Smell & Bell Calls.
Everyone gets them, the 3AM “food on stove”. For the newer members, excitement! Racing to the trucks, donning their newly issued gear, and racing to the scene. For the experienced members, a sigh and a slow walk to find their keys and make their way down to the station. For all too often than not, these calls seem to be a nuisance, a plague, an inconvenience. This lax attitude towards “smell & bell” calls can be extremely destructive to maintaining a level of professionalism in the crews. Members old and new can use these calls as great learning opportunities! For the newer members, soak everything in. Hydrant locations, building construction, lengths of hose stretches needed to reach upper floors, different occupancy’s at various times of day, special hazards, and the list goes on… Older members, use the knowledge gained in the past from these calls to teach the newer members. These calls provide an immense opportunity of learning for new and old members.
“It’s the old factory off Main Street again, that’s the 3rd time tonight that alarm has come in! Just toss your gear in the back, guaranteed it’s a false alarm again.” How many times have we had this attitude? We get so caught up in “Fire Alarm Activation” being a probable false alarm call that we forget, sometimes fire alarms actually do their jobs and detect a fire! Sooner or later, you will get caught.
Officers, take the time to do a quick size up. As for the firefighters on the crew, you should have a personal size up in your head! The size up for both officers and firefighters starts with the initial dispatch.
All of this ties back into complacency. Simply going through the motions at these mundane calls, I can guarantee you will get caught with your pants down more than once. It happens to everyone from the most experienced Chief, to the newest member.
When my crew hops off the rig, at ANY call, I expect the following basic standard of professionalism;
1) FULL PPE – This means pants (suspenders on, this isn’t Backdraft), coat (zipped up!), hood (around your neck, NOT inside your helmet), and gloves.
2) SCBA DONNED & READY – This means air level checked, straps tight, and mask ready to go. This does NOT mean straps hanging all over the place, mask left in the rig, and bottle at 2200 PSI…
3) SOMETHING IN YOUR HANDS! – Halligan, ax, hook, can, TIC, gas meter, clipboard for report, etc. I expect my guys to always have something in their hands. While responding, tool assignments are discussed, “I got the can”, “OK, I’ll grab the Irons”. Doing this for every call ensures crew integrity and ensures that when you pull up to a working fire, the crew isn’t doing a Chinese fire drill to A) figure out where the tools on the truck are located, or B) figure out which tools to grab…
As an officer, teaching members which tools are better or worse for each unique application will guarantee success when it counts. Get into the habit of having members “tag out” through accountability, regardless of the size of the incident. As an officer, be a leader! Having a white shield may indicate experience and knowledge, but not sharing that knowledge and experience is a sure way to fail. Your crew depends on YOU.
In the long run, always staying on your toes will keep yourself and your crew fresh and ready to go when the bell tips for the real thing! Don’t let complacency kill you!