Let me say first that I have not had much time as a firefighter.  Being new and impressionable I have been told that first and foremost, firefighter safety is the number one priority on the fireground.  I started my volunteer career fully believing that.  The other day I watched Lt. McCormack give a speech at FDIC on youtube about the problems facing the fireservice.  He went on to talk about how we have put firefighter safety above the safety and well being of the people we have sworn to protect.  That idea goes against everything I had been taught as a firefighter.  But now, having thought about it I wonder if he is right.  Most everything I have read talks about how the fireground has changed and occupants are less likely to be viable anyway, but I still read news stories about firefighters still saving viable people from structure fires.  Are we really more important than the people we swore to protect?  I am sure Lt. McCormack is not advocating firefighter suicide, but I worry that the new safety push is used as an excuse to not train and become proficient in size up and interior tactics.  I say that because I have seen that trend in the volunteer side of things.  I have heard people say " the victim probably wont be viable anyway when we get there so why should we be interior firefighters and risk our lives?" 

What do you guys think?

I am nearly alone in my dept. in thinking this way.

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The truth is closer to what Ray McCormack says than not.  Look we all try to operate as safely as possible but let me ask you this...If you aren't willing to risk anything to save a life why did you become a firefghter?  For the T-shirt?  For the chicks?  What?  Now let's be clear, the you I say isn't you specifically, it is a generic anyone entering the fire service. 

No one, including LT McCormack is advocating blindly charging into buildings on fire.  We need to do proper size up.  Where is the fire, what is burning (contents or the structure itself), where is the fire going, can we make a grab of a trapped civilian, can we advance interior and kill the fire?  Utilizing that information we formulate a plan and decide whether entry, search and fire attack are viable options.  Whenever we can we must search, and we must kill the fire, from the interior.

To try and save a life I will push a little harder, go in a little deeper.  But we have to pay attention to smoke and fire conditions, structural stability, and more.  Those who say fire burns different today are right.  They are hotter and there is more smoke which is fuel.  We must be hypervigilant to changing conditions.



It's all about managing risk. Firefighting is dangerous. Always was and always will be. We cannot allow ourselves to get to the point where we won't enter a structure because someone MIGHT get hurt. Of course we might get hurt; we know that going out the door. That doesn't mean we disregard our size-up or totally ignore risk. The answer is to balance the risk taken with the expected reward (saving life). Anyone claiming to have an easy answer that will always apply is full of it. Every department has different staffing, equipment, response times, experience levells, etc. A KNOWN life hazard has to be addressed and this means the allowable risk goes up. This means a person has been seen or heard by firefighters, or there is credible info from a civilian on scene. Such as: "My daughter is asleep in the 2nd floor bedroom to the right of the stairs". This can be considered to be reliable info. Not guaranteed accurate, just reliable. Occupants of private dwellings will generally give good info. As the buildings get bigger, the info becomes less reliable. Closed doors within a house can provide a fair amount of protection from heat/smoke/fire gases in rooms other than the immediate fire area. I don't believe we should write off occupants as not viable. All areas of the house still must be searched but it may have to be done behind hoseline advance. This will depend on amount and location of fire, and resources available. If staffing is very low and there is a known life hazard it would be acceptable to put search before hoseline advance if victim location made it feasible. Otherwise, if staffing is low I believe the top priority should be hoseline advance. Even with a known life hazard, hoseline advance may be the best use of staffing.

My thoughts on Lt. Mac. He is a great guy.

Jim, We hear about how we are the number one person on a fire scene all the time. I know of departments that will not enter or vent a roof if they think they are dealing with light weight construction. I personally think that all across the country they have preached firefighter safety to such extremes that they have scared most. I also believe if we train and use some common sense we can make entry into more places then most think. We need to do good size up and determine what the proper action is going to be. Advance the line and fight the fire or send a team in to do a search. Being a line officer I have had to make these calls. But I also keep in mind what I seen when arrived what I see just before entering and what I see while moving forward in a building. Also knowing what I'm capable of and what my crew is capable of. You would be amazed to what the human body can handle and the will power to survive. All homes occupied or not should be searched if any way possible. Flames blowing out all windows and the roof is probably a good sign that there is no viable life. A couple rooms burning that you need to decide what you are going to do. I think you maybe thinking straight.

Are we really more important than the people we swore to protect?............. but I worry that the new safety push is used as an excuse to not train and become proficient in size up and interior tactics

A couple things to me. Foremost I agree with what Don and John already mentioned and won't rehash that aspect, because it truly is about risk assessment and KNOWING what you have and what you are capable of. At that point, that means I don't blindly follow such remarks because they do not account for differences out there.


To comment on the bolded out stuff...Are we "more important"? Depends on perspective, but like driving to a scene, we are NO good to anyone if we can not do our jobs. This means we need to arrive on scene safely and effectively as well as we need to do our best to ensure our safety. Again we are no good to anyone if we are taking unneccessary risks. Does this mean we are "more important"? Not necessarily, but we were called to mitigate a situation, not become victims ourselves. To properly mitigate it is necessary to size up and make calculated risks. Does that mean one is too safety conscious? No, again it depends on the situation and what you bring to the table.


The second part that is bolded out I find more disconcerting. If such safety concerns are being incorporated so as not to train, then that is a disservice that the dept is establishing on its members and those the dept is sworn to protect. Yes, there may be times you have to write off property or even victims, but that should not be done lightly, it is imperative of any dept to look at their resources and do the best they can. This means that perhaps more training is necessary rather than to use safety as an excuse for less.


Overall, when it comes to speeches by guys like McCormack, Salka, etc, people listen. People listen because these are guys that have proven their worth, have done the job, have lived the angers and so forth. These guys tend to be respected in their depts as well as the FF community.


The problem I have is when what they say is taken as gospel without regard to looking at one's own dept, sizeup, and limitations. I recall a couple years ago we had a renowned FDNY captain, who made presentations and speeches as a pt gig, come to our dept. Overall it was a very good talk and discussion on the fire service and so forth, but an aspect that stood out to me was how he told a member he was "wrong" when posing a question on a victim removal. The question was, you are on a hoseline and come across a victim, do you remove them, or continue on......the FF said they would call in and remove them, to which he said he was wrong. The issue I have is this guy is part of FDNY where there tends to be much more resources on scene and they have their SOGs in place and protocols and so forth....it works there, it has been proven to work there. What he didn't know is what we are bringing to the table and what OUR staffing is on the fireground.


Point being here, is while what these guys say has some merit and is worth listening to, it is also imperative of the listener to know their OWN limitations and what they bring. An aggressive offensive attack is great when you have the staffing there and fireground priorities accounted for. If you do not, you have to know your limitations. Just like the question....to me, there is no "wrong" answer because it depends on the situation. In our case, it can be quite plausible for the hoseteam to come across  a victim and perform the rescue. For volunteers arriving with very limited means and staffing, the situation becomes an even greater aspect of risk assessment and proper sizeup.


To conclude, it is always good to hear such perspectives and opinions, but the prudent thing is to weigh what is being said, not just take it for granted. These folks don't know you, your dept, your district, your challenges....YOU do.

And you've heard it before: "If we get hurt or worse then we're no help to anyone, in fact we complicate the incident immensely."

Remember the sign on the day room wall: "We will risk nothing to save what cannot be saved. We will risk a little to save property than can be saved. We may risk a lot to save lives."

No one sets out to get hurt, or worse, but the fact is simply this...No matter what we do to make the job safer there will always be injuries, and sadly, deaths of firefighters.  There is no way to escape that fact if we know that whenever possible we must enter buildings to effect rescue and extinguish the fire. 


There is absolutely no way to make the job 100% safe, despite the efforts of the uber safety new wave crowd.  In fact I will go as far as to say that once you get into the rig to respond you have placed yourself in danger.  The only true way to be safe in this life is to never get out of your bed...well unless your own home catches on fire then you are screwed.


The problem is the type of "firefighter" that shows up and immediately writes off a building AND its occupants because there is active fire in the building without knowing either its exact location or extent, or writes off the building because of construction type regardless of the fire location or extent.  What happened to doing the job?  How about a proper size up to determine the fire's location, size, and expected travel?  How about actually training and setting up your fire rigs to be able to make a quick heavy hit IMMEDIATELY on arrival at the scene?  How about instilling the sense of pride in the job that is seeming to disappear?  That doesn't mean being suicidal about running into buildings, but it does mean that in certain circumstances take extreme risks in an attempt to save people's lives.   

Well said Don. I agree.

Thanks Derek,

37 years in and I am still passionate about the job.  I think in order to do it right you have to be.

Still passionate also, but equally passionate about everyone going home at the end of the day. Yes, we do risk whatever it takes to save lives, somewhat less to save property. And yes, it breaks my heart when I look a homeowner in the eye and tell him we aren't going to be able to save his home.


I am not sure what point you are trying to make.  Tell me where I said anything contrary to doing my best to ensure my fellow firefighters and I go home at the end of the day.

The fact is there is simply NO WAY to make the job of firefighter 100% safe.  Well, not if you are actually going to do the job of being a firefighter.  If firefighting ever gets to the point where we feel we don't have to ever risk anything to save lives, and to a lesser extent property, I want no part of that fire service.  People expect us to help them when we can and the arbitrary decision to do nothing simply because it is dangerous, means more civilians will die, and needless property damage will occur. 

I believe we owe it to our citizens to give them the best we can and that starts with proper and quality training.  It continues on from there with mentoring of the new guys by the seasoned, experienced veteran firefighters.  It counts on quality offcers able to read the fire building during their size-up, and then make proper tactical decisions based on the information found during that size-up.  The arbitrary righting off of buildings and people simply because of construction with no supporting evidence of where the fire is, what is burning, and where the fire is going, is ludicrous and leads to unnecessary injuries and deaths of civlians and greater fire loss to the structure.

Suicidal Banzai charges into buildings?  Of course not.  Writing buildings and people off with no true justification for that action?  Of course not.

You just have to know your job and your department.  I know fire departments in the area that don't make entry if there's fire showing from more than one window.  At least not until they knock it down from the outside.  I think that's insane but I also don't work there.  In the city we don't have much light weight construction and we have 50 firefighters on scene within five minutes.  It gives us an advantage that some don't have.  You just have to use your head.

I definitely don't agree with what you said about the fire ground changing and it being less likely to save people.  We still save people all of the time.  I just had a fire a month ago with fire showing from multiple windows.  Because of our aggressive interior attack, we held the fire to a couple rooms while the truck company pulled two people out behind us.  Who knows what would have happened to the occupants if we decided to stand outside and pour water in through the window.

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