Notes from the Street
Americans often avoid thinking about death and failure. However, first responders must. It goes with the territory. In my nearly four decades of serving communities, I’ve often viewed the world in “glass half-empty” terms.
During the highs and lows of leading and following those on the streets, I made a practice of taking notes. Some were made mentally and many scribbled on torn 4X4 wound dressing wrappers. My favorite note-taking habit was on the inkless NCR© carbonless report forms. The goldenrod-colored copy was my favorite. It was the throw-away sheet (yes, before HIPPA) that I could scribble multiple notes, shove it in my pocket and head to the next call during hectic Friday and Saturday night shifts.
Most of those notes are stored in boxes. Over the years I’ve attempted to transition them into a collection. With a little effort – and focus – the collection will see new life as The Street Warrior’s Guidebook©. But, prior to that and in the spirit of paying it forward, I share several of my notes, affirmations, inspirations, and warnings gathered before, during and after the battles that hopefully will serve and perhaps save someone.
Of late we hear and read (rightfully so) about responder safety, situational awareness, mental health, and so on. Not to dismiss any of the messages and efforts to ensure the safety and welfare of everyone who places their life on the line, I share this philosophy that deserves consideration: Your safety is your responsibility. This is not to say departments, leaders, and communities shouldn’t make every effort to provide for the safety of its members. But, if one doesn’t take it upon themselves to do whatever they can to maximize their own safety, all other efforts will result in minimal outcomes. How do we do this? Read everything you can get your hands to improve your long- and short-term survival.
One thought that should be adopted and practiced by all is to remember: You are not invincible. We’re all aware that only heroes and bad-axxes wear dirty gear, gnarly, nasty helmets and refuse to wear their SCBAs. They’re not bad-axxes, they’re morons. Always wear appropriate PPE. Why? Because you and your family deserves it.
And, while you’re practicing the basics of self-safety: Take a shower within one hour of exposure, and/or take a shower before leaving the station.
While you’re protecting your physical health: Get a regular mental health checkup and regularly take note of your partner’s well-being. If you’re the jefe de jefes, take note of your staff member’s mental health. Finally on this topic: Advocate for an annual department-funded physical that includes a cancer and mental health assessment.
If you haven’t noticed that our country is undergoing civil upheaval, you’re not paying attention. Nashville, TN; Uvalde, TX; Buffalo, NY; Philadelphia, PA and the list goes on. Bottom line: Society is getting more frustrated and angrier. Be prepared.
Next year (April 20) will be 25 years since Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold murdered 12 and injured 24 students, teachers and staff at Columbine (CO) High School. Since that event the tactics and strategies dealing with these events have changed: Active Shooter, Active Shooter and Hostile Event Response (ASHER), Direct Threat Event, Mass Shooter and the list goes on.
Across the country fire and emergency service agencies are developing specialized teams to respond to and support these hostile events. While most teams are well thought-out and trained, some are instituted overnight with limited forethought. This type of truncated planning can lead to potential disasters for the public as well as responders. Further, some fire and rescue ASHER teams still are disconnected from their law enforcement counterparts. One can imagine the radio traffic at one of these callouts – or rather lack thereof. To place a finer point on this, there are STILL areas of our great Nation where common communications (terminology, frequency designations) and the (FEMA) Incident Command System is STILL not common among neighboring agencies!
Coupled with this phenomenon is crowd surge. Not always, but often related to shooting events is the dynamic of crowds attempting to exit a hostile event resulting in slower-moving bystanders being trampled, injured and killed.
Should you or your department decide to develop or join a “SWAT-Medic” or Tactical Medic Team here are a few thoughts:
- Before agreeing to join know all your legal rights, responsibilities and liabilities before you shoot and/or kill someone. Will the department protect and legally represent you when you accidentally shoot or kill someone? Will your survivors (wife and kids) be cared for following your death?
- Don’t buy or wear used ballistic equipment. There’s a reason the local PD discarded them.
- Train PRECISELY the same as your new PD counterparts, not a dumbed-down version for non-LEOs.
- When entering a potential crowd surge area or event have, know and enforce the use of a Mayday plan with egress signal. If no Mayday signal and procedure exists, your plan is flawed.
- Always work in teams and ensure ALL entry team members have proper PPE and Comms.
- Remember, there’s always some nutjob who wants to make a name for themselves by “celebrating” Columbine – be aware…and ready.
It goes without saying, but I will reiterate, for those who may have overlooked the obvious – working in emergency services is inherently dangerous. With that in mind, show up to work knowing full well you and your partner may die. Train and prepare for the eventuality of serious injury or death. The following thoughts may save a life:
- Always carry two tourniquets on you and know how to apply them to yourself (and others) with both hands.
- When entering a gunshot wound (GSW) scene, failing to look for and “safing” weapons can lead to rapid retreats.
- At GSW scenes, keep in mind the aggressor may not be obvious. So, beware of all people in close proximity when treating patients.
- This is an “oldie”; remember to stand to the side when knocking on doors.
Treat everyone with dignity and respect, but always be prepared to defend yourself and/or rapidly egress the area when the scene turns ugly.
The following are simple, but tried-and-true:
- The better your SOPs are, and the more you comply with them, the less you will need to make decisions on-the-fly, which leads to premature failures…and lawsuits.
- The first time you fail to follow procedures on a “squirrel call”, it will turn out to be a significant emotional experience.
- Lack of regionally-developed and enforced MAYDAY procedures can result in tragedy when the stuff hits the fan during a large, complex, rapidly deteriorating mutual aid alarm.
- If the concept of situational Awareness (SA) is unfamiliar or new to you and/or your department, learn it, train it and use it consistently. During complex incidents, continually maintain your SA orientation.
I read about the many examples of responder successes. My experience has been that many of those successes are the direct result of well-designed, realistic training. To achieve those successes forward-thinking department leaders heavily support training and most importantly –
assign members to training for their passion and abilities, not because they stink at everything else, or because it’s their last stop before hanging up their bunker gear.
The same goes for Incident Safety Officers. ISOs should be assigned for their knowledge and qualifications, not because they’ve been there the longest.
Is there a moral? There’s always a moral.
- Life is short and not guaranteed – enjoy every day.
- Your chosen profession as a responder serving your community with honor and courage is a noble undertaking to be celebrated and respected – always!
See you at the big one,