Each day the company officer sets the tone at the station whether intentionally or unintentionally. Everyone is influenced by the habits and behaviors of the officer. The officer always has a host of administrative duties to perform whether it’s logging in the roster for the day, starting the log book, entering payroll information, logging training and so forth.

Eyes are always on the officer and the most basic form of learning, imitation, is always at work. While words are critically important, the actions of the leader are ultimately the most powerful force. Albert Einstein once stated, “Setting an example is not the main means of influencing others, it is the only means.”

There are endless opportunities for the officer to set the example whether it’s through sound decision making, being competent at job skills or the way the officers deals with personalities and human factors just to name a few. One the most important examples is the officers’ attitude towards safety. Firefighter safety is always considered everyone’s responsibility but the attitude that the officer takes in regard to his/her personal safety and the safety of the crew is often displayed in some of what can be consider everyday route tasks.

What the Process Should Look Like

As an example are the officers’ actions and routines established during the daily gear preparedness and equipment inspections. Upon arrival at the station and before shift change the officer should have all their protective gear in place and set up ready for use. This includes turnout pants, coat, gloves, helmet, hood and webbing and wire cutters. These items should not just be placed on the apparatus but should positioned for quick access and donning.

Once this part of the ensemble is ready the next step should be to inspect and test the self-contained breathing apparatus. This is arguably the most critical piece of equipment in the entire PPE loop. Whether you are at the busiest station or the slowest station these operational tests must take place.

When the officer arrives at the station and immediately focuses on other tasks and postpones his/her own state of readiness it not only places himself at risk but compromises the entire crews readiness and the ability to serve the public. If this becomes the standard daily practice then a normalization of deviance occurs while unit readiness and personal equipment readiness becomes a low priority. All this has the potential to create failure and compromise safety stemming from the simple inaction of the officer.

No matter the type of frequency of the task, it is also equally important that the officers perform these tasks with a level of expertise that displays competency. Too often, a leader going through the motions or checking the boxes on the list becomes mistaken as setting a good example. If the officer goes through the motions but skips critical steps or doesn’t fully understand at the highest level how and why to complete these tasks then a bad example with be mimicked and the same normalization of deviance and compromise of safety will occur. The following details the critical steps the leader must take to ensure the specific equipment is functional while displaying a high level of competence.

SCBA Equipment Check

The pre-shift SCBA equipment check has to be full service and not stop at a quick glance verifying its existence on the apparatus. The steps for this check are as follows:

  • Visually inspect the unit for proper cleanliness and assembly
  • Make sure all harness straps are fully loosened
  • Check the air pressure on the cylinder (if it’s not full, change it)
  • Make sure the donning switch on the facepiece is activated
  • Open the cylinder valve completely, allowing the system to charge
  • Allow the PASS pre-alarm to activate and reset by rocking the lower end of the unit
  • Visually inspect the facepiece and ensure harness straps are loosened
  • Check the chest mounted gauge for proper representation of cylinder pressure
  • Connect the facepiece to the regulator
  • Operate the emergency bypass or purge to ensure air flow is present
  • Don the facepiece and take a breath to activate the flow of air
  • Activate the donning switch to stop the air flow
  • Remove the facepiece
  • Close the cylinder valve
  • Bleed the system down using the emergency bypass, listening for the low air alarm to activate at 33% of the system capacity
  • Allow the PASS pre-alarm to activate and cycle into full PASS alarm
  • Reset the PASS by pressing the yellow reset button twice
  • Manually activate the PASS alarm via the red button
  • Reset the PASS by pressing the yellow reset button twice
  • Check the UAC and EBSS hose

Now that you are confident your SCBA is full of air and operational, it is time to check your thermal imaging camera.

Thermal Imaging Camera

It is common for units that only carry one thermal imaging camera to assign that camera to the officer. Once again another critical piece of equipment in the ensemble. A proper check of the TIC includes:

  • Visual inspection of the unit for cleanliness and lens obstructions
  • Power the unit on
  • Check battery indicator for full charge (change if below full charge)
  • View screen for proper contrast and test on a known warm object
  • Check spare battery charge level and location

You should never assume and always personally confirm the proper readiness of your equipment. Taking care of these three vital parts of your PPE ensemble before shift change sends a strong message to others of the importance you place on your personal responsibility for your safety. It also demonstrates your competence as related to your personal perfective equipment.