Friday, September 9, 2011

Firemen... and "Never Forget"

Firemen... and "Never Forget"

Lt. Douglas J Mitchell, Jr. FDNY.

September the 11th is later this week and I have found myself writing. I have been writing snippet's down as they pop in and out of my head, emotions from the events from that day, and its aftermath hereafter.

I just can't watch TV these last two weeks. I can't take it, it's just too much. Caught myself getting upset watching a special such as, (I will make something up here...but you know what I am saying) "FIRST RESPONDER HERO'S" brought to you specially by "All Temperature Cheer."

I can't read the papers either, thier writers and publishers, who up until this week, were bashing "Firefighter Pension's" as cause for the downfall of our economy... and so on.... and so on...

I thought to write a little side story, reflecting back on where I was in my career as a fireman when the events unfolded, but it makes no difference. I am just one of thousands of firemen who spent time at the trade center complex, went home from time to time between funerals, memorials and benefits, and came back to thier careers at the FDNY, getting back "on the job".

Sometimes I wish I wrote down what I did each day, the 2 years of so after September 11th 2001. Most times, I am glad that I didn’t. For my nation, my city, my fire department, my fire company & my friends, words cannot describe the pain.

I'll try to let the words tell my thoughts. I have posted a few of them this week in different places, but not all together...

"Never Forget" is a well worn adage attached to the brave members of the FDNY who were killed in the line of duty on September 11th 2001. I know that I will "Never Forget," I can't. There are times when I selfishly wish I that I could. "Never Forget," not one day... I just can't. "Never Forget" is more than just 2 simple words, they means everything and yet nothing at all... depending who you are.

To some, the "Never Forget" moniker is profitable, exploitable, in merchandise, ratings and to bolster arbitrary political posturing in "I'm right and your wrong." To me, it's at times silent internal reflection and at others gut wrenching jolts of emotion. You know, that empty in the pit of your stomach, want to vomit... yet can't, feeling?

Like all firemen, I know my family at home cares for me greatly. We need the support of family, it's a tough thing... family home alone: nights, weekends, birth's, death's, holidays... times when only a human touch can solve a problem and your just not there, you can’t be there your at work. But, we know fire takes no days off.

As firemen, we try to insulate our families somewhat from what we see and do, day in and day out. They don't, and can't really comprehend what it is that we do and why it is that we do it. They can't, because, they aren't firemen.

As firemen we must look out for each out for each other on this job. Only we who are firemen, truly know what the job entails.

We must rely heavily on our brothers and sisters on the job for support. That is why we show up and come out for each other in times of need. I saw it in droves after the events in lower Manhattan 10 years ago. Why did you come to NYC to help out? Why, because you are a fireman and that what we do. You saw brothers who needed support and you showed up, it was the right thing to do. I thanked every out of town guy I saw at a funeral or benefit for the support back then, and I thank you again today.

"Never Forget" the great traditions of this job, both in our successes and in our sacrifices.

"Never Forget" how we got to where we are today; in your career, in your fire company, in your fire department.

"Never Forget" the wisdom imparted by those who came before you, for they have laid the path in their sacrifices.

"Never Forget" the love of those around the table with you today, for life is fragile, and they are the present. They will carry that honor forward.

Firemen will "Never Forget" what "Never Forget" means to them, because... well, they are Firemen.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011


The word "aggressive" is getting the wrong connotation in the fire service. Being an "aggressive" firefighter or an "aggressive" fire company HAS NOTHING TO DO with rushing in carelessly, cowboy antics and operating with reckless abandon. An "aggressive" firefighter or fire company's foundation is formed thru personal and company level training and a marked state of combat readiness!

Check out Merriam-Websters dictionary, 1b. insert "fire" in the sentence.



adj \ə-ˈgre-siv\

Definition of AGGRESSIVE

a : tending toward or exhibiting aggression <aggressivebehavior>b : marked by combative readiness aggressive fighter>

Saturday, April 2, 2011


My colleagues and I at Traditions Training, LLC are very happy to be a part of this "blogger network" with Fire Engineering. I am hoping that this new blog will come out ok, as I am still adjusting to the format on the new FE site.

Ok, here we go... Elder Statesman Henry Clay once said "statistics are no substitute for judgement" and I wholeheartedly agree. In fact I really hate statistics (math was my worst subject in school).

Regardless of where you work or volunteer, it seems that no department has been able to shake the cutbacks and lack of support that we are facing today. Numbers, numbers, numbers...we have seen the numbers come to bite us, many times its "stats" thrown in our faces. City & Town Managers say "Do more with less, and when you are done with year do more with even less." Stats have been used to close fire companies, reduce staffing etc, etc, etc.

The bottom line with statistics, as Henry Clay said, is that good judgement should always outweigh what the numbers might lead you to believe. There is no more relevant field for this than in the public safety profession... seconds can be the difference life or death. Let's not beat around the bush, we know that "numbers" , be it measured in seconds of time or reductions in staffing can in-fact, take civilian and firefighters lives.

For a change, let's use the numbers in this outline to help ourselves! I saw the statistics in the photo (above) come across my desk a few months ago. They encompass nearly 20 years worth of compiled data from the FDNY Safety Command. It provides data to key mayday stats from actual incidents. If you look closely, the numbers tell a story. For once, let's use some stats to help us prepare to be able to save our own.

These numbers are statistical averages, an inventory of the greatest frequency of events encountered from Mayday incidents. Now, I know that we need to prepare for all types of RIT/FAST scenarios (even for those not listed or those that may happen infrequently, such as FF removal from below grade & above grade etc.). When I look at this document, I see a template to be sure that we have "nailed down the essentials" and have those RIT/FAST skills mastered, based on the frequency of them occurring at a Mayday event.

The "take home" points that I see in the document:
~ Most Maydays called near the 20 minute marker:
~Think of what happens at the 20 minute mark? Usually it's one of two things right? Either the searches are done and fire is largely extinguished and we are mopping up **or** we are fighting an advancing fire, possibly changing operational modes and adding additional alarms. Incident Commanders should have 10-minute timers (either keyed to them from dispatch or kept on a clock @ the command post) this should keep them aware of the passing of time. Inside crews must be certain to check their air supply and NOT rely on the low air alarm to keep them out of trouble (remember it may take you more time to get out than it took you to get in!)

~1st Alarm Units removed most downed FF's:
~While we absolutely need a well trained and effective RIT/FAST Team at the ready - While operating, be aware of the other companies at the fire with you and those working around you (i.e. on the floor above and below!). While it is imperative that you keep doing your job (i.e. operating the hoseline) if a mayday is called, you just may be the closest unit to the downed member! Always, Always Be Aware!
~Downed FF Positioning/Removal:
~Downed FF's will be most likely found "out of air" (practice with your RIT/FAST pack connecting the UAC *with gloved hands!) and laying prone on the ground. There is also 50/50 shot of them having their SCBA facepieces off (practice putting a facepiece from your RIT/FAST pack on a downed FF in the dark with your gloves on!). FF's will be most likely need to be dragged horizontally and have you can almost guarantee that thier gear will be torn in the process (practice converting the SCBA straps into to a harness, and if you have a personal harness on your pants... take the hook out and pass it thru the SCBA shoulder straps to "marry" the top half of the FF to the bottom will help keep all the parts together and will help in moving the downed member) ** Stay tuned for a future blog post showing that evolution.

Use the stats in the document to your advantage. Let the numbers work for us for a change. Let us be prepared in all situations, but armed with these "numbers," we can now form the remedies for the situations that we may face most frequently. Keep yourself and your troops "Combat Ready".

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

FDIC 2011

FDIC is in full swing here in Indianapolis. I am extremely happy to have been invited to be here, it's an honor. The weeks events are kinda like the ol' tetanus booster, it gives everyone a needed shot in arm, a great re-awakening in the fire service. Stay safe, stay combat ready!

Friday, March 18, 2011

waist not, want not...

I have re-posted this blog after I received yet another email from a fire officer for whom Traditions Training had taught with in the past. His guys were having the same conversations as my Chief friend a while back... So here it is:

A Chief from a department that Traditions Training has taught with in the past, was having problem and wondered if we could help him out. Here was the situation: "the old school firemen" and his "new school firefighters," were arguing about their SCBA. They were having a disagreement as to the importance of and perhaps even the relevance of the SCBA waist strap. He asked me for my opinion on the SCBA waist strap and its importance in relation to the safety of his members.....

Now we have all seen hundreds of photos of the unbuckled waist strap, it is found nearly monthly in each trade magazine. Whether they are photo's of firemen from the BIGGEST FD in the nation or the smallest NO-NAME-FD in really doesn't matter; the pictures don't lie... it happens. Excuses can always be made after the shot was snapped, they are easy to come up with... and not the focus here. There are many advantages to having that strap fastened, some of which may just save your life.

The waist strap/belt on SCBA's are just like the waist strap/belt on any "backpack" type framed device. The frame of a conventional hiking backpack carries the load "clothes, hiking gear...etc" to the shoulders and hips. The SCBA frame, carries the load (cylinder, pack frame, gauges etc) to the same parts, your shoulders and hips.

The shoulders can carry all the load alone when you are dealing with lighter weights (if you look at most smaller sized utility type day backbacks there is no waist strap/belt). However, when you get into the larger size backpacks (such as those for real hiking) you will normally find the wast strap/belt. The average weight of our SCBA cylinders, pack frame, gauges etc, make the waistband a real necessity when worn.

The SCBA waistband is designed to lessen the work load on our shoulders, as stated above, shifting the load carrying onto the hips (the muscles in our legs are much stronger than those in our shoulders). I have found that I am able to do much more work with less exhaustion when I have the waist strap/belt affixed snugly, and the shoulder straps left a tad bit loose. Shoulder movement (moving arms up and down like when pulling ceilings) is much more physically exhausting when you have the shouder straps pulled tight, and no waist band/strap attached, as you are in effect...lifting the SCBA up and down with your shoulders on each thrust & pull into that ceiling.

While we all know that we can do our job either way (buckled or unbuckled) but these SCBA frames are designed to be worn buckled. Manufacturers are always trying to make the SCBA lighter, if they thought we didn't need them do you really think that they would have left them on? Crawling on our bellies or duckwalking down low with the waist strap unbuckled is a recipe for disaster. It is like dragging two grappling hooks down the hall as you push into the apartment. Do you want to take the risk of getting hung up? Leaving these straps dangling will lead to the most bizarre things getting snagged, often at the most unanticipated time. Buckle up those loose ends!

Also, the waist strap provides some lateral stabillity when crawling especailly if we wind up awkwardly heading down a set of stairs or something. It will be better suited to stay on our backs and not start moving up our backs, causing the domino effect to disaster: you know, first... knock the helmet askew, then, the helmet smashes into the face-piece, disrupting our hood/face-piece protection, (which may likely lead to burns). That helmet may also dislodge your facepice from your FACE!. None of this is likely to occur when our SCBA is secured with the waistband. Stay Combat Ready!

To sum it up in a few short points:
1. Provides less chances of entanglement hazard when secured properly
2. Reduces fatigue on shoulders by transferring weight to hips
3. Provides stability from the mask moving laterally (left to right) especially when searching on hands and knees
4. Provides stability from the mask moving horizontally (up into back of helmet)
5. Provides stability when doing reduced profile and other tight quarter maneuvers
6. Members can quickly locate belt buckle to convert to harness if necessary

Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Halligan Hook

The Metal Halligan Hook

The Metal Halligan Hook: 20050311113419_Photo1.jpgDoug Mitchell

The steel halligan roof hook is one of the most versatile hooks used in the fire service today. This hook has many uses on the fire-ground, from opening walls and ceilings, pulling up floor and roof boards and opening up molding and casings. As is written in some sales catalogues, “it will assist you in the rapid removal of wood, lath, plaster, tin, sheet metal, plasterboard, fiberboard, sheetrock”, blah blah blah….I am sure you get it, this tool works! While primarily a push pull type of tool, its uses are almost limitless. It has obvious applications in ventilation, forcible entry, and even firefighter removal.

Some searching led me to find that this style metal roof hook was largely developed by the New York City Fire Department R&D (Research and Development Unit) for a variety of Truck Company operations, and it is still used today in all their outside team positions (Roof, OV).

The specifics of the tools design are: A two pronged steel head, a steel shaft, a chisel end (sometimes sold with a bottom end gas shut-off or a blunt end… which I think limits the uses of the tool), and shaft grips.

I have always found the metal halligan roof hook better at pulling plaster and lathe ceilings and walls over the standard wooden hook. While it could be just personal preference, I think it is largely due to the weight and balance of the tool. One time saving tip that can’t be done with a traditional wooden hook is this: When opening up walls…poke a hole in the wall say at waist level. Next, insert the steel shaft into the wall in the hole you just created (either up or down the wall)…, Now, rip the tool holding the end sticking out in an up or down stroke (depending on how you placed the tool). You will see how it opens up with much less effort. Please, please… don’t try that maneuver with the wooden hook (that is unless you want to use the broken end to spear the probie!)

IMG_0108Of all hooks, the metal halligan roof hooks specific design also allows it to pull tongue and grove roofing boards and wooden flooring like a champ. Check its deliberate steel head two prong design. The lower prong, (the one side of the hook end has that 45 degree bend in it)… well… it isn’t just for pulling ceilings. In order to pry up a roof or floorboard with very little effort, just use the tool how the tool as it was designed. First, expose a floor or roof joist. Then, rest the point of the angled hook portion (45 degree bend) on the exposed joist and the pry end of the hook up near your face. Place the other prong (the perpendicular or straight end) of the hook under the floor or roof board you wish to pry or pull. To remove the board, just rock the tool towards you… using the 45 degree bend of the angled hook as a fulcrum.

The chisel end can be used as a prying tool for scuttle hatches and roof doors. The shorter length hooks are good for going up fire escapes and scuttle ladders to the roof. It can be used knock out skylights and open up the returns of skylights. It can pry up and off other roof top openings (Chimney caps/Dumbwaiters).On the inside team, in an apartment…it can remove moldings and casings and assist you (as described earlier) in opening up. I also think that it’s easier to grab the knock out end of roof cut than with a traditional wooden hook. As I alluded to earlier in the article, this hook is more than just a push/pull type of a tool.cap_fe61371-57

IMG_0084We typically carry the metal roof hook to our assigned position with the halligan tool. Together with the halligan tool, and it can be used for single man forcible entry and ventilation. Use the shaft of the hook to strike the halligan, using your foot as the fulcrum at the floor level, drive the adz end of the halligan into the door. This is especially good for outward opening doors. By welding a ring onto the steel shaft (near the chisel point end) you can attach the halligan tool to the hook and take windows on lower floors below your position (providing you have a ring on your halligan tool as well).

Obviously the standard use for taking windows with the hook is applicable here, as always….make the window into a door when ventilating…

Since the shaft is steel you may be able to use it to tie off if you need an emergency anchor for getting out a window. You can also use the steel shaft to create an emergency anchor point with ropes to create some kind of mechanical advantage system (Say you take the hook across a door frame and have a rope and some carabineers to create a crude drag system for a downed FF or heavy victim).

Obviously the care and upkeep of a wooden hook…minimizing rot, care of the finish, painting…adds to it’s detraction over the steel hook. I prefer a piece of steel wool and just keep that metal clean and free from the occasional burr…a clean tool is a happy tool!