The mistakes of yesterday are the answers to tomorrow

"Trial by error." What do these words mean to you? In the fire service is there room for error? What is gained by making mistakes and what is lost?

Trial by error is something that we all experience. We all learn from our own mistakes and through the mistakes of people throughout history. The fire service is marked by a large quantity of mistakes and the corrective measures are what helps us create a standard to learn and train from.

Lets look at 9-11. Without getting into the whole realm of the issues that the responders faced or the disgusting act of terrorism, look at what we gained from the event. The FDNY was the only organization that had an accountability system in place. (pretty much the birth of NIMS/ICS) Though this wasn't a mistake, we learned from incidents in the past and the corrective measures were taken and executed without flaw.

Look at the Station Nightclub fire. (and a host of other fires) Through this incident, the fire codes were redefined to include more strict codes for assembly occupancies. Throughout time we can't see the number of lives saved, but we sure can count the lives lost to those who don't comply with the codes.

I know we all wish we were perfect but in reality, we aren't. We make mistakes in general life, on the fireground and even in training. To not complicate this, we need to take a step back and LEARN from the mistake to avoid it from repeating, or from occuring when it matters most.

Looking through the LODD reports from NIOSH for the calander year 2008 (and beyond) we see a magnitude of avoidable deaths that have been caused by people who haven't learned. (Before you become critical of my post, please continue reading.)

We see Tanker roll-overs caused by excessive speed. (History has shown us that drivers training should be paramount and is mandated for Tanker (or Tender) twice a year in most states. In a large quantity of these accidents seat belts were not worn. Face facts, it's 2009 now. Can you tell me why ANYONE who is in a fire apparatus ISN'T wearing a seat belt? Does not wearing one aid you in ANY way? I know the nay-sayers always have the "I need to get my PPE on" answer, but in the real world the 2 minutes or less that it takes to get your PPE on at the station BEFORE entering the apparatus in most cases is just fine.

Tankers that are converted from old fuel trucks are another issue. How many NIOSH reposts have been about refurbished fuel trucks made into Tankers? (I don't have an actual number, but I know it is high) In most of these cases, the truck is carrying way more weight than it's engineered for. In some cases, the fuel truck would sit empty more often than full and with water weight on the frame 24 hours a day, the truck will begin to degrade.

Cardiac related injuries are the next wave. Cardiac related injuries have lead the cause of LODD's (except 2001) for as long as I have been in the fire service. In relation to the cardiac issues, we still haven't learned. Departments still don't require physicals, no exercise/work out plans are made, and general obesity and dieting issues are common. Compounding these issues with lack of sleep, exertion and not wearing a SCBA in fire situations only compound the cardio system into overtime. (and I feel are causing more LODD's)

Training accidents is the next topic. Why are we killing ourselves in training? Why are safety measures not taken? Why does the training fire have to be "worse case scenerio?" If we already are pushing the threshold of our limits by going further in, staying in longer (thanks to our superior PPE) if the conditions deteriorate from worse case scenerio, we are faced with more serious injuries and or more LODD's. (plus lack of mayday training/bailout scenerios)

Can anyone tell me WHY we still have departments that don't believe in RIT at every building fire?! I asked a local departments Chief this question and was given the answer "We do things the old school way and thats real firefighting." Luckily this department has not suffered through a LODD. (yet) It's this mindset that contributes to the delinquency in progress.

Small town politics and departments that just REFUSE to change are the departments that need an "Extreme Makeover" the most. For the rest of us, our mission should be to not chastise the mistakes made by the rookie in training or the 20 year veteran, but to ensure that all involved then and in the future don't make the mistake again. Learning by error, trial by fire.

Be there for your probies. Teach them the way it is supposed to be done. (no if's and's or but's about it.) Tradition is tradition and I understand the tradition of the Probies job. Make sure they have the knowledge that comes from beyond the academy.


Slow down the LODD's we suffer throughout the next upcoming year. Read the NIOSH reports and have your membership train with them. When they see the mistakes made by other departments, hopefully they (with some help from their officers and SOP's) will see the error and not make the same ones.

If you have fire apparatus, you need to keep accurate maintenance records and INSPECT MONTHLY!. If your going to purchase or receive a used fuel truck, make sure it is ENGINEERED for the weight your planning on putting into it. Ensure you have the proper baffling installed in the tanker. Make sure your members know to drive and operate it fully and repeatedly make them qualify for the privelage to do so.

We all need to keep moving forward into 2009 by learning from the mistakes of yesterday. Without mistakes in the world, we wouldn't have jobs.

Be safe in 2009. Your life and the lives of those firefighters who work alongside you rely on it.

“It is not worthwhile to try to keep history from repeating itself, for man's character will always make the preventing of the repetitions impossible” Mark Twain
Isn't it time to prove this to be false?

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Comment by Engineco913 on January 4, 2009 at 8:47pm
Art, when you look at the overall picture there are a lot of similarities between the fire service and the military. We both have a command staff and utilize chain of command. (also works for shit flows down-hill)

The ICS system as you mentioned is mirrored by tried and tested (and PROVEN) Military examples.

The dress uniforms, pride and sense of belonging.

Is it a bad thing, I think not. I am all for whatever needs to be done to take corrective action.

The first step is accepting that NONE of us are perfect and again taking all the mistakes made by us, our brothers and sisters in the firehouse and across the globe and implement them into our training to prevent more preventable deaths.

It all starts with us.
Comment by Art "ChiefReason" Goodrich on January 4, 2009 at 8:37pm
Illinois was introduced to ICS the day that the Illinois Fire Service Institute hired Colonel Richard Jaehne. He was a Marine who specialized in Critical Incident Management.
It didn't take long for Illinois to get on board.
TCSS.
Art
Comment by Engineco913 on January 4, 2009 at 8:29pm
I thought about writing for a magazine once. Then I realized that "Highlights" and Mad magazine both had full staffs. :)
Comment by Mary Ellen Shea on January 4, 2009 at 6:40pm
Have you ever thought about writing for a magazine?......

:)
Thoughtful post Miguel.
Comment by Engineco913 on January 4, 2009 at 4:39pm
Thanks for the correction. I guess this is when the ICS system was "highlighted" for more people to see. I also think between 9-11 and Katrina the ICS program became mandatory. Again, thanks for the correction to my incorrect stat. :)
Comment by FETC on January 4, 2009 at 4:11pm
Nice thought and overall post. One note though... 9-11 and FDNY was the birth of NIMS/ICS?

ICS was started in the early 1970's from the large western US wildfires that had multi agency response. NIMS is a newer and more revised version. Actually the FDNY had a written policy of who was in command, which I believe is the earliest known version of Fire Service ICS, that was dated to the late 1800's.
Comment by Art "ChiefReason" Goodrich on January 4, 2009 at 1:56pm
And so, 2009 begins: [quote]According to the preliminary Oklahoma Highway Patrol report, Juston Myers was driving a 2000 Ford pickup and his father was driving a 1985 Chevy pickup owned by the department. The report indicated that seat belts were available but not in use in either vehicle.[end of quote]
Sad.
Comment by Kimberly A Bownas on January 4, 2009 at 1:56pm
Nice post Mike. I agree we need to learn from the past and not just what we have done right but what was done wrong.... If we don't learn from the wrong things then we will just keep doing it. We are smarter then that, I would think. Nice job again. Keep training and learning. Stay safe and wear your seat belt....
Comment by Art "ChiefReason" Goodrich on January 4, 2009 at 1:22pm
We are forced to "look back", because we find examples-the same examples-of repeated failures.
In 2008, we lost 113 firefighters LODD. Again; heart attacks led the way. We had more apparatus crashes than any previous year. We had more die while responding in POVs. We lost some more because they don't want to wear seatbelts. We lost more because risk vs. gain may not have been properly assessed.
We talk and talk and talk...
TCSS.
Art
Comment by Paul Montpetit on January 4, 2009 at 12:14pm
I believe it was Benjamin Franklin that once stated "If you do not learn from history then you are destined to repeat it"....Does anyone really want to repeat the mistakes of the past...?? Haven't we lost enough good men and women...?? Paul

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