Fire/EMS Safety, Health and Survival Week 2011, Day Six; From Waldbaum’s to Hackensack-Worcester to Charleston; Legacies for Operational Safety

Fire Service Tradition and The Brotherhood

For those of you that follow or have attended one of my many seminar and lecture program offerings, one program seems very pertinent in both context and content on this, the Sixth Day of Fire/EMS Safety Week 2011 that resonates around the theme and focus of Surviving the Fire Ground – Fire Fighter, Fire Officer and Command Preparedness.

“From Waldbaum’s to Hackensack-Worcester to Charleston; Legacies for Operational Safety”; in most cases, any discussion of these four landmark incidents in the fire service leads directly to a rich discussion and dialog on a myriad of facets, aspects and issues characteristic of the incidents; the time, the place, the circumstances, the names and faces, the deployment, the operations, the challenges and the tragic outcomes.

The legacies of these iconic events as well as so many others of national prominence and impact; and others with lesser national significance, but having far reaching implications, impacts and power on the regional and local levels continue to shine in the remembrance, honor and memory of those impacted by those events and incidents.

I still find it astonishing during my lecture travels around the country lecturing and presenting these programs on building construction and fireground operations, that when those in attendance were posed with a simple question; “What do the Walbaum’s Fire and Hackensack fire share in common?”, the response at times was less than stellar, or at best difficult to solicit let alone convey the commonalities.

The more seasoned and experienced veterans (translation; older firefighters) when present, were able to convey some information on the subject – Some, with a firm and reflected understanding of the question and its ramifications, others not so much. But yet, the true essence of the basic incident particulars and the lessons learned in most cases failed to be fully conveyed. It’s sad to state but; we are not remembering the past!

History Repeating Events-Integrate into your Training

Are the fire service legacies of the past and the lessons learned from those incidents and the sacrifices that were made transcending time? Or are they lost in the immediacy of day to day challenges, issues and operations.

Or are these events, lessons and operations issues dismissed and disregarded as a result of their “time and place” not being relevant to “today’s” operations and modern fire service advancements or lack the relevancy to local organizations, operations, make-up and risks. Is it just a “Big City” issue or is it a failure to comprehend the commonality of the event parameters and distill those lessons learned and operations into the essence that is formulative of all of our organizations and operations?

Surviving the Fire Ground – Fire Fighter, Fire Officer and Command Preparedness, has a multitude of facets, features and functional elements. I spoke of some of these commonalities in a previous post this week on Day Two (HERE).

I’ve spoken on numerous occasions about History Repeating Events (HRE), and the common themes related to fire fighter line-of-duty deaths, close-calls, near-misses, maydays and incident operations that had less than desirable outcomes or performance.

These History Repeating Events and incidents on a wide variation of scale, outcome and operations have common issues, apparent and contributing causes and operational factors that share legacy issues that the fire service at times fails to identify, relate to and implement. In other words, (we) fail a times to learn from the past or we make a deliberate choice to ignore those lessons and the apparent similarities and prevailing fireground indicators due to other internal or external influences, pressures, authority, beliefs, values or viewpoints.

What are we Learning? What are we Applying?

We make choices and we determine our direction, path and destiny. Officers, Commanders, Companies fail to connect with situational factors, parallels and signs that have the full potential to direct the incident towards favorable or disastrous conclusions. The Job isn’t as fatalistic as we sometimes make it out to be.

The prevailing topical areas being addressed this year during Safety week have focused on the mayday component of an incident operation and have included:

  • Preventing the Mayday: situational awareness, planning, size up, air management, fitness for survival, defensive operations.
  • Being Ready for the Mayday: personal safety equipment, communications, accountability systems.
  • Self-Survival Procedures: avoiding panic, mnemonic learning aid “GRAB LIVES”— actions a fire fighter must take to improve survivability, emergency breathing.
  • Self-Survival Skills: SCBA familiarization, emergency procedures, disentanglement, upper floor escape techniques.
  • Fire Fighter Expectations of Command: command-level mayday training, pre-mayday, mayday and rescue, post-rescue, expanding the incident-command system, communications.

There’s ample opportunity this week or in the weeks ahead to do some insightful research or cull some information on the four legacy events we discussed earlier;

  • FDNY Waldbaum’s Fire (1978) HERE and HERE
  • Hackensack (NJ) Auto Dealership Fire (1988) HERE and HERE
  • Worcester (MA) Cold Storage Fire (1999) HERE and HERE
  • Charleston (SC) Sofa Super Store (2007) HERE and HERE

These have tremendous Legacies for Operational Safety, lessons and a wealth of applications for Safety Week and for training, dialog, discussions, tabletops, skillsets and drill activities throughout the entire year.

Integrate the lessons from these as well as other legacies and HRE into your Surviving the Fire Ground – Fire Fighter, Fire Officer and Command Preparedness; training and deliveries. The reality is, we, the present generation of veteran firefighters and officers have the profound obligation and responsibility to recognize the importance of passing along the lessons of the past as well as integrating and playing forward the lessons of our life’s journey throughout our fire service careers; the events of our day and the profound tough lessons and sacrifices learned the hard way. Understand and embrace the shared responsibilities, accountability and requirements that contribute towards Surviving the Fire Ground.

We sometimes need a receptive, sympathetic and compassionate audience that is willing to listen, hear and comprehend the messages conveyed. There needs to be a high degree of empathy related to these past History Repeating Events, the legacies of national, regional and local level prominence. For each event, each and every line of duty death, close-call, near-miss and mayday event has a message and a Legacy of Operational Safety.

Make the time to research, learn and understand the factors of these events, the lessons and opportunities that are borne from each and how they relate to the theme, message and initiatives that make up Fire/EMS Safety, Health and Survival Week and beyond.

Here’s a great Resource from FDNY’s 2011 Safety Initiatives, SurvivingtheFireground_SafetyWeek2011(2)_0

Prepare for the When, not the IF

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