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.
By: FF Daniel Mills
ECFR Ladder 12