Kudos to the Long Beach fire chief for making the sound decision to remove fire department lifeguard personnel from the marine fire suppression mission. This important step will pay dividends in the safety of the public, firefighters, and inadequately trained lifeguard members who were tasked with performing firefighting duties.
Firefighting is a dangerous activity for an experienced individual, properly trained to the standards established by the State Fire Training office of the State Fire Marshal. This job can become especially difficult when conducting firefighting operations in a marine environment aboard a vessel. The myriad of hazards associated with this job, whether at pier, mooring, or at anchorage include access and egress issues, as well as confined space and hazardous materials cargo challenges. Dewatering, hazardous power control, navigation and vessel control add to the manifold of problems involving marine firefighting efforts. The statement by Deputy Chief Rich Brandt, regarding training and safety concerns, speaks to the core of the issue.
In California, the development of curriculum relative to firefighting job tasks falls exclusively under the purview of State Fire Training, a sub-set of the California State Fire Marshal’s office. This is where the finest practitioners of firefighting in California work collaboratively, using a peer review process, to ensure that the most up-to-date practices are memorialized for the training and education of individuals whose job duties include fire suppression activities. The efforts of fire service professionals serving on the Statewide Training and Education Advisory Committee (STEAC), of State Fire Training, is the gold standard of curriculum development for any discipline that is tasked with firefighting duties.
California law mandates that employers train their employees in any job task that involves risk. Clearly, the city of Long Beach and their fire chief are wisely taking corrective action in an effort to address training deficiencies for their lifeguard members for duties that involve undue risk.
The leadership demonstrated by the Long Beach fire chief should be seen as a model for other organizations that staff firefighting resources with inadequately trained personnel. The Orange County Sheriff Harbor Patrol, San Diego Harbor Patrol, and San Diego Fire-Rescue lifeguards should all follow the lead of the Long Beach Fire Department and provide standardized firefighter training, using a curriculum developed by State Fire Training, for all employees who function as marine firefighters.