Being Prepared

I recently had the pleasure of sitting through a wonderful, city-mandated, OSHA compliant safety class. I’m not going to discuss the frivolity of teaching identical blanket courses to every city employee (including chainsaw safety to receptionists). In fact, this post has nothing to do with that class, directly. Rather, it stems from a side comment by the instructor.

He started speaking on the subject of recognizing trends in workplace injuries and acting to prevent them. He mentioned another municipality which had recognized a trend in fire service injuries during training, mostly heart-related problems to be more specific. Some of these incidents occurred at their department, however most occurred at other agencies. This led the municipality’s administrators and safety gurus (as far as I know this was done above the fire department level) to investigate the cause of these incidents. Their investigation led them to determine that many of the cardiac and respiratory issues, which resulted in treatment and/or hospitalization, occurred while training in full turnouts, and that the extra stress from training in full gear was a direct cause of these injuries.

Fair enough. Donning full PPE brings added weight, restricted movement, and limited vision. Its hindrance IS stressful if you aren’t used to wearing it and working in it. So, naturally, the safety gurus brainstormed how they could decrease employee injuries due to the stresses of TRAINING. Their answer was simple. Stop wearing full gear while training, unless absolutely necessary. That’s right. Training in turnouts is stressful, so we shouldn’t do it.

Now, it doesn’t take an expert to realize that this is ridiculous, but I’m going to break it down anyway. The stress and anxiety of working in full gear, whether during training or on the fireground, is mostly due to our being unaccustomed to working in such conditions. Our brains don’t like it when our senses are restricted. The limited movement, vision, and hearing cause anxiety on their own, which elevates pulse and respiratory rates. Add in the sheer physical exertion of WORKING in full gear, and we’re putting a decent strain on our hearts in training alone. Training without gear on will most definitely alleviate the occurrence of training injuries, but it won’t do a thing to help us remain calm while working in full gear. When we do don that gear on the fireground, the stress, the anxiety, and the panic will still be there and it will be elevated because of an even lower frequency of training. The difference is that on the fireground things are real (increasing stress), lives are in danger (increasing stress), and there is no pause button when a Brother falls out because he hasn’t worked in his gear since the last fire. The only impact this policy will have is to move those injuries from the training ground to the fireground.

What needs to be done? I don’t know any members of this department, but PT is always a good idea. If your body is weak, make it stronger. If your body is strong…make it stronger. Secondly, instead of doing less training in full gear, try doing it MORE often. The only way to reduce the anxiety of wearing gear is to become accustomed to it, as though it is the only clothing you ever wear. The more often you suit up and move around, the stronger your mind and body get. Once you take care of the minor stresses of wearing and working in gear (which really shouldn’t be an issue if you are off probation), take it to the next level.

That is the famous “Impact This” video from Ric Jorge, aka Glass Guy. Here’s a link to a longer, but un-embeddable, Facebook video of the training exercise “Impact This…AGAIN!” Watch it, then keep reading.

Intense, but the only way to be prepared for a stressful event (disorientation, collapse, low air, etc.) is to work through it during training. Mind you, the “Impact This” scenario is not one to simply jump in to for your next training. That drill was preceded by hours of lectures on stress-management techniques, followed by hands on training, slowly progressing to the full-blown drill in the video. The drill involved a lot of preparation, and that is what our entire profession is about…being prepared.

Prepared for the worst, prepared for the struggles, prepared for the circumstances that we’ve never encountered before, so that we may overcome, do our job, and survive.

– Lt. Lemon (Pete)

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