Tactical Safety: Taking Sides


Tactical Safety for FirefightersTaking Sides

By Ray McCormack

There are only two sides to a fire building: the inside and the outside.There are those who want us to stay outside for a variety of reasons. There are those who see us as incapable of making good decisions regarding entry. There are those who fail to truly understand our capabilities employing interior fire attack.

Fire, smoke, occupancy, construction, time of day, troop strength, timing, and water issues are all valid reasons to stay outside and many can be misread or exaggerated keeping you outside. We are all hazard – “check”. We are firefighters – “check”, but wait. There seems to be some difficulty in pulling the interior extinguishment pin for some. If your scales tend to tip toward the outside and you know that it isn’t really necessary, then why would you continue?

Do you feel that the inside of the fire building is too dangerous for your firefighters to operate in? What happens when the exterior option is off the table? What are you going to do then? Are your tactics going to tame it? Have you sat down and figured out what your extinguishment is going to look like?

Are you operating under an assumption that our capabilities don’t include interior success? What is missing from your extinguishment platform that you have trouble handling a bread and butter fire. It can’t be equipment because we all have the necessary hoses and nozzles. Do you believe there is no such thing as a bread and butter fire in the modern age? If so, that is a bad assumption.

To arrive at a burning home and base your operations on exaggerated conditions places most firefighters in a state of paralysis, and that must be fixed so that your people know they can be successful with either option.

Finding the tactics that you need to get extinguishment done is not an unknown, but it may take practice for some. Start by not feeding it unnecessarily and its bite will be less powerful. We need to get our people inside to find the savable and the injured. I know that I want someone coming for me if I’m inside, don’t you?

Keep Fire in Your Life

Rope Rescue Edge Pro

Edge protection is a vital piece of the rope rescue puzzle but it is often overlooked or done improperly. Over the last 15 years of teaching rope rescue and working for a department that gets our fair share of high angle calls I have used almost every type of edge protection out there… most leave little to be desired.

Now their is a difference in wether you are doing a rope rescue in a urban setting (off of a crane or off an apartment building) or weather you are operating in a wilderness setting. If you are working in an urban setting the rope protection is fairly easy, a couple small rollers and you are set. But in a wilderness setting it can be slightly more difficult, the rope has several different rocks, tree roots, etc. that it can pass over. Several years ago I was shown a homemade version of edge protection that is still the best I have used to date.


The edge protection is made using small diameter wood dowels that are strung together with some old 6 millimeter cord. The dowels are cut to length, drilled, sanded and then they are ready to be assembled. Small sections of clear water pump tube can be used as spacers on the ends to keep the dowels spaced.


Once the edge protection has been made and it is placed on the rocks you will see how it can bend and be manipulated into the small cracks and forms to the shapes of the rocks. It makes a perfect “valley” for the rope to travel through, and you don’t have to worry about the rope wrecking your edge pro due to friction or sharp rocks.


The homemade edge pro folds up easily and is carried in our rope rescue bags, it weighs a little more then some commercially sold edge pro but I feel the extra pound is well worth the trade off.


The edge pro can also give you some added footing if the edge is slippery or there is the potential for loose ground. The whole edge protection cost about $20, which is well below the average cost for some edge pro.

Do You Know the Monster Within?

So your a hard charging, fire eating, truck ape … not scared of anything, as a matter of fact you fight what we fear. You tell your friends your job is snatching lives from the jaws of death, running into buildings that the roaches and rats run out of. Your collection of fire department t-shirts is only surpassed in awesomeness by the tattoos on your flesh depicting the 343 … your a mans man, and dam proud of it.
You hear the stories of brothers, and sisters who are claustrophobic and you chuckle. You scoff at the people not capable of making decisions, they seem to “freeze” when they are under duress. You “tch, tch, tch” the NIOSh report of the fireman who made a mistake ventilating, setting the stage for the burns sustained by another firefighter that lead to his death. You watch a video of our “brothers” on a fire where tactically they appear to not know what they are doing. This video spreads virally from Youtube, to Statter, to Facebook. The comments by all the other “hard charging fire eating truck apes” are often harsh criticisms, all in the name of better training, and tactics “killing fireman the old fashioned way” … you fall in line posting “train like your life depends on it, because it does”. You read an article about a fireman who rips his mask off in a fire, and standing up, he begins to run in an atmosphere he must know is toxic, and fatal. You shake your head incredulously wondering “what was he thinking”.
Then one day everything changes, something happens, and your world is turned upside down. What you were once so sure of seems to have abandoned you, leaving you wondering if you were ever that “good” at your job. Your breathing becomes accelerated at times, and the anxiety builds. Your ability to do the things you once were capable of doing has left you … your left feeling emasculated, you begin to avoid certain training exercises, maybe even making excuses for your new found “weaknesses”. These weaknesses seem to be gaining ground on you … maybe I’m just not drinking enough, or puffing enough weed … maybe I should conquer more infidelity to prove I am a man … and if all else fails, there is always rage, and if all else fails I’ll just isolate myself. No one will ever know my secret.
Sound familiar, or far fetched?
According to researchers this is not just an occurrence, but a very common occurrence in law enforcement, the military, professional sports, aviation, and the corporate world not to mention rape, and assault victims, or terrorism.
So why should the Fire Service be exempt? Ignorance.
The fire services dirty little secret is firemen get scared. Bad shit happens, and it effects us, it builds within us, and can have a synergistic effect. Then one day it happens, your armor cracks.
You try EAP (if your lucky enough to have it) and your told your normal … by a woman, or a mild mannered man with a sensible manicure (fml), neither who have ever made a hot smoky hallway. What do they know, PTSD my ass! I’ve never been to war.
The truth of the matter is they are right, your probably more normal than you think. How much tragedy can anyone see before it effects them? Who determines what a tragedy is? Maybe it is just a bad experience, and not a tragedy. Maybe you barely made it out of the hallway into the stairwell as the floor flashed … or maybe you were pushed too hard in training as a recruit, and you developed a fear, albeit a “small” fear.
Did I just mention training can cause these symptoms? Bet your ass I did. To quote a term from Christopher Brenan it’s called “Training Scars”, and they will turn into monsters (The MOnster Within) if left untreated, just like any other PTSD exposure. I’ve explained many of the common signs of PTSD above, now I will explain how it happens.
It starts with the fear, (maybe from a previous experience, or founded in a lack of confidence) the anxiety builds, which in turn causes your heart rate to accelerate. Your physically taxed, and the anxiety adds to the rate increase, once your rate exceeds 170 (+/-) your brain shifts into the “Mid-Brain” which is commonly referred to as fight or flight. This is where the irrational thought processing takes place, its where your respirations get rapid and shallow, where your inability to think rationally will kill you … it has been the demise of over 230 firemen over the past 15 years (info provided by USFA via LODD NIOSH reports).
There is a host of other symptoms such as tunnel vision, auditory exclusion, loss of small motor function, loss of bowel/bladder, and dry mouth to name a few. These occurrences, and symptoms are well documented in law enforcement, and the military, but virtually invisible (undocumented) in the fire service.
Back to training. For those that confuse battles of attrition as training, your wrong, and worse yet your responsible for creating PTSD in firemen by teaching it as training. Listen closely, I AM NOT SAYING ENDURANCE TRAINING IS BAD. I am saying confusing training, where you teach firemen viable skills that they can develop over time, and once they are mastered, they may then confront endurance (testing). Like boxing, if your new to boxing you would not step into the ring with a pro. If you did you would wake up in the emergency room with a broken nose, broken jaw, and both eyes swollen shut. What did you learn? You have to start with the most fundamental things first, like the jab, and how to hold your hands when you throw a punch. As you refine those skills, more are added, maybe body punches, how to bob/weave, to generate power from your hip. As you refine these skills you then learn to throw them in combination with each other. All the while your practicing on heavy bags, speed bags, focus mitts, and in front of a mirror. Then, maybe, you can start to spar with someone who will go easy on you so you can learn rhythm, breathing under duress, keeping your balance centered. As you get better, your sparring partners get better … and if your good enough, maybe you reach pro status … a big reach, but I think you follow my example.
The technique of using an example other than your primary subject (fire fighting) as an example allows for your subconscious to make the associations with the techniques I am discussing. If I were to discuss SAR, Force Entry, Ventilation, Hose/Stream Management, Incident Command, Situational Awareness, Staying Oriented or any of the other hundreds of techniques we use in the fire service it would have elicited a justifiable response, causing you to miss the point, and justify rather than listen … the point is best made with a neutral experience, which is why I used boxing.
To this point, in this article, we have covered PTSD, the development of neural pathways, RPDM, and we haven’t even begun to speak of body control. This is where you incorporate visualization techniques, which is what almost all of us do subconsciously but need to learn to do consciously. Self talk always precedes anxiety, mastering what we tell ourselves is the first step in getting better at anything we wish to do. Breath work, breathing is not done properly in the fire service, and it is the key to physiologically regaining control of ourselves.
If you objectively look at the information I have provided (I know it is extremely difficult to get intent and meaning across with the written word) you can probably recognize some things in your life that have effected you. You may even find yourself agreeing with some of these things, even though you may not completely grasp the concepts, that is not uncommon. I think the subconscious recognizes things … similar to that “gut” feeling that has kept you alive all these years. Some things just resonate.
I apologize if I have not answered all the questions you may have regarding Stress Inoculation, my lecture typically takes at least 4 hours, and a lot of ground is covered (character, learning processes, decision making, training, ptsd, and much more). I wanted to try and unlock a provocative thought in you … that maybe, just maybe, the stories you hear, videos you view, or actions you see in person may not always be explained away as people being ass clowns. Maybe there is more involved than you know … because after all, how do you know what you don’t know?
Think about the men and women who have died not knowing what may have kept them alive … there are at least 230 of them … so check your ego at the door, stay teachable, and remember, we don’t wear capes, we wear bunker gear.
God Bless, stay low, and stay strong brothers and sisters.
Ric Jorge
Station 33A
The Fire Factory

Torch Training


Cutting torches are one of the best most expedient metal cutting tools at our disposal in the rescue world. Like anything we do in the fire service training and experience are paramount in our success on the fire/rescue ground, torch work is no different. Most torch training I have seen usually consists of firefighters placing some scrap metal in a bench vice on the work bench and then taking turns lighting the torch and making a few cuts in the metal, this type of training is essential and it does have its place to get firefighters comfortable with the torch… but where do we go from there? Is that pushing our training to the next level? Is that preparing us for the real deal on the rescue ground?

When we need a torch on the rescue ground it will be for crawling under a machine to free a trapped limb or operating in a building collapse, we won’t always have the ideal body position to make cuts. Well if that is the case then we need to ensure that we train to that standard.


Recently, Lt. Grant Light did a drill with the rest of his crew on Cincinnati Heavy Rescue 9. The drill was simple, they used a small piece of culvert with an “A” frame ladder at the end of it with pieces of scrap metal lashed to it. Each member had to enter the tube, light the torch, and make some cuts.



This allowed the members to practice cutting in extremely awkward positions… which is real life! Pushing your training to the next level is imperative, a cutting torch is only as good as it’s operator.


Special thanks to Lt. Grant Light from Cincinnati Heavy Rescue 9 for passing us along these great pictures and great training ideas.


Tactical Safety: Much Ado About Nothing

The following is from Ray McCormack’s Tactical Safety Blogs, you will be able to see all Ray’s Tactical Safety Blogs here on County Fire Tactics.


Much Ado About Nothing

Tactical Safety for Firefighters

By Ray McCormack

We have Near Miss reports. We have LODD reports. We even have accident reports, but the last category doesn’t get much play. Accidents happen and firefighters get hurt. Many say accidents are preventable, but only if you have the wisdom to see the fault beforehand. That’s what we try to do when it comes to training – eliminate accidents that hurt firefighters especially at live fire events. Not everyone is successful, not everyone is as aware as they should be, and someone always pays a price.

Sometimes the price is steep; a job or title is taken away and it usually coincides with the level of injury sustained or the lack of injury prevention put forth. Sometimes it is the injury itself that is the price paid. A recent example of firefighters injured and people fired concerns a live fire training event that happened last year. The video now posted on the web shows how flames filled the room two firefighters were in. They escaped death by bailing out of a window. I was not there. Most of the people who will read this were not there. So, what do we do? How do we learn from this?

This was a training event.
The training involved live fire.
The training involved PP fans.
The training went bad and fast.

Training is the one world where we should aim to make sure that no catastrophic events occur. We have all the time in the world to make it a safe environment. As safe as possible, that means closely examining every element and taking a fresh look at all burn sets and how they will develop. Live fire events are guided by NFPA 1403. It is the standard you will be judged against if injuries occur; that’s the way it works. You can do as you like, but if it comes to litigation, that will be the rule book you answer to.

So how come the fire service doesn’t erect web sites and pour grant money over preventing training injuries? Maybe we find it more enjoyable to discuss the almost event instead of facing the reality of real training injuries.

It’s not about finger pointing, it’s about finding the root cause and how the dominos fell. Many times, especially with live fire training injury you might see are the nozzle firefighter sustaining a minor burn. People jumping out of windows however is a bit more critical. In the first example, the firefighter may have gone to deep to quickly or the fire moved a bit faster than they thought, or a piece of gear showed some skin. but at least they had the protection of a charged handline. The firefighters who jumped out the window did not appear to be similarly protected.

Are you placing firefighters at live burn events in a position which will force them to bail out a window? No, not if the drill is laid out correctly. When we watch a video such as the aforementioned one, even if we were not physically there, we all know some huge mistakes were made. There are some “nevers” at a live burn when it comes to avoiding preventable injuries.
One is to never let anyone ahead of the safety line or attack hoseline.
Another is to never allow anyone to be past the fire room or allow anyone just to hang out inside the building without a hoseline.

Not hard to figure out, yet not always done. The biggest problem with live burn injuries and past tragedies is that the trust was broken, the trust between student and instructor.

You must decide for yourself what level of commitment you bring to the table. I believe we must bring the highest level of training possible to these events. Much ado about nothing?

Keep Fire in Your Life

Hand Stuck in Paper Shredder

Accidents happen and people always seem to find new ways of injuring themselves. I was doing some research for a training drill I was going to do with my crew when I came across an interesting extrication scenario, when I looked into it further I was amazed at how often it actually happens. The scenario was a person who got their hand stuck in a paper shredder. I happens more than you would think! People attempting to clear out paper jambs without turning the machine off is the leading cause or entrapment but I was also surprised to find that woman with long finger nails was another major cause.shredder

If we respond to a call like this there are obviously some things that we need to keep in mind, insuring that the machine is turned off and unplugged is going to be paramount… but insuring that the machine cannot be re plugged in by accident is also going to be a priority. This can be accomplished a couple different ways:

1) You can use a specific lock out tag out device designed for extension cords

2) You can cut the plug end off


After lock out tag out has been completed and all of the proper medical procedures have been put into place extricating the patient can commence. Extricating the patient is not going to be that difficult if you have the proper tools, equipment, and training. Having a good selection of screw drivers at your disposal is going to be key, the machine can be very easily disassembled in a few minutes.


I wanted to recreate this extrication scenario for my crew so I went to a thrift store and found an old paper shredder for $3, I used a foam hand and ran it into the shredder. I had my crew go through the scenario including lock out tag out, medical, and extrication.


It was a short training drill but the guys took a lot out of it and it got them thinking, it also allowed some of our members that don’t have a high level of mechanical aptitude to hone their skills and get better skilled with the most basic of tools.


Till next time, push your training to the next level.


Chainsaw and the fire service (keep it simple)

Chainsaw and the fire service, keep it simple.

When I worked at the Oakland Fire department, we used a large power head, a Stihl 044 and/or MS 440 chain (No special saw… fire service design etc or special fire service chain). Saws were equipped with carbide tip chains using a 404-7 sprocket and .404” 20-inch bar. This set-up is for structure fires only(See below). We bought the Oregon generic carbide tooth semi chisel design in a large roll and made up our own chain. It worked great.

This way we could replace broken teeth and have a chain with a full set of teeth for every fire.  We also sharpened the teeth with a carbide tooth sharpening jig.  They were the saw of choice on every pitched roof op. The OFD regularly does vertically vent roof ops because of a large quantity of balloon frame housing stock.

 Chain of choice (Below)


Bar of choice for the OFD (Below)


Most of the small engine 2-cycle problems are from new blended ethanol gasoline (never had a saw not start or run well when taken care of).  Any saw exposed to an air lean environment like heavy smoke will not run perfMake sure to understand the problem with modern gasoline blends.  Buy non-ethanol blend gasoline for your small power tools, as ethanol attracts water.  Damage to your equipment will result without quick use of ethanol blend fuel both in the saws’ tanks and in storage fuel cans.  This is a major problem for the fire service with limited rapid use of mixed fuel and prolonged storage.  By the way, you can get straight gasoline at most marine gasoline pumps; this is because the water absorption issue is a well known problem in the marine boating community.


Can Ethanol-Free Fuel Save Small Engines?


Any chainsaw chain design, that protects the tooth too much, limits its cutting ability. Most fire service specific designed chain has this problem. You do not need a chain that cuts slow at the cost of preserving teeth. The bullet type chain is in my opinion the worst, almost none of the tooth is exposed the rake is huge and making the tooth almost useless. Sure it will last, but at the cost of functional operation.


Above: Note not only the very large rake but the small amount of cutting edge exposed on the tooth

Think of a chopper blade on a cir-saw, it has a deep gullet to provide both rapid removal of debris and full tooth exposure. Fire service chain saw chain does the opposite of that, there was nothing wrong with generic carbide tooth semi chisel design chain. You can even file the rake down a bit to make it even cut faster.

Please- GO OUT AND TRY IT- buy a generic carbide tooth semi chisel design chain you will be shocked it how it out performs fire service special chain.  I recommend Oregon Chain and make sure not to buy their special fire service chain either.  With increased price and expense does not always come increase performance.  Fire service employees need to know the general physics regarding how tools work as well as proper care and maintenance of equipment.  Only this knowledge will lead to the best and proper tool selection.

Captain Dennis Legear Oakland (CA) Fire Department

Safety Factor Today?

Attention: FireFighters

What’s your safety factor today?

Over the past year I’ve been finding myself showing up to work worn out mentally, physically tired, and head just not in the game. I’ve been in medic school, and just don’t have time for much else. In the mornings I would be shaving and look in the mirror and ask, “could you give the performance of your career today? What if today was the “Super Bowl”?” And the honest assessment of myself was scary sometimes to say the least. I know that if “The Fire” happened that day, I would not be as ready as I should, and I didn’t like the feeling.

Each member of the fire service needs to stand in front of the mirror at the beginning of every shift and make a no bull assessment of what their true capabilities are for that day. I like to break this assessment down into two categories of evaluation each day- one assessment of yourself, and the other of the shift. Evaluating yourself is probably the hardest because we need to get honest with and admit things we are lacking. This mental preparation starts for me when I wake up and begin preparing for my shift.

I like to take a “do your job, and do it the best” approach or mindset. There will never be an age where everyone will go home every time. If there is, that means we have neglected to do our jobs and take risks to save lives; we probably aren’t putting out fires that could be put out; we probably aren’t searching inhabitable spaces in burning buildings; and we probably aren’t searching ahead of the hoseline or VES- that’s what the American people expect of us. That’s why they pay us to be able to sit around all day and wait on a call (we shouldn’t choose to sit). This is a fact that we need to come to terms with while working to improve our chances of fulfilling our calling to the highest standard of skill and service. And is a fact that I like to recognize every time I step onto a rig as this reminder helps to bring the gravity of the job to heart every day.

This mind set tells us that we will do our job and do it to the best we can, so that if we don’t go home, no one will say we weren’t prepared, and our training let us down. A good brother of mine stated a question one time, and actually has it written inside his helmet, “if every fireman were as good as you, how good would this fire department be? Think about it, and then think about it again, and then answer it honestly. After this reality check with yourself, change what you don’t like. If this means making time for more sleep the night before, do it! If it means planning time for an one or two hour time of down time during your shift, do it!  Do what it takes if all you need to do is rest. If you need to practice a skill-set or put your hands on a tool that never gets used, do it! If it means going to the fitness room and walking an incline mile with an air-pack on to increase your breathing stamina, do it! I’ve realized that these personal fixes are usually just small tweaks that we need to make in our lives. However, these small tweaks sometimes seem like a lot to overcome before you begin.

The next step in determining your safety factor is assessing your shift. This includes personnel, apparatus, and equipment. Now I can’t tell you how to go through these checklists word for word, you need to decide what is applicable to your shift. Where I like to start is by asking yourself questions about the firefighters you are working with that day such as: Is my normal crew working together today? Do we have a part timer? Have they ridden on the ladder/engine/beach enough to be competent? Are they in shape enough for the job? Can they swim? Are they going to be tired or drained from things in their home or school life too? Will I have to help the LT because he isn’t normally assigned to this station/shift? Be respectful and act like a coach when taking into account the abilities of your crew. Do not make someone feel stupid or belittled because they are not as up to speed as your normal crew may be with the equipment and assignments at your station. However, be honest and tell your crew the truth about their abilities.  Explain why you may change an assignment based on abilities. We all need to be on the same page that we are here for a common goal and sometimes there isn’t a set playbook or roster.

Then know your equipment: Are you in your normal truck? If not, did all of your equipment get transferred over? Is all of your equipment working and consumable items stocked? If something is broken or missing can we adapt with another tool? If so make sure the crew is aware of the “plan B.” You may need to perform a Monday check on a reserve truck when you switch over because they are usually more suspect to issues than your front line apparatus. You may need to train up a part-timer or overtime firefighter on how you operate as a crew or using station specific equipment they will be ultimately responsible for operating on scene.

After all the items of your checklist are evaluated, you are able to make a no bull assessment for your abilities and weaknesses. Make a point system if you want and write it on the duty board. So a score of 10 would mean you are operating with your normal crew and truck with all equipment operational, and well rested firefighters. If you ended up with a reserve truck, acting officer, and part timer, I would rank my safety factor around a 6 or 7. I have never used a numerical scale, but it would be nice to have a visual or comparable system to convey your safety factor. Either way, I would still list out the weaknesses and talk about how to counteract them. Remember to be honest! I know it’s hard for us to ever admit weakness in the fire service, after all we are the go-to guys in almost every emergency scene. This is meant to be food for thought, and an insight to a real issue I realized I was facing–and I know I’m not the only one either. I like to make my assessment and know where our weaknesses are that day so I can operate proactively against them. So please take the time to go through a list you find important or applicable to your shift. Use this as a starting point if needed, but definitely put your own thoughts into it so that your preparation and training will not let you down if you don’t make it home.


Gradum Ante

By: FF Daniel Mills

ECFR Ladder 12