Do It Right The First Time

I can't remember if I blogged this before, but if so, it bears repeating. When my brother and I were very young, my father, who was also a fire chief, brought home from work some pencils with the phrase, "Do it right the first time" inscribed on them. This message was brought up by my father many times throughout my life, although I'll admit, there are days even today when something goes wrong and I think back to that message.

It may take extra time that you don't think you have. That time may seem very valuable. The shortcut you take may seem like it saves those precious seconds. But I have seen in my life, many times when those shortcuts have proven catastrophic, and in most of those situations, I look at them and wonder, had someone taken a few extra moments to do it right, what the outcome might have been.

While the historical issue between response to rescues in New York City is frustrating and sad, since it seems to me to be the confluence of a power struggle and turf battle, instead of celebrating a terrific save the other day, instead we have this tragedy to contend with, as shared with us by Dave Statter on his blog.

I have always learned and always taught that when lifting, we "crib to the lift". And while the spreaders are not the desired lifting tool, I have used them before and they have worked just fine. I preface that, however by explaining that I am also passionate about physics and when I have used spreaders, I also understood that the force applied must go somewhere, and if the load isn't stabilized, the force is going to create motion we don't want. In this case, the force displaced the object alright: lateral to the support (the spreader) and with nothing to support the load (cribbing) the load went to ground (and victim).

I don't care if you are FDNY, ESU, or anyone else. I have seen this very same shortcut taken before in departments that have had identically catastrophic results. I also recall other times when the load has shifted on the column, in one case, three stacked air bags.  In this case, the firefighter, who happened to also be the salesman of the lift bags and should have a little expertise in their use, himself was killed.

There's a lesson to be learned in every tragedy. Aside from the physical principles that apply to all of us here on this planet, there's another very important one. Driving recklessly, failing to wear your seatbelt, not wearing proper PPE, not paying attention to overhead power lines, and in this case, not providing an alternate column to support the load via cribbing, all might seem like they are saving precious seconds, but failing to do the right thing the first time, ended instead in tragedy.

Take a moment to ditch the emotion and be the professionals you are. Do the right thing the first time.

  • Anonymous

    I couldn't agree more.  It's sad to see that an apparent turf war led to the mess on that video.  Especially with FDNY on scene, with lifting bags and cribbing, there's really no excuse for what the ESU did.  If there was some delay, one might have argued in favor of going with resources available, but that certainly was not the case here when they even moved the airbags away.
    As an aside, in the NIOSH report you refer to from 2003, you seem to draw attention to the fact that the bags were stacked 3 high.  These appear to be ResQTec bags.  Without getting into the discussion of whether it's good or not, the manufacturer *does* rate them to be stacked 3 high, so at least that part of it was in keeping with the manufacturer's use guidelines.  Good to know about the risk though.  I spoke with them a bit in Baltimore this year but didn't know about the history.

  • Michael “Mick” Mayers


    You don't have to be anonymous here, but I respect that.  That's interesting about the ResQTec bags, I didn't know that.  I'll have to look into that.  I do know that one of the reasons we don't ordinarily stack more than two bags is because of the decreased surface area as the bag bulges to create a column.  While the contact area changes the LD/50% ratio for the column, it is also more unstable, but without going to the RQT site, if I remember, the way those are constructed DO allow that per the manufacturer, so you have a valid point.  It does make me nervous though to think we'd be stacking three and now I'll have to go back and see what all the details were of that event.

    But that all being said, I wouldn't care if I were lifting with pinch bars and a fulcrum, we still need to crib to the lift.  It's not necessarily the use of spreaders I debate but the failure to crib and to stabilize the load.

    Thanks for commenting.  I encourage people to respectfully challenge me, because that's how I learn.  And thanks for reading.

  • Smitty

    Great post Mick!! Lift an inch, Crib in inch is hummered into our heads for a reason!

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Michael "Mick" Mayers

Deputy Fire Chief - Operations Division for Hilton Head Island (SC) Fire Rescue and an Emergency Response Coordinator with the United States Department of Health and Human Services  National Disaster Medical System Incident Response Coordination Team.

FE Talk: Humpday Hangout

Barbara Lander Burger
The Annapolis Mansion Fire, Investigating, and of course, The Haters
You know sometimes asking questions is a good thing. Sometimes wrong is committed and people try to cover it up. Thank Heaven for the skeptics, the questioners. As sad as the situation is, it would be worse if someone has done something terrible and then gets away with it. Since when is it a problem…
2015-01-27 22:26:00
The Annapolis Mansion Fire, Investigating, and of course, The Haters
Well said. The general public has no idea of all the hard work involved. What a difficult task this has to have been for all involved. Prayers for all, especially the family.
2015-01-27 04:06:00
Frank S. Brewer Jr.
The Annapolis Mansion Fire, Investigating, and of course, The Haters
Well put Mick. After 44 years in Fire/Rescue/EMS I am always amazed at the civilians telling me how it should be done. Fire investigation is hard work and never rewarding, having worked for a private fire investigator, who died due to exposure to the scene environments, the satisfaction you get is finding cause after that…
2015-01-25 15:55:00
Mick Mayers
Someone I Would Have Liked To Have Known
Ruth, Thanks for the comment, although like Tom said, you missed my point. What I was saying is that I am honored and impressed that someone who not so long ago would not have been given a chance - for reasons of race and gender- was given those accolades. She is someone I would have…
2014-12-12 11:24:00
Tom Bouthillet
Someone I Would Have Liked To Have Known
There are plenty of white males who don't deserve to be firefighters. The most qualified individual should get the job regardless of race or gender. That doesn't always happen for a variety of reasons that don't need to be hashed out here. But way to miss Chief Mayers' point entirely.
2014-12-11 12:08:00

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Although I am affiliated or employed by certain entities, I in no way speak in this forum or others on behalf of those entities unless I have specifically stated such. Any implication otherwise is doing so contrary to my agreements with those entities. The result is that the observations and opinions by myself or on behalf of Firehouse Zen are not sanctioned by any other entity other than Graffiti Train Sherpa Publications and are protected by the copyright laws of the United States of America.

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