Despite why you chose a career in the fire service — to help people, excitement, tradition, opportunity, etc. the fact remains that it is one of the most dangerous professions out there. In our line of work, minutes and seconds count.

That's why it's imperative to use our time as efficiently as possible both out on calls and back at the station. One way to maximize productive use of time occurs at the beginning of your tour of duty during the morning truck checkout.

After having a conference with the off-going driver, part of my routine was to make sure that key items were always checked first, such as:

  • Water in the tank: The truck water tank has to be topped off. Do not accept it being slightly below full. That deficient amount may rob the crew of an extra minute needed to get out of a dangerous situation.
  • SCBAs on the truck: Same goes for SCBAs — a little below the full psi mark is not acceptable. That extra air could be valuable seconds needed to get out of the building or find refuge and activate a PASS alarm.
  • Personnel radios on the truck: The radios assure a way to transmit a "Mayday" or press the emergency button if necessary.
  • Nozzles on the hose lines: What good is a hose line without a nozzle on it? Your crew needs to have an effective stream to reach the seat of the fire or protect themselves and occupants in a home or building.

Keeping these and other basic items in check assures adequate water and effective delivery, reliable respiratory protection and dependable communication in an emergency. If dispatched right at the beginning of a shift, a crew would have the necessities covered.

Other items meriting checks are power tools used for ventilation and forcible entry. A common mistake is starting and revving up these tools to full peak RPM (I guess they feel they are getting the junk out), then immediately shutting them down and place them back on the truck.

A more effective way is to start and rev them up, then place them on the ground where no one will get hurt and let them idle for about five minutes. While the tools are idling, check something else on the truck, then shut them off. This allows the engine to reach its normal operating temperature, in turn helping the viscosity of the fuel/oil mixture to thin and aid in lubricating internal parts more effectively.

Another common mistake is leaving apparatus doors wide open at the scene of fires. It is important to keep the cab doors closed at fire scenes. I have seen the cab interior get damaged to the point that the seats melted from the radiant heat (where you spot the truck is also important).

Also, you do not want the products of combustion to infiltrate the A/C or heating system. Who wants to breathe those contaminants? Another reason to keep cab doors closed is because it's a place of refuge, providing adequate cool or warm air when firefighters need to cool down and rest, doff their gear and rehydrate.

The goal is to make sure you and your crew make it home in the morning alive and well and make it to retirement. Be safe!