One of the biggest enemies of firefighters is our own complacency. We train all the time, we review safety procedures, and we have even added new command positions called safety officers to enforce the numerous safety policies we have enacted. It seems like every time someone gets hurt, we get another rule. All the new rules are alright, but sometimes we just need to remind ourselves that our job is dangerous and we need pay attention to the little things.
One of our most important tools we have is our SCBA. Years ago, firefighters would breathe through their mustaches or bunker coats to filter out the smoke particles. Without boring you with the same old story about how much worse the smoke is these days, I will just say our bodies weren’t designed to breathe smoke, so put on your SCBA. There are rules about SCBA that say we need to wear it if we are in an environment that might become full of smoke or toxic gases. If we followed that rule to the letter we would put that SCBA on when we started shift and leave it on until we get off duty. If we use common sense with SCBA, we won’t ever breathe smoke. If you get done with that big fire and your nose is full of black soot, you probably didn’t use your SCBA correctly.
We drive big trucks with lights and sirens, you wouldn’t think we would hurt ourselves doing that, would you? Too many times we drive too fast and think too little. Wear your seat belt in the fire truck. Getting this idea through the heads of firefighters was tough. Even when we see people die in accidents because they didn’t wear their seat belt, we really fought this one. “I can’t get out of the rig fast enough if I wear my seat belt”. “If I put on my SCBA while wearing a seat belt it gets all tangled up.” I actually used that last one for a while. More than once the seat belt got wrapped up with the SCBA straps and I was stuck in the engine for a while. My solution to that was to wait until the rig was stopped, take off the seat belt, and then put on the SCBA. If you have that SCBA ready to go, you can get back a little of the extra time needed to slide it on. There really is no emergency that important that you can’t sit back for 10 seconds and look at what is going on as you tighten those SCBA straps.
One of the most important lessons I learned about driving is to wait until everyone is seated before you pull out. Every department has at least a couple drivers that want to be the first one to roar out the door. As soon as they get that rig started, they are mashing down on the gas pedal with no regard to who is ready. As a company officer, it is very simple to slow that guy down. All you need to do is keep your door open until you are sure everyone is seated and ready to go. Even that over anxious driver won’t pull out until you close your door.
Don’t let your complacency get you hurt. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by all the rules, and I never really liked the idea of someone being there just to make sure I followed the rules. Follow the rules and never come to work without your common sense.
By John Morse
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