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Welcome to my site and thank you for reading. After many times thinking, if only I had a blog, well-- here we are. This blog will feature writings on a variety of topics from roadside food, to leadership in the fire service; politics; culture- gay, straight, and indifferent, my experiences in Ohio, New York and beyond; and much much more. It's my hope that you will find it interesting and that it stirs at least some thought and discussion. I am certain you wont always agree, but that is what its all about right? Oh and one more thing: The views expressed on this site are entirely my own. They do not reflect in anyway the views or positions of my employer.



Thursday, December 31, 2015

Dispatcher Basics: Habits for a lifetime

I am fortunate to meet many new dispatchers in my travels.  Some of them are even courageous enough to ask for advice on how to make sure they succeed in the profession. This blog is, in part, a tool to answer those questions.  But one of the most unappreciated tools to ensure success are the habits we create when we first start out.  Those little things we do every day to make sure we are focused, prepared, and ready to go into action.  They can also help make sure we do the best job possible with every call, every day.  Here are a few suggestions to help your professional and personal life as you start out in this career. 

1) Have a set wake up time every day and stay as close to it as possible.  Also, do not get up too close to the start time of your shift.  Leave time in the couple of hours before your shift to eat breakfast (or whatever first meal is appropriate); read and relax a minute; take a walk or so some other physical exercise for at least 15 minutes; and make your way into work.  Having a stressful start to your day then going into a stressful job is a recipe for emotional and physical disaster.  In this case, getting that extra hour of sleep is not as helpful as managing the start of your day effectively. 

2) Try to get to work at least fifteen minutes early.  Take the time to grab your coffee or water, say hello to the off-going shift, learn about what is going on, and then start your work day.  Rushing in like a crazy person, failing to develop your situational awareness, and just plopping down does not start your shift in an effective manner.  

3) I know that we are in a paperless world, but the most important tool I ever used was a piece of scrap paper at my position.  I blocked the paper (think tic-tac-toe board) and used each block for the notes to a specific call or incident.  When I was done with that bloc I put one line through the block. The important part was that the information in the block was still legible if I needed to go back to it, but I also had tracked my completion of the related task. 

4) If at all possible, get up and move around regularly.  The human body is not designed to sit for long periods, or to have bad posture.  This can lead to all kinds of health problems.  On a related note, DITCH THE SODA!  Water, Unsweetened Ice Tea; a respectable amount of coffee-- those are all fine.  But avoid the sugary drinks at your position.  Try to keep yourself hydrated.  A good plan is to bring a very large water bottle-- drinking one on the first half of the shift and another bottle on the second half.  

5) If possible in your center- rotate your position half way through the day.  Doing one thing for eight, twelve, or sixteen hours can turn your brain into mush.  Its not a bad idea to switch positions halfway through.  This helps keep our minds fresh and gets us to use different skill sets.  

6) Try to go for a walk on your break.  Every little bit helps and even just a stroll around the parking lot helps combat the negative impacts of working at a console in a 9-1-1 center for a shift.  

7) Read at least one professional article each shift.  The world of 9-1-1 is always changing.  There is never an end to what you can learn.  During a down time, take a moment to read about something new, or how some other agency handled a major event.  Whatever it is, make learning a part of everyday you spend at work.  

8) When the time comes to leave, take some time to talk to the next person sitting in your seat.  What happened during the shift?  Is there something that the next person should really know about?  This information exchange is a huge part of a successful 9-1-1 center.  

9) When you leave the building for the day, take a few deep breaths.  Think about something that went well during your shift.  It doesn't have to be huge, even a small success is helpful.  Too often we focus on the bad, even when there is only one bad thing compared to 500 good.  Reflect on the good that happened during that day and head home. 

Tomorrow's shift will be here before you know it. 

Dispatcher Basics: Having a Bad Day

This will come as no surprise to someone that has been in the 9-1-1 world for longer than a week or two, but there will be Bad Days.  Very Bad Days.  The details of what may be a bad day for you are perhaps different from nearly every other person you work with.  This is perfectly normal.  We have different reactions to different events.  For one, a robbery may involve their favorite restaurant and impact longtime friends.  For someone else, the bad day may involve a call about a sick child, or a fire at their beloved church.  

This was driven home to me early in my career.  I had the challenge/privilege of working with more than a few crusty old tough guys in the FDNY.  They were certainly not the emotional type and were more accustomed to barking rather than speaking.   

One early morning, while working in the Bronx, we had a working fire in a pet store.  Not a particularly dramatic fire, but some of the animals were lost.  The sight and sound of the reaction of one of our "tough old guys" when the Incident Commander reported the fire likely to be arson is one I will never forget.  Fatal Fires involving people had never resulted in so much as a grunt.  But the anger, rage and sadness brought upon by this small fire in a New York City Pet Shop was as intense as it was unexpected.  

The point of this is to say, particularly to our new folks in the center, be prepared.  Have people you can speak to about what happens over the course of your shift, especially if it impacts you in a strong way.  Maybe these are co-workers, friends, or dispatchers from other agencies.  Perhaps it is a family member, partner or spouse, although that may not be the best choice depending on their personal experiences and abilities to handle stressful events.  Having a healthy physical outlet is also helpful, such as working out or hiking or anything that provides an outlet for the stress.  

Whoever or whatever it is, have it in place before you have that really bad day. And after the crazy bad day is over, be ready to take advantage of the system of support you have in place.  Along the way, accept and understand that it is perfectly normal to have a reaction to the things you will face in this amazing career.  Do not listen to those who say "just get over it" or "ignore it"-- that is the most unhealthy thing you can ever do and will lead to all kinds of bad outcomes.  This strategy and many other will help you to help yourself-- and others-- and have a much more successful and healthy life inside and outside of the 9-1-1 center. 


Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Dispatch Basics: "Splitting the Assignment"

Here is the scenario: two fire related incidents occur in the same proximity back to back or within five minutes of each other. They are not close enough to be likely duplicates but are close enough that they would have the same assignment (or very close to the same) for each incident. But, since these two runs are happening at the same time, the response to the second incident is made up of units that are responding from a greater, maybe even MUCH greater distance. In this scenario you should consider "splitting the assignment" responding to the first incident.  

Here's out it would work:

13:30 hours 
123 East Main Street- Fire Alarm 
Assigned: Engine-1,2 Ladder-1 
(Estimated time of 1st arrival: 1 minute)

13:32 Hours
205 East Main Street- Gas Leak
Normal assignment: Same as above. 
But in this case: Engine-3,4 Ladder-2. (Estimated time of 1st arrival: 6 minutes) 

In this case, consideration should be given to sending the second due engine on the fire alarm assignment to the Gas Leak and replacing them on the fire alarm with the last due engine on the gas leak. Note: when advising the IC that their second engine was "redirected" you may also ask if they want a replacement, sometimes they will not and the now extra engine can be cancelled (depending on your agency's SOPs)

This action reduces response time significantly, however it requires some thought and consideration before you undertake it:

1) Which incident is the higher priority? If the first is a fire, then it likely wont be smart to take units off that assignment for a lower priority incident. The reverse is also true, if the second call is a fire with people trapped and the first was a fire alarm or low priority call, it may be wise to redirect the entire assignment to the second incident and replace them on the fire alarm. 

2) Where are the units coming from? Are they all training at Station-1, so the response time is actually not impacted?  Or are they all coming from a distant academy or station so there is no point to making any changes?

3) How long has the first incident been out? If they have been there awhile, they may be able to put those units in service and all respond to the new incident. (Advising the IC that you have another incident in the area and asking about availability may be a very wise move). Likewise, have the units on the 2nd incident already arrived?  If so, there is no point to cancel them! 

4) What is the next run to go out?  dispatchers for ems and fire should always be aware of the next run that is in queue behind the one they are dispatching. Sometimes dispatchers will assign a unit to a low priority call when a higher one comes right behind it that the unit they have just assigned should be reaponding to. This adds confusion, can impact response times, and is a sign of a potential lack of awareness. Take just a moment to look and see the big picture before you send out an incident. You may help save time, or a life. 

Hope this opens some minds to the ways that effective, dynamic, empowered and proactive dispatching can reduce response times and help improve effectiveness!


Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Dispatch Basics: My Supervisor Hates Me

Psst.  Hey You.  Yes you. You are the new person right?  Well come over here.  (Note: use the Scott Farkas voice from Christmas Story here).  I want to talk to you. You need to know something.  It is really important.  Ready? Ok, here it is...

Not everyone you work with in the 9-1-1 Center will like you right away.

There, I said it.  Are you okay?  Good  Now go do your damn job. 

Listen, I know that we all seem to want everyone to like us, always.  And that we have a real issue with bullying and negativity in the workplace which truly make some places miserable to work in.  There are more than a few nasty people out there in the seats.  However, there is another side to the growing concern about bullying and negativity that we must also acknowledge if we are to be successful. 

As a new Dispatcher in the 9-1-1 Center, other people are dependent on you.  The public is dependent on you.  The Director is dependent on you, as well as all of the responders who are on the other side of the radio or the phone.  This means they have to rely on you  100% of the time.  How many careers of 9-1-1 professionals have been tanked by the actions of someone else in the room?  (Don't answer, its better not to think about it)

Now, if all of these other folks depend on you, they must trust you completely.  That does not happen overnight.  It happens, if it happens, because you prove yourself by your actions and attitude to be trustable.  If you are late, if you don't learn what you need to, if you have a bad attitude, it means that your co-workers will be unable to trust you.  That is a sick and sad feeling not just for you, but for them too!  

Imagine you have to have a major operation.  The Doctor walks in and looks like he or she is 18 years old.  You find out that this will be the first surgery that they have ever performed after graduating med school at 18. You are told they are the smartest doctor ever.  But, there are no online reviews.  There is no history to review.  Its just you, a brand new doctor, their story, and the operating room. Good Luck!

How would you feel in this situation compared to being operated on by the doctor you have had for twenty years?  I can safely assume you would feel more comfortable trusting your future to someone you know, even if they maybe aren't the smartest doctor ever or the 21st century version of Doogie Houser.  

This is why building that trust is so critical.  It is why new folks are often held at a distance by a shift and/or a supervisor.  Until they learn to trust you, they have to be that way.  Their careers, the lives of the responders they are friends with (or maybe married to!) are on the line and in your hands.  That doesn't give them the right to be rude or not help you, but it is likely why they wont invite you to play the "Reindeer Games" on your first weeks on shift.  This does not warrant a complaint to the HR department or for you to quit in anger that they are not "buddy-buddy" with you like they are with each other. 

It is much more a call to action on your part and a hint at what is possible once your prove yourself.  The family feeling of being in the 9-1-1 world is not an automatic benefit of walking in the door.  It is a result of being a valued member of the team whom others can count on.  To paraphrase the Old Smith Barney Commercials: "We make our best team the old fashioned way, by having our dispatchers earn the trust of their co-workers",

So, don't be shocked when it takes a while for everyone to warm up to you.  Do the right thing. Every shift and every day.  And if you make a mistake, own up to it, apologize, and ask for insight on how you can do better.  That is how you build trust, how you become a valued member of the team, and how you will have a successful career. 

By all means, if there is real harassment going on, report it.  But often, its just the normal process of building an effective team playing out.  Take the time to know the difference and accept that you might be the outsider for a little while.  Keep your ears open, mouth closed, and, in-time, you will be a full fledged member of the team and know first-hand the wonderful feeling of earning your trophy from hard work and dedication, instead of just having it handed to you for showing up.  More importantly, you will know what its like to be a part of the 9-1-1 family and experience the trust and respect that will result.

Getting A Little Older, and maybe wiser

It was not the worst thing you could hear from the Doctor. The "C" word was not  mentioned, nor some imminent life threatening issue. In the world of medical conditions hearing that you must have your gall-bladder removed; that you have crossed the line into "minor" non-insulin dependent type-2 Diabetes and that you have a "Fatty Liver" is not the end of anything.  I suppose. 

But what it does do is drag your mind to the life you have lived.  The choices you have made. And the choices you will make. The cliché but entirely operative phrase is "wake-up call".  In combination with yesterday's dental appointment that felt more like the prep work for a mission to Mars.--"Yes, Mr. Carver, we will need about 10 visits to do everything we want to do this year and about $5,000"-- I guess its no wonder I feel a bit broken down. 

In the depth of that feeling, my mind can't help but wander back though to the pews of Riverside.  The lesson that we often only elevate ourselves to a higher place by leveraging the bounce off the bottom.  Although this is not really a bottom, it is definitely a bounce.  Drastic reduction in alcohol intake.  French Fries and Hamburgers gone.  Pasta in most forms a memory, along with steak.  And fried clam strips.  And Ice Cream.  Yikes. 

Well, at least I still have my oatmeal.  And my family.  And my friends.  And My boyfriend.  And God.  And road-trips.  And Diners.  And, as far as I can tell, Airplanes and Photography and writing are perfectly safe on my new diet.  I can catch up on Tales from Lake Wobegon while living on the treadmill.  Guess what Planet Fitness, I will be back. 

Life is about change. Adjusting to the realities that we are faced with, powerless to change and thereby required to accept.  That is our challenge.  To move beyond the fear and the anger, the anxiety and the memory, to understand that the most successful of forms are the most adaptable.  The least excitable. The least fearful.  And the most loving. 

So I will start my new diet. I will change my ways.  I will loose this thirty-five pounds that taunts me each morning in the mirror.  I will say goodbye to my second biggest enemy (the one that looks like a shriveled up raisin.. no, not that one, the OTHER one that looks like a shriveled up raisin) but the journey will continue.  Informed on this day by the reminder that our choices do have consequences.  That we must take care of our bodies, and that I am still able to make things better.  For many who get that Doctor's Call, there is no action.  There is no effort. Only acceptance.  Thank God that call wasn't mine.  So onward we shall go. More appreciative, more understanding, and perhaps a little more grateful.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Dispatch Basics: being a leader

Who is a leader inside the 9-1-1 Center?  This question is one of the first I ask my students and their answers reveal a great deal about how they see themselves and their role in the Public Safety Community.  I invite them (and you) to always answer this question with: everyone. 

Quite frankly, the work that we do is too important to allow leadership to only be the job of a chosen few.  After all, the first person that we are required to lead is ourselves.  If we can't put the effort in to be the best Dispatcher we can be, to make the trek to work even when there are five feet of snow, or be professional with the caller or unit that we would like to throttle in the throat, well how can we ever hope to lead others?

Too often we think of leadership as some giant crazy task.  Solving Global Warming; being elected to office; or being the modern incarnation of Patton that we fail to see how we can practice leadership in smaller ways. Given that most people never experience the world altering form of leadership (at least directly) those moments of smaller leadership are our best chance to demonstrate leadership and make at least a little part of the world a better place. 

Think about this inside your center.  Do you learn anything and everything you can?  Do you take time out to support the new person?  Or answer a question from the public that may take more time than you like?  Do you go the extra mile to figure out exactly where the incident is?  Or make sure you tell the oncoming shift supervisor everything they need to know? 

These are just some of the many ways that you can choose to live leadership inside your agency.  There are many others as well.  But they all require you to accept that you are leader already.  Are you a good leader or a bad leader?  Do you build people up or tear people down?  Is the shift better with you there?  Or with you at home?

I strongly feel that with the nature of our profession and the types of people who find their way into our seats, there are no middle ground people.  They are leading one way, or the other.  If we had more people leading in the positive direction, I think that many of our issues with morale, workplace drama, and quality assurance would ebb.  But the first step is to change what all of our sister and brother dispatchers see when they look in the mirror. 

It can not be someone who thinks success starts with someone else,  that a positive job environment is someone else's responsibility or that making things better is above their paygrade. 

The truth is something much different.  Success (or failure) start with you!  And that makes you a leader whether you want to be or not.

Dispatcher Basics: Listening from home

This maybe extra controversial, but I am just going to go ahead and say it.  Being a professional means we sometimes need to do work related things outside of work.  I am sorry.  After all, a Doctor isn't only a doctor from 9am-5pm, nor is a Police Officer going to ignore the robbery on their way home since they are off duty. 

Now, I am not saying that you should take 9-1-1 calls from home, but there are a couple of things you can do on your time away from work that will help you be a better dispatcher.  We have talked about exploring your area, visiting public safety facilities, and marking up your map, but there is something else too that will go a long way toward taking your career from Good to Great-- occasionally listening to radio traffic from your agency and/or others.  

With the presence of online access to scanner feeds (both in app form and via websites) it has never been easier to listen to good (or bad) radio traffic from the comfort of your own car or couch.  You don't have to do it all the time, but taking some time to put it on, maybe while doing other things, will help develop your dispatcher ear from a whole new prospective. . 

Now, don't be a jerk about it. Don't call in to day shift and say "you are doing it wrong" if you hear something you don't like. Just be an interested observer and try to picture in your mind the rest of the story.  This is incredibly helpful for new dispatchers just starting out.  For those who have already been on awhile, try listening to a big city and see how they handle large volumes of radio traffic.  You may find it confusing at first, but with some exposure you will quickly follow what's going on. 

For those that have a regular place they travel to for vacation, that might be a good choice as well.  You might be just familiar enough to be able to better understand the goings on.  Again, use this as a tool to buildup your "ear"; identify new techniques that may help inform your own style, and remember, we all do things just a little differently. 


Dispatch Basics: Driving Around

Following up on the post about maps, I wanted to take a moment and speak to something that some new Dispatchers either don't do or are not told to do.  Exploring the area they serve.  The senior dispatchers who trained me in NYC could literally tell you what was on every corner in the borough of Brooklyn.  When fire companies from other boroughs came to Brooklyn, they would ask for directions and always be provided the best possible route, whether they were responding to an incident or on a relocation.  This was not only an impressive ability to have, it led to better results and reduced response times.  This level of awareness and knowledge you just can't get from a GPS.

So how do you get this level of knowledge?  Get out from behind the console and explore.  Take a different way to work every day and a different way home.  By the way, while you are out exploring, stop and visit the firehouses, the police stations or the EMS building.  Bring a box of donuts or some coffee with you and take the time to ask questions, show some interest and learn about what goes on at the other end of the radio.  Memorize your patrol districts, firehouse locations, and EMS response areas.  Do you think it sounds cool when a member of the public calls, asks where the police station is, and you have to say hold on while I google it?  What do they need us for in the first place then?

Make your visits productive.  Ask what areas present unique challenges to responders.  Are there areas that Police always enter cautiously; a building the Fire Department is extra concerned about; or retirement facility that only calls 9-1-1 when the resident is well past the point of CPR? How about areas that flood easily, causing access problems?  Or places that are prone to brush fires?  Whatever it is, you will likely not learn it (or understand it) from just sitting behind the console. 

Dispatching is a profession, or so we like to believe.  Well, being a professional means going the extra mile to gain more knowledge than might be required for the day to day, run of the mill shift.  And that is perfectly okay.  So take the time, take the drive, and maybe someday you too will know what is on every corner of your jurisdiction. 

Dispatch Basics: Maps (the paper kind)

"We don't need to have room for paper maps, we are going paperless!" -- comments from a living dinosaur on new consoles being designed for a 9-1-1 center in 2005.

I am sure you will not be surprised to know those consoles sit today with maps taped all over them.  As they should be.  This may come as a horror for those in the management field at 9-1-1 centers, but paper maps are a good thing.  We need to stop thinking that banishing them from the Center is some amazing sign of forward progress.  Sort of like curing polio or creating world peace.  It is actually a symptom of disorientation and the loss of one of the most important tools we have. 

From my prospective, this issue is the result of a fundamental misunderstanding of the purpose of maps in the center.  First, they are about learning.  The area you protect, the nuances of the local geography, the places and landmarks that will be used by callers.  There are many studies that show we learn much better when we write things down.  What better way to learn your community than by "decorating" your map book of the jurisdiction where you work?  Labelling the firehouses; the ambulance stations; and the patrol sectors for the police department.  Putting the contact phone numbers for certain buildings next to them, or jotting down the cheat for that one location that wont go into CAD.

Second, they are about doing research and being able to see things interact with each other in a physical manner.  This is the difference between taking GPS directions, turn by turn, and actually plotting how to get from one place to another.  If that part of the process is not understood, the Dispatcher begins to become an automaton instead of a knowledgeable professional.  Storms, Hazmat Incidents, Large brush fires-- all just some examples of when the dispatcher must have a bigger understanding of the geography of their area. 

To often, the goal has been to make sure what the dispatcher does supports the technology that we buy.  Instead, the technology should support what the dispatcher does.  The map on screens are nice and colorful and a great supplemental tool, especially when they help to locate a caller who may not otherwise know where they are. 

But that map is not an educational tool for a dispatcher.  It does not allow them a point of reference when they are driving around exploring the community they serve.  In the day and age of consolidation en masse, this is an even greater tool that we must encourage.  Especially since dispatchers may be handling calls for areas they do not regularly visit. 

Yes, you should have the map in CAD or the phone system that can help with the caller's location.  But that doesn't mean you can forgo the ancient dispatcher process of paper maps or map books and learning where things are in relation to other things.  Come to think of it, maybe I am a little bit of dinosaur too.  Hey, do you know what kind of tape works best on our new consoles?


Dispatch Basics: Firefighter Down

It is with a great sense of sadness that I have read today's reports from Hamilton (Ohio) were a firefighter was killed in a house fire as a result of falling through a floor, into the basement.  This is never an easy thing for any department or community to go through.  With it occurring during what should time a time focused on family, friends, and celebration it is only more tragic. 

Unfortunately, the process of handling firefighter mayday situations is one I experienced on multiple occasions during my time with the FDNY. Most of them had positive outcomes, however more than a few did not.  In each of the cases where personnel were lost, I am proud to say I was part of a team that helped to make sure that those involved had the best possible chance of survival.  The women and men of FDNY Fire Dispatch repeatedly demonstrated their skill, knowledge, creativity, and decision making ability when confronted by these horrific incidents. 

The ability of Dispatch Personnel to help ensure successful outcomes for firefighters at the scenes of fires and emergencies starts from the first day of the training process and it continues for the duration of a dispatcher's career.  I would like to share some of the specific lessons learned in the hope that when you have to face this type of event (and I hope you don't) you too will help to ensure as successful an outcome as possible. 

1) It starts with learning.  Everything. (Or as close as you can).  You can never know too much about fireground operations; the equipment your agency (and your neighbors) have available and how that equipment is used.  Understand the difference between a supply line and a hand-line.  Learn about the buildings in your jurisdiction, the unique threats present and other critical nuances. More importantly, share important information about the incident with responders in an effective manner.  Is the second due company delayed?  Do you have reports of people trapped in the building?  Is there a history of previous fires at the location?  There are many possible examples, but remember, if it is especially critical, share it!

2) Stay Calm.  No matter how crazy it gets- YOU are the voice of calm and reason. The odds are that the IC may have never managed a firefighter down scenario in real life.  You will have to ensure that things remain calm, collected, and controlled.  If you have an SOP for this scenario, you may have to guide the IC a little bit, especially if you have a checklist of tasks that you know are required. If a greater alarm is required to be transmitted when a mayday occurs, I hope the policy states to go ahead and do it- not to wait on the IC to say it.  Taking the burden off the IC for what should be automated decisions allows the IC to focus on the task at hand- rescuing the firefighter(s).

3) Listen to the fire-ground radio channels.  For some agencies this is mandated.  For others it is by choice.  Whenever possible, try to listen to what is going on just to improve your understanding of the operations and how they are going.  That same tone of voice awareness that works for being an effective call-taker works for being an effective fire-ground dispatcher as well.

4) Maintain Radio Discipline and Control.  During these types of events there is great potential for radio chaos.  Make sure that all transmissions are as brief as possible. Especially on the radio channel where the mayday is being handled, radio congestion can be the difference between life and death. 

5) Make your Notifications. For some agencies, transmission of a mayday requires other personnel to be notified. Often these are critical personnel who will be needed at the scene.  The sooner they know, the sooner they can go.  Try not to hold up these notifications if at all possible.  This includes updating the history of the incident in CAD with the comments and reports from the scene.  Make sure that this will be easily understood by anyone reading them later.  This will make the entire process of understanding the incident much easier.  Along the same line, the dispatchers involved should, at the conclusion of the incident, write down notes for future use:  what position where they staffing; memorable details from the incident, etc.

6) Do not share information with outsiders unless specifically told to do so-- personally or professionally.  In this media driven age, there will likely be many calls for information.  Write down a prepared statement in line with your policy on media relations and read it verbatim to any media outlet that calls. "The fire department is currently operating at a fire at _____________.  The fire department will provide additional information at a later time".  Or some such thing.  This also means that dispatch personnel should never post about the incident on social media until after it has been officially released by the in-charge agency.  I have seen first hand the name of firefighter who was being given CPR out on Facebook before that firefighter was even transported to the hospital and long before the family was notified!  This is wrong on many, many levels. 

7) Assign one dispatcher to the incident. If at all possible, one dispatcher in the center should be assigned the sole responsibility of handling a fire with maydays and/or a firefighter down.  This is critical to ensure an effective understanding of operation, passing of information, and general dispatch effectiveness.  For those centers that are understaffed, consideration should be given to calling in personnel to support operations whenever a firefighter down/mayday situation occurs.

8) Participate in the debrief/CISD process.  For most dispatchers, the handling of a firefighter down incident will be one of the most traumatic experiences of their career.  They must be included in the PTSD/CISD process that occurs after the event.  Supervisors, Directors, and Managers of 9-1-1 centers have a moral responsibility to ensure this happens. 

9) Have a checklist!  Dispatch Personnel and the Fire Department(s) They dispatch should sit down together and develop a procedure to manage these types of events.  Even a simple ten item checklist will support improved operations during what is always a very high stress situation.  This should be drilled on and trained on regularly.  Many Fire Departments practice firefighter down drills, but I do not know of any that include their Dispatchers in these drills.  That needs to change. 

10) It can happen anytime, anywhere!  Firefighters are (sadly) hurt in all kinds of fires and at all kinds of incidents.  An apparatus or personnel may be struck at the scene of an accident, or a member may suffer a heart attack at the scene of a fire alarm.  It doesn't have to be the biggest fire of the year to cause a mayday situation.  Further, they often happen earlier in the incident rather than later.  These are just some of the reasons why dispatch personnel need to be vigilant, aware, and capable of rapid effective action when this happens. 

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

CFD: Getting More from Ladder Companies


As the CFD continues to face increasing run volumes without an increase in the number of stations or personnel, it is increasingly apparent that existing resources need ot be utilized in the most efficient and effective manner possible.  The recent change in EMS response policies was a good first step in that direction.  A possible next step, may be to get more "bang for the buck" out of the 16 CFD Ladder Companies. 

As each Ladder Company is BLS and none are Quints (No Booster tank or full hose bed), they are somewhat limited in their role. That does not mean to say that Ladder Companies are unimportant or not useful. In fact, the addition of Ladders  at Stations 34 and 29 should be a high priority for the CFD. But even with their current apparatus limitations, there are some more things they can do to help the overall picture.   

1) How many Paramedics does it take to change a lightbulb?  In cases where the Ladder Company is the closest "manpower unit", they should be dispatched with a medic unit over a further ALS Engine. Except in rare cases, there is little justification to dispatch a three unit response for an ALS Emergency.  For example, "3600 Gender Road, Chest Pains (With Engine 32 on another run) might be:  Ladder-32; Engine-23; and Medic-5. IN cases like these, assigning Ladder-32 and Medic-5 should be more than sufficient and the response time will be the same.   

2) How many combi-tools does it take to handle a minor non-injury accident? The size and run volume experienced by CFD suggests the time has come to adopt the common "big-city" approach: Extrication tools on ladder companies.  With this increase in capability, reliance on mutual aid rescues will be reduced, The Rescues can be used more efficiently, and on-scene operations will be safer, as the Ladder Company can serve in a "blocking" capacity. Under this scenario, the assignment for auto-accidents would become: 1 Engine; 1 Ladder; & 1 Medic. For freeway incidents or reported extrication, the nearest rescue and EMS coordinator would be assigned. 

3) You Get a second piece, and YOU get a second piece: Long term, if the CFD returns to a two tiered system of ALS and BLS units, the Ladder Companies would be ideal partners for BLS "Squads".  Especially with additional Ladders at 29s and 34s, (18) BLS Transports partnered with Ladder Companies would be at ideal locations around the city to ensure 10 minute response times for the first one to three units to any address.  Further, this would lessen the burden of EMS on the paramedics and get more personnel into the mix of providing EMS service. 

4)  Water is your friend.  Given the growth of Columbus, the need to reduce reliance on the suburbs, and the challenge presented by fires in modern construction, it may also be worth evaluating the type of ladder company apparatus utilized by CFD.  Especially for stations outside the outerbelt, a transition to Ladder company apparatus with greater capability may be warranted.  This would include, a pump, a small booster tank, minimal amount of hose capacity (both hand-line and supply line) and a small extrication equipment package.  This would help ensure adequate fire protection in the outer areas of the city and reduce reliance on mutual aid.  For example, if Engine-27 was busy, Ladder-27 could handle a car fire at Smoky-Row and Hard Road, rather than Mutual Aid.