BC’s blockbuster hit “Chicago Fire” has become a fire
station staple and a “must” watch, if the alarm bells keep
quiet for the 60-minute program. In fact, some company
officers have asked to report the crew time watching this
A few episodes back, Firehouse 51 responded to a building
experiencing a significant, uncontrolled natural gas leak. Lieuten-
ant Kelly Severide entered the second floor by ladder to conduct a
quick search of the top floor. The lieutenant toiled in the greatest
and highest tradition of the fire service. Chief Boden reminded
Severide that the building was getting ready to explode and could
go at any minute. The music intensified and the storyline went
right down that expressed path of destruction. As the “lighter
than air explosion” occurred, the lieutenant doffed his helmet
and ripped off his self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA).
With an amazing and heroic leap from the second-floor window,
Severide reached fresh air and the safety of the front yard. Thank
goodness the LT’s injuries were minor, and he would be back at
Station 51 in short order. Of course, TV is Hollywood (not real
life), and the storyline was greatly exaggerated to make for a great
viewing experience. Did I say that I love this show?
As Severide’s classic leather helmet went flying and his face
piece ripped off, I involuntarily cringed. I knew that the LT
would be just fine, but I could not help flashing back to three
situations that didn’t have such a “happily ever after” conclusion.
I feel compelled to share the “trilogy of face piece case studies” as
a reminder that, when we are in a hazard zone (fire, smoke, natural gas, or any other hazardous materials), helmets, face pieces,
and all our personal protective equipment (PPE) must be worn!
There is no exception to this rule, unless you are the star of the
show on a television production set with a stand-in professional
stunt double using a “green screen” to simulate fires and explosions. No other exceptions, so let me tell you for the one hundred
and first time, the hazard zone requires that PPE and face pieces
are properly used—no exceptions or excuses!
This case study is the worst situation that can confront a fire
chief. It was the evening of Thanksgiving, 2006. I was a state
away, enjoying some after dinner time with my family, when
the cell phone rang. Fire alarm headquarters pointed out that
the department had extinguished a fire in a small, single-story,
abandoned, derelict 1,000-square-foot wood-frame dwelling. I
was told that in the process of attacking the fire, a firefighter was
seriously injured and had been transported to Grady Hospital
Burn Center. The initial report was that a significant portion
of the firefighter’s body had received second- and third-degree
burns. The on-duty communications center fire lieutenant indi-
cated that I needed to report to Grady as soon as possible. After
a quick ride up Interstate 85 northbound, I was walking through
the hospital doors at Grady. Many firefighters had gathered and
guided me to our member’s hospital room. All the people I saw
wore the pain of this horrible accident on their faces. I could tell
that this was going to be a very difficult situation. There was no
hiding the seriousness and concern expressed by all who greeted
me that holiday evening.
Soon, I was in the firefighter’s hospital room. He lay uncon-
scious and unresponsive, stripped down and coated with Silvad-
ene ointment to control sepsis (infection). Although I had to
drive a distance to get to the burn unit, I was able to arrive ahead
of the injured member’s family. Dr. Walter Ingram, the burn cen-
ter director, took me aside to provide me with a detailed patient
update. The burn doc delivered a report that I was not expecting.
Ingram’s words were something like, “Your number one job is to
prepare the family and the department to lose this firefighter.” I
A face piece case study trilogy
BY DENNIS L. RUBIN
10 steps toward an
injury-free operation using
proper PPE and SCBA:
1. Recruit and retain the best personnel possible (fit,
smart, trainable, honest, etc.).
2. Use a fitness test measurement before a job offer or
allowing membership (VFD). 2
3. Proper and comprehensive initial PPE and SCBA training includes performance testing.
4. Ongoing PPE and SCBA training using the standard
performance testing measures. 3
5. Lead by example. Officers must wear their proper
equipment all the time.
6. Annual face piece fit testing; it’s required by law, so
7. Select the best PPE and SCBA in the marketplace. It
must meet all current standards.
8. Proper, ongoing, and comprehensive PPE and SCBA
inspection, maintenance, and repairs.
9. Annual SCBA recertification process for all line members.
10. If all else fails, enforcement measures must be used
to gain compliance.