Originally posted on www.firerescue1.com
Chief’s Traffic with John Buckman III
Why firefighters must read Clark’s latest book
One test of a book’s impact is how long it stays in your head after it’s finished and returned to the bookcase
Jun 22, 2016
By John Buckman III
Burton Clark has taken his passion for improving firefighter safety to the next level by compiling many of his writings into one place. The information in his book “I Can’t Save You, But I’ll Die Trying: The American Fire Culture” will anger some; others will rejoice.
There are two main actions the book focuses on — calling the mayday and wearing seatbelts.
Clark says we all know that firefighters don’t want to admit that they need to be rescued. Therefore it is logical in a firefighter’s mind to delay calling for help even when they recognize the severity of their situation.
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There are several factors for this, Clark writes, with the primary being the negative stigma associated with declaring your need for rescue assistance.
Clark examines three specific incidents where the firefighters in distress did not call the mayday, their partners did not call a mayday, no one activated their emergency button on the radio, no one activated a PASS device, firefighters separated instead of staying together and each ran out of air and suffered carbon monoxide poisoning.
Peer pressure and the stigma associated with calling the mayday prevented these firefighters from asking for help even though they knew they needed help and they needed it then.
According to Clark, the fire service needs to establish decision-making parameters for calling a mayday and standards training. He acknowledges it may seem strange to have to establish rules to tell firefighters when to call a mayday, but we have standards for many decisions firefighters must make.
Clark queries the fire service on changing line-of-duty death to occupational fatality. He says occupational fatality is not part of the job — rather it’s an indication that something went wrong. Corrective action and accountability must be applied so it does not happen again.
Clark writes that we need more research into the actions of firefighters to determine why they take the actions that they do.
And needing more knowledge is nothing new to the U.S. fire service.
The London Fire Brigade Chief Sir Eyre Massey Shaw remarked 150 years ago about the lack of professional knowledge in many of America’s fire chief, which Sir Shaw considered essential. One American fire chief told Sir Shaw the only way to learn about being a fire chief was going to fires.
In 1868 Chief Shaw said that statement is about as “monstrous and contrary to reason as if he had said that the only way to become a surgeon would be to commence cutting off limbs without any knowledge of anatomy or of the implements required.”
Clark’s book challenges the status quo and asks firefighters to look deep into their practices to see what needs to be changed before it is too late for their survival.
For me, the book made my mind swirl. The information frustrated me as I know sometimes our simple actions will go a long way to correcting the problem.
The inexcusable part is when one who supposes to be a leader takes no action when they see something being done wrong.
I realize that I too have ignored near misses or minor-injury events and that I took the easy way out. Two events have recently come to mind.
I was at a live-burn training event when one of the firefighters came out of the can and complained about his arms being burned. When checked, the firefighter had first-degree burns on his forearm area and on the back of his neck.
Discussion and observation followed and showed that all of the proper policies and procedures were followed. The burn pile in the can was constructed in accordance with NFPA 1403. The firefighter was in his first burn of the day and an inspection of his PPE before going in the can showed that it was donned appropriately.
The PPE was inspected after the burn event and was in good condition. The SCBA facepiece was deformed and had near catastrophic failure. The Lexan was wavy. Interior temperatures were unknown as the can had no thermocouples or other heat-sensing device.
Everyone agreed everything was done right and it was just an accident. I stood there and agreed.
Later as I was driving home, Clark’s book came into my mind. At training, no one violated any policy or procedure, but something did go wrong.
The mask facepiece was an older model, but in reasonably good condition. There was no visible structural damage to it other than the Lexan. I had to do something to answer some of the questions rolling around in my head about this accident that could have ended in a catastrophic way.
In the end, the fire chief allowed the facepiece and PPE to be sent away for safety testing.
On another occasion I walked into an awards ceremony and noticed several young officers with beards. I asked why they had beards and how they complied with the OSHA policy on facial not to interfere with wearing an SCBA and the facial seal.
They responded they had passed the fit test. I explained that is not what OSHA says. The fit test is a static test. The face of the person being tested is stationary.
What firefighter who dons an SCBA and enters a toxic atmosphere does not move their head and neck? None, we all move.
I told these young officers that they should be setting the example for compliance with rules, policies, procedures and the law. If we are to break the lackadaisical attitude toward safety practices, it takes leader with courage to take that action.
Ultimately, Clark made me think about both the past and future of firefighter safety long after I closed the book; I highly recommend this book for anyone in the fire service.
About the author
Chief John M. Buckman III is Fire Chief’s editorial advisor. He served 35 years as fire chief for the German Township Volunteer Fire Department in Evansville, Ind. He has served nine years as director of firefighter training for the Indiana State Fire Marshal Office. He was president of the International Association of Fire Chiefs in 2001-2002 and is a co-founder of the IAFC Volunteer and Combination Officers Section. He was appointed by President William Clinton to serve on the America Burning Revisited group and appointed by President George W. Bush to the Department of Homeland Security Advisory Task Force. In 1996, Fire Chief Magazine named Chief Buckman Volunteer Fire Chief of the Year. In 2013 the National Volunteer Fire Council bestowed the Lifetime Achievement Award to him. Annually, the Volunteer and Combination Officers Section present the John M. Buckman III Leadership Award to a deserving chief officer from throughout North America. He is a co-author of the Lesson Learned from Fire-Rescue Leaders and is the editor of the Chief Officers Desk Reference. He served as secretary-treasurer of the National Fire Academy Alumni Association for 10 years. He has presented programs in all 50 states, each of the provinces in Canada, Beijing and the Caribbean Islands. Chief Buckman is a member of the Fire Chief/FireRescue1 Editorial Advisory Board.You can reach Chief Buckman at John.Buckman@FireRescue1.com.
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