By Shannon Pieper
Published Wednesday, April 18, 2012
Firefighters don’t tend to be shy with their opinions, and if you bring up some controversial topics such as the two-in/two-out rule, you’ll certainly get an earful. Today’s FDIC session, “Issues and Challenges in Today’s Fire Service,” was a perfect example. The session, which featured legendary chiefs Rick Lasky and John Salka and was moderated by Fire Engineering editor-in-chief Bobby Halton, touched on four hot topics in today’s fire service—all of which are interconnected.
1. Mayday Policies
Does your department teach you to use the LUNAR acronym when calling a mayday? Are you told to switch to a new radio channel when there’s a mayday, or to evacuate the building? Mayday policies can differ greatly from department to department, and Salka feels they are becoming too complicated. “I’ve seen 20-page mayday policies that I could do in five sentences,” he said.
Salka and Lasky agreed that switching channels with gloved hands under smoky conditions is difficult at best, but they disagreed about whether LUNAR is an effective acronym for teaching mayday calls. “I think LUNAR is stupid,” Salka said. “You should have to remember anything other than who, what and where.” But Lasky countered that LUNAR can be a good way to drill on maydays, emphasizing that when in trouble, you need to call one and there’s certain basic information you need to provide. “LUNAR training, even if you don’t remember what all the letters stand for, can help you know when to call a mayday,” he said.
Halton asked the large crowd who had violated the NFPA’s two-in/two-out rule. Nearly everyone raised their hand. “We’ve created a rule that’s made liars out of the entire fire service,” Halton said. He advocates modifications to the rule to make it more realistic.
Salka agreed. “Two-in/two-out hinders us and endangers us more than it helps us. All it does is allow the fire to expand before we get a hoseline on it.” Salka especially dislikes the clause within the two-in/two-out rule that says it can only be violated if there is third-party verification that there’s a victim inside. He advocates a change to the rule that would allow firefighters to use their discretion to determine whether a house is occupied, rather than having to hear that it is from a verified third party.
But Lasky argued that the imposition of the rule had forced many departments to start working together to maintain minimal staffing on the fireground, bringing into bear automatic aid agreements between departments that were previously at odds with one another.
3. Transitional Attack
Closely related to the two-in/two-out rule: transitional attack, which is most often used in situations where a three-person engine company responds and therefore, firefighters can’t go interior without violating the rule.
“There are certainly some circumstances where transitional attack is justified, but for the most part, the concept of putting hoselines into an exterior opening window that has fire coming out of it, simply to make that fire more manageable when we get inside—I’m not buying that,” he said. “We have all this PPE and high-tech tools, but we still want to throw water on the fire through the window like the neighbor who’s wearing flip flops.
Although all three speakers agreed that transitional attack is an effective tactic to slow fire progression when you’re faced with minimal staffing. But Salka had some of his harshest words for the use of the tactic on a well-staffed fireground.
“I don’t know what you’re afraid of; it’s just a room on fire,” he said. “If you roll up with enough staffing, get your asses in the building and put the fire out.”
4. Physical Fitness and Training Standards
Despite widespread acknowledgement that firefighting is a difficult, taxing job that requires skills that can quickly fade if not practiced, the U.S. fire service still lacks national standards for firefighter fitness and skill ability.
“Imagine what it would do to LODDs” if firefighters had to meet annual fitness tests, Salka asked. Of course, even the most fit firefighter won’t be good at the job without repeated tactical training. Asked by an audience member what to do when their department’s training budget was cut drastically, Lasky replied, “They can cut your budget to zero and there’s still no excuse for not training.”
Salka noted that company officers are ultimately responsible for training firefighters: “Every time they’re at work, company officers should read a magazine, take the engine out, pull some lines, etc.”
One audience member asked the panel to look into the future—what’s the next step for a progressive fire department? The three had very different takes:
Lasky: Long-range planning. He doesn’t say he’s responsible for making sure everyone goes home at the end of their shift, he says that as an officer, he’s responsible for making sure everyone goes home at the end of their career—healthy enough to enjoy retirement. “Enough with the Band Aids, the temporary fixes,” he said. “We need to be thinking about 20 years from now.”
Halton: Community involvement. Halton sees a future where fire departments are much more woven into their communities than they are now, involved in building evacuation plans, fire and medical education, in fundamentally crafting the nature of the community. Why? “Because we’re the most trusted institution in the United States, and we’re the most credible.”
Salka: Fitness and training. The fire service needs to “research, adopt and enforce some type of realistic physical fitness standard,” he said, as well as certification and recertification standards for a whole range of tactical skills.
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