Blanket Statements on Backstep Firefighter

All vacants are empty….

Fire through the roof means no entry….

We have 20 minutes interior before collapse happens…..

Victims can’t survive in burning buildings……

It is concerning that the fire service has become so bent on defining every situation, for every department and trying to develop cookie cutter responses to solve these problems. We have become so entrenched in trying to make the most risk free fireground, that we constantly lose site of one thing. Each fire we respond to we are seeing for the first time. Sure it may be similar to a thousand fires we have gone to before, but it is different for a multitude of reasons.

So why do we insist of trying to create these blanket policies? Trying to make everyone see the world through the same pair of glasses?

I would like to take this opportunity to apologize for my lack of writing for the past several months. We are constantly forced to find balance in everything we do, and recently personal and work issues took more time than I had. For those that have taken promotional exams, you know that the commitment of time necessary is incredible, as often hundredths of a point can separate #1 from #2. As I focused on the books, my daily reading suffered and that often was the source of much of my topics. Fortunately things have settled out and hopefully this piece is the beginning of another long run of articles. Dave….

There is a genuine concern for the safety of our brothers. Even with the number of line of duty deaths decreasing, far too many brothers are still being killed and injured at today’s fires. Are some of these deaths and injuries avoidable? Absolutely. Will we even have a risk free fireground? Never. We can eliminate the risk to our members, if we avoid risk and leave the trucks in the stations. In reality all that does is transfer the risk to someone else. Our citizens.

Everyone Goes Home is an example of a well intentioned policy that is often misinterpreted or misapplied. Sure our goal is for everyone to go home at the end of the shift, in reality our goal is for everyone to go home at the end of the career too. But EGH has never been, and never should be used as a shield to hide behind and not to the job we have sworn to do. So yes everyone goes home, after we respond and do the job we signed on to do.

The move to try and force everyone to read from the same sheet of music is baffling. It is impossible to develop a standardized way to thinking and operating, when everyone’s situation is so vastly different. Departments running with six-man shifts cannot operate the same as departments with six-man engines. Because of this, company officers and incident commanders must evaluate the fire before them and then decide how to attack it based on their resources and what they see. The overall strategies the same, and so are the tasks, it is at the tactical level where things will change. How things get done and when is the big variable, and the one factor that changes in every fire department. How things get done is so different, depending on each departments resources and capabilities, that there is little chance of a nationwide, cookie cutter approach ever gaining traction.

So then why do we keep hearing these blanket statements that we are all supposed to buy into and embrace as “The Word.”? Why do we constantly ignore (okay not ignore, how about emphasize less) the leading causes of line of duty deaths?

There is no easy answer to this. Each of us are “brought up” in different environments and exposed to different experiences. In some cases our experience level may be really low, causing us to accept a more tentative approach because that is where our comfort level is. That is fine, you are working in your environment and adapting to your circumstances. But when that approach then gets published in the mainstream media as gospel, and other departments are chastised for operating at their level, well that is where we have gone wrong.

Recently Camden Ladder 3 made a successful grab of a civilian female while operating at a vacant structure with heavy fire showing from the first floor. By many of the new ideas being written about, this rescue should/could have never happened. Why you ask? Because there are those that suggest there is no reason for us to enter a vacant building (it’s vacant after all) and furthermore there are those that would advocate that the fire conditions present would preclude the survival of a civilian victim.

Should they use what is tested, proven successful within their own department or should they operate under a nationwide general consensus, a “safe” popular opinion? (Lloyd Mitchell photo)

It is important that we stop trying to take the decision making away from the incident commanders. And remember the first IC in the first arriving officer (or firefighter in some cases.) If we continue to advance an agenda that any action that is unsafe is unacceptable, we will pigeonhole our nation's fire departments into a position where doing their job, what the public expects us to do, is unacceptable.

There is nothing more important than the safety of our members. It should be the primary goal of every department, chief officer, company officer and firefighter. But that safety has to be inserted into the context of what our mission is. We cannot, or should not advance an agenda where the primary mission is significantly altered just so the safety of our membership is achieved.

Physical fitness, constant training, and education in the hazards we face should be the tools used to achieve firefighter safety, while maintaining our commitment to the Public we swore to protect.

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Comment by ORBIE (TWEETER) YANCEY on June 7, 2012 at 4:52pm

well i dont have alot to say. but the class i just went through stated risk goes hand and hand with reward. this meaning climbing a ladder to get a cat out of a tree- little risk and reward. entering a structure with heavy fire to rescue a victim(customer)- big risk big reard. but at the same time you have to weight your options. i do agree 100% with you

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