Calming the Chaos
Funding helps firefighters train with nationally recognized fire service leader
It’s hard to imagine calm in the face of a furious fire, raging out of control.
When the tones of the pager sound, firefighters ignite into action. Once on the scene – whether a multi-vehicle crash or a house fully engulfed in flames – chaos cannot be an option.
With the help of Small Project Partnership Funding through Sourcewell, firefighters from departments throughout central Minnesota and beyond had an opportunity to learn from and train with a nationally recognized leader in the fire service.
‘Calm the Chaos! Mastering Fireground Command’ was a two-day course held at the Brainerd Fire Hall in December 2019. Presenter and author of the curriculum was Anthony Kastros, a 32-year veteran of the fire service and retired Battalion Chief with the Sacramento (CA) Metro Fire District.
Crosslake Fire Chief Chip Lohmiller applied for the Small Project Partnership funding that helped bring Kastros – and his message – to the region. With the additional contribution of $5,000 from the Minnesota Board of Firefighter Training and Education, Lohmiller was able to offer the course free-of-charge to firefighters from Aitkin, Cass, Crow Wing, Morrison, and Todd counties.
Command and communications
According to the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, the top five causes of line-of-duty firefighter deaths and injuries include improper risk assessment, lack of incident command, lack of accountability, inadequate communications, and lack of standard operating procedures or failure to follow established SOPs.
In Calm the Chaos, Kastros focuses on each of those five factors and how they can be mitigated through proper incident management and a commonsense approach. For example, Kastros suggests assigning firefighters within an incident to divisions or groups. Doing so decreases overall radio communication or chatter and increases situational awareness and responsibility.
Creating a clear and concise channel of communication is key, Lohmiller explained.
“Anthony encourages an adaptive type of communication structure,” Lohmiller said. “The role of officers is more important and delegating responsibility becomes critical. Each of the techniques Anthony presented challenged our current ideas and operations.”
On the same page(r)
As department leaders edge closer to retirement, the fire service must consider succession planning. Lohmiller said of those participating in the Calm the Chaos training, more than half were firefighters not yet in a leadership position within their department.
“It’s important for any firefighter to understand the structure of proper scene command,” Lohmiller noted. “What Anthony said not only made sense, but it could also be easily applied and implemented in any area or department. And by having representation from other regional fire departments, we are all better able to use the same language and work more cohesively.”
Just days after completing the Calm the Chaos course, the Crosslake Fire Department was called to provide mutual aid at a residential chimney fire. Lohmiller said firefighters on the scene were promptly assigned to divisions and given specific areas of responsibility, allowing the commanding officer to have a strategic view of the entire incident.
“It was a great opportunity to apply the concepts from our training and to see ideologies become actions,” Lohmiller said. “When we’re able to take an emergency situation from chaos to calm, we’re decreasing the odds for incidents and increasing the safety of our firefighters.”