Thursday, May 20, 2010

Fightin' Fire Like The King Of Pop

So, after a conversation with my dad last week about some new fire tactics they are training to recruits up at the academy, I put out a tweet asking if anyone had ever heard of "Michael Jackson Firefighting." Seems that no one that follows me (all 52 of them) had ever heard of it. Though I will say, the idea of moonwalking around the fire ground did seem to pop into a few peoples minds at the thought of "Fighting Fire Like The King Of Pop." So, now that I'm firmly settled into my week long vacation here in Chicago with the lady, I've got a chance to explain myself.

The topic of this is really pretty straight forward, it just requires a slight departure from "normal thinking" (at least on the West Coast).

So, we all know flashover will typically occur at temperatures of around 900-1100 degrees at the ceiling. This is typically when the gases put off by all the toxic crap in the room will ignite and turn your room contents fire into an oven. If I recall what I've been told, this typically translates to around 500 degrees mid-wall. And we all know PPE makes us somewhat immune to temperature changes of say, an increase from 250 to 350 degrees in many cases.  And for many departments (including mine) a TIC isn't available (though I certainly wish it was).

During pre-entry procedures at the door, I will pull my glove off and feel for the radiant heat through the door to find the heat level inside, then signal it to the crew. I think that is a pretty standard practice. Once inside, we stay low and advance/search around in a systematic fashion, I think that's also pretty standard. But if you asked me to tell you what the temperature is at the floor, I wouldn't be able to tell you any more accurately than "not bad" or "too f'ing hot." When we're searching for victims, we are searching in "tenable spaces" or, areas/structures where someone could still be alive. If it's 400 degrees at the floor where we're crawling on our knees, it is VERY unlikely anyone is going to be alive in that area. And if there is no chance of fire victim survival, then we need to transition to a recovery effort after the fire has been tapped and move on from there. As the saying goes, "risk a lot to save a lot, risk a little to save a little and risk nothing to save nothing."

So how do we determine if the temperature is too hot at the floor for fire victims to survive? How do we tell if the temperature in the room has increased to the point where there is a likelihood of flashover, or even to the point where it's about to happen?  Well, this is where we take a pointer from Little Michael...

What they are teaching guys in the fire lab is to take a glove off and raise your hand up towards the ceiling.  Evidentially it is human instinct to rapidly withdraw from heat at 400 degrees (something which I have tested over an oven door and found to be pretty damn accurate.  At around 350 degrees it wasn't bad, at around 400 degrees, I couldn't force myself to keep my hand there for more than a second or two.  Now, I'm sure you're probably thinking the same thing I was when I first heard this, "I'm not interested in burning the crap out of my hand."  Well, interestingly enough, our body naturally pulls away from the heat before that can happen.  It takes more than 400 degrees to burn the skin, as proven by the fact that everyone went through this lab without burned hands (including my dad).  Matter of fact, there was little evidence of any significant heat exposure at all (at most it looked about like a minor sunburn).  My next concern was steam burns.  Well, if you're getting a good knock on the fire, you're watching your thermal level, using the right pattern (read: Not fogging the shit out of the room), and the space is ventilated (like it should have been before we went inside), there really is very little risk (almost none) of steam buildup down where we're at.

It is my understanding that this tactic came from a local department, which has been using this tactic for some time.  Evidentially, they go in and fight fire with only 1 glove on in many cases so they can continually read the heat and get a better idea of where they are at so far as temperature in relation to flashover risk.  It was these guys that coined the phrase "Michael Jackson Firefighting."  I will also mention that this department runs quite a few fires, so I feel comfortable saying that if this is something they are doing, they have had plenty of opportunity to test it out.  At first, I was not particularly supportive of the idea.  However, having some time to think about it some more, talking with some guys who's opinions I value and trust, and trying my little oven experiment, I have decided that it is in interesting idea, which could have great potential.   I'm planning to get into one of these fire behavior classes at the Academy in the very near future, once I've gone through the full program and can speak not only from personal experience, but also with full knowledge of the curriculum and science behind it, I will write another post about all this stuff.

Until then, I will continue to research and read up so I will actually know what I'm talking about.

Stay safe, stay low and wear your seat belts.


Tuesday, May 11, 2010


Integrity, or "doing the right thing when no one else is looking" is a topic that came up last night while I was working my Security gig. Not in the sense you might thing though. This particular example of integrity surprised the crap out of me and taught me something about myself.

I got a call to go deal with a crazy lady who was refusing to leave the hotel lobby where I work. When I got there, I find a 60 something year old lady, normal looking (clean), well dressed (didn't smell like sweat and bum juice), etc. She has two bags, one of them was a paper shopping bag, the other was a little red suitcase. I introduce myself and she instantly launches into a 1 minute run down of her life's problems, most notably, that the hotel won't let her "buy a room" for a few weeks so she can "get her family back together." I listened intently, nodding and agreeing as she talked. See, this isn't my first rodeo, I deal with lots of crazy people, lots of drunk people, and lots of homeless people, every night, so I'm fairly well versed in the "art" of talking to crazies.

After about 5 minutes of talking back and forth with this lady, she agreed to leave. She picked up her bags and walked out the door into the parking lot. This lot is poorly lit, no cameras, no people, and there isn't really anything out there. Basically, she exited out the wrong side of the lobby. So, I followed her outside to tell her that she should go the opposite direction if she's looking for somewhere to go or stay. As I approached her outside, she screamed at me to stop following her and took off running towards the bushes. I figured I'd give her a little space, especially since theres a big fence on the other side of the bushes, and she wasn't going very far. So, after a few minutes, I walked back over to where she had gone to try and direct her back towards civilization. As I approached the bushes, I pulled out my flashlight and lit up the ground around the bushes, looking to see if I could see her feet or see her sitting down somewhere. I couldn't find her, but I did find the paper shopping bag she had been carrying. I walked up to it and looked inside, all I saw was a bunch of papers, mostly what appeared to be old bills and notes (pretty common with mentally unstable people, seems they keep this kind of stuff for comfort). I called in on my radio that I'd lost track of the lady, but that I found one of her bags. I said that it appeared to be full of trash, so I'd be tossing it in the garbage on my way back.

As I was walking back, something about it just made me feel like I should try harder to find this lady. So, I walked back over to where I'd just looked, and decided to look again. After about another minute, I kind of got bored and frustrated and decided to look in the bag again to see if there was anything in it that would identify her so I could call her by name. As I moved the bills and notes scribbled on pieces of cardboard around in this bag, I saw a big wad of cash. Like, half an inch thick, wad of cash. So I say to myself, "hmmm." So I pulled a huge stack of crap out of her bag and looked in the bottom to see if there was anything else inside. There were 2 more big wads of money, looked like it was mostly twenties with a few fifties and small bills mixed in. It was really weird. Not just because this lady had probably three thousand dollars in the bottom of a shopping bag full of trash, but because she had made the effort to hide it, yet she left it behind.

So here I am, standing in a dark parking lot, all by myself, no cameras around, no crazy lady, and I'm holding a "bag of trash" with a couple grand in it. Now, as with anyone else, I have financial problems, I never seem to make enough to really get ahead on anything, and I'm always finding new stuff that I desperately wish I could buy (right now I'm dreaming of an iPad). Yet none of this crossed my mind. Two things entered my mind, the first one was FOOLS, and the second was "I gotta find this chick and get her her stuff back." Now, you're probably wondering why the FOOLS organization popped into my head. Well, let me tell you. If you go to their website, you'll see a series of acronyms under their logo. A few months ago, I wrote them on the back of my notepad for work. I also wrote them on the underside of my baseball hat that I wear at the Fire Department. Anyone who is familiar with the organization will probably be able to guess where this is going. So, as I stand there, easily able to just put this stack of cash in my pocket, walk away and have a VERY good trip to Chicago next week, all that went through my head was "DTRT" or "Do The Right Thing." It was like it was second nature. It wasn't that I had a thought about keeping the money, and then my conscience kicked in and I changed my mind, it just didn't come up. It was as if "who I am" has changed from when I was younger, and I've become not only a better person, but someone who follows and lives by a code of ethics created by those who came before us.

See, the interesting thing is, I don't practice or observe any particular religion. I believe what I believe, do what I do, and that's how I live my life. I think most anyone would agree that a great deal of what you "take away" from religion is a code of ethics, a way of living your life day to day, a value system and a means of making decisions and dealing with problems. Well, I guess I could say that the values of the Fire Service are my religion in a way. Because as I found out last night, my values, decision making and my personal integrity, are based off of the same core fundamentals and values that make the Fire Service so strong, and the family so amazing. I can honestly say that 5 or 6 years ago, I would have stood there looking that money trying to decide what I should do, but today, I'm a different person. I've not only matured and grown, but I've found direction and influence in my life. Where some people find religion to guide them, I found the Fire Service to guide me. This is my purpose, and I will live for this purpose.

I hope that when you read this, you can relate to it in some way. Take a second to think about times when you were "tested," feel free to share them. I think it's very important that we all take the time to explain what our values, beliefs and fundamentals are to others, especially anyone in the Fire Service. But I think it's even more important to live them, and be an example of what a Firefighter is supposed to be, every minute of every day. My dad was telling a story over dinner the other night, a story about a Fireman who got arrested for DUI off duty. The news headlines read like this: "Firefighter arrested for DUI" "Firefighter arrested for driving drunk" "Firefighter arrested on DUI charges" and so on. Those sorts of headlines are damaging to the public image of all of us in some way, not because we are all like that, but because the public trusts us, and they look up to us. But when someone does something to violate that trust, well, it's sort of like the saying "1 oh shit wipes out 10 atta boys." We all need to remember that the difference between doing something stupid and getting arrested as an off duty Kroger cashier and as an off duty Firefighter is that listing our profession in the headline will catch EVERYONES attention.

Let's all just take a moment to remember that we set an example for how others will behave. Whether it's the yellow helmeted rook's, the kids that stop by the station, or the people that see us driving down the road WEARING OUR SEATBELTS, everyone is always looking at us. How can they not? They all wanted to be us when they were little.

So I guess the take away point of this blog today is this, find what drives you, what keeps you focused, what guides you through your decisions in life, and build on it. Share it with others, especially new people. We have no one to blame but ourselves if the new people don't share the same values we do. And remember, if you ever get lost, there's a great code to live by right at the top of the FOOLS homepage.


PS: After about another 10 minutes, I found the crazy lady and gave her her stuff back. She didn't even seem to notice that she'd lost it.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

What it means to me

So recently, I've started listening to The Firefighter Netcast, which is a web based talk show (sort of like a radio show) specifically related to the Fire Service. It's a great program with awesome guests and interviews. The episode I listened to tonight got me thinking though, and I decided to write about it. While cleaning the kitchen (yes honey, I cleaned the kitchen AND did the dishes while you were at work), I was listening to the conversation between the show hosts (Rhett Fleitz and John Mitchell) with Tiger Schmittendorf and Tom Merrill (Fire Chief, Snyder, NY FD) about growing up in and around the Fire Service. The moment in the conversation where I stopped what I was doing and said out loud, "I've done that!" was when one of the guests talked about pulling the garden hose around the yard putting out imaginary fires, he went on to make a comment about how mom had never had such well watered plants. If you read a little further, you'll get the rest of the story on that...

I've been in the Fire Service for a little while. I've run some good calls, run some bad calls. I've been through some training, taken some classes and learned some invaluable lessons. A lot of what I know though, has been passed on from my dad, who has been in the Fire Service for 20+ years. I don' know exactly when he started, but he rode tail board, so he's been on the job longer than anyone in my Department. He and I talk all the time about Fire related stuff, just like all us guys do, and whenever we find something to share we pass it along (for instance; I just got him listening to the Firefighter Netcast). My dad just recently changed jobs, and is now a Chief at the Fire Academy. Knowing him, I can honestly say that I know he will teach safety, core values, good judgement and solid tactics to everyone who passes through his classes. I'm proud to say he's my dad and anyone who knows me, knows I talk about him a lot. That being said, I think you'll understand why I say that I feel like this is "in my blood" (as so many of us frequently say). There was a time when I thought I wanted to go into Law Enforcement, I took some college classes, did some ride alongs, even went to a couple tests. But the reality was, my heart just wasn't in it. I knew, deep down inside, that I didn't really want to be a Cop. The reality was, at that time, I really didn't know what I wanted to do. Or at least, I wasn't ready to accept it.

As a little kid, I can remember growing up around the Fire Service. I remember bbq's at Fire families houses, hanging out at the station for hours and days on end, waterball, trap shoots (hose + frisbee = good times), late night calls, and many many many hours putting out the worlds most stubborn tree fire in our front yard. I remember when my dad deployed on a wildland fire, I spent the next week in the backyard in BDU's and a hard hat with a pulaski and a shovel digging line. I can remember a time when I was really little where we were at a two story shopping center and I was afraid of the escalator, of course this was one of those parent and kid holding hands, parent gets on and kid suddenly jumps back while parent rides to the bottom situations. So while I was standing at the top of this escalator crying, probably 5-6 years old, downright terrified of getting on this escalator, an on duty Fireman who happened to be walking by and came up to see if I was ok. After a quick exchange between him and my dad, he took my hand, reassured me and helped me get on the escalator to be reunited with my dad at the bottom. I can't remember being scared of escalators after that either.

My mom tells a story from when I was REALLY young, like 3-4, where I would always beg, cry and scream if they didn't stop at the fire station to look at the fire trucks every time we went by. She tells me that sometimes, they would take an alternate route home, avoiding the station entirely, just because I would throw such a tantrum if I didn't get to go inside. I don't remember these incidents personally, but I don't doubt that they happened.

Fast forward to today, I'm an Engineer now (for you non-fire types, that means I drive the Fire Engine), and I am still just like when I was a little kid. You can ask my girlfriend, just tonight we were in the car and I got all excited because a Fire Engine went through the intersection going on a run. I'm like most Firefighters I guess, I get excited whenever I see a big red truck in hopes that it's a Fire Engine. If I see that silver ladder (with or without bucket) on top, well, I'll be talking about that sighting for the rest of the day. And if I'm so lucky as to see Rescue 1, I'll be making phone calls to tell people about it. That's just how I am. I really don't think it will ever get old and I really don't think I will ever grow out of it. When I hear a Federal Q and an air horn, I will get up and run outside to look for it. Just ask my girlfriend, I've instantly become a 5 year old in front of her many times. To me, as with many Firefighters, this isn't just a job or a hobby, it's a way of life. It defines who I am. This profession, it is a way of living your life. It's a commitment to other people, not just people that need help, but to your family, your friends and your coworkers. I am closer to the guys I run calls with than I am to almost all of my family. And they feel more like family than many people with my same last name.

Whenever someone who "doesn't drink from the same cup as we do" (As Tiger so perfectly put it) asks me "What's it all about" I try and explain it like this; we depend on each other. Not in the sense of "I'm moving next week, can you help me?" We depend on each other in the sense of "I'm on RIT, and you know that if anything goes wrong inside, I will be coming in to get you out or I will goddamn well die trying." As a side note, when I was moving recently, one of the guys offered me his truck to move some furniture. As I later found out, he's never let anyone else drive his truck, let alone take it for the day. And that's just how we are. If I need help with something, I don't even need to ask for help, just mention it and we volunteer. And it's because of that bond that I really only hang out with other Firefighters. Pretty much all my friends are Firefighters, and pretty much all we talk about is Fire stuff. I'm sure it gets really, really boring and aggravating for my girlfriend to sit and listen to me go on and on about this stuff, and I know my mom thinks it's boring too, but I can't help it. It's just how I am.

I would like to take just a moment to say that my parents have always been very supportive of me in whatever I wanted to do, and I love them both very much. Without the examples they both set, I wouldn't be who I am today. I also want to say that my girlfriend is the only person I've ever known aside from my parents that has truly been supportive of me. I know that it isn't always easy for her, and I can't imagine how much she must worry sometimes, but she's always there with a smile and words of encouragement for me. I love her for so many reasons, but that's one of the biggest ones. I don't know how I did this job before I met her, but I do remember it was a lot harder than it is now. It pays to surround yourself with people that support you...

Firefighting is in my blood, I can feel it. It's who I am, and it's who I want to be. Even today, at just shy of 26 years old, I still Run to the Curb every time I hear sirens.


Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Back on shift (and my first post too!)

Well for most of you, this will be your first time reading one of my blog posts. I have written on two blogs previously, both of which were about popular as Hillary Clinton is in Texas. This one is different though, dare I say it, this one is special. This one will be about things that people are actually interested in. Some examples of upcoming topics include; the Fire Service, EMS, training, cool stuff for work and training, safety, and of course, me complaining about how calls don't always go my way. So, with that, here's my first blog post, which I belive will just about touch on all those topics in one shot.

So, as the title "back on shift" suggests, I'm back on shift. I'm working my first full shift at my volunteer department in about 3 weeks. So, I'm the BLS half of a Firefighter / Paramedic rig tonight. With tonight being "drill night" the shift has started off pretty slow. The training topics we were supposed to cover tonight included search and rescue, RIT, and calling a May-Day. We started off with a powerpoint presentation, punctuated by some pretty solid discussion on search and rescue techniques. After we got done with the powerpoint, we headed outside to get set up to run some scenarios. Once the bay was smoked up (with what turned out to be a very impressive little smoke machine that filled the app bay almost to the floor), the assigned crews recieved their orders and made entry. I was assigned to RIT with my partner from the Medic unit, so he and I stood just outside with all our gear ready and listened intently to the radio. After about 15 minutes of left hand wall / right hand wall searching, we wrapped it up and began putting all the equipment back in service.

Not a moment too soon either as one of our Engines got toned for a mutual aid run just as they were getting it back in service. Evidentially they ended up driving quite some distance across the South end of the county to get to the call. We didn't see them for almost an hour and a half. No matter what anyone says, rural FD/EMS is very different. Using my so-so map skills, I determined that their scene was about 45 minutes from the nearest hospital, and over an hour from a trauma center. Fortunately for all involved, the pt wasn't bad off and didn't go anywhere.
After everyone headed home, we fired up the bbq and got ready for dinner. Nothing quite like bbq'ing a steak the size of a brick on the apron of a fire station. Add in some Rice a' Roni, garlic bread and home made colcannon, and we had ourselves quite a feast.

Now that the dinner is done, and the dayroom is cleaned up, I have some time to sit back and relax. As a side note, I put my "EMS 2.0" pin on my helmet today, you can learn more about EMS 2.0, as well as Chronicles of EMS by clicking on the links.

With all of that said, I really don't have much else to talk about at the moment. I'm going to go out into the bay and play with my new (to me) fire axe. It's one of the sweet Fire Axe Inc. pickheaded ones. 32 inch handle and a 6lb head, I love it. One of my good friends just hooked me up with it, as well as the leather scabbard to go with it. I will probably post some sort of write up/pics about that in the next few days. But for now, I'm still trying to get used to wearing an axe and a pack.

Anyway, thanks for reading. Stay safe. And wear your seatbelt!