Surprisingly enough, I'm sitting here at my computer wrangling over the definition of a "working fire" although after 28 years on the job, I know exactly what I mean when I say I have arrived and have a working fire, but putting it into words for our procedure manual doesn't seem to be going well.

This whole revelation occurs at the confluence of two events: 1) I'm working on our SOG manual's definitions section and 2) the other night I arrived on scene of a well-involved structure that I declared a defensive fire, but with the transition our department is going through right now, I thought about it and considered that perhaps I wouldn't be getting certain resources allocated to me (like utilities, additional staff, etc.) unless I expressly declared this a "working incident".

Fortunately, the Dispatchers on duty knew that I wanted the notifications without my stating that word "working" (when I called them on the phone later, they informed me that when I gave my initial report and declared it well-involved, they got the picture and made the calls), but who's to say that this will always be the case. So off to the definitions section I go...

In conducting research, we try to triangulate our sources, because really (especially in emergency services) there really is no one absolute expert who says, "This is the Gospel" and everyone else goes, "Okay". After going through all my pertinent textbooks and substantial internet hits, I'm no further along than when I started. So what is a "working fire"?

"Fire that is found in the free-burning state." "Fire that requires all hands of the initial assignment to work." "Fire where it is anticipated that all companies will work when they get there." "Signal to dispatch to make notifications." "Fire where companies will be in service for greater than 20 minutes." "Fire that will take at least two lines to control." "Fire that requires a supply line."

These are only a very small sample of what I have found. In fact, sitting here, I'm thinking, this might be a good problem statement for an applied research project ("What is a working fire?" I can get a problem statement and thirty pages out of that! Brings to mind the motto of the EFO Student - "Two-oh and go").

I know what I'm going to write, but the lesson to be learned is that the fire service can't seem to agree on a lot of things until we are forced to do so. The common terminology for NIMS had to be attached to the threat of holding out funding unless organizations complied with it. I love the Nextel commercial with the "If Firefighters Ran Government" concept. I can't get agreement out of two firefighters as to what the hell they want to eat for dinner tonight and we're expecting wholesale agreement on water quality? As flattering as the commerical is, you know those advertising executives never spent 24 hours in a firehouse.

At the risk of exposing my lack of biblical knowledge, isn't that part of the whole tale of the Tower of Babel? The problems that occurred because no one could speak a common language? How can we expect to build an enduring legacy of community service and leadership for our industry if we can't even agree that a tanker is likely to drop water ON you while the only way you'll get water dropped on you by a tender is if you are standing in the Fold-a-Tank?

The fire service is at a critical juncture in its existence, where we have the opportunity to standardize our operations, our terminology, and much of the rest of what we do. We can work together to meet the needs of our nation, or we can work apart. Credentialling and typing are essential items needed to allow resources to operate outside of their own jurisdictions, and with the massive numbers of resources that go across state lines these days as a result of disasters, we have a need to be able to talk to one another on interoperable communications (THAT's a whole other subject), but if we aren't even talking the same language, what good are interoperable radios?

We all, as emergency service leaders, need to let go of our egos from time to time and reach out to try to communicate with each other. We let go of 10-codes years ago, and we adopted the NIMS standard language years ago as well. But in my studies, I still see organizations using codes and signals and everything else. Just as a large influx of immigrants to our jurisdiction has pushed me to learning some rudimentary Spanish, regardless of any political view in one way or another, these people are there, I have to help them, and it would help if I knew what they were saying to me. Likewise, coming from the great state of South Carolina, if I arrive in North Dakota for a disaster, it is essential that I can speak to you and that you can understand what I am telling you.

The entire fire service must begin to work closer together and put away our disagreements. Volunteer or career, we are all in this together and we all need to put our egos aside and work to a better whole, a best practice, and to serve the customers we are charged with assisting. If you can't see that in those terms, realize this is truly a working incident that we all are called to try to solve. You are part of that assignment and we are calling you to step up to the plate.

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Comment by Jenny Holderby on October 7, 2008 at 11:48am
WAIT!! Are we trying to "fix" something that isn't really broken? I understand the necessity of being able to communicate between Fire/EMS/law enforcement. That is why we have NIMS. But I, in SE Ohio will probably never NEED to speak to a policeman in NYC in an emergency situation. Nor will a medic from LA need to understand what I want when I say send me a tanker. However, the guys from WV or KY still know what I am saying because we all speak the same dialect. NIMS insures that we are all on the same page using the same terminology when we need to. Using clear text is necessary and allows us to understand communications within our own region and beyond. We all understand ENGLISH. Why do we need to make things MORE complicated than that?
To me, a working fire means that somebody is on scene and SEES fire. What the IC decides he needs from that point on is HIS decission & he will relay that to 911 who will follow protocol & do thier job or listen to the IC & carry out his request.
Not every one lives in a metropolitan area any more than they do a rural area. The way we fight fire and perform Emergency services is pretty much the same but we use what works for US which may not work for you in a totally different setting. We are all cross training between fire/EMS & law enforcement so we can all work together. We hold regional & multi state drills. That's very good in preparing for national disasters and that is what we should do. It is working.
You don't realize how differently people do speak english until you have been in a classroom with 25 men from literally ALL over the USA and listened to them talk. You practically need an interpreter to understand a conversation between a guy from NC & one from NY even though they are both career fire fighters with several years of experience until you learn to LISTEN to them.
I'm sorry I just don't agree with making communications a national standard beyond NIMS.
Comment by Ron Ayotte on October 5, 2008 at 5:28pm
Art... better to be seen than viewed!
The ponies are fine... my son's is for sale.. lots of lookers, no buyers; mine has just shy of 9K now.

As for the topic... the PD are more unified bcecause of the fact that everyone is scared of crime, but think that fire won't happen to them. The politicians say they are for public safety.. but that means they are more
"pro police" than "pro fire"...

The whole idea of "one terminolgy" springs from some some bureaucrat's desire to have any firefighter from anywhere in the country be able to respond to Smalltown USA and Megalopolis USA. While it easy to say that one "terminology language" should be used... there are literally tens of thousands SOPS, SOGS that would negate this.. let alone those FD's who (insert scared, shuddering icon here) have no standard operational procedures and guidelines at all.Look at the air pack debacle... the Feds wanted interoperability and interchangeability with any manufacturers airpack, especially the SCBA cylinders... all were to be low pressure, with the bottle color "baby blue".... It would be just another unfunded mandate that would costs the cities and towns hundreds of thousands of dollars to implement. It's apparent the bureaucrats never heard of compressors and air fill stations.
Comment by Art "ChiefReason" Goodrich on October 5, 2008 at 10:05am
Although I remain optimistic that the entire fire service can get into lock step on the important issues SOME DAY, Gonzo raises some key issues that has caused the leaders of our fire service to get up from the table and walk away. Call them "deal breakers", if you want.
After 9/11, we were to eliminate the 10 codes and speak in plain English. Of course, 10 codes were used so that the message could be sent more quickly and so that the general public listening in could not know what you were talking about unless they had a list of 10 codes. Plain English is fine, but we still used "code" to call the coroner to the scene. We have since abandoned calling for them on the radio and do it by telephone now.
There has been a lot of national fire service consensus that has been passed and recommended in the past couple of decades. Because the volunteer (I am one) fire service has as many issues as they do different personalities in every fire station in this country, getting them to agree on anything is near impossible.
East Coast vs. West Coast, straight stream or fog, colors of fire trucks, certifications, national safety standards, promotion or election process for officers, volunteer/POC/career differences; yeah, there's some differences.
But I don't think that they are insurmountable. As long as we keep turning to the reasonable people in leadership positions to push the cause along, I feel better that we will, in my lifetime, see some real change in the political anarchy that populates the fire service.
As one who has engaged the political process, I can tell you that as distasteful and undesirable as the whole idea sounds, THAT will be the only way that most of what we want and need in the fire service will come about.
Otherwise; we will remain adrift in a shoulda/coulda/woulda sea of despair and dysfunction.
Gonzo; so good to see you. How are the ponies?
Comment by Katie Moon on October 5, 2008 at 9:59am
Ron, you hit the nail right on the head. Many times, each department thinks they're the only ones who do it "right", and get into a pissing match over territorial and ego issues.
My attitude is, we are all here to serve and NEED to put all other issues aside in order to get the job done. That being said, I don't see it happening any time soon.
Comment by Ron Ayotte on October 5, 2008 at 9:23am
Credibility isn't going to come for theuse of one common terminology. especially when you have departments that "elect" their members based on popularity, departments that have "interior" and "exterior" firefighters, departments that will not train their firefighters to the Firefighter 1-2 standard because they feel that because they don't have high rises or hydrants, they are exempt.

As long as you have departments that refuse mutual aid from a neighboring department because two chiefs got into a pissing contest 30 some odd years ago, or refuse to call a department for help because they are career or volunteer, you won't have credibilty.
Comment by Mick Mayers on October 3, 2008 at 9:17pm
My issue is that it's not just a matter of terminology; we aren't together as one. When we are trying to build credibility for the fire service and trying to fight for more of the budget to give the best schools to personnel and to get them thermal imagers and to put technology on the dashboard, we need to have credibility. And so long as we continue to bicker over things and fail to work together, we will continue down the same road.
Comment by Ron Ayotte on October 3, 2008 at 2:54pm
Despite the best efforts to get the entire country using one terminology... it isn't going to happen anyday soon.

Let each region use their own terminology... it is what they know, it is what the Brothers and Sisters are familiar with.
Comment by Art "ChiefReason" Goodrich on October 2, 2008 at 7:08pm
Excellent thoughts.
It seems that we are motivated in this business by the need to do something. "We don't need that". "We don't need to do that". "Why change that if we don't need to". "I see no need to".
It kind of goes along with this: when we are talking to the Dispatchers, they are relying on us to tell them what we are seeing, so that they can allocate the resources on the cards. Of course, it is greatly simplified if we simply say, "Strike a box". If we don't have that type of system in place, then, is what we are looking at actually what we are seeing and are we telling Dispatch that? How often do we gesture and pace when we talk on the phone? We know what we are doing, but does the person on the other end know?
"Working fire"? What does Wikipedia say?
Comment by Ken Zaydel on October 2, 2008 at 10:51am
Mike, this may be one of the hottest topics in todays fire service. As an instructor and firefighter working with todays fire service has opened my eyes to a lot of misconceptions. Terminology however seems to lead the way. Its kind of like the old Smokie and the Bandit movie where the sheriff tells Jackie Gleason that" its not germaine to the situatuin" and Jackie Gleason says" what the hell the germans got to do with it". We as firefighter all speak a differt language depending on where you live and in what state or country.Terminology will always have problems because we as firefighters can't agree on disagreeing. Know that nims has came along it baffles me that so many people can't agree on commen terminology. Maybe we need to remember to keep it simple.
Comment by Moose on October 2, 2008 at 8:16am
Excellent Blog Post Chief, you are very meticulous and explained what many of us feel in the fire service all over the Nation (not just the Firefighter Nation!lol) I look forward to more of your blogs and forum discussions.

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