Equations or Effectiveness? Have We Become So Smart We’re Stupid?

In article after article and blog post after blog post I gaze with soft eyes at the material being placed into the hearts and minds of this Nations very young and ultimately often inexperienced fire service. Amazing catch phrases and profound statements like “risk little to save little”, “big fire – big water”, “risk vs. reward” more often than not from guys and gals with resumes as long as this blog entry. Resumes so long that if you’re like me, you get bored just reading them. Class after class, one accreditation flowing seamlessly into another; your eyes stare in awe at the seemingly endless stream of knowledge that these “authors” must possess behind those magical finger tips that typed such thought provoking words as “survivability profiling”. Yes! That’s it; these are the innovative people that will guide our young fire service into the future, teach us right from wrong. These innovative people who rely on their lessons learned from their infinite battle proven firefighting experience to make broad generalizations about the state of the service and….hold on…did you say “infinite battle proven firefighting experience?”

Hmmm, let me go back and check that resume again…instructor 1 thru 1000 – check, Master’s Degree in fire science – check, Command Level Officer in bum “f” anywhere – check, beat up the red devil in his living room and pulled little babies from deaths grasp in defense of his neighbors life and property – che….hey wait a minute, I don’t see that anywhere in this resume! In my haste to read what glorious mind nuggets were hidden in the article of this published “author” it appears I forgot to check their qualification to tell me anything relating to fighting fires. But the article was about “survivability profiling during FIREFIGHTING operations” was it not? (Now before you all flip a lid I pulled that title out of my a%$ so don’t get bent, and if you do, suck it up).

This concept of “checking that resume” before I read an article or watch a video about anything professional (in any field) is something I learned somewhere around 3rd grade. That’s when I realized that the bitchy, unwed, childless, cat infested 40 something year old woman down the street really had no leg to stand on when informing my mother on how to raise her bad-ass 8 year old boy. The same seems to be true in today’s fire service, except someone forgot to tell the new kids the deal. Someone forgot to tell youngins that are new to the game that these so called “experts” can leave their shoes on when counting how many times they have even been in a burning building. Yet we continue to accept these broad generalizations that are shaping the future of tomorrow’s fire service from people who have never really been in today’s fire service. Have we really allowed our brains to get in the way of our ability to protect the public and even ourselves?

When did this become classified as fully involved?

Case in point:

So there I was, typing away on the old office computer when I get a call from my buddy. “Where are you?”  he asks. “My office” I reply. “Well there is a house right down the street on fire and…click” that was the end of that conversation. You see, I do not discriminate, I am an equal opportunity firefighter, I will fight the red devil wherever he may be and as such I tend to allow my name and certifications to appear on the rolls of more than one volunteer fire department. This particular event and jurisdiction will remain nameless to protect (for now) the incompetent and will only be used for demonstration purposes. So up the street I go and sure enough, a 2 story single family home with fire showing from the rear and second floor, “cake” I thought. So I dress up in my fireman costume and survey the scene. Soon enough down the hill comes the 1st engine into this non-hydranted area, followed by the tanker, and comes to a stop. Time for me to play their game… “Hello officer sir, I’m such and such here is my Personal Accountability Tag, I will be attaching myself to your crew, shall I help you pull a handline?” as I look at their crew of three counting the driver.

“No son, pull the Blitz Fire (500 gpm)” (you did read me say non-hydranted did you not?)

“Ah, be advised sir there is a report of a 4th grader missing” I replied as communications and I both tried to will them into an offensive attack.

“There is too much fire, we have to knock it down from out here and then we will go in”…and as is often the case in this area, the calamity of errors continues for the next hour or so. A truck company that brings no ladders to the house, a CAFS bubble party in the front yard, a chiefs buggy stuck in the 3 day rain soaked field next door, a work-free smoke walking contest once finally allowed to attack and even an eventual evacuation once someone decided that the Rapid Intervention Team was not in place (the 2 out was, but they had been redirected to spray water into a rear window). Huh? Yeah that’s what I said. If you’re like me, then you’re probably amazed the tax payers even bother to pay their fire taxes anymore, with such superb service and all.

How did this happen?

How did it come to be this way? Is this truly the future of the fire service, to not fight fires at all? It’s hard to be called out for being wrong when you stand on the side of over-cautiousness with a second helping of safety.  And alas that is where the nation’s authors have gone to avoid confrontation, a catch phrase contest on who can be the safest.

I have a new catch phrase for you, “Return to Effectiveness”. Effective actions combined with appropriate timing to achieve a positive outcome. Effectiveness = fires go out, people get rescued, the fire department does it’s job. Instead of having front yard arguments about the friction loss of a 2in handline or the gallons-per-minute requirements for fire load in 3 rooms instead of 2, how about we just do what works, what is effective, and we put the fire out in the quickest most efficient way possible?

I will not argue the point of GPM numbers with you as apparently it is science; proven fact. But can someone please tell me how many GPM’s from a 2in handline make it to the seat of the fire when the 2-man crew that pulled it can’t get it up the front steps, let alone to the second floor. But they said big fire-big water didn’t they? Ah yes they did, it was right after the article about the shrinking staffing numbers across the country. So let me get this straight, apparently as the average size of an initial attack crew gets smaller the lines we choose to maneuver with less man power should get bigger?…Sorry I don’t follow. How about the 10’s of thousands of gallons of water we lob into second floor windows from the outside of single family homes and then wonder why the floors collapse when we finally go in to do overhaul. Maybe I can get an explanation on how across the country Compressed Air Foam Systems, which are supposed to be the savior of the fire service, are being used as initial attack lines when even a 3rd grader can tell you that fire needs “air” to grow. How several of my associates have been burned because of it yet in many jurisdictions it remains in initial attack use because a report says it puts out fires better than water alone.

Perhaps someone else smarter than me can explain the concept of allowing a fire that doubles in size every 30 seconds wasted minute after wasted minute as marginally trained crews struggle to get their line in service, waiting for the full complement of the alarm to arrive and ensure their “safety”. How much more dangerous is that home now with 10 minutes of free burn time then when we first arrived? Maybe someone can help me understand how National headlines more often read “body found after fire” then “firefighters make daring rescue” although firefighter fatalities don’t decline.

The "Public" is losing faith in the fire service, I promise

Now don’t get it twisted, I support educated decision making. Things like circle and basement checks, information gathering, back up lines, etc. All important things when walking that fine line between duty and stupidity. However what I do not support is the use of the phrase “firefighter safety” and others like it in defense of the coward and cowardous actions. We do the job we were asked to do by our neighbors and our friends, to serve and protect their lives and property with all that we have. If not us, if not the fire department, then who is going to do it?

The fact that I am trying to bring to your attention is our new age “phrases” are killing as many fire fighters and civilians as ever before because of the lack of effectiveness that goes along with them. Is there merit to some of these concepts? Yes of course there is, but if you don’t link them with common sense, the ability to adjust to each situation and the skill to be effective with them then you’re using these concepts as a crutch to hide behind. Fires have been going out for hundreds of years under the same concept; water on fire makes fire go out. Anyone that tells you they have invented an innovative approach that hasn’t been invented in the last 100 years all while going to historically less fires now than ever before is probably just trying to cash in on the naïve (or make an industry name for themselves without actually going to fires to do it).

I challenge each of you to pull yourself above the latest catch phrase and concept, reexamine your ability to do your job, to be honest in your abilities and ask yourself “am I being effective in my efforts or am I merely showing up in my fireman costume to watch a house burn down?” Do not accept a concept just because it was written by someone with a 10 page resume. Examine where these concepts come from, ask yourself if they make sense, step back into the shoes of the public we protect and look at your tactics from their perspective. Don’t let equations and catch phrases get in your way of your ability to be effective on the fireground. Be honest, let common sense prevail, and let’s help America’s fire service make a “Return to Effectiveness”.

Posted on May 16, 2011, in Other Things Fire Department, Traditions Training. Bookmark the permalink. 42 Comments.

  1. Just Terrific, Keep It Up! Im in the middle of a post touching on some of the stuff you wrote about early in this post. Listen, I’d ride the rig with you anytime bro. Stay Safe…

  2. Brian McAllister

    Good job Joe. I have been a believer of that theory now for quite some time.
    All the expos and seminars people go to now and listen to people from areas that never experience what they are talking about is killing today’s fire service and more importantly risking the lives of the helpless and our brother firemen.
    Stay low and be safe but in context with your article….keep doing the job the right way!

  3. Jonathan Riffe


  4. Scott Williams

    Great post! Its a rarity to find people expressing whats on their mind…unfiltered. Definetly hit the nail on the head with this post, it kinda relates to the “Dichotmy of Risk” on the Backstep FF Blog. Great site, just added it to my list to check in on routinely. Keep up the good work.

  5. Terrific piece. I remember attending an officers seminar many years ago and the instructor…can’t remember his name…but from one of the big departments in MD…talked about what he called the “zero impact period.” The time from when the FD is notified of the fire to the time they actually hit the fire. His assertion was that this was a better measure of effectiveness than the traditional “response” time. As I look at the various videos that are posted on line these days I think about the zero impact period and simply cringe. I ask myself, “Has it really gotten this bad?” Sadly, I think, it has. For the sake of “safety” we have become almost passive. It is supposed to be a firefight. Key operant word: FIGHT. As is the case with most enemies, the fire will only succumb if force is applied. You have to attack the fire and kill it. As the Marines say about their enemies: “Locate, close wiht and engage.”

    Many fire departments have lost all this. They are well attired and allegedly well trained, but they do virtually nothing…and the fires keep getting bigger.

    You are right about the public. In my view, it has gotten so bad that people are literally saying, “What do these guys do?” And it isn’t just the public, it is also the people who make the budgetary decisions. I friend of mine told me of a recent exchange he had with his city manager about budget and staffing. He laid all the NFPA, 2in/2out BS on him…the full monty…and what did the city manager say as he told my friend their be no more staffing? “You guys don’t do anything at fires anymore anyway.” This from a city manager who wouldn’t be known as “anti” fire department.

    I could go on, but something has got to change, lest we become a joke.

  6. I want to add one thing… In this same passive culture, the “normal” rules don’t apply. I’m currently a member of a mostly volley outfit that is pretty well organized and pretty aggressive…not crazy aggressive, but not flacid either. A couple years ago, we’re alerted to a fire in a Pizza Hut. About 3 minutes after dispatch, the first engine arrives and reports fire blowing from a storage shed attached to the rear of the building and fire through the roof of the main building. A couple additional units arrive and a 2-1/2″ line and an 1-3/4″ line are deployed at almost the same time. Both lines go INSIDE. One is stretched through the kitchen and hits the fire in the shed. (Note: Line is inside and placed between main body of fire and the rest of the building. The other line (the 2-1/2″) is brought into the main dining area, the ceiling is hooked out and with the aid of a Little Giant ladder of the truck, they blast the attic. At 10 minutes after arrival, the IC reports fire knocked down. All sounds pretty good, right?

    Here’s the kicker. Some of the members of this outfit work full-time in a couple of the large (and in at least one case globetrotting) departments closer to the city.

    The fire was critiqued a few days later, but the most interesting thing that was said, came afterwards as everyone was chowing down on some pizzas. One of the guys from the big departments said, “If that fire had been at work, that place would have burned to the ground.” Even more telling is that not only did he make this statement, but everyone within earshot all agreed, in effect agreeing with the point that in one of the hyper orgainized, hyper safe departments, things would have happened so slowly and so conservatively that the fire would not have been put out. I offer this as but one example of how bad it has gotten.

  7. Joe
    When we have poor fire operations and the IC endorses it we have a problem.
    Stay Effective

  8. Josh Burchick

    Isn’t a “Return to Effectiveness” another so-called catch-phrase? Just kidding buddy, I love it! There is such a thing as too much safety, and it has the opposite, undesired effect on us. “You put the fire out, and ALL the problems go away.” So simple, and yet so many find ways to make it a convoluted mess. PTB, nice work bro.

  9. Joe,

    Let me add, the placing of your personal well being in a RIC/RIT team and the over use and over reliance on technology (TIC/CAFF) has proven to be deadly.. Good skills, understanding of fire behavior and the ability to sum courage when all others shirk from their responsibility of duty are the basic makings of FIREMANSHIP.

  10. robert watkins

    good article, there are always two extremes and the middle where we should be.

  11. Brian Hagberg

    Feel free to stop by the station on any B shift to discuss that fire IN PERSON. You make many generalizations without taking the time to check out any of the thinking behind the tactics used that day. If you truly want to make this learning experience, then start locally with those that were involved that day before using us to add to your resume.

    • Well, Capt. Hagberg of the Montgomery County Department of Fire and Rescue Services, I was trying to leave the names and places out but I see you took care of that on your own. Clearly you missed the point of the entire entry and its responses like yours that lets me know writing this article is only the beginning of what is needed. I know you don’t know me, just like I don’t know you, but just like on that day I have been dealing “locally” for the last 10 years. Unlike you, I did grow up in the neighborhood I protect, I did go to school with the people whos house you watched burn, and just like I told you at that fire, I do not appreciate your TACTICS as you stood outside of my community members burning home. 10 years of compromise always with the same result, excuse after excuse; nobody is ever at fault, the polices make us this way, your just a cowboy and on and on and on. I don’t need to come to a kitchen table to tell you EXACTLY what I told you in front of that house, IN PERSON, just after you got done trying to throw me under the bus with the Chief Officers for trying to do OUR job. I am done dealing LOCALLY, it is very apparent to me that this issue is way bigger than your B-shift. This is a NATIONAL epidemic of the fire service forgetting just what they are there to do. I could fill a courthouse with the members of just MY community who are tired of the fire departments lack of action, and that anti-fire service sentiment is sweeping the nation. The fire service can point the finger in any direction they want, but if telling the TRUTH is building a resume to you, then so be it. If the National Fire Service spent half as much time defending the correct EFFECTIVE actions of their firefighters as they did explaining their reasoning for the cowardous ones, we wouldnt be in this national crisis. If I really wanted to boost my resume of truth telling, I’d release my 15 page special report about the Mt. Nebo road fire, (B-shift), in which another one of my community members homes burned to the ground on the backs of a calamity of errors of which no one seemed to be responsible for. A 15 page document of truth which resulted in no corrective actions being taken against any of the incompetence that took place and the only action that came of it was dropping charges against me, the resume builder, who went from being the most dangerous cowboy in the fire service before the report to one of only a handful of people on the fire ground that did what they were supposed to. No sir, I’m pretty sure I’m done dealing LOCALLY. Big things are coming. Stay Safe and thanks for reading.

  12. Joe, you hit it right on the head. I could go on for ever, but the bottom line is put the water on the red stuff don’t f$&%# around.

  13. Brian Hagberg

    Again with the generalizations. I too grew up in that community and began my volunteer service at a neighboring department back in 1978 so I know the people and the area very well. As such I will refrain from an all out battle of words here and again extend an invitation to come by the station and talk to those that were involved. Who knows, you may find a sympathetic ear and even an ali that you may least expect.

  14. Great Post, too many people filling a role as a costume firefighter. Too many clubs not doing what is right. This article is excellent, thank you for putting a spotlight on all the cowards who bring down the job we do. Fires are dangerous, get over it. We are creating a generation of costume wearing, club members who are ridding our service into the ground. People who risk nothing and hide behind the mantra of “Firefighter Safety”. I have seen this too many times.
    Thank you and keep it up.

  15. Please take my most sincere appreciation for posting this master piece I am so tired of all this shit and it is always nice to hear a voice of reason and sanity dealing in the real world.


  16. Try this one on for size the “Feminization of the Fire Service” We want a kindler, gentler fireman not the Type A personality which is truly required to perform this job… Man or Woman it should be a badge of honor to be called a “FIREMAN”


  17. Brandon Hiller


    I think there’s a few of us fighting this battle in every jurisdiction all over the country. Many have the same thoughts or feelings, but just feel the problem is too overwhelming. I’ve heard it over and over: “That’s just the problem we have” ” That’s just the world we live in.” “You can’t turn this ship around, it’s too big to change” I say nonsense. Nice to see there’s more like-minded people out there every day.

  18. Brett Russell


    Great post. I know things in MoCo are nothing like they were 10 years ago when we went through class together, but the change is going in the wrong direction. I have always respected your experience and aggressive mentality, and hope that the younger generation of firemen get the opportunity to learn from you. Keep up the good work.


  19. Clint Walker

    You have hit the nail on the head with your post and this very scene plays out not just in your town! I was wondering if your picture was an optical illusion because down here that’s called a ¼ involved! I work for a small combination dept. in NC that only has 4 on a shift, even though our dept. is small we have our fair share of fire in the city plus we mutual aid 5 departments around us. I am very proud to say that our Chief would send us home if we operated like that dept. did! He expects us to do our job, and be aggressive! Every week Chief will come to us and say you’ve got to watch this video from XYZ FD burning down this house! We watch in amazement at how these departments are burning down house after house and are doing it with 40+ people, 10 half a million dollar fire trucks on the scene and we must not forget the white helmet wearing person (not a Chief) in the front yard directing this cluster! We work on a phrase here “Reasonable Expectation” its meaning to us is our tax payers have a reasonable expectation that their fire dept. they PAY for are the highest trained, most aggressive, job loving, BAD ASS FIREMEN they could pay for! It seams that officers are forgetting that if someone’s house is on fire we are expected to go inside and put the damn thing out, and if they are trapped we will risk our lives and come inside their burning house and drag their ass out end of story!

  20. Hey Joe,

    Good article…you write very well. Did you learn how to write so well from experience or from education?????

    I don’t agree 100% with your thinking. I am a company officer with a full time dept in SC and I have NEVER heard or been told to not save a SAVEABLE life. Nothing in the fire service has changed as it relates to saving a cilvilian when that cilvilian is saveable.

    Take the Charleston 9 for example..they first went in because there were people in there that needed to be saved and they did just that..saved them, but, they continued to keep going in even though no civilians were in there and look what happend. Was it worth losing 9 firefighter to save a stupid building or house??? Those things can be replaced. Its idiotic to put firefighters lives at risk to save somebodys tv. Alot has changed here for the better because of that day.

    If someone is truley in trouble firefighters always go in. We DON’T need to wait for 2 out if there is a life to save.

    How would you feel if you sent in an attact team, unnessesarily, to save a house and they died? What would you tell their wives, their kids, their parents? Oh they died valintly trying to save some wood and nails ??? I would question your leadership, education, and experience.

    Ive heard over and over from some of the older guys I work with say “I’ve never seen no book put out no fire”. Really? Are you really looking down on people that have or is getting an education? People evolve, people get smarter. Without education we will end up back in the stone age. Would you want a doctor to operate on you without having an education?

    I don’t know what your rank is but you have to look at it from the administration side of it as well. The fire chief carries all the responsibilty and liability of the entire dept. If firefighters die he has a lot to answer for. He risks losing his job and even going to prision. These new policies and the new way we fight fire are put in place to save everyone.

    You are right in some aspects though. Experience is preferred but as you know fires are not as frequent as they were even 10 years ago, so its hard to gain that experience. Why not take all the classes and get an education while you wait for that experience to come. You need a balance between eduacation and experience but you have no control on when something catches fire (at least you shouldnt lol).

    • Mike, thank you for your thoughts. The issue I am trying to examine is not that college is killing the fire service (I do have that piece of paper), but what you stated with your final thoughts, a balance. Your right in that alot has changed in Charleston since that fateful day, and not all departments are losing sight of the goal of the fire service, but what I’m sure we are all tired of is guys who didn’t have brothers perish in that terrible event, who don’t know the true details of what happened using their sacrifice as reasoning why their department wont go inside and knock down a room and contents. There are extremes to every case and I think we all understand this, its not about anyones experience or lack there of when talking about being a good firefighter or not, what I’m tired of is guys that don’t have that experience coming up with policies that shape the future of the fire service for ALL of us. Just because guys like yourself are busy going to fires and dont have time to write articles doesn’t mean thats a free ticket for someone who doesnt go to fires to step and and tell you how your going to do or not do it. I’m not telling anyone to risk more then they can justify, and I understand what it takes to lead a group of men, but once in awhile guys have to exercise common sense when making those judgements. The service has come up with a blanket policy which says “if you might get hurt don’t do it” and guys are not making those adjustments when the rewards change and lives are at stake. Being “Effective” doesnt mean being college educated, it doesnt mean having tons of experience, it doesnt mean being a hero, all I am saying is that understanding what it means to be Effective (fires go out, people get rescued) is lacking today. Being able to tell what is truly just some unsavable wood and nails from what we should honestly be expected to put out has been replaced with a one size fits all approach for the weak minded. There seems to be a disconnect between what the public wants from us, and what we have come to accept from ourselves. Good discussion and thanks for stopin by. Stay safe down there.

  21. Joe –
    I do agree with your comments. (A shocker coming from a “young buck” I’m sure.) But like Mike I also must say that a balance is needed. Remember, the airpack was once new technology that the old timers despised and called you out for using. The researchers and the educated are the ones that figured out that the smoke we breathe today is much more toxic than that of old.

    However, I do wish more of my company officers were like you and had the attitude of the old fire service. As the rookie, I haven’t had to pay the dues that they once did. They complain about it and I simply tell them that they are the ones in charge! They are responsible for making the change! As a low level FF I am limited in the change I can affect.

    Also, our generation craves knowledge. We reach out for it. We read everything we can and share our experiences in order to help others learn. Granted, those experiences are limited. Again, this is when the experienced, who are company officers now, should step up and grant us that knowledge. I’m not saying it is not my responsibility for my own training, but the old timers should never say “I’m not teaching him” or “He thinks he knows it all so I’m not showing him crap”. Be that leader of old! Put me in my place and then build me back up into the firefighter I should be!

    I do envy the guys on your company. I would like to ride with an experienced officer like you. Please do not take my ramblings as disrespectful. Just wanting to say that there is always another side. And there is definitely no excuse for a FIRE department to be afraid of FIRE, but in that same sentence, safety is paramount.

    Stay safe brother.

  22. Bob Doucette

    “I learned somewhere around 3rd grade. That’s when I realized that the bitchy, unwed, childless, cat infested 40 something year old woman down the street really had no leg to stand on when informing my mother on how to raise her bad-ass 8 year old boy.”

    Right on bro, keep up the good work!

  23. Joe, Great article!!! I lost a great friend and one of the best firemen I’ve ever seen in 2002. If he was here today he would agree with you 100 percent as do I. I hope you have a thick head because I feel you may have alot of walls to knock on before the ones that don’t get it finally understand what it is you are trying to say!! I’m lucky that I volunteer with a department and work for a big city that still gets it. Are there those on these departments that maybe don’t understand …yes but there we out number them and as long as we do we will still keep fighting fires like my father and my grandfather did….from the inside. As one Chief recently told me, Make no mistake gentlemen at a fire I expect your ass to be leaning foward!!!Stay safe

  24. Nice job with the blog, JB. Noz

  25. BRAVO ! 30% club……

  26. Great article Joe, everyone in our “trade” should read and post this.

  27. Excellent read! Our taxpayres spend a lot of money on SCBA, PPE, now harnesses and escape systems are on our person. Therfore, it is our job to conduct interior fire fighting. The government has spent a lot of money not for us to be “Outstanding Fire Fighters!”

  28. Right on Joe, I’m with you 1,000,000% The virus has spread all over the country,the job is quite simple if allowed to do your job. I think everyone is for safety,BUT,here’s an example of whats needed at a FF1 (recruit class) “live burn” at the training center-(not acquired structure) in my state, 6 instructors,3,000 gallons of water on site,2 seperate water supplies,2 handlines,and a RIT/FAST team on deck-thats just to light the fire,now when I say fire I mean MAYBE a few flakes of hay in the 4 foot round steel burn barrel-TO MAKE SMOKE in a concrete/steel fire panel lined “burn room” THAT THE STUDENTS NEVER ENTER! live fire training has turned into smoke training,hell they dont know what a water can would knock down let alone a 1-3/4″ handline. the picture of the “fully involved house” you posted plays out like that all over the country,it makes me laugh and angry at the same time. I think the real root of the problem across the country is lack of experience,both on the line and officers,there’s departments that may get 1 or 2 fires a year,and that may be mutual aid. It’s time to take back the fire service and train like a firefighter,or we may as well trade the engine in for a canteen truck and rolling chapel to comfort the homeowner while their house burns to the ground. Cream and sugar???

  29. Keith Redlin

    Great article Joe. I am fortunate to be the Captain of an all paid on call rural department. Like you, we realize safety and accountability are priorities, but we also attack and put out the fire. I am proud to say that unless a structure is truly fully involved on our arrival, we achieve a knockdown. We realize it is our job as you do. Thanks for a good solid article.

  30. This is probably one of the best written aritcles that I have read in a long time about what is actually going on in the fire service. Awesome job Joe!

  31. Stephen Marsar

    Dear Joe,

    I am one of the authors that you apparently refer to and pulled out of your a%$ in your blog “Equations or Effectiveness? Have We Become So Smart We’re Stupid?” which was sent to me by a friend. I am more than willing to defend both my firefighting experience and resume to you and I will do so over a couple of emails but first, I have five questions for you:

    1. How many years do YOU have in the fire service?
    2. How many Occupied Structural Fires have YOU been to in the last year (that is, fires that required the stretching and use of at least two handlines)?
    3. How many Line-Of-Duty funerals have YOU been to?
    4. How many firefighters that YOU worked with in your company or department have been killed in the Line-Of-Duty?
    5. Have YOU ever been the family liaison for a family who lost a father, mother, husband, wife, son, daughter, brother, or sister to a Line-Of-Duty Death?

    Once I know more about your “experience” beating up the red devil in your living room and pulling little babies from deaths grasp in defense of your neighbors life and property, I will attempt to use both my firefighting experience and resume to help provide education on concepts that WILL save firefighters lives and teach them how to fight fires from yes, the interior.

    Steve Marsar,
    Captain, FDNY
    Survivability Profiling

    • Capt.,

      Thanks for stopping by to comment on the blog, as you said it has surely made its way around the Internet in recent months. To start out, just for the record I honestly had no idea that “Survivability Profiling” as a term was something that lended itself to any particular person, let alone a Captain in the FDNY. I feel the body of the article more then explains just the mentality I am speaking to. While the concept itself has merit, utilizing it as a blanket policy in the place of common sense does not, it was not meant to challenge your record with the City of New York. I was referring rather to the apparent followers of “your concept” who run 2 fires a year and now beat the “Safety Drum” in your honor across the national circuit. Having been trained and mentored by some of the very best that the FDNY had to offer I can say that for those individuals and their experience, there were none better. However in the same breath wearing black gear, talking with an accent and sporting the patch of the great Fire Department of New York does not automatically place one in that category, as some, not necessarily you, might have the world believe. The same is true with any “Big City” fire department.

      In regards to your list of questions for me, the majority of those answers can be found throughout my “Personal” blog. I speak on behalf of no department or jurisdiction but only as Joe Brown. I do not wish to get in a pissing match about this issue especially in a very public forum, however a few of your questions, since asked, do merit an answer. I have been in the fire service for 10 years, worked at some of the busiest houses in the country both career and volunteer, and was blessed to have been personally mentored by some of the greatest firemen that ever walked the earth. I have been to LODD funerals all over the country, both for personal friends as well as brothers from other departments, including several FDNY funerals. Not that it concerns me in the least, but since it was brought up, can the same be said for your attendance at funerals in my area of the Country?

      Yes, I have been the family liaison for several fire department funerals, as if that somehow makes their death less painful for me or in some way helps me grasp survivability profiles better. I have also been the liaison for the death of a U.S. Marine Corp Sniper killed in the Iraqi city of Fallujah, my best friend, and through all of the planning and services I never heard one friend, family member or fellow Marine conjure up some comment about how “He shouldn’t have been in that country, it was too dangerous, too heavily involved in enemy activity”. Nor did some 2nd Lieutenant in the USMC come out with a “Survivability Profile” for combat article shortly after his death as if it would somehow make their mission any less important, any less dangerous or in someway bring my friend back from death.

      As you well know, firefighting is inherently dangerous and men will continue to die in combat. My blog was not meant to single you out as an individual, but my thoughts on the concept remain the same whether an individual is attached to them or not. “Survivability Profiling” to me is trying to put a blanket policy on what the rest of us call “Common Sense”, if you WILL certainly die AND (emphasis on AND) the victim is already dead for certain (beyond any doubt), DONT GO INSIDE, seems pretty straight forward. However if you MIGHT die, but the victim MIGHT be alive, that is the job of the fire department, and no equation, catch phrase or article is ever going to change that fact.

      I appreciate your constructive criticism as it spurs discussion in others and ultimately makes them better at their job. I’m sorry if you were offended by what I wrote or had any confusion as to it’s intent. Stay safe.


  32. Joe, I think your article has hit the nail right on the head. The Fire Service is changing. Unfortunately, it is not all for the best. First of all, I have over 25 years of service. I have worked and still work in some of the busiest fire companies in the US. This week alone I have worked at 6 Occupied Structural Fires where more than 2 lines have been stretched and operated. I have attended a number of funerals I hate to admit how high it is. I have worked for 9 FF LODDs not counting the Trade Center. I have also been a liaison for several families. Now that this is out of the way….
    Survivorability Profiling is being taken to a radical extreme. I am a fire officer that constantly takes the lives of my men into consideration when I make a tactical move. I am also a husband and father that wants to go home after every tour and drink a cold beer and enjoy life. I also fight fires in my own community and have dealt with the personalization of knowing the fire family. If a building is beyond saving, so be it. A defensive operation is in order. Fire showing from several windows is not a building that needs to be “written off”. I personally know of several instances where neighbors said that “no one was home” and…. victims were found later on or, the department performed normal operations and made a difference by saving a life.
    The problem with today’s fire service, “situational awareness” and the lack of following the basics of our profession. Victim Survivorability is a “Band-Aid” just like “Bail-out Systems”. Guys wanna carry bail-out systems and that is great but, have they enhanced the fire ground operations by making sure ground ladders are in place at every window or at least every side of the building? Is everyone carrying a radio? Are lines being properly stretched and operated? The average Firefighter and Officer get roughly 3 hours of training in fire dynamics!!! How many hours do we get on Incident Command, The DOT Guide Book, or better yet EEO??? EEO training is mandated every year along with Bloodborne Training. Is Fire Dynamics mandated annual training in your department?
    Firefighting is not a “table top exercise”. It is an art that leaves very little room for mistakes. Knowing your buildings, knowing the way fire travels and knowing when to turn it up or stand down is what we need to profess to our troops. I believe that some of our “executive officers” (they use to be Chiefs…) are missing this important concept. Degrees and college smart officers are an asset to our fire service, as long as their education includes “life experience combined with their book knowledge”….
    Mark Gregory
    Fireman, Family Guy, Apprentice of the Fire Service

  33. William Bucky Kennedy

    Joe, I agree 1000% with you. Early in my career I was told by an older firefighter that the formula to put a fire out was H20+Balls= fire out. That formula with a little common sense goes a long way!! I have lived by it for the last 23 years, education is good but nothing takes the place of experince.

  34. I must say that you summed up hours of some “instructors” useless babble on the “survivability profile”, “risk vs gain”, etc. teachings into a short and sweet common sense statement that makes so much more sense.

    “If you WILL certainly die AND (emphasis on AND) the victim is already dead for certain (beyond any doubt), DONT GO INSIDE, seems pretty straight forward. However if you MIGHT die, but the victim MIGHT be alive, that is the job of the fire department, and no equation, catch phrase or article is ever going to change that fact.”

    Keep up the great work. (and I may borrow that line for a FB status, with giving you credit of course)

  35. Joe,
    I have to say after reading the above blog, my first one written by you, I am left with a few thoughts. First and foremost as an employee of the department mentioned in the above article, I am both upset and disgusted….not at you, but at the situation. It is very easy to monday morning quarter back things, fires are no exception! With that said, I was not on this fire and don’t know exactly what happened. I do however know one or two of the people involved in this incident (as well as knowing many of the same people and colleagues as you) and I question what else was at play that day. Knowing these particular folks, I feel that there had to be something else at play…not an excuse just a thought. That is all I can say about that particular day.

    My other thoughts when reading this blog are all very similar to yours….I couldn’t agree more with what you have said about the firer service slacking in certain areas. I got into the fire service both as a volunteer and paid man, to make a difference in total strangers, as well as family and friends lives. I feel as though some of the rules and policies that have been set forth, both locally and jurisdictionally have limited the effectiveness of operations a great amount. I agree that there is a fine line to walk, I just wonder if we walk all the way to one side instead of straddling that line. In regards to these policies and procedures, one of the biggest tragedies is taking the power and decision making ability form the officers on the fire ground. Too many times have I seen a chief officer totally negate what a company officer has said or done. I do agree that the fire service as a whole has lost some of its luster as well as the “Bravery” label…..too a point. But again, that is just my opinion. I also feel that it is not too late to change things! My question to you is how? We didn’t get to this point over night and it we won’t change back overnight either. I guess it’s a fine line to do our jobs and not get in trouble because we broke a policy.

    I truly do question how do we change the mentality of the fire service? I am not saying we should go back to the days of no SCBAs and running into every fire, but I am also not saying that the departmental focus should be on risk management and community outreach programs. I would truly love to sit down and talk about ways we as firemen…not chief officers mind you, can change what we see. Stay safe, you have gained a new blog reader here!

  36. Joe,
    I wish I’d seen this when it was originally posted. Regardless, well done and on point. The problem is too few people want to own the fact that the trade of Firefighting is a Combat Profession. You cannot expect to be in, on, or around a building that is on fire and not be in harm’s way. It’s when we deny the nature of our trade that we allow those who have neither the courage or the capacity to stand between their neighbors and unrestrained fire TOO much of a voice in how we conduct ourselves as thoughtful, concerned men and women who care first about our communities. I agree that there are many times when the assessment of “it’s too far gone” is applied because there is a lack of willingness to place oneself in harms way OR more often a lack of capability on the part of the fireground team. However as long as it is easier and cheaper to buy reflective vests and command boards than it is to train your firefighters to thrive on the fireground many administrators will chose the former. Keep up the good work, and I will buy you a beer at FDIC next year. Cheers.


  37. Raymond Stackhouse


    As usual you are saying what needs to be said.

    It is even more important for those of us that work and volunteer is areas that see very few fires to have a grip on this situation. When you are expected to react and perform in the same efficient manner as those that catch work on a regular basis there can be no hesitation, no uncertainty on tactics or what your job is. As has been said, accountability, building stability and all of those other size up considerations need to be taken into account, but that needs to happen as a matter of course and feed your thought process for aggressive fire attack, not prevent it!

  38. Joe,

    Thanks for you’re reply. I think somehow my first message has been reposted. I apologize for the redundancy. First, let me thank you for your years of military service.
    Second, now that we’ve got all the intro’s out of the way, and agreeing to keep personal stuff out, I appreciate the ability to talk about firefighting topics and the job that we all love to do.
    I look forward to future opportunities to share information.

    Steve Marsar

  1. Pingback: Equations or Effectiveness? Have We Become So Smart We’re Stupid? : HPFIREFIGHTER.com

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