Finding Firemanship in the Fire Service [Article]

My recent article published at FIREFIGHTERNATION.

Firemanship encompasses many essential traits for firefighters

By Billy Schmidt
Published Sunday, February 3, 2013

Trail Park VFD battling a house fire. As public servants, they understood that fighting fires was something special; they had a firemanship attitude. Pictured is my father, Assistant Chief Billy J. Schmidt (white coat and helmet).

Trail Park VFD battling a house fire. As public servants, they understood that fighting fires was something special; they had a firemanship attitude. Pictured is my father, Assistant Chief Billy J. Schmidt (white coat and helmet).

There’s a lot going on in the world, and as a result our work continues to evolve and become more dynamic. Our communities expect a lot from us; they consider us an essential resource. We don’t just save lives and protect property anymore; we’re called on to handle just about any complex, crazy situation you can think of. It’s not your daddy’s fire service anymore.

But while many things have changed, including technology and equipment, rest assured that our mission, our core values and our responsibilities as firefighters have remained the same. Our version of “combat ready” hasn’t really changed since “The Manual of Firemanship” was issued as a practical handbook for firefighting in England in the 1940s.

Defining “Firemanship”

“The Manual of Firemanship” was issued as a practical handbook for firefighting in England in the 1940s.

“The Manual of Firemanship” was issued as a practical handbook for firefighting in England in the 1940s.

“The Manual of Firemanship” is made up of a series of books and book five, called “Practical Firemanship,” has an introduction that says it all: “No two fires are alike,’ is an old and very true Fire Service saying, and therefore technical knowledge must be backed up by intelligence and the ability to grasp the fundamentals of the situation, to initiate a plan of action and to improvise on the spur of the moment.”

First, know that firemanship is not about gender; rather, it refers to the basic knowledge, skills and abilities that the fire service has used for generations. I’d like to explore the concept of firemanship, its definition and basic components, and explain why it’s important to have a holistic view of firemanship when developing safe and effective firefighters.

Let’s start with a question: What exactly is “firemanship”? Again, we can look to “The Manual of Firemanship” where it describes firefighters as:

  1. Physically fit because working a fire involves great physical exertion
  2.  Courageous, yet calm
  3. Patient, because it can be difficult dealing with people who are in a state of considerable stress;
  4. Taking the  initiative and having the will to keep going;
  5.  Being able to cultivate their powers of observation and have inquiring minds;
  6. Disciplined and able to follow orders; and
  7. Servants of the public (the most important characteristic).

So firemanship is basically the sum of your attitude and firefighting skills. Although those characteristics are a great start, there’s one other very important attribute that all firefighters must have: the right attitude.

Firemanship Attitude

The firemen of the Trail Park Volunteer Fire Department in Lake Worth, Fla., in 1965. They were public servants in their community. Pictured are my father, Billy J. Schmidt (top row, second from right) and my uncle, Edward Schmidt.

The firemen of the Trail Park Volunteer Fire Department in Lake Worth, Fla., in 1965. They were public servants in their community. Pictured are my father, Billy J. Schmidt (top row, second from right) and my uncle, Edward Schmidt.

Attitude is very important in regard to firemanship, because it affects how we look at ourselves, and it starts with a healthy sense of self-esteem. To keep attitude in check, you must perform a self-assessment about who you are and how you value yourself as a person, both privately and publicly. The objective: to keep your sense of self-esteem balanced and healthy. A balanced sense of self-esteem allows for a healthy sense of fairness, dignity and self-respect. Our attitude can also be shaped by our physical and emotional health. A healthy and balanced attitude toward ourselves puts us in the best position to extend dignity and respect to others, the most fundamental ingredients we can strive for.

A firemanship attitude also involves the desire to be and excel as a master firefighter. A master firefighter is someone who strives to obtain expert knowledge, excellent practical skills, a high standard of ethics, behavior and work activities, a sound work morale and motivation. Master firefighters understand that the job is more than having a certificate and getting paid, or forcing a door and stretching a hoseline.

Lastly, a firefighter who exudes a firemanship attitude is someone who realizes that successful firefighting requires the right combination of attitude, firefighting skills, technical skills and social skills. A master firefighter understands that as firefighters, we have a moral and ethical responsibility to ourselves and to others.

A Final Word
The world is a complex, often dangerous place. We as firefighters have a responsibility to our communities to serve as their primary resource when they are in danger or at risk. To be a reliable, professional, successful resource, we need the right knowledge, skills and abilities.  We need to practice the art of firemanship. It begins with attitude, but there’s more. In my next column, I will discuss other skills needed for the art of firemanship.

Be safe and be good.

Reference:
Great Britain. Fire Service Dept: Manual of Firemanship: Theory of firefighting and equipment. H.M. Stationery Office: 1963.

Are You Ready for a Rapid Intervention Event?

My March 2012 column at Fire Rescue Magazine on FirefighterNation: Forming a rapid intervention committee allows fire departments to focus on awareness, readiness and response to mayday events. By Billy Schmidt Published Thursday, March 15, 2012.

On the fireground, what makes things real for you as a firefighter? What gets your heart racing, your blood pumping? Fire and angry, black smoke surrounding the house on arrival? Bystanders on the scene screaming that someone is still inside? Or the sound of “mayday, mayday!” over the radio at the height of an operation? Any of these can put your brain into overload—naval aviators call this “helmet fire.” Everything you experience during stressful situations will tax your ability to handle the crisis—but a mayday call will take you to your limit. So ask yourself this question: Whether you’re the downed firefighter calling the mayday, a member of the rapid intervention crew (RIC) responding to it or the incident commander trying to get control of it, are you really ready to handle it?

Are you ready? Read more here.

Figuring Out What a Fire is About To Do Isn't Easy

A report just released by San Fransisco fire officials on Friday said that flashover, not procedural errors, was cited in two San Fransisco firefighter LODDs last year.

Two San Francisco firefighters died in a house fire last year because a window blew out and turned a minor blaze into a 700-degree inferno that overcame the men within minutes, an eight-month Fire Department investigation has concluded.

Read the entire article from FirefighterNation.com here.

A flare-up fueled by a broken window caused the deaths of two firefighters in a Diamond Heights house fire last year, and not procedural errors, San Francisco fire officials said Friday.

An internal safety investigation on the June 2, 2011, fire at 133 Berkeley Way indicates that firefighters Lt. Vincent A. Perez and Firefighter Paramedic Anthony M. Valerio were killed by extremely high temperatures of up to 700 degrees caused by a sudden flare up, known as a flashover.

Read the entire article from Firehouse.com here.

R.I.P Lt. Perez and FF Valerio.

Firefighters must continue to study and learn about hostile fire events

A sudden opening in the “box” (structure), whether triggered by the intense heat from the fire or created through fire-control (ventilation), lets in a rush of oxygen that can cause an intense fire event, a flashover. Flashover happens more often today, so figuring out what a fire is about to do before committing to an environment is not easy. Because firefighters have limited control over unexpected events, such as flashover, they must continue to study and learn the proactive warning signs of a hostile fire event to avoid being caught off guard.

Firefighting is complex and dangerous, and it’s never easy. Here’s more related sources on hostile fire events.

Chief Ed Hartin at Compartment Fire Behavior Training (CFBT) talks about flashover.

Lessons Learned from the Rapid Intervention Realities Roundtable at the HEAT Conference 2012

Rapid intervention operations, or firefighters saving firefighters, has come a long way since it was first recognized in the 1990’s. And although firefighters have worked to develop better ways to rescue their own, many questions remain unanswered. That was the focus of the Rapid Intervention Realities Roundtable I hosted yesterday at the HEAT Conference 2012. The Roundtable was the idea of the Rapid Intervention Committee (RIC) that was recently formed to raise awareness, heighten the state of readiness, and strengthen the level of rapid intervention response in Palm Beach County. Members representing a variety of positions from several fire departments in the County gathered to talk about how to improve firefighter safety, survival and rescue. Driven by a variety of questions ranging from policies to practices to staffing to command, following are some of the lessons learned from the discussion.

LESSONS LEARNED FROM THE ROUNDTABLE DISCUSSION

What are your department’s procedures for establishing a rapid intervention crew (RIC)?

  • While everyone plans to establish a RIC, most do not have a predetermined unit assigned to RIC. Because of the geography, staffing and resources available, most believe that the establishment of a RIC is prioritized with other objectives (rescue and fire control). All follow the initial rapid intervention crew (IRIC) and 2-in/2-out rule in the initial fire-ground operations.

Should county-wide standards be used for consistency?

  • While everyone agreed that county-wide standards is probably the most important issue and should be used, they voiced several obstacles that still need to be overcome including politics, equipment purchasing, and home-control.

How does your department measure its rapid intervention capabilities?

  • Unfortunately, while most departments do provide some kind of annual training for rapid intervention, most do not measure the capabilities. This is a hot topic in Florida since there is ongoing debate about how to measure any firefighting capabilities, other than what an individual department requires.

Are there negative perceptions of being a RIC?

  • All agreed that there are, but there shouldn’t be. This is probably because most firefighters misunderstand or are just confused about the why, how and what of the RIC.

How does your department respond to a Mayday call?

  • Again, because of geography, staffing and resources available, there was a difference in response. Some departments do have triggers in their SOGs that provide for additional alarms, but that is after the Mayday is called. Many observed that they should have more fresh crews “on the bench” in case something does happen, at least until the incident is under control.

Do you front-load command staff to aid the incident commander and/or be ready to take over a Mayday or RIC operation?

  • All agreed front-loading command staff is important for command and control of the complex rapid intervention operation. The IC’s span of control is quickly lost when an unexpected event such as a Mayday occurs.

THE REAL LESSON LEARNED

For everyone, this Roundtable was a reminder, or maybe an awakening, about the importance of rapid intervention and the many questions that remain unanswered in the shadows. All agreed that everyone, from chief to firefighter, must understand and want to improve the basic skills and the clear thinking required for a firefighter rescue. Being prepared and ready for a rapid intervention operation just makes good sense! We have to keep talking about this. Look for more roundtable discussions in the future.

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COMING EVENTS FOR THE RAPID INTERVENTION COMMITTEE

Go here for more information about the Rapid Intervention Committee and what it’s doing.