If all the fire service divisions within a fire department can combine their training, education, and experience, then it will strengthen the fire department as well as make fire service more effective within the industry as a whole.
On June 14, 2017, a fire occurred in West London at the Grenfell Tower Block where 72 people were killed. The fire engulfed the tower so quickly that the residents that did escape had barely enough time to get out of the building. Over 200 firefighters fought the blaze and led rescue efforts to save victims from the inferno.
Over the course of history, there have been countless large fires like the Grenfell Tower Block Fire that have taken too many lives and have destroyed homes across the world. In 2016, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) reported there were 1,342,000 fires leading to 3,390 civilian fatalities and 69 firefighter fatalities. Even though NFPA has reported a decrease in fatalities, they have approximated a fire happens every 24 seconds. As the fire service industry gathers data to learn more about fire progression and dynamics, it also continues to update their training and procedures to reflect the new knowledge and ensure all of those involved and the public are as safe as possible. The purpose of this article is to emphasize the importance of every aspect of the fire sector working as a symbiotic team and propose a method for accomplishing this.
There are three major areas of a fire department that should work seamlessly as a team, especially if a fire incident occurs: fire suppression, fire prevention, and fire investigations. The fire department in many ways is like an ecosystem. Each division of the department relies on the other divisions to do their job, all of which contribute to keeping the public safe. Consider the following example: fire prevention divisions are tasked with identifying code violations in buildings, educating the public about smoke alarms and protection systems, and ensuring the overall safety of the community through preventing fires. Firefighters rely on the fire prevention staff to give them information for suppression purposes and any code violations that will endanger their lives or the lives of the public prior to the fire and when extinguishing fires. Fire Investigators rely on obtaining information from fire prevention that would have led to a possible cause of the fire. The relationship between all three divisions is interdependent and as the fires continue to grow in size and fatalities, the need to intermingle the three areas of firefighting has never been more needed.
To foster the team methodology amongst these three areas in a fire department, there are several potential approaches to training and communications the fire sector can do that have been proven to be successful in the past. Fire departments are practiced at creating trainings that are hands-on and as realistic as possible so when the situation arises fire personnel have seen and experienced what they are doing. To understand the other divisions better, cross-over trainings for all the fire department personnel in different areas would be advantageous. It would be valuable for the firefighter crews to go through hands-on scenarios of spotting code violations and potentials for hazards. Most stations already have an area they cover to do basic code violations for businesses, but with the fire prevention team assisting with more in depth classes, there may be more the fire crews can do to prevent fires or assist and educate the public more readily. As for fire prevention personnel, they have first-hand knowledge of the areas, businesses, and public as well as skill-sets for understanding fire dynamics and extinguishment. The fire prevention personnel would benefit greatly from hands-on live fire or egress trainings to help them understand what the fire suppression crews need at the scene of a fire and, more specifically, make sure the residences and businesses are creating opportunities for the suppression crews to have easier routes and access in and out. Lastly, fire investigation personnel need to give training to both prevention and suppression personnel and also learn more about the process of the fire prevention and extinguishment. The fire suppression crews need to understand the roles of fire investigators at their scene to help keep the scene intact after fires and aid in preservation of evidence and fire patterns. These are just examples of different types of specific training focuses each division can provide for each other and by creating these cross-over types of trainings, it will open the door to better communication, prevention of fires, and better teamwork throughout the fire department.
Cross-over trainings are one piece of the teamwork approach within the fire department, but creating a committee or task-force within the department with representatives from each of the three divisions would also be advantageous to create a unified approach to the fire service. Many times on fire scenes there is confusion as to what happened before, during, and after the fire. The public demands answers to questions formed after a fire occurs, questions such as “what could have prevented the fire?”, “how did the fire grow so rapidly?”, “how did people die in the fire?”, and etc. The pressure is on the fire department to provide answers to such questions and with an open line of communication between all involved in the residence or business fire there will be faster access to answers. There have been great benefits with creating committees and task forces to conduct status meetings and lead training events on specific subjects for each division. Furthermore, if there is success in these cross-over trainings, there may be potential for other departments to use this and expand to partnering for trainings with other fire departments. Looking specifically at some of the larger fires in the San Francisco, California area, there are definitely needs for inner county task forces and cross-over training. The cities in the Silicon Valley are close together and frequently when there is a large fire, mutual aid is sent to the surrounding cities. To make incidences more streamlined at larger incidences, it would be beneficial to conduct training events together and have meetings so everyone knows what each department’s resources are and what the protocols and policies are for each department in response to massive events such as the Grenfell Tower.
As the fire service continues to improve technology, research areas within the fire service, and advance training methods, the number of deaths and fire damaged structures and areas will hopefully decrease and lead to even more effective procedures and policies. As NFPA reported in 2016, on average, a fire claims nine lives every day. The significance of that statistic is not lost on any fire personnel in the fire service and it is one of the main reasons they work tirelessly to decrease deaths, injuries, and destruction from fires every day. With the proposed cross-over trainings and an internal task force representing the fire suppression, fire protection, and the fire investigation divisions, the public as well as the fire service personnel will be more confident not only in their department but also in their role and decision-making within their specific job. The goal is for all fire personnel to have confidence to convey their knowledge and experience to the individuals they are saving, interacting with, or investigating in the future. With the unity of personnel in one fire department, there may be a future for fire departments across counties, states, and countries to come together to exchange ideas, trainings, and experiences and improve the connection to the entire fire service industry worldwide.
For more information, go to www.fireinvestigationindustries.com