I decided that instead of spending a lot of time reading and giving you all the skinny on this new reflective vest requirement I would simply give you the links to the information.

FireNews.net did a good bit of research on the new requirements
and offers this .pdf the 3m quick reference guide
and this .pdf the vest push card

You can also see information here on ResponderSafety.com

I thought that this video clip was worthwhile. Check it out.

And this one from Chief Rick Lasky about Pride and Ownership.

The Roanoke Fire EMS Department has many committees. For the most part, the committees are very effective. In the more recent years, the recommendations of the committees have been agreed upon by Administration. The most common reason for non-compliance with committee recommendations has been budget constraints. Usually, this is taken care of up front when Admin. gives certain criteria for the committees to follow. This criteria is usually budget driven.

It hasn’t always been that way. I won’t delve deep into the certain issues which committees have been rendered useless due to veto by Administration, however the Quints is one issue where the committees were backed into a corner and were uncomfortable with the outcome.

Examples of Roanoke’s committees are the turnout gear committee, uniform committee, apparatus committee (two actually – one for fire and one fore ems vehicles), training committee, airpack committee, and many others. Some meet regularly, others like the airpack committee were kind of a one time thing to decide on new airpacks.

The Charleston Fire Department (SC) is facing the very worse for the newly formed committees which were suggested by the panel overseeing the reformation of the department. These committees have been overruled by their Chief. Chief Thomas, who has been identified as the root of many problems in the department by many inside and outside of the department, went along with the recommendations for forming committees. However, when given the recommendations by the committees, Chief Thomas has decided not to implement the recommendations and do whatever he felt like. Basically, the committee members felt as though Chief Thomas had wasted their time and according to some; returned to the dictator role he had been posturing for the past 16+ years in the job.

This is not healthy. The system we have is healthy. Although we cannot have everything we want, the firefighters in Roanoke have figured out that through committee involvement we can compromise on what equipment we have to work with. This system has been very beneficial to the firefighters, giving them a sense of worth in the department and offering them the input into equipment which could mean the matter of life or death while on the job. The flip side of the coin would be Administration deciding on this key equipment while being removed from the day to day operations in which we use them. What does it matter to an Incident commander, who is standing outside, of what airpack we have on. It doesn’t directly effect them. Just as the firefighters don’t order office supplies equipment for Administration because we don’t use them.

There are issues on the committee level too though. Many believe that a lot of the committee members do it for one reason only (to make themselves look good). I cannot say that is not true. There are some who appear to be in that situation. However, for the most part it seems as though the firefighters who are involved in committees do so for the simple reason of understanding that they can be part of the solution. The other issue with committees is that many firefighters have been unable to get involved in certain committees due to some firefighters being involved in more than one. All I can say is the next time there is a sign up for a committee, have your company officer put in a good word for you.

As for Charleston, from my point of view I think that there is one simple answer to reform. That answer is to get a new Chief. I am not saying it will be a cure all. But from what I have read, and I have been following it since the tragedy, it would be a great place to start.

One issue at the forefront of firefighters minds is staffing. Roanoke is no different. I have gotten a lot of feedback since posting Staffing in Roanoke, Part II, and Part III. I get phone calls frequently about trucks being out of service. It is unfortunate we cannot have at least the minimum staffing met.

Roanoke’s firefighters have continued to see the staffing reduced for many years. More recently, we have seen staffing get moved around like Engine 12′s crew get reassigned to Medic 4 and Roanoke County Clearbrook Station to staff an engine and medic unit. This was done when engine 12 was disbanded. This year, engine 7 was taken out of service and its crew was reassigned to a medic truck at station 7 and to staff ladder 7 with 1 more additional firefighter (minimum staff on ladder 7 is 4 now).

Rarely a day goes by that an engine isn’t out of service for half the day. Engine 2 or Engine 13 most commonly, but others are as well. I can imagine it is not easy for the Battalion Chiefs to figure out who will be marked out of service when because they don’t have enough firefighters to staff them all of the time.

Today, Engine 2 is out of service for most of the day. It appears as though two of our EMT-Intermediates are riding as a third on two of the ambulances to be precepted. However, if you look at red alert it seems as though there are three other firefighters available riding as a 4th person on trucks. This is at the face value of red alert and how accurate the information is. If this is the case, that there are 3 extras, then shouldn’t we move around some ff’s so we can staff engine 2?

I realized when writing an older post that by marking units out of service for any length of time, we are not meeting the minimum staffing.

The fire service has a history of realizing needs after disasters. Not the firefighter necessarily, but the ones writing the checks. What is it going to take here in Roanoke for us to realize that we are playing with matches when it comes to staffing. Most of the reason why we mark trucks out of service is because we are short staffed. Basically, if a Battalion has more than 6 firefighter positions unfilled (vacation, holiday, light duty, extended illness, vacancy, etc.) then we have to call in for overtime. That is not a large threshold for calling in overtime. Obviously it is cheaper to call in overtime than it is to hire more firefighters. But we don’t always call in overtime because it is too expensive. Basically, unless there is a need for a firefighter for an entire shift, we don’t call in overtime. That means if we have a firefighter, making a crew of 3 and no extras in the City, who needs to go to training or whatever for 8 hours then we mark the truck out of service until the firefighter is back from training. Why don’t we just fill the position with overtime. I know…because overtime is too expensive.

Rest assured, eventually it will catch up. I hope it doesn’t, but the wrong persons house will burn, or someone will get injured or killed and the first due engine will be out of service because they don’t have enough manpower. What is going to be cheaper then? The overtime.
Recently I attended on-duty training put on by the department. I cannot remember what the class was or everything that was discussed. That isn’t important either and my memory sucks. However, it was some of the best training I have ever had. Does that make sense? Not yet, but it will.

I learned something in that training, and the way I see it if I learn something then the class was worthwhile.

What did I learn? To wear my seatbelt all the time in fire apparatus.

Yeah I know what you are saying “You just learned that”. The answer is NO, but this time it stuck. I wear my seatbelt ALL of the time in my POV, however not all the time in the firetruck.

But that all changed. Now let me explain.

When I came to the department we had open cabs, no not topless, but the back of the jumpseats were open. I usually stood up if the weather was good and faced forward to see what was going on. To and from the scene I was rarely buckled in. The rare exception was if the driver scared me with their skills (or lack there of).

The one exception to wearing my seat belt in apparatus was when I was driving, I always wore it then.

Now that I have outed myself, let me explain why.

Ever since I had children, I began realizing that I was not invincible and that if I was hurt because I was being stupid I wouldn’t be the only one effected. I have learned that all this “Safety” stuff has a purpose: To save Firefighter’s Lives.

So there I was, if I was driving I wore it, if not I didn’t. Then I started riding the seat as the officer occasionally.

Once you go from driver to riding the seat you loose the control of the wheel. This is not very easy to do, especially with an inexperienced driver. I can always tell when I scare my officer when I am driving, because they frantically reach to put on their seatbelt.

I have seen picture after picture of apparatus accidents where firefighters die because they weren’t wearing their seatbelts. What made me feel that I would walk away in a similar circumstance. I have been in close calls. I remember one close call, due to a citizens stupidity in trying to outrun an engine, that I almost killed him with the ladder truck. If I hadn’t of seen him at the last minute he would have died. I am certain. After the investigation, it would have been found that I had the green light and he wasn’t paying attention to me while trying to outrun an engine coming from the other direction. Both us and the engine were running lights and sirens and were going to the same call. Would I have been hurt if I didn’t have my seatbelt on if we had collided? Probably, but he would have taken the brunt of the force of the accident. Luckily, no one was injured.

So there I was in that class which I don’t remember and I made a pledge to myself that I would always wear my seatbelt and make sure to be a positive role model to my brother/sister firefighters and encourage them to wear theirs as well.

At my station, we have a poster encouraging seatbelt use. Although many firefighters have added a little artistic touch to the poster, it still gets the point across.

With all of the added danger of responding to emergencies, it only makes sense to wear your seatbelts. NO EXCUSES…WEAR YOUR SEATBELTS.

To read more on the National Seatbelt Pledge, visit the website here.

This post is just for a little clarification as well as some “case and point” examples for the nay-sayers and those who wanted examples.

First of all, Jay at Firefighter Hourly.com has talked about the two part (now three) post on staffing in Roanoke. Check out the post here and the podcast here. FireGeezer also covered the story here.

I believe that Jay understood me exactly, and in talking to many firefighters I believe that I got the point across. However, there are plenty of firefighters who still don’t think it is a big deal to simply mark trucks out of service for long periods of time for any reason at all.

I did not realize that my point would be proven so quickly, but yesterday was a perfect example of what I meant. Yesterday, Engine 2, Engine 3, Quint 7, and Medic 7 were reported to be out of service from 0800 – 1700 hours (8am til 5pm). That meant that at station 2 we were left with ladder 2 and medic 2, at station 13 we were left with ladder 13, and at station 7 we were left with NOTHING.

The interesting thing is that the neighborhood groups around station 7 were told that their service would not be changed (to which there was a collective laugh by the firefighters). If indeed engine 7 was still in service, one of the trucks would have remained in service (I should hope).

I can’t make this stuff up.

As for solutions. Well I have been working on solutions for all of this including the medic thingy. Sure, they are my ideas or that of the firefighters which I believe will work. Of course, all of it costs money. If it didn’t cost money, we wouldn’t be working the way we do.

Reading some of the comments from Staffing in Roanoke (the previous post), I realized that some of you want more information. I try my best to write on the basis of non-firefighters reading this and/or firefighters from other jurisdictions. Apparently I have fallen short. That is ok. I will elaborate further.

First of all, I want to say that the reasoning for writing Staffing in Roanoke was to shine light on apparatus being taken out of service almost daily due to the lack of staffing. My solution is to hire more firefighters and/or create more positions so that when these events occur, we will not be taking units out of service for the lack of 3 firefighters.

Although I have been a proponent of a minimum staffing of 4, the last post was not intended to develop cause for it, I have written about that in the past and will do so again in the future.

One of the commentors asked about information on what firefighters do and reasoning for needing 4 firefighter on the truck. The cause for the question was for ammunition to assist in writing council. I want to be certain that we are at least operating at par before attempting to increase staffing for the 4 minimum.

The issue at hand is that Roanoke Fire-EMS staffs its fire engines and fire ladder trucks with a minimum of 3 firefighters. When we do not have 3 firefighters for each truck we mark trucks out of service. This is not the intended result of having a minimum of 3. The minimum of 3 is to ensure that we have 3 on every truck. If we do not have enough then we need to call in overtime (quick fix) or hire more firefighters (long term fix). Surely, the Department cannot guess when members will quit or retire, however it can be proactive by over hiring to merely cover the gap.

Almost daily, an engine or two is marked out of service so that members can go to intermediate class, instruct at the recruit school, or occupational health for physicals and drug tests (random tests), and many other reasons. However, marking the trucks out of service is not the answer.

For years, Administration has attempted to decrease Roanoke Fire EMS down to 9 stations (currently we are at 12, in 1995 we had 14).

We have lost:
Station 12 – closed around 2000, Engine 12 was taken out of service and Medic 4 was placed in service. We also sent 6 firefighters to staff a county station (Clearbrook). The County is still counting the dollars it saves!

Station 3 – closed last year, Engine 3 and medic 3 are now Engine 1 and medic 1. This was a cosmetic change and no apparatus were taken out of service.

Engine 7 was taken out of service this year and Ladder 7 became a Quint. Medic 7 was put in place of Engine 7.

It should also be noted that in 1991, Engine 1 was taken out of service to put Engine 14 in service on 460 (Gus Nicks area). City Council decided at the last minute to delete the new firefighter positions needed to staff the new engine 14 and simply up and move engine 1 out there from downtown. The newly funded firefighter positions became police officer positions.

With the future of the Roanoke Fire EMS Department still up in the air, the 9 station department concept is still on the table. Some of which would include the combining of Stations 5 and 9 (northwest), 2 and 10 (northwest), and 6 and 11 in Southeast. This was laid out in the Tri-Data Study recently completed for the City.

What will happen? Who knows. But rest assured, the trucks that remain in service should REMAIN IN SERVICE. It boggles my mind that the department is run on a skeleton crew. We have been chiseled away to bare bones and the future looks like it will get worse.

So as for right now, the 4 firefighter minimum seems far fetched when we cannot even comply with the 3 firefighter minimum.

I have stuck my neck out pretty far on this blog. And so be it if my skeptics only remember the stuff they disagree with. However, I have seen this occurrence long enough. I feel that there needs to be change. Trucks being marked out has become commonplace. I want the firefighters to know that this type of behavior is not safe or acceptable. I believe that many of us have become numb to the fact that it happens so often and feel that it is ok. It isn’t.

I just don’t want to be the person to be on this same pedestal saying told you so after a firefighter fatality or civilian fatality because trucks were out of service.

Staffing in the Roanoke Fire-EMS Department. This topic has bothered me for a long time. There are several issues relating directly to staffing, and I hope to cover several of them in the next few paragraphs.

First of all lets talk about trucks being out of service. I think that if we had scrolling message boards outside of each station notifying the citizens of when the trucks are out of service and why, we would have several complaints. I know that a lot of it is part of life like going out of service occasionally and being out on a call, even out of service for training. However, being a firefighter on the Northside, it is amazing how often Engine 2 and Engine 13 are out of service due to manpower.

Now let me give you a little background. All of Roanoke City’s Fire Engines are staffed with a minimum of 3 firefighters (I will leave rank out of it). 3 of the 4 ladder trucks are staffed with a minimum of 3 firefighters. Recently, one of our Ladders (Ladder 7) has been staffed with a minimum of 4 firefighters. This is due to the fact that the Engine was taken out of service at that station and replaced with an ambulance. Better or worse, there are more issues concerning this removal of an engine. The Ladder that remained in place of the Engine Ladder combo now acts as a Quint, meaning the truck can do everything an engine and ladder can do (for the most part). The problem is that the truck doesn’t do anything on it’s own except sit quietly. Therefore, now you have 4 guys doing the job that in Roanoke requires 6 and in other cities requires 8 to 9 firefighters. That is right, in some cities, the minimum staffing is 4 on engines and ladders and even 5 on some ladders. But Roanoke apparently places a lot of stock in its firefighters by doing the job with 3.

I digress, the issue is staffing not removal of apparatus.

The point I was beginning to make with laying out the minimum staffing is just that; the minimum staffing is 3 on each piece except 1. If you walk in any fire station in Roanoke you will see 3 on the truck 80% of the time (just an educated guess). Where are all of the extra firefighters? Well the answer is that there aren’t many. With guys off on vacation, sick, and light duty, and vacancies due to retirements, firefighters quiting, and other reasons we are left with the minimum on duty.

So basically every day we begin with the minimum unless by chance a station here or there has an extra firefighter. Extra being used very loosely because actually an extra firefighter would be above and beyond the 4 assigned to most apparatus.

So that is at 0750 hours when we begin our shift. Soon, apparatus will be magically marked out of service because of numerous reasons. Company level training, individual training, drug tests, physicals, meetings, investigations, promotional testing, Captains meetings, and many other reasons. Basically, anything that would require at least 1 firefighter to leave the station and not be able to answer calls while being in their first due territory.

This is when, on the Northside, Engine 2 and/or Engine 13 are most commonly out of service. It is usually out of the Battalion Chiefs hands. They work with what they have. On the Southside, I would imagine that the situation is similar. I bet the citizens would have a fit if they knew how often these trucks are out of service, when just a handful of more firefighters would fix the problem.

In the past, I have been a huge proponent of minimum staffing of 4, or compliance with NFPA 1710. Right now, I am not even pushing for the minimum of 4, but rather just the minimum of 3.
After all, if we have to mark a truck out of service because a firefighter has to go to training then are we really meeting the minimum of 3. I THINK NOT. Minimum staffing of 3 should mean a minimum of 3 all the time. Doesn’t it just make sense. It seems to me like a cover up. Sure, the system allows for a certain amount of trucks to be out of service at a time. But for what reasons. Maybe we need to reform the system and add some positions just to ensure the minimum staffing is met.

I am kinda scared to ask for a minimum staffing of 4 anymore. The way things are currently going, if it was agreed upon, it would cost marking 5 trucks out of service unless of course we had every vacancy filled and everyone was at work that day.

I will leave you with a couple of things.

First of all, the Charleston review panel has come out with a recommendation of a minimum staffing of 4 in 2 years. Charleston FD is approximately the same size as Roanoke Fire-EMS.

Second, this video from the IAFF on NFPA 1710 (thanks for the heads up from Jay at FirefighterHourly.com). Sorry for those of you on City Computers, you aren’t allowed to access YouTube.

Thirdly, this video from Fairfax County IAFF on the topic of staffing.

Flaws found in firefighters’ last line of defense
U.S. waited 5 years to heed expert’s warning on ‘man down’ alarms

By Bill Dedman
Investigative reporter
An MSNBC Special Report

Worn by a million firefighters in the U.S., the PASS device is a motion sensor that makes an awful racket if a firefighter stops moving for 30 seconds while battling a blaze. It flashes its lights and lets loose a series of ear-splitting beeps — an urgent call to help a fallen comrade.

It’s a call that hasn’t always been heard. Tests by federal and independent labs show that some PASS alarms can fail to perform as intended if they get too hot or wet — a serious problem for people who rush into burning buildings with water hoses. And federal investigative reports reviewed by MSNBC.com show that 15 firefighters have died since 1998 in fires where a PASS, or Personal Alert Safety System, either didn’t sound or was so quiet that rescuers weren’t given a chance to find the firefighter quickly. (Read More)