By Peter Sells
July 21, 2009,
I remember the booklet that used to sit in a box behind the captain and driver in every truck when I first came on the job. It was a set of procedures to be followed in the event of an actual or pending nuclear attack on the city. We used to joke about it periodically. One of the strategies recommended was to evacuate the apparatus and all related equipment out of the city to a specified parking lot of a shopping mall about 45 minutes north. That way the apparatus and crew would survive the blast and remain intact to respond back into the smoking ruin that used to be Toronto.
By Peter Sells
In theory, anyway.
To this day, one of my colleagues will pull this line out whenever there is a problem that seems insurmountable: “Load all your hose and drive to Aurora.”
Aside from the comical, rear-view mirror look at the Cold War mentality, the question that came to mind was “why is this document still on the apparatus?” In part, it was there because nobody would take it upon themselves to remove it or ask permission to do so. After all, what’s the big deal?
Here’s a similar situation with different consequences. I was walking up to the front lobby of the Fire Academy when I saw the retired fire chief coming up the stairs from the parking lot. He was the same tall, slim, vigorous man that I remembered, with a few more wrinkles and more than a few additional grey hairs. And the same sense of humour. After we exchanged greetings and I introduced him to a couple of people who had not worked for him, we got down to the reason for his visit.
He was working as an expert witness for a legal team, defending a fire department against a charge of negligence. It seems that there had been a call of a potential jumper on a ledge, and the situation did not have a happy outcome. The opposing legal team had obtained a copy of the equipment inventory for the apparatus that had responded, and on that inventory was a Browder life-saving net. The lawyers alleged negligence on the basis that the life net was listed on the inventory but was not on the truck. The only answer offered was that the net had been removed from the truck many years earlier, which of course opened the question of why it was still on the official inventory.
The chief’s task was to show that the life net would not have been appropriate or effective in that unfortunate situation, even if it had been present and available. In order to do that, he needed documentation to prove the point. This brought him to the Academy, because he knew we had files of all the training documents issued by our department going back many years, and he specifically recalled a précis on the life net. Sure enough, we had it on file and it showed that the victim was at far too high a perch to have been saved by the use of the net.
So, in the first instance, we had an outdated procedure that was good for a laugh. Whether or not we had taken the document off of the apparatus and whether or not we had followed the procedure in the event of World War III was pretty much irrelevant. However, in the second instance, an obsolete document carelessly left in place potentially exposed a department to serious charges that were mitigated by an obsolete document that had been properly filed.
So here are the blog questions for today: Do you still carry obsolete equipment on your apparatus (what exactly are you supposed to do with a Detroit door opener anyway)? Are your inventories, policies and procedures up to date and accurate? If not, would you speak up or would you rather keep quiet because that is the chief’s (or deputy chief’s or training officer’s) job?
If you consistently fly under the radar for years you should remember that the trees beneath you keep growing taller.