Gambling with Firefighter’s lives

Rookie Firefighter Randy Armbrister with Captain Willie Wines Jr of Engine Company #13 Feb 2012 editedIn a recent post, I told you about “Rookie Randy” leaving our Department.

It turned out to be a very popular post and received a lot of comments.

The title of the post was “Retaining young members… Our Future” (The title is a link to that post in case you missed reading it).

I didn’t give a lot of details as to Randy’s reasons or where he is going because my point was more about why so may young members are leaving Departments. I knew Randy’s reasons and was curious as to what everyone else thought / was experiencing.

Pay, low morale, lack of respect, training requirements, promotional opportunities, the “culture” of the Fire Service as well as the younger generation were all possible factors listed in the comments generated by the post.

Understanding that each instance is in a sense “unique”, there may not be a simple answer but instead of the “why”, tonight; I want to talk about the “where” in relation to Randy leaving.

“Like” on FaceBook HERE

Rookie Randys last day editedToday is Randy’s last shift with us. The Chief brought him by the station so we could visit a while and wish him well.

Saturday, Randy will start his new job. He is moving to a smaller paid Department that’s closer to where he lives. He was commuting about 2hrs (one way) to work a 24hr on / 24 hr off shift at 7am. Now, he’ll have a 20 minute drive to work a 24 on / 48 off schedule that begins at 8am. It’s a drastic reduction that will certainly save him time and money. Again, I understand all that.

The downside to his move (in my opinion) is where he’s going. Well, maybe not so much “where” as much as how they operate. The sad part is Departments all across the Country operate in the same way.

You see, at times; Randy will now be subject to responding with only 2 members on a rig. Often times, this Department will respond with only a single member. They are supplemented by volunteers who may or may not be at the station… may or may not make it on the rig.

The Department has a University in their 1st due. One of their members has personally told me of how he has responded to alarms at the college by himself. Alarms in multi-story buildings …. in dormitories!

There’s been a big (AND NEEDED) push lately to reduce the yearly Line Of Duty Deaths (LODD) here in the United States. The National Fallen Firefighters Foundation Program, Everyone Goes Home is asking each of us to resolve to lower LODDs for the new year. Everyone seems to think that “Under 50” is an obtainable goal. They produced the video below and EACH OF YOU should take the time to watch it.

may_800x600Is “Below 50” realistic?

I think so BUT it’s going to take a lot of “buy in”. It’s going to take a LOT of CHANGE for both our members and Departments all across the Country … paid and volunteer. It will take changes to policies, procedures, personal health and wellness etc.

It’s not going to be easy and tough decisions will have to be made BUT if we meet our goal, IT WILL BE WORTH IT!

There were 87 Line Of Duty Deaths in 2014. Almost half of those, 44.7% ;were NOT Incident Related!

We talk all the time about a “cultural change” on the fire ground, but how about away from the scene? In our POP’s and SOG’s? Back at the station … at home … on your days off?

There were 7 LODDs in 2014 Responding to the scene. Of those, all were volunteers, 1 was responding in a personal vehicle (POV) and 3 were ejected (a note that could be considered “improvement” in this category is none of them were teenage). 

I know of Departments who issue reprimands for failure to submit paperwork in a timely manner (such as requests for leave… “time off”). Yet they turn a blind eye (or have no accountability) to/for seat belt use!

ARE YOU KIDDING ME? Paper work trumps Firefighter Safety? Maybe they’re (admin) just hoping, guessing, assuming or betting that their members will do the right thing and buckle up? IT’S A GAMBLE.

Take Randy’s new Department for example…. in my opinion … just like others all across the Country (paid and volunteer); one and two member staffing and allowing POV response is also gamble. IT’S A GAMBLE WITH FIREFIGHTER’S LIVES! 

I believe both (staffing and response methods) will play a HUGE roll in 2015 as related to LODDs and obtaining the goal of “Under 50”.

A rig should never leave the station with less than 3 members (with the possible exception of support pieces such as tenders / rehab vehicles etc) and that’s STILL NOT ENOUGH to do our job safely, and efficiently. PLEASE … take a minute to watch the video below…

Everyone Goes HomeThat video was in a post I published back in 2012. You can read “The Illusion of Death!” by clicking HERE . TRUST ME … It’s worth your time…. CLICK THAT LINK!

Think about the Brother in that video. That could be Randy next week. That could be one of your members if you allow rigs to roll with 1.

Here’s a quote from that previous post …

“Running with 1 or 2 SHOULD NEVER HAPPEN in the United States! Paid or volunteer … urban or rural. Our job is almost impossible with 3 and shouldn’t be attempted with anything less.  Some will argue…more members were on their way??? Who cares ..too little, too late.

Responding to the scene shouldn’t happen either. Just this week we had yet another LODD while responding  in a personal vehicle. UNACCEPTABLE.

I don’t care that you have 20 guys responding to the scene. What will the first one do when he/she gets there with heavy fire showing and people trapped? Put on their gear and direct traffic? What if the Rig arrives first? Will it play out like the video above until other members arrive? Respond to the station …staff the rig and respond”.

I know what some of you will say. I’ve heard all the arguments… “We’re just volunteers” … “We’re a small / rural Department” …. “We’re doing the best we can” … “It’s the best we can do with what we have” … “We can’t afford more staffing” … blah … blah … blah.

BULLSHIT! ….You’re FIREFIGHTERS … we all are!  YOUR life, MY life, our BROTHER’S and SISTER’S lives as well as the lives of the people we are sworn to serve and protect depend on us getting this right and getting it right THE FIRST TIME! We may not get a second chance.

“Below 50” is more than a statement, IT’S A COMMITMENT. It will take more than watching a video, it’s gonna take ACTION. It needs to encompass ALL MEMBERS and ALL DEPARTMENTS regardless of size or status (career / volunteer).

Are you ready to do the right thing as a firefighter? Are you ready Chief?

Once again I’ll say GOOD LUCK to our “Rookie Randy”. Rely on and never stop your training. Look after that family. Remember what we taught ya. Keep your eyes wide open and pay attention to everything. THINK….work hard but SMART …. and ALWAYS do the right thing. STAY SAFE and never hesitate to call. Thanks for all the hard work and effort you put in here at Lucky #13 … we’re gonna miss ya!

*NOTE* Special THANKS to Bill Carey of Backstep Firefighter (link) for his work on the 2014 LODD statistics 

Thanks for reading, your comments are always welcome.

Stay SAFE and in House!

Captain Wines