The most important tool you will have is your turnout gear. You cannot do your job correctly unless you have a good set of bunker gear and know how to operate in it.
He is screaming at the top of his lungs and yells that if they can’t take it, “then you should go get a job at McDonalds because that’s where you belong.” There may be a colorful adjective, or maybe an adverb in the live version of his performance, because it is the movies. So while scrolling through Instagram the other day, I came upon this same short movie clip and it was making a little different statement. It was saying that if you were more concerned about your safety as a firefighter, than aggressive fire and search tactics, then you should go, well you know the line by now. I am all about being an aggressive firefighter and being a member of what would be described as an aggressive department. In fact here are a few things that will help you become better prepared to be that aggressive firefighter or The Wolf!
Know Your Gear
The most important tool you will have is your turnout gear. You cannot do your job correctly unless you have a good set of bunker gear and know how to operate in it. I am sure you have been through the drill of quick dressing for time, but you must learn not only how to put it on quickly, but truly know and understand your gear. Be a student of how your turn-out coat and pants are assembled, understand what material is utilized to make the entire ensemble, how it reflects or dissipates heat and what layers of protection are in the gear. Become that go to person on turnout gear in your department, the one that serves on the selection committee and makes the gear recommendation representing the other members.
Work to develop your dexterity to function on the fire ground in your gloves. Be skilled enough that once you put your gloves on you never need to take them off. Have the capacity to perform every required task with your gloves on. Purchase good gloves and take care of them, and they will save your hands! Often we see firefighters that have been caught in situations and were burned, and I would safely say that many have burned hands because they didn’t have their gloves on. I understand this is a bold statement, but I also know that if you recognize that you must learn to wear your gloves from the moment you don your other gear, you significantly increase your chances of not getting your hands injured.
Understanding your gear also includes your Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA). Learn every valve, how the regulators work, how the PASS device (Personal Alert Safety System) operates and how to repair it. If possible, become a certificated repair tech for your organization, which not only benefits you personally, but also the department and will allow you to gain as much knowledge possible of the entire SCBA.
Tools of the Trade
Once you have mastered your gear, it is a normal progression to move to the tools you will need to become that aggressive firefighter. Training shouldn’t be the only time that you handle or operate tools that are required on the fire ground. Just as you inspect the fire apparatus every shift you should take time to not only ensure that the tool is working properly but truly operate the tool as you would at the fire scene.
For example, we have all taken the chain saw or vent saw off the truck every morning and started the engine, then placed it back on the truck, thinking that we have inspected the saw and it is now ready for the next call that it may be required at. More than once I have a seen a firefighter at an emergency scene that couldn’t operate a chain saw, which can be a highly dangerous piece of equipment if handled incorrectly. This is why it’s so important to take that saw and use it, run several tanks of gas through it cutting up some type of wood. I have taken an unskilled recruit firefighter that has never used a chain saw before to a wood yard, and just let them cut up log after log to just become comfortable with the saw. It is a much safer and controlled environment than attempting to learn how to cut with a saw on a roof at night.
So, learn that saw, what type of motor it has, what type of fuel it uses and why. How to swap out the chain for a new one in the dark, and how to sharpen the old chain to be as sharp as the new one. Ensure that you keep it clean and ready for the next call, now that you are prepared to use it. Do this with all of the other tools on the truck as well. Never let a shift go by that you do not have a tool off the truck and training on it in great detail. You should be the master of all of the tools at the fire ground.
Over the last few years there has been a significant amount of new developments, discussion and training on fire behavior. So there can be no excuse for you to not become highly proficient on the subject. From Underwriters Firefighter Safety Research Institute and National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to the many other training and research websites and videos online, there is an abundant amount of information out there. Make time to take advantage of these many resources and develop a vast knowledge on how fire grows and travels throughout a residential or commercial structure. This will allow you to better understand your everyday job.
Know Your Enemy
Chief Frank Brannigan once wrote “The Building is your Enemy.” What he was saying, was that you should “Know your Enemy”! His text book “Building Construction for the Fire Service” now in its seventh edition, has become the building construction bible for firefighters. So, to be the very best you can be and prepared to do battle with the enemy, it is imperative that you understand building construction. You should not only study Chief Brannigan’s book, but get out and study your own district, learn what buildings are there and how they are built. Discuss the many different possibilities within the buildings in your district. Start with the similar residential structures and how a fire would impact the overall integrity of the building as the fire grows. Discuss with your crew your plan of attack to include hose line and ladder placement.
Lastly, discuss what would be a “Go or No Go situation”. You may be surprised to find several different opinions, which is OK, but it’s great to talk about it well before pulling up on a building fire at 3 a.m.
Being a good firefighter is important to any member that has ever walked into a firehouse. However, there will always be different individual personalities. Some may be very aggressive and some not as much, but they may not need to go work at McDonalds. I have always been impressed with McDonalds, they take an extremely diverse group of people, from all over the world and produce a consistent product. We may need to take a little better look at their training program.
Chief Keith Padgett serves as the Fire and Emergency Medical Services Academic Program Director with Columbia Southern University within the College of Safety and Emergency Services. A 38-year member of the fire service, Padgett previously served as fire chief of the Beulah Fire District in Valley Alabama and as the chief/fire marshal for the Fulton County Fire-Rescue Department in Atlanta. He holds a master’s degree in leadership with an emphasis in disaster preparedness and executive fire leadership and a bachelor’s degree in public safety administration.