One of the best articles I have seen all year.

The Pussification of the American Fire Service


I freely admit that this post is coming from a place of anger and frustration. If you don’t like it, tough. It’s my blog, my opinion and this is not a professional, journalistic media. Get over it.

This all started yesterday when a good friend of mine, also a firefighter, posted a link to an article on his Facebook page. This link led you to an article on Fire Chief Magazine’s on-line blog that was written by a Mr. Robert Avsec. This particular blog post dealt with the recent deaths of two Chicago firefighters in a structural collapse at a  vacant laundromat located at 1744 East 75th Street. The basic premise of his post, in my opinion, was that the CFD killed Brothers Corey Ankum and Edward Stringer by conducting an offensive, interior operation for the fire located within this building. Click here to read the article and form your own opinion. I’ll wait here.

So. Whaddya think? Did you come to the same conclusion I did or am I totally off-base? If you think I’m off-base, screw-off. You’re one of the people this post is talking about. Told you I was pissed.

Turns out Mr. Avsec is a retired Battalion Chief from the Chesterfield (VA.) Fire and EMS Department. Looking up Chesterfield on the net I find that it is a county-wide, combination department that protects approximately 466 square miles and an approximate population of 311,000. Not a bad size district and a decent population. I’m sure they, and Mr. Avsec, have seen a couple fires. His article, however, leads me to question both his understanding and commitment to the job of firefighter.

Mister (I’m not even going to give him the courtesy of using his retired rank) Avsec bases much of his argument on the International Association of Fire Chief’s “10 Rules of Engagement for Structural Firefighting.” If you have not read this particular document you can click here to view it directly from the IAFC’s website. Again, I’ll be here stewing until you get back.

Interesting reading huh? What I find particularly interesting is that in the introduction of the document the IAFC authors state:

  • A basic level of risk is recognized and accepted, in a measured and controlled manner, in efforts that are routinely employed to save lives and property. These risks are not acceptable in situations where there is no potential to save lives or property.
  • A higher level of risk is acceptable only in situations where there is arealistic potential to save known endangered lives. This elevated risk must be limited to operations that are specifically directed toward rescue and where there is a realistic potential to save the person(s) known to be in danger.

Huh! A certain level of risk is accepted when life could be in danger. Kinda like when there is an abandoned laundromat on fire that has had the gas and electric shut off for years (hence no chance for an accidental ignition), previous fire and EMS runs have made the first-due companies aware that homeless people use this area, and this building in-particular, for shelter, the companies find board-up materials removed in the rear and a door standing open. The only possible argument is the last line in the second bullet point, “where there is a realistic potential to save the person(s) known to be in danger.” But that is only an argument that would be made by those of you on the no-risk bandwagon. The rest of us, those that signed up for the job of firefighter and not that of fire chief/risk manager, would say, in a Chicago accent here, “Ay, if ‘dere ain’t anyone out front pointin’ and yellin’ ‘den I guess we godda go in and make sure ‘dere ain’t anyone in ‘dere.” That’s our job, you bunch of pansie-ass fuck-sticks! You do not simply pull up on a structural fire and automatically write-off the building and any life that may or may not be present simply because the building is abandoned! Period. You pack of assholes. <Exhale>

Rather than keep writing as I get more and more irritated all over again, I am going to post something that was a reply to Mr. Avsec’s article. I think the author of this comment summed it up pretty well. Have at it:

“Bob, I don’t know why your post doesn’t show up here but I feel compelled to comment. I don’t know you, your rank, your department or your experience so I could be commenting on someone who is a chief of a large metropolitan department with 30 years experience, I don’t know. BUT, your article in “support” of the Chicago brothers showed this support by questioning every action of the CFD and, in my opinion, blaming the CFD as a whole for their deaths based upon their operating procedures or your misinformed, lack-thereof.
Firstly, CFD does have SOG’s regarding both abandoned buildings and bow string trusses. I am not a member of CFD but do have friends and other contacts in the CFD. According to both them and published reports, SOG’s for both these types of buildings were followed.
Secondly, as you eluded to in your comment that does not show up here, the first-due companies did find a door propped open and board-up materials displaced. This lead them to believe there was a life-safety issue.
Thirdly, the first-due companies had knowledge due to previous EMS and fire runs that homeless people used the buildings in this area, and this building in particular, for shelter.
Fourth, and I will argue this to the day I die (hopefully not in a fire event in an abandoned building), abandoned buildings do not set themselves on fire. Especially those with electric and gas services shut off.
Fifth and in conjunction with the above point, our job is entirely based upon life safety followed by property conservation. I am in 100% agreement that property conservation is in no way worth anyone’s life or well-being. Especially a building such as the one on East 75th. However, life safety, in my own opinion, is. As you pointed out in your article, we risk ourselves when people or callers are telling us someone is still in the building. In the absence of those bystanders or callers it is up to US, the firefighters who willingly take on a dangerous job, to ensure that everyone is out. This responsibility is not predicated upon what type of building the event is taking place in.
Sixth, the “accepted risk/benefit practices, such as the IAFC’s 10 Rules of Engagement for Structural Firefighting” is great for “writing off” buildings and even lives in buildings involved in fire to the point where no reasonable expectation of viable life exists or that the fire is so far advanced that it is not worth the risk of offensive operations. Neither of these conditions existed at this scene. In case you missed it this was a one-line fire that was extinguished and overhaul begun in under 20 minutes. 
The last point I would like to make is a personal one and it also is in regards to the “accepted risk/benefit practices, such as the IAFC’s 10 Rules of Engagement for Structural Firefighting”. This is a dangerous profession. I will not risk my life unnecessarily for a life or a building that is lost. However, the problem with these “rules of decision making” is that they use static flow-charts to try and control a dynamic and unique environment. You need only look at the annual Firehouse Magazine Hero’s edition for proof. If you read those snippets of actions taken by firefighters from around the country the ones that are recognized the highest are usually for those involving great personal risk that resulted in the saving of a life or, at the least, giving that life the greatest chance at being saved i.e. the rescue was effected but the person succumbed anyway. How many of those simply would have added to another fire fatality statistic had the “model” been employed?”

Damn, wish I would have said that <wink>.

Over the last few years it seems to me that the American Fire Service has suddenly lost any form of balls it once had. Our fire chiefs came up, pulled down our zippers, yanked off our junk and threw them in their collective purses. Yes, I said it, and I’ll say it again, fire chiefs. In general you won’t find too many firefighters who think they should not encounter any risk in the performance of their jobs. Evidently our chiefs do. Do not get me wrong. I will not risk my own life or safety for a life that is already lost or a building that has nothing left to save (sounds kinda familiar, almost like that was written somewhere else). I will, however, gladly and to the best of my ability and last of my strength risk my life in an attempt to save another human being’s life. And yes, even if I don’t even know if that human being is even in there or not.

Another good friend of mine spent nearly a month in the burn unit after he was caught in a “rapid progression fire event.” He and his partner were searching the top floor of a Chicago brownstone for kids that were reported trapped. The fire had originated on the rear porch, a “Chicago lumberyard” as they are known. While my buddy and his partner were in the front room the rear door failed due to the fire, the fire rushed down the common front-to-back hall, into the living room where they were located and out the front, large, picture window that had been ventilated during their search. My buddy’s partner was able to roll behind a couch and pull it on top of him and suffered only a couple minor burns. My buddy, on the other hand, was directly underneath the picture window when the “freight-train of fire”, to use his words, blew over the top of him and briefly enveloped him. Pain, disability, skin grafts, infections, rehab and 9 months later he was back to work. Oh, and those kids they were looking for? Not there. They were down the block at a relative’s house and the other occupants of the building didn’t know. Does that mean that my buddy and his partner should not have been there? Does that mean that they essentially burned themselves? If you answered “yes” to either of those, fuck-off. Do I make myself clear?

The job of firefighter is inherently dangerous and may require us at any moment to put ourselves at great risk. Not carelessly, not recklessly, not without a real justification. What I think has happened in recent years is that those situations that are truly justified have been narrowed to such a fine focus that many in today’s fire service, such as Mr. Avsec, would only advocate the risk of a firefighter when there is stone-sober, MENSA member standing in the front of the fire building, pointing to a specific window, with a blueprint of the building and a personal guarantee that nothing bad will happen. Bullshit.

Ok, I need to go have a snort of something and calm down. While I’m doing that why don’t you go over to Chris Brennan’s page at “Fire Service Warrior” here and read his post entitled, “Quit Telling Me to Change My Culture.” He writes a good article and you won’t have to be subjected to all the profanity and negativity I just bombarded you with.

Until the next thing pisses me off,

Stay Safe!

Hallway Sledge

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My only hope is that Mr. Webmaster sees it in his heart not to delete this posting. LOL.
This is an awesome article that I whole-heartedly agree with.
I couldnt open the link to the article for some reason. But from what I read here I 100% agree with you in what you are saying. This occured after the W6 back in 1999 also. People wondered and argued why firefighters went into a building that they were not sure was occupied or not. But like you said we go by what we are told and what we see upon arrival. And in both of these cases (W6) the firefighters were told that people had been seen going into the building and in (Chicago) I gathered they had a history of people in the building and also materials had been removed and by our job and what we do everyday these firefighters were going in to save a life they thought was in there.

And Ill add this to my post it is an excerpt from Ray McCormack's speech at the FDIC found in a youtube video from the West Lanham guys in PG.

There is however something wrong with some of todays leadership and the message they are spreading. The path they have chosen to follow is paved with yellow safety bricks. If you follow this road it could cause the fire service to suffer its greatest collective lost. The lost of public trust. Your courage, your determination, your will. You must shed your personal cocoon of safety and take a risk. If it was easy someone else would have already done it. What are your chances? Your chances are always the same 50 50, you either do it or you don’t. It makes a difference that we turnout quickly, it makes a difference that we stretch correctly, it makes a difference that we do a search, it makes a difference that we have leaders that believe in the core values of courage, determination and pride. We do not need a culture of safety, we need a culture of extinguishment. If we put out the fire, safety is accomplished for everyone on the fire ground. We need to push in and put the fire out.
Is it ironic to post anonymously? Or is that being a pussy? Or are some cautions justified?

I liked Ray McCormick's speech. I didn't like this article. I've been around the block to recognize chest-beating when I see it. There's only one rule that matters: go home at the end of the day. If you've assumed the burden of command, you are responsible for making sure that your men go home at the end of the tour. I was more willing to take risks with *my* life as a firefighter than I have been willing to risk the lives of the men following me. I can only assume that this idea compounds itself as one moves up the ranks.

I agree with the author - in general, a building is considered occupied until proven otherwise. I also agree with the IFSAC, that there should be a risk assessment regarding risk & benefit. I'll leave the Chicago LODDs to NIOSH, but in the generalized case of making the search of an apparently abandoned building, I would not be as aggressive as I would be in the case of an apparently occupied building. With a report of children trapped, I'd search above the line, no question.

It's not "pussification" to perform risk management. However, it is cowardly to hide behind tradition in the face of increasing, empirical evidence, that the old ways of doing things don't work. As a fire service, we're largely uneducated, and in general, we fail at self-analysis. Changing the way we work is met with resistance, despite the burns, the career-ending injuries, and the line of duty deaths. We cry about the "safety police", and worry more about looking cool, and acting like a hero, than we do about cold, hard numbers. How many skin grafts is one rescue worth? How many early retirements? How many LODDs?

How do you answer these questions? I don't know, but I know they can be answered. I know that if we consistently do A, B, & C, we'll get results. We'll find out how many guys get burned, how many get retired, and how many die. We'll also know how many civilians die. Of course heroes don't want to do A, B, & C. They want to jazz it up, and do whatever the hell they want, whenever the hell they want to. They don't want some out of touch chief telling them when to back out, how to vent, or how to fight fire. They don't want a recipe. They want to freelance.

No one's done it as of yet. We have line-level firefighters who want to talk tough in blog posts, about a past that never was. We have a handful of sharp company officers developing new hand tools, and some tactics, but they're flying by the seat of their pants. We have chief-level officers who are more interested in community awareness, and expanding the out of hospital healthcare network. We don't have anyone who's going to find what the best (most lives saved, fewest career-ending injuries) way of fighting a fire in a frame single family residence, much less in a rowhouse, or garden apartment. Hell, when we have repeatable evidence that something works (NIOSH report on PPV) we, by and large, ignore it.
Where to start on this one...

This entire article is based upon a false dilemma, a logical fallacy that postulates only two extreme solutions to a situation or problem. The real problem here is that of course, the solutions to this problem are not just the two extemes. The author paints his points as a Courage vs. Cowardice debate. Nothing could be farther from the truth. What he's really talking about is Courage vs. Intelligence. We need both in this profession, not just one of them.

Next is the bogus "If you question my position, you're wrong and you're the people I'm talking about." attitide displayed in the article. None of us are infallible, but when you state - prior to any disagreement - that anyone that disagrees is wrong, that's not a rational position, nor is convincingly defensible.

Then there's the offensive title and language in the article. What kind of firefighter would write something so obviously offensive to female firefighters? I'd like for the author to explain how his gender-based analogies fit female firefighters. If you want the public to REALLY question the funding and public support we get, you should write something that is highly offensive to around 50% of the voters. In other words, you should write something exactly like this article.

Ridiculing survial profiling? Does the author really think we shouldn't look at flashed-over windows and decide that unprotected civilians can't possibly be alive in that part of the building? How many civilians have any of us ever seen walk out of a flashover?

I haven't questioned CFD's operation at the douible-LODD fire at all, because there are a lot of details that are unknown to those that were not there. However, the author's post begs a question. When he states that "this was a one-line fire that was extinguished and overhaul began in under 20 minutes". Other sources state that the collapse occurred "during overhaul". The question that is begged is "were the firefighters caught in the collapse engaged in search, or were they engaged in overhaul?" The answer takes us down one of two very different paths.

Then there is the question about making better choices about what buildings are tenable and which are not tenable. If the structure is so decrepit that it has a good chance of falling on us even if it's not on fire, if the structure is known to be weak from previous responses and pre-planning, and if the fire involves that already-weakened roof support structure, then no matter how brave we might be, the laws of physics are going to assert themselves. In the war between courage and gravity, gravity will win every time.
The author further goes on to define the issue based upon a false premise - that of "No Risk" firefighting. There's no such thing, and I've never heard any firefighter interested in firefighter safety make any claim remotely like it. That puts this in the world of another logical fallacy - the Straw Man argument. In other words, he's arguing with a concept that he made up, but attributing it to people with whom he disagrees..

Then there's the "Chicago Lumberyard" statement. Those places obviously exist. Conditions there can occur exactly as described. However, that construction type wasn't involved in the LODD incident under discussion and it doesn't apply to many LODD and multiple-LODD situations.

Most importantly, he decries doing survival profiling while citing the W6 incident. What does the author think that Chief McNamee was doing when he stopped further rescue operations for the six trapped firefighters? What does he think of Chief McNamee's calls for improved firefighter safety and "changing the way we do things"? When discussing the W6 incident, I'll take the word of someone who was there and who actually had to make probably the most difficult decision that any of us will ever make over an anonymous poster who was NOT there and who apparently values obscenity over accuracy.

The bottom line is that when the author claims that there are only two choices - the culture of safety vs. the culture of extinguishment, he is buying into another false dilemma. Smart firefighters understand that what we really need is a culture of safer extinguishment.
Excellent post, well thought-out, and well said.
You'll probably like this: You probably need to read this:
It is commonly misunderstood to mean "to raise the question". Sorry to be pedantic.
Sean, I read both of your links prior to responding.

Sorry to be a little pedantic in return, but material fallacies (including begging the question) go to the factual accuracy of an argument's claim. The author did beg the question using a circular argument of the type discussed in your second link, because his argument explicitly and implicitly assumes that the CFD firefighters involved in the collapse were engaged in a search and that ergo, they simply HAD to be inside at the time the collapse occurred, becausethey HAD to search, becaues....well, you see the circularity there? There has been no evidence to show if they were engaged in a search or if they were engaged in overhaul, or if they were assigned to some other task at the time of the collapse.

From your second Wiki reference: "Begging or assuming the point at issue consists (to take the expression in its widest sense) [of] failing to demonstrate the required proposition." The author certainly has not demonstrated that the LODDs were engaged in search (the required proposition).

With the material facts of the argument in doubt (were the firefighters involved in the collapse searching, or were they overhauling? i.e. material fallacy) due to two different variations on the material fallacy (circular reasoning and factual accuracy) it both begs and raises questions.

Regardless, some of the author's claims don't withstand even a little scrutiny.

We all know that any firefighter or other public safety LODD is a tragedy. The motives and courage of those who fought the fires under discussion are not what is in question. We can keep this tragedy from compounding itself by discovering the facts, applying them to similar situation, and using the lesson's learned to help prevent similar future tragedies. THAT is the best way to honor LODDS, long after the funerals and memorial services are over. Never Forget is a good thing. Never Forget combined with Lessons Learned is better.
Well said.

I wasn't saying anything about survival profiling while I was talking about the W6 at all. When I made that statement I was just trying to say that there were people who blaimed the firefighters for the LODDs because they didnt know all the facts at the time and said they should of never entered an abandon building. I was not trying to say anything poor against the actions that Chief McNamee made that night.

I do apologize if that is how it read.
Very good article.
Ben, I'm sorry, I missed the subtleties of your premise. This may come in handy as well: I've found that people, especially firefighters, really appreciate it when you correct them on points of rhetoric. /wink

More seriously, I agree very much with what you've posted regarding this blog.

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