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May 26, 2004
ONE STEP FORWARD…3 STEPS BACKWARD….
…Are YOU Taking Care Of The “kids”….
WithTheCommand.Com
Chief Billy Goldfeder

We spend a lot of time thinking before we write our WithTheCommand.Com commentaries. When one is written, a huge attempt is made to insure that it carries the “correct” message and that it provides some information to help correct a problem…or alter some thinking.
…..and then we get information that simply kicks us in the stomach.

Last weekend, a NJ Volunteer Firefighter was injured when she FELL OFF THE BACK OF THE APPARATUS while enroute to a social activity.

 It’s 2004 and so many good folks in our business are working their butts off in an ATTEMPT TO REDUCE firefighter injury and death. There have never been more been meetings, summits and all sorts of training programs to REDUCE firefighter injury and death. The IAFC, the IAFF, the NVFC, the USFA, the Pa. State Fire Commissioners Office, the State Association and many others have NEVER worked HARDER on this issue than they are now.

SO THEN WHAT HAPPENS? What happens is that the message is NOT reaching everyone that it needs to reach…or they are simply not paying attention.

This past weekend some well intentioned firefighters get on their apparatus, riding the tailboard-and proceed to a “new fire engine” wetdown in a neighboring community. Then the predictable happens-one of the firefighters falls off the apparatus and gets hurt-luckily, not seriously.
 

WHAT IS THE PROBLEM? The problem is that, at least, according to the article, A LOCAL RESIDENT is quoted as suggesting the firefighters should not have been riding outside of the apparatus….and that firefighters, according to this RESIDENT, should always be mindful of caution and safety. The LOCAL resident identified the problem……THE LOCAL RESIDENT SAW THAT IT WAS A PROBLEM.

Fortunately, the firefighter wasn’t hurt seriously. But what if she had been? Or what if she was killed….it would be called a “Line Of Duty Death”…and then all the nation would be mourning the death…hearts would be broken…memorials would be set up…and then MAYBE someone would start thinking about the fact that MAYBE we might be better off NOT riding the outside of the apparatus! Think this is an old problem that had been fixed? I did too.

A few months ago we wrote a commentary about how the Pittsburgh FD has forced some of their members to ride tailboards on reserve apparatus….and one fell off and was hurt. We have been also sent several pictures of firefighters riding tailboards and running boards, in March of 2004! Then last month, history tragically repeated itself when veteran Brookline, MA FF Buss Gross was killed when he fell out of a rig….and now, a few weeks ago in NJ, a firefighter fell off the back of the rig-while riding tailboard going to a new fire apparatus wetdown.

So what’s the answer?

ACCOUNTABILITY.

Now, when I say “accountability”…I am not talking about some rarely effective luggage tags that we pretend to track firefighters with….I am talking about PERSONAL accountability at the level of every member of any fire department to focus on making sure we don’t get HURT or KILLED. Honestly, I could care less about whatever excuse existed for that FF to ride tailboard because she could have been killed. Nothing is so important that we have to risk our members on stuff like that. She is someone’s daughter – and almost ended up being someone’s badly hurt daughter….or crippled daughter…or worse. I absolutely LOVE MY kids….I am sure her parents love her. WE have a responsibility to make sure “she” (and the “he”s) all come home after the run-even if we have to think of our firefighters as our “own” kids. Actually, they are…their parents LOAN US THEIR KIDS and EXPECT US to take good care of them. The horrible consequences of NOT taking care of the firefighters as if they are our own is well documented.

As so many have said before…THIS AIN’T ROCKET SCIENCE.

What is getting us hurt…or worse?
 

1-HAZMAT? Nope.

2-WMD? Nope.

3-TERRORISM? Nope.

Forgetting the basics on what we do and respond to on a day 2 day basis? Yep.

But yet everyone and their mother wants funding to take care of the above 3 concerns…and are they a problem? Sure! But there is NO WAY that “WE” will be able to even THINK about handling hazardous material incidents, weapons of mass destruction challenges and terrorism response UNTIL WE FIGURE OUT THAT IF WE RIDE ON THE BACK OF A FIRE ENGINE…WE WILL PROBABLY GET HURT and MAYBE GET KILLED. We CANNOT POSSIBLY handle the above 3 “major” concerns if we don’t know how to “expertly”….

-Drive the apparatus carefully.

-Provide officers to clearly and strongly command and control a scene.

-Backup apparatus without running into the firehouse or ripping off the compartment doors.

-Properly WEAR our protective clothing and related equipment.

-Know how to and when to VENT.

-Put a seat belt on before the rig moves.

-Stretch a line and have proper water flows.

-Develop an effective and affordable RADIO that allows us to communicate on the fireground.

-Not get run over while operating on a scene.

-Track our crews on the fireground….

Just a few BASICS that can ABSOLUTELY reduce the injuries and deaths we keep reading about.

It’s 2004 and honestly, when I read the news article…I thought it was an archive that someone sent me. But it wasn’t. It was reality…and as the hippy t-shirt says…”REALITY SUCKS”

Some of our Brothers and Sisters justifiably die in the line of duty each year. These are the small group of brave firefighters who attempt to save a life and end up losing theirs in situations where the risk/benefit was determined, at the time, to be worth the risk. Those are genuine Line of Duty Deaths and the risk that those firefighters take is well beyond just simple words of honor. Without question, their supreme sacrifice is in the highest form, traditions, service and respect of the fire service.

On the other hand, many of our Brothers and Sisters get injured in situations that could have been avoided. Some of those are at simple, basic levels of supervision or self-supervision and accountability. We are glad that the FF who fell of the tailboard of the apparatus this weekend is fine. Maybe her accident can be “final straw” lesson to other FD’s that STILL ride the back step….to change and fix some behaviors that hopefully make this one problem go way-for good.

SO WHERE DOES THIS GET FIXED? Not at the IAFF, the IAFC, the NVFC, the FDSOA , USFA or the Pa. State Fire Commissioners Office. It gets fixed “in the front seat” by the Officer in that seat. It gets fixed at the LOCAL level by a FD’s leadership (official or unofficial) looking at “the big picture” and identifying a few easy fixes that can be done…to take care of those kids.

-Members riding tailboard? Stop it. Have members ride in a car or van if that’s what has to happen.

-Members tearing up apparatus while driving? Fix it by re-evaluating your driving program-and the drivers.

-Members getting burned due to poor PPE usage? Correct it-by re-training members on the critical importance of properly wearing their PPE.

-Members getting run over at scene? Meet with the cops now and develop a “block the scene” plan that protects your members-AND the cops…..

When parents give us their kids and expect us to turn them into firefighters-it is a reasonable but unspoken request BY those parents to return their kids home safely after every run, with the rare exception of an extreme life and death live saving attempt. Some time spent thinking about “the BIG picture” and “what could go wrong” at all levels will probably make life a lot better for a lot of firefighters and officers…but most importantly, for the families who “trust us” to take good care of “their kids”.
 

N.J. Firefighter falls off fire truck; Woman not seriously hurt in Andover mishap

By JAMIE GOLDENBAUM
Herald Staff Writer- Monday, May 24, 2004
 

A Hamburg, NJ volunteer firefighter was not seriously injured when she fell off the back of a fire truck while enroute to a new truck wet down in Andover Township on Saturday, police said.
It was “just a plain accident,” said Sgt. Ron Smith of the Andover Township Police Department on Sunday of the incident.

Hamburg resident Cindy Scott was standing on the back of a Hamburg fire truck while the vehicle was traveling about 25 mph when the incident occurred Saturday on Limecrest Road around 7:10 p.m., Smith said.

The truck was rounding a curve when Scott fell onto the roadway.

“She was standing on the running board holding on to a hand rail with another firefighter, and she went to change her hands and she just lost her balance and fell off,” Smith said. “Thank goodness the truck was not going fast at the time.”

Hamburg volunteer firefighter Pat Nicolai witnessed Scott falling from the truck and later spoke with police.
Volunteer firefighter Angelo A. Cocchiara was driving the Hamburg truck, police said.
Scott’s fall was an accident and no charges are expected to be filed in response to the incident, Smith said.

The 39-year-old Hamburg woman was wearing a fire helmet when she fell, and Smith said it likely saved her from more serious injury.

Scott hit her nose, which was bleeding after the accident, and face against the roadway, Smith said.
She was transported by the Newton First Aid Squad to Newton Memorial Hospital.

A spokeswoman for Newton Memorial Hospital said Scott was treated and released . After Scott was transported to the hospital, the new fire truck wet down went off as planned at the Andover Township firehouse at the intersection of Limecrest and Lake Iliff roads.

Limecrest Road resident George Koenig, 57, said he lives near to where the fire trucks were staging at the Long Pond School in preparation for the wet down celebration.

Saying that firefighters appeared excited at the time of the accident, Koenig said caution and safety should always be mindful. Koenig suggested that firefighters should not have been positioned outside the truck except for emergency situations.