As the fire and emergency service begins the New Year, the National Fire Fighter Near-Miss Reporting System continues to capture an array of events indicating we still need to be vigilant about safety. Recently submitted stories share lessons learned similar to events that have been recorded in previous years.
These three incidents cover emergency responses and operations where lessons learned from the past, if adequately integrated into a training program, could have influenced the way decisions were made.
Report #11-352 reminds us that traffic control and apparatus placement should always be considered when operating on a roadway:
At a private vehicle fire, the lieutenant directed the driver/operator to block the outside lane of travel; all emergency lights were in operation. A car approaching the engine in the same lane waited until the last minute to try to move to the left. After hitting another vehicle, the car swerved into the rear driver side of the engine and scraped along the side towards the driver/operator who was standing at the pump panel; he jumped up just as the car passed beneath where he was standing, so wasn’t injured. The quick reaction of the driver/operator to the situation truly saved his life. It should be noted that the engine wasn’t angled as both training and highway safety procedures call for.
Report #11-347 is an example of hidden dangers that can be detrimental to operations and safety:
Units responded to a report of a fully involved detached garage fire, off hydrant to find a fully involved 30 x 60 foot garage/shop with wind-driven flames and heat threatening an adjacent home. The first-in engine arrived and was directed to attempt exposure protection; the second-due engine arrived and began deploying a protection line to the reverse side of the exposure. Crews were having a difficult time gaining good penetration onto the exposure due to high winds, smoke and heat.
Command was transferred from the first-in captain to the chief. As the chief completed a walk-around, he heard the sound of a venting fuel tank; none was reported on the initial size-up. Operations was advised and tanker/pumper hadn't arrived yet, so due to low water the engineer signaled the crew to withdraw to a safe area. A large explosion occurred, sending debris—what appeared to be the end of the fuel tank—across the yard. A PAR was taken and all crews were intact and uninjured; the fire attack continued with the arrival of tankers.
The investigation determined that a 300-gallon fuel oil tank was stored on a four-foot tall metal stand in the garage. It appeared as though the tank was about 1/4 full at the time of the fire and failed when the vent couldn’t keep up with the vapor pressure being generated by the fire load. There were no indications of the presence of the fuel tank and the homeowner didn’t pass this on to the first-in officer or crew.
Report #11-344 demonstrates the importance of situational awareness for both a driver of an emergency vehicle and a privately own vehicle:
This combination department includes career staff at most stations in the jurisdiction 24/7, along with volunteers who respond from home in personal vehicles to either the fire station or an incident scene. On this occasion, the engine company was dispatched for a reported chimney fire in its second-due area along with the first-due engine and truck company. During response, they approached an intersection leading to the first-due fire station, traveling at 25-30 mph. The engine driver made eye contact with a pickup truck stopped at the intersection and lights and sirens were active at the time.
The pickup driver quickly accelerated out in front of the engine, causing the driver to slam on the brakes, narrowly missing the pickup truck, which was being driven by a volunteer firefighter responding to his station for the call. The personnel on the engine were all wearing seat belts as required and no injuries occurred.
After the incident, notification was made of the volunteer firefighter’s actions to his volunteer chief and the on-duty career captain, but as of this date, no disciplinary actions have been taken against the volunteer.
The lessons learned from these three events can be related to other similar incidents that have been submitted to the Near-Miss Reporting System in years past. Departments with a method in place to review Near-Miss events that incorporates lessons learned in their training culture may be able to avoid future near misses. The following lessons learned from the above examples are appropriate to apply for similar events:
- Work with your stakeholders in the preplanning process.
- A risk analysis should always be completed at any incident.
- An effective fire-prevention and code-enforcement program can affect the outcome of fire suppression.
- Situational awareness is vital for drivers of all types of vehicles responding to or operating at emergency incidents.
- Traffic incident management is an important element at an incident on a roadway.
John C. Woulfe III is the assistant director of the IAFC’s National Programs and Consulting Services.