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Monday, October 27th, 2014, 12:53 pm


“We’re fortunate we didn’t lose four firefighters that day…and if things don’t change, we’re going to lose more…”

By Deputy Chief Billy Goldfeder
I remember years ago watching young firefighters in volunteer companies race to ride the front seat-after all, the radio, the sirens and the horns were the priority. In career departments, firefighters would want to “ride up” when the Lieutenant or captain had the day off, sometimes for the same reasons. I did both as many of you did-and do.

Be it the front seat or arriving in a car, the SUV or whatever, having command means you literally own that scene and you are responsible for everyone, everything and anything that can happen. It’s no BS and serious, serious stuff. I’m not sure I can emphasize that any more than so many fire service writers have over so many years.
The first interesting transformation happens (hopefully) when firefighters go from firefighter to company officer-and you have to deal with (as Chase Sargent says) the “Buddy to Boss” stuff. It’s a big deal.

Being an officer is not “easy” in career or volunteer departments. Actually, in particular, volunteer departments have the greater challenge because there is usually no first line supervisor training, and, you often end up being the boss over your own buddies, friends, pals and relatives-all members of your VFD.

What training was provided to you-or did you take to prepare you and/or qualify you to ride the front seat?

The next real interesting transformation (again, hopefully), is when a company officer goes from the front seat of the rig-to the front seat of the chiefs car, chief SUV or whatever your command officers arrive in. You get elected. You get appointed. Whatever. Suddenly, you own that scene. It’s a huge deal. You are the bottom line of every aspect and action at that incident. You ARE command, control, accountability and communication. Your “day” has come-and hopefully, those before you have provided solid and verifiable training that is actually applicable to the job you now own – and the massive responsibility you now have.

What training was provided to you-or did you take to prepare you and/or qualify you to respond and operate as a command officer-or, potentially as, THE incident commander?

When things go right-and hopefully they do purposely, it’s a good day-and that is what happens most days. Again-hopefully by design vs. “just because.”

However-when things go wrong on the fire or fire training ground, it can be life altering.

Life altering to civilians.
Life altering to your Firefighters.
Life altering to you…which includes your family and friends around you.

So many Chiefs and Firefighters that I work with following Line of Duty deaths essentially gauge their lives as “before” and “after” the death of their Firefighter. Life altering.
Take a few minutes to become very familiar with these two particular incidents involving the predictable and preventable Line of Duty deaths of two Firefighters.

These were not heroic deaths.

The first is the Line of Duty Death of  Dallas (Texas) Firefighter in a multi-family building fire. If you have every commanded (or dreamed of commanding) a fire, absolutely read this article-and the reports. It clearly identifies decisions by the incident commander as being critical factors leading to the death of a Firefighter.

Check these excerpts out: 

State and local investigative reports  show that commanders’ decisions were largely to blame for the death of a Dallas firefighter last year. A State Fire Marshal report found that the department’s commanders failed to conduct proper risk assessment, supervise personnel adequately and make the right decisions about how to battle the blaze and whether to search the buildings. The Dallas Fire-Rescue line-of-duty-death report makes similar conclusions and details confusion that night between commanders as the building burned. It also gives conflicting accounts on what the commander on scene, Deputy Chief Bobby Ross, told crews to do. 

The account of many firefighters on the scene, matches what the Fallen Firefighters longtime friend Jim Crump, a retired Dallas firefighter, had said early on in the investigation.

Crump said reading the report “made me want to cry.” He said he believes Ross was careless and didn’t follow procedures he had been taught.
“Regardless of how well-meaning he thought he was, he broke every rule that is established for a fire commander,” Crump said. “And it cost a Firefighter his life.”

“We’re fortunate we didn’t lose four firefighters that day”…. “And if things don’t change, we’re going to lose more…”

The second is the Line of Duty death of a Fire Officer during “smoke diver” training…surrounded by firefighters, officers and instructors-this Firefighter could have been saved-but wasn’t. 

Check these excerpts out:

“Firefighter Neal Smith was almost out of the second floor of the six-story training tower when he became disoriented and fell to his knees. He was one of a few to clear a bunker with air left in his tank; others quickly depleted their supply as instructors, perched above the rafters, threw firecrackers and lassoed the trainees’ air tanks with bungee cords. Trainees had to slide beneath a plywood plank screwed to the entryway 30 inches above the floor and conduct a counter-clockwise sweep of the room while keeping their right hands on a wall. Visibility was impaired by a fog machine and by a web of fire hoses and landscaping timbers hanging above a floor littered with golf balls and marbles.

Weighed down by 75 pounds worth of gear that included an air tank, mask, coat and trousers still saturated with sweat from the previous day’s exercises, trainees had to navigate their way through pallets, tires, metal pipes and burned-out box springs to reach a 2-by-10 wooden box with one end propped upon a barrel. The men had to crawl through the box, which spilled out into a floored elevator shaft, and then crawl back through to continue the sweep.

Smith’s teammate went through first. By the time Smith shimmied inside to look for the hypothetical victim, his internal temperature was pushing 108 degrees, and his brain was swelling. Instead of continuing the search when he crawled out of the box, he circled back in.

An instructor spent five minutes yelling at Smith to get out of the box and continue his search. Smith didn’t make it far: At a 55-gallon drum only a few feet from the box, Smith dropped to his knees. The instructor yelled at Smith to move. When that didn’t work, the instructor ordered Smith’s teammate “to go around him”….. he turned and saw the reflective tape on Smith’s helmet. There was no movement.

The teammate made it out to the second floor landing when the call went out: 

Mayday. Mayday. Mayday.


They administered CPR, then tried a defibrillator, but Smith’s skin, slick with sweat and hot to the touch, prevented a connection. Ten minutes later, an ambulance rushed Smith to the emergency room. Doctors swathed Smith’s overheated body in ice packs and cooling blankets. They cranked up cooling fans and shot him up with cold liquids. None of it would save his life.

At the end of the two-day course with 22 trainees, 13 completed the course, two students had washed out, two others went to the hospital, and four students did not return for the second day, saying they had safety concerns or the course wasn’t as advertised. And Smith was dead.
According to the subsequent investigations, what may have saved him — or at least increased his odds — was one very simple thing: a tub of ice water at the scene.

(Below are links to the reports and related media articles)

PLEASE take some time to read the entire articles and the related reports. If these reports do anything, they remind us that like every firefighter, training as a command officer never stops. Actually-it has to START. What training do your officers receive to ride the front seat? To arrive first, size up and make immediate decisions?

What are the continuing education and training courses made available to your officers? Everyday is a training day…from reading, reviewing, studying, simulators, hands on, live drills or whatever-the “coaching staff” of the fire departments responsibility to take care of their “players” is never ending-it’s a massive responsibility-and it is not for everyone.

These reports also remind us of our total no BS responsibility to take care of our people in what can certainly be tough conditions….but that is our 24/7/365 commitment and responsibility. While our people operate in tough conditions-and just like we expect them to perform as expected operating “interior”-they must be able to expect and count on us on the outside, in command roles, to do what we must do – to take care of them.

And lastly, these reports remind us that in 2014-people are asking questions, families want to know, investigations are conducted, and attorneys are lined up to help them determine the truth on how and why their loved ones died. They are asking you. Your Officers. Your Chiefs. Your Commissioners.

Command is nothing new in the fire service. However, the defined responsibility, the tasks, complexity and expectations have evolved over the years into what we know as today as an extremely intense role requiring training and skills like never before.

Need more proof? Seriously?






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