Saturday, July 31, 2010

We don't need no Stinking Standards

Rhett over at the Fire Critic is Hosting this months edition of the First Due Blog Carnival. As this is both a Fire and EMS blog page and I have already put in a submission or two on the EMS side, I felt obliged to contribute something on the Fire Side of things, although this subject: What should the minimum standards be for firefighters?, is not as "simple" as Rhett would have us think. This subject also feels a lot like work for me because I teach this stuff and should really be working on my lesson plans (read: 'Select a subject and get moving') for next season's round of OSHA classes.
Currently, as Rhett points out, there are no consistent standards throughout the USA for Firefighters and some states have no stated minimums at all. These states mostly leave the setting of standards to the Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ) which in most cases are something like a Board of Fire Commissioners, or Executive Board in a in private Department.
I am a volunteer and can only speak to that area. In most states, there are minimums for career Firefighters as far as I know, but in my state, it is left up to the AHJ to decide what requirements they place on Volunteers. This passes the responsibility onto the AHJ so they can get sued instead of the State.
I have seen it run the gamut from requiring Nationally certified as a Firefighter II (pro-board cert) AND EMT-B for the minimum entry level, to having a pulse and being able to fog a mirror. I know of a Department not far from me that requires 3 airpack drills to be certified as interior qualified. I hate running calls in their district, I never feel safe.
For Volunteers, I feel that the equivalent of a nationally certified Firefighter one is acceptable as ENTRY LEVEL into the firefighting game, but it should not stop there and certifications should continue over time. There should also be a continuing ed program which can be rolled up into normal training cycles to keep the firefighter abreast of changes in technology, new threats and tactics. This stuff never ends and we all need to stay up on the things that can kill us. If you don't have time to train, you don't have time for the job either.
What's more important to me is the training our Officers receive and how well they stay up on what is current or even have basic scene management and decision making skills.
I have seen Officers at the assistant chief level and ABOVE that could not find their way around a scene is they had a map glued to their nose. These people scare the hell out of me because my ass is in their hands when I am on their job. Officers need to have required standard training because what I see in the volunteer service shows me that too many of the LODD's are caused by poor leadership.
That adjacent Department I mentioned has NO pre-plans! On a working fire job they shoot from the hip. They assign a water supply officer(WSO), interior attack officer, and a few others, but none of them are held accountable, nor do they talk to each other. I spent 5 minutes at a recent fire trying to find out who was the WSO only to find him at the REAR side of the structure advising the interior attack crew. He had tankers lined up coming in from both ends of a single lane road and we had no way to move water through. It was a mess. They also did not call a RIT team or a rehab crew in until after the fire was knocked down and their rehab crew staged at the end of the road 'waiting for patients'. This is all training related and the lack of working fires to tune up on.
All the ICS stuff is required and makes sense even if it is overplayed a bit, but what about managing a simple Single Family Dwelling fire? This is where many of us get killed or hurt. Why can't we come up with a practical exam that covers this basic skill and make sure EVERY Officer passes it with 98% accuracy? Lets put less emphasis on friction loss calculations and more effort into making sure any Officer in Charge can run a basic scene and put the right teams, apparatus, and support in place.
While we're at it, lets also teach all our Officers how to do a look test on their people and have the courage to pull them out when they don't pass. This would knock our LODD's down by 50%. Don't believe me? Read the next 6 LODD reports that come out and tell me if that Firefighter would not be here today if SOMEBODY had looked at them and recognized that something was wrong and MADE SURE they got the help they needed right then and there. I'll bet you a nickel that half of them would have survived if that simple function would have been completed. But that's a subject for another (long) post.

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