Philadelphia Rescue. Is Taking Off Your Facepiece For a Occupant a Bad Thing?

Risk. Is it a matter of actual policy or personal interpretation?

NOTE: I'm kicking myself for not catching this earlier; back in May, FireRescue Magazine/FirefighterNation had the stories of the clash between the union and the Philadelphia Fire Commissioner and mayor. In that feud, the union was calling for the resignation of the commissioner for the lack of a collapse zone at the fatal Kensington warehouse fire, "Philadelphia Union Says Commissioner Lied About Collapse Zone". So there we have it, a case of safety tit-for-tat, in my opinion and one where if the "top administrator" hadn't delivered his critique at the hospital, this may well have not been a story. - Bill

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MyFoxPhilly has a follow-up to their coverage of a rowhouse fire rescue that you would think came out the District of Columbia considering everything going on downtown.


Hours after Firefighter Fran Cheney (Ladder Company10) had rescued Mary Jackson from the second floor of her burning home a “top fire department administrator” visited Cheney at the hospital and told him that his act of removing his facepiece and placing it on Jackson “wasn’t very smart.”


FireRescue Magazine/FirefighterNation:
“Video: Philadelphia Firefighter Criticized for Rescue”

Undoubtedly many will consider this to be an act of administrative nit-picking. It can also be a sign of a department that takes seriously (too serious?) the safety of its members. Dave Statter posted about the Philadelphia Fire Department’s controversial firefighter burn injury policy in February,


"More on Philadelphia Fire Department Burn Policy"


Already on Facebook, readers are beating up on education ("this came from diploma firefighters"), and safety. “Getting it done” and taking risks is one thing, as I wrote about earlier in this story from Alabama,

“Getting it Done” Absurdity on Alabama Fireground”


While standing outside in your everyday clothes, taking a feed fighting a trailer fire, is one matter it is not the same as taking a feed while walking an occupant down and out from the second floor.


Or is it?


While we push aggressive attacks and searches, as well as smart firefighting, we also push being aware of the cancer that comes from the job’s effects. It’s true that there are certain actions that require pushing to the edge, but they may be rare and hard to reoccur.


So for serious discussion is the department official correct in saying that removing the facepiece wasn’t the smartest thing? Is it a matter of “the eye of the beholder” where the distance covered (down the stairs and out the door) isn’t that far or is it one where the occupant was in that much distress? How much benefit is there for an occupant to be “on air” to go down one flight of stairs and out the door, if EMS is waiting outside?


Or, is this a matter of a department still reeling from the deaths of two firefighters and wanting to make sure everyone goes home?


Be sure to note a big part of this story and that is Firefighter Cheney's response. Note the respect, professionalism, taking the "high road". No banter, no using risk and tradition as basis for challenging the administration. In other words, he's not coming off as a "I Fight What Your Fear" whacker.


Thoughts to pick your brains.



Bill Carey is the daily news and blog manager for Elsevier Public Safety (FireRescue Magazine/Firefighter Nation, JEMS and LawOfficer sites.) Bill also manages the network and is a former volunteer lieutenant with the Hyattsville Volunteer Fire Department in Prince George's County, Maryland.

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I wasn't there.  I don't know what Firefighter Cheney knew at that moment in time when he did what he did.  I won't criticize his decision. He made the choice to doff his mask and give it to the victim.  Both are alive today.

So there we have it, a case of safety tit-for-tat, in my opinion and one where if the "top administrator" hadn't delivered his critique at the hospital, this may well have not been a story. - Bill


I agree that if the statement wasn't made, this probably wouldn't be the story it is. I disagree this is a case of tit-for-tat in the safety realm. If this is being used by the administation in such a context because of the union's statements, then that is very petty on part of the administration. What I see about the collapse zone and the claims of lying, well that does seem like a case of trying to cover asses after the fact.....whereas, there is no denying this FF admitted to doing what he did and isn't trying to cover up.



Although overall, I like the discussion component being established. I have seen this story, after many other established comments, and one can truly see the tunnel vision in most of those comments. Here, the discussion points pose some thought and to look at different aspects instead of just making an easy statement as those other links to this story have shown.


So, this brings up the thought and discussion of personal vs dept policy, human nature or trained response and so forth. Do you praise or criticize? And there in lies the crux of the issue, because realistically, the answer is not simple.


We can see many comments with the focus of "praise". Yes, this guy fulfilled everything we hear about the fire service, and what the "image" of what a firefighter should be. He risked his life to save another, he got the victim out alive, he is a hero. He fulfilled the "Risk a lot to save a lot" saying that has been used as a barometer for service. Why shouldn't he be praised?


Ahh, but if we praise, are we saying that it is OK to take such risks? Is it OK to use this example for lax adherence to safety standards? What if another FF thinks they will do this as well, but instead of getting out, becomes a victim themselves? How do we enforce safety iniatives and focus on PPE and so forth, if we consistently praise examples where such standards aren't used? It really is a double edged sword of a discussion and one I would hope other members consider before making easy comments.





Here is my take on this. Foremost, there is one thing of having policy and procedures in place, but despite them being there, they can NOT account for nor address every situation in which we can encounter. As such we get nice catchall phrases like "Risk a lot to save a lot", to which now places the judgement call on the individual. Whereas with the collapse zone scenario, there can be considered a case of trying to CYA from the brass, in this case, are we really seeing a widespread disregard of wearing a mask? I don't think so, which shows this was an individual who took a risk and had a successful outcome.


So if looking back on potential policy, I'm pretty sure such a dept has something saying that an SCBA will be worn in an IDLH environment. I would doubt that there is policy stating if encountering a victim in such a scenario as this, that the mask will remain on the FF at all times. Quite basically, there is PPE, this FF was wearing his PPE (as opposed to the Alabama incident), he removed his mask to get a viable....let's bold that.....VIABLE..... victim out. This wasn't a case of running in willy nilly without gear or mask on, or some blatant disregard for policy and procedure, this was an individual judgement call of an individual FF.


I can understand the concern by management and I agree that it really wasn't the "smartest thing" to do. I can understand the concern of not trying to create an "encouraging" atmosphere to other FFs so similar and potentially more frequent such risks are taken more routinely. I do disagree in how they are approaching this. I disagree with some type of investigation and making it out to be some type of witch hunt.


Given the history of cuts, brownouts, station/company closures, the blaise retort from administrators of "safety will not be compromised" etc, we know there is some tension between union and management. However, in this case, management had a chance to make some amends as opposed to making this look like a tit-for-tat.


In the military there is a saying of "praise in public and reprimand in private", kind of the reverse effects here. In the military there are policy and procedures, those who have gone above and beyond, especially under fire, typically are praised and honored. That should be the stance here and IMO, the stance on any fire dept out there under a similar circumstance.



Personally, this guy should be honored. He perfromed a size up, he quickly weighed the "Risk a lot to save alot" analogy and triumphed, he risked his life to save another, he performed his job as expected. Yes, he should be praised, yes he should be honored for his actions. HOWEVER, his actions should not become the judgement base for other firefighters. This was an incident that ended successfully, but it really wasn't the "smartest thing". We are no good to the people and citizens we serve if we become victims ourselves. This incident should be looked at right along with any other post incident analysis on what went right and what could be done better. Management can show the praise for this FF and he should perhaps be recognized for his actions, but also reiterate that this was an isolated case and the importance of wearing PPE.



This guy did a great job and that's the only way I see it.  Was it the safest thing?  No.  This isn't the safest job though and people seem to forget that.  Aggressive firefighting is, unfortunately, starting to disappear in this world.  I'd be willing to bet many departments wouldn't have made entry into the fire until they knocked it down from the outside.  In many cities, this woman would be dead.  So many guys think that they shouldn't have to risk anything anymore.  They do this job for the status and their tshirt.  In my opinion, standing outside with a hose line in your hand doesn't make you a fireman.  Having some balls and being able to think on your feet like this man did does.  Kind of like Don Cantenacci said, unless anyone else here was in that building with him, it'd be tough for you to argue otherwise.

Well said.  If you weren't there it's hard to make a judgement.  The primary goal for me is to keep people alive.  That's what this guy did and it's a shame that people have to nitpick at it.  He saved a life and did a great job.  No need to dig further into it.

It's not about the facepiece it's about politics. 

Anybody remember this news article?

Did you read the article?  I hope you did because it clearly shows just how lowlife politicians can be.

For an even better example of what I am talking about, you really need to read this.

Ain't I cute?

It's about politics, plain an simple.

I agree with that too.  We've got the same problem in DC.  Actually in one of the articles about this story, it even says this is like a story out of the District of Columbia.  Upper management going after people for whatever they can.


I was being a bit sarcastic. 

I do believe this is all politics, and quite likely tit-for-tat based on this comment:

"...the Mayor's office issued the following statement which reads, in part, "The leaders of Local 22 have once again dishonored two fallen heroes, their families and all rank and file firefighters with a pathetic display of falsehoods. Their real issue is anger over not having a contract.""

That right there is enough to piss off anyone.

My post was in reference to an incident in Houston where FFs claimed a councilwoman used profanity and made insulting comments to/about the FFs.  Turns out it was all a lie and she was vindicated by a (FF) video that showed it was all jovial and good natured. 

My point here is that the FF who reported the comment from the "top administrator" may be true, may be exaggerated, may have been taken out of context or may be a complete fabrication (Houston).  Hence, politics.

As for what the FF did, I think it was his call, he did what he felt was right, appropriate and/or necessary at the time.  Could you blame anyone for saying, even good naturedly that it 'wasn't a smart thing'?  It worked, both survived but under different, or rapidly changing conditions, it could have been a LODD, a civilian fatality and one more brother in the ground.  It was his call, I'm glad it worked out all the way around.  I just think maybe he should have left the politics out of it.  But then, I'm not dealing with his administration and can't fully appreciate all the animosities floating around.

My hat is of to Firefighter Cheney for making the rescue.


It is generally not a good idea to remove your mask, even to give air to a victim.  However, I wasn't there, don't know the exact circumstances, and am comfortable that FF Cheney made a judgement call and the result was a successful rescue.


For simlar situations in the future - removing your mask in IDLH will not necessarily be in the same situation or have the same result.  With the hotter fire gases and additional poisons in today's smoke, removing your mask in the smoke is going to create a very good chance that the victim and the firefighter might both die.


This is a difficult - and life-threatening decision, no matter how you slice it.

There are at least two different issues here...


1) Removing the mask in order to give air to the victim.


2) The administration's handling of the situation, especially in the lightof the recent double LODD and the union's call for the Commissioner's resignation.


In this situation, the firefighter made a judgement call and made a successful rescue.  PFD's leadership should focus on that.  Immediately questioning whether or not a firefighter should make the choice about removing an mask to give air to a victim who obviously was very grateful to get it has the appearance of being petty, even if it was intended in the interests of firefighter safety.

Politics and opinions aside, the only thing that matters is that the Cheney made a good grab.  That's it! The woman is alive today because in that moment when she needed the very essence of what "firemen" are defined by there was a "Fireman" who was willing to screw them on tight and do his job. He wasn't afraid to do just what we all swore to do and that is "risk his life to save another."

I have been in this very same scenario and made the very same choice and for all of you so called "Heroes" who only took the job for the benefit package, the time off, and the t-shirt....Well, fall to your knees and thank who ever you believe in that you don't work on my crew!

Firefighting is a full contact sport! This is not reality TV!

Please forgive me for ranting but I hate so called "firefighters" who have never been on a real call in their entire careers and take every opportunity to criticize those of us who go to fires for not being "Safe" or "Customer friendly" or whatever the new buzz word is. 

So, my answer to the original question posted is that it is all situationally dictated as to whether or not one should give his/her mask to a victim.


Firefighter Cheney did his job and saved a life. The oath speaks that we shall lay down our lifes to save another. In this case, the firefighter made a split second decision and a successful grab. Policy or not, he carried out the mission of the fire service and should be commended, and not scutinized.


Now as far as administration coming to the hospital to deliver bedside discipline, thats just poor leadership. You see, in my opinion they should have played it as "We understand you were forced to make a split second decision and we now need to look at how training can be tweaked to match the conditions for which you are expected to work in."  You see, sharing a mask is an old school technique in CO based environment.  Pretty sure most everyone knows todays smoke contains the toxic twins. Just a few breaths and your done. Sounds like FF Cheney was on the way out, appears to be heading down the stairs with a victim who was nearing her last breath, when he decided to share his mask. Maybe he thought he could hold his breath for the remaining distance to the egress point while extending her life?   What I am saying is in a different situation, further in and a longer egress, maybe he wouldn't have shared the mask.  Like I said, I wasn't there and wouldn't criticize the brother, but he made a gut call, it worked, and now it is time for the department, adminstration and training division to match training with the conditons he/she are expected to function in "next" time. I would bet nobody has a written policy that states you will not share your mask with a civilian.


He made a great grab! Pin the guy. He gave more than what his leadership would and most likely had a different outcome which was highly positive compared to the other.

Bill (FETC)

This comment was supposed to go under Capcityff remarks.. not sure if it did or why it didn't lol  sheesh.. I been away too long I think!


BANG ON!  So well said! I totally agree with everything you just stated, especially the part.. well the part after" this guy did a great job...." , I always preached to the rookies,. The "book" ( or in this case perhaps an SOG) teaches the rules, while experience, and common sense and discretion...teach the exceptions!!!   

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