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What’s your standard? The firehouse just got a new puppy…

In my Department’s “Rookie Book” process, probationary firefighters have a 6-month series of monthly tests.  These tests consist of written questions & knowledge and skill-based material.  The goal of course is to insure and guide their growth after the fire academy, so that when they come off probation they are well versed in “fire department life” and well capable on the fireground.

The 1st month evaluation is conducted by the rookie’s battalion chief. There are 18 questions and 8 skill categories, with several skills per category. The rookie must be able to answer any questions and demonstrate any skills that the battalion selects.  The BNC selects a minimum of 5 questions and 3 skills, but has the discretion to select as many more as he likes.

Yesterday I watched 4 of our rookies be evaluated, but I got to watch one rookie’s eval from start to end. This battalion chief decided he would ask every question and cover every skill. He challenged his probie and made him work for it. And when the rookie did well, he had earned it.

The Chief did not do this because the rookie had been doing poorly, quite the opposite. Though it might not have been directly said, I could tell that the Chief did this because that was his standard.

When a firehouse receives a new rookie, probie, whatever you call it – it is as if that firehouse has just adopted a new puppy.  As those of you who have raised a puppy know, the puppy is not just the responsibility of dad (captain), mom (engineer), or big brother (senior man).  The entire crew must chip in to watch the puppy, raise the puppy, and train the puppy to the house’s standard.

So let me ask you this – if 6 months after you get him, your new puppy (rookie) walks in and craps on the carpet, who’s fault is that?

It’s not the puppy’s.

In watching the growth of a rookie, and their evaluation, the standard of that company, battalion and shift is clear and evident. Is mediocrity accepted? Is meeting the “minimum” the goal? The training and performance of a company’s rookie is just another clear indicator of what can be expected on the fireground.  I can tell you that yesterday I watched the faces of this rookie’s crew just as much as I watched the rookie.  And what I saw was pride, investment, and family.  These guys were pulling for their new man, proud of him, but unwavering in their expectation to uphold the family (company) name. When I saw that, I thought “bingo”. So I can’t pinpoint which part I’m more proud to see.

So for those of you raising a new puppy, remember – that puppy’s performance is a direct reflection of your family, and your family’s standards.  Raise the puppy right.

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Posted by | Posted in administration-leadership, Blog, Combat Ready, command-leadership | Posted on 16-09-2015

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Check the Resume

Years ago the fire service shared its opinions, lessons learned, and post fire academy knowledge primarily in magazine articles. There was no Facebook, Twitter, or blogging. Articles were submitted and reviewed by an editorial panel.  The members of these panels were seasoned fire experts who had “done their time” not only in the firehouse, but in the world of fire service literature.  Many readers often judged the quality of magazines based on their editorial panels. An article would be reviewed by technical editors whose job was to make sure that the points in the article had value and were accurate. If you didn’t pass – you got rejected. Often if you did pass, you still had discussions with the technical editor to clean things up. It also took months, if not years, to get your article actually published once it was approved.  That delay caused a mental pause, reflection, and often revision of the content.  It also tended to filter out the fake content and fake authors. This is roughly still the process to get an article published today.
Some may say this is a form of censorship, or that it’s close minded. I think it was and still is a form of quality control. What the internet has done to the fire service scares me. The fire service pulpit is now wide open for anyone who wants to preach. Anyone with a keyboard, an opinion, and a free afternoon can broadcast their views.  There is no experienced technical editorial panel for the internet. If you are charismatic, write well, or can make your blog/page look pretty, you tend to get attention – people look at what you say and may listen to you. What is not really a prerequisite here is to have any actual firefighting experience or any clue what you are talking about.
Some of the best firemen I know are computer illiterate.  They type with one finger, one letter at a time.  They don’t know how to make a pretty blog or Instagram photo – but they know how to fight fire. Sadly, their voices are often lost in the shuffle to someone who has more technical skills than firefighting skills.
Today, access to the firefighting world is instant.  Through the smartphone that almost all of us have in our pocket, we have we can shoot HD video and photos, snazzy them up, edit some text, and post it all to a variety of social networks within minutes. If it’s catchy and goes “viral” – thousands and thousands will see it by this afternoon.  It’s a sad fact that more young firefighters read the internet than read the magazines. Ironically – the shorter your message, the more will read it (think Twitter)!
When reading and considering things, my friend Joe Brown used to always say “check the resume”. An illustration of this point – even in magazine days, the first thing I would do before reading an article was flip to the end and read about the author.  That would highly influence if I would read the article or not, or how much weight I would give to the content.
  • Who is the author?
  • What department are they from?
  • What is that department’s reputation?
  • What kind of / how much work do they do?
  • What is their position in the Department?
  • How does that position relate to what they’re talking about?
  • How much time on do they have?
Those are some of the things I would evaluate in a “resume check”.  You may notice that “time on” is pretty low on the list.  That’s intentional. For some, their “number of years” is their biggest claim – but what kind of years were those? A wise old saying goes, “it’s not the years in your life, but the life in your years”.  I’m more interested in where you’ve been and what you’ve done than how long you’ve been there.
With all of the uncensored opinions out there across all the platforms, I hope you are all “checking the resume” before you embrace the content. There are a lot of people out there who believe that the number of years they have, or their title, or their degrees, give them “experience” from which to preach.  This is a dangerous thing.  Even scarier, some firefighters and departments are actually revising how they do business based on this content! If you look into it, you may find that the author has more time on the keyboard than they do on the fireground.  You may find their department has not provided them with the volume of incidents to back them up. You may find that have little to no real world experience with what they are talking about. You may find they are simply self-proclaimed.
You may find their resume is hidden; that it is very difficult to find specifics.  Where did they work?  When did they come on?  Where was that guy an officer?  Which firehouse were they in? To me, these vague, hidden resumes are indicative of a questionable background, or perhaps an attempt to conceal a career that the author wishes was more than it really was. I couldn’t be prouder of the places I’ve been associated with and the path of my career – what does it say about yours if you hide it?
You know what they say opinions are like, and everyone does have a right to theirs.  They have a right to share it too, I suppose.  I am sharing my opinion right now and I participate in all of the platforms that I talked about above.  I do believe that I have integrity – that I write honestly about only the things I know about, the things that I have done, and that I have the background to back up my thoughts. I try to be responsible, knowing that what I say may actually cause a change in how someone else responds to a life-threatining incident. That doesn’t make my opinions right, or gospel – but if you consider my background and experiences, you’ll see they match up and make sense compared to my opinions.
The internet is a scary, instant place with no barrier to entry. It is causing good and bad changes to our job. Before signing up for a viral movement, I’d highly advise that you check the resume of the author.
I certainly invite you to look at mine.
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Posted by | Posted in Blog, Combat Ready | Posted on 06-07-2015

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People Trapped? Don’t Panic – Do Your JOB!

In general, a report of “victims trapped” should not cause any major changes in your initial operations. They may cause slight alterations – like where you take your line, which window you VES, etc.  However your plans/SOGs should already be setup assuming there are persons trapped. When added information increases the likelihood of entrapment, we should be doing what we always do – just harder and faster!

Remember, all tasks work in support of each other on a fire. Abandoning one will reak havoc on the others. The results do not improve the victims chances, and put us at greater risk. I have seen many incidents quickly go south when everyone “loses their cool” after a report of entrapment. Things later water supply, ventilation, and fire attack are abandoned because we all think we’re just going to dash in and “save the baby”. When this happens we are often unsuccessful in our firefighting efforts, the victim usually perishes, and we frequently hurt firefighters due to our scatter-brained actions. By cutting corners we LOSE, and often then find out there wasn’t anyone trapped! 

As was the case last night, reports of a victim do not mean there IS one. And no reported victims (or reports of “everyone’s out”) do not mean there ISN’T one. Deploy in response to conditions and always give any known OR unknown victim their best chance. Don’t guess on “survivability” from the front yard – you don’t know what you don’t know.  Our job is to react to conditions, not guesses, and give them a chance. As I was once taught by a veteran truck officer, they are not out until our searches SAY they are out.

Posted by Nick Martin on Monday, June 29, 2015

Great job by Columbia Fire Department 2nd shift crews last night. They demonstrated the effectiveness of these thoughts and made a rapid knockdown alongside rapid searches.

#CombatReady

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Posted by | Posted in Blog, Combat Ready, Truck Company | Posted on 29-06-2015

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Combat Ready – Sheperdstown, WV

Last weekend I was invited to present “Combat Ready Firefighting”to the firefighters of Jefferson County, WV.  After a great class, the more than hospitable members were eager to show me their firehouses and apparatus.  The pride in their departments and history was obvious (good thing!).

Sheperdstown Engine 3 stood out to me, outfitted for down & dirty firefighting.  In the suburban and rural environment.  Some things I noticed:

  • Low hosebed & crosslays, near shoulder height, for rapid deployment of hoselines. Should we really need a ladder to lay supply line or pull the attack line?
  • Versatile hose bed with various sizes, nozzles, hoseloads, and options for water supply and fire attack. 
  • Three (3) hard suctions, which I’ve learned in the rural environment are very important!
  • Ladders easily deployable off the side rather than hidden in some compartment or on some rack.
  • FRONT INTAKE!  How did these become so rare?  With the soft sleeve pre-connected, by the way… Great for sleeving hydrants or nose-in drafting.
  • Functional front bumper line – who says you can’t fight fire off of a bumper line?  If it’s spec’d right…

Probably one of the most important attributes – PRIDE.  These members were proud of this apparatus because they knew it was functional.  There was 2 feet of snow on the ground and this rig glimmered in the apparatus bay (clean).

Was there a ton of compartment space?  No not a ton… But rather than a jack of all trades and master of none (don’t we see a lot of those apparatus these days?), this rig was ready for engine company firefighting with enough room for the extra essentials.

Is your rig COMBAT READY?  If so, how?  If not – WHY NOT?

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Posted by | Posted in Blog, Combat Ready, Engine Company | Posted on 06-02-2014

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Keeping Track

These log books vaguely capture what the company did. Who captures the how you performed at an individual level?

We all love going to fires.  We’d all agree we learn something at every fire we go to.  So how do we track what we’ve experienced and what we’ve learned?  If we don’t track this, how can we know where to focus for improvement?  As a company, most of us keep log books, Firehouse Software reports, NFIRS reports, or other official documents.  These track the official details of how our organization deployed at an incident.  But what about you personally?  Where is what you’ve done and how you’ve evolved tracked?

About a year ago, I began informally tracking the incidents to which I responded.  Using Evernote, a simple piece of free software that I can access on any computer or my phone, I began quickly keeping some personal notes after any significant incident I went to.  As the training chief for my Department, my initial goal was to have a system to track incident actions and trends and to over time be able to identify any recurring gaps between our expectations and performance so that we could address them through training or guidelines.  

It worked, but I also began to find that I also tracked what I had done personally.  Since on the scene I function as any other battalion chief would, where was I falling short personally? If I was the IC did I manage the scene well? Communicate well?   Did I miss something important in my size-up?  Did I have a mis-step with my PPE?  Was there an SOG I wasn’t fully up to date on?  In addition to tracking performance at the Department level, I quickly found that I was identifying gaps in my own actions.

What to track?  As much as you can I suppose…  As soon as the incident is over, I brain dump my thoughts into a note in a bulleted list – you can always come back later and add to it, or clean it up.  The nice thing about Evernote is that I can easily access it on my phone, so I can often start this brain dump while still on scene.  I’ll add a picture of the scene or any important action areas so I can recall the situation later.  If I was the IC, I’ll scan in a copy of my tactical worksheet.  Later I can attach parts of the incident audio.  

Seeing this information all in one place makes it easy to reflect on later.  As you build up a list of incidents, you can look back on them and see what keeps popping up.  Maybe your companies need to work on deploying more ground ladders.  Maybe YOU need to work on how to speak on the radio more clearly when wearing an SCBA.  One of the benefits of this system is that it’s private.  We’ll all naturally be a little more candid when we know it’s private – we’ll particularly be more honest about our own shortcomings.  And even that private acknowledgement that we have an issue will help drive us to fix it.

 The benchmark for a good job is not “the fire went out and everyone went home” – that’ll happen even if we don’t show up.  The details are what matter.  By tracking those details we can see where we need to improve.  Whether you are a backstep firefighter, company or chief officer, keeping track of your performance on incidents over time will help you identify where you can improve.  

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Posted by | Posted in Blog, Combat Ready | Posted on 18-11-2013

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Commercial Storefront FE: Don’t Just Break the Glass

These common doors may have a variety of seen or unseen reinforcements.

While it can safely be said that every response area in this country has unique challenges, the commercial storefront is one that is present in almost all areas.  Forcible entry into these buildings is not necessarily difficult, but present some unique considerations and thinking points.

Just break the glass.  That seems to be a lot of firefighter’s first thought on getting inside.  This simplistic approach will certainly create an opening from the outside to the inside, but not necessarily the way we want.  Consider the following:

  • It may not be glass.  In many areas it will be Plexiglas, lexan, plastic, or similar materials.
  • It may be reinforced by either impregnated or aftermarket “chicken wire”, have metal strips spaced across, or have other security measures to prevent you from getting in even if the glass is broken.
  • You still have to content with the crossbar or panic bar, which adds additional time and can be more difficult to remove than it looks.  You will likely end up having to contend with the scenario of eager FF’s wanting to crawl in under the panic bar – an obvious FF safety concern.
  • You will still have the lip of the door frame around the opening.  This will likely still contain glass shards that can easily rupture a hoseline.  It can also create a trip hazard that may delay rapid egress should conditions deteriorate.  This occurred in a similar scenario recently resulting in critical burn injuries to several firefighters who were unable to quickly exit when a “dog pile” occurred at the exit.

    Even the door is telling you not to try…

For all the discussion points on the potential hazards and pitfalls of “just breaking the glass”, probably the most compelling reason not to break the glass is just that if you have practice and plans in the proper techniques it is simply faster and easier to just open the door.  Take a look at the following videos:

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tHwIVuKUnKc&feature=player_embedded

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QpPtmHjSqC8&feature=player_embedded

It’s easy to see that whether you want to cut the lock or go through-the-lock, either are quite fast and eliminate all of the possible problems of breaking the glass.  Consider these options next time you are presented with the glass commercial storefront.  Discuss this issue with your crew members and practice on the techniques for defeating the “Adams Rite Lock” both manually and with a saw.  Stay safe, and stay Combat Ready.

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Posted by | Posted in Blog, Combat Ready, Tips & Skills, videos | Posted on 17-12-2012

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Learning Moments & A Forcible Entry Challenge

One of the things we always talk about regarding staying “combat ready” is using every opportunity as a learning/teaching moment.  We have an opportunity on every routine run to look at the buildings in our response area and size-up their challenges.  This allows us to think about solutions in advance.  The more of these ideas (tools) you have in your brain (toolbox) makes it more likely you’ll have the “right sized wrench” to fit the problem when you encounter it in stressful conditions during a fire.

During a medical run on the engine is exactly when we noticed these doors in an apartment building.  Neither the gate or the door is atypical for our area, but the combination of the two inside the building is unusual for us.  These gates are typically found on either the front or rear doors of many of our residences, but to find them inside an apartment building with enclosed stairs is unusual.  The gates themselves are not difficult to force, they are secured by a standard deadbolt with about a 1 throw.  Under normal circumstances, setting the adze above or below the lock and first crushing up and down then pulling the fork end out toward the lock side generally opens these fairly quickly.  However many firefighters still like to approach these with a saw, which obviously would not work well inside the building under fire conditions.

 

 What adds to the further uniqueness/challenge of this combination is the swing of the gates.  You can see in the pictures that in two of the apartments the lock side of the gate is against a right-angle wall.  Think for a moment about how this would impair your ability to force the door… You may think you would still be able to set the adze appropriately and crush/gap, however these gates have a strip of metal that covers the gap between the gate and the frame when closed.  This can be see in the picture below with the deadbolt extended.  That strip of metal is as wide as the throw of the deadbolt.  It’s a weak piece of metal, but to defeat it you would need to slide the adze in from the far side of the lock side of the gate, and in this scenario the wall would stop you from being successful.  Further, even if you got the adze into place, when you went to pull the fork end toward the lock side the Halligan would quickly contact the wall, reducing your leverage and drastically increasing the amount of force it would take to open the door (as a result of moving the fulcrum).

So what would you do?  My approach would be the hinges.  I’ve found the hinges on these types of doors to consistently be a weak point.  There is usually enough space between the frame and gate to just place the adze enough without even striking the Halligan so that a gapping (up/down) force can be applied to the hinge.  This typically breaks the welds and maybe with a little outward pull on the fork the hinge is done.  Work from top to bottom, see the video below.

 httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yy_GkPpds6k&feature=youtu.be

Rocket science?  Absolutely not.  When you see this in plain daylight and have a clear moment to think about the challenges and solutions, the door’s weaknesses are easily found.  But this is the importance of taking the time after routine runs, during on-the-air inspections, or otherwise to have a teaching/learning moment.  Talk these ideas out with yourself, your crew.  The more time you spend preparing for the fire, the better you’ll perform at the fire.

 

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Posted by | Posted in Blog, Combat Ready, Tips & Skills, Truck Company, videos | Posted on 12-12-2012

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Extending Leverage on Outward Doors

It’s common that residential buildings will feature mostly inward opening doors, while commercial buildings will feature more outward opening doors.  While the the technique for outward opening doors may be, I won’t say easier but more straightforward than an inward door, they may actually require a little more “force”.  Outward doors on commercial buildings are likely to be set in brick or concrete, consist of strong metal doors and frames, and may have multiple or higher security locking devices.

The “power position” on an outward door comes when you set the adze fully BEHIND the door.  It’s the same idea as wrapping your fingers around something fully, you’ll get the most pull.  Getting the adze behind the door gives you a few advantages:

  • 180-degrees of leverage, provided there are no obstacles.
  • In addition to pulling outward, you can work up and down using the adze to crush the door and reduce the depth the lock is set in it’s keeper.
  • You can perform several “tricks” to extend your leverage.

It is also important to set the adze FULLY behind the door – as deep as you can get it.  This moves the fulcrum closer to the door and makes causes the firefighter to do less work to exert more leverage.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x9lHoUc31z0&list=UUe0LpTPMR6iXJW4LDLoMBDw&index=1&feature=plcp

There are several methods to extend leverage on an outward door, but one is well illustrated at this box alarm in Prince George’s County, MD.  In the rear of this commercial building, firefighters encounter a metal door in metal frame, set in brick with a couple locks.  The irons firefighter from TL-33 (Kentland VFD) has already properly set his adze fully behind the door but more leverage is needed.  A few things are worth noting here:

  • The irons FF does not “spin wheels” – after a few tries he quickly realizes that plan “A” isn’t working and that we need to try something else.
  • The irons FF does not panic or get frustrated, I’ve seen frustrated FF’s in this scenario pull the bar completely out of the door which of course is in no way helpful.
  • Note the fluid teamwork with minimal communication between the members of company 33 an 37 (Ritchie VFD).   Due to previous inter-departmental training, they know what to expect of each other.  The left hand knows what the right needs before it even asks.

Just like many forcible entry skills, this option is not available to you if you haven’t purchased the right equipment, prepared it properly, and trained on it -not just as an individual, but as a crew.  If your partner doesn’t know what to do your knowledge is useless.  We shouldn’t have to have a lesson at the fire door – we should be able to resort to what we’ve always trained on.

In forcible entry remember – we can’t do anything else until we get inside.  Keep your skills sharp, have multiple plans, and DON’T GIVE UP!

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Posted by | Posted in Blog, Combat Ready, Tips & Skills, Truck Company | Posted on 15-10-2012

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Motivation

On the truck today I have a guy who’s newer on the job and regularly assigned to an engine. After about an hour of drilling on portable ladders and forcible entry he said to me “Sarge, I just don’t wanna let anyone down…” Probably one of the best things I’ve ever heard a fireman say.

I told him “well if you start with that everyday, that will give you motivation and the rest will quickly fall in line with practice”. Sometimes it’s just that simple – his motivation inspired me.

This is a team sport. We’re all counting on you to be in the right spot, with the right stuff, and the right skills, at the right time. We can’t let anyone down.

Combat Ready.

20120314-130610.jpg

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Posted by | Posted in Blog, Combat Ready | Posted on 14-03-2012

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Check your Dance Card… Part 2 “getting closer”

Dance with me?

 

In part one of “Check your Dance Card” we discussed a few items to take a look at before we enter the fire building and start our dance with the “beauty of fire.”  In part 2, we will discuss a few more specifics that we should note as we enter the structure.  Make no mistake, a constant review of this Dance Card is a must for all members… take mental notes of what you see.  You’re going to want to come home from your latest “dance” and tell all your friends all about this “beauty.”

“Ok, let’s move” the boss said, after what seemed like an eternity to you.  The reality, it was only mere seconds.  We all know that reality is often suspended when you are out on the dimly lit dance floor.  You, you’re an eager beaver, and chomping at the bit to get on with this next .  Your Officer is more cautious; he’s been burned by this “beauty” before.  He remembers the sting of her touch, especially if you are caught moving too quickly on the dance floor.  He is trying to show you the patience required, but you are still rather wet behind the ears and excitable…

This “beauty of fire” doesn’t make it easy; she beckons you closer with her dancing flames and warm lustrous glow.  Again, the Officer reels you back in…one more review before we hit the dance floor.

As you enter the fire building…

1. WHAT TYPE OF STAIRS SERVICE THE BUILDNG?

Generally we have 2 types of tread design (on the staircase steps) and 2 types of staircases. They are either “Open” (having no sides, walls or doors at the top or bottom) or “Enclosed” (having sides, walls and doors at the top and bottom).  Open tread and open staircases allow the passage of smoke, heat and fire to the floors above and are not friendly to our operation.  Enclosed steps and enclosed staircases reduce the chances of fire spread in the building (if the doors are to remain in the closed position).  It may be wise to announce the style and type of stairs to other units as they arrive, so that they know what to expect.  This is of particular importance when in larger multiple dwellings or garden apartments and there are isolated, wing, or multiple staircases that serve specific lines of apartments (i.e. do not transverse the entire building).  “Ladder X to Command; we have enclosed wing stairs, we will be using the A wing stairs to reach the fire apartment.”

 

2. IS THERE A WELL HOLE TO USE FOR THE STRETCH

The presence of a “Well Hole” the space created between the landing section of the stairs and the run of the steps themselves can be utilized for quick hoseline advancement.  It must be rehearsed prior with the Engine Co. to achieve maximum effect.  It reduces the amount of hose needed to be humped up the treads of the steps and around each newel post (i.e. 1-50’ length can travel vertically 5 floors in the well versus 1 length per floor if going up and around each set of steps, newel posts and associated landings).  “Engine 22 to members, there is a well” should be enough to let the members know.

 

3. HOW MANY APARTMENTS ON THE FLOOR

A quick stop on the floor below can get you a lay of the land.  If you bypassed the lobby and forgot to count mailboxes, count the number and note location of the apartments that you see.  Remember that depending of the way the stairs run (scissor, return etc), they may be slight variations in the layout when you get on the fire floor.

 

4. VERIFY FIRE FLOOR AND APARTMENT NUMBER/LETTER

What may have appeared to be a fire on the 3rd floor from the street may turn out to on the second floor depending on the buildings configuration as it relates to the street level. Some buildings have lobby entrances that are raised above street level, which may change your initial fire floor notifications.  Verify the fire floor and announce the apartment number or letter over the air, so that those who may be going above can pinpoint the direction they need to head.

Open Tread and Open Stairs

Well Hole

Enclosed Stairs

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Posted by | Posted in Blog, Combat Ready, Company News, Engine Company, fire-rescue-topics, firefighting-operations, Tips & Skills, training-development, training-fire-rescue-topics, Truck Company, Uncategorized | Posted on 22-02-2012