Author: Adam Garrett

Reading Smoke Signals: How Skilled Firefighters Use Smoke to Determine the Characteristics of a Fire

firefighters reading smoke signals

One of the most important skills all firemen must possess in his situational awareness tool bag is the ability to read smoke.  A fire and its subsequent smoke does not delineate between incident commander, officer, operator or a probationary member. Though not an exact science and heralded as only privy to experienced crew members, the ability to read the smoke at any position within the company can help those responding to the incident make better tactical decisions.  Consequently, everyone at the incident should be armed with the ability to read smoke. Smoke can help first responders determine the fires location, growth, toxicity, direction of travel. In the case of a structure fire it helps us predict hostile fire events like smoke explosions, backdrafts and flashovers. In fact, the author of The Art of Reading Smoke, David W. Dodson a fireman that has spent 33 years learning and teaching on the subject says: “Reading smoke can tell us what is happening now and, more importantly, what is going to happen in the future,” said Dodson. “Reading smoke can tell us how big or intense a fire is, maybe where the fire is,” he said. “Watching how fast it is changing can tell if we have seconds or minutes before something happens.”
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How to Justify Your Fire Budget When Seeking Government Aid

type 1 fire pumper

Institutions like well-funded schools and effective law enforcement are often a gauge for the value and health of any community. They attract business that is essential for growth and stability. For many communities, the public coffers are limited and desperate, forcing these public institutions to compete for dollars in any way they can. They’re using advanced metrics to justify their budgets while committees use these metrics to judge the institution’s value to the community. Throw in other concerns, such as real estate values and insurance premiums, and you can have a very complex system to measure the effectiveness and value of what one organization brings to the community.

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How to Recruit More Volunteer Firefighters

The first organized volunteer firefighting service has a rich history dating back to early Eighteenth century in Boston.  In 1711 the Mutual Fire Societies was formed to combat the ever growing presence of destructive fires in the fast growing English Colonies.  The early group of volunteers was described by Benjamin Franklin, a prominent volunteer firefighter, as “a club or society of active men belonging to each fire engine, whose business is to attend all fires with it whenever they happen.”  The premise was simple, when fire emerged from a member of the Mutual Fire Society’s dwelling, other members of the club mobilized into organized units to battle the blaze.  Each society had approximately twenty members and is credited with being the first volunteer brigade of firefighters. As residents sought further protection from fire, statesman such as Franklin took notice.  Franklin’s progressive thought aimed to provide whole communities the advantage of protecting all the property of the community. Formed in Philadelphia, each group of volunteers banded together in small groups of 30.  The demographics of group volunteers represented the diversity that the city was experiencing in the early 1700s, consisting of professionals, merchants, and trades people. The volunteer departments paid for their own equipment and placed it in advantageous places close to a source of water and other firefighting infrastructure.  All groups were aligned with protecting their collective interests in the community and staffing was adequate.

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Types of Fire Engines and How to Distinguish The Differences Between Them

types of apparatus

Fire engines have advanced throughout the last four centuries to help protect the land and citizens of this nation.  The first fire engines were human propelled water pumps with no room for personnel. Around the end of the 1800s, the threat of fire within densely populated areas brought about paid firefighters equipped with horses to pull the early apparatus.  The modern day fire engine emerged in the 1960s armed with water pumps, a reservoir, and enclosed seats for the crew.  As the threats of fire began to change, so did the specialization of the fire engine on scene. In its most basic form, fire engines are equipped with hoses, water, equipment, and personnel that can aggressively fight the fire.  Let’s take a look at how the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) Standard 1901, Standard for Automotive Fire Apparatus classifies the vehicles by type and function.

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Why Structural Firefighters Need Wildland PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) Too

wildland fire gear

Everyday firefighters selflessly work in varied and complex environments that increase their risk of injury and death.  Each year the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) releases studies conducted for the previous year to aid in prevention of firefighter loss of life.  They meticulously report on firefighter deaths and injuries to provide national statistics on their frequency, extent, and characteristics.  Earlier this year, the NFPA reported that there were 69 firefighter fatalities and 62,085 firefighter injuries while on duty in 2016.  Of the 69 firefighters who died while on duty in 2016, 39 were volunteer firefighters, 19 were career firefighters, and eight were employees of federal land management agencies.  An important part of the yearly study centers around developing a better understanding of how these fatalities and nonfatal injuries can assist in identifying corrective actions which could help minimize the inherent risks of firefighter work.  One method of data collection utilized by the NFPA is reviewing standardized incident forms. These documents are sent to the fire departments involved in an incident requesting information on the type of protective equipment worn, the ages and ranks of the firefighters injured, and a description of circumstances that led to injury.  A recurring reason cited within the data as one of the factors leading to injury or death was the incorrect use of or absence of personal protective equipment (PPE) worn by the firefighter. PPE designed for the correct task and firefighting ground offers the crew member the ability to perform the job while reducing the risk of injury or loss of life.

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Fire Chiefs: How to Set Your Fire Department Apart From the Rest

firefighter teamwork

The process of recruiting, selecting, and retaining talent in a fire organization is one of the most difficult challenges a leader can face.  Everyone has read or experienced first-hand a story about successfully hiring a recruit and then having the probationary firefighter get hurt within his first days of employment, experience irreconcilable performance issues, or worst of all, bring discredit to the department who they were sworn to protect.  To avoid the unnecessary waste of time, money, and resources devoted to hiring individuals who will not be a good fit, a statement of principles attached to your recruitment process is essential. A statement of principles in its simplest form is a set of beliefs that define your department values and overall philosophy. These standards set by the leadership of the department enable desirable recruits to gain vital transparency on how your department sets itself apart from other fire organizations.  Implementing a set of organizational principles now will also help influence your current talent to start embodying the culture that other firefighters will want to be a part of for years to come. As always, the values that you set out for your department must be those that you hold dear and are ultimately held accountable to as well. The statement of principles you define for your department can be as varied as the individuals you set out to influence, here are a few suggestions that you may want to consider.

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How to Improve Diversity in Your Fire Department and Why It’s Important

firefighter diversity

Demographic trends indicate that women and minorities are the fastest-growing segments of the U.S. workforce. As of 2012, women accounted for nearly half of the workforce, while minorities made up 36 percent of the workforce. However, this growth is not reflected in the fire service industry.  According to the NFPA, women made up just over 3 percent of firefighters, while minorities made up less than 20 percent. As people of different nationalities, religions, and genders choose the fire service for a career, fire organizational leadership and firefighters themselves must adapt to the changing demographic of the communities they serve.

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Women Are Beginning to Take More Leadership Roles in the Fire Service

women leaders in fire service

Since the beginning of the women’s rights movement in 20th century America, women have taken on leadership roles all across the nation. From corporate executives to politicians, females have gained authoritative positions within numerous career paths. However, in some male-dominated industries, women have struggled to reach these leadership roles. One such industry is the fire service.     

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Recent Active Shooter Incidents Prompt NFPA to Fast Track Standards for First Responders

nfpa shooter response

Recent shootings like the Florida school shooting earlier this month have no doubt sparked debate and controversy over effective response and prevention methods. During the last five years the United States has been inundated with at least 14 prominent, high-casualty producing active shooter incidents. This has forced police, fire, and EMS to change tactics to handle these unfortunate incidents. The locations where incidents occur have been shown to be a school, an office complex, a fast food restaurant, a warehouse, or as you are passing by a freeway overpass. It is clear that this type of situation requires all agencies to practice readiness and have a clear understanding of what actions are needed, who should take them, and when. Police organizations already have been training their personnel with Immediate Action-Rapid Deployment tactics. This training employs immediate deployment of law enforcement resources to ongoing, life-threatening situations where delayed deployment could otherwise result in death or injury to innocent persons. The introduction of National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 3000, Standard for Preparedness and Response to Active Shooter and/or Hostile Events seeks to provide direction to fire personnel in the event a situation like this occurs in the future.  Let’s highlight some of the important points of the standard that might help you or your firefighters in the future.

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What are the Different Ranks of Firefighters?

The fire service has a rich history dating back to the 17th century when New Amsterdam established the colonies’ first fire fighting system in 1647. During the early years, fire organizations were social groups within the community that sought to put out fires occurring in nearby metro areas. However, when fires ravaged cities like Chicago and New York, the lives of thousands of people were in danger. The public quickly demanded that fire service institutions be organized in cities and towns to protect life and property.

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