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Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The Fall Fire Workshops

The Bemidji class was held at the Sanford Center.
The instructor’s voice got louder as he quickly said, “Conditions change suddenly, and you see thick, black, heavy, angry, fast-moving smoke pushing all the way down to the floor, you can’t see anything, and the heat feels like knives going into your body! What is going on?” A voice from the back of the class shouts out: “Pre-flashover!” Dr. Richard Gasaway’s voice is getting louder as he quickly comes back with, “Yes! What do you do?” The class answers: “Get out!” Dr. Gasaway shouts, “Get out! Get out! Get out!”

The “flashover” that was about to occur is when all of that thick, black smoke explodes into fire and becomes fatal to firefighters. That type of smoke is enriched with hydrocarbons and is as explosive as gasoline.

The firefighters attending the class watched a video of other firefighters making an entry into a house that is on fire. They watched as the smoke changed, and the fire commander missed the change because he was on the front porch helping to advance the hose to the crew inside. Thirty-four seconds after the smoke changes, the house explodes into flames. In this class, no one asked what happened to the firefighters inside. They knew.

Dr. Gasaway with firefighters in St. Cloud.
The above class was one of the just-concluded fire workshops entitled Fireground Safety—10 Frequent Mistakes and 10 Best Practices. The workshops were held in Slayton, Morris, St. Cloud, Crookston, Bemidji, and Sandstone. Dr. Gasaway has studied more than 500 fire ground fatalities, and this class comes from his research and from his 30 years of experience in fire departments.

The ten mistakes he reviewed included: performing high-risk activities without proper staffing, the person in charge performing hands-on activities, failing to know when to be defensive, failure to do a 360-degree walk around before committing crews to an interior attack, shortcuts in training, and missed communications or misunderstood communications. On that last subject, Dr. Gasaway used his training in cognitive neuroscience to explain why a fire chief or firefighter at a fire may not hear a radio transmission: their brains and hearing are overloaded with input, and some of the messages are “lost.”

The final hour of the class targeted ten best practices that matched up with the ten mistakes—and these best practices don’t cost anything. This was simply about doing things differently.

One last observation: the class lasted four hours, beginning at 5:30 p.m.—and no one left any of the classes early. No one.


                                                 Responder Safety = Public Safety

Up next…Drones—Coming to a Squad Car Near You

In the meantime, stay safe and be careful.


Monday, September 22, 2014

The “New” Fire Memo

The old memos were good, but they
were a handful to keep organized.

For many years, the League of Minnesota Cities Insurance Trust (LMCIT) has distributed “the packet” of fire department memos to fire chiefs, firefighters, and city officials who had questions. The packet contained 22 individual documents on over 50 pages in a plastic folder. While the information was very helpful, it was not organized.

These packets no longer exist. All of that information is now online and is consolidated into a revised memo entitled “Fire Department Management and Liability Issues.” In addition to the updated information, the new memo has links to additional information and references.

You can find the memo on the LMC website in the Resource Library at:

A few examples from this newly consolidated memo:
  • Chapter 2 is entitled “Managing City Fire Department Employees.” It is full of good human resources information on the topics of hiring, discipline, alcohol response policies, and code of conduct.
  • Chapter 4’s focus is on managing fire department finances. It covers charging for fire calls, contracting for service, compensating firefighters, and even fundraisers and donations.
  • There is also a chapter on safety. It includes a revised version of the memo “Trends in Firefighter Injuries”. It looks at the number, type, and location of firefighter injuries—as well as “Loss Control Recommendations” for fitness, economics, and training. There are chapters on fire department consolidations, NFPA standards, and managing fire relief associations as well.
It is all online, available when you want it, and will be updated as needed. 


                                            Responder Safety = Public Safety

Up next…A report from the fire workshops.

In the meantime, stay safe and be careful.


Friday, September 5, 2014

Not All Runs Are Emergencies—A Graduated Response

The Coon Rapids Fire Department is now
using a graduated response to calls.
The newspaper article focused on Coon Rapids Fire Chief John Piper’s decision to no longer respond to all fire alarms by sending fire trucks to them with their red lights or sirens on (Code 3) unless the alarm is accompanied by a report of smoke, odor, and any other signs of trouble. Instead, a truck will respond routinely.

Chief Piper cited the risks for the public and firefighters every time a fire truck goes on emergency response and the large number of fire alarms that are false. In Coon Rapids’ case, it had been more than two years since a fire alarm was actually reporting a fire.

When I asked Chief Piper about his decision, he quickly noted that many of the Anoka County fire departments had already adopted this policy and that they were just the latest to make this change. He directed me to Nyle Zikmund, the fire chief for the Spring Lake Park-Blaine-Mounds View (SBM) Fire Department.
Spring Lake-Blaine-Mounds View
Fire Chief Nyle Zikmund

Zikmund said SBM started making this change 15 years ago. At SBM, many of these alarm calls are handled by a duty chief who responds routine with a chiefs’ vehicle. Zikmund noted that the call can be upgraded to a full response at any point if additional information indicates an actual emergency.

He said his research indicated that less than 0.5% of the automated fire alarms are real fires—and added that it takes alarm companies more than two minutes to process the alarm information and notify the correct dispatch center. In other words, if it was a real fire, they would be getting 911 calls well before the automated alarm could be processed.

Zikmund said his decision was about safety and about managing resources. It is a “different mindset” and a “cultural change” that involves critical thinking as part of the response. He also noted that police departments have used a routine response to many automated alarms for years for exactly the same reason. At SBM, they have 15 years of experience and data and have not had a problem.

I noted that SBM Fire Department puts an explanation of their graduated response on their website: “While every call for emergency service is answered, the level of response is dictated by the nature and degree of the emergency. This results in a response that ranges from a phone call when time permits to all equipment and staff responding and if necessary, a mutual aid request.”


                                            Responder Safety = Public Safety

Up next…The old fire packets are gone—but the information has been updated, revised, and is now online.

In the meantime, stay safe and be careful.