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Our History in Photo’s by Donald Wedding

10264345_10152166377959998_8837246434722869868_nBefore we get into the meat and potatoes of this post, I wanted to get you thinking…What got YOU into this career of being a Firefighter? Was it a catchy add or employment opportunity you read one day, explaining how rewarding this career would be? Maybe a cool story you heard from your dad, or brother about a fire they went to? Now, either one of those may have led you ‘here’, but I think for most of us seeing dramatic news stories or photographs, along with watching a fire engine screaming down the street, lights flashing, ear piercing sirens blaring, and seeing fireman riding to an alarm to help people was probably more of the attention getters which ultimately led to your interest in this trade, whether it be career or volunteer.


The American Fire Service has always been a visual profession, and fortunately one that has been well documented throughout its history. From *Fire-Marks on the front of Colonial Houses in the 17 and 1800’s, to paint schemes on our apparatus, patches showing company and department pride, clean and well maintained apparatus and equipment, to the heroic images of firefighters saving lives and property from the earliest days of American Firefighting to the present. Needless to say, these images captured at those fires would breathe new life into future firefighters and also document moments in time, our history, that would otherwise had been forgotten. *(Fire-Marks were signs or plaque placed on the front of a building or residence which showed which fire company the occupant paid its fire levy tax to.) 


1782422_664962526880482_886516077_oSo with those things said, imagine this profession from its formal inception in the early 1700’s to now, with no visual imagery or documentation from photos or paintings (as they did before photography around 1825). I remember vividly growing up with old paintings (re-creations of course) and photographs my dad owned hanging in our basement of fireman wearing stove-pipe hats and wool uniforms, to horse drawn steamer engines barreling down a city street. Moments in time documenting one of Americas oldest trades and professions; Firefighting.


When I joined my first volunteer fire department at 15 as a junior member, I spent a lot of time looking through old photo albums. The albums contained not only pictures of the department taking shape and helped me learn its history, but also of fires and other emergencies that they responded to throughout the years. There were also newspaper clippings and articles of calls documented by the local newspaper.

fdny_70_s_053a9230-2577-4476-a088-0051cfea47fd_grandeThere was also a lot of time for watching all the ‘fire buff’ videos of Washington D.C., and the Fire Department of New York specifically. These video and the images captured are still engrained in my mind to this day, thanks mostly to my brother for buying them and always having them on. They would also play a major roll, even back then, towards my determination to work as a Washington, D.C. Fireman.


Several months ago I learned a neighboring fire department to mine implemented a strict policy that all personnel were prohibited from taking photos at the scene of fires and other emergency incidents. The department has even gone as far as frowning upon firefighters taking group pictures next to apparatus after fires and training, especially if the photos are shared or posted on social media sites. This seems to be happening more and more as departments try to gain control, or filter rather, what is appropriate and what is not.


Now, things have definitely changed since horse drawn steamer engines and wool uniforms. I joined the Fire Service in 1993 and it amazes me how much this profession has changed since then, especially in the past 10 years. Social Media, the internet, and the ability to share and process information happens so fast now it is almost hard to comprehend. Smart Phones and other electronic devices can instantly send a photo, documents, emails and other information to hundreds, even thousands of people instantly. So, one could see how detrimental this ‘sharing’ could be if the wrong information, or poor judgment was made posting a photo from the scene of an emergency or other public event.


However, to all but eliminate documenting our history and our profession as a whole is absurd to me, and does the Fire Service a huge dis-justice. I do understand posting photos of the public which may violate HIPPA and privacy laws obviously cannot be allowed. But keeping personnel from documenting defining events and moments in their career, and their departments history, seems crazy to me and goes against what most would consider a very traditional aspect of what we do as fireman; upholding the ‘brotherhood’ and being proud of what we do. Not to mention the elimination of capturing images of incidents that can be used towards our training, avoiding future mistakes, or having significant visual documentation should a formal investigation surrounding a close-call, death, or other event should occur.


01aaa-bronxWhat if no cameras where allowed back in the early 1900’s, through the 60’s and 70’s? Can you image the history, documentation and knowledge lost or not obtained? How are we suppose to come up with new training programs and learn from our mistakes, showing actual examples of the same, without visual documentation? I don’t know about you, but ‘Death by Power Point’ is bad enough…Can you imagine no photos? Im out, sorry.




photo 3The fire service as we know it today will be shaped much differently, at least from my perspective, if our history is not documented and shared. The department I am referring to is not the only organization taking these kinds of measures to limit or prohibit members from taking photos or videos at the scenes of emergencies. I’m fortunate to work in a pretty liberal Fire Department. If we grab photos at a fire (specifically) while following our written policy, members send them to our BC and Deputy Chief who will then proof the material and allow specific people to share the information and/or photos . We even have a ‘Facebook’ page and official city website sharing what we are doing in the community, job opportunities, informational and life safety videos, and yes, even showing the public some of the calls and emergencies we respond to. (Believe it or not, there are some people who still think the fire department is here for cats in trees.)


One thing I have heard since joining my first volunteer fire organization is that we as a  Fire Service do a poor job of letting the citizens and governing officials (you know, the ones who approve our financial and budgetary needs) know what we do to keep them safe, and what we will continue to need when doing so. Visually expressing what we do, and having photos documenting incidents is a powerful tool justifying the “Why?”. We could tell someone stories and share experiences all day long, but, like the saying goes, “A picture is worth a thousand words.”


One of the most successful volunteer fire departments in the world, the Kentland Volunteer Fire Department, was one of the first departments I can remember having a professional website online, displaying their department pride, brotherhood, all while sharing images of fires and other significant events the department responded to through out its history. Now, this fire department responds to a lot of fires and ‘working’ incidents. By visually documenting the responses to these calls, as well as sharing training and leadership tips, they continue to excel and add new membership. Pretty easy concept, huh?

And, because of strong leadership and respect, the department does not post or display anything with a possible privacy concern, or things that could be taken as tasteless.


l9_11Now, I do realize most of the photos we see from almost 100 years ago were taken by the public and journalists, not by ‘on duty’ firefighters like we see today. I also acknowledge that social media did not exist and access to any photos of fires and incidents would have been limited to a select audience where a newspaper would be available. But, the fear of possible opinionated backlash or the typical “we don’t want to get sued” response cannot be the motivating factor behind implementing policy. I believe organizations residing on the side of “no photos at all, bottom line” should instead look into what can be gained not only through educating its members, but also marketing their organizations and showing the public they serve what they actually do. Including a filtering process through chain of command is  essential and should be included as well. Members should always present themselves as Combat Ready Firefighters, and display professionalism at all times, even during those crew shots when the fire or incident is over.


It would be disheartening for us as a Fire Service to look back 5 years from now and say, “Wow…We have nothing to show our new firefighters, or the public we serve what we have done or accomplished, and have no visual documentation of our history as a department.” Through policy, good leadership, and strong expectations there can be a happy median reached, so we can continue to keep our profession, and its traditions alive and respected.



Posted by | Posted in Blog, Combat Ready, command-leadership, Commentary, fires, Testimonials | Posted on 01-06-2014

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EFFECTIVE IMMEDIATELY – All Risk Taking is Cancelled Until Further Notice

lazy_b8dbe1_279028By Larry Schultz

At every teaching opportunity, I make it a point to spend plenty of time talking about risk assessment and risk management. For the sake of discussion lets focus strictly on fireground operations.

My concern is and continues to be a growing and unashamed trending towards total risk aversion. I have theorized that there are many reasons for the rapid expansion in “risk avoider” cliques, some of which includes: wanting to be “progressive” fire department, a desire to be a “great fire service leader”, an inability to manage your members, ineffective at making your point through discussion and dialogue with others equally as intelligent as you are, fear of what other “great fire service leaders” might think of you if you don’t join the club and last but not least an inability to strategically and logically think through all aspects of the complexities of fire suppression and fireground management. If you get where I am going, this list could go on forever.

To be clear, my issue is not with defensive operations my stance on that is clear. We must always operate in the correct strategy (Offensive or Defensive), 100% of the time, once a PROPER risk assessment is completed (which needs to occur throughout the incident not just at the beginning). My issue is that many have gotten caught up in the emotions of death and injuries, causing them to lose their abilities to detach themselves from the feelings; long enough to have a discussion(s) based on logic, contemplative thought, competing believes, debate and yes even science. Some are even being dishonest brokers, using emotional warfare as a tool to cover for an inability to manage people and organizations.

norisklogoExample: If we cant enforce the policy for our drivers, to stop at every Stop Sign and red lights (as they MUST), while maintaining full control of the vehicle at the legal speed; or we have promoted people who cant or wont enforce policy, then it becomes much easier to simply coward under the auspice of “safety” by moving to all cold responses. That certainly is one way of gaining compliance and reducing injuries. Hey here is another thought:
• Train your drivers adequately
• Promote people who will enforce rules and regulations
• Validate compliance through the use of vehicle cameras and speed analysis
• Hold both driver and officer accountable for failing to follow policy, every person every time
• Conduct annual drivers license checks

Oh Schultzy, we can’t do that, it’s much easier to just avoid accidents all together. Ok then lets just be honest with the public and tell them we are going to send a FD vehicle (preferably an electric vehicle so we avoid toxic emissions) with one person, for every 911 call, to make sure it is in fact an emergency, then and only then are we willing to out our people at risk by allowing them to all come together on the fire truck. Let me know how that works out for you will you?

If we can’t get compliance from firefighters and fire officers to follow standard operating procedures on the fireground or our people are incapable of executing core basic skills without getting themselves hurt or killed; or if our Company Officers and Incident Commanders lack the ability to do a proper risk assessment, then lets just stop letting them go inside burning buildings. Hey, here’s another thought:
• Develop a comprehensive set of SOG’s
• Train your people on them and test them to make sure they know them
• Make them aware of the consequences for not following them (I know, I’m just mean like that)
• Hire capable thinking firefighters
• Once again, promote Officers who can enforce policy
• Make your people train every day
• Test them on core capability
• Confront fireground problems, each and every one of them, every single time.

There you go again Schultzy. I know, it was a momentary lapse in judgment. I was exhausted after a tough day at work (maybe I should stop working, its dangerous to think while your tired). It’s much simpler to just avoid the possibility of injury all together. Hey I’m ok with that if you’re honest and upfront about saying so. Not just in a blog, but to the public as well. Lets remove the part of our organizational mission statement, where we regurgitate our commitment to “protecting property” and just tell people, this is what we will do for you. If your house catches on fire and if you can guarantee us (with 100% certainty) that your family member(s) is still inside of your burning home, then and only then, will we expose our people to risk. If not, we are likely not to enter your home. The good news is we will work hard to extinguish the fire, by depositing thousands of gallons of water, through your roof until either the fire goes out or the water reaches the roofline, which ever comes first. Don’t forget; let me know how that works out for you.

I was recently reading a Forbes Magazine article on the 10 most dangerous jobs. You know which job doesn’t make the list? Well these did:
• Fisherman/Fisherwoman – I think we can all agree, it is senseless for people to die so we can eat seafood. I know an easy fix, criminalize fishing.
• Logging Workers – Is it ok for someone to be killed so we can have a new home or so our kids can do homework? Absolutely not, lets stop all logging activities and simply wait for the trees to fall down on their own. Oh wait, better not, at the rate we burn homes down, it creates supply and demand.
• Aircraft Pilots – Really? Allowing someone to lose his/her life just so you can vacation? I think not. Get those planes out-of-the-air immediately. Unless we need them to run water drops on that next Warehouse fire.
• Refuse Workers – How would we ever justify telling a child that their Dad died while picking up our trash. No more thrash collection. From here on out everyone has to burn his or her own trash. P.S. don’t burn to close to the house. The house may catch on fire and there wont be any planes to do air-drops, refuse workers to pick up the debris, loggers to cut wood for the new house or any seafood available to celebrate after you move in to your brand new home.

I hope you get the point. Using fear as a tactic to disguise an inability to think critically or to manage properly is just as ridicules as the ideas above. Its time to get serious, engage in dialogue, discussion and debate in a logical and professional manner and really figure out how we can do this most noble work in a manner that is both safe and effective.

Posted by | Posted in administration-leadership, Blog, Combat Ready, command-leadership, Commentary, fire-rescue-topics, firefighting-operations, fires, Testimonials, Uncategorized | Posted on 26-03-2014

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To Go or Not To Go Part II… By Larry Schultz

To-Go-or-Not-to Go (Part Two)

IMG_2173In continuing from last week’s blog, I wanted to provide a few strategic and tactical considerations to consider when dealing with “known abandon buildings”. Even now, I hate playing the classification semantics at the risk of making things too simple. One thing I have learned over the past thirty years, the longer I am in the business, the less black and white things become; that quite frankly pisses me off. I am far more comfortable in the black and white with the grey area making me feel like I’m becoming more indulgent in my old age.

The fact is, much of what we do requires spending time in the grey area. That’s doesn’t have to be a bad thing unless you are one of those “pick a side” firefighters. Those are the ones who hope that you wouldn’t think for yourself and expect you to blindly believe what ever they advocate at any cost. In that world all things fit neatly in to the risk aversion box and do so equally as nice as the “balls – plus water – and the fire goes out” box. Sorry guys it isn’t that simple. The fact is, there is no way of escaping educating yourself on the issue and then using your own brain. By all means, you should be listening to many different opinions, but at the end of the day, you are going to have to use your brain.

In my last post, I proposed for the sake of discussion that we walk away from the terms, vacant, abandoned, derelict, and blighted and every other name we can come up with for the sake of have the discussion strictly based on risk assessment. The reason is simple; whenever we discuss this issue (which need to occur and at greater frequency) we lose all focus on risk and the attention quickly turns to either “property is never worth risk” or “there could be squatters in there” debate never making it to the greater discussion of best strategy and tactics.

We lose sight of the goal, which is a safe and effective operations based on risk as opposed to classifications of potentially unoccupied buildings types. Please don’t get me wrong, I see little to no value in taking unnecessary risk in vacant/abandon buildings but acknowledge that there will be times, when the fire is manageable enough to allow us to make the push, perform a search and extinguish the fire in a reduced risk manner. Ironically for those of us that have been IC’s for a season or two, we have had to navigate the very same type of assessment in occupied structures with the possibility of victims trapped. This gets me back to my main point which is its not right or wrong, its both right or wrong depending on the incident.

My friend and co-instructor Fireman Donnie Wedding (Fredricksburg VA Fire Department & Traditions Training) sent me his account of an incident he experienced while working a couple years ago.

“On our first day back after break, we (the truck co) were dispatched to assist the city police department in the morning, with gaining entry into an ‘abandon’ building after they received reports of seeing people in windows on the second floor. The house was an old (probably 1950’s era) balloon frame that had been converted into a duplex, with an identical house sitting next to it in the same block. The house was boarded up on the first floor only.

Due to known people being inside and not knowing what exactly the circumstances were and why people were occupying the house, we gave the police a quick ‘how to’ and let them take care of it. They found several people inside after gaining entry, and we watched them as they brought them out. I never found out whether they were arrested or just told to leave.

When we got back to the station, my Sergeant sent out an email to everyone in the department making them aware that people were occupying those houses, if we were called back there.

4 days later (last day of our tour before break) were dispatched around 12am for a reported fire in the 200 block of Ford St., where these houses sat. They were the only address in this block actually.

Before we left the station we all quickly acknowledged to the engine which route we were taking and reminded them that there were known people staying inside.

Entering the block from the D side of the building, we found fire-consuming most of the rear on both floors of the C and D side, with fire venting from several windows on the second floor in the Charlie Quadrant.

We only had a 3 man truck that night, so while the truck driver placed the Tower, me and my officer placed a couple ground ladders and began opening up the ‘HUD’ covers and plywood which luckily were only on portions of the first floor. While the Engine Co. stretched a line, I was able to make a quick search of the first floor, which had surprisingly good visibility due to the floor/ceiling above being burned through in the rear.

We then entered through the front making our way to the second floor to complete a primary search and open up, and met up with the first due engine who was making a good knock of the fire upstairs.

After searching this side of the duplex, we assisted another company with opening up and clearing the adjoining residence of the house/duplex. The fire was knocked down and all the searches were negative.

Apparently the people occupying the house had somehow placed a spacer in the electric meter (which had been pulled/disconnected since it was vacant) giving power to the house, which ultimately led to the cause of the fire.

Needless to say our actions and operations that night were based on knowing we had confirmed people previously occupying the home days earlier. Maybe you could say we got luckily having the heads up. But, had we not been there 4 days earlier, I wonder what the actions might have been”.

DLW (as he is known on twitter) provides a real example of what is involved in making strategic and tactical decisions based on a risk assessment processes. If you remember from the previous post, risk assessment must include: knowledge of fire behavior, knowledge of how fire/smoke acts in the five building types, critical factors (which include occupancy, occupied vs unoccupied and condition of structure to name a few) and available resources. During his previous tour, one of the critical factors that became a “known factor” is that the building had a history of squatting. It would be inappropriate on any level, to discount that factor (occupied by squatters) solely based on the fact the building was considered abandoned or vacant. This certainly could have occurred if our default training and mentality is “we risk nothing for property” which may have occurred if this very important factor was not earlier understood.

155_1On the other side of the coin you need to sit down and spend some time reading through the Firefighter Steve Solomon (Atlanta Fire Rescue) LODD report. Doing so should cause you to rethink the “get some” mentality.

So lets get at it! The members of the Fredricksburg FD knew what they knew from being out on the street, paying attention on all runs and knowing the buildings in their district. They took advantage by identifying critical factors of specific buildings; ahead of those building’s catching fire. Get out there in your box-alarm districts and identify those building which have added risk before you figure it out the hard way. In-spite of all we have discussed, the fact is, there will be clear and unmistakable buildings in your community that are vacant, abandoned, derelict, blighted or whatever. We should identify them beforehand and make other responders aware of them as well (just as the Sergeant did). This could be anything from an email to all Officers in the Battalion, an entry in the Critical Incident Dispatch notes section of the CAD or a unique building placarding system.

Once identified the next step is to focus on developing an SOG for dealing with fires in these types of buildings. Here are a few simple steps to help slow everyone down and take a few extra seconds to size-up the risk:

• When dealing with abandon known buildings consider having all units with the exception of the first engine and truck, stage in-line of approach and remain on the apparatus until they are given direction by the IC. This will keep things from unfolding ahead of an appropriate strategy.
• First arriving resource should provide a detailed on-scene report including:
o Corrected address (if need be)
o Height of building
o Occupancy
o The fact that the building is or appears to be abandoned, vacant or whatever the appropriate nomenclature is for your department.
o Conditions evident
o Water supply
o Status of doors and windows (boarded-up, bars, HUD covers)
o Obvious structural integrity concerns.
• Initial company should declare the operating strategy (offensive/defensive)
• When selecting a Defensive strategy
o Establish a collapse/isolation zone
o Use master streams when possible can alleviate members creeping in to the collapse/isolation zone as they often do with handlines.
o There is no value in pulling covered windows or any other coverings if it places your personnel within the collapse zone. It will eventually open itself up.
• When selecting the Offensive Strategy
o No one should enter the structure until every window and door is open and completely free of plywood and or bars. This means you will need to assign more then normal resources to do this since it will still need to be done in a timely manner.
o Consider (1) Engine (1) Support Service going as a team, while others stand fast outside of the IDLH. No one else enters without specific direction from the IC (controlled deployment)
o As engines makes the push the support service branches off for searches maintaining a position behind the line. With the strong possibility of opened walls, floors and ceilings (holes) this is no time to get caught working above or behind hidden fire.
o Engine companies should sweep the floor ahead of advancement with a straight-stream. This not only helps identify holes, breaches etc., it also allows for any debris including needles and other forms of potential communicable disease vectors.
o The use of TIC’s should help in identifying openings in floors, walls and ceilings as well as hidden fire.
o This is a slow push folks simmer-down.
o IC should consider a Division Supervisor on each exterior side of the structure. You can’t do yourself any harm with 8 more eyes on the building.
This obviously is not a comprehensive list of considerations for dealing with vacant buildings, which was never my intention. The goal was to have a discussion focused on risk, which looks deeper, then homelessness and risk aversion.

Posted by | Posted in administration-leadership, Blog, Combat Ready, command-leadership, firefighting-operations, fires, Testimonials, Uncategorized | Posted on 05-03-2014

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To Go or Not to Go…By Larry Schultz

Sierra Exif JPEGToday’s blog is inspired by my nephew who I am incredibly proud of after following in my footsteps joining the DCFD. I was fortunate, that as the Chief of Operations, I got to go to a few fires with him and I watch him grow in to a solid firefighter. Unfortunately for him, this often exposed him to the daily serenades of “Uncle Larry’”

Its been interesting managing the difference in fire department philosophy between my views (as the Boss) and his view’s as the one who has to endure the connection with Uncle Larry while still living and working with his peers. If this isn’t bad enough, against all of my advice, my oldest daughter stabs me in the eye with a hot fork, by falling for a guy who also becomes a member of the DCFD.

While I say all of this (tongue in cheek), I really do believe that many of our differences are quite normal. There is usually a wide range of differing views between the bosses and the back step crew, between management and labor and between the ones who have been on the street for 25 years and the ones who have been on the streets for 5 years. That’s all very predictable and I use these discussions as an opportunity to share with them a different point of view; not necessarily a “right view” just a different view. Ok, who I am kidding, I thrive on these opportunities, to pontificate on the issue until they wave the proverbial white flag and cant take it anymore.

You can imagine the smile that came over my face when my nephew was talking tactics with me (by text message) and ended with, “why wouldn’t we go in a vacant building, couldn’t a homeless person be in there?” I began to salivate at the thought of residing on yet another soapbox.

Should I pass up an opportunity to walk him right down the hallway of a two hour eye gouging heart–to-heart, or should I let him off the hook?

I started the discussion by asking him a rhetorical question, which one of the finest Chiefs I have ever known once asked me; If you care so much about the homeless, how often do you spend volunteering in a homeless shelter?

Anyway, my buddy asks a great question and one that we (the fire service) have discussed to the point of nausea. Entertain me for a few minutes as I try to shape the discussion in a different way.

If you know me, heard me teach or viewed a blog, you know that I never miss an opportunity to climb on a soapbox or two. One of my favorite’s is on risk assessment. As a service we have done a horrible job at teaching younger officers how to do a risk evaluation on the fireground and to do it in a very short time frame. My teaching partner Ricky Riley and I reinforce the principle, that proper risk assessment must take in to account: building construction, occupancy, pre-arrival and fireground critical factors, how fire/smoke behave in that specific type of building and available resources.

Once you have carefully evaluated those factors, you are far more prepared for making the first critical decision; what will our strategy be (offensive / defensive)?

We should stop arguing whether we should be in an offensive strategy or a defensive strategy and focus on being in the “right strategy” which will sometimes be offensive and some times be defensive. Once strategy is declared, the next step will be implementing the tactics. Please notice the order of importance, which is strategy first, then tactics. Implementing tactics absent a strategy is both dangerous and ineffective.

Lets just take the word vacant out of the discussion for a minute. This should be easy to do since we still cant come close to agreeing on the difference between vacant, abandon, unoccupied and blighted. Maybe its because in the spirit of what we are trying to figure out, what we call it doesn’t matter.

Lets just agree that any and all structures have the potential for someone to live, squat hide or stow-away in. The potential can be vastly different but that is all part of the normal risk assessment calculation (life safety factor).

You arrive on the scene of a two story, Balloon Frame. On arrival you take a quick look and ask yourself “is this vacant or occupied”.  Looking at the structure, you see some windows with glass in tact and some windows covered with plywood. No cars are in the driveway, but a trash can at the end of it. The lapboard siding is splintered due to extended exposure to the environment and hasn’t been painted in years. There is a couch on the front porch and an old window a/c unit still in place.  There is obvious decline of the roof and the porch steps lack any integrity at all.

If you didn’t know whether the home was occupied full time, part-time (squatters) or not at all, how would you reach your strategy decision point? My guess is, absent of seeing a live, victim, you would have to make that decision based on ofactors known, seen and understood. If its vacant and you see a live (potentially) victim, your likely going to make the push, if it’s a occupied home, in very poor condition and you see no signs of life, you may likely take a different approach.

Either way, you are making sound decisions based on the greatest number of factors observed and understood.  If we would agree to keep the discussion focused on observing critical factors and understanding the various pieces of risk evaluation, we are far more likely to get to the heart of the discussion, which is what is the “right” strategy followed by best tactics; not should we “go” or “not go.

With all this said, there will be plenty of situations where it is apparent that a structure is not being used for normal, legal continuous shelter. In those circumstances we would be foolish to simply assume and cross our fingers that no one could possibly be inside. We would be equally as thoughtless and irresponsible if we didn’t slow down and put-in-place additional risk reduction measures.

That part comes next week. Until then be safe and be smart.



Posted by | Posted in Blog, Combat Ready, command-leadership, Commentary, firefighting-operations, fires | Posted on 24-02-2014

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Outside the Box Apparatus Positioning

By: Retired Chief Michael Horst, Harrisburg Bureau of Fire


Often times you only get one chance to make a difference when positioning a tower ladder. You can make best use of that one chance by training for it…by being “Combat Ready.”

In the above photo Harrisburg Tower 1 recently worked a building explosion and fire at a local steel mill. Due to the magnitude of the adjacent exposures large caliber streams were required forthwith. Their positioning on arrival, albeit tenuous, made a difference and enabled operations to keep the fire to the building of origin. Hampered by a debris field from the explosion and both electrical and mechanical hazards the quick thinking members of this truck company were able to end up front and center at this industrial blaze.

The members of this truck company, as have most all Harrisburg firemen, trained for this EXACT evolution on countless occasions. As rookies, as firemen and in their chauffeur promotion all have had to endure this confidence course. The drill doesn’t have a real name but it should be referred to as “Scrub but don’t Scrape.”



The drill is simple, and requires only one prop, the open apparatus bay. The object is two fold. It provides the chauffeur and bucket operator the opportunity to develop the knowledge, skills and abilities in positioning and flying a tower ladder. It also provides them the opportunity to develop trust in each others ability to operate in tight situations.

The drill starts by having the apparatus positioned in front of the apparatus bay. This in itself is great practice for young drivers and helps them learn proper positioning for “scrubbing the building.” You can setup at various angles just as long as you can clear the chassis and “work” the entire opening. Make sure that the boom will clear and you can swing the bucket into the doorway. For safety there must be one person on the turntable, a spotter and operator in the bucket.

To start go slow and easy because mistakes will equate to contact. Learn the “play” in the joystick or controllers. As a reminder make sure operators understand the nozzle reaction when using an elevated master stream and it’s potential. Once the operator has developed the basic skills and confidence they move to the second phase.


At this point the operator practices close “tracing” inside of the doorway, working all four sides. Here the operator will be forced to use his senses and trust the same of his spotter/turntable operator, a genuine team building exercise.

As skills and confidence permit now the operator can extend further into the building, avoiding “props” and assuring the extended boom doesn’t make contact at the doorway. The turntable operator likewise can gain valuable experience maneuvering an extended boom and platform and get a feel for working with a “dead-man.”

It’s also a great time to change those burned out light bulbs inside your apparatus room. Remember the next time you have to thread the needle with the bucket your training, this training, will never let you down!

Posted by | Posted in Blog, Combat Ready, fire-rescue-topics, firefighting-operations, fires, major-incidents, news, Training Resources, training-development, training-fire-rescue-topics, Truck Company, Uncategorized | Posted on 06-02-2014

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Combating Attic Fires

By: Larry Schultz

380927_282468061801486_394045475_n copy If you are in to fire porn, then there is an unlimited supply to be found on YouTube, Twitter and Facebook these days. I would surmise that if you have an ounce of fire service passion left in you, then you too are a fan of fire porn. Over the last several months, I have watched many videos of fires where the fire was located in the attic area and more obvious in the void spaces of the knee-walls.

As I always say, it is ridiculous that we reinvent how we deal with these fires over and over in spite of the fact that they are very predictable in how they are going to behave and what needs to be done to deal with it.

Here are just a few reminders for company officers and IC’s to consider.

For the sake of the article, I will clarify a few terms so that we are all on the same page. It doesn’t particularly matter what terms we use as long as we understand a few back principles. The first and most important one is that these fires (attic’s and knee-walls) are very predictable in how they behave and even more predictable based on the type of structure involved.

When I use the term attic, I am speaking about the space under the roof of a house, where that space is large enough to be used as a livable space or as a storage area. This space will have access via interior steps. This is different then a cockloft which I would describe as the small space (non-livable) that lies above the top floor and below the flat roof, commonly found in a rowhome.

When I talk about “knee-walls” I am talking about a constructed wall of 2-4 feet, constructed in the “A” framed area of the attic, built primarily to keep you from smacking your dome on the ceiling (see picture above).


There are some pretty common signs that a fire has moved in to the attic/knee-wall area, most notably smoke and fire pushing from the dormers and gable ends. Interior environments where you are experiencing high levels of heat, but cant locate the fire can be indicative of fire concealed in the walls as well.

There is good opportunity to make an aggressive push on this fire if you can beat the fire to “flashover”. Generally speaking, this is a doable scenario if you remember a few basic things (always goes back to core basic skills).

Engine Company(s)
• Starts with a good stretch using an appropriate sized line. Remember, you need enough water to out perform the heat release rate not blow the roof off. You will likely be stretching up at least two flights of steps including in to the attic. Avoid the absurd “big fire big water” mentality and go for maneuverability.
• Good stretch means, chasing kinks, using the well of the stairway properly, tying off the hose when needed (keeps you from constantly having to hump line) and knowing how to quickly remove the balusters if necessary (limits wasted hose length)
• Stretch the line dry until you get to the point where you need to mask-up.
• The Engine Officer should report the conditions (smoke, heat, fire, clear) as soon as they cross the threshold and provide the same report for each ascending floor.
• Once you’re ready to make the push, this is the perfect time to ditch the “pistol grip” (just kidding). Get that nozzle out in front of you and use good nozzle pattern selection.
• If the roof is not vented then flow your line from the steps or consider the attack from the underside (pulling the ceiling from the floor below the attic).
• Remember, hood on, collar up and flap’s down

Truck Company
• Start venting the easy stuff first, dormer windows and gable vents. In order for the engine company to make the push, you need to get that roof opened up. This is the one scenario where you do not always need to get to the highest point of the roof. When dealing with knee-walls make your cut dormer level high. Don’t forget to punch through the drywall.
• Empty your ladder bed.
• The livable space of the attic must be searched. Do so, only after the line has advanced in to the area.
• Walls and ceilings must come down, aggressively and completely. Fire in the walls, open up the ceilings, fire in the ceiling open up the floor above. Keep going until there is no more fire or you can see the sky, which ever comes first.
• When space and visibility inside is limited and your dealing with wood frame construction, consider open up, from the outside in. Take the siding and lapboards from the outside will provide you the same access often times quicker then from the interior.
• When dealing with knee-walls remember that the attic stairwell walls will allow you access to the void area behind the knee-wall. This allows good access for water application.

RIT Team
• Validate that upper level windows are fully cleared and ladders are in place.
• Remember that stairwells are likely to be overcrowded with people and hoselines. Look for alternative points of ingress and egress.
• Have a chainsaw available and ready to go in order to expand window openings

Incident Commander
• Control the number of hoselines going up the stairs
• Have 2nd in hoseline maintain a position at the bottom of the steps until requested. Have the Company Officer help in keeping the stairway clear
• Pay attention to the vent work
• Watch smoke behavior, it will tell you how well things are going or not going.
• Don’t play catch up with Truck’s; always have one in staging ready to go.

Posted by | Posted in administration-leadership, Blog, Combat Ready, command-leadership, Engine Company, firefighting-operations, fires, news, Training Resources, Truck Company, Uncategorized | Posted on 06-01-2014

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The 10-year Itch

“The 10 Year Itch”

We have been told that our firefighting equipment can no longer be in service after 10 years….

For some fire companies, 10 years would leave it barely broken in… others it would be long since useless and nearly shredded.

So, what’s the point?

While we are not all the “same” in terms of volume… the point is, we are all the “same”… we are Firefighters and Fire Officers.

Your next fire could be the “one” you talk about for the next “10 Years” or just “one in 10” you go to this month.

In Either Case… It’s up to you, how will you perform? How “Itchy” is your team for success? Are you barely broken in, shredded or somewhere in-between?

Is your next job the “one” or just “one in 10?”

Posted by | Posted in Combat Ready, fires, line-of-duty | Posted on 09-12-2013

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Sharon Hill, PA. Entangled Firefighter


In surfing the Internet in the morning, I saw an incident in Sharon Hill, PA. that included a well advanced structure fire, and a trapped/entangled firefighter in the basement during the evacuation of the structure by the Incident Commander.
They documented the incident on PhillyFireNews.com and I asked them to share their story with Traditions Training so we could get the word out to all our followers. So please read the narrative of the incident and the account of the firefighter in the basement. The following is their first hand account,
we greatly appreciate the department sharing the information for all of us to learn…

Around 1230 this afternoon tones dropped for Companies 09 (Sharon Hill), 05 (Glenolden), 01 (Folcroft) and RIT 19 (Lansdowne) for the working fire with possible entrapment in the 100 Block of Laurel Rd, Sharon Hill. Tele Squrt 01 under command of First Assistant Chief Carney responded with 4 followed shortly after Tower 5 and 09-2. Crews stretched multiple lines to all floors due to heavy fire conditions. Command called for manpower out of 04 (Darby Fire Company) and 42 (Collingdale Fire Company #2). On the arrival of Pipeline 04, crews from 01 entered in the rear to the basement with crews from 04. During this one F/F from Folcroft became tangled in wires that hung low from the ceiling. This firefighter is sharing his story and it is quoted below. Once the entangled fireman was free, crews regrouped outside, checked par and entered the basement again. Crews still had fire on all 3 floors and fire in the roofline. Crews worked hard and fast to get this fire under control within 2 hours.
Here is the incident from the eyes of the entangled firefighter;
“I am the firefighter that was tangled in the basement of the Sharon Hill fire. I was with the interior crew of 01 and 04. We had a good knock on the fire in the basement, smoke was not an issue, neither was heat, we received the order to evacuate the structure per command, Sharon Hill Assistant Chief T Macann 04’s Chief Caruso and M. Carr, assisted in cutting wires and helped me free myself. What happened was that on our Thermal Imagining Camera (TIC) there is a D ring that clips to our gear. Wires made their way around the D ring but the D ring is so small a gloved hand is unable to open it. The D ring has already been replaced since today’s fire with a new small but easily opened D ring with a fire glove. M. Carr and I used my knife from my pocket to cut the wires. I will also be getting a set of wire cutters for this very instance. I just wanted to pass along this information as a learning tool for all. Always watch for obstructions and have something that will cut with you.”
Thank you,
Assistant Chief Frey

photo 2ohoto 1photo 3

Posted by | Posted in administration-leadership, Blog, Combat Ready, Commentary, firefighter-safety-health, firefighting-operations, fires, news, RIT / Survival, Testimonials, Tips & Skills, Training Resources, training-development, training-fire-rescue-topics, Uncategorized | Posted on 25-11-2013

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Remembering our Friend and Fireman

IMG_9083Today is July 24th 2013, it has been a few years and it does not get any easier. Lt. Steve Velasquez of the Bridgeport Fire Department, Ladder 11 lost his life in a three wood on this date in 2010. I am sharing this portion of a newspaper article written the week of the funeral for Steve.

“Assistant Chief Keith Wallace said that when he cleaned out Velasquez’s locker he found three pieces of paper taped to the door.”

One said:”Discipline, Dedication, Teamwork”

Another one was a quote from Theodore Roosevelt:”It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred with dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes up short again and again…If he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly. So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory or defeat”

On the third was the quote:”The brave don’t live forever, but the cautious don’t live at all.”

If you are looking for the definition of a Fireman it was Steve Velasquez.

Posted by | Posted in Blog, Combat Ready, fires, in-the-line-of-duty, line-of-duty, Uncategorized | Posted on 24-07-2013

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Check out the Resources Page

In the last couple of weeks we at Traditions Training have been adding to our Resources page on the website. Go there to find LODD reports, NIOSH reports, Command Sheets, and manuals that we reference during our classes. Download them and use them to make you and your department “Combat Ready”
Send us any cheat sheets, command charts or after action fire reports that you feel would help our fellow firefighters and Officers. And we will put them in the Resources section…

As Always Stay Combat Ready

Posted by | Posted in administration-leadership, Blog, Combat Ready, command-leadership, fires, Incident Command, line-of-duty, Training Resources, training-development, Uncategorized | Posted on 16-07-2012