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Most fire departments these days are focused on the fact that "something" may go wrong at a fire. Be it a structural/building construction issue, interior conditions, a staffing problem, a flashover or an electrical shock - all among the many possibilities - we have to expect what is normally (to the untrained person) unexpected. Years ago, a fire department might have been happy sending a dozen or so firefighters to a single-family dwelling, but rarely was the question asked, "What if something goes wrong?" When it was answered, a common response might have been, "We'll call for more help if we need it." Simple answers with sadly simple and often poor or even disastrous results. Help should be there before it is required so that help will be there when something goes wrong. And when the incident is declared under control, send that extra help home.
Structural firefighting requires the "right" amount of firefighters and EMS personnel on the first-alarm assignment to have our best chance to make sure the problem is dealt with. Factors that play into what to send on that first alarm include structure size, construction, time and distance, fire-flow requirements, available water supply and staffing, among other considerations - including EMS for the possible victims, or for us! Waiting for EMS when it is needed often can be too late.
And while we respond knowing that something may go wrong, training, solid fire leadership and planning ahead (so the response matches the reported problem) can help minimize the severity of the problem when something does go wrong. When the entire response assignment arrives with the right amount of firefighters, tasks can be led by the bosses and performed by the members simultaneously, giving the occupants a better chance of having a home, a better chance of them enjoying that home and, most critically, a better chance for firefighters to survive so we can keep doing what we love.
In this month's close call, not only do the firefighters deal with one of their own being burned, but at the same fire another firefighter goes down in cardiac arrest - and they were prepared.
Once again, the question all of us have to ask is, "If this were my department, what resources would be on the scene to deal with the problem or problems?" This close call provides us with a great opportunity to evaluate our first-alarm assignments. So often, some people in our business don't like "all that equipment responding until it is needed." That's antiquated thinking and fails to serve the citizens (who bought us all this stuff) and the firefighters fairly. Don't have enough staffing? Send more departments or stations, and train together. Concerned that too much apparatus on the road increases risk? Establish and enforce strict apparatus operational and response guidelines. Worried that another call may come in when all that other apparatus is at the first call and may not be needed? That's what station relocations and fills are for. Where there is a will to send the right resources to a fire, there is a way. Fortunately, for an interesting reason, this fire had a more-than-adequate response to handle the fire and the related firefighter emergencies the moment they occurred.
Our sincere appreciation goes out to Chief Ron Palmer Sr. of the Willimantic, CT, Fire Department, Training Officer Marc Scrivener, the members of the fire departments involved, and especially Captain Jim Jensen and Firefighter Paul Farley for their assistance and cooperation with this month's column. We are especially and naturally thankful that Jim and Paul survived and are here to share their stories with us all.
Additionally, there's an interesting twist to the photos that were taken at the scene. Some were taken by Kathy Farley. Not only did Kathy call 911 to report the fire and then take photos of the job - she is also married to the firefighter who was in cardiac arrest and she is the mother of the first fire department officer on the scene, their son Patrick. Sound strange? Not to those where the fire department is a family affair.