When firefighters get burned in fires, it becomes important to figure out what went wrong. From the news reports, we learned that a firefighter received first and second degree burns to his knees. The significance of a firefighter getting burned is that he or she is wearing an ensemble of equipment that is designed to protect firefighters from the heat, to an extent. Periodic personal protective equipment inspections should find any breakdown in the outer garment, or the vapor barrier. If the firefighter was wearing all of his or her equipment properly, and the equipment had no degradation, then the firefighter came into contact with a higher level of heat than normal. I will say that a brick home is a hotter fire fight due to the brick holding the heat in.
I have seen firefighters get caught in a rollover or flashover that get burns to their shoulders. The cause of these burns is usually caused by the compression of the garment where the self-contained breathing apparatus straps come across the shoulders. Again, a high heat situation has occurred, for this to happen.
Firefighters used to get their ears burned rather easily, prior to the introduction of the Nomex hood to the firefighter ensemble. I used to hear old timers say that Nomex hoods prevented you from knowing when it was time to get out. I say that Nomex hoods prevent ears from getting burnt off of the sides of our heads.
I mentioned the rollover or the flashover. The flashover is a situation where everything in the room reaches it’s flashpoint, and flashes. This is a deadly situation for firefighters, where there are only seconds to escape. Let me further explain, seconds to escape when all of the personal protective equipment is worn properly. You can imagine what the outcome would be if one piece was not worn properly. Firefighters understand the importance of being fully protected, so they are now in the habit of checking one another before entering a burning building.
To say that firefighting is a dangerous profession and firefighters get burned, both of these are true. However, firefighting has become safer, compliments of state-of-the-art equipment.
One of the dangers in the fire service is the swing that occurs with personnel. I remember our department going through periods when there were many young officers and crews.
Experienced firefighters and officers are a critical commodity, especially when conditions rapidly deteriorate. Don’t get me wrong, experienced firefighters are not invincible, but their ability to understand what is happening and react properly is greater than the young inexperienced firefighter.
When firefighters get burned, it is necessary to find out what happened. The fire service has done well to look at our shortcomings, and make the improvements necessary to prevent similar occurrences in the future. Firefighters will continue to get injured, while performing their gallant tasks. The hope is that when injuries do occur that they will be minor and easily recovered from. The more that is learned from every injury, the better the fire service can work to prevent a next time.