Rapid Fire

Why Alternative PPE Matters

July 12, 2021 Battalion Chief Bob Keys Season 1 Episode 9
Why Alternative PPE Matters
Rapid Fire
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Rapid Fire
Why Alternative PPE Matters
Jul 12, 2021 Season 1 Episode 9
Battalion Chief Bob Keys

Listen in as Instructor Andy Starnes of Insight Training translates THL & TPP into firefighter speak, discusses why alternative matters to your health, and reviews advancements in firefighting technologies.


  • The History of THL and TPP
  • Positive Culture Changes in the Fire Service
  • The Reasons to Consider Alternative PPE
  • Cardiac Issues, Heat Stress, and Your Gear
  • Firefighting Tech Advancements


Instructor Andy Starnes of Insight Training is a lifelong student of the fire service and has been involved with the fire service as a volunteer since 1992 and as a career firefighter since 1998. He is a fire service website contributor on the topics of thermal imaging, fire behavior, leadership, modern fire terminology, and behavioral health. Andy is also the founder of Bringing Back Brotherhood, a nonprofit organization designed to guide firefighters in the areas of behavioral health and counseling.


Battalion Chief Keys
completed a total of 31 years of service, beginning as a firefighter for a high volume station in the Bronx. As a Captain and Lieutenant, he served various municipalities including Midtown Manhattan, until settling into East New York Brooklyn, where he became Battalion Chief. Within his new role he took charge of Research and Development where he learned how new innovations are tested and introduced to the fire service.

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Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Listen in as Instructor Andy Starnes of Insight Training translates THL & TPP into firefighter speak, discusses why alternative matters to your health, and reviews advancements in firefighting technologies.


  • The History of THL and TPP
  • Positive Culture Changes in the Fire Service
  • The Reasons to Consider Alternative PPE
  • Cardiac Issues, Heat Stress, and Your Gear
  • Firefighting Tech Advancements


Instructor Andy Starnes of Insight Training is a lifelong student of the fire service and has been involved with the fire service as a volunteer since 1992 and as a career firefighter since 1998. He is a fire service website contributor on the topics of thermal imaging, fire behavior, leadership, modern fire terminology, and behavioral health. Andy is also the founder of Bringing Back Brotherhood, a nonprofit organization designed to guide firefighters in the areas of behavioral health and counseling.


Battalion Chief Keys
completed a total of 31 years of service, beginning as a firefighter for a high volume station in the Bronx. As a Captain and Lieutenant, he served various municipalities including Midtown Manhattan, until settling into East New York Brooklyn, where he became Battalion Chief. Within his new role he took charge of Research and Development where he learned how new innovations are tested and introduced to the fire service.

Learn more about Fire-Dex products and services by visiting, www.firedex.com

Join the Conversation by Following Us at:
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/FireDex
Twitter: https://twitter.com/firedex
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/firedexgear/

2021-06 Season 1 Episode 9_The Right Gear for the Right Call

Retired FDNY Battalion Chief, Bob Keys: [00:00:00] . Hello and welcome to rapid fire, a podcast hosted by Fire-Dex, dedicated to sharing best practices and lessons learned in hopes of making firefighting a little bit safer. I'm your host, Bob keys, retired Battalion Chief from FDNY. We're fortunate to be joined today by Battalion Chief, Andy Starnes of the Charlotte Fire Department, who is also the founder of Insight Fire Training.

Before we get started, I'd like to ask him. To take a minute or less and tell everyone an interesting fact about his career. 

Charlotte FD Battalion Chief, Andy Starnes: [00:00:32] Oh, thanks Bob for having me, uh, thank you to the fire decks family and all your support. Interesting fact about my career is that my career was born out of chasing my dad around and basically going to the fire station to hang out.

And I had nothing to do with becoming a firefighter. My first monkey bars was a 1970. American love France, where while they were in meetings, our game was can we crawl from this firetruck to the last firetruck in the bay without touching the ground and not get hurt. And, you know, I'm crawling over metal and pose and all this at eight years old.

And now I got a daughter who's 11 and I'm like, don't touch that. You'll get hurt. You know, don't, don't go over there. So I'm such a helicopter parent where, when I was her age, I was doing much more dare Dave devil's stuff. The interesting thing about my, my career is that it all began because I just wanted to spend time with my family, my father.

So I think if your heart's in the right place, Your career is born out of that and that's how mine started was basically trying to seek out that love for what he had and why, and, and sharing that. So that's where I got my start and it's been an amazing ride. It'll be 30 years this year, since I started as a 16 year old junior firefighter.

And, uh, you may have to hang up the hat one day, but you don't have to hang up your heart in what you do. As you know, well, Bob, it's all about being a servant and helping others, so thank you for allowing me to share today. 

Retired FDNY Battalion Chief, Bob Keys: [00:01:57] I appreciate that you've taken time out of your very, very busy schedule and away from your family to be able to share what you've learned in your career, in the fire service and you're outstanding program, you do training firefighters across all 50 states in this country with Insight Fire Training. As I said to you the other day, um, I don't know. I have experience in wearing anything other than three layers of structural gear for any of the fires or emergencies that I responded to in my 31 years at FDNY, we were never issued anything else to wear; it's either station where or three layer structure.

You have shared with me that you've had opportunities to wear two layer alternative PPE, and I'm very fond of it. Can you give us some examples of where it really, really makes a difference in reducing that cardiovascular strain on yourself and on your fire? 

Charlotte FD Battalion Chief, Andy Starnes: [00:02:47] Well, I'd like before we talk about that, we have to have a comparison.

So yea, I think you've made a good statement there when you said you wore that three layer gear for 31 years. And when we only have that perspective, we really don't know anything else. So I wore three layer gear at my current department. I've been there 23 years. And it's the old joke is it's, it's so thick you could walk through Hades and get a suntan in it and never feel anything. Right? So it's overbuilt, if that makes sense. But Al Huxley, a famous humanist said what science has actually done is given us better ways to get ourselves killed and that's my paraphrase of some of our gear cause our gear is so good at protecting us from thermal insult, it actually stops some other things that our body normally needs to do.

And I had no clue. I'm just being brutally honest about two layer gear or a single layer gear and the benefits of it until I started wearing it doing our live burn training and I've always learned about TPP, but never understood THL no one ever talked about it; what it is, why it was important. Well I'm 45 years old, bout to have my 46th birthday 

And you go, we like to drop dead from 47 to 55. For what reason? Cardiac issues. And if you look, why are those cardiac issues occurring? We are stressing ourselves  () over exertion) and our heart is maxed out. And what is our skin and heart not able to do when we were three layer gear, it doesn't allow that sweat to evaporate and your body to do what it's supposed to.

Retired FDNY Battalion Chief, Bob Keys: [00:04:21] Andy, can you get a little deeper into THL total heat loss and TPP, thermal protector performance. I'm sure there's many firefighters that have listened to this podcast that I've never heard those terms before. So if you could just enlighten all of us out. 

Charlotte FD Battalion Chief, Andy Starnes: [00:04:36] I would say that, you know, for a young firefighter, I didn't understand it. And I, like I said, I've been at my current job 23 years now and been in the volunteers prior to that and never understood turnout gear the way I do now. And the thing that we do when we teach our thermal imaging class, we spend the first hour talking about heat and personal protective equipment and it's mind boggling because we asked them really two questions that rocks their world.

One: What was the temperature of the last hallway you crawled and why should you care? And two:, have you ever read this? And we hold up a red and white manual that says FEMSA on it, and it's the instructions for their turnout gear. And the majority of them say no. And if you look at the actual, if stuff, Fire Jones and Bartlett, all of them, when they get into PPE, they don't dig down into this.

They talk about the three layers and how it works. But they don't talk about these two acronyms. You just hammered in there. They're critical for us to understand TPP is thermal protective performance. So it means how well I'm protected against thermal insult up to flashover temperatures until my body receives a second degree burn.

And it's rated basically NFPA. Minimum is 30. So, whatever number your gear has, you divide that by two, and then you have supposedly that many seconds until you receive a second degree burn and flashover temperatures. Um, and that's really a false sense of security. And we'll talk about why here in a minute.

But THL is usually an inverse relationship. Normally your TPP goes up and your THL goes down THL is like your body's ability to sweat and that sweat to evaporate off of you. So evaporation equals cooling. Well, if I'm sweating and I'm absorbing heat, if I have high THL, all this stuff comes off of me and I feel better. It allows that vapor to come off of me and the gear to breathe.

And if you've ever wore something that didn't breathe well, it doesn't smell well at the end of the day. And you don't feel well. It's not like the wrestlers used to wear a garbage bags when they try to lose weight. That's my analogy. 

But what you have with gear like TECGEN and Fire-Dex is you have high TPP and high THL which is something you haven't seen.  A lot of manufacturers have copied it and you see it, but I could tell you the difference in hign THL is the difference between going in and doing a burn, come back out and talk to some firefighters are cool off. And I go right back in and I feel great versus I wear high TPP and low THL gear. I go in and super high temperatures my gear absorbs all that heat. I come out, I don't come out of my gear. It holds all that heat; transfers it to where?. To me. And then I go right back in and I don't do what they tell me to do, which is coming out of my gear. The gear is already saturated. What happens to me the second, third or fourth burn? I go in as an instructor. 

You know, how many after action reviews, we've done a firefighters who've been burned because they did what we just described. They went in with high TPP gear that had low THL and never realized their gear was saturated with energy and that's just from the burn perspective, that's not talking about the overall damage to your heart and all that.

And I think it's fascinating to me that the three letters TPP go as far back as 1967 to Alice Stoll's work and firefighters don't know it. She's probably the most significant contributor to our well-being and protection, and nobody knows her name. She's the reason why the words second degree burns. Was basically coined, you know, now we call it partial thickness or whatever, but she wanted to know a better way to protect fighter pilots when they crashed her plane to protect them from burning a lot.

So she was developing fabrics to protect them and her work called heat transfer through fabric. So you find a copy of that, by the way, let me know. The last one I found was $900. It was little 40 50 page book. So she got, she needed human victims to burn them on their arm. Nobody was signing up for it. But she worked at the U S Naval academy.

So she voluntold 260 something sailors and they burned them on the arm right here. And she measured when that burn occurred, how long and whatnot. And that's where your TPP data comes from today. They don't obviously use human victims anymore. They use sensors and things that measure from calories to centimeters squared and how fast that energy is transferred.

But to put it all into something we can understand is; at 131 degrees, My skin receives a second degree burn where my gear is saturated. And if I don't move away from that year, I'm the baked potato. And my skin increases to 140 and my pain receptors are turned off. So if I'm going to use my ears, my hand or whatever, they're teaching this week to measure temperature, it quits working at 140 cause it's a safety feature in my body. It's called fight or flight and 162 degrees. My skin is. So having high TPP with no understanding of it is actually a detriment to firefighters because they're so well-protected it's to their own demise because by the time they feel heat, it's too late and the victim is already, oh my God. What's happened to them?

 If I don't feel pain until 500 degrees. What about the little child laying there in Spider-Man pajamas? So TPP and THL. And that's why we did that webinar. You guys saw it, we put it on our YouTube channel, understanding firefighter PPE, it's free. You can watch it's hour 45 minutes long, but it breaks down things that I never knew personally, as a firefighter.

I don't know about you, Bob. I wasn't taught it. We were taught all of these different skills, but I wasn't taught how the very thing that protects me works. And that was not. Cause we would push it way past it. And then I don't know about you. We didn't take care of it either. So, and we expect it to perform well when it's dirty and not cared for.

So the summation is T P P and T H L are basically three acronyms firefighters should know just like life, incident, property, and condition action needs and all their other accronyms. They should know it because it's their very life insurance when they fight fire. 

Retired FDNY Battalion Chief, Bob Keys: [00:10:35] Thank you very much for breaking that down into what we call firemen speak.

It's difficult to digest for me. And I'm sure lots of firefighters appreciate your practical hands-on education about this, this topic. For myself. I didn't learn about TPP and THL until the 29th year of my 31 year career. Um, and that's when I took over as Chief of Research and Development in FDNY. We had just gone through a very long pilot program to find new, more dextrous gloves for the firefighters.

Um, and after, and testing them for over a year, we issued them to the department and unbeknownst to us, the manufacturer had changed. The Nomex out and put in a very lightweight rayon. And we wound up with 13 firefighters burned in the same spot in the back of their hand, over the next year. And during that year, it was my responsibility to not only find out how this could have happened, but why it happened and what actually happened for me, that was a very steep learning curves into the NFPA protocols, UL certification. It was quite a tough time in my career, but very rewarding to be able to figure things out and share that information with guys and girls in the field.

So, can we take all of what we just talked about and take one giant step forward into the world of alternative PPE? You did a great job of explaining how three layer structural year works, but we know that 90% of the calls that firefighters go on do not require that third layer at all.

That there are no thermal insults needed to be protected from at an EMS. Certainly no thermal insults, um, at an elevator emergency. Um, can you talk through, uh, from your firsthand experience, how and why using alternative non-structural gear at, at calls that you respond to is saving firefighters from that cardiovascular injury or that heat exhaustion that is, uh, that you explained before is so critical and it is what's killing firefighters.

Charlotte FD Battalion Chief, Andy Starnes: [00:12:32]Well, it's a great question. And I think the first thing when you start with is it is not a new concept. Um, we study history and study other fire departments as I've traveled and seen firefighters overseas, they work in a layer concept of their protection. They were basically a jumpsuit all day, which is there a single layer version of turnout gear, and some of them have different versions of it.

Some of them were stationed we that's counted as part of the actual TPP because it's made of FR rated stuff. But the single layer turnout here that we're talking about is something that's a single suit or zip-up suit or two-piece suit that they can wear, or the, the calls you mentioned like, uh, EMS calls, extrication runs and I think one of the things that people miss and the value of this is okay, let's go let's let's think outside the box and say to the people who say, well, I don't need that. They have turned out here. Why would they need it? 

Number one, let's go to Houston in the middle of this. And say, okay. You not only do you have to wear your turnout gear on every firearm, you're going to wear your turnout gear on extrication calls, possibly some tough EMS runs all that.

You're, you've got a big issue with cross-contamination to start with. You're taking stuff, germs and things in and out of the cab. And who knows. Uh, if you look at Jennifer, uh, she recently got married. I can't remember her last name, but she did the phenomenal work on firefighter cancer exposures in Ottawa.

She did a phenomenal job of showing how much carcinogenic materials were inside the cab of the firetruck. The firetruck was like the nastiest place that we were exposed. And we're getting in and out we're wearing, and then we're wearing the same boots in and out, you know, into the day room into the bedroom.

Everybody knows they're not supposed to take their turnout gear in the bedroom, but we're wearing the same shoes and the same stuff all over the station and cross contaminated. So they don't think about that. Number two, if you're something like a Houston firefighters dealing with a hundred degree, 90% humidity days, and they're wearing the highest TPP gear, they can wear a firearm.

And they're saturated with sweat and they're wearing this gear on extrication calls and it's saturated with sweat. Now let's fast forward. A couple hours later, this gear is soaking wet sitting inside of a hot cab and they run a fire call and it turns out there'll be an actual fire. What have we done to their level of protection and their basically their fatigue level by making them wear this gear all day long.

Instead of a lighter weight gear when they could wear it on those less threatening calls. And then if they, God forbid getting in an environment where there is a lot of heat and thermal and salt, where they need that thermal protective performance, what did we do if that gear is soaking wet with sweat?

Well, somebody figured that out a recent study showed that you can drop your thermal protective performance by of your gear by as much as 10 seconds. If you're near saturated. Because what's the greatest conductor of heat, salt water. So basically I don't have three layers. I have two. And once those are saturated with energy, it hits that wet gear and then it begins to transfer that energy faster to me.

So to me, it's a no brainer. Yeah. I was going to take up more room. Fire Department is going to have to get used to it, trending out. Yes. And what's the, what does Berni Simi say? The two things we hate change and the way things are, but I can tell you if you want to make them believers in it, give it to them, let them try it.

That's how I became a believer in it and started feeling better, dramatically better at the end of the day, especially fire departments that work 48, 96 shifts. They need something to lessen the fatigue, lessen the insult and just overexertion on their heart and their bodies and single layer is one of those ways we can do that along with the good wellness programs. I think we ran 140,000 calls last year as a fire department and 99,000 of them were EMS related. It could have been car accidents that could have been a stubbed toe, could have been delivering a baby, could have been any number of things, but we are wearing turnout gear on some of those calls and we could make their jobs a lot easier and the stress on them and exertion on them a lot less by giving them a set of gear that allows them to do that. 

We already do that now. Thanks to COVID with the single layer, uh, exposure suits that are, you know, multiple use, where we were throwing away, these suits every time. So why don't we do that with our extrication and EMS calls and the high-angle incidence.

Anything that we don't need the thermal protective performance rating for this should be a consideration in my opinion.

Retired FDNY Battalion Chief, Bob Keys: [00:17:04] Fantastic. 

Thanks for sharing that info. So on a side note, I've heard so much positive feedback from people who have attended your insight fire training. Tell us about how you came about founding this organization and what it is that gives you this passion and desire to help educate firefighters. 

Charlotte FD Battalion Chief, Andy Starnes: [00:17:25] First of all Thank you for the kind words I don't deserve them. Number one, number two, that's a big question with a, a, a, uh, testimonial style answer. Um, I got into this for really three reasons. My fate, well, my father and my family. So my faith saw showed me that as watching my dad grow up.

That volunteer firefighters give to themselves without thought, without pay sometime to their own detriment, sacrificing their family time, all kinds of things they signed for us. I watched this growing up from eight years old on I've been chasing my dad around. So watch this take place in front of me. I watched people do amazing things without pay without thought of recognition.

They didn't want an award. They didn't want a trophy. They just wanted to help and they loved the fellowship and the aspect behind it. And I grew up in a community. They didn't have a whole lot. So I'll try to do this without being too emotional, but yeah. So that was what drove me into it. And, uh, plus my dad worked a full-time job and when he was home, he was at the volunteer fire departments.

Wait, I got to spend time with it. So this is a double edged sword for me because I learned two things. I learned 1. I love the fire department cause I got my dad and I learned 2. When I became a dad that I need to be home and not be at the fire department all the time. So my daughter knows I am her.

So that is, that's the difficult thing because many firefighters give themselves away to the point that that's why our divorce rate is so high. Uh, my faith taught me that, that I need to put my faith and our family above the fire department, but it makes me a better firefighter, my opinion, because I care and it, it hurts, but I care.

But my family taught me later that when I was helping my dad running a project called "kill a flashover", I was the thermal imaging guy because they needed somebody. And I was helping him as a nonprofit research project. Uh, had a lot of fun. I always say that my fire department trained me, but kill the flashover educated.

I got to hang out with people from all over the world, learning things I've never learned before, never heard before and getting to research it and get to do live burns with actual furniture. We were the redneck version of UL, if you will. I mean, we were using thermal couplers. We were putting in a couch and a chair and a house and doing everything that you see online.

Now, we were doing that. 2009 through 2015. And in 2015, I was helping get a house ready to burn. And I'm the guy who's supposed to make sure it's safe. And everybody goes home. And I step on a spot in the floor that was rotted and filtered a floor, my knee, and my kneecap went 180 degrees and ruptured my Tilton.

And I went from none of my third marathon to my wife, carrying me to the bathroom for eight weeks. And I'm able to walk. Uh, I learned that I was going to get 18% for my injuries from the fire department, because I was off duty at a volunteer fire department with no insurance and no way of being covered for it.

And by the grace of God, after six months, I get to come back to work. And during that six months, we had some very heartfelt conversations about what I will do outside of the house. She said, you already are a firefighter, but can't live without you. Can't live on 18% disability. So sucked it up. And I went to school and I learned really quickly that it needed to be a business to protect my family.

And there are a lot of firefighters who take a beaten for being instructors, for charging and whatnot. Let me tell you something real quick. If you're passionate about something, what you, what you do, there's going to be a cost. Not just financially, but physically, emotionally, everything. And what you need to know is if it's really something you're called to do, you won't be happy unless you do it, but you better have your family on board and you better protect them while you do it because nobody else will.

The fire department will write you off. Everybody will write you off and you're not valuable anymore. So make sure you have worker's comp, make sure you have long-term gap insurance. All this stuff firefighters should do. And that's how I got into it. And honestly, I did it only to hang out with my dad. 

And I had no idea in 2015, after falling through a floor that I would ride a thermal imaging curriculum. It will be the first one in the world for firefighters. And we would go to all 50 states and teach firefighters in 16 countries. And because of Corona, we taught or interacted with 10,000 people online last year.

That's not me, ladies and gentlemen. That's God, that's all my faith, my family, my wife. All of that.

That goes to them. So for me, I got into it for that. Not knowing had not a clue that I would on the road I am today and I would learn not just about thermal engine. I've learned about PPE. I would learn about fire behavior. Like I never understood before I would get to hang out with some of the most amazing people who are phenomenal, that the world doesn't even recognize.

And I would get to learn from them and turn around and share with firefighters all over the world who are way more passionate and skilled. So if you're passionate, don't give up, go after it; learn, share, but just make sure you protect your family and take care of yourself in the process because your gear protects you physically, but you got to protect yourself mentally and emotionally and spiritually.

And that only comes from being grounded first at home. So everybody goes home is the motto of the NFFF, but you better make sure there's somebody home to go home to. So if I could leave them with anything, I would tell them really quickly that my passion goes deeper than a device that sees the heat.

My passion goes to the people that I serve and the people at home first. So that's my quick little testimony of that. Sorry about being emotional. Uh, that's just who I am. 

Retired FDNY Battalion Chief, Bob Keys: [00:23:16] Well, I'm a hard to believe, but I'm almost speechless. That's very, very powerful. I have heard you speak, uh, in the past and I love the way you put your emotions.

Uh, you wear your heart on your sleeve. I think we all admire someone who's brave enough to do that and be able to, uh, you know, admit that we are humans and we need to have priorities. And I very much appreciate how you've put God, uh, high on your priority list and that's helped keep you grounded. Can you share with us what your thermal imaging camera courses look to achieve?

How much do you feel the average firefighter knows about that thermal imaging camera that they dragged through fires with them every day? 

Charlotte FD Battalion Chief, Andy Starnes: [00:23:58] Well, you know what? My ultimate goal is out of everything to get them to carry the darn thing, honestly, honestly, if I could get them to carry it and understand their camera brands and all that out of the way.

Are you carrying it as a company officer? And do you understand what it means as Aaron field says we can't apply if we don't know why we're taught to do sets and reps sets and reps sets and reps till it is, that's what we fail to as our base level. And that's phenomenal that we have to have that skillset.

The problem I have is too many firefighters believe they don't need it. But if you talk to the military, you talked the industrial world, you talk to high security responses. They're not going anywhere. Without their technology, looking for them. They want to know, Hey, you know, we're going to cross this busy street and I've got my daughter in my hand.

I'm going to look both ways before across the street, because I don't want to get hit by a truck or God forbid something happened to her. So what am I doing? I'm looking for things that can hurt. The problem with the American fire service and internationally is that thermal imaging has been given a bad name because of the old antiquated uses behind it.

And our curriculum focuses on showing firefighters. If they would just be able to understand what they're seeing first, the limitations contraindications, and be able to look at that environment for a few seconds and make an educated, intelligently aggressive decision. It would enhance her decision-making that will find the firefighter to find the victim faster.

They'll do everything they need to do by just making a few second assessment and then putting the camera down. I don't want the camera glued to their face. I don't expect them to be a level, two thermography for like I have, I have numerous certifications and thermography, which is the study of non remote contact measurement of a, of a device or an area through infrared.

Right. But the only reason I did that is to understand what the firefighters need to apply, to take industrial concepts and correlate them to what we do, because there was no standard there's NFP 1801, which is how a camera's built, what the spec should be. And there's an 14 and eight, which is the training.

Which based on our study with firehouse magazine, as of a few months ago, 40% of America didn't even know there is training standards that requires them. They have to train and be educated. They just hand on the device and say, here have a nice day. Read that little number in the bottom right hand corner.

So our curriculum educates them on the device. What they're seeing, how it can enhance their decision-making, but it doesn't make them an industrial demographer. You got to have 32 hours of training in the industrial world, even hold it. Firefighters were lucky to get an hour or two. The majority of the us fire services had zero or very little thermometer training.

And if they did it came from a salesperson or manufacturer and nothing against them, there's several that are phenomenal that I know and are good friends with, but they have limits on how much time their company is going to allow them to do our company does not. So we, we can give you up to a 32 hour course, if you will allow it.

But the bottom line is, is just, like I said, about turnout here. Most of them hadn't even read the instructions. So we even made an instruction manual that reduced the entire instruction manual of the tick down to three pages and laminated it because Bob, I bet you can vote for this. How many matte books did you see in your career that after a few months in the truck were all destroyed and tore up and the page you needed was ripped out these books.

We laminated them because we knew they were going in a fire. You know, and we're not, we're not easy on things. So our goal is to get firefighters, to understand technology is not going away. And those of them that argue with me and say, oh, technology, you shouldn't overlap. I'm like, you see this little thing called a smartphone.

You have one of those. Yeah, I do. I said, give it to me. I'm going to take it away from you for a month. And I'm going to see how well you do without your over-reliance on technology. For me, I would like my blood pressure would go down if you took my phone away, cause distressed me out on days. But point man is we all use technology.

The key is to have a fundamental foundational skillset and use technology to enhance what you do, not replace what you do. There's always going to be the beating heart of a critically thinking. Fundamentally sound firefighter underneath that gear, whether it's single layer, two layer or whatever, hopefully responding to your heart.

And if they don't, if they choose not to use these devices that they're given to them, that the taxpayers paid for that enhance their decision-making skillsets and can save your family faster or cause less property damage or put the fire out faster. What is it the lawyer going to do with that eventually when they figured that out?

Huh? You mean your fire department has the ability to do their job better and they choose not to be calls. Why. And they start giving antiquated anecdotal information and answers that don't hold up or hold water in court a lot. And I'm telling you about the fire service is the next litigation rich environment it's already happening in the rest of the world.

My goal is to prevent that number one, and to create an educated marketplace that firefighters drive the manufacturers to make what they need instead of manufacturers telling them. And they make better differences in the citizen's world for lifesaving efforts, they can through simply looking at the environment before they make a decision and saying, wow, I didn't see that 7,200 volt power line laying in the driveway.

Wow. I didn't see the kid behind the corner of the door with the legs sticking out. When I showed him a high powered flashlight and zero visibility smoke, I didn't see the thousand degree convection currents rolling over my head cause it was zero visibility and I'm wearing a three layer turnout gear that protects me so good.

I couldn't feel it. All of the methodology we've been using and teaching for firefighters to assess environments and zero visibility with high TPP turnout gear is turning around and ended up hurting them because they train them in an environment that's completely different than the world they live in.

And then they tell them to look or feel for things when they can't see or feel. So we're asking simply one thing, please look both ways before you cross the street, see the problem, fix the problem, put the camera down, use it as you need. That's what we're trying to get them. And I am not here to tell anybody that we're keeping you out of the fire.

We want you in there, but we want you in there with an intelligently aggressive purpose to get the victim out faster, put the fire out faster and make a difference, which is the mission of the fire service. But yet we still have people say, well, you can't use a thermal engine camera. It's not going to make a difference very well.

I understand. I cannot argue with them because they've made up there. But we continue to push out data and facts and then eventually they have to agree with the overwhelming amount of data and facts versus opinions and bad experiences. So that's our goal was to educate and help the fire service so they can do what they swore to do.


Retired FDNY Battalion Chief, Bob Keys: [00:31:13] Andy, you mentioned earlier, uh, quoted a chief from the Seni from Phoenix about there's only two things that firefighters hate; change in the way things are. Which of course tongue in cheek was lots of wisdom that Bruno gave out to the fire service. And, uh, surely he has missed. Um, I know that you've been back out on the field and now post COVID we're all starting to, uh, travel and meet people and socialize together.

Can you think of other than that, that passion you have about, geez, let's at least carry the darn thermal imaging camera into the building. Um, culturally, do you have any other, um, points that you have observed in your travels? And I know you get to go to all 50 states, so, uh, I'm sure you see very different philosophies and standard operating procedures.

Um, can you think of any other cultural things that you think the fire service uh, needs to adapt? 

Charlotte FD Battalion Chief, Andy Starnes: [00:32:09] Oh, yeah, I think that's a great question. I don't know if we got enough time, I'm the right person to answer that. But, uh, as far as culturally, the thing we need to adopt is something a friend of mine, Chief Jason Coy came up with. He had a conference called honoring tradition and leading change. And I thought it was phenomenal because he had this infographic symbol in the background showing the first firefighter and what they will. To 1970s, firefighter to 1990s, to what a firefighter looked today and behind inside of each one of those is the same beating heart, the same traditions and values that matter.

Most, those don't need to change, but what does need to change is our, we need to have an open mindset to learn. There are a lot of firefighters and speakers out there that are basically telling people one way or no. Don't listen to anything else. I challenged people's paradigm. Don't get me wrong, but also challenge them to go and look up the information that I'm presenting to them to not take it as the gospel, to look up the citations I provide for them to go and read the research papers.

But the sad thing is, is the majority of firefighters. Don't read that in depth because number one, they don't have that much time because 1.1 million of them are volunteers, which means they are already working a full-time job. Now you want them to read a 700 page research paper in their spare time, instead of spending time with their kid on the playground, I can respect that, but I can't respect is that you're not even willing to read or listen to a different viewpoint.

We use a fire service. Don't choose who we respond to. We accept the call. We go, doesn't matter what race they are, what background, what politics, none of that. We show up and we make a difference period. We can't continue to do that. If we're not open to learning and learning from other people outside of our fire department, I have learned far more from people outside of my box, so to speak outside of my area code than I ever did from people inside.

Not nothing against them. Because I saw things differently. I saw different ways of doing things I saw. I learned from their experiences, their wisdom, their research that we hadn't done. And the United States is just now doing research on things that has been done overseas since the eighties and nineties. So in regard to what the fire service is doing.

So, if we're going to change anything in the culture is Chief Coy put in his conference. We need to honor the traditions, but we need to lead change in a bold, courageous way that allows people to have conversations without getting their feelings hurt and talking about their mom, because you use the word smooth bore, and I use the word combination nozzle, or you used the word thermal imaging camera, and you use the word aggressive search without one.

I can respect any vantage point, as long as you back it up with data and you're civil, but. I honestly think the culture of social media on the fire services horrendous, we're supposed to be taking care of each other and you can watch them tear each other apart, online, but then they wouldn't speak to them face to face.

And that's, that is a hypocritical place to be. We need to be who we say we all are the day. We swore that oath and took that oath in front of the altar in front of your wife and kids as well. Her husband and kids, we need to be that person professionally online. And when we're doing what we're doing, when I see doing in this world today is we're not practicing what we preach.

We say it's for them, but our attitudes, our actions, our behaviors are not. And I think if we're not careful, we're going to be lumped into another category where the public is not going to appreciate us. And that's one thing we should never throw away as the public trust. We've seen. What's happened to that in the world today.

We need to make sure that we continue to earn that and hold that trust and maintain our professionalism and be open to learning and differing viewpoints and not attack one another. So if we're going to change anything, I would change and make us more civil towards each other because we're more civil to the citizen than we are to the guy on B shift.

And that's just wrong. I think we need to fix that. And, uh, I don't know if I can fix that in my lifetime, but I can't fix it in my firearms. And that's what I'm trying to do is maintain that level of compassion and understanding towards each other. And when someone doesn't understand something, it doesn't make him an idiot.

It doesn't make them wrong. It just makes them different. And I need to seek first to understand as Saint Francis. And then I can be understood. I shouldn't beat them over the head with my viewpoint until they get it. That doesn't work really well. You know, my house I could be right. Or I could be happy.

Let me tell yowhich one I choose to be. I choose to be happy. So let's work on being happy and understand each other. And we can fulfill the mission as firefighters and not tear each other apart. That's what breaks my heart, in the fire service. That's the cultural thing that needs to do. Sorry for the mini sermon.

Retired FDNY Battalion Chief, Bob Keys: [00:37:11] No, that's quite alright! I laugh because everybody picks on B shift. Why is it always be shift we use as an example all the time? It can't, it can't be the same guys in every fire department on B shift are the same way. As you know, as my friend, Kevin Roach, I used to say the only thing we can say absolutely about every fire department in United States is that there is nothing you can say absolutely about every fire department in the United States. We are. And, uh, and it can't be, always be shipped, but that's a funny kind of stereotype. We give those B shift guys, um, not enough credit.  At FDNY we didn't have A, B and C shifts. We had 25 different groups and you worked with any combination of them on any given day.

So, um, I, I, I laugh and I get quite a kick out of, uh, how the nation, uh, of firefighters always talks about those B shift guys. 

Charlotte FD Battalion Chief, Andy Starnes: [00:37:55] I can pick on him cause I was one. 

Retired FDNY Battalion Chief, Bob Keys: [00:37:59] Okay, good, good. Um, so trying to get back full circle about this podcast, that was about alternative PPE and, and I think it ties in exactly to what you just talked about; culture change. It requires an education. It requires an ability to respect tradition, but also understand the current state of affairs that's that it's affecting firefighters. If you're passionate about your firefighters, you understand that the number one thinking that's killing them in the United States is heat stress.

It's cardiac incidents that are killing firefighters more than any fire that we respond to. And if, if we really want to make a difference and we want to leave a legacy for our fire service. We need to take a look at that single layer and even double layer PPE that does not have a thermal - there's no need for a thermal barrier on EMS calls.

And as you just said, most departments like yours are responding to 80% of their calls that go out the door are EMS runs in FDNY. The only PPE we have the station where, and three layer structural gear. It behooves all departments to take a look and see if we can make a difference by reducing that cardiac stress on our firefighters and finding a way to reduce their exposure to possible carcinogens that get stuck trapped inside of structural gear and not only protecting the public better, but protecting our firefighters and making that cultural change.

Can I, uh, get your summation about my little gospel I just stood on your pulpit for, for a few seconds.

Charlotte FD Battalion Chief, Andy Starnes: [00:39:37] Not mine. You can stand on all you want. I like it. My father, has a saying that sums it up well. In project Kill, a flashover, there, there are simple mantra was : We test, We demonstrate, We share. You decide.

So in order for the fire service to have an open mind and test different things, they first have to test it. I see fire departments do a tremendous amount of work and host testing and specking apparatus, but then when it comes down to certain things, certain tools. Very little research has done more than what the sales person tells us.

So yeah. Put together a committee put together a group of subject matter experts are passionate guys and gals in your department. Let them test it out. Let them give you the good, the bad and ugly. Pick your top three, do the things you need to do, but we need to actually see, is this going to work for our context for our training, for our staffing, for our budget.

And the big one is, you know, Bob is the members' going to buy-in. You can buy the best thing since sliced bread and tell them they have to wear it. And they can still choose not to wear it. Not that firefighters are rule breakers by any means, but we are that arrogant and prideful and certain things that we will push the limits.

I know I won't wear it. I mean, you've got firefighters today. Still not wearing hoods. I haven't my PPE presentation, they won't wear a hood in a fire, but they'll wear three hoods and a training fire. I'm like, you got to be kidding me. 

So we have to be able to be open and we have to test these new things, not just by them because Hey, I saw it on Facebook or I saw it online.

Go test it. Is this going to work for your department? Talk to other departments that have done it. Get their good, bad, ugly horror story. They'll tell you what not to do. That's the beauty of the fire services. When I wrote our behavioral health program for our department, I didn't know what to do. I called a Mayday and got all the different departments that had done stuff, and they let me have their information and said, do this, don't do that.

This is what we did, right? This is what we did wrong. That is the beauty of social media in that respect, that there are many people willing to share with you, their mistakes, their successes, and their failures. And say, Hey, please. Don't do what we did. And I think to get single layer or two layer gear or different types of gear or firefighters begin to understand it and care for it and use it properly.

It's going to take as David Eskew, a friend of mine from Milliken says,"I'm neither interested in education or innovation. I'm interested in both. If you have an innovative product and you don't educate the consumer on it, so waste, they'll never appreciate it. And they won't use it correctly". So we need to have the innovative gear that you described Bob, but we need to focus just as much on educating the consumer, because if you value something tremendously and as passionate about as we are about this topic, but they aren't. Why aren't they? 1. they may not understand it.

And if you don't educate them, it's awful. They'll never see the value in the things we're trying to push and share to make a benefit. If we don't come across, as you said in the very beginning in firefighter speak and ways we can all relate, we call that experiential relevance. It has to be something we can all relate to and understand how it will benefit us and fulfill the mission.

And if you do that and they still decide not to it's on them. BUt you have given them the facts, given them the data, showing them how their departments. And eventually people will change. It's just, you're going to have a few fence riders; you're going to have some that are the leading change agents, and you're gonna have some that come dragging, kicking and screaming into the 20th century, not even the 21st century.

So, you know, that's what I think we could do to help is we can take what you said and say, let's educate people just like this podcast and others on different components of this aspect and why it has beneficial. The why is just as important as trying to get them to buy it. They won't buy it if they don't know why.

And they don't know somebody who has used it. So I think that's where we should start is educating our consumer, our public and getting the public to buy into it because it's their tax dollars, you know, it's not my money, it's their money. So let's remember that. 

Retired FDNY Battalion Chief, Bob Keys: [00:43:52] Well, when you come down to that, that's a very good point.

I wanted to just want to touch on. As we wind down this podcast. It's a lots of studies have proven that you're actually saving tax payers dollars by not beating up that three layer structural gear on routine, non fire calls. You actually extend the life of it. Uh, with 1851, the NFPA standard on care and maintenance of your bunker gear. You're supposed to be putting it through a full cleaning. After every exposure to smoke. That's going to shorten the life expectancy of bunker gear, which right now is that 10 years, down to around four years. So if we're going to beat it up so much on all those non-fire calls, you're actually saving the taxpayers money by providing firefighters with single layer or dual layer, alternative PPE for those calls, when you don't need to beat up that very expensive.

Don't you agree? 

Charlotte FD Battalion Chief, Andy Starnes: [00:44:41] Absolutely. And if you are at a busy department that sees a lot of fire your gear, to your point, it's not going to last that long anyway, you know, um, our Fire-Dex is year's two years old and I'm already needing a replacement because we've done so much burns with it. And, you know, I took the moisture barrier part and said, whoa, I only send this back because we've exposed and exposed and exposed.

It's a consumable, right. Departments can afford whether it's air packs or turn out your, you nailed it. They've got it. They've got to protect that investment by wearing it when we need to wear it and then wear other gear. And when it's not called for right, I don't wear a suit and tie to go play on the playground when my daughter, because I only have a very few suits and ties, so I want to keep them nice.

But when I need that gear, I need it to be well cared for and ready for service. And if we're doing, like I talked about in the beginning, wearing it for everything, not cleaning it properly, or even washing it as much as you say, we are lessening the overall protection over time. And there are departments that have their gear sitting out in the bay without any UV tent on the windows and wondering why their gear, it looks like it's sublimation on one side,  UV is their  gear long before they take it into a fire. 

So I think your point is well made. It's just, we need to continue to educate the public, the firefighters themselves, because they're the ones wearing it, but they don't understand it as well as we should. And that's me included cause I didn't return out your instructions until 12 years ago.

And when I did read that FEMSA manual, which is written for firefighters, I think three space, three sentences space, big letters, space. I went home and apologize to my wife because I thought I should be dead. We need to educate firefighters on what their gear can and cannot do and why, and alternative, like this is important. So that their gear is ready for battle when they do need to push it and make that safe or go a little bit farther to get that victim or do what they need to do to save their own.

So I think you're you're spot on. Bob is just, we've got to continue to educate firefighters in general.

Retired FDNY Battalion Chief, Bob Keys: [00:46:46] I agree with you. Totally. Andy, thank you so much for sharing your wisdom, your insight, your experiences, and your knowledge of, of culture in the fire service. Uh, I think this has been a, uh, a tremendous eyeopening experience for me and I'm sure our listeners will agree.

And so, uh, with that, I think this is a wrap and thank you so much. Andy, look forward to seeing you in of our trade shows, where we can all get together and chew the fat as we like to say and solve the problems of the world. 

Charlotte FD Battalion Chief, Andy Starnes: [00:47:16] Thank you again. Appreciate it so much. 

Retired FDNY Battalion Chief, Bob Keys: [00:47:19] Thanks for joining us on this episode of rapid fire follow fire decks on social media or visit firedex.com for podcasts updates or products and news.


Who is Andy Starnes?
3 Layers Turnout Gear Explained
TPP & THL Explaination
The Growing Need for Alternative PPE
Founding of Insight Fire Training
What Firefighters Should Know About Thermal Imaging Cameras
Call for Culture Change Among Firefighters
Alternative PPE and Culture Change
Extending the Life of Turnout Gear