This past weekend I attended the Smokey Mountain Weekend Fire/Rescue Expo in Gatlinburg, TN. You may know the name Gatlinburg due to the deadly 2016 wildfires that devastated the area. Though you can still see remnants of the fires on the mountainous landscape surrounding the town, this small tourist designation is thriving. Specifically, this past weekend when it was invaded by fireman from Tennessee and the region.
With nearly 400 in attendance the classroom and tactical classes were filled with enthusiasm from both experienced and rookie firefighters. As I sat through my first class I have already assembled several pages of notes to not only fuel (pun intended) my Babacita consulting work, but to also help improve my department, the Lone Oak Volunteer Fire Department.
Below are the classes I took and some key notes I accumulated:
Recognizing Elder Abuse - Excellent to understand the laws and resources available to protect elders. Documentation is the key thing. Keep accurate records, photos, etc. with your incident files. If elder abuse is a pattern these records will help tell the story and are invaluable. There is a great checklist to keep handy on your trucks that will help with the documentation. Check it out here: https://eagle.trea.usc.edu/first-responder-checklist/. As first responders we are also required to document and report anything we see so this documentation will also protect yourself, your station and your community.
Residential Concerns: Old House, Small House, Large House - Another class with some great information. The importance of the 360°was hammered pretty hard and I completely agree. We talked about identifying the layout also during this phase as the IC begins to develop the strategy. –We talked about potential hazards –Attics –Size of the structure –Layout –Utilities –Floors, specifically with mobile and manufactured homes –Search and rescue –Overhaul –Structural collapse indications –Insulation
–SLICERS was also discussed in-dept as a new outline
–Identify flow path
–Cool fire from safe location
–Rescue if needed
–Salvage when we can
Reading Smoke - This was the highlight of the weekend and the main reason I attended. I believe reading smoke is an art form and a complex challenge that is always changing.
–Things discussed included
–Smoke is fuel
–Fuels have changed over the years and are more explosive
–Smoke has trigger points
–Soot is black, ash is white and contains about 70% particulates
–Hydrocarbons (black oil droplets) will self-ignite at about 450°F.
–Polyethylene’s self-ignite around 660°F.
–The importance of using TIC’s (thermal imaging cameras) to determine smoke
temperature before approaching
–Grey/brown smoke – wood
–Black – polyethylene’s
–Breathing or angry smoke
–Smoke stained windows
–Fire is still growing, light-dark streaks of read over top
–Flashover 700°-800°F – cool this down or get out… the hotter the greater potential
–Cool the fire gases and container
–Vent the heat and fire gases
–Smoke explosion – white, cool smoke
–Contained layer of smoke that just needs an ignition source
–Has enough oxygen to support combustion
–No heat involved
–The blackest smoke moving at the greatest speed…. Hit it with water
Modern Single Family Dwelling Fire AttacK –Bigger hoses, smooth bore nozzles –Cool the box prior to entry – hit it hard and direct (smooth bore nozzles) with all you’ve got – fast –Ventilation but be sure it’s coordinated with the attack –Suppression
Lots and lots of information, great people and a sampling of JEDS. This was my first Smoky Mountain Weekend but will definitely not be my last. Always learning and always training is what will keep me and those around me safe.
A couple more observations and thoughts:
I worry about the health of us firefighters. With cardiac arrest being the leading cause of firefighter deaths is no surprise as there is a large percentage of us overweight and not so healthy. And I’m not just pointing my finger at others, I could stand to lose about 10-15 lbs myself. But seeing this trend happening with all the knowledge we have about exercise, eating and living a healthy lifestyle I’m not sure what to do. It really falls on the departments and to personal responsibility. Those who would be in danger of hauling 200’ of hose through the woods or a building need to really stay behind and run pump or other non-physical operations. It really is sad to see, and I know we can do better. I’m just not sure what it will take for people to really wake up. This is a physically, mentally and emotionally demanding job. Those parts need to be looked after if we’re to operate optimally. How can we serve our communities if we were liabilities right for the first step onto a scene. We can do better.
Another thing that I am in amazement of is the lack of caring or dedication to furthering education. Not so much the people here this weekend but those who aren't here and that rarely send people. I’m fortunate that I have a chief that is progressive and actively caring about our safety, equipment and ongoing growth. But saying that, a chief, like mine, can only guide the members. It’s up to them and depends on what their motivations. You can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make him drink. Same thought applies here. Why wouldn’t you want to learn? This is a job that can kill you so why not learn everything you can to stay safe?
Ongoing learning. Ongoing training. It will serve you, your department and your community well.