Follow by Email

There was an error in this gadget

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Volunteer; No Experience OR Training Required!



Note: I wasn’t going to post a blog until after FDIC, but then I watched BC Michael Walker’s address on livestream and it really struck a chord. He spoke to the very essence of what it is to call yourself “fireman”, the strong bond between firefighters and what our communities expect when they call us.
Now and again, Firegeezer ( http://firegeezer.com/) comes up with an article that makes you go, “Hmmm”.
Such is the case with an article written by FireHat. (http://firegeezer.com/2013/04/22/should-fire-training-be-banned-a-commentary/ )
A state senate bill being pushed by Glenn Hegar would eliminate training requirements for volunteer firefighters in Texas. (http://www.legis.state.tx.us/BillLookup/Text.aspx?LegSess=82R&Bill=SB766)
Mediocrity is over populated by underachievers. It is a culture spawned by Pass/Fail or everyone gets a trophy. We can’t celebrate success, because those who are unsuccessful will feel badly, which is why some schools will have multiple valedictorians. I’m from the old school, where there was ONE valedictorian and if you came in second, you were the salutatorian. Boo hoo!
The fire service is the last place where we need kinder/gentler attitudes. I’m sorry, but “just good enough” just isn’t good enough. As I said in an earlier blog; you don’t do it until you get it right. You do it until you can’t get it wrong.
It is true that I joined the volunteer fire service where I live, so I could help when there was an emergency and I knew in order to do that, I had to learn how to do it through training. I learned early on that I could be of no use in an emergency, if I got hurt in the process. It is absolutely true that you train as if your life depended on it, because it does.
In our state, training is built around the schedule of the full time fire departments. That means that it is held during the week at our state’s fire academy, so unless you have lots of vacation time that you want to burn, you are stuck with on-line classes or hoping for weekend classes, where if you don’t get the required minimum class size, the class is cancelled.
We took steps many years ago and sent two firefighters to school to be certified instructors. They can do all of our training in-house, but if we want to get our firefighters certified, we have to send them to a certified class taught by IFSI instructors and then take the OSFM exam. But, I digress.
Hegar’s SB 766 is being supported by Texas State Firemen’s and Fire Marshals’ Association (http://www.sffma.org/) and the Harris County Firefighters Association of Texas (http://www.hcffa.org/). The Texas Commission on Fire Protection (http://www.tcfp.texas.gov/reports/DeptSize.asp) regulates fire departments in Texas in accordance with state statutes. The section of the state statutes affected by SB 766 is italicized and reads:
SUBCHAPTER D. VOLUNTEER FIRE FIGHTERS AND FIRE DEPARTMENTS
§ 419.071. Voluntary Certification Program for Volunteer Fire Fighters and Fire Departments
(a) The commission shall develop a voluntary certification program for volunteer fire fighters and volunteer fire departments. The program must include the same components and requirements as the certification program established under Subchapter B. The certification program for volunteer fire fighters and volunteer fire departments may take into account the different circumstances of volunteer fire fighters in establishing deadlines for completion of various components or requirements of the program.
(b) A certificate for a given type and level of certification that is issued under the certification program established under this section is equivalent to a certificate for the same type and level issued under Subchapter B. The certificate is subject to the same issuance and renewal requirements as a certificate issued under Subchapter B, and a certificate holder may be disciplined and regulated in the same manner 82 as provided by Subchapter B.
(c) A volunteer fire fighter, volunteer fire department, or facility that provides training to volunteer fire fighters is not required to participate in any component of the commission's program under this chapter. A volunteer fire fighter, volunteer fire department, or facility that provides training to volunteer fire fighters may on request participate in one or more components of the program under this subchapter as appropriate. The volunteer fire department with which a volunteer fire fighter is affiliated may, but is not required to, pay the certificate fee for a volunteer fire fighter certified under this subchapter.
(d) At least 30 days before the expiration of a volunteer fire fighter's certificate, the commission shall send written notice of the impending certificate expiration to the last known address of the fire fighter according to the records of the commission.
§ 419.072. Obtaining Paid Employment as Fire Fighter
(a) Notwithstanding anything to the contrary in Subchapter B, a fire department may appoint as fire protection personnel a volunteer fire fighter or former volunteer fire fighter who is certified by the commission under this subchapter. On receiving the appointment from the employing fire department, the person is considered to be certified fire protection personnel.
(b) In this section, "fire department" has the meaning assigned by Section 419.021.
§ 419.073. Individual Certificate Holder; Certificate Renewal
(a) A volunteer fire fighter certified under this subchapter may continue to hold and renew the certificate without regard to whether the person continues to be affiliated with a volunteer fire department.
(b) A former volunteer fire fighter who is no longer affiliated with a volunteer fire department may renew an unexpired certificate before the expiration of the certificate by:
(1) submitting evidence satisfactory to the commission of completion of any required professional education; and
(2) paying to the commission the required renewal fee.
(c) If a person's certificate has been expired for 30 days or less, the person may renew the certificate by:
(1) submitting evidence satisfactory to the commission of completion of any required professional education; and
(2) paying to the commission the required renewal fee and a fee that is one-half of the certification fee for the certificate.
(d) If a person's certificate has been expired for longer than 30 days but less than one year, the person may renew the certificate by:
(1) submitting evidence satisfactory to the commission of completion of any required professional education; and
(2) paying to the commission all unpaid renewal fees and a fee that is equal to the certification fee.
(e) If a person's certificate has been expired for one year or longer, the person may not renew the certificate.
(f) The commission shall establish by rule the requirements evidence must meet to be considered satisfactory for the purpose of complying with this section.
(g) Notwithstanding any other law, the commission may by rule establish a procedure to recertify a person if:
(1) the person's certification has lapsed because of the person's good faith clerical error, including the person's failure to submit fees in a timely manner; or
(3) the person's certification has lapsed as a result of termination of the person's employment and the person has been restored to employment as a result of a
disciplinary procedure.
As of 4/23/2013, the TCFP showed 28,233 appointed personnel in regulated departments with 3,135 certificate holders. What confounds me is that, if you take Houston (3838), Dallas (1820), San Antonio (1625), Austin (1098), Fort Worth (880) and El Paso (854), their total is 10,115 firefighters. If full time firefighters are required to be certified and to re-certify, then why are there only 3,135 certificate holders in the entire state of Texas? In addition, the SFFMA claims that 77% of the state’s firefighters are volunteers. So; are there many “unregulated” fire departments in Texas or are the number of volunteer firefighters over stated? I’m asking, because I don’t know.
The state of the volunteer fire service isn’t any different for Texas than it is in the other 49 contiguous states. Recruitment and retention remains a top concern of every volunteer fire department, but easing training and education requirements for firefighter’s flies in the face of Everyone Goes Home® (http://www.everyonegoeshome.com/), the Life Safety Initiatives (http://www.lifesafetyinitiatives.com/), NFPA 1001, Dept. of Labor laws (OSHA), the ISO rating system and common sense. Nationally, we have seen yearly firefighter fatalities below 100 since 2009. I can think of two reasons as to why fatalities have dropped: (1) better training and education and (2) health and wellness initiatives.
State senator Hegar needs to understand that a volunteer firefighter is unlike any other volunteer in a community. Name me one other type of volunteer that takes a solemn oath to serve and to protect their community, knowing that they may risk their life in order to do so.
It is clear that Hegar wants volunteer firefighters treated differently than career firefighters, with regards to training, but Fire doesn’t know the difference! He may believe he has good intentions, but I see nothing but bad consequences.
When a citizen needs help, will they be satisfied with service from a department full of good intentions or will they want a department that is trained to mitigate their incident?
What State senator Glenn Hegar should be doing is finding ways to deliver more and better training to his volunteer firefighters and crafting laws through the Texas Commission on Fire Protection that will make training and education more accessible. , Then, you wouldn’t be worrying about the negative financial impact of your bill. Instead; the certification and re-certification fees would dramatically increase. Perhaps then, you could even offer the training free of charge.
TCSS.
The opinions and views expressed are those of the article’s author, Art Goodrich, who also writes as ChiefReason. They do not reflect the opinions and views of www.fireengineering.com, Fire Engineering Magazine, PennWell Corporation or his dog, Chopper. All articles by the author are protected under The Adventures of Jake and Vinnie© umbrella and cannot be reproduced in any form without expressed permission.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Who Fits the Profile?



Are you at your strongest when others may be at their weakest?
Do you study your enemy to find its weaknesses?
Do you practice your fighting skills until you can’t get them wrong?
Do you come from generations of warriors or is it simply in your blood?
Have you taken the sacred oath that will place you among the elite?
Are you willing to risk your life for what you believe?
Do you fit the profile?
If you do, then you are a firefighter and more specific to this article; a volunteer firefighter.
I was preparing to write a blog on the continuing events in Boston, but that was interrupted so the Chief and I could finish a close-out report for a grant.
While we were at the fire station working on the report, we had the TV on to Fox News. The coverage of the Boston Marathon bombing was interrupted by reports that there had been a massive explosion  at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas (population 2800) near Waco, Texas. More bad news on top of what’s already a very bad week for our country.
Upon hearing some of the demographic information, it had me thinking that many rural, volunteer fire departments would fit that description. This is taken from the city of West, TX website:
The West Volunteer Fire Department was established in 1894 as the West Hose Company #1. The first equipment for West Hose Co. #1 was a Hose Reel drawn by a rope tied to a volunteer’s saddle horn. In the late 1890s the equipment was upgraded to a fire wagon drawn by a black stallion. By the turn of the century a two horse “Modern Seagraves” Fire Carriage was purchased.  In 1915 the first motorized apparatus was purchased – a Cadillac Hose Truck with a 40 gallon chemical tank. The first “pumper” for the Fire Dept was a 1925 Reo with a 500 gpm (gallons per minute) pump. In 1929 a Ford Model A was added to the Fire Dept. fleet.
The fire department was originally stationed in the historic city hall, then the city garages, and  finally was moved to its current location in 2003. The current firehouse was paid for by the work of the all volunteer fire department through fundraisers such as the Annual West Fire Dept. BBQ Cook-off held in March. The volunteers raised half of the funds  to build the fire house and the other half was paid for by the City of West.
The fire department currently relies on pagers for its 33 firemen, but also still depends on the loud sirens throughout the City.  City of West is rated at a Class 5 through ISO.
Fire Alarm Warnings
1 blow
Small Fire (Out of town)
2 blows
Fire Drill or meeting
3 blows
Major Structure Fire
4 blows
Use of JAWS
9 blows
Sever Storm Warning (Tornado)”

I will not be commenting on the West, Texas incident. However; my thoughts and prayers go out to them.
The town where I grew up is a rural community of 2800. It has a farmers’ coop, ethanol plant and a couple of industrial plants. So, there is a lot of fertilizer and anhydrous there. It is a tight-knit community with mostly local people working in town. Their fire department is all-volunteer and they have fundraisers every year to raise money for equipment. Sound familiar?
As I said; the all-volunteer West Fire Department could be the face of many rural, volunteer fire departments throughout this country. And the volunteer firefighters who populate their fire departments might very well fit my profile.
Are you at your strongest when others may be at their weakest?
In other words: are we strong enough-both physically and mentally-to mitigate an incident that has caused someone else to feel weak and vulnerable?
We are called for help for any number of reasons; some of them are downright confounding. We don’t tell the caller (or Dispatch) to call someone else. We figure that there is SOMETHING that we can do. Squirrel in the chimney? We got it. Someone locked their keys in the car? Did you know that you can call this number and they can unlock it from there? Something is chirping and you can’t find it? Your smoke alarm needs new batteries. And every now and then, there will be a fire. We have to be ready-physically and mentally. We cannot grow lazy and complacent just because we don’t have a high volume of calls.
Do you study your enemy to find its weaknesses?
Fire is the enemy, but that definition has been expanded to include a building that is under fireload (Brannigan). To know about fire progression, you have to know about building construction, building materials, reading smoke, wind velocity, doing a full 360 upon arrival and watching for changes in conditions are just a few of the considerations. To get to know the enemy better; it is here that you train like you fight and then fight like you train. Burn buildings/containers are a good starting point, but acquired structures for live-fire training is where you will get real world, hands-on experience. If you are not having a half-dozen structural fire calls a day, then you need live training to learn and to improve. There is valuable experience to be gained.
Do you practice your fighting skills until you can’t get them wrong?
This is critical, because the only thing that can take the place of low call volume is more training. I know that it gets tedious to keep donning and doffing the SCBA, but how else are you going to cut down the clock? Seconds count when you get to the scene, you have fire showing and a frantic parent telling you that her kids are still inside. Keep in mind “kids” might also mean “pets”.
So; you have to learn the skills until you can do them blind-folded, in your sleep and with your gloves on. And after you learn how to do that, then you are going to learn to throw a 24-footer by yourself. No; you’re not a truckie yet.
Do you come from generations of warriors or is it simply in your blood?
We know that the fire service has a long history of tradition. In many families, firefighters in those families can be traced back several generations. Some might even try to tell you that, when the caveman invented Fire, his Cro-Magnon grandpa was there to put it out! Regardless; everyone has their reasons for joining a volunteer fire department. It’s true that in the early days, it was more of a social organization in many communities, but because of liabilities and just the sheer nastiness of some of the hazards associated with fire suppression, it has become necessary to learn skills at a professional level.
Have you taken the sacred oath that will place you among the elite?
No; this isn’t where Gomer and Otis are deputized by Sheriff Andy. This is where you honest-to-God raise your right hand and state that you will serve and protect the life and property in your community to the best of your ability and knowing that you risk your life to do so. Remember that firefighting is not a hobby, a boy’s night out or “fun”. It is serious, dangerous and there are no do-overs. You will want to know BEFORE the Moment of Truth whether or not you have the heart for it.
Are you willing to risk your life for what you believe?
This isn’t a hypothetical or theoretical question. We have seen the many ways that firefighters can die. “Willing to risk your life” doesn’t mean that you are “willing to die”. Know the difference, but also know that it can happen on the way to training, at training or after training. It can happen enroot to the scene, at the scene or after the scene. Firefighters have been taken from us while they slept. We have seen catastrophic failures of equipment. We have seen sudden changes in conditions that have resulted in multiple firefighter deaths. Everyone has to give the Grim Reaper its proper respect by training and responding at the highest level of professionalism.
Our time on this Earth is short. Spending time to help others in their time of need is of the highest calling. We should want to train to provide the best care that we can, instead of re-hashing arguments over YouTube videos.
Respect the fallen by saving the questions and by extending your thoughts and prayers to everyone affected by the loss. Reports will come and we will honor the fallen by learning from them.
In doing so, we remember them by never forgetting their sacrifice.
TCSS.
The opinions and views expressed are those of the article’s author, Art Goodrich, who also writes as ChiefReason. They do not reflect the opinions and views of www.fireengineering.com, Fire Engineering Magazine, PennWell Corporation or his dog, Chopper. All articles by the author are protected under The Adventures of Jake and Vinnie© umbrella and cannot be reproduced in any form without expressed permission.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Our Darkest Hours Gives Rise to Brighter Days


God, how I miss the sweet innocence of days gone by.
Take me back to a time when, as kids, young brothers and sisters could walk to the neighborhood grocery store to buy penny candy and drink a 7-ounce bottle of Coca-Cola.
Growing up, it was called “dinner” and “supper”. And if you weren’t home at the agreed upon time, you didn’t eat. That wasn’t child abuse. That was the rule. The television could not be on during mealtime. We ate at five; news at six.
Now, it’s called “lunch” and “dinner”. It’s a rather informal ritual, meal time is on the flex schedule and the television is never off!
The grade school that I attended was a big, two-story brick building that was cooled by opening windows and heated by a big, coal-fired steam boiler. Huge radiators ran along the wall in the classrooms. School never let out early because it was “too hot”. Doors were locked at the end of the school day. Playground equipment was set over gravel. Swings were “slings” and the jungle gym was made from iron piping. Fire escapes were large diameter tubes that you slid down to safety. Our school security was the principal and his wooden paddle. If he needed back up; he had Fuzzy, the school janitor. Oh; by the way, we started our day by reciting “The Pledge of Allegiance” with pride.
The games were tag, hide-and-seek, kick-the-can, whiffle ball, Monopoly, Crazy Eights, jig-saw puzzles or whatever your imagination could conjure. The time of season dictated the type of sport. You know; baseball, riding bicycles, swimming, fishing in the summer…sledding, skating and building snow forts in the winter.
There were the Saturday matinees at the local theater. Admission was fifteen cents for 12 and under. Popcorn was hot and it was only a dime. A Merry Melodies cartoon would play before the feature starring Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello. Kissing was “icky”.
Cars were the size of the status they intended to project. They were huge, steel chariots with real chrome, fins, bench seats both front and back, AM radio with ONE speaker, white-wall tires and a full-size spare and engines big enough to power small towns. Station wagons could seat NINE people with no such thing as a “cross-over” or “SUV”. Give me a metallic blue, ’59 Chevy Impala…two-door. Four doors are for old fogies.
Televisions were built into cabinets and images were broadcasted in black and white. There were Saturday morning cartoons. The Three Stooges were on after school. Shows like Wagon Train, Gunsmoke, Rawhide, The Virginian, Bonanza (Dad liked westerns and HE controlled the TV when he was home), Leave It to Beaver, the Jetsons, Ozzie and Harriet, Dick Van Dyke, Red Skelton, I Love Lucy and The Ed Sullivan Show would be our childhood “influence” . Violence was the occasional western “gunfight” or the Beaver taking on the school bully, but under no circumstances were there any “bedroom” scenes. And when the station signed off for the night, you saw an American flag waving in the wind and heard the playing of the National Anthem.
We had Cub Scouts, school plays, church youth groups, summer league baseball, fishing derbies, Easter egg hunts, Sidewalk days, carnivals and parades to hone our social skills. If you needed to call home, you used a pay phone or asked to use a telephone-rotary dial, no less.
As a kid, I wasn’t interested in the news, unless it was sports news. I didn’t know nor did I want to know about the news at the time. I didn’t listen to it, watch it or read about it. News only extended to what was going on at school, in the neighborhood or within the family.
But that all changed for me on November 22, 1963. I was sitting in my sixth grade classroom and my teacher, Mrs. Sparling came into the room and she was crying. Then, she told us that President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated.
What; how can that be? He had the vision to rocket our people into Space. He got the Russians to pull their missiles out of Cuba. We live in a civilized society where differences are settled by talking about it.
And an entire nation wept.
Then, just two months later in January of 1964, my brother-in-law died while at work. He and my dad were south of town using a crane with a clam bucket to dig at the city’s south lagoon. Dad was operating the crane and swung the boom into high voltage lines. My brother-in-law grabbed the bucket to push the boom out from the wires and was killed. I loved my brother-in-law so much, that I thought I hated my dad. I blamed Dad for Hayden’s death.
My age of innocence was over because I felt hate for the first time or what I thought was hate. Up until that point, I had never cried over someone else. Oh; I cried when I was disciplined and I cried when my dog, Mac, was ran over by a car, but the loss of my brother-in-law changed all of that. I cried because of a different kind of hurt.
With junior high school came more mature pursuits. News “current events” became a classroom assignment. Grown-ups talked about the news of the day. This was where they connected with the rest of the world. If you wanted to mingle with the grown-ups, you had to know what was newsworthy.
The newscasters of the day always ended their telecast with a feel-good story that was a slice of Americana served up with a slice of humility. But, then came the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy. Los Angeles had weathered the Watts riots. Richard Speck was captured after murdering eight student nurses in Chicago. The Vietnam War was in full swing and demonstrations against the war were a daily occurrence. The Manson murders, Kent State, Son of Sam, the deaths of rock stars Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison, the Munich massacre at the Olympics, assassination attempts on Presidents Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan, the murder of John Lennon, the Oklahoma City bombing and of course, 9/11 have all left an enormous impact. Rationalization is elusive.
Fast forward to Boston  (related news article here). The pain inflicted upon this historic city is pain that I can’t begin to imagine. There can be no justification for such a barbaric and cowardly act. Forgiveness is out of the question.
What I find is that you can turn off the news, but you can’t stop the hurt. Our world has become one filled with violence or potential for violence.
Through it all, I remain optimistic.
Why?
Because of our humanity, compassion, strength and courage.  When bad things happen to us, we respond by never giving up. We design plans to make us safer. We make it harder for people to hurt us. We fight the forces of evil wherever it occurs. We do whatever is necessary to keep America as the greatest nation on Earth.
But, I’ll be honest.
I’m ready for some good news.
The opinions and views expressed are those of the article’s author, Art Goodrich, who also writes as ChiefReason. They do not reflect the opinions and views of www.fireengineering.com, Fire Engineering Magazine, PennWell Corporation or his dog, Chopper. All articles by the author are protected under The Adventures of Jake and Vinnie© umbrella and cannot be reproduced in any form without expressed permission.