Sunday, November 17, 2013

Keeping Track

We all love going to fires.  We'd all agree we learn something at
These log books vaguely capture what the company did.
Who captures the how you performed at an individual level?
every fire we go to.  So how do we track what we've experienced and what we've learned?  If we don't track this, how can we know where to focus for improvement?  As a company, most of us keep log books, Firehouse Software reports, NFIRS reports, or other official documents.  These track the official details of how our organization deployed at an incident.  But what about you personally?  Where is what you've done and how you've evolved tracked?

About a year ago, I began informally tracking the incidents to which I responded.  Using Evernote, a simple piece of free software that I can access on any computer or my phone, I began quickly keeping some personal notes after any significant incident I went to.  As the training chief for my Department, my initial goal was to have a system to track incident actions and trends and to over time be able to identify any recurring gaps between our expectations and performance so that we could address them through training or guidelines.  It worked, but I also began to found that I tracked what I had done personally.  Since on the scene I function as any other battalion chief would, where was I falling short personally? If I was the IC did I manage the scene well? Communicate well?   Did I miss some important in my size-up?  Did I have a mis-step with my PPE?  Was there an SOG I wasn't fully up to date on?  In addition to tracking performance at the Department level, I quickly found that I was identifying gaps in my own actions.

What to track?  As much as you can I suppose...  As soon as the incident is over, I brain dump my thoughts into a note in a bulleted list - you can always come back later and add to it, or clean it up.  The nice thing about Evernote is that I can easily access it on my phone, so I can often start this brain dump while still on scene.  I'll add a picture of the scene or any important action areas so I can recall the situation later.  If I was the IC, I'll scan in a copy of my tactical worksheet.  Later I can attach parts of the incident audio.  

Seeing this information all in one place makes it easy to reflect on later.  As you build up a list of incidents, you can look back on them and see what keeps popping up.  Maybe your companies need to work on deploying more ground ladders.  Maybe YOU need to work on how to speak on the radio more clearly when wearing an SCBA.  One of the benefits of this system is that it's private.  We'll all naturally be a little more candid when we know it's private - we'll particularly be more honest about our own shortcomings.  And even that private acknowledgement that we have an issue will help drive us to fix it.

The benchmark for a good job is not "the fire went out and everyone went home" - that'll happen even if we don't show up.  The details are what matter.  By tracking those details we can see where we need to improve.  Whether you are a backstep firefighter, company or chief officer, keeping track of your performance on incidents over time will help you identify where you can improve.  

Friday, December 14, 2012

Commercial Storefront FE: Don't Just Break the Glass

These common doors may have a variety of seen or unseen reinforcements.

While it can safely be said that every response area in this country has unique challenges, the commercial storefront is one that is present in almost all areas.  Forcible entry into these buildings is not necessarily difficult, but present some unique considerations and thinking points.

Don't ever do this...
Just break the glass.  That seems to be a lot of firefighter's first thought on getting inside.  This simplistic approach will certainly create an opening from the outside to the inside, but not necessarily the way we want.  Consider the following:
  • It may not be glass.  In many areas it will be Plexiglas, lexan, plastic, or similar materials.
  • It may be reinforced by either impregnated or aftermarket "chicken wire", have metal strips spaced across, or have other security measures to prevent you from getting in even if the glass is broken.
  • You still have to content with the crossbar or panic bar, which adds additional time and can be more difficult to remove than it looks.  You will likely end up having to contend with the scenario of eager FF's wanting to crawl in under the panic bar - an obvious FF safety concern.
  • You will still have the lip of the door frame around the opening.  This will likely still contain glass shards that can easily rupture a hoseline.  It can also create a trip hazard that may delay rapid egress should conditions deteriorate.  This occurred in a similar scenario recently resulting in critical burn injuries to several firefighters who were unable to quickly exit when a "dog pile" occurred at the exit.
Even the door is telling you not to try...
For all the discussion points on the potential hazards and pitfalls of "just breaking the glass", probably the most compelling reason not to break the glass is just that if you have practice and plans in the proper techniques it is simply faster and easier to just open the door.  Take a look at the following videos:

It's easy to see that whether you want to cut the lock or go through-the-lock, either are quite fast and eliminate all of the possible problems of breaking the glass.  Consider these options next time you are presented with the glass commercial storefront.  Discuss this issue with your crew members and practice on the techniques for defeating the "Adams Rite Lock" both manually and with a saw.  Stay safe, and stay Combat Ready.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Learning Moments & A Forcible Entry Challenge

One of the things we always talk about regarding staying "combat ready" is using every opportunity as a learning/teaching moment.  We have an opportunity on every routine run to look at the buildings in our response area and size-up their challenges.  This allows us to think about solutions in advance.  The more of these ideas (tools) you have in your brain (toolbox) makes it more likely you'll have the "right sized wrench" to fit the problem when you encounter it in stressful conditions during a fire.
During a medical run on the engine is exactly when we noticed these doors in an apartment building.  Neither the gate or the door is atypical for our area, but the combination of the two inside the building is unusual for us.  These gates are typically found on either the front or rear doors of many of our residences, but to find them inside an apartment building with enclosed stairs is unusual.  The gates themselves are not difficult to force, they are secured by a standard deadbolt with about a 1 throw.  Under normal circumstances, setting the adze above or below the lock and first crushing up and down then pulling the fork end out toward the lock side generally opens these fairly quickly.  However many firefighters still like to approach these with a saw, which obviously would not work well inside the building under fire conditions.  
What adds to the further uniqueness/challenge of this combination is the swing of the gates.  You can see in the pictures that in two of the apartments the lock side of the gate is against a right-angle wall.  Think for a moment about how this would impair your ability to force the door... You may think you would still be able to set the adze appropriately and crush/gap, however these gates have a strip of metal that covers the gap between the gate and the frame when closed.  This can be see in the picture below with the deadbolt extended.  That strip of metal is as wide as the throw of the deadbolt.  It's a weak piece of metal, but to defeat it you would need to slide the adze in from the far side of the lock side of the gate, and in this scenario the wall would stop you from being successful.  Further, even if you got the adze into place, when you went to pull the fork end toward the lock side the Halligan would quickly contact the wall, reducing your leverage and drastically increasing the amount of force it would take to open the door (as a result of moving the fulcrum).
So what would you do?  My approach would be the hinges.  I've found the hinges on these types of doors to consistently be a weak point.  There is usually enough space between the frame and gate to just place the adze enough without even striking the Halligan so that a gapping (up/down) force can be applied to the hinge.  This typically breaks the welds and maybe with a little outward pull on the fork the hinge is done.  Work from top to bottom, see the video below.

Rocket science?  Absolutely not.  When you see this in plain daylight and have a clear moment to think about the challenges and solutions, the door's weaknesses are easily found.  But this is the importance of taking the time after routine runs, during on-the-air inspections, or otherwise to have a teaching/learning moment.  Talk these ideas out with yourself, your crew.  The more time you spend preparing for the fire, the better you'll perform at the fire.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Extending Leverage on Outward Doors

It's common that residential buildings will feature mostly inward opening doors, while commercial buildings will feature more outward opening doors.  While the the technique for outward opening doors may be, I won't say easier but more straightforward than an inward door, they may actually require a little more "force".  Outward doors on commercial buildings are likely to be set in brick or concrete, consist of strong metal doors and frames, and may have multiple or higher security locking devices.

The "power position" on an outward door comes when you set the adze fully BEHIND the door.  It's the same idea as wrapping your fingers around something fully, you'll get the most pull.  Getting the adze behind the door gives you a few advantages:
  • 180-degrees of leverage, provided there are no obstacles.
  • In addition to pulling outward, you can work up and down using the adze to crush the door and reduce the depth the lock is set in it's keeper.
  • You can perform several "tricks" to extend your leverage.
It is also important to set the adze FULLY behind the door - as deep as you can get it.  This moves the fulcrum closer to the door and makes causes the firefighter to do less work to exert more leverage.

There are several methods to extend leverage on an outward door, but one is well illustrated at this box alarm in Prince George's County, MD.  In the rear of this commercial building, firefighters encounter a metal door in metal frame, set in brick with a couple locks.  The irons firefighter from TL-33 (Kentland VFD) has already properly set his adze fully behind the door but more leverage is needed.  A few things are worth noting here:
  • The irons FF does not "spin wheels" - after a few tries he quickly realizes that plan "A" isn't working and that we need to try something else.
  • The irons FF does not panic or get frustrated, I've seen frustrated FF's in this scenario pull the bar completely out of the door which of course is in no way helpful.
  • Note the fluid teamwork with minimal communication between the members of company 33 an 37 (Ritchie VFD).   Due to previous inter-departmental training, they know what to expect of each other.  The left hand knows what the right needs before it even asks.
Just like many forcible entry skills, this option is not available to you if you haven't purchased the right equipment, prepared it properly, and trained on it -not just as an individual, but as a crew.  If your partner doesn't know what to do your knowledge is useless.  We shouldn't have to have a lesson at the fire door - we should be able to resort to what we've always trained on.

In forcible entry remember - we can't do anything else until we get inside.  Keep your skills sharp, have multiple plans, and DON'T GIVE UP!

Monday, October 8, 2012

Their Bark is Worse Than Their Bite

Regarding forcible entry, many firefighters judge a book by it's cover.  They look at a FE challenge and  judge it by it's "big" parts.  Oh - there's a lot of metal and brick involved?  Clearly it must be difficult, right?  Not always so...

While on a routine alarm the other day in a high-security neighborhood I snapped pictures of a few "formidable looking" forcible entry challenges.  What caught my attention about them is that they all look difficult, but closer inspection for just a moment highlight's their weaknesses.  Cheap locks and padlocks is all that held these closed.  What bothered me was to think that first instinct for many firefighters would be to attack these with a saw.  But what would they try to cut?  How long would it take to get the saw out, running, and cutting?  Would that be fastest?  And what use would that saw be (compared to irons) when the door was now open and it was time to go inside?

Size-up is a critical portion of informed forcible entry decision-making.  Glancing for more than a moment at these doors reveals that they are held closed by things that under any other circumstance we'd force with irons no questions asked - tubular deadbolt, rim lock, and a couple cheap padlocks.  Moments later the lock is out of the way and we're in.  Of course this also highlights again the importance of keeping your eyes open around your area - what types of challenges are common?  The more you see, the more ideas you'll have in your toolbox when you're the firefighter at the door...

One simple rim lock.
Two tubular deadbolts and we're in. 

Just a couple of padlocks, then roll it up.
Two cheap padlocks with the pike.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Setting the Adze on Outward Doors

Students at a recent Forcible Entry Academy practice proper technique in setting the adze on an outward door. Many firemen drive adze partially or completely to the doorstop then try to gap up/down or in/out. This will often skin a metal door. We need to drive all the way to the door stop, then angle out slightly and set the adze completely behind the door. This not only prevents skinning but also seats the Halligan to allow maximum leverage to be exerted while reducing the chances of popping out.
To learn and practice more skills like this, sign up for one of our upcoming Forcible Entry Academies. Visit


Wednesday, March 14, 2012


On the truck today I have a guy who's newer on the job and regularly assigned to an engine. After about an hour of drilling on portable ladders and forcible entry he said to me "Sarge, I just don't wanna let anyone down..." Probably one of the best things I've ever heard a fireman say.

I told him "well if you start with that everyday, that will give you motivation and the rest will quickly fall in line with practice". Sometimes it's just that simple - his motivation inspired me.

This is a team sport. We're all counting on you to be in the right spot, with the right stuff, and the right skills, at the right time. We can't let anyone down.

Combat Ready.