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Lock-Out/Tag-Out: What Rescuers Need to Know

Thursday, April 21, 2022

The concept of Lock-Out/Tag-Out is a great one and it works. As rescuers, however, we have to take the common industrial application and expand it to ensure that the rescue scene is safe and that we are controlling hazards at the point of contact with the victim or in a space where something has gone very wrong.

What Does OSHA Say?

Although commonly referred to as the “Lock-out/Tag-out” (LOTO) standard, the actual title of 1910.147 is “The Control of Hazardous Energy.” This title probably better describes its true purpose – and there's no doubt that the understanding of this concept has saved many lives and prevented countless injuries. Prior to work, potential sources of hazardous energy must be identified and controlled. As responders, we do not have the luxury of studying blueprints and schematics to identify how to isolate the hazard. In fact, we’re most often responding to incidents where LOTO turned out to be ineffective or was improperly used.

LOTO-02-1

Standard LOTO is usually defined in a work planning and control process or a job safety analysis. Days, weeks, and even months are spent planning and assessing cause and effect to ensure a safe work environment. During an actual emergency, rescuers have only minutes to assess and determine how to “make the scene safe.” This safety mindset serves to protect both the rescuer(s) and the victim(s) from additional harm following an incident.

NOTE: While LOTO tags are permissible by OSHA, they are not commonly used as you must prove that a tag is at least as effective as a physical lock – something that would be hard to ensure.

 We’ve found that if you ask different people to define LOTO and who is responsible for performing it, you will get a variety of answers. OSHA 29 CFR 1910.147(b) has a very narrow and specific definition of who can perform lock-out or tag-out operations. That definition does not include rescuers; and there is good reason for that. OSHA defines two types of persons in regard to LOTO; “authorized employees” and “affected employees.”

An authorized employee is a person who locks out or tags out machines or equipment in order to perform service or maintenance on that machine or equipment. An affected employee becomes an authorized employee when that employee's duties include performing service or maintenance covered under this section.

Translation: A person that the employer says has the systems or mechanical knowledge and authority to safely lockout/tagout a machine or space.

An affected employee is an employee whose job requires him or her to operate or use a machine or equipment on which service or maintenance is being performed under lock-out or tag-out, or whose job requires work in an area in which such service or maintenance is being performed.

Translation: A person who has to work in an area where LOTO is in place. (Sounds like a rescuer to me.)

LOTO for rescuers

According to an OSHA clarification letter1, an affected employee is one who does not perform service or maintenance work on the machine or a piece of equipment and does not implement the LOTO system procedural elements. Rather, the affected employee's job responsibilities include operating the machine or equipment or performing other work in an area where the service or maintenance work is being performed.

There is good reason for these prohibitions on applying Lock-out/Tag-out. Improperly performed LOTO can be just as dangerous, if not more so, than no LOTO at all. Allowing LOTO to be performed by personnel who are not familiar with the processes and equipment increases the chances of improper lock-out. As rescuers, we rarely (if ever) have the kind of institutional knowledge to perform true LOTO of a process or environment.

If the reason for the rescue is something other than an exposure to a hazardous energy source, and LOTO has already been performed, the rescuers should walk through and verify the "authorized employees'" LOTO and ensure no changes are made to the system.

If LOTO was performed improperly or has failed and is causing the emergency, then rescuers can lock-out the equipment as they see fit or as the rescue needs dictate. The control of hazardous energy is part of making the area safe for rescue operations, but doing so without understanding the bigger picture can be dangerous.  Whatever actions are taken should be completed with the coordination of a facility representative who understands where or what you are working with. 

From a rescuer’s viewpoint, our definition and options for effective LOTO needs to include other equipment and techniques that provide a safe area for rescue operations and prevent further harm to the victim. This includes equipment that is used every day in the municipal rescue world that may not typically be found in an industrial facility. This includes equipment such as hydraulic spreaders and high-pressure air bags. Even simple tools, such as metal wedges, can be used to isolate and protect the hand or arm of a victim trapped in a piece of machinery. The key is to review your current capabilities and identify what may be needed prior to an incident occurring.

Danger-mediumMachine entrapment rescues are another all too common situation in which responders need to isolate the area at the point of contact with the patient to prevent further movement. RESCUERS BEWARE – Another huge consideration for rescuers is stored energy! Sometimes what sounds like a simple solution (such as turning off a machine) can do more harm IF the machine normally recycles before coming to a resting position. OSHA identifies these hazards and provides a pretty good list of examples to be aware of when responding. It includes stored or residual energy in capacitors, springs, elevated machine members, rotating flywheels, hydraulic systems, and air, gas, steam, or water pressure, etc. Rescuers need equipment and techniques to control, restrain, dissipate, and immobilize these hazards.

Municipal and industrial rescuers get called to a wide variety of rescues – each with its own unique problems. As we know, the number of ways people can get themselves in harm’s way is unlimited! In all entrapment incidents, however, it is essential that we protect both the victim and ourselves from further injury and limit our exposure to the hazards that are present. In every incident, rescuers must first identify the hazards and try to eliminate or control them in every way possible.

Sixth most cited standard

Every year, OSHA issues its “Top 10 Most Frequently Cited Standards” list. While the order of the list is different from year to year, it is generally still comprised of the same 10 standards year after year. LOTO, the control of Hazardous Energy (29 CFR 1910.147), consistently makes the list; and, for 2021, it was no different. For 2021, the LOTO standard landed as the 6th most frequently cited standard in the industry.

Incident: An Ohio aluminum parts manufacturer with a history of safety violations now faces penalties for 38 safety and health violations and a proposed $1 million fine following an investigation into the death of a 43-year-old worker struck by a machine's barrier door on March 30, 2021.

OSHA alleges that the company allowed employees to bypass guarding mechanisms designed to protect employees from the barrier door closing on them and that a malfunction in the door's optic control existed prior to the deadly incident. The worker was loading a part into the machine when the barrier door closed on his head.

OSHA's investigation identified problems with machine guarding and a lack of protective procedures – commonly known as lockout/tagout – throughout the facility. OSHA claims that the company was aware of these problems and failed to address them adequately.

Incident: Another case of LOTO “gone bad” occurred during a Roco CSRT stand-by job at a local industrial plant. After LOTO had supposedly been performed, one of our team members decided to test it by pushing the “Start” button on a hyper bar in a tank – it turned “ON!” Further investigation revealed that electrical work had been done in the area and the fuse lock-out was moved to another box adjacent to its original location. No one had notified the workers or changed the written protocol. Workers were locking out the wrong circuit! Had this been a rescue, how would rescuers control the hazard without knowing where the problem was with the LOTO?

Conclusion

It is clear that rescuers need to look deeper into their technique toolbox for creative options to isolate energy sources in order to protect themselves as well as the victim. And, this doesn’t only apply to municipal rescuers. Industrial rescue teams are very likely to be called when an emergency like this occurs. In order to be proactive and prepared, take the time in advance to evaluate your response capabilities as well as that of local responders in your immediate area. Every minute is critical for that person trapped or injured.

1 Standard Interpretation: Clarification of "authorized" and "affected" employees and proper energy control procedures, Feb 10, 2004, question #3

Additional Resources

 

 

Small-town Department, Big-time Hazards

Monday, August 23, 2021

Many small-town fire departments often have their share of big-time hazards, but perhaps none fits that bill like the Westlake Fire Department in Southwest Louisiana. This department, located on the I-10 industrial corridor, is surrounded by some of the largest petrochemical plants in the nation, and it’s growing daily. And, while maybe small in number, this department must be ready for some of the most diverse hazards possible – many with huge implications for their community.

House Fire by WFD
Westlake firefighters respond to a house fire in Myrtle Springs (photo courtesy WFD)

Winner of Roco's LFCA Training Course Giveaway

With that said, we are extremely proud to have awarded the Westlake Fire Department with FREE Roco training as the winner of our Urban/Industrial Rescue Essentials™ Course Giveaway at the Louisiana Fire Chiefs Association (LFCA) annual conference. This course giveaway affords us the opportunity to offer life-saving training while showing our support for all of the hard work that first responders do every day to serve their communities.

We recently sat down with Westlake Fire Department’s Assistant Fire Chief, Jimmy Boyette, to learn a little more about their operation, what drives them and how Roco’s confined space and high angle rescue training can benefit them. Check out our conversation below.


Roco: First, tell us more about your department…what is the makeup of your organization and what sort of emergencies are you responsible for covering?

Westlake FD: Westlake Fire is made up of one Fire Chief, two Assistant Fire Chiefs, three Shift Captains, three Shift Lieutenants, and (when fully staffed) six Firefighters. We are also currently working with the city and our Fire Board to secure more staff members to better assist our rapidly growing area. We respond to the City of Westlake and the surrounding areas (Ward 4, Fire District 3) in Calcasieu Parish. We run fire, rescue, medical, and HAZMAT emergencies in our extremely industrial area.

Roco: Currently, how often does your department conduct training?

Westlake FD: We train three days a month at the Calcasieu training center. We try to stick with a theme or concentration, such as car extraction, medical help, etc. We encourage anyone who shows interest to attend, although it’s hard when there are only seven spots and all 15 of our members want to go!

Roco: What are some of the specific hazards that your department faces and what technical rescue incidents could they pose?

Westlake FD: Our city is surrounded by industry, which presents many potential confined space and high angle scenarios for our department. The multi-billion-dollar Sasol plant expansion took place, essentially, in our backyards – and that is just one of the plants that is local to our area. In our response area also lies the Isle of Capri Casino high-rise construction project along with numerous apartment complexes with more on the way. Then, we have the I-10 Calcasieu River bridge, which poses a continuous hazard for the thousands of travelers on I-10 each day. Add in a passenger rail train, and the fact that we are surrounded on three sides by water – all come with their own unique opportunities for varying types of rescue disciplines.

Roco: Because you are located in such a highly industrialized area, do you have a mutual aid agreement with other agencies? How does that work?

Westlake FD: We are a part of the Southwest LA Mutual Aid Association, which is a large agreement between municipalities and industries to help provide HAZMAT and supplies outside of normal capabilities when needed. Any entity of the association can call upon another member for resources in time of a major disaster or event. When manpower or resources are lacking, members can step in and help each other. The organization meets monthly to keep a pulse on what members and local businesses are doing and how we may be able to partner together.

Roco: Ideally, how many department personnel would you like to be trained in confined space and high angle rescue? Why do your members join the rescue team?

Westlake FD: Because we are a small department, we would like to see everyone rescue trained, but so many still need the right training in order for that to happen. Those who serve on the rescue team generally have a passion for going above and beyond to serve the community. Many of them have generational ties to first responders, and a number of our team members previously served in the military. A common theme we see is that our members want to serve their community after serving their country.

“A common theme we see is that our members want to serve their community after serving their country.”

Roco: What made you seek this training grant from Roco Rescue?

Westlake FD: Our city is in the process of recovering from not only the global pandemic taking an economic toll on nearly all sources of funding (like everyone else), but also a near-direct hit from two back-to-back hurricanes; a once-in-a-generation freeze; and, more recently, the floods that impacted Southwest Louisiana. All of this coming during an already difficult financial recovery due to mismanagement by a previous administration that almost left the city bankrupt. As a result, we are constantly searching to find and take advantage of all sources of free training. For example, we currently use the Lake Charles Fire Academy as an initial training for new employees. The majority of our members have a basic understanding of confined space/rope rescue techniques, but we believe having some (if not all of them) partake in more advanced training will help us flatten the learning curve. We also have a Captain and Assistant Chief who are previous graduates of Roco Rescue – and they have had nothing but great things to say about the level of training and experience of instructors at Roco; their reputation is unmatched.

“Our department leaders have had nothing but great things to say about the level of training and experience of instructors at Roco; their reputation is unmatched.”

Roco: Final question, what makes your team work well together?

Westlake Fire DepartmentWestlake FD: Being small, everyone knows everyone. We fully encompass a total family atmosphere – we don’t just know each other, but we also know each other’s families. Westlake has a big-town feel but it is really a small-town attitude.

“We really encompass a total family atmosphere – we don’t just know each other, but we also know each other’s families.”


Roco applauds the hard work and dedication that every member of the Westlake Fire Department continues to show their community, and we are honored to train alongside this team. They recognized a need for more in-depth training and refused to back down until a solution was found. Assistant Fire Chief Jimmy Boyette stated, “We are in the heart of the industrial area of Lake Charles, which means a special operations division within our department is an absolute must.”

Tunnel Rescue in Charleston

Monday, July 15, 2019

By Skip Williams

Contributors: Deputy Chief Kenneth Jenkins, Captain Tom Horn and Captain Anthony Morley, Charleston Fire Department, Rescue 115, and Russ Fennema, Jay Dee Contractors

Note: The following article recounts a very successful rescue that took advantage of available resources at the scene. Roco Rescue wants to share stories like this one to remind our readers that lessons learned can be gleaned from successful rescues just as they can from rescues that didn’t go so well. The important point is to take the time to perform a debriefing as soon as possible after the rescue effort. This is the time to capture the thoughts and comments from the team members while it is still fresh in their memories. Any important lessons learned need to be captured through documentation and then SHARED. The learnings can become part of your SOP/SOI or they can become integrated into your formal training. 

The other point that this article makes is to know and understand your equipment. We regularly train with our ropes and hardware, and we all tend to learn the operating limits and capabilities of said equipment. However, we need to be just as familiar with our peripheral equipment such as atmospheric monitors, radios, and etcetera. Consider spending some of your team training time learning more about that equipment and how to properly use it and what its idiosyncrasies may be. All the equipment we use should be considered life support equipment, and the word “life” should grab your attention and motivate you to know all you can about it. 

In March 2019, Rescue 115 of the Charleston Fire Department was dispatched at 09:02 hours to “man down” at an address on Shepard Street some 5 1/2 blocks NW of station 15 on Coming Street. En route, Captain Tom Horn realized the address was familiar as the entrance to the Coming Street retrieval shaft of the Charleston tunnel project (Figure 1). Now they were 2 blocks from the scene and he immediately called for Ladder 4 also from station 15, and nearby Engine 6 and Battalion 3 from nearby station 6. R115 arrived at 09:06 hours.

Screen Shot 2019-07-11 at 2.44.09 PM

The Coming Street retrieval shaft is a vertical shaft 168 feet down and 20 feet in diameter to a 15-foot diameter tunnel being bored for flood control (Figure 2). Just as R115 arrived at the scene, the 12-man cage had been weight tested and prepared for lowering by crane. As R115’s four-man crew was about to be lowered into the shaft, Captain Horn eyed Captain of Ladder 4 and transferred command to him.

Screen Shot 2019-07-11 at 1.51.35 PM

Just as R115’s crew got to the bottom, the patient arrived at their location from three quarters of a mile in the tunnel on a horizontal flat car driven by a battery-powered locomotive (Figure 3).

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Captain Horn called for the lowering of the backboard and Stokes basket. The topside crew decided to use the crane again rather than lower with ropes. The county EMS was not included as joint training is not done. Back down at the tunnel, the patient was secured, placed in the  12-man cage, along with R115 members and 2 construction workers. The patient at the top of the shaft was treated by county EMS and was off to the hospital at 09:40 just 38 minutes from the initial call.

There are always lessons learned at any rescue. From prior experience, a member was assigned to the crane operator to ensure that the crane was moved under Fire Department control. The Fire Department used the construction company’s gas detectors because they knew that the detectors were calibrated daily. In retrospect, the Fire Department would use its own gas detectors. Also, the backboard and Stokes basket should have gone down on the first lowering to the tunnel.

The usage of gas monitors had been delayed because of differences in calibration between the fire department monitor and a plant monitor. There is no one gas that is best for calibration of fire department gas detectors because many different exposures are encountered. For a particular industrial site, the explosive gases are most likely known. 

Figure shows that the Lower Explosive Limit (LEL) varies according to which hydrocarbon is present. Figure shows correction factors if the monitor is calibrated with one gas and exposed to another. The Fire Department meter was calibrated with methane so that 0.5% by volume of methane reads 10% of LEL. A meter calibrated with pentane has a correction factor of 2 for methane. So, if a meter calibrated with pentane reads 10% LEL in pentane, the meter would read 5% LEL in methane. lf anything, the gas in the tunnel would be methane, but in actuality, the meters read zero no matter what calibration gas was used. 

Screen Shot 2019-07-11 at 2.19.00 PM

Screen Shot 2019-07-11 at 1.56.08 PMThe reason pentane is sometimes used for calibration is that it overestimates the actual LEL. The caveat is that if the meter is poisoned for methane, a methane bump test is indicated. A sensor can be poisoned by chemicals like silicone.  Note well, silicone is a component of Armor All which should not be exposed to a LEL meter on a fire truck. The lesson learned here is to understand the effect of different gases on a sensor and a Fire Department may encounter many different gases.

Author Bio:

Skip Williams was a volunteer firefighter for 20 years. His last position was captain of the high-angle rescue team and emergency medical technician. He has a Bachelor of Electrical Engineering from Georgia Tech and M.S. and Ph.D. from Rutgers University and has held teaching positions at Rutgers University and the Medical College of Georgia. He designed and patented an artificial heart assist device. He is a Registered Professional Engineer in New Jersey and is a practicing engineer with Condition Analyzing Corporation engaged in condition monitoring of ships. 

Note: Captain Tom Horn is a graduate of two Roco Rescue courses.

Rescuing the Rescuer: When Things Go Wrong During a Rescue

Friday, February 15, 2019
by Brad Warr, Chief Instructor

The day before 40-year-old Phoenix firefighter Brett Tarver got separated from his crew and ran out of air at the Southwest Supermarket fire, the fire service felt confident in its ability to rescue a downed firefighter. That all changed when Tarver was found unresponsive thirty minutes after his mayday was broadcast over the radio. The tragic loss of Brett Tarver on March 14, 2001, left the firefighting community wondering what it had missed.

The ensuing years of self-examination and evaluation of rapid intervention techniques and operating procedures resulted in the development of NFPA 1407: Standard for Training Fire Service Rapid Intervention Crews.
Rescuing the Rescuer: When Things Go Wrong During a Rescue
Released on December 5, 2009, the document provided a framework for fire departments to train, equip and deploy their personnel in the event of mayday. A decade later, firefighters are more prepared than at any time in history to launch a rescue operation when a brother or sister firefighter calls that mayday.

While firefighter rapid intervention techniques have continued to improve, confined space rapid intervention has not received quite as much analysis and focus for improving techniques and guidelines, despite the fact that more than 60% of confined space fatalities occur among would-be rescuers. Perhaps this is why Roco Rescue’s course “Rescuing the Rescuer: When Things Go Wrong During a Rescue”, which is being offered at the North Dakota Safety Council’s (NDSC) upcoming 2019 Annual Safety & Health Conference, sold out in a matter of days. The industry – whether they are firefighters, emergency responders, or industrial workers, recognizes the vital importance of a subject that is truly a matter of life or death.

About the Course
Taking lessons learned from both successful and unsuccessful rescues of downed firefighters, students attending “Rescuing the Rescuer” will apply those lessons to the world of confined space rescue. The day-long session will bring together rescuers of all experience levels seeking strategies for effectively responding to what nearly everyone agrees is the most stressful call a rescuer will ever receive.

The course will emphasize the following:

    • - Having a plan before something goes wrong is the only chance you have.
    • - Simple systems are easier to use in a stressful situation than complex systems.
    • - There are no systems that can replace a clear-thinking, highly-trained rescue technician.

While NFPA 1407 gives a clear picture of the responsibilities of a firefighter during a mayday, the picture is not nearly as clear for rescuers responding to the mayday call or loss of contact with a rescuer inside a confined space. The sometimes-murky relationship between OSHA and NFPA standards will be explored including a review of both the construction and general industry OSHA confined space standards (1926 Subpart AA and 1910.146).

Tackling a Rarely-Explored Topic

Although training for a downed rescuer is a topic that is rarely visited in rescue training due to time constraints and the extensive requirements rescue technicians already must meet in order to carry their title, Roco Rescue believes it is a topic that shouldn’t be overlooked. The popularity of the course in North Dakota demonstrates that this is a subject of extreme interest to the safety industry.

This is the first time Roco Rescue has offered the course in this format, but it most likely won’t be the last. Subscribe to our newsletter to be the first to learn about new course offerings. Safety professionals interested in this training who are unable to attend the sold-out course in North Dakota may also wish to explore Roco Rescue’s advanced tech level course, FAST-TRACK™ 120.

Rescuer fatalities have declined in recent years, but they aren’t declining quickly enough. Let’s do our part to ensure that workers in the safety and rescue fields make it home to see their families when their work is done.

Brad Warr

Brad Warr is a Chief Instructor for Roco Rescue and a Captain at the Nampa Fire Department. Brad joined Roco Rescue in 2003, teaching a wide variety of technical rescue classes including rope rescue, confined space rescue, trench rescue, and structural collapse. Brad became a firefighter for the Nampa Fire Department in 1998 and was promoted to Captain in 2006. Before joining the fire department, Brad worked for three years as an Emergency Response Technician for a large computer chip manufacturer in Boise, Idaho, where he was responsible for OSHA compliance, emergency medical response, confined space/rope rescue response and hazardous materials response.

Behind the Scenes of Seattle’s New Fitness Program for Firefighters Q&A with Lieutenant Frank Brennan

Wednesday, January 16, 2019
Welcome readers to the first installment of “Roco Chats with the Experts”. My name is Pat Furr and today we are honored to have Lieutenant Frank Brennan of the Seattle Fire Department share his thoughts on the importance of technical rescuers being physically fit.

In this article, you’ll learn about a new physical fitness training program implemented by the technical rescue company at the Seattle Fire Department, and ideas that may help you start a fitness program with your own team – whether you’re a municipal firefighter or a member of an emergency response or firefighting team at an industrial facility.Behind the Scenes of Seattle’s New Fitness Program for Firefighters Q&A with Lieutenant Frank Brennan

Frank has been with the fire department in Seattle, Washington for 27 years and has spent all but a few years of that time on the rescue company. The rescue company is trained and equipped to provide public safety dive, tunnel and rebreather, tower, rope rescue, structural collapse, trench, confined space, commercial and machinery entrapment rescue. The company cadre also delivers structural collapse training to the three-county area. Frank sits on the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) Technical Committees (1006 and 1670), the bodies that set standards for firefighter training and safety, and he was directly involved with the recent revisions to these standards. He is also a Rescue Team Manager on WATF-1 USAR Task Force and is a member of the Seattle FD Aviation Team.

When I asked Frank if he would consider contributing to our inaugural “Chat with the Experts” he enthusiastically agreed but with one point of clarification, and that is, he doesn’t consider himself an expert. So, I will attest to the fact that Frank is a lifelong student of his trade and is a true craftsman.
Behind the Scenes of Seattle’s New Fitness Program for Firefighters Q&A with Lieutenant Frank Brennan
Pat Furr: Welcome Frank, and thank you for taking the time to discuss this topic with us. In my 38 years of being involved with various types of technical rescue, it is obvious to me that there are several elements that make a great rescuer and rescue team. First and foremost is quality training, both initial and continuing training specific to the type of rescue that may be required. Then there is equipment selection, and we both know that there are numerous tools available to today’s rescuers.

But one thing that I am afraid gets overlooked is the overall physical fitness of our rescuers. I’ve always had the philosophy that when we show up to the scene of a rescue, we are assets. I do not want to have any deficiencies that would cause my value as an asset to become a liability. That applies to training, leadership, and equipment, but in several cases, it may be due to a lack of physical fitness. Do you see any signs that some rescuers may not be as fit perhaps as they should be?

Frank Brennan: Pat, it’s hard to speak for anyone else, but I know that I personally have come up against the hard realities of the expectation/performance gap. I think task-specific physical, psychological and emotional conditioning may be the most challenging components of our job. In some way every manipulative training session should provide some insight to where you are in the scale of personal preparation, so ideally every session would require the humility to stare into that gap. So yes, I would say sometimes I see a wider gap than I am comfortable with, both in myself and others.

PF: One thing that we sometimes forget is that technical rescues can be quite taxing physically. Not just the strength and endurance that may be required, but also our tolerance to heat and other physical and emotional stressors. I think this is proven by the high rate of fatalities due to cardiac events amongst our firefighters and rescuers, both during actual responses and also during training.

FB: You have touched on a core issue of firefighter/rescuer health and safety. While I am most familiar with the information associated with the fire service based rescue model, I think the findings would extend to the entire community of rescuers serving the public.

The combination of chemical responses to the multiple external stressors places demands on the inner workings of our physiology that we don't always appreciate. Our training should extend beyond our ability to simply master a skill; it should help us master the delivery of the skill in the predicted environment. Just as we provide tools to rescuers in training to perform a task, we should leverage the training to give rescuers tools to measure and build their ability to master their emotional, psychological and physiological response to performing the skill in a demanding, but controlled environment.

Our training should extend beyond our ability to simply master a skill; it should help us master the delivery of the skill in the predicted environment.
As it stands now we are frequently guilty of leaving our people on their own to sort this out, often with the risk of stigma from identifying gaps in their performance they want to close. We are prone to overlook the obvious and make assumptions that are unhealthy or are not data-driven. As an example, we recently had a discussion revolving around the need for rescuing firefighters from burning buildings. Our training scenarios often focus on out-of-air emergencies or entrapment, which are of course important considerations, but we tend to overlook the leading cause which is a cardiac event. We realized that we hadn't really closely considered it as a component of the risk/reward profile of our actions. What are the needs? How do our predicted actions fill the need?

In this case, it has resulted in including drills to initiate CPR as early as possible and sustain it through the entire process of disrobing the downed firefighter after removal from the building. Which turns out is harder than you might think unless you are practiced in it. This discussion has also contributed to a heightened awareness of cardiac events and prevention efforts.

PF: I understand that your department has instituted a new program to encourage better overall physical fitness. Would you care to share a little about that program, what seems to work best and the successes you may have already seen?

FB: Well it’s just inside the rescue company right now, although we have a department and a union that places a strong emphasis on health and wellness, so it’s fertile ground.

I personally had to start with managing expectations. I have come to realize that a physical conditioning program built around long, grueling workouts at the firehouse would not be successful in the long term. There simply is not enough free time during the shift and the scheduling of the shifts is not frequent enough to really improve or condition anyone. Behind the Scenes of Seattle’s New Fitness Program for Firefighters Q&A with Lieutenant Frank Brennan
There are additional complications of having to perform at an emergency, and real conditioning while on duty would take people to a place that might undermine their ability to perform at an incident during the shift. Not to mention that the fitness plan is subject to the competing and ever-changing schedule of the day. So, the thought was to move towards shifting culture and awareness. I wanted the members of the crew to have an opportunity to examine their own capabilities and use this examination as a gauge for their personal plan away from the station. I was lucky enough to have Chris Stone as a new member of my crew who was experienced as an athlete, peer fitness trainer and had developed and implemented corporate training plans in his prior career. His insight and experience allowed us to implement a plan that met my criteria:

  1. That it places an emphasis on fitness - in this case, we make it part of our morning routine. Instead of showing up with shiny shoes and pressed trousers at roll call, we have the folks show up in PT gear. It helps send a message about what is important - uniforms have a place, but they won’t extend your life or enhance your capacity to perform.
  2. That it be functional - our program sticks to functional moves that relate to tasks we might be expected to perform. Typically, big muscle groups, tire flip, rowing, deadlift, drags, swings etc...
  3. That it be inclusive - we wanted it to be a crew activity, a workout that brought a sense of community or however you would like to describe it.
  4. That it prepares us for the day - it needed to warm us up, but also allow us to gauge where we were that particular day, physically. It shouldn't be so hard that we are tapped out afterward, but it sets the tone that our ability to perform physically is key to service delivery, both on that particular day as well as in the long career ahead of us.
  5. That it be accessible - there is always the issue of performance anxiety when working in a group. The program needed to be structured so it could allow people to engage it where they were without feeling they were under the microscope. In our case, we tend to stick to a Tabata or rotating timed station model where each member can do the number of reps that they are comfortable with.
  6. That it be sustainable - again, this is all about managing expectations and setting achievable goals. If we try to do too much it dies under its own weight. We keep it to a half hour or so of simple, easily implemented exercises.
  7. That it be credible - this is closely related to sustainability, but you have to be willing to commit to it. Make it as important as putting diesel in the rig. The combination of all these elements contributes to the credibility of the program. For me, the biggest validation is that the crew continued the workouts while I was gone on vacation for a month. It's THEIR or OUR workout - NOT my program...
PF: I am a big believer in positive reinforcement and peer encouragement. I know through personal experience that it is difficult to get into the habit of exercising regularly, and it is just as tough to eat the right things. Do you feel there is value in a program that gradually builds better habits versus one that jumps in full throttle right from the start? And do you have any advice to help encourage our peers to stick with it?
Behind the Scenes of Seattle’s New Fitness Program for Firefighters Q&A with Lieutenant Frank Brennan
FB: You have hit the nail on the head. What is often seen as an obstacle can be leveraged as an asset. Every crew is different, so it’s hard to have a set formula. The key is to let the work drive the workout. If you drill regularly on the functional elements of the job, it’s easy for people to draw the line between the preparation and the performance. With a few exceptions, solo programs are much more fragile. Whether it’s an individual relying on themselves for motivation and direction for a workout routine or framing physical fitness without the context of how it impacts the work, there is little redundancy or depth.

PF: Thank you so much, Frank. You have made several valuable points and I think a couple of the most valuable ones are to make the connection between physical preparation and the performance requirements of the job. That point alone holds a lot of value. Also, I really like the idea of a program that revolves around timed stations where each individual does as many reps as they feel comfortable with. This isn’t a competition but will give each individual a gauge as to where their personal fitness is currently and will give them a goal to aim for. All great stuff, Frank.

Make the connection between physical preparation and the performance requirements of the job.
Well, that wraps up our first installment of “Roco Rescue Chats with the Experts,” and what a start having someone like Lieutenant Frank Brennan as our inaugural guest. Thanks once again, Frank, and I hope you can come back and speak with us again in the future.

 

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