The Little Things That Matter

Issue 4 and Volume 15.

Attention to detail is key for the individual firefighter and the entire company. (pixaby)

We all have those things–those little things in life that can make your day or ruin your day. Whether it’s not having enough fuel in the car to get to work or forgetting your cell phone charger before going on a trip, those little things can change the course of your plans or even your life. The same is true for the fire service: Little things that you don’t think are a big deal can make or break a fireground operation or your company’s ability to properly operate.

We all have our pet peeves; some are minor, some are major, but they matter in one way or another. There is a reason for having a “pet peeve,” whether it’s a past experience or the way you were trained. Those “pet peeves” may seem like little things, but when all is said and done, they matter to the effectiveness and efficiency of a fire company or fire department.

In this article, I will bring up some “little things” or “pet peeves” that I believe matter and that if not done correctly or even at all will have an overall effect on the operational performance of your company. I will break this up into Engine Company, Ladder Company, and then personal actions that can affect the mission.

Engine Company

1. Booster tank is not full. Having a less than full tank will reduce the amount of water available prior to establishing a water supply.
2. SCBA cylinders just below full. Having less than a full SCBA cylinder may mean the difference between life and death, running out of air too early, or having to change the cylinder prior to making entry.
3. Hoselines not packed correctly. This can delay or even prevent proper stretching of handlines to the entrance to the fire building.
4. Apparatus placement. If apparatus is not placed properly the first time, chances are that it will be very difficult, if not impossible, to move apparatus later in the incident.
5. Flushing the hydrant. This MUST be done. Failure to flush a hydrant may cause damage to the pump. Flushing the hydrant will determine whether the hydrant is good or bad. A bad hydrant will change the dynamics of the incident. It’s better to find out early than find out when you have 600 feet of large-diameter hose on the ground and personnel are inside the fire building.
6. Fog nozzle checked for damage. Missing teeth, inoperable pattern adjustment, or inoperable gallon adjustment can make the hoseline inoperable or insufficient to handle the fire conditions. Check your nozzles, adjust your patterns, check your bails. Your nozzle is your pistol in a gunfight; make sure it works.
7. EMS equipment is adequately stocked. This equipment is unmistakably the most used equipment on the rig. Make sure the EMS bags are stocked, glove boxes are full, and the oxygen tank is full.
8. Adjustable hydrant wrench. Make sure the adjustment part works and spins freely. If it doesn’t, it may make the wrench unusable. You don’t want to be at the hydrant and the wrench don’t fit.
9. Laying supply lines. Make sure you lay the supply lines against the curb on the hydrant side (if possible). Laying lines down the middle of the street will most likely block the incoming truck company and later arriving companies.
10. Gaskets in couplings. Be sure that gaskets are not missing/damaged in hose couplings. A missing/damage coupling will cause connections to severely leak, causing water loss.

Truck Company

1. Fuel/batteries. Make sure the gas-powered equipment (saws/extrication) has full fuel tanks. There is nothing worse than being on the roof and the saw runs out of fuel. Be sure your batteries on your equipment are fully charged.
2. Hand tools. Make sure the hand tools are clean, properly marked, and maintained. Having a chipped ax blade or a loose head on a sledgehammer can cause injury or improper tool operation. If tools have custom markings (i.e., halligans with squared shoulders or department markings), make sure they are well marked.
3. Electrical pigtails. Make sure you have the correct pigtails to make the connections for your lights/fans. Having the wrong pigtails can place the equipment out of service because you are unable to make the connections.
4. Halyards. Be sure the halyards on extension ladders are in good shape. A frayed halyard can break, leaving the ladder unserviceable.
5. Saw blades. Make sure the chainsaw blades are placed in the correct direction of cut. Make sure the teeth are in good condition and the chain doesn’t come out of the groove in the bar.
6. Pinnable waterway. Be sure the waterway is set to the “rescue” position. Most of our aerial work is for access to a roof or window. The nozzle, if place at the tip, will just be in the way. Making sure the nozzle is set back will eliminate the need to reset the nozzle back to the “rescue” position.
7. Using the tillerman. Use the tillerman in a tractor-drawn aerial to help spot the turntable. He has a great view of the building, the turntable, and overhead obstructions.
8. Rope at aerial tip. A piece of rope, approximately 18 inches long, and a bright color at the aerial tip on the turntable side will help with depth perception. Once the rope moves past the roof line, you know you’re on the roof.
9. Thermal imaging camera. Make sure the battery is fully charged; the camera is a valuable search tool, but if the battery is low to begin with, it’s not going to last long.
10. Ladder tunnel. Make sure, through training and department policy, that later arriving apparatus don’t park so close to the rear of the truck that you can’t get the portable ladders out. Give at least 20 feet to be able to get your longest ladder out of the ladder tunnel.

Personnel Considerations

1. Rest. Many of us have busy lives–family and second or even third jobs and personal commitments–but we must try and get adequate rest. This helps reenergize us, prevents injuries and sickness, and helps with clear thinking
2. Diet—OK, yes, we are all firefighters and love a great meal, but we need to eat as healthy as we can. Having a balanced diet helps with daily activities in the fire service and in everyday life.
3. Exercise. Yes, we should all work out. Not all of us can bench press, but we should follow some type of physical fitness program. Mix cardio with strength training and include stretching.
4. PPE. Properly fitting, properly maintained PPE will help with your job performance. No one likes baggy or tight-fitting gear. Holes in pockets or other parts of your PPE may make it unserviceable. Reflective striping that’s torn or missing may reduce your visibility and can lead to injury or death. Also, make sure you have all your PPE. Nothing is worse than going to a structure fire and asking the driver, “Hey, do you have an extra pair of gloves or a hood?”
5. What’s in your pockets? Have you been asked for a flashlight, a screwdriver, or a door chock? Carry these and whatever else you think you’ll need to perform your duties, but don’t overload yourself with “stuff.”
6. Know your order of arrival. If you assign riding positions based on order of arrival, know which “due” you are. It’s not good having to ask the officer, with all the other things going on, “What are we due, boss?”
7. Check your tools/SCBA/radio. En route to a job is not the time to see if your assigned tools are there and in working order. You should check your tools and SCBA prior to responding or when placing your gear at the beginning of the shift. Be sure your radio has a full battery; en route to a call or inside a fire building is a bad time to find out your radio is dead.
8. Arriving early for duty. Being early for your duty shift, whether volunteer or career, speaks volumes about you. It shows that you look forward to getting to the job and look out for your fellow firefighters by getting them out early; and it’s a good way to get ready for the day by not being rushed.
9. Be a mentor, Mr. Senior Firefighter. As we progress through the years, the younger members will, or should, look up to us for knowledge, direction, and support. Be that mentor: Teach them, listen to them, and guide them. Be the informal leader they expect you to be. A well-known company officer once said, “If you’re not teaching the younger members as a senior firefighter, you’re not doing your job.”
10. Off-duty time. As stated earlier, we are all busy in our personal lives, but there’s nothing wrong with hanging out off duty with the members, even if it’s once a month. This can be a prearranged date every month or just a spur of the moment thing. We used to meet for lunch on the first day of our five-day break after a cycle, just to bond and have fun away from work. It brought us together and made the team stronger.

As you can see, there are a lot of “little things” that can make a big difference in how we perform our jobs. If we pay attention to things that don’t seem like a big deal, when it comes time, the “big deal” things will come naturally.


Greg Sellers is a senior firefighter with the Chesapeake (VA) Fire Department. He is also a volunteer firefighter for the Smithfield (VA) Volunteer Fire Department. He is an instructor in engine and ladder company operations and a 27-year veteran of the fire service.