Director Moatts joined the IAFC as the Southeastern Division executive director in December 2013.
Prior to joining the SEAFC Ms. Moatts was the New Business Development/ Project Coordinator with a major distributor of uniforms and safety equipment serving the Greater Charleston area. Ms. Moatts was able to secure the contract for fire and ems uniforms for all government organizations through her affiliation with JPTA, a nationally funded procurement association.
While serving with the SEAFC, Ms. Moatts took the association to a new level of governance structure by
Assisting the executive board in updating existing policies, adding new policies and procedures to help
Enhance the organization and encourage growth not only financially but also in sustained revenue streams.
Ms. Moatts was appointed to Vision 20/20 Initiative task force, created by the Institute of Fire Safety Engineers to represent the Southeastern Division Chiefs in promoting fire safety awareness and education in the targeted states of Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee and West Virginia. The appointment grew to working at the blessing of the IAFC Fire & Safety Section and Mr. Jim Crawford. Ms. Moatts led the collaboration of appointing SME from each state fire chief association to attend the Vision 20/20 Summit. This led to the nationwide discussion of fire safety awareness and education and furthered the nationwide cause.
Ms. Moatts also worked with the American Red Cross Initiative to distribute smoke alarms. Ms. Moatts
Worked with local agencies “boots on the ground” to locate high-risk neighborhoods and educate the citizens on fire safety and the importance of smoke detectors.
Ms. Moatts joined the Southwestern Division in October 2015 and continues to work with the present administration to improve governance as well as promote the annual conference by locating talented speakers and instructors to improve the divisions relevance and bring more of what the members have requested.
Here is a brief resume of Director Moatts positions held
- Recognized as regional new business development salesperson of the year for 2011 & 2012- Unifirst Corporation
- Member of National Manufactured Housing Commission-Alabama Chapter Code Enforcement Division 1998-2002
- Safety Director Glidewell Specialties Foundry 2005-2009
- Committee member of Gatlinburg Wildfire Recovery and Resources established by the Tennessee Fire Marshal’s office and Tennessee Fire Chiefs Association- 2016
- Vision 20/20 Task Force representative of Southeastern and Southwestern Divisions
- Incident Commander responsible for SEAFC Leadership Conference 2015 and 2017
Fire Chief Dennis Pacheco
Company Commander (Lieutenant)
Las Cruces Fire Department
Las Cruces, New Mexico
President – Las Cruces Professional Firefighters Association
Vice President – New Mexico Professional Firefighters Association
LCFD SCBA/Air Maintenance Manager
Shift Commander (Deputy Fire Chief)
NASA Fire Department
White Sands Test Facility
Las Cruces, New Mexico
2003-2013 Operations Chief
2013-2014 EMS Chief
2015 – Present
NASA Fire Department
White Sands Test Facility
Las Cruces, New Mexico
Volunteer Fire Department History
Dona Ana Volunteer Fire Department
1990 – Captain
1991 – Asst. Chief
1994 – 2012 Fire Chief
President – Dona Ana County Fire Officer’s Association
Vice President (NM) IAFC Southwestern Division 2005 – Present
Retired Fire Chief James Fullingim has been a member of the Norman Fire Department since 1981. In that time he has advanced through the ranks holding
all fire suppression positions in the chain of command; Firefighter, Driver/Engineer, Captain, Assistant Chief and Deputy Chief and was appointed to the Fire
Chief’s position in June 2006. He serves as both the Chief of the Norman Fire Department and the Emergency Management Director for the City of Norman.
Chief Fullingim has completed the University of Maryland’s National Fire Service Staff and Command Course. He is a past president of both the
Southwestern Division of the International Association of Fire Chiefs and OKC Metro Chiefs Association. Chief Fullingim has an Associate Degree in
Municipal Fire Protection from OSU-OKC, and a Bachelor’s Degree in Management and Ethics from MACU.
Human Relations: Managing within the context of a fire organization
• September 2018 • Chief Robert Benoit – 2nd Vice President, IAFC-SW Division – Fire Chief Lafayette Fire Department
The basic principles for managing one’s personal and family life, a private corporation (small or large) and both for-profit and nonprofit businesses are similar to those needed to manage a fire department. These management processes provide an orderly structure to achieving goals and objectives through delegated authority under competent leadership.
Within the context of a fire organization, effective management is a learned behavior that demands continuous training, requires team spirit and provides a strong disciplinary influence.
The NFPA Fire Protection Handbook, Section 10, Chapter 1, states
Almost all fire departments were administered by clearly defined organizational structures long before system techniques were applied to industry and business. A system of task allocation to engine and ladder crews was developed whereby each person on the apparatus performed certain functions in sequence so the team operated as a coordinated unit, without duplication of effort.
Most fire departments are structured around this traditional model, and with it, leaders have a firm foundation to build on; continuous training, team spirit and influence are some of their construction tools.
On June 15, my department held its 101st recruit academy graduation, with 17 graduates who started their training in January. The academies are six months long, with the objective of making sure each recruit has the foundation needed to perform in an effective manner during the working test period, which totals 18 months of probationary status. At the end of the working test period, they’re confirmed as permanent firefighters.
This is where the real training begins, and it will continue throughout their careers.
Effective leaders in the fire service are no different than those they manage. Management principles must start at the top and flow downward through the chain of command. Lower-level officers often find it difficult to practice leadership styles different from their superiors if we are not practicing what we preach.
Common sense is not without its merits. However, it’s just one tool mangers use, along with consistent education and training, to help members understand that decisions made at the member level may resolve an issue temporarily but that some decisions need to be made from a wider perspective, such as seen by the department leadership, to have lasting effects.
If you are going to wear the jersey, become a team player. A spirit of cooperation is a powerful tool, meaning sometimes you will have to change your focus and direction for the betterment of the organization. Staff meetings are critical, can be very efficient and should be inclusive. All aspects of the department, both supervisors and members, should be able to sit at the table and present ideas to management on a regular basis.
The fire and emergency service is a very complex field that is constantly evolving, often very rapidly. Individual skills can make or break an organization and can best be managed when the leaders feel the pulse, which can only happen in a huddle (that is, staff meetings).
When employees are given the opportunity to provide input, self-ownership takes over and the stronger players have a way of getting the weaker players to buy into their goals and objectives. As a manager and part of the team, you have the authority to make things happen. Never let power keep you on the sidelines.
Black’s Law Dictionary defines influence as
“Power exerted over others. To affect, modify or act upon by physical, mental or moral power, especially in some gentle, subtle and gradual way.”
A lot can be said about influence depending on who is in charge. I like the phrase “gentle, subtle and gradual way” because it takes the sting out of having to use force to achieve goals and objectives in running an efficient fire service organization. The truism “you can catch more flies with honey than vinegar” goes a long way in making people feel appreciated.
Managers are held to a higher standard and are always being watched, filmed, recorded and scrutinized. Managers can get in trouble for off-duty actions, sometimes forgetting we’re always on the radar. Fire service leaders who excel do so because they’re on top of their games. More often than not, we forget that we’re human; it’s not the big things hurting us, but the illegal, unethical or immoral acts that destroy us because we don’t think things through.
Education = Knowledge = Success = Power
As an administrator, you have the authority to manage the performance within your organization. It takes a long time to build character and excel to the level of leadership in the fire service. It only takes a split second to crash and burn. As a leader, you owe it to yourself, your family and the entire fire service to finish strong, making a colossal impact on the organization you represent.
Chief Benoit is a member of the IAFC Human Relations Committee and currently sits on the executive board of the IAFC-Southwestern Division
by Dr. Curt Sumners
(and it’s lasting effects of your qualify of life)
Is defined as not obtaining adequate total sleep. When someone is in a chronic sleep-restricted state they’ll notice excessive daytime sleepiness, fatigue, clumsiness, and weight gain or weight loss. In addition, being sleep-deprived affects both the brain and cognitive function.
Firefighters often don’t get enough sleep. Sleep deprivation can lead to real problems, including safety concerns. During sleep, pathways form between nerve cells (neurons) in your brain that help you remember new information you’ve learned. Sleep deprivation leaves your brain exhausted, so it can’t perform its duties as well. You may also find it more difficult to concentrate or learn new things. The signals your body sends may also come at a delay, decreasing your coordination skills and increasing your risks for accidents.
Sleep deprivation negatively affects your mental abilities and emotional state. You may feel more impatient or prone to mood swings. It can also compromise decision-making processes and creativity
Sleep is a necessary bodily function that cannot be replicated through any other means. Fire service leaders need to let go of the attitude that “we don’t pay you to sleep” and firefighters need to lose the idea that they can function just as well in the 48th hour being awake as they did in the first.
Assuring quality sleep for firefighters is a health and wellness issue whose time is long overdue. Lives depend on it.
Steps for better sleep
1. First and most importantly, departments must recognize that adequate sleep is a wellness and performance issue equal to other priorities such as strength fitness, diet, and agility.
2. Fire departments should evaluate current logistics for sleep and consider changes. Some positive changes can be made quite simply — installing fans or white noise generating machines in common dorms, for example:
The room or place that is used for sleeping, should be relaxing and quiet. Lights, noises, a room that’s too hot or cold, or an uncomfortable bed, can keep people/firefighters from getting the sleep that they need. A dark room is more conductive for sleep, both night and day. The temperature should be 60 to 65 degrees Fahrenheit. Loud sudden noises from outside as well as the inside should be kept to a minimum. How old your mattresses,
Mattresses and foundations do wear out
•Cheaper is not better for the budget you will end up replacing sub standard mattresses more frequently
• Should be supportive and comfortable
• 10 or more inches is good, 8 inches should be a minimum,
• Many of the newer Foam, Cool Gel Mattresses Are good
• The newer Hybrid mattresses (Spring and gel foam) offer superior support and excellent comfort
• A good mattress manufacturer should offer a 10 year manufacturer’s warranty
Reasons Why You SHOULD Replace Your Mattress Every 5 to 7 years
1. Hygiene Your bed is made of absorbent fabrics so over the years as you sleep on it bacteria, germs, sweat and debris such as skin, scales, hair, dust mites etc. are being built up in the mattress materials.
Gross, I know. The good news is if you clean your mattress regularly, change the sheets, and maybe even use a mattress protector you can extend the lifespan of your mattress. 5 to 7 years is the general rule of thumb. If your mattress is particularly grimy you may want to replace sooner.
2. Comfort The second main reason why we recommend replacing your mattress so frequently is for your own good or, at least your own comfort. If you find yourself tossing and turning at night a quick solution may be to replace your old mattress with a new one. Over time, a mattress loses its firmness and begins to sag in the middle. This can make it uncomfortable to sleep in and over time can cause back pain. It may be time for you to replace your old mattress.
3. Health Last but certainly not least the 3rd reason why everyone should consider replacing their mattress every 5 to 7 years is for health reasons. Like it or not our bodies are constantly changing. What was comfortable for you many years ago may no longer suit your sleep now. Not to mention, many common health problems like INSOMNIA , BACK PAIN and SLEEP DEPRIVATION may be caused by your bad mattress. (this is particularly important for the Fire and EMS industry)
4. Do an assessment of the current state of sleep fitness among members. As much as possible, gather data anonymously to get an honest picture of how department members manage sleep both on and off the job.
5. Allow appropriate naps on duty. Numerous studies have shown that brief naps of 30 minutes or less can make a positive difference in cognition and reflexes for someone who is exhausted.
6. Make resources available for those who are suffering from sleep disorders. Do not stigmatize the use of these resources.
7. Reconsider shift scheduling and overtime rules to diminish the effects of sleep deprivation on emergency response.
Taking steps to minimize the effects of sleep deprivation keeps your liability down and improves the overall health of your firefighters.
Dates October 2nd, 3rd and 4th 2018 in Fayetteville, AR
Instructor and Speaker Line-up
THE MOST CHALLENGING SHIFT YOU’LL WORK
Preparing for public safety retirement
By Shirl Tyner
Some people think about it from time to time. Some people dream about it. Some people can’t even imagine it. Some people already did it. What, you ask? Retirement. Are you ready?
After a career in public safety, you probably have an idea of the legacy you’ve built and the effect your departure will have on the agency. But have you thought about the impact leaving will have on you? Public safety agencies prepare for retirements though succession plans, but most do a very poor job preparing the actual retirees. And this matters, because retirement is not easy.
Dying for the Job
Perhaps public safety retirement is not easy because working in public safety itself is not easy. We lack good statistics about suicide among public safety personnel, but what we do know is alarming. Police and firefighters rank sixth on the Center for Disease Control’s list of occupations by suicide. One study showed firefighters are three times more likely to die from suicide than a line-of-duty death, and the number of firefighters lost to suicide has increased each year for the last five years. The Firefighter Behavioral Health Alliance has documented 175 firefighter retiree suicides—36 of whom took their lives in the first week of retirement.
It’s even worse for law enforcement. The occupational fatality rate of law enforcement officers is three to five times greater than the national average. As John Violanti documented in his 2014 book, Dying for the Job, male officers commit suicide at a rate 8.3 times greater than those who are murdered on the job, 3.1 times greater than those killed in work accidents, and 4 times greater than firefighters.
Contributing factors to suicide by public safety employees include:
- Shift work and sleep disorders. In addition to increasing your risk of arteriosclerosis, hypertension and cardiac problems, shift work has a recognized impact on psychological health. Officers working non-day shifts are 14 times more likely to sleep less than 6 hours per day and a 40-year-old study of suicide links shift work with suicidal ideation.
- Alcohol abuse. Although studies vary, some have shown as many as 25 percent of law enforcement officers in the United States abuse alcohol. Firefighters binge drink twice as often as the general population.
- PTSD and emotional trauma. Often, alcohol abuse among public safety personnel is an attempt to escape the emotional suffering of the job. None of us is immune to the stress caused by a career’s worth of emergency calls. For some, that stress becomes debilitating.
These contributing factors don’t disappear with retirement. In fact, they may get worse. In a way, retiring from public safety is much like a grieving process. We have made differences in people’s lives and when we retire it’s easy to lose that sense of purpose and believe our lives no longer have the same value. We feel like something has been taken from us and we lose our identity.
Note: Among all these statistics about firefighters and law enforcement officers, what is missing? If you said civilian employees, volunteers, support staff, EMTs, nurses, etc., you’re right! The number of people affected goes way up when you include—as we should—all members of public safety.
The Next Big Change
When we think about retirement, we think about the things we look forward to doing—travel, reading, sports, time with friends, church, volunteering and maybe even a part-time job. These are all wonderful ideas, but for public safety employees, retirement can be extremely difficult. Many public safety employees cannot even picture themselves outside the job. This isn’t what we do but who we are.
So when you retire, what will you miss? For starters, the people. This is a family, your family, one you’ve never been without and never want to be without. You’ll miss your partners, those you have worked beside and counted on, vented to, protected and leaned on, the ones who always had your back. There’s also the activity—the sights, smells, touches and tastes. Let’s not forget that adrenaline rush, hearing the dispatcher over the radio and the rush of getting to the call. And being part of something so great, something you never imagined being without.
Retirement is the next great adventure after all this. But it’s a mistake to look at your life and see a clear dividing line between your life in public safety and your life after public safety. In fact, retirement is another in a series of changes you’ve been experiencing your entire life.
Believe it or not, you have changed during your career. And I’m not just talking about your physique! You have changed physically, mentally, spiritually and emotionally. Maybe you’ve put on a few pounds. Have you grown more sluggish or more alert over the years? Has your faith become deeper and more personal, or has it waned? How do you deal with emotional turmoil now compared to 20 or 30 years ago?
Remember when you promoted? You probably asked your friends and family to not ever let you forget where you came from. You wanted to promote and be the best supervisor you could be, but you never wanted to be “one of them.” Now is a good time to remind yourself of that.
When you look at retirement as another in a series of changes, it’s possible to be as excited about retiring as you were about entering public safety when you were younger. Knowing that you have changed, believe that you can and will change again—mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually. You are no longer part of your job even though the job is a huge part of who you have become. And that is not necessarily a bad thing.
Retirement requires preparation. The more you plan, the smoother this transition will go. Here are just a few considerations:
- Think about how you’ll spend your free time. Maybe it’s a second career, additional education or time with the grandkids. When you retire, you no longer answer to the clock or the phone. You have more free time than ever before. You have more time for that “honey do” list, and more time to spend with family and friends. And while free time is nice, it can also be terrifying to face an endless series of days with nothing you have to do.
- Discuss your schedule change with your family. Sure, they have always wished you didn’t work at night or on the holidays and they want you home more often. But when you retire you must fit into their schedules. Their schedules didn’t change, yours did. Do you fit or are you interfering?
- Prepare for a change in income. Even with a pension, retirement requires a clear-eyed look at your finances. You may need to see a financial counselor and develop a budget that accounts for expenses such as travel and healthcare.
- Expect a hard hit. If you’re lucky, you won’t experience an emotional toll, but it’s best to be prepared for the loss of friends, loneliness, the feeling you’ve been forgotten and the concern that you didn’t leave the legacy you strived for. Exercise self-care and seek help if you see warning signs, such as emotional detachment, depression, spending too much alone time, abusing alcohol or drugs, or trying to stay involved in the job when you no longer have a place there.
Make sure you are ready to retire and don’t give in to outside influences. Go when you know the time is right for you! Don’t make a rushed, emotional decision. You’ve always controlled your career, now you must control your retirement—and your preparation for it.
Make It Count
It is easy to forget how much we love being needed until we no longer are. Watching the lights and hearing the sirens go somewhere without you is a bittersweet experience. Curiosity about the call, memories of past calls, and the desire to help all flood in.
Now, those of you who can’t wait to retire and don’t have to worry about any of this, I say hallelujah and lucky you! For the rest of us, attitude is everything. It is the key to understanding you are not who you were, that you earned this retirement and that you deserve to enjoy it. So, make it count! You love what you do or you would not be doing it. You were born with a servant’s heart. How can you put that to work in your retirement? After all, it’s retirement, not death!
As Charles Swindoll said, life is 10 percent what happens to us and 90 percent how we react to it. We may not be able to stop retirement from coming, but we can choose how we react to it.
So here’s to a happy, healthy retirement—and on to the greatest adventure of all!
Shirl Tyner is a Management Services Representative for Lexipol and has 25 years of law enforcement experience as a civilian (non-sworn) employee, serving with the Oceanside (CA) Police Department and the Tustin (CA) Police Department. Shirl has experience as a Trauma Intervention Volunteer and has been heavily involved in peer support, with a special focus on PTSD. A graduate of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Deputy Leadership Institute, she has a bachelor’s degree in Psychology and a Graduate Certificate in Forensics and Crime Scene Investigations and is currently working on a master’s degree in Forensic Science. Shirl teaches Criminal Justice and Forensic courses at both the high school and college levels.
NFPA releases the world’s first active shooter/hostile event standard with guidance on whole community planning, response, and recovery
Timely, critical document was developed with insight from law enforcement, fire, EMS, medical providers, facility managers, private industry, DHS, the CIA, FBI and others
May 1, 2018 – The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) released NFPA 3000TM (PS), Standard for an Active Shooter / Hostile Event Response (ASHER) Program to help communities holistically deal with the fast-growing number of mass casualty incidents that continue to occur throughout the world. Serving as the first of its kind, NFPA 3000 provides unified planning, response and recovery guidance, as well as civilian and responder safety considerations.
“The NFPA 3000 process, from start to finish, has been an exceptional example of emergency responders and other safety-focused practitioners swiftly coming together to provide invaluable perspective and address a significant threat in our world,” NFPA President and CEO Jim Pauley said. “The proactive, integrated strategies recommended and defined in NFPA 3000 will go a long way in helping communities plan, respond and recover from active shooter and hostile events.”
This marks only the second time in NFPA’s 122-year history that they have issued a provisional standard. Provisional standards are developed in an expedited process to address an emergency situation or other special circumstance.
After the Pulse Nightclub massacre in June of 2016, Chief Otto Drozd of Orange County Fire in Florida requested that NFPA develop a standard to help authorities come together and create a well-defined, cohesive plan that works to minimize harm and maximize resiliency. NFPA responded by establishing the NFPA Technical Committee on Cross Functional Emergency Preparedness and Response. In mid-April, NFPA 3000 was issued by the NFPA Standards Council, making it the first consensus document related to active shooter and hostile events.
The 46-member Technical Committee responsible for NFPA 3000 is NFPA’s largest startup Committee, to date, with representation from law enforcement, the fire service, emergency medical services, hospitals, emergency management, private security, private business, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Department of Justice, and many more. Committee members provided job-specific insight and real world observations from mass killings at Mandalay Bay Resort, Pulse Nightclub, Sandy Hook Elementary, the Sikh Temple, the Boston Marathon, and other less publicized events.
NFPA 3000 helps entire communities organize, manage, communicate, and sustain an active shooter/hostile event preparedness, response, and recovery program. In addition to offering NFPA 3000 via a new digital subscription – which will be updated automatically when the next edition becomes available – NFPA is offering an Online Training Series (the first of three courses are available now); a downloadable checklist; a readiness assessment document; and fact sheet for authorities to learn more about establishing a proactive, collaborative active shooter/hostile event program.
Some have asked why NFPA would be the organization to develop an active shooter standard. “For more than a century, NFPA has facilitated a respected consensus process that has produced some of the most widely used codes and standards in the world including more than 100 that impact first responders. Our purview goes far beyond our fire safety efforts as evidenced by our ongoing work to address new hazards with professionals in public safety, emergency management, community risk, electrical services, the energy sector, engineering, the chemical and industrial industries, healthcare, manufacturing, research, the government, and the built environment. The recent increase in active shooter incidents and the fire service involvement in them warranted NFPA’s standards development expertise, and the timely development of NFPA 3000,” Pauley said.
About the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA)
Founded in 1896, NFPA is a global, nonprofit organization devoted to eliminating death, injury, property and economic loss due to fire, electrical and related hazards. The association delivers information and knowledge through more than 300 consensus codes and standards, research, training, education, outreach and advocacy; and by partnering with others who share an interest in furthering the NFPA mission. For more information, visit www.nfpa.org. All NFPA codes and standards can be viewed online for free at www.nfpa.org/freeaccess.
Responding to Fentanyl Incidents:
First Responder Safety Considerations
Article provided by Lexipol- Strategic Partner of IAFC-SW Division
Written by Sean W. Stumbaugh, Battalion Chief (Retired)
The use of mind-altering substances by humans is nothing new. Since the first person left a bowl of grain out in the rain, and then the sun and wild yeast did their thing, humans have had access to beer. Additional intoxicating substances followed through different methods of discovery. How people figured out that the milky substance contained in the un-ripened seed pod of the poppy flower is a powerful drug is beyond me. This drug is opium.
Opium use in America is also nothing new. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, a substance called laudanum was very popular. This product was a mixture of 10 percent opium and alcohol. Laudanum was available as an over-the-counter drug. It was basically the aspirin of its time and was recommended for pain relief for many common ailments and for serious diseases such as tuberculosis. The problem with laudanum is that it is highly addictive due to the opium content. As more and more people began to develop addictions, doctors began to discourage its use; government regulations restricting access to opioids soon followed.
Today, opium comes in many natural and synthetic forms. Modern pharmaceutical companies have created synthetic opioids (e.g., fentanyl, Dilaudid, Norco), which are much more powerful than their natural cousin. These medications were created to reduce pain and suffering for patients after injury or surgery and for those living with chronic pain. The problem is that humans tend to abuse these medications and can become addicted; take away the prescribed medications and some addicts will turn to street drugs out of desperation. Four in five new heroin users start out misusing prescription painkillers. Opioid abuse in the U.S. has become epidemic and many people are dying as a result.
I’m not going to get into the current debate on how fentanyl and related substances arrive on our streets; I am more concerned with their impact on first responders. We have seen numerous reports in the past several weeks of police, firefighters and emergency medical personnel being exposed to highly toxic opioids. These exposures have come through casual contact such as searching a car for drugs, brushing off a small amount of white powder (following a search in which the officer had used gloves and mask), touching a patient with a synthetic opioid on their person, or inhaling a drug after it was aerosolized from a flash/bang device. These recent events lead me to believe it might be time for a training refresher.
Risk from the Patient and the Material
A patient overdosing on opioids presents inherent risks to first responders. These drugs cause respiratory depression and we often find patients who aren’t breathing. Our first treatment options are to provide ventilation for the patient and administer Narcan (naloxone) if it is available. Naloxone will reverse the effects of the drug. Sometimes, when the patient becomes conscious, they are very agitated and can become violent. Also, they may have residue or greater amounts of the drug on their person. We need to be aware of these hazards and take appropriate precautions.
Hazardous Materials Refresher
First responders need to start approaching these incidents with a hazardous materials (hazmat) response mindset. I know it’s not practical for all responders to show up in Level A suits; that’s not what I’m talking about. We are taught from the beginning of our careers that hazmat calls are uniquely dangerous. Our first responsibility in these situations is to isolate the area and deny further entry of responders or civilians.
Many of the recent events where police officers and firefighters have been exposed to and become ill from fentanyl and other opiates have occurred through patient contact or contact with the drug by touching a contaminated object. If this happened at a hazmat call we would all say a policy or procedure had been violated. I’m not blaming the victim here but I am asking us to rethink our approach. We need to re-evaluate our mindset about responding to calls involving illicit drugs. We might need to start viewing them as hazmat calls.
Hazmat is defined as “A material or substance that poses a danger to life, property, or the environment if improperly stored, shipped or handled.” Based on the evidence I believe opioids fit this definition.
Routes of Exposure
There are four routes of exposure for a hazmat:
- Absorption (through your skin)
- Inhalation (through your lungs)
- Ingestion (though your mouth)
- Injection (by an object like a needle or through force such as liquid under pressure)
All four of these exposure routes are in play when it comes to illicit drugs. It is easy to understand that if you touched a drug with your finger, and then stuck your finger in your mouth, you would suffer an exposure to the drug. Or, if you were stuck by a hypodermic needle that was contaminated, you could be exposed to the drug. What about inhalation? Well, users often snort these materials through a straw, so exposure from breathing in the powder makes sense.
The most surprising exposure route, as noted by recent exposures to fentanyl, is absorption. The fact that just touching the material, or accidentally getting it on your skin, can cause you to become ill or intoxicated, and even overdose, is what is shocking to me. We need to take this issue seriously and protect ourselves from all routes of exposure.
How can we protect ourselves in a practical way when we encounter overdose calls daily? We need to have a “me first” attitude and use good decision-making, proper procedures and personal protective equipment (PPE).
I joined the fire service in the early 1980s—a time of discovery for bloodborne pathogens. As we encountered new communicable diseases, we realized we were potentially exposed when treating patients. We began training on and using the concepts of Universal Precautions.
Universal Precautions basically means “treat all blood and body fluids as if they were infectious.” We protected our hands with medical exam gloves, our eyes with protective eyewear, and our mouths and noses with medical masks. We didn’t wear masks for every call but we did use them when performing invasive procedures (e.g., intubating a patient’s airway). Many paramedics learned to wear a mask the hard way: by experiencing exposure to blood and other bodily fluids when performing these tasks.
We need to consider approaching drug overdoses, and drug investigations, with these principles in mind. What does this look like?
- If you suspect opioid use, ask safety-related questions about what substances may be present.
- Use hand protection (minimum and mandatory) at all potential overdose/drug investigation calls. To be sure you’re getting the maximum protection, use nitrile gloves rather than latex. One coroner’s office has indicated that latex gloves may allow absorption of synthetic opioids into the wearer’s skin.
- When encountering unknown substances, consider the use of N-95 masks, eye protection and paper covers for clothes and shoes.
- Handle patients and objects as if they were contaminated.
- Avoid (better yet, prohibit) cross-contamination. Only touch items with protected hands. Following the call, don’t touch anything until you have followed proper decontamination procedures
- If applicable under your EMS protocols, carry and be prepared to administer naloxone to patients and first responders who may become exposed.
If these steps sound burdensome, consider that they are common practices in settings such as dental offices.
For more guidance, access “Fentanyl: A Briefing Guide for First Responders,” recently released by the DEA.
Protect Yourself So You Can Protect Them
When we encounter new hazards in the workplace we need to evaluate the risk and develop new engineering and work practice controls to protect ourselves and our employees. The new threat of very powerful synthetic opioids, and the severe harm they cause, must be addressed in this manner. It’s difficult and maybe even impractical to avoid these hazards altogether; however, we need to try. If we can approach opioid overdose calls with a hazardous materials mindset, practice Universal Precautions, and slow down when there is discretionary time, we can reduce the risks and hopefully avoid any further injury.
It’s really about doing our jobs well, serving those we swore to protect—but still going home healthy at the end of the shift. Take care of yourselves and each other out there!
Sean Stumbaugh is a management services representative for Lexipol. He retired in 2015 after 32 years in the American fire service, serving as battalion chief for the Cosumnes Fire Department in Elk Grove, Calif., as well as the El Dorado Hills (Calif.) Fire Department and the Freedom (Calif.) Fire District. Sean has a master’s degree in Leadership and Disaster Preparedness from Grand Canyon University, a bachelor’s degree in Fire Science from Columbia Southern University, and an associate degree from Cabrillo College in Fire Protection Technology. In addition to his formal education, he is a Certified Fire Officer, Chief Officer, and Instructor III in the California State Fire Training certification program. Sean has taught numerous state fire training courses and has been an adjunct professor with Cosumnes River College in Sacramento. Sean is now continuing his career by serving as the volunteer Para-Chaplain for the Daisy Mountain Fire District in New River, AZ.
Lexipol’s Fire Policy Manual and Daily Training Bulletin Service provides essential policies to enhance the safety of firefighters in all areas of department operations, including emergency medical services. Contact us today to find out more.
FIREFIGHTER SAFETY IN WARMER WEATHER
By Scott Eskwitt
As we come into the spring months, it’s a good time to review some Lexipol policies relevant to the changing weather and firefighter safety conditions. The changing weather conditions create special issues impacting operations, personnel performance and firehouse safety. Additionally, remember your equipment needs specific attention both at the scene and back at the station.
Following are some policy areas to review with your crew in advance of responses that come with warmer weather conditions. Understanding their application will enhance firefighter safety and improve fire operations.
General Operations Incident Management: As the weather begins to warm, consider planning for personnel to establish and staff a Rehab Division upon arrival to a scene where investigation or operations may continue for longer than 30 minutes.
Emergency Response: Drivers should be aware of the potential for rapidly changing road conditions, including bridges freezing before roads, melting snow or freezing rain. The area around the station may be dry, but road conditions can change en route. Set engine retarders and traction controls according to department policy and as conditions dictate.
Swiftwater Rescue and Flood Search and Rescue Responses: With runoff from winter snowpack, local waterways may flow at a higher level and faster rate than normal, catching pedestrians and motorists off guard. Personnel should be reminded to wear appropriate PPE, including personal flotation devices. Only personnel trained for water search and rescue should participate in these operations.
Wildland Firefighting: Dry conditions already exist in many areas of the country and other areas are drying quickly. Refresher training on wildland fire tactics and response should be given to personnel.
Staging: When possible, avoid staging over running water from melting snow or ice. Consider staging away from surrounding conditions that could cause other vehicles to lose control or create unsafe conditions for personnel or apparatus.
Training Wildland Fire Shelter Deployment: Fire shelter deployment training should be provided for all personnel who respond to wildland fire incidents. A review of National Wildfire Coordinating Group pamphlet #2710 “The New Generation Fire Shelter” as well as practical exercises should be included.
This informative article is provided by our strategic partner Lexipol.