Our observations, both conscious and unconscious, are routed to our minds to be processed. This processing is the Analysis and Synthesis aspect of our orientation. The process of analysis and synthesis was very important to Col. Boyd, to the extent that the only paper he ever wrote on the subject of decision-making and thought was “Destruction and Creation”.
In “Destruction and Creation” Boyd tells us, “Studies of human behavior reveal that the actions we undertake as individuals are closely related to survival, more importantly survival on our own terms.” He goes on to relate this to our ability to make decisions by saying, “In viewing the instinct for survival in this manner we imply that a basic aim or goal, as individuals, is to improve our capacity for independent action.” This is analogous to what I have described as Thriving. So, it can be said that our ability to analyze and synthesize is directly related to our survival.
The significant experience of this in my own life has been while operating as a firefighter inside a burning building. The interior of a burning building is a unique microcosm, a relatively small mirror image of a larger whole, in this case it is a world of its own. The fundamental natural laws of physics and chemistry govern this world, but the dynamics of it are unique. No two building fires will develop in the exact same manner, and as a result of this dynamism the firefighter operating inside this environment must be able to make sense of what is occurring without having the ability to study the specific scenario in advance.
This is life.
At any moment we are immersed in a world that is constantly changing and that will require us to make decisions that may directly effect our survival.
From choosing how we will fuel our bodies, to the kinds of information we will put into our minds, to if we will consume alcohol or other drugs for the purposes of altering our perceptions of reality, and down the line the decisions we make will have a direct (though not necessarily immediate) effect on our ability to thrive.
Our ability to make these decisions is directly governed by how well the inputs we are receiving through our observations (and stimuli that affect us even down to the cellular level) pass through our filters and are analyzed and synthesized. The world of cognitive neuroscience is a massive topic and beyond the scope of a mere article. I encourage you to become a student of how you and others think (analyze and synthesize) so that you can better understand why you make the decisions that you do.
THE THROTTLE – HOMEOSTASIS
Col. Boyd’s diagram captures much of what is involved in how we think. One thing I have come to believe is missing from the diagram though is a way of indicating the very real effect that the biology and chemistry occurring inside us have on our ability to analyze and synthesize. There is still a lot of work to be done to understand how we analyze and synthesize, how memory works, and how we actually take three pounds of grey and white matter and use electrical charges to make decisions. We will eventually understand these processes, of that I have no doubt. For the time being however I would rather focus our time on a more practical aim.
Our thoughts and decisions happen within the environment that we maintain in our brains. The internal environment of all living things seeks to maintain homeostasis. Homeostasis is “The tendency of an organism or a cell to regulate its internal conditions, usually by a system of feedback controls, so as to stabilize health and functioning, regardless of the outside changing conditions.” This means that our bodies, down to the cellular level, are expending energy to maintain a functional environment. How does this relate to our ability to make decisions?
The general environment that is found throughout the body affects the environment of our brains. In this way our general level of neurochemistry acts as a throttle on the effectiveness of our ability to analyze and synthesize.
Keep this thought in mind, as I’m going to take up the subject of our internal operating environment in articles to come.
Our ability to make sense of the world around us, to make good decisions about how to move through that world, is directly related to our ability to incorporate new information into our worldview. I have written before about the effects of intellectual entropy. The second law of thermodynamics tells us that all energy and matter moves into a state of disorder in a closed system. Our access to, and more importantly willingness to incorporate New Information, is the only mechanism we have to offset the effects of intellectual entropy.
Human beings seem to be born with an aversion to new information. Whether we are talking about the Roman Catholic Church taking 329 years to vindicate Galileo’s cosmology, or the United States’ Food and Drug Administration’s steadfast holding onto a high carbohydrate diet as the key to weight loss despite mounting evidence that their prescription is actually causing an increase in diabetes and heart disease, we see that groups of people are very hesitant to change what they believe to be true. Regardless of this predisposition, if we seek to make good decisions we must strive to allow new, and at times contradictory, information a place at the table, so to speak.
Being open to new information is something we can develop. It requires that we strive to think critically about topics and question everything. Question what you believe to be true, question what others believe to be true, look to the source data that supports a viewpoint, and even more importantly look for information that contradicts your views. This can range from reading a newspaper whose editorial board favors a political view you disagree with to going to the extreme of digging into literature and narrative that supports an idea antithetical to your own.
History has validated that the National Socialist Party and its leadership perpetrated a holocaust against the Jewish people (as well as gypsies, homosexuals, people with special needs, and others they labeled as undesirable) yet there are still those who insist this is a fiction. The former president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad claimed the holocaust was a myth. How could the leader of the 17th largest nation in the world (by population) make such an egregious claim? It was either in his political interest to make this assertion despite knowing it was false, or he believed fiercely in something he had been taught which ran contrary to the facts of the world. In the same vein there are people who believe the Earth is only 6000 years old despite the weight of evidence that says it is roughly 4.5 BILLION years old. There is no way to easily cast off beliefs that have been taught to us since birth.
I do want to take a moment and say that our openness to new information isn’t synonymous with doubting accepted facts or the need to be solipsist. Knowledge is a real thing. We have to learn from the knowledge of others. Continuing advancement in science, in philosophy, in any subject you can think of is only possible by building on the work (both the successes and the failures) of those who came before us.
As John of Salisbury wrote, “Bernard of Chartres used to say that we are like dwarfs on the shoulders of giants, so that we can see more than them, and things at a greater distance, not by virtue of any sharpness of sight on our part, or any physical distinction, but because we are carried high and raised up by their giant size.” The can be no doubt that the breathtaking pace of innovation that became common place in the 20th Century, and whose pace has quickened in the 21st, is do to the sheer accumulation of knowledge that we have access to.
In looking at how we make decisions and trying to apply the lessons contained in the OODA Loop we must constantly allow new information into the system.
“Just remember that the things you put into your head are there forever.” The Road, Cormac McCarthy
I’ve been stewing on how to tackle the filter of Previous Experience for months. This has the potential to be a massive topic of consideration, and one that would bore you to death in about twelve seconds. Tops.
The easy way out might have been to just write an essay that lays out the research into performance and mastery that I have talked about before. It takes 200 repetitions of a skill to build automaticity, and it take 10,000 hours of deliberate practice over the course of a decade to reach the level of competency seen in an international elite performer in domains ranging from chess Grand Masters to award winning musicians.
Those are the easy ways to quantify previous experience, but I have to say that as we examine Col.Boyd’s concept of the OODA Loop we have to remember that the diagram is simple in the same way the equation E=MC2 is simple. In the case of the OODA Loop, we have a model that is attempting to describe how our minds work. It may not look simple, but it is pretty distilled
Simplicity is what Nobel Prize winning physicist Murray Gell-Mann is speaking of in his TED talk “Beauty, truth, and… physics?”[i] Elegance and beauty are nearly synonymous when we are talking about the refined expression of a complex topic. Just because it can be expressed simply doesn’t mean it’s easy.
So, what is previous experience? Put simply it is the amalgamation of every emotion, every thought, every action that has happened to you, that has been stored somewhere in your mind. Some of these things are unconscious; you could not recall them if you were commanded to and yet there they sit having left an imprint on how you think and feel.
We are unable to control our previous experiences for the most part. We are being bombarded with stimuli constantly; even when we are sleeping our skin cells are using photoreceptive traits to modulate hormonal levels. Yet our previous experiences can and will color everything we do. Considering then our focus, if our previous experiences are an aspect of our Orientation and have a direct bearing on how we implicitly and explicitly decide and act, how does learning and studying our previous experiences help our ability to perform?
A Mouse and a Bull Walk Into a Bar
We have to turn a critical and unemotional eye on our past reaching back into childhood, and consider all that we currently believe and why we believe it if we are to take the maximum benefit of our positive previous experiences and learn to transcend those things that have left us with road blocks. Our objective is to assess the environment around us with the highest degree of accuracy possible. We want to remove errors that WE are creating because of misinterpretation so that we can rapidly and appropriately respond to what is actually happening in our environment.
In Notes from Underground, Dostoyevsky’s narrator compares the qualities of a mouse to the qualities of a bull. The mouse is analogous to the person who sits in contemplation of all he does, all he has and has not done, and all he could have done which would have made his life better. The bull is the proverbial man of action, who plunges into the fray without a second thought. The mouse, in Fyodor’s view, is caught inside his own mind while the bull has never a second thought. This tendency towards self-reflection and criticism has its down sides,
“…the luckless mouse succeeds in creating around it so many other nastinesses in the form of doubts and questions, adds to the one question so many unsettled question that there inevitably works up around it a sort of fatal brew…”[ii]
This 1864 novella’s allusion to the unsettling effects of doubt brought on by the highly reflective person is spot on if we consider what Leonard Mlodinow reports in Subliminal, “In fact studies show that the people with the most accurate self-perceptions tend to be moderately depressed, suffer from low self esteem, or both.”[iii] Regardless it is important that we ask where our views come from and how they have brought us to where we are.
The movie American History X portrays the far-reaching consequence that previous experiences have on a person’s worldview. The character of Derek becomes a violent white supremacist, after black drug dealers murder his father. The movie is as much about the impact of Derek’s incarceration, for murdering two black men for attempting to steal his truck, on his brother Danny as it is about Derek’s eventual rehabilitation. A pivotal scene in the movie shows us how Derek’s and Danny’s father’s racism laid a foundation for his sons racist world view to grow from. To revisit a quote I’ve used before but I feel is always worth repeating, “Ignorance is something you can’t overcome but you past it on down and that’s something much worse…”[iv]
While Notes… and American History X are deeply philosophical they are works of fiction and as such have to tell us a story. Our examination of our previous experiences, our conscious ones as well as our unconscious ones tell us a story as well, the story is about how our worldview has come to be constructed. It is in understanding that narrative that we can begin to understand how our previous experiences inform our decisions.
Editor’s Note: This featured piece on search comes to us from Gary Lane. Gary is a career firefighter/paramedic for the City of Kent (Ohio) Fire Department. He is a State of Ohio certified Fire Instructor I and the lead mentor for new probationary firefighters. He is co-owner of the training group FireGround Fundamentals,LLC which focuses on “Making the Basics Better”. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
By: Gary Lane
The Fire Service Warrior team has been exploring some different view points the last few weeks with Brian Brush’s articles and videos on search. While some may feel that this is “complicating a simple job”, I feel that this methodology has almost become necessary in today’s fire service world of overnight opinions, internet sensations, and blog bashing. We do indeed need a data driven and sometimes scientific breakdown of what we do and why we do it, and how to get better at it. While Brian’s and Chris’s articles tend to be somewhat objective and technical (again… necessary), today’s post is going to stray just a little bit off that course and offer a more “from the street” perspective and maybe even a little personal opinion! So put your seat backs and tray tables into there fully upright and locked positions, because we may be about to experience a little turbulence.
We were all (I hope) taught search and rescue during our recruit training. That may have been 2 years ago or 22 years ago. Most likely it involved something similar to what Brian talked about in his Residential Search post in regards to a very basic take on the subject. We all should recognize the concrete bunker “furnished” with a single couch and chair, and a couple of “victims” to find is alive and well in today’s training facilities across this country. No big deal, we can work with that. The problem sets in when the instructors don’t have the knowledge, skills, or just plain imagination to make it more realistic and relevant to the demands of today’s firefighter. We must always remember that the burn tower is the same as the gym: it is an artificial environment. It is my hope to throw out some ideas here that were either passed on to me by others over coffee, at different trainings I’ve attended, or learned from actually searching houses first hand.
Raise your hand if you started with the hands and knees crawling method; yeah, me too. Never leave the wall? Hold onto your partners boot for dear life? Swing a sharp metal tool around while looking for a victim? Yep, that was me as well. That’s fine, but it is time to move on to the next level with emphasis on the reasons why we are doing this stuff in the first place. Let’s veer off for a second and talk briefly about fire behavior. It is well known and well written about that fires are doing a really great job of making our job more difficult! Fires are reaching flashover conditions extremely fast (72 seconds after our arrival!?!?) and the heat release rates (HRR) are through the roof! We have to start recognizing some of our tried and true techniques of days past may need a little tweaking. With that in mind, why are we searching? To find the victim! They are in serious trouble and have no PPE or SCBA protecting them. Without getting into a victim survivability debate, let’s just say this: Time is critical. They may be alive. We are the ONLY ONES TRAINED TO COME AND GET THEM. We will not keep up with the rapidly evolving fire conditions if we are crawling at a snail’s pace through the house. How about taking a knee instead? This is like a lunge, only instead of standing up, you are scooting forward. The change in speed is dramatic, in part due to having your head up in a more natural position. Another benefit is a slightly better orientation to the room. We don’t crawl around our house on our hands and knees on a daily basis, so when dropped into that position with heavy, constricting gear and a SCBA, it creates some anxiety and also starts to compress your chest and abdomen causing some physiological changes in your breathing pattern, which may lead to an excessive respiration rate. By being slightly upright in the lunge position, we more closely maintain our natural body position and breathing capabilities. This should also ease some anxiety associated with being in the aforementioned PPE. We will also have our auditory senses (ears) facing in a more common direction as it relates to the way sound from our victim typically travels ie; down the hall, not up out of the floor boards. This may help to catch a faint moan for help from our victim! Let’s further talk about the body positioning. In the lunge position, you will also have a leg out in front of you acting as a “curb feeler” in case there is a rapid change in elevation (stairs or a hole). If your foot drops down, the rest of your body weight can fall back and away from it to more stable ground.
So, crawling is ok, just painfully slow. The lunge method has some obvious advantages and is a very natural progression from the crawl. Next up is walking. Yes, walking. Walking has been given a bad rap because you can fall and get hurt. That is true. No argument. But we are talking about a typical house fire and a primary search here. I’m not proposing we just stroll around without having some grasp of not only fire behavior, but the fires location and even building construction (size-up). If your district is full of booby trapped drug dens and dilapidated vacant buildings, adapt your methods accordingly. This is where we drive home the point of “Did you check the basement,” “Is the fire running the exterior to the attic or 2nd floor,” “How much time do we REALLY have?” Size up and 360’s do save lives, possibly ours! If you don’t have these things down, then maybe you aren’t the best choice of personnel to be searching. Conducting a primary search operation is a high risk operation, often requiring a crew to work separately from direct contact with a hose line. “Crew Size-Up” is an important aspect of selecting who has the ability to function in the primary search role.
Walking can be appropriate at many different types of fires with the main benefits being speed and orientation. I say orientation because again, that is how we move about every single day. Muscle memory at its finest. Walking, when appropriate, allows a very rapid search and will result in either quicker victim rescues, or quicker clearing of the house and freeing up the firefighter for other tasks. As always the KISS rules apply, “If you can’t see your feet when you are standing, you shouldn’t be standing.”
The need to grasp the concept behind tool choice and usage should also start coming into play here. Everyone picks the axe to search with because it’s light! But what are the benefits/limitations and limitations of certain tools? Statistics show the majority of Firefighters have two hands, and therefore are able to carry two tools; consider leaving the second tool at the door or even spiked into the wall next to the door during your search. What about searching with a 6ft.hook? Maybe if you’re well versed and practiced with it, but often the length involved will mean you spend more time striking furniture than searching effectively. What about the “people’s choice”, the Halligan? Great pick, but some feel the weight slows them down and wildly swinging a Halligan bar means your victim is as likely to die of blunt force trauma as toxic products of combustion. Honestly, it comes down to personal preference for most, unless your department requires certain tools for the position. You should work out at roll call who will be bringing what tool and how they complement one another. The key is repeatedly training with the tools and knowing them inside and out.
Let me add something else in here about fire behavior and getting a “feel” for the heat in a room. Are we seriously still teaching people to remove a glove to feel if it is hot? What about the “pulling back the hood” method? You have got to be kidding me! Don’t do either of these! Just stand up! That’s right, I said it. Just stand up and hold your hand up above as if trying to reach for the ceiling. Do not over exaggerate it and let your bunker coat pull up exposing your waist… just stick it up there for a second or two. In today’s modern firefighting ensembles of Nomex, PBI and Kevlar, you have the ability to “get in too deep” without knowing it. By quickly standing up (if you were crawling) and reaching above your head, you will quickly know how hot it is. What is too hot? Well if you don’t have the good fortune of going to a lot of fires, use some of the training fires/live burns in your area to get an idea. What about those “flashover” simulators? Ask the instructors if it would be allowable to stand and hold your arm up during the first or second “flash” cycle. This will be before the container (and your gear) starts retaining the majority of the heat that usually causes the minor burns. So back to the hose fire we are searching, if you can hold your hand up, with your glove on, and be in ZERO discomfort, you are most likely good to go for another minute, at which point you would repeat the process. If you get your gloved hand up there, and feel immediate heat that causes you to jerk your hand back down that is a sign that you had better be thinking about getting some water into the upper atmosphere in your immediate location post haste! A 2.5 gallon pressurized water extinguisher or “the can”, has proved itself to be invaluable and will buy the searching firefighter time to “make a move” one way or the other. If you are carrying the can during a primary search, consider leaving it at the door of the room you are searching. It makes a very distinctive noise when kicked or ran into as you navigate back to the door and is a small but nice insurance policy for your own protection should there be an issue with a delayed nozzle team or loss of water pressure in the hoseline.
So let’s get into the next part: The landmarks and ways to stay oriented. Finding windows are an obvious choice. Keep in mind that windows are GENERALLY on a wall opposite the door in bedrooms. Not a 100% rule, but close. The reason has to do with cross ventilation during the summer months. Brian covered some good stuff on knowing the approximate distance covered in a “move”, which is great. 3-4ft. per scooch or scoot makes for a good estimate of distance traveled, but also remember that we are in a bedroom. A normal bedroom will be 10×12, 12×14, maybe even a little bigger in modern construction, but it is not endless. If disorientation sets in because you came off the wall to feel a bed, that’s not a big deal. Relax for a second. Wipe your facepiece with your glove (you may be able to see), take a knee or get low and see if that helps, take a slow, deep breath and hold it while listening. If you are by yourself listen for other personnel working, or call to your partner who should be in the hallway. The sounds of other personnel operating can be valuable cues if you have found yourself briefly disorientated. Finally, remember that you are in a room, crawl forward until you bump into a wall and reset from there.
It is worth remember that when searching as a team communication is great, but too much of it has some negatives. While one theory states that talking helps you conserve your air supply, talking also may cause you to miss some critical information. Critical radio traffic, a faint whimper in the closet, or the absence of the sound of water flowing can be missed if there is constant screaming between team members. We recently had multiple rooms being cleared by several firemen at one time. One of them found the victim and yelled out to the others to assist. They didn’t hear him until the fourth call, because they were shouting out that they had found a door, window, wall, etc… Well, no kidding you found a wall!!! Why are you yelling that out!?!?! A simple “How’s it going?” followed by 10 seconds of silence may be a much better way to go here. If you are in a kitchen, you don’t need to feel the counter tops for victims! Same goes for the bathroom sink and on top of a dresser! If this is a primary search, then it is thorough but fast, and that means some of the “less likely” stuff needs passed up! If I miss finding a baby because it was kept in a dresser drawer… well, that really sucks, but to think or expect Firefighters to get into every nook and cranny is ridiculous until the fire is under control and a down and dirty primary is complete. If I waste 2 minutes opening up dresser drawers and looking for secret/hidden playrooms and then stumble on the victim in the doorway 6 feet further down the hall that is a critical error in execution. We can find all the secret spots during the secondary search. We must ingrain realistic expectations into our personnel for the 99%… not berate them for the 1% they missed because they didn’t know the book shelf slides out and reveals a secret passage only Scooby-Doo and Shaggy could of found!
Hit the primary places as quickly as possible: the doorways, hallways and bedrooms. If you bump into a TV, check across from it, that is where the recliners, couches and beds are at. If your shin hits a coffee table, you’re almost there! For checking beds- remember “Up, Over, and Under”. If the bed is small (twin, single, or child’s) you’ll know it because you can reach the other side easily. Is it up against a wall? Check over the side and back between the bed and the wall. Sweep under and feel with your hand if at all possible. If your tool can hook a lump and move it easily, it is probably just clothes, toys or other miscellaneous storage. If it is a soft, heavy lump, feel with your hand and get a light shined in there, that may be the home run you’re looking for. If the bed is large try going around it if it is free standing away from wall, otherwise, climb over. Don’t bother flipping the mattress or moving stuff around. That’s a waste of our precious time and energy. You should be able to clear the second floor (2-3 bedrooms) in less than 2 minutes.
Briefly, let’s talk about preparation. This is the work outs, the strength training, cardio, and mobility drills. This is the endless donning and doffing drills, SCBA familiarization, and review of emergency procedures. The gloved hand practice with everything in zero vizibility. All of these “little things” have got to be on auto-pilot when its time to search. You will not be thinking about the right things if you are struggling with your glove or a shoulder strap. If you are thinking about what hand to hold your tool in, it’s too late. The endless hours of mundane drills that you thought you didn’t have to participate in or pay attention to has now come back to bite you. This must be a seamless effort, as fluid as pouring a glass of water, allowing your mind to free up and think about the real job at hand. The fundamentals of this job can not be underestimated. Nobody is above this repetitive skill practice, it is the glue that holds it all together.
Preparation also occurs in other ways. “The Search Before the Search” as I call it. This is the off duty dog walks with my wife in the evening, where I glance (not in a creepy way) into people’s front doors and see if I can spot the stairs and if they are where I thought they should be. Driving the district either on or off duty doing the same thing, remember, you’re creepin’, not creepy! Summer nights are the best, because the lights are on and the doors and windows are usually open later. What about the little odd size window half way up between floors? Is that a staircase half landing? In my first due, it is 99% of the time. 2 1/2 story balloon frame with front porch? Is the door favored to the right or left of a bigger picture window? Go opposite and in my city, my first due that is the staircase 99% of the time. Cape Cods? Basement stairs usually from the side door. Stairs to the 2nd floor are in the front door either right away, or in 10-15 ft., going up to the right or left. Many bungalows have an open first floor with stairs in the middle. You can find this out on all those EMS calls we run to pass the time between fires! Getting to know your district should take on a completely different meaning if your head is in the game. We should do everyone a favor, pour a cup of coffee and sit down with the guys and pass this stuff on. Instructors, mentors, and officers (or just heads-up firemen) should keep no secrets pertaining to the little details of the job that will make a difference. If you are an instructor or the company officer, I would seriously recommend that you do a “half speed” demo, and then a “full speed” demo for the students to allow them a visual reference to gauge themselves on prior to any of them actually searching. If we discover something that works better, something that is important, we have an obligation to let others know about it. It doesn’t matter if it comes from the probie or the senior man! Always be training! Always be on the hunt!
Most firefighters have a favorite “go to” tool and/or job assignment. I know I do. Hearing my name in the same sentence as “catch the hydrant” immediately elicits a soft sigh of self pity and thoughts of how much I hate my life at that exact moment. Oh well, Que Sera Sera. We don’t typically have the luxury of playing favorites on the fireground. The different jobs that need to be done are all important to the overall outcome, regardless of their “fun factor.”
Let’s examine one of the most seemingly disliked and “low fun factor” duties we have… Carrying the 2 1/2 gallon pressurized water extinguisher, or “The Can.” This 22-pound lead weight, which feels at least twice that, is at the bottom of the list for many of us due to its awkward, off-balance nature and its annoying propensity for digging into the shoulder as you climb four flights of stairs for another “smells and bells” run. I used to feel the same way. But I have a confession to make: I freakin’ love the can. Love it. I don’t know exactly when it happened or why, but one day I just came to the conclusion that the can is just plain awesome. Let me share some thoughts on why and how you might be able to make the can your “go to” piece.
First and foremost, and I know I’m preaching to the choir here, but our responsibility as the fire department is still to put out fires. Carrying the can with you on every fire run that doesn’t have you stretching a line demonstrates your resolve to that priority. Being the guy who quite literally shoulders that burden is a big responsibility. Even after 15 years in the fire service, I feel absolutely humbled and honored to know that my officers have put their faith in me to carry out that duty and I fully intend on making sure they don’t regret that choice. Now I know that in some departments SOGs, staffing, and riding seat assignments dictate who does what, and I know all too well that the can position is many times reserved for the junior man or probie. I don’t have a problem with that; I only ask that the value of the position and the important role it plays be taken to heart. Never underestimate this invaluable asset and the member lugging it down the hallway. While some may feel that “any monkey can spray water,” keep in mind that the high-energy characteristics of modern day fire behavior demand that the chosen monkey be smart!
So getting into the can itself, there are some modifications we can make so it’s a little more enjoyable to tote around. The best thing you can add is a carrying strap. Having the ability to carry the can on your shoulder and free up your hands is an absolute necessity. There are several options for making a shoulder strap. Commercially made ones seem pretty nice, but at 30-40 bucks each they may not be affordable in today’s economy and shrinking budgets. I’ve personally had great success with old seatbelts acquired from extrication training, and I’m sure your fire chief will appreciate the cost- saving efforts. A Do-It-Yourself (DIY) strap can usually be made for less than five dollars with just a few items purchased from the local hardware store. Depending on what method you choose, you may spend as little as two dollars on a single 7” hose clamp (assuming you have the seatbelt already) to hold the bottom portion of the strap and use the “wall hanger” bracket to loop the top of the strap through. Some of the wall hanger brackets can be weak and eventually break, so just be aware. Going cheap and DIY can have its disadvantages sometimes.
Another good habit to get into is carrying the can up front instead of on your back. By up front, I mean having access to the handle and the nozzle at all times without having to drop it off your shoulder and reposition. It is about the same comfort wise but does seem to offer slightly better balance while carrying it and maneuvering through a house around furniture and tight spaces. The main benefit is that you’re able to keep the handle, gauge, and nozzle right were you need them and minimize how much stuff you bump into or get snagged on as you move. Remember the can needs to be used in a relatively vertical position, especially as you get to the last couple inches of water in the bottom. Dropping to a knee allows for a quick transition in setting the can on the ground as needed.
Another thing you can add to the can is a rubber strap and some door chocks. Many of us are already using a rubber strap on our helmets with a door chock or two held in place. Why not throw one on the can as well? As a matter of fact, an extra flashlight is always handy to have around, so try keeping one on the can instead of trying to dig it out of your pocket. For the guys that leave the can at the door while searching a room, the light can act as a beacon to aid in our orientation. RIT/FAST crews might also want to consider trying this.
Many times we find ourselves using the can for a very minor fire. A couple of squirts with maybe half the extinguisher used, and we’re back in service. Back at the firehouse we need to top off the water level. DO NOT just add some air so the gauge is in the green! Instead of spending time spraying out the rest of the water, simply turn the can upside down and spray out the rest of the air, relieving all of the pressure. It is much quicker and you should be able to unthread the cap afterwards for filling without issue.
For those that are using the can on an initial attack, a truck or rescue company with no water for example, or during an investigation that turns out to be a legitimate fire, keep in mind the limitations of your chosen weapon. The can puts out quite a bit of fire, but it is no replacement for a working hoseline. Recognize the need for the hoseline, call for it and then do whatever you can to make the situation better prior to its arrival. Remember to take advantage of everything in your attempts at extinguishing or confining the fire. If you have a room on fire and you can shut the door to it, focus your efforts on keeping the door intact by wetting the top edge and sides of it. This will generally do more good and buy more time than if you blow through the whole two and a half gallons of water trying to knock down a fire that is beyond the control capabilities of the can. As a bonus, controlling the door aids in limiting oxygen to the fire, reducing its growth rate and keeping the flowpath, at least temporarily, from including your particular spot of floor space.
Another possibility that can be beneficial is removing materials from the fire’s path. Curtains, small dressers, clothes, and other combustible items near the fire can be quickly moved to reduce extension without having to use any water on them. Moving light and fast to gain an edge means being aggressive, smart and taking advantage of everything at your disposal. If you can smother part of a fire by throwing a blanket on it and then simply wetting the blanket, do it!
I hope this article has either reinforced your conviction to carrying the can, given you a few tips to help make it battle ready, or at the very least shed some light on ways to make it more appealing and useful in the day-to-day operations.
…and as far as carrying all that weight goes… It’s fun, so harden the heck up.
We had a great auto extrication drill the other night and we did it all by ourselves. Nobody asked permission, we simply called a tow company and had a few cars delivered. As we passed the hat around the table to help defer some of the $200 out-of-pocket cost to the firefighter who set up the drill I thought; who determines our safety levels; a statistician who sits in a cubicle in cool disconnect and crunches numbers, weighing the cost of anonymous human life versus the cost of training or a safety measure? Who determines what is an acceptable level of risk?
The number of times that I have donned my mourning badge and lowered the colors at the firehouse has me thinking, and it has me angry.
Do we need to ask permission to be experts in our field? Not around here.
Everyone has a plan until they get hit in the mouth. Our professional plan – when the dollars flowed freely and operations mattered – used to include slack in the system to absorb the unforeseen and unthinkable. As we forge ahead with creative staffing models, measurables, resume building, and ladder climbing, the slack has been removed and the entire system is stretched tight. Do we have a plan for a fight gone bad? At the company level we have to because often the organization does not. We have to create our own plan because no one else will. Is operating without a plan and hoping things will work out for the best any way to do business? Not around here. We won’t accept average and we will not ask for permission to do as we see fit to carve time from our day to make ourselves better and safer.
Aggressive, educated, proactive firefighting that starts with the mindset that every structure is occupied and that we will extend risk (our lives) to effect the rescue of our neighbors is the foundation of a movement to put the fight back in firefighter and bring strong leadership back to the fireground and firehouse. We must seek out our own education and create our own motivation because help is not on the way. Our best insurance policy is a strong base of education and the ability to practically apply knowledge to the appropriate situation. We have to be functionally intelligent and possess the ability to think on our feet. Cuts to training budgets can no longer be an excuse. We have to invest in ourselves. In order to win the fight, we have to be in the fight. Being in the fight means doing it on your own and leading from everywhere.
Do we want to go home at the end of our shift?
Are we afraid to do our job? Not around here. Around here we train hard in order to fight smart.
Will we let office dwellers pushing statistics determine how we fight? Not around here. We won’t sit around and wait for greatness to arrive, around here we go get it. Around here we believe in each other. Around here we set the bar high and we hold each other accountable to that standard.
In most settings window bars are more deterrent than actual fortification.There are places where window bars and coverings can be substantially built and designed as an obstacle, for example commercial occupancies or vacant property systems.For the most part window bars and coverings on occupied residential and multi-family dwellings are designed to intimidate criminals from an attempt. We are not criminals and we should not be intimidated.
I hesitated with this post for two reasons; the first is that window bars have been covered in detail by several others recently.The second is that when it comes to window bars and coverings the styles and attachment types are endless and any effort to cover it is simply the tip of the iceberg.
Ultimately the purpose here is to bring together some of those other references for you to access beyond this basic review. Additionally I aim to provide a little closer look at the window bars so you can see beyond the intimidation factor and the immediate call for the saw.The more we learn about how the bars are built and attached to the structure the more we know about how to take them out.
I am a fortunate because my first alarm resources include proactive RIT crews, truck companies and a heavy rescue with a variety of tools, saws and task/equipment familiar firefighters for forcible entry duties.The presence of window bars on arrival is not much of a curve ball for our operations. I say I am fortunate because this is not the case in every department.
For a lightly staffed or volunteer department that only runs and equips engine companies the presence of window bars at a working fire may be seen as a significant problem. This holds especially true if training and lack of education has programmed them to believe that saws are the primary method for defeating them.
Even with a well-equipped and staffed response there is the potential that the first arriving engine finds an immediate rescue behind the window bars and no time to wait for a saw.
Gresham Oregon on November 29th 2012 – Photo: Greg Muhr
Please see the link to the downloadable PDF as an introduction to widow bar and covering types.This is not all inclusive! The document covers some types and some methods.Due to the variety of window bars and coverings, I highly recommend you use this document as a template for you to size up and discuss methods for your area not as the resource for your area.
As the foundational message of forcible entry is “try before you pry” I hope you take from this “try before you cut”.When you encounter window bars and coverings it is a good idea to bring a forcible entry saw with you or call for one. In the meantime or in the absence of a saw, a quick size up may reveal to you that conventional methods and standard tools can defeat them.
Of our many passions we consistently discuss at Fire Service Warrior, proficiency with our ground ladders is certainly one we have constantly explored.In numerous posts and videos on the FSW YouTube channel, we have discussed and demonstrated in detail the single person high shoulder ladder throw, the ladder flip, the ladder clean, marrying the hook with the ladder, dragging the ladder as a sled, and the list continues to go on.While this is something that appeals to the vast majority of our audience, there are always a handful out there with whom the message just does not seem to resonate.
I’ve seen everything in the comments from statements such as, “This is simply a party trick without tools” to “This is unsafe.”To this, I agree and disagree.Single-person ladder throws are only unsafe to those who are not in a physical condition to perform the task; and of course without tools we are useless.Even those statements from me will not drive the point home to all.What about those who are not equipped with the right type of ladders?
This viewpoint comes primarily from that fact that my department is not outfitted with 2 section extension ladders that can be deployed by a single firefighter from the high shoulder carry.Well, not all firefighters at least.In the FSW videos, each ladder used is a Duo Safety 24’ 2-section extension ladder.These ladders weigh 72 pounds each.Unfortunately for me, the ladders that I use are much different.
Photo credit: Pete Sulzer
Each company on my fire department is outfitted with an Alco-Lite 28’ 2-section extension ladder.The Alco-Lite 28’ weighs in at a whopping 114 pounds.Quite a difference, right?So I’m outfitted with a ladder that is 42 pounds heavier.Don’t make the mistake and think the added length adds substantially to the weight; it’s not the length of the ladder so much as the difference in construction between the two manufacturers.Worth noting is that the Duo-Safety 28’ 2 section extension ladder weighs only 87 pounds, so it’s still 27 pounds lighter than its counterpart manufactured by Alco-Lite.Only a handful of members of my fire department are able to perform the single person high shoulder carry and throw it with ease.It is a matter of balance and strength, with gravity constantly pulling against you.Think about it: The ladder weighs 114 pounds.Add in approximately 75 pounds for gear, a 25 pound chainsaw or 18 pounds of tools and you can see that the gravitational pull against us is adding up quickly to the tune of approximately 207 pounds…Add in my body weight plus the gear, tools, and ladder and you’ll see that we are dealing with 400 pounds of frustration.
And old adage states, “A good carpenter does not blame his tools.”Well, instead of pissing and moaning about not having a lightweight Duo Safety ladder, I stopped blaming my tools and began working on my skill level with the tools I was afforded the opportunity to work with, i.e. train, train, and train. Now I can perform this task alone, but it isn’t pretty at all.I don’t say that bragging because the road to success was ugly, very ugly.I dropped the ladder more times that I can count.Hell, it weighs more than two of my kids put together.But I tried over and over because I’m stubborn.And I eventually won.With all that said I know the road I travelled to success was very difficult and marked with many moments of frustrated swearing.But enough math and enough braggadocio…
For those out there with Alco-Lite ladders which weigh substantially more, for those few who are outfitted with fiberglass or wooden ladders which are even heavier, for those unable to perform the ladder flip or ladder clean, and for those out there who are simply not sold on the single person high shoulder throw, this article is intended to give you more options to increase your efficiency when working with your ground ladders.I don’t use the ladder flip or the ladder clean.Even though I am well versed in the technique and have practiced it many times, every time I’ve carried and thrown a ground ladder on working fires, it has come from the ladder rack on the apparatus from which I was riding. With that stated, there is a place for the ladder clean. If a ground ladder is lying beside the rig because it was placed there to get access to a ladder behind it (think about the 24’ or 28’ extension and 16’ roof on an engine’s ladder rack), I may need the ability to clean it up so that I can carry it.Although I do not intend on covering every single method, I will offer you a few that can be utilized by all firefighters, no matter what type of ladders or ladder mounts you are equipped with.
Set-Up for the High Shoulder Carry
The high shoulder carry is once again a common point of debate. For traveling long distances, dealing with heavier ladders, or lack of comfort with positioning the low shoulder carry is just fine. Most of us at FSW prefer the high shoulder carry for a more seamless transition to the throw and also for clearance on the approach if you need to carry between parked cars, through gates or yard fences, and traveling up grades or short sections of steps along the sides or rears of structures. Ultimately the choice is yours however here is a little more detail on the high shoulder carry for a single firefighter.
The set-up for shoulder loading the extension ladder depends primarily on what type of apparatus you are assigned to and where the ladders are stored.On our company, like many of you, we have a hydraulic ladder rack that lowers so that the beam of the ladder is just under the level of my shoulder.It is easy for me to place my hook in between the rungs, step under the ladder and lift it into position on my shoulder. If I am carrying the ladder alone, say I’m setting up for a VES operation, I’ll place my Halligan bar beneath the waist belt on my SCBA so that it is held stationary and is hands-free. That gives me two hands to place on the ladder to keep it stable when it is loaded on my shoulder. To get set up, clear the ladder and step beneath the balance point of the ladder and stand up with it.
Beneath the ladder rack are two 16’ roof ladders.Our ladders are married on racks with the 28’ extension on the inside (bottom) of the rack and the 16’ roof ladders on the outside (top). It is important to remove them and place them far enough under the ladder rack so that they do not block your feet from getting directly under the 28’ extension ladder to lift it.Also, by sliding the 28’ extension ladder out a few inches, you can ensure that it does not hit the hard suction on the way up, potentially causing the ladder to tip over.
Note in the picture the location of the hook; it is on my right shoulder hooked to the bed section of the ladder.Once I prepare to throw the ladder, my hand keeps it in place by firmly gripping the beam of the ladder and the shaft of the hook.If it is hooked properly into the bed section of the ladder, it will remain stationary while I extend and place the ground ladder.
The ladder company in our firehouse has the ground ladders stored in an interior compartment, lying flat on their bed section. The set-up for this takes a few more steps, but ensuring you take the time to get it right pays off large dividends in the outcome.To set up for the high shoulder carry, pull the ladder out of the compartment until the beams can clear the rack.Set the butt spurs on the ground, and then tilt the ladder onto its beam.From this point, grab the ladder a few rungs back from the tip and raise it overhead until the tip can be placed on the turntable of the aerial.Leave a hand on the beam of the ladder to keep it from tipping over until you are prepared to shoulder load it.By raising the tip of the ladder so that it rests on the turntable of the aerial, the firefighter does not have to squat as low to get the ladder onto his shoulder.
Place your hook on the rungs, step beneath the balance point and stand up, balancing the ladder on your shoulder.
Once the ladder is shoulder loaded in the High Shoulder position, it can be carried to your objective and thrown to the building.
Again, no unsafe party trick, just a simple step-by-step process.
2 Firefighter High-Low Carry
This is an exceptionally fast method for deploying an extension ladder with 2 people, and believe me it is a seamless operation, provided the firefighters throwing the ladder are well trained with the piece of equipment; but isn’t that important with everything we use?
From the ladder rack on the engine both firefighters remove the ladder.Both firefighters step directly beneath the ladder and lift it from its position on the rack.
The firefighter carrying the butt spur end will carry the ladder by the beam with a straight arm by his side, like carrying a suitcase.The firefighter carrying the tip end carries the ladder in the high shoulder position.Note that both firefighters have a free hand that can carry tools. In this following photo, the firefighter carrying the tip has placed the hook on the beam of the ladder so that it can both hands can be placed on the ladder to stabilize it.Once at our objective, the hook can be dropped to the ground prior to raising the ladder.
Setting up the High Low Carry from a ladder compartment is accomplished in the same manner as the single firefighter High Shoulder carry.The butt spurs are pulled until the ladder clears the compartment and then the tip is raised so that the beam rests on the turntable of the aerial.By placing the tip in this position, it is easy for the tip firefighter to get in position for the high shoulder carry.
Once the ladder is ready to be carried, the firefighters proceed towards the objective with tools in hand.The firefighter carrying the butt spur end has placed the hook on the bottom beam of the ladder with it hooking the bed section, freeing his other hand for the vent saw.The tip firefighter is hooking the ladder beam with his right hand and carrying the Irons with his left hand.
Throwing the ladder from the High Low Carry is accomplished quite easily.The butt spurs are placed at the objective and the ladder is heeled by the firefighter at the spurs.Furthermore, the firefighter at the spurs can reach down and pull upwards on the beam, assisting the tip firefighter to raise the ladder into place.
Once the ladder is heeled, the tip firefighter performs a beam raise to put the ladder into position.
As soon as the ladder is vertical, the heel man can either assist with putting the ladder into place, or mask up and prepare to go to work.
There are several points about the High-Low Carry that have sold me on its effectiveness.First, we have two firefighters carrying and raising a heavy ladder.This reduces the chance of the ladder being dropped by a single person attempting to throw it alone—again, it weighs 114 pounds. Secondly, this allows the two firefighters to have free hands for tools.Note that the firefighters in the photo are equipped with a vent saw, a hook, and a set of Irons.Third, for the firefighter carrying the tip and raising the ladder, half of the work is already done.Instead of having to move the ladder from the low shoulder carry (arm through the rungs) to raise it, or worse, having to lay the ladder down and then raise it, he or she can drop their tools and raise the ladder directly from their shoulder with no wasted movement or time. Lastly, and most importantly, this method can be used if you carry it directly to the building with no obstacles as well as in situations where you have limited room to work and you have to raise the ladder close to and parallel to the fire building.Think about obstructions such as power lines, tree limbs, or alleys.
Every task we perform on the fireground is time-sensitive, so any time we are afforded the chance to train ourselves to maximize the effectiveness of our work while minimizing the time it takes to complete, we are bound by duty to do such.For the record, several of the pictures in this piece show firefighters throwing ladders without tools.A good training program should consist of progressive learning so that as a task is learned and then mastered, the difficulty is increased.We cannot expect a firefighter to see a technique that is new to them and expect perfection in performance right out of the gate.
If someone has never thrown an extension ladder alone, how can they be expected to be proficient at it if their first attempt is to do it in full gear with a full complement of tools?A more successful approach to a new task may require the firefighter(s) to get proficient with the skill in a helmet and gloves, then in gear, then in gear and an SCBA; and once that’s accomplished, begin carrying and throwing with tools and the rest of the shooting match.Some may find the techniques demonstrated to be out of their comfort level, and that is okay.I know that the vast majority of us were initially trained based upon the regimented form of ladder carries and ladder raises out of books like the Essentials manual.In fact, the words ladder and throw are never paired together anywhere in the book to my knowledge.These are advanced tasks and should be viewed not as “The Way,” but simply as another way. The most important piece of the entire puzzle is this: Get out, grab your ladders, and learn your abilities.
If look at the pages trade magazines adorned with ads from apparatus manufactures or hear the preachers of “being progressive” you might think that today’s fires can only be fought with a preconnected, properly stowed, color coded attack line.If you believe your local dealer, the back of an engine is just for supply hose now days and it is perfectly fine to have it 6 feet off the ground. Across the country static hose beds are being written off as outdated on new builds.
On hundreds of engine companies from coast to coast thousands of feet of perfectly good 2 ½” hose is just sitting in beds. Per policy, ISO requirement, or sheer laziness the 2 ½” is loaded for supply yet unused, next to the “modern” large diameter bed.
I personally find beauty in the 2 ½” hose. The simplicity and efficiency of the line is second to none. A 2 ½” flat loaded, in a static bed is a work of art to a fire nerd like me.If you are the one other guy out there who agrees then this was easy. If you are the other 99.999% and you need a little more convincing before you flip your 2 ½” hose bed around, put a nozzle on it and toss a double female in your hydrant bag, here we go.
A few problems with preconnects
Preconnects aren’t entirely to blame; good training, understanding and loading can make them as versatile as the mind is using it.With that said, manufactures continue to stuff them in places which force certain loading styles and push us towards deploying the entire load.
·Problem number one: Preconnects are almost always deployed the full preconnected length.Let us use a common suburban area of 1 to 2 story single family dwellings. Typically the first arriving engine isn’t more than 50’ from the front door and you typically won’t use more than 50’ per floor. Most attacks won’t go beyond 150’ of hose. If the preconnect is loaded to 250’ like it is at my department you now have the challenge of managing an excess of 100’ of hose on most fires.
·Problem number two: Even open and flat loaded preconnects can be difficult to pull especially in the 2 ½” attack line. A tightly loaded tray has friction on the bottom and both sides. If exposed to elements of rain, snow or a recent fire or training where the hose is also wet and the deployment from the apparatus can be a bear.
·Problem number three: Midmount cross lays are designed by a manufacture to line the preconnect up with the front door. The problem is rigs then line the preconnect up with the front door failing to pull past for a three sided view and to allow for aerial or apparatus to have the front.If you do pull past the fire building as we should when we can, you now have to deploy your hose down the side of the rig. This usually crosses or is right at the pump panel or exhaust pipe in any number of fashions to get in the way or have a large diameter supply line run over the top before it gets connected to the intake.
The deadload isn’t dead
I will not claim to be an expert here, I just prefer the simple and versatile. The deadload isn’t dead, in many parts of this country it never went anywhere, and in some places it is seeing a major resurgence.Unfortunately, I have seen enough and spoken with enough to know that in many places the firefighters are not in control of their fire engines and salesmenship and vendors win out over simplicity and versatility. So, here are a few points to ponder and a quick video to demonstrate the benefits of the deadload and give you the tools to take back your rig, or at least flip a hose bed and stick a nozzle on it. One final note is the deadload does not need a “finish”. If you have to put a horseshoe, flying dutchman or reverse cowboy on it to make it right with you or your department then go ahead. In the name of simplicity though, a nozzle on a hose on top of hose works just fine too.
·Continuous length allows for versatility in deployment at the time of deployment to meet the estimated stretch presented
·Known hose bed depth makes hose bundling estimation simple
·Rear of apparatus deployment and connection keeps sides of apparatus clear for panel operations and compartment access.
·Apartment / Courtyard / Exterior / Extended reach stretches are easily established from a deadload with the male coupling out and low friction loss coefficient of the 2 ½” hose.