If you've ever responded to a call (which I’m guessing is most of you), you've had to deal with the hordes of curious onlookers trying to catch a glimpse of what’s going on. And while that has always come with the territory, the age of camera phones and viral videos has ushered in a new era of scrutiny and accountability for fire departments.
Mistakes in emergency response are inevitable (we’re human, after all). But our goal as first responders is to minimize the impact and scale of these mistakes by preparing ourselves sufficiently and constantly working to improve. Doing so can ensure that our department doesn't become famous for all the wrong reasons.
If you’ve ever responded to a call (which I’m guessing most of you have), you’ve had to deal with the hordes of curious onlookers trying to catch a glimpse of what’s going on. And while that has always come with the territory, the age of camera phones and viral videos has ushered in a new era of scrutiny and accountability for fire departments.
Mistakes in emergency response are inevitable (we’re human, after all). But our goal as first responders is to minimize the impact and scale of these mistakes by preparing ourselves sufficiently and constantly working to improve. Doing so can ensure that our department doesn’t become famous for all the wrong reasons.
Daniel Cimini, retired Fire Chief at Surfside Beach (SC) Fire Department, notes that “anytime you have something that is supposed to work but doesn’t, there is the possibility of winding up on TV or YouTube looking ridiculous.” But as an apparatus maintenance specialist, Cimini also suggests that “most of those things could be corrected by daily, weekly and monthly checks.”
Indeed, a majority of emergency response errors are the result of equipment failure or malfunction. With 44 years of experience in the fire service (both as a fire chief and the founder of an apparatus repair business), Cimini’s principal recommendation to combat this is “to check everything in a timely way and not leave anything to chance.”
By way of example, he cites checking the override system on the aerial ladder. “Check to make sure the switch operates correctly. We once found an intermittent switch. In some cases, the aerial couldn’t be operated; in others, it operated without the key. They could have turned the aerial over, leading to a catastrophic problem had they not picked it up. And, don’t take anything for granted. Most looked at the indicator light, but sometimes that doesn’t work either. Check it daily to ensure proper operation.”
And when says check everything, he means everything. “How many people check the manual pump shift? If you’re at the scene and it doesn’t energize electronically, you need that manual override. What are you going to do if you can’t operate the pump, besides look foolish?”
While paper logs have been his mainstay, Chief Cimini acknowledges today’s crews are more apt to use iPads or other smart devices to do their jobs. That offers a logical reason to make the move from paper to technology that can automate maintenance checks and reliably send out alerts when something isn’t checked or corrected in a timely fashion.
Of course, he adds, any technology is only as good as its programming—and its accountability. Around the former, he emphasizes the importance of capturing every check for all apparatus and equipment, leaving nothing to chance. And he advocates complementing a high-torque maintenance check regimen with plain old common sense. “Look to see if there are any fluids on the ground. Look at the body. Are there cracks in the steps? Is there a situation where handrails are loose?”
As for accountability, Chief Cimini is old school. He notes, “When we were kids, our father never said, ‘If you get some time today, cut the grass.’ He said, ‘When I get home, the grass better be cut.’ There isn’t any department that can’t take the time to check apparatus and make sure things are right. When you go on shift, it’s the first thing to do. Check air-paks every shift. You can always come up with excuses about lack of time, but there are no valid excuses for not having good maintenance checks on apparatus. Any excuse they give you is a bad excuse.”
As with maintenance check technology, accountability is only as good as the department’s commitment to it at all levels. “Where the shift commander thinks it’s a priority, they get it done. For other chiefs, it’s not such a big priority,” Chief Cimini emphasizes.
In the end, his way also is the economical way. Notes Chief Cimini, “Catching little problems early prevents the proliferation of other problems that also can be caught during the inspection. That has saved us a lot of money over the years.”