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.