was safe for him, me or the crew. I didn’t believe he could cover our backs, as he didn’t know the truck, how to operate the pumps to get water, or where the equipment was located. I thought that he could go with the guy on our water tender/tanker truck if we needed extra water. Fortunately, the fire turned out to be just a camp fire. This is a safety issue, and I believe that I was in the right. What do you think—did I make the right call?
—Want to Go Home Safely to My Family
Dear Camp Fire Girl,
Good for you for looking out for the organization, the members and the newbies—just like a Camp Fire Girl would do. The Camp Fire Girls’ mission includes education and service, building confidence in younger folks and providing hands-on, driven leadership experiences. See that! You’re doing that right in your own department … well, sorta.
Mom, dad, sister, brother, Camp Fire Girl, Boy Scout or whateva: We need to speak up when we see something that isn’t right; however, is that the case here? Is it that big a deal? Should probies be allowed to make runs? What role should they play? What’s the policy?
Bottom line: Define the policy and you’re a lot closer to solving the problem. Speaking up on something like this shouldn’t even need to happen—because there should already be a RULE about it in place!
When a department is lacking policy, it’s the equivalent of a football team without a play book or a league without rules; we pretty much get to do whatever the hell we want to do. And when we get to do whatever we want, we also get comfortable, especially when nothing goes wrong. See, the more we do something wrong, the more it seems right. Why? Because nothing has gone wrong … yet!
Camp Fire Girl, your issue is a problem lying in wait. However, understand that I do NOT have a problem with your probie riding the apparatus—as long as there is a POLICY that identifies what Nicky Newboots CAN and CANNOT do. In my opinion, if the truck was ready to roll, your probie should be allowed to respond but with a clear understanding of their role. And while you did speak up to the captain, isn’t this the captain’s responsibility? Now I’m not saying you should keep your mouth shut, but use caution, as there’s a captain on that rig for a reason. Hopefully.
No, probies CANNOT cover your backs and neither should they be expected to. Their job as an “extra” is to open their eyes, listen and learn by observing from a relatively safe environment, such as outside near the apparatus. SCBA? No way. Interior? Forget it. Helping establish water? Maybe. Packing hose? Hell yeah!
Not only should you not be put in a position to have to speak up in this scenario, but your captain shouldn’t even have to think about this; they have more important things to think about. A department POLICY that outlines what probies can and cannot do—and when—should outline what steps they need to take in training, and then they must be tested (written and hands-on practicals) to show their use of the tools and their handling of various tasks, such as pulling and repacking of a crosslay, connecting hoses, pulling and repacking supply line and flowing of a hose stream from an attack line.
As the probie passes each step, they can move from “non-operational” (just observing) to “exterior” duties (everything except going interior) and then to an interior probationary firefighter (going in as part of a more senior crew that can guide, mentor and help the probie). Perhaps even your State Fire Training office has some suggestions—or standards—that you can look up.
Written policies (stuff we MUST do) and guidelines (stuff we should do but that depend on circumstances) allow you to focus on your own job when someone’s house is on fire—or when a citizen is simply roasting nuts, marshmallows and weenies on an open camp fire.
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