Industrial Fire Journal - Fire & Rescue - Hemming Group Ltd
The Fire Ninja - a tool is only as good as the person who’s holding it
Published:  14 February, 2014

As trained operators, WE are those multi-tools. We spend years gathering knowledge. We spend countless hours on the job gathering experience, but how good of a job do we do making sure that all of our tools are at their peak? The basics are there, the skills that we use on a daily basis are strong, but what about things that we’ve learned but rarely use? This should really be setting in if you’re in a position of leadership.

It’s been said that our business is 90% boredom and 10% adrenaline fueled terror. How does one prepare to handle that statistic? The answer is the eight-letter word that should be on the tip of your tongue every day that you’re on-duty. TRAINING

It’s an uphill battle to get people motivated to train. Why is that? A look at the raw data should be enough to motivate anyone. In all other aspects of industry, technological advancements are improving things, assuredly saving lives but I’m here to tell you that when it comes to firefighting, technology is KILLING us! Such a strange thing to say? Think about it for a second, let’s start with building construction.

Improvements in regulation, fire codes and safety guidelines are great and they’ve changed certain things for the better but what about the desire to make things lighter, cheaper and more resistant to decay? When exposed to heat, a lot of buildings simply don’t hold together as well as they used to. But even more concerning than that is that the contents have changed completely. Natural fibers are getting more and more rare, being replaced by polymers, nylons and plastics. You’d be hard pressed to find phosgene on a fire ground 100 years ago. Nowadays, I’d be willing to bet that it’s present at every one of them.

How about structural fire gear? We’ve come a long way right? I’ve seen young fireman look at pictures of old time departments in action and they point out that the crews were not wearing SCBA or hoods. That’s right, those guys didn’t have the tools that we do today, but if you would have asked one of them how long can they stay in a burning room, they’d have answered; ‘Until my mustache starts to smoke and my ears start burning!’  Sounds like macho bravado and I’m sure that played a part, but there is more to it if you care to look. Sure, technology hadn’t caught up with those guys but they quickly learned to find their limitations. Without triple insulated high-tech bunker gear they couldn’t stand to be in rooms that were burning for very long, so what did they do? They got out of them. They altered their strategy in a way that they were able to be effective at extinguishment, but weren’t exposed to that kind of extreme heat. But nowadays, with all of our technology and insulation, it’s my opinion that we’re going where we shouldn’t go, we’re staying longer that we should stay and we’re paying the price with firefighters lives. The same thing goes for SCBA of course. The packs get lighter and lighter, the bottles can hold more and more volume but at what point are we exceeding logic? Should we even be in an IDLH environment for that long? In a real incident, should one firefighter ever look over at his partner and say; ‘Hey! Let’s watch this room flashover!’  Have our tools overwhelmed our strategies? Has our technology outpaced our common sense?

I leave you with my multi-tool analogy and my eight-letter word. What good is a tool if you don’t know how to use it? How helpful is a tool if it only gets you deeper in trouble? The only way to answer both of those questions….TRAINING.

Standing by in the shadows,