FRI 2023 Quick Take: How the Amsterdam FD embraced aggressive, cutting-edge tactics
Bart Van Leeuwen, a 27-year veteran of the Dutch fire service, shared international fire tactics and his department's approach to life safety
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — During an educational session at Fire-Rescue International, Bart Van Leeuwen, a company officer and 27-year veteran of the Dutch fire service, detailed how his department embraced change and new ways of responding to fires and life safety during an educational session at Fire-Rescue International 2023.
Leeuwen donned and showed off his woolen turnout coat to attendees – which he was issued when he joined the Amsterdam Fire Department in the early 2000s – and used the garment as a kicking off point to illustrate the targeted changes made to local firefighting safety protocols and tactics in the decades since.
Top quotes from Leeuwen’s session
- “There’s no such thing as the 'European fire service.'”
- “It serves as an inspiration to look at things differently; it’s about context. Because the places and the way we fight fires is significantly different than how most of you fight fires.”
- “We never have less than six people on a fire truck – it will never, ever happen.”
Top takeaways from Leeuwen’s session
1. Fire attack
Leeuwen outlined several ways in which the American fire service differed in fireground operations, one of the most prominent perpetuated by a myth that international firefighters “don’t do interior attack.”
On the contrary, Leeuwen outlined several scenarios in which the conditions allow for interior attack and explained the culture of transition created by the Amsterdam Fire Department to incorporate those changes.
Each fire attack option in the quadrant model is designed for different scenarios and outcomes, from exterior defensive operations for 0-minute buildings – buildings deemed not worth saving by insurance companies – to saving lives with an interior offensive.
Leeuwen explained that any of these fire attacks could be utilized on scene, depending on changing conditions.
2. Fireground IC structure
Leeuwen also described how the Amsterdam Fire Department handles incident command on scene, which differs from incident command in the U.S.
"What we've changed in our system is that a battalion chief shows up, but he's not taking over the incident immediately," Leeuwen said. "The system is such that the first two arriving captains should be sufficiently equipped with skills that they can fight a reasonably large fire."
For larger scenes led by a battalion chief, Leeuwen outlined another type of command structure that focuses on scene mentorship.
"If one battalion chief is on scene, is he really capable of seeing everything that needs to be seen?" Leeuwen asked. "Research has shown that is really hard."
Based on a study of fireground scene leadership operations, situational awareness improved when a second battalion chief asked targeted questions of the incident commander, Leeuwen said. That is the only job of the second BC – to ask questions:
- "Did you see that?"
- "Did you think about this?"
- "Where are your problems?"
3. Clean PPE
By wearing his woolen turnout coat to the session, Leeuwen emphasized how far the Dutch fire service had come since he first joined in the early 2000s. Now, he said, at the Amsterdam Fire Department, every call is treated like a hazmat incident, including how PPE is utilized and cleaned.
"We have kits on every fire truck; when you come out of the fire, you take everything off and bag it up," Leeuwen said. Once back at the station, the bags of gear and PPE go straight to a third-party cleaning facility and the back of the truck is cleaned.
All firefighters are issued two full sets of gear, including helmets and boots, Leeuwen said. Each fire call requires a new set of gear; if crews run more than two calls, a storage facility sends over new gear for each crewmember.
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"Every helmet should be like new," Leeuwen said. "Yes, we have motorcycle helmets. I can put my helmet on while on the fire truck, put my gloves on and within 2 seconds, I'm fully masked up. When I walk outside, to talk to my fellow company officers, I can step out and take my mask off, have a conversation, and put it back on."
Leeuwen also took a moment to extol the virtues of the motorcycle helmet vs. the American fire service helmet style.
"I know the NFPA doesn't allow it yet, but I know you guys have a hard time accepting that [this helmet] is a really cool thing," Leeuwen said, eliciting a good-natured chuckle from the audience. "It might not look as cool as the helmets you all have, but it's super comfortable, with an integrated radio and everything."
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