Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Faster shoot times start with the basics

This is a common problem. It takes way too long to turn out on a run after the buzzer hits. It happens across the country all the time.  By “turn out” I mean the time it takes for you to realize that there is a call, get on the apparatus floor, dress out, and get seated on the rig for departure. 2 minutes or longer is too long. You can dispute it, but it is way too long. Someone needs help and its time to go to work.

So what causes a slow turnout time? Lets take a brief look at the factors that contribute.

1. Complacent Firefighter Syndrome: When the call takes you from the couch, you moan, groan, and walk slowly to the truck like you are bothered to have to go on another run that is “most likely nothing”.

2. Lack of proficiency in rapid dressing. You should be able to fully dress in under a minute. If you don’t practice this skill, even if it is the most basic thing you do, you will loose your proficiency.

3. Lack of street knowledge by the driver. (we used to have street tests......)

4. Lack of leadership by the company officer to push the crew to get out the door.

So what can be done to fix this common “illness” encountered in the firehouse?

1. Push yourself to be the quickest you can to turnout when the buzzer hits. If you set a precedence that being quick is better, the others will likely follow. If not, you at least are doing your part. Don’t ever make them wait on you.

2. Practice the basics of getting dressed. I know, all the “veterans” don’t think it is necessary to practice getting dressed. When it takes you 2-3 minutes to get your gear on, you might want to look in the mirror. The basics are the foundation of our entire job. Stay sharp on them.

3.Drivers need to constantly learn and study their territory. Your job is to drive the rig. You become significantly safer during the response by knowing where you are going. Know at least where the main roads are to get you close. The officer may be able to help. I am not a fan of even leaving before I know exactly where I am heading.

4.Officers, stop the “I’m too cool to get in any short of a hurry” attitude. It is not cool to be the overly relaxed, “I don’t care” officer. The buzzer just went off, someone needs your help, (emergency or not) and your job is to help them in a timely manner. Empower your crew to meet a turnout time. The officer should not make the engine wait either. You must be just as proficient as your firefighters. Lead by example. If you are burnt out, congrats pal, your crew is now going to eventually be burnt out from your bad leadership.

How can you drill on something like this?

1.  At random times throughout the day, yell out “box” or “call” or some other word that your crew knows to signify the drill. When the code word is yelled, everyone takes off for the truck, rapid dresses, and gets on the truck. The officer has pre-made flash cards with an address and cross street written on them. He hands one to the driver. The driver has to look it up quickly and figure out where he is going if he doesn’t already know. The crew gets on the truck and you drive to the address (of course routine traffic). This will even open the door for a tactics discussion when you get there. Try it. 

Here is my recommendation on rapid dressing. Find out what works best for you. 

Note that the SCBA mask is already connected to the air pack inside of the jump seat. This should be done when your pack is checked daily by you.

Your turnout boots on the floor outside your door, hood is lying between the boots, suspenders are set up for rapid dress, coat is hanging on the truck mounted grab bar, helmet is staged inside of the truck.
After getting out of your duty shoes or boots, step into your turnout boots.

Remove your hood from between your legs.

Don the hood fully and pull your turnout pants up.

Set your suspenders and don your radio strap.

Finish by donning your turnout coat, bringing your radio lapel mic through the top of your coat. 

Climb into your jump seat and don the straps of your air pack. Make sure you pull the release cord if equipped with that type of device. 

Place seat belt on and close the door. 

This entire process should take less than 40 seconds. 

Tailboard Firefighting: Rapid Dress Youtube Video

This is a basic skill, but it seems to give people the most trouble because it is not practiced. 

Notice in the steps above how I listed the sequence in which the radio strap and hood is donned. Also pay attention to when and how you pull the radio mic through the coat. This is important.

The hood is fully donned prior to the suspenders and coat. This allows for a complete covering of the neck. The suspenders will assist in keeping the hood in place.

The radio strap is donned under the turnout coat. This is an area of debate. Some like it on the outside, some don’t like a strap, and some fire companies don’t even have lapel mics. A strap on the outside of your gear is just one more thing that can get snagged. In high heat conditions, the majority of the radio and lapel mic is protected more so under the coat than outside. Not having a lapel mic at all is a sin. A firefighter cannot adequately monitor the radio traffic and communicate effectively in a situation in which the firefighter is actually doing work. If you don’t believe me, try it in a training drill. Radios need lapel mics always. By pulling the mic through the top of the coat, your mic is always at the center of the chest and easy to find.

3.Build pride on being the “fast” company. The company that is on the road quick, dressed, ready to go. The company that the others say, “that dang Engine *** is coming, they might be on our tail and those guys know their job.” Be the best. We trained today on my part time company, everyone at the firehouse could get dressed and on the truck with a seat belt in under 40 seconds. Set a standard.

It is not cool to be slow. “I didn’t cause the emergency, I’m not going to kill myself to get there” is a fun slogan you hear often. They are right. You didn’t cause the emergency and you literally don’t want to die getting there, but you are responsible for dealing with it in a timely manner. Think about if it was you or your family. People say that last sentence often, but do you actually think about that? What kind of crew do you want coming to you at your house?  Be the crew you would want.  If you are comfortable and well trained, your speed will come and your skill will not let you down. If you never train, you will dress like a new guy spinning on his first box call.

Time is saved in the firehouse. Never should you make up time on the road. It is not worth the risk of killing the crew, another motorist, and destroying a fire truck. Proficiency in your skills is where you save time. 

I will close with a short story. I was working a 24 at my full time company. It was 0600 hrs and I was sleeping soundly in bed. The buzzer hit and the telecommunicator says, “Communications to CFR, simulated fuel truck on fire at the fuel load island next to terminal 1. The captain is off duty and the senior firefighter is in charge.” Our Fire Chief was standing on a hill next to the fuel island timing our response. As we arrived we found some cones in place. The simulated fire was knocked down and the line was run. Things went well and our time was at 4 minutes. The Chief wanted to know what his on duty crew would do on a fire call responding from a dead sleep. It was a good drill to test our skills and muscle memory. It also set a standard of a timely response. 

Take the time to know your job, your equipment, and your standards. Be proficient in your skills and serve. Stay safe out there.

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