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Should Fire Training Be Banned? a commentary

FireHat Finds a Stinker

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The State Firemen's and Fire Marshal's Association of Texas is the first major fire service organization I am aware of to come out in favor of a ban on mandatory training. Yes. The largest fire service group in Texas (I'll confide to you that this is a volunteer firefighters' group, at least unofficially). They are pushing SB 766, the so-called Volunteer Firefighters Protection Bill. It would explicitly bar any state agency from requiring training of volunteer firefighters. In the SFFMA's words, "it has become increasingly difficult to recruit people to volunteer to protect their communities and those who do should not have to ask Austin bureaucrats for permission first!" Well then.

The SFFMA's efforts to promote SB 766 are the most shameful thing I have ever heard of a fire service organization doing. As a longtime volunteer and former member of the SFFMA I am appalled at their actions. As a professional firefighter I am scared by their myopia. As a resident and citizen of Texas I am outraged by their advocacy of incompetence. This move is in direct opposition to Life Safety Initiative 5 of the Everyone Goes Home program and would forever put the lie to any claims of "professional volunteers." It's disgusting.

Texas has a mixed reputation around the United States, to say nothing of the world. As a proud Texan I can't dispute this, even if I'd like to argue that it's unfounded. When it comes to the fire service I'd be really hard-pressed to argue for our system. Here, paid firefighters have to have Firefighter I, Firefighter II, HazMat Awareness and Ops, and, in effect, EMT-Basic to even get in the door and on a truck. Volunteer firefighters, on the other hand, are required to obtain exactly no training.

Yes, you read that right. Texas, a titan of size and economy, has no training requirements for most of its fire protection personnel. I've never heard anyone try to reconcile this with any reasoning except economic. You know, training is too expensive and time-consuming; volunteers just can't do it. That sort of thing. If I were still a volunteer I'd be insulted in the extreme. Nevermind that a great many states and other countries do require training for volunteers. Nevermind that this job is more dangerous and complicated than ever. And nevermind that the people of this state are being protected at wildly varying standards. Above all, this is dangerous and it likely deceives the public.

While NFPA 1001 and a whole slew of other standards recommend certain training for operating in hazard zones and the Everyone Goes Home program, through Life Safety Initiative 5 has taken the position that training should be mandated by law, the State Firemen's and Fire Marshal's Association of Texas has struck a bold path of its own. They don't see it yet, judging by the obfuscations of their executive director on Facebook, but it is a path to the past ending in irrelevance.

Thank you.  Patrick S. Mahoney

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Comments - Add Yours

  • http://firehousezen.com/ Mick Mayers

    That is a really, really poor solution to the recruitment issue.

  • FFfudd1985

    Volunteer recruitment is difficult at best. This is obviously seen as a solution to volunteer retention. I’ve been in those situations. You have a group of 12, where 4 routinely train and those are the guys you want around. Another 4 that may train and come around after the initial report comes in, they’re so-so. the other 4 help wash trucks, come out after the fire to roll hose, wear their shirts in the bar, brag a lot, etc. The VFD is a microcosm of society. you will see all types. The idealistic altruist, the ignorant braggart, the dishonest tax cheat, the guy everyone knows that screws around on his wife, etc, etc. You have to sort the wheat from the chaff.

    This bill won’t do that or help the situation. I think it will make it worse. The analogy to EMT is right. You can’t even drive an ambulance w/o an EMT card. Communities have to decide what they want. “Communities deserve the fire protection they get” If the community wants slack assed vollies that can barely arrive and then squirt water through the window, that’s what they’ll get. If they want to pay for training and standards, they need to show up at the VFD board meetings with their checkbooks.

  • Doug Bledsoe

    We’ve talked about this before, but I’ll just leave it here for the masses… Chief Shane Ray (VCOS Director for IChiefs) talks about the fact that creativity is the answer is the answer to this conundrum, rather than being drug along kicking and screaming down the road to 2013: http://www.firefighternation.com/article/training-0/rethinking-volunteer-firefighter-certification

  • prt1231

    This just shows just how stupid some Texans really are. No wonder they kill firefighters down there. Their attitude is just to charge in and spray water on it and pray to god it doesn’t blow up in their faces.

    • http://twitter.com/JCRhem Jack Rhem

      What did we say about “thinking?”

      It’s not for everyone, including you.

    • http://twitter.com/JCRhem Jack Rhem

      Some highlights:
      prt1231 • 9 months ago

      Do you really expect the taliban to have any smarts. These ate ignorant, ragheads wo don’t have the common sense god gave a goose. The only good muslim is a dead muslim.

    • Jay

      Pretty stupid comment dont you think? What is your states requirements to fight fires as a volunteer? I assume you are a firefighter also. do you get the right to say we kill firemen down here? Would you like to compare the loss of Texas firefighters to other states? Do you even know what Texas training is? I would really love to see you do some research on it. So Texans are really stupid huh?I do not know how long you have been in the fire service but you comment shows a serious lack of respect for you Brother and Sister firefighters from Texas and it is very immature you should be ashamed.

  • B.Morgan

    I think the world of volunteers but make a law requiring no training, it’s nuts. It is just too complex a firefighting/rescue/EMS world. What are the insurance companies going to think and charge for coverage.

  • David E. Feiring

    No training requirements for firefighters is just as nutty as sending untrained soldiers to war! But it’s Texas where the goal is to “dumb down” safety and environmental regulations.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jim.panknin Jim Panknin

    I guess that I don’t see where this is a ban on training. I see it as I believe the SFFMA does in that legislation at the state or federal level should not dictate how a FD operates. There is nothing I see that bans training, only that the level of training should be determined by the local jurisdiction. Nothing in the proposed bill bill prevents a FD from requiring training, it only precludes that level of training from being mandated at the state level. Consider the following: “All firefighters shall be required to meet the training and certification of FF1 & FF2, Haz Mat Ops, EMT and Emergency Vehicle Driving before responding to emergency incidents.” VERSUS “All firefighters shall meet the training and certification requirements needed to safely and efficiently perform the duties required of them at an emergency incident to which they respond.” In the first example, the issue is cut and dried, there is no wiggle room. Options like Chief Shane Ray propose are not possible because the level of training required are clearly mandated. However, the second example provides the ability for each local jurisdiction to determine what level of training and certification each of its’ members needs according to their assignment. In this case the innovative ideas of Chief Ray, and others, are possible.
    Consider this. A retired professional truck driver wants to help his community and would like to volunteer his services by driving the 3,000 gal. tender/tanker. He is more than qualified to drive the apparatus based on his 30 years of driving such vehicles. He is retired, probably in his late fifties. Obviously he is not interior firefighting material, nor does he want to. In the first example above this person will not be joining the FD due to the state mandated requirements. Under the requirements of the second example he will become a vital component of the FD because his training requirements could be limited to the actual duties he will be performing. Since he will probably get no closer to the fire than the end of the driveway there is no need for FF1/2. Obviously Emergency Vehicle Operations would be required and probably Haz Mat Awareness only as he would be operating only in the cold zone. Basic First Aid would also be needed since he will not be responding on EMS calls.
    A second could be made regarding an Army veteran who wants to use his expertise as a combat medic by volunteering as an EMS person only. He has no desire to fire fires. Sorry, can’t use you because you need to meet the requirements of a firefighter. Really, is that what we should be doing?
    The challenges faced at an incident are certainly no different regardless of whether a person is a volunteer or a career firefighter. However, the type of duties assigned to a responder can differ vastly. A career firefighter has to be able to perform any, and all, assignments that could arise at an incident. A volunteer can be specialized and assigned to only those tasks for which he/she is trained and certified for. Regardless of which status a person is, their contributions on the incident are critical to the successful mitigation and safety of everyone. And one is no more important than the other. After all, isn’t emergency response all about teamwork?

    • http://twitter.com/JCRhem Jack Rhem

      1) I agree that there isn’t an explicit “banning” of training in this bill. However, the effect of it is the state is creating a race to the lowest common denominator. If there were no consequences for municipalities to cut fire stations, can you imagine how drastic cuts would be ? Same thing here. If the state allows municipalities/VFDs to determine the bare minimum, the minimum will approach 0.

      2) The idea of a “professional firefighter” becomes mutually exclusive to the “volunteer firefighter” in this scenario.

      3) Your examples of the “retired big rig driver” and former “Army medic” might have some validity except I don’t find it all realistic to think that those people don’t go outside realms of expertise. We’ve all seen those video’s of “how to throw a 35′ ladder alone,” “operating as a two man truck crew,” etc. These are in response to dwindling staffing. I guarantee you the “Army medic” and “retired big driver” will put themselves in a bad position if given the chance.

      4) Regardless of your MOS, you go through basic training. It doesn’t matter if you’re in Intel, Aviation, or Marine Force Recon – you are first a rifleman. This same ethos should be part of the fire service. It’s becomingly increasing important as mutual aide becomes more common place, WUI situations, etc.

    • http://twitter.com/JCRhem Jack Rhem

      1) I agree that there isn’t an explicit “banning” of training in this bill. However, the effect of it is the state is creating a race to the lowest common denominator. If there were no consequences for municipalities to cut fire stations, can you imagine how drastic cuts would be ? Same thing here. If the state allows municipalities/VFDs to determine the bare minimum, the minimum will approach 0.

      2) The idea of a “professional firefighter” becomes mutually exclusive to the “volunteer firefighter” in this scenario.

      3) Your examples of the “retired big rig driver” and former “Army medic” might have some validity except I don’t find it all realistic to think that those people don’t go outside realms of expertise. We’ve all seen those video’s of “how to throw a 35′ ladder alone,” “operating as a two man truck crew,” etc. These are in response to dwindling staffing. I guarantee you the “Army medic” and “retired big driver” will put themselves in a bad position if given the chance.

      4) Regardless of your MOS, you go through basic training. It doesn’t matter if you’re in Intel, Aviation, or Marine Force Recon – you are first a rifleman. This same ethos should be part of the fire service. It’s becomingly increasing important as mutual aide becomes more common place, WUI situations, etc.

    • Doug Bledsoe

      The issue in this case, though, is that even something as simple as “All firefighters shall meet the training and certification requirements
      needed to safely and efficiently perform the duties required of them at
      an emergency incident to which they respond” will not be allowed, now or at any point in the future (sans legislative change), so even creative solutions to enhance professionalism and safety (along the lines of Shane Ray’s ideas) will be prohibited. The measure is simply a few sentences of reactionary pro-small-government bravado that has implications much farther-reaching than a lot of folks can likely see today.

  • disasterdave

    I manage a large volunteer program and when i took it over the standards were mixed, I laid down a set of standards (IS 100 & 700) and held to it. I now have a NIMS compliant group who actually show up and do what needs to be down. I think if you take public safety folks and dumb down the training to raise the numbers and make it “easier” you will get some bad results. Especially with volunteers training is important. You train your paid firemen don’t you?

    http://disasterdave-volunteers.blogspot.com/

  • Doug Bledsoe

    I guess this will be the sole discussion on the topic; SFFMA has deleted anything that appears to be criticism of SB 766 from their FB page (the measure passed in the state Senate, incidentally). A tip from John Haydon’s website (digital marketing expert targeting non-profit organizations): “It may be tempting to delete comments that are critical of your organization. But don’t. Acknowledge criticism that is legitimate and respond respectfully. You’ll learn that diversity of mind on your Page is an asset, not a hindrance.”

  • ffp20

    Everything is bigger in Texas……except brains. The result…overtime will be depts with little or no training…an no capabilities.

  • ffp20

    oh and this too…..whatever happens to the “we do the same thing as the paid depts”? throw that argument out guys.

  • mr618

    Texas: Where “village idiot” is a legitimate career path.
    Amazing how the small-gummint types can’t think past the end of their noses. These jerks will eliminate any training — cause those pesky fact-thingies have a librul bias — and dumb everything down to the point where a freakin cactus could do it… and then they’ll wonder why (a) their fire insurance rates are so high, (b) why so many untrained firefighters get hurt and killed, and finally (c) why nobody wants to volunteer to be hurt or killed.

  • ukfbbuff

    Not Good at all.

    While their is a need for All Fire Service personnel to be adequately trained, this sets a bad pathway

    The way things seem to happen in Texas, in the future it may not be unusual for a VFC or two to interface with the larger Municipal FD’s (Dallas, Houston, Austin and so on) and then what happens?

    Volunteers not able to raise ladders or pull hose, put on a SCBA. let alone work safer in a constantly changing fire environment?

  • Chief in Texas

    Gee This has turned into a Texas bashing site. Mr. Panknin is correct on his explaining of this bill. For all of you that have chose to jump on the anti Texas band wagon do me a favor. Post the statue that regulates what training a volunteer must have in your state. Dont mistake local requirements on your training as state law. Texas is not doing anything different than any other state.

  • Jay

    Fire Geezer or any others who chose to comment. Please post where this bill is any different than any other state on regulating volunteer fire departments. This thread and many like it have brought out the most uneducated comments I have ever seen. I saw one post from a PA firefighter who could not believe that Texas does not mandate training on their volunteers. I ask that firefighter to post the statue in PA that requires PA volunteers to have training.

    • Doug Bledsoe

      TN requires 16hr “Introduction to Fire and Emergency Services” prior to response to any emergency, then completion of 64hr “Basic Firefighting” upon appointment as an active volunteer firefighter.

    • Doug Bledsoe

      INDIANA:
      IC 36-8-10.5-7
      Training subject matter
      Sec. 7. (a) The education board shall adopt rules under IC 4-22-2
      establishing minimum basic training requirements for full-time
      firefighters and volunteer firefighters, subject to subsection (b) and
      section 7.5 of this chapter. The requirements must include training
      in the following areas:
      (1) Orientation.
      (2) Personal safety.
      (3) Forcible entry.
      (4) Ventilation.
      (5) Apparatus.
      (6) Ladders.
      (7) Self-contained breathing apparatus.
      (8) Hose loads.
      (9) Streams.
      (10) Basic recognition of special hazards.
      (b) A person who fulfills the certification requirements for:
      (1) Firefighter I, as described in 655 IAC 1-2.1-4; or
      (2) Firefighter II, as described in 655 IAC 1-2.1-5;
      is considered to comply with the requirements established under
      subsection (a).
      (c) In addition to the requirements of subsections (a) and (d), the
      minimum basic training requirements for full-time firefighters and
      volunteer firefighters must include successful completion of a basic
      or inservice course of education and training on sudden infant death
      syndrome that is certified by the Indiana emergency medical services
      commission (created under IC 16-31-2-1) in conjunction with the
      state health commissioner.
      (d) In addition to the requirements of subsections (a) and (c), the
      minimum basic training requirements for full-time and volunteer
      firefighters must include successful completion of an instruction
      course on vehicle emergency response driving safety. The education board shall adopt rules under IC 4-22-2 to operate this course.
      (e) In addition to the requirements of subsections (a), (c), and (d),
      the minimum basic training requirements for full-time and volunteer
      firefighters must include successful completion of a basic or
      inservice course of education and training in interacting with
      individuals with autism that is certified by the Indiana emergency
      medical services commission (created under IC 16-31-2-1).

  • http://www.facebook.com/BLAZE3358 Linda Blaisdell

    Well, here are Florida’s Standards:

    http://www.flsenate.gov/Laws/Statutes/2012/633.35

    • Jay

      Ok no difference in FLA and Texas laws for Volunteers

      • firegeezer

        I think many of you are conflating “laws” and “regulations”  Very few, if any, states have laws that require fire departments to train.  That is usually done through regulations that are set by state agencies, not the legislature.  Setting minimum standards for all firefighters both paid and volunteer is very common.  What FireHat Patrick is referring to is a proposed LAW that will prohibit any agency or town, etc., from requiring even a minimum training level for VFDs.  That is unheard of.

  • Doug Bledsoe

    New York introduces legislation to allow agencies to accept volunteers into SUPPORT-ONLY roles with lesser training than state requires of active firefighters:
    http://poststar.com/news/local/assemblymen-push-bill-to-loosen-training-requirements-for-volunteer-firefighters/article_51092592-af7d-11e2-bad8-0019bb2963f4.html

  • Dexter_Cornberry

    There is a little more to this story. When the TCFP was formed about 22 years ago, the legislature made a bold move bringing several fire related agencies together. The first exec director was a former union lobbyist who, if he had his way, would regulate the vollies out of existence. The legislature broke the agency up a few years later, pulling the State Fire Marshal and ISO out, and also prohibited TCFP from being a training provider, just a regulator. TCFP also has a real problem with customer service attitudes.