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Firefighter/EMT Safety, Health & Survival: Ready? Set? Not Exactly.

Do you remember the story from last year about the man whose jet ski broke down in New York City's Jamaica Bay. The man swam three miles to JFK airport, climbed an eight-foot "security" fence and ran across two runways—and he wasn't detected until he approached an airline employee for help.

A few months before that, another man swam through Jamaica Bay and scaled that very same fence before making his way—totally undetected—to the airport's jet fuel storage area.

The system was supposed to catch those intruders using motion detectors and cameras; it was supposed to make JFK impregnable to both trespassers and potential terrorists who approach by water. It didn't work.

So what's this got to do with you, as a member of the IAFC?

You can spend all the money in the world on whatever, but if it doesn't work, you've essentially tossed the taxpayers money away and failed to meet the goal.

Forget that if the jet skier turned out to be a bad guy, he could have killed a bunch of people. And cops. And firefighters.

Stretching the imagination? Never forget.

So now, break this down to the most basic level of what your fire/EMS department does. Your department's mission is to be ready. Ready. For whatever the hazard. Just be ready. Look around your community; could "whatever" happen here? Are you ready?

When we're ready, things usually work out pretty well. When we aren't, the endings often end up in headlines and with you wishing you could turn back the hands of time.

Ready at what? Whatever.

Whatever someone could call 9-1-1 for and say they need fixed really fast: Their bedroom is on fire. Their uncle is choking. That green stuff is leaking. People are trapped in a car. They smell gas. Their home is full of smoke—on the 19th floor.

They called you because your fire department advertised that you and your personnel are ready.

Being ready doesn't mean sitting around waiting for the run. Ready means using all the time we possibly can before that run comes in to prepare for the run. Which run? Any run. See above.

Be it a staffed or unstaffed firehouse, being ready takes on many levels. But since this story is primarily about equipment (operated by people) being ready, we'll focus on that.

Equipment being ready. Checking equipment—one of the most mundane tasks your firefighters are responsible for. Thermal imagers, jaws, nozzles, radios, tools, bunker gear. Whatever you may need when they call your people for help.

Some in our business like to just check the box and not check anything—"because there were no runs since the last time it was checked."

That's pure laziness, dangerous and criminal. How do you know it's getting done, Chief? Do you trust your personnel? Of course you should. Be sure to verify it as well. Verified trust.

There was a dwelling fire a few years ago when a captain and a firefighter pulled a handline off their engine to start hitting the fire. The problem was that it was missing the nozzle. They figured that out after they got to the back door to make entry. Now what? The "thumb on the hose" won't work like it does on the garden hose.

Another time, a crew was brought in for their thermal imager—the batteries were dead when they got inside. A recent firefighter LODD report identified a 120 GPM nozzle on a 200+ GPM capable hose line. No, no good.

No doubt you have stories of your own. You, us, me—we all do.

In firehouses doing numerous fires, the "good companies" automatically develop the need to ensure the saw will definitely start. The hoseline absolutely has a nozzle. The TIC is charged up and working. The radios work. It's because the repetitive nature makes it almost second nature. The firefighters get it, and the bosses do as well. Same with busy rescue companies, busy EMS units, etc.

The challenge is that when your crews aren't so busy (which is pretty much any firehouse, at various times) or when they use a tool infrequently (as is the case with so many tools we carry), it's easy to blow off the need to ensure "that" tool will work each time, every time without fail.

Imagine your firefighters making a run and whatever is needed to make a difference doesn't work because it wasn't checked. Maybe some members are trapped and your firefighters and their tools are expected to get them out. A mayday is transmitted but your personnel forgot to check their radio batteries before having coffee. You're on a scene and you order a crew to vent the roof immediately, but the saw is out of fuel. One of your engines pulls up on a car fire, but the booster tank wasn't filled from the last run.

Whatever it is, it is your job as a chief officer to ensure equipment and your people are ready. To make sure "it" works. To make sure the equipment and your people can be counted on.

It's not easy. It's easier for some to watch Family Guy or play Angry Birds. Forget that. As chief, you must set the tone to make sure "whatever" works, so that when it's needed, it does work. "Whatever" is any piece of equipment on any apparatus they may have to ride on. Every tool. Every battery. Every switch. Every person. Whatever.

The Port Authority of NY/NJ stumbled on the fact that their taxpayer-funded equipment failed. Twice. Luckily, it wasn't a bad guy who helped them find out. At least not this time.

Thanks to the Port Authority of NY/NJ, we're reminded that stuff needs to be checked. Thoroughly checked. Checked as in having an official someone walk across the protected areas and see if the thing works.

Nothing is self-testing; forget that. Use the equipment in the way it's supposed to be used to make sure it works. Flow the nozzle. Start the saw. Transmit the radio. Whatever.

The next to last thing any of us wants is to find out something doesn't work.

As chief, the last thing you want is to find out is that something won't work when your people—or the customers they serve—are counting on it.

Ready… Set…

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