Tools in the Toolbox

Are we really fixing the problem?

By Dave LeBlanc

Originally published 18 November 2020

The fire service is fascinated with acronyms. Some have been around for a while. PSI, GPM, and RIT are examples. Some others are new VSP and CRM for example. We are also fascinated with new ideas and techniques. We are focused on these new ideas to fix old problems. Maybe the problem is that we keep looking for solutions when we should just fix the problem.

Why do we constantly seek to fix our problems with solutions from other industries and services? Clearly there are some similarities in the issues we face and those faced by these others, but there really is no direct comparison. Very few risk management models allow for decisions to be made in the seconds we have to make them. Probably the closest comparison is the military, but even the military planning model requires more time and detail than we often have.

Why are we constantly looking re-write existing industry standards, when the problem is that time and time again it is not the process that failed, but a failed application of the process? Almost every NIOSH report written has the same three things listed as contributing factors: Failure of ICS; Failure of Accountability; and Failure of Communication. These reports never say that the ICS system failed to manage the incident correctly, or that communications were timely and accurate but the firefighter was still killed. Time and time again these reports indicate that we have failed to implement the procedure or system, and that is what contributed to the line of duty death. Yet instead of looking at this and saying, “we need to train on ICS and do this better”, often the answer is “if we employ Crew Resource Management, all our problems will be solved.”

We seek to change things to add another tool to the toolbox, but are we burdening our people with so much information? Are we giving them too many tools? How many hammers does a carpenter really need? Does an electrician need to carry a plumbers’ torch too? Victim Survivability Profiling is one example. Clearly a concept, in fact a research project for the National Fire Academy EFO program by FDNY Capt Marsar, we are now being told that a failure to use VSP contributed to a Line of Duty Death in Homewood, Illinois[1]. Yet by Captain Marsar own words, it is a concept he is not 100% completely comfortable with and no practical applications of its use have yet been published [2].

In his post on The Company Officer, “Situational Awareness and the Three Sixty”, Christopher Naum talks about how the term size up “doesn’t align with the newest directions in firefighter safety and incident command management.[3]” And that the 360 degree assessment is more appropriate. This is like the change in EMT training terminology from ‘Secondary Survey’ to ‘Focused Exam’. Many in the fire service perform a 360 as part of their size up, as long as conditions and policy allow. Many factor reports in from other companies or personnel in lieu of a 360. Often times it isn’t practical for the first arriving officer to attempt to get to the rear, for example when the fire building is in the middle of the block.

The fire service seems to be grasping at straws, frantically searching for ways to reduce the number of line of duty deaths. Instead of focusing on the issues we see over and over again, incomplete size up, poor communications, driving too fast, and seat belt use to name a few; we seem to be a erratic path searching for new techniques to lower our line of duty death numbers. With each new idea, each new acronym, we add more tools to our toolboxes; but are we really fixing the problem? Are we any closer to finding the solution? Or is the solution right in front of us and we just can’t seem to find a way to make it work.

1. “Another tool that the IC should consider using is survivability profiling. Survivability profiling uses the knowledge learned of fire behavior and spread, smoke (i.e., color, condition, movement), and building construction to examine a situation and make an intelligent decision of whether to commit fire fighters to life saving and/or interior operations.9 In other words, survivability profiling involves assessing the probability that a trapped occupant is still alive and can safely be rescued with the current or impending conditions.” One Career Fire Fighter/Paramedic Dies and a Part-time Fire Fighter/Paramedic is Injured When Caught in a Residential Structure Flashover – Illinois, NIOSH 2010
2. “Victim Survivability Profiling. Continuing the Discussion“, Brennan, The Fire Service Warrior
3. “Situational Awareness and the Three Sixty”, Naum, The Company Officer

“Survivability Profiling: Are the Victims Savable?” Marsar, Fire Engineering, December 2009
“Survivability Profiling: How Long Can Victims Survive in a Fire?”, Marsar, Fire Engineering, July 2010
One Career Fire Fighter/Paramedic Dies and a Part-time Fire Fighter/Paramedic is Injured When Caught in a Residential Structure Flashover – Illinois, NIOSH September 2010
“The Devil Is In The Details”, Brennan, The Fire Service Warrior, November 2010

Photo courtesy Pixabay

Abandoned Aviation Bill Carey Bill Schnaekel Collapse Commentary Communication Data Dave LeBlanc Education Engine Company Expect Fire Fatalities Firefighting Gabe Angemi Gabriel Angemi Health & Wellness Homelessness Interior International Association of Fire Chiefs International Association of Fire Firefighters Leadership Line of Duty Deaths National Fallen Firefighters Foundation NFPA NIOSH NVFC Physical Fitness POV Question from a Reader Ray McCormack Reports Rescue Ric Jorge Risk Roadway Safety Scott Corrigan Social Media Suicide Training United States Fire Administration Vehicle Operations Violence Wildland

Published by Data Not Drama

Data Not Drama is writings that provide a point of critical thought about firefighter fatality data and education, line of duty deaths, and risk. The main focus is to encourage less risk aversion and better knowledge on the subject of firefighter fatalities in firefighters, fire departments, and fire service organizations.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: