Most rational people don’t just walk into the local do-it-yourself mega mart and buy all the latest and greatest gadgets with no experience in home improvement, unless they have a huge bank account and no regard for the economics of their purchases.

Most of us must make choices, use life experiences with construction, take courses at the local community college or hire a general contractor to help with the project.

However, there are those in the fire service who have no regard for finances and end up spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on the latest rope, confined space, trench and collapse gear, only to find out after they learn how to use the stuff that it’s not as durable or as useful as originally thought.

Discovering Problems

For example, a large metropolitan fire department recently invited a group of us in to help conduct their urban search and rescue training. The department had purchased all the gear ahead of time, and we were to incorporate that gear into the training.

No problem. At least there weren’t any problems until we discovered the supplied air breathing system did not have locking couplings on the airlines and the escape pack left a little to be desired. We also discovered the manifold would have be carried by hand to make the unit mobile. Not a big deal, but it requires more time and more personnel than a wheeled unit – hassles that could have been avoided with a little experience and knowledge about the equipment.

Too often the person or committee writing specifications have little or no training in the field and are asked to handle project outside of their realm of expertise.

Realizing Resources

Once, as a lieutenant of a large metropolitan department, I was tasked with putting together a cost analysis of starting an in-house paramedic school. The problem was I had spent the previous eight years as a firefighter on a heavy rescue unit, had only run a handful of emergency medical service calls and, more importantly, I was not a paramedic.

Fortunately, I knew people in the field, and I called upon them for help. For some reason, underutilizing resources is a common thread in the fire service. Whether buying fire hose, fire trucks, forcible entry tools or starting a technical rescue team, most departments and organizations have more resources at their disposal than they realize. For some departments, they may have untapped resources and potential within their own ranks.

When you do find someone who can help with a purchasing decision, it’s important to do business with people you trust. There are so many vendors out there today, it’s important to check them out before laying down cash.

Equipment has proliferated too, and buyers ought to look at the stuff with the proven track record. Make sure the vendor sells you what you need, not what has the highest commission.

This is where training staff comes in. Whether you choose to use in-house trainers, or hire a private company, make sure the staff has recent experience in their respective field.

Active-duty firefighters, who work with vendors part time, are usually the most current on trends and gear. Their experience level should reflect a good balance of both technical knowledge and field experience. The larger the population their fire department serves, the more experience they should have.

Many vendors and manufacturers employ retired firefighters and officers, who have a wealth of knowledge and experience. On top of that, most manufacturers can supply the necessary gear to conduct training and give departments a chance to use, test and sometimes break while learning valuable information. Other dealers can give you detailed lists of what to purchase and how to train with that gear.

It’s been my experience that departments that have purchased gear caches before training end up replacing or upgrading gear because of lessons learned during training.

Costly Lesson

That itself is a costly lesson to learn. One department discovered they had to replace a number of supplied air breathing apparatus couplings with Hansen fittings after they figured out the non-locking fittings would not hold up in their confined space simulators.

While it may sound good, and perhaps even logical, to buy equipment before training, resist that urge because you’ll likely find the stuff you bought won’t do the kinds of things you need it to do and then it’s too late.

That’s the biggest advantage of buying equipment after training. You get exactly what you want, the expense of replacing stuff that doesn’t perform to expectations is eliminated and you can deal with vendors and manufacturers as an educated consumer – all pluses.

So, just as you wouldn’t go to the local big-box store and fill your pickup power tools you have no idea how to use or what they can and cannot do, save yourself the aggravation and don’t go out and fill up a rescue truck or trailer with even more expensive tools without the proper training.

Editor’s Note: Matt Moseley is a firefighter with the Atlanta (Ga.) Fire Department, assigned to Squad 4, the city’s special operations unit. He has over 15 years of fire service experience and has extensive background in hazardous materials responses, teaching on the topic at the Georgia Fire Academy, as well as technical rescues and fire suppression. He is also a Georgia Smoke Diver. Moseley is chief executive officer and co-owner of GSM Training Associates, LLC. For the past eight years, he has been conducting technical rescue training programs for the fire service and the military while also serving as a member of his company’s rescue standby services confined space team. In April 1999, Moseley made national news with the televised helicopter rescue of a construction worker trapped atop a 200-foot crane above a huge fire at the Fulton Bag and Cotton Mill in Atlanta, Ga., an action that earned him a Medal of Valor.

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