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?
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.
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”.