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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Replies to This Discussion

Sorry, W6 statement was Sparky3317's, not the author's. I apologize for the mis-attribution.
While I fully support your concept of what we as firefighters do for a living, the reality of what happens if you get hurt needs to be brought into focus here HS. What happens when you get hurt and you no longer can work or provide for your family? The bravado goes out the window if you have not prepared you and your family for the worst case scenario. Failure to have disability insurance, failure to think about and put things in order is necessary to give you the piece of mind knowing that if things go south, your covered, so you can do your job. And no one cares more about you than... you.

I love you writing style, your ability to say it like it is and to make the call that a lot of folks calling themselves firefighters are indeed just a bunch of pussies collecting a paycheck and putting stickers on their cars. There used to be a day when folks working this job did so because it was a calling. Now it's just a paycheck and a lot of bitching. What a shame people change after their one-year's probationary period... Where's that gung ho can do spirit now?

How do you know it's vacant if you didn't search?
I'd like to know how some of you got x-ray vision and can tell if a structure is vacant before going inside and searching. Didn't the New Orleans Fire Department just save 8 homeless people in a so-called "vacant" structure? They had every reason to go in and search for someone. The fire had to of started some how. If some of you can't handle doing a search, then I'm sure one of the thousands of others that are lined up waiting for a chance at this career will get it done.
Don't need xray vision if the fire is clearly post-flashover, front-to-back involved. Don't plan on getting much ahead of the line in an abandoned building, simple. Until you can show me how many people are rescued from an abandoned building vs. how many firefighters get badly hurt or killed, I'm sticking with this one.

Occupied row house is a different story.
False dilemma. Whether or not a search takes place should be a function of whether the strategy is offensive, transitional/marginal, or defensive. Then there's the search timing and methodology. Are we talking about a quick primary, a more thorough secondary, or VES? Are we talking about searching a solidly-built ordinary row house with an incipient fire in one room or a flimsy non-dimensional Type V with a delayed alarm and fire in the truss void?

There is no "Search vs. Don't Search" rule. This isn't a two-variable equation - the variables are many.
Oversimplifications don't help us either find occupants or help our personal survival.

How the fire started has nothing to do with whether someone is still in an abandoned/vacant structure or not. The fact that a fire started in a structure with no utility connections and no full-time occupants indicates that the fire was started either accidentally or intentionally by someone. That does not necessarily mean that the "someone" is still inside the structure - it's just a possibility.

That doesn't say "don't search". What it says is that if the buildiung is already falling apart prior to the fire, that it is likely that it will completely fall apart during the search.

Then there is the use of thermal imaging cameras during search. They aren't x-ray vision, but they're a lot better than groping around in the smoke. TICs can dramatically increase the amount of area a search team can cover and it can dramatically reduce the time they're exposed inside an iffy structure.

In the CFD example under discussion, it has been reported over and over that CFD had already knocked the fire down and was overhauling. Whether the firefighters who were caught in the collapse were engaged in a search, overhaul, or some other activity has not been made clear.

Having rules of engagement helps. CFD clearly had SOGs for fires in abandoned/vacant structures and as far as those not there can know, they followed them. What that shows is that SOGs can't possibly save your life in every conceivable situation.
Not every fire is post-flashover. In fact, most that we go to aren't. If you're in some rural town then maybe. The one in Chicago was not. We always search if possible. I know that any good fireman on my department will do whatever he can to get in there and get the search done as long as he can.
That "possibility" is enough reason for me to go in. Unless fire conditions are so extreme that I can't make entry, I'll go in. The structure possibly being vacant has absolutely no impact on my decisions, only the fire conditions. So in a way Ben, I think I'm agreeing with you. My initial point was that vacant's shouldn't matter. It wasn't saying that fire condition shouldn't.
I wasn't disagreeing with you on anything except that the choice isn't as binary as you painted it.

The question that you didn't answer is the one about the structure's condition.

If the structure is likely to fall down on you due to its deterioration, even without fire, do you still go in?

After all, it's not just fire conditions that dictate survivability for both the victims and us.

Remember that Detroit started marking some of their glut of dilapidated, abandoned structures for "No Firefighter Entry" in order to prevent some of the future firefighter injuries and deaths. How does a system like that figure into the equation.
Agreed, up to a point, but even in places with longer response times, not all fires are post-flashover in all parts of the structure. The more cut up the structure, the less of it that is likely to be flashed over on arrival, given closed doors with even a minimal fire rating.

There is a lot of difference between searching in smoke in an apartment above or lateral to a fire in a multi-story apartment building than there is in searching a warehouse or mill construction with a large open area, particularly with the well-known hazards involved in truss roofs. More especially, the number of firefighters that bowstring-truss roofs have killed continues to grow.
No. If you can't go in then don't. My post was just arguing that if it's possible in any way, do a search. A vacant building should have nothing to do with it.
I agree.

In the case under discussion, though, one of the contributing factors was the existing poor condition of the structure.

That tends to knock the logical foundaiton out from beneath the rant in the TLP.

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