For those of you that follow the news and happenings of the fire service, you may have noticed an increase in the number of bailouts reported. Now certainly some of this is a result of the media figuring out that a firefighter bailing out isn’t a normal occurrence, so as one outlet begins reporting it, others follow suit. But it begs the question, why? Why are so many of our brothers bailing out? Have that many incidents occurred where things have gone that wrong?

This year’s Safety Stand Down had the following theme: Surviving the Fire Ground: Fire Fighter, Fire Officer & Command Preparedness. Now that is a great topic, and certainly one that should be a part of every firefighter and every officer’s training. Knowing what to do when you get in trouble certainly goes a long way toward saving firefighter lives. But what about preventing our members from getting in trouble in the first place? Is that something that we focus enough on?

How many hours did you spend on fire behavior this year? Two, five, ten? How many more did you spend on building construction? Until we understand our enemy, the fire and the building we operate in, how can we expect not to get in trouble? Until we understand what the environment we work in feels like through our PPE, how we can expect our firefighters not to go in too far. Until we address the need for an awareness of the hazards of the situations we operate in, how can we expect our firefighters and officers to make good decisions?

John Norman writes that a firefighter should never put themselves in a position where they have to rely on someone else to get out. Think about that one simple statement. It covers a lot of territory. As firefighters we must constantly evaluate where we are operating, what the conditions are, and what our way out is. We need to do this while trying to accomplish our goals for that particular fire.

If we become too focused on the objective, then we may miss certain clues that tell us not to overextend. If we don’t spend enough time training our firefighters about fire behavior, those clues may be missed as well. There has been a lot of discussion regarding Situational Awareness. SA is the understanding of the environment around you; the conditions and clues that you see, heart and feel. But how are we supposed to interpret those signs, if we have little or no training in their meaning? How do we know what is happening if we do not have the experience factor of having seen, heard and felt those conditions before?

It is amazing how much training is offered in MAYDAY and bailout operations and techniques, but at the same time so little is offered about Fire Behavior. In no way does this suggest that the MAYDAY and bailout training isn’t important. Nor does it suggest that any of the recent cases of firefighters having to egress via bailouts are a result of anything but unavoidable circumstances. But as we have seen from various NIOSH reports and others readings, our lack of understanding of fire behavior and building construction has a significant impact on ability to survive in the hostile conditions we encounter.

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