Over at All Hazards Contemplations, I'm taking a look at a discussion that Capt. Willie Wines is having at Iron Firemen.com  Willie's excellent post on the nuances of phrasing and terminology can be found here.


Willie was taken to task for his comments on some of the recent firefighter near-misses that have been reported nationally, specifically for stating that luck was one of the reasons that these incidents were not LODDs.


One of his readers replied that luck was not involved and that it was Training, Experience, and Heart, or alternatively Training, Experience, and Discipline that led to these firefighters survival, although with severe burn injuries.


Willie did some public soul-searching and then used the word "Fortunate" as a replacement for his previous use of "Lucky".  I have to admit I don't really see the difference - those two terms are essentially the same thing, at least as I understand them.


More importantly though, Capt. Wines' post brings up the topic of just how much luck plays in things that happen on scene, particularly when it comes to surviving a close call.  Obviously, Training, Experience, Heart, and Discipline are all involved.  So are SOGs, staffing, protective equipment, teamwork, and being smart.


And yes, sometimes having the best Training, lots of Experience, good PPE, and all of those other things can let us down if something unexpected occurs.  There's a chance that Training, Experience, and all the rest can get you out of the situation...and there's a chance that it won't.  In fact, the unexpected occurrance might just be a factor of luck.


An old friend, Dr. Jerry DeVane and I spent a lot of time at large fires, complex rescues, and the occasional hazmat incident earlier in my career.  Dr. DeVane wasn't one to stand around the command post - he usually could be found wearing turnout gear, treating patients, or even working the Jaws if that was what was needed.  He taught me a very useful mneumonic for how to not only survive, but to thrive in stressful, dangerous situations.  Jerry said "It's easy.  You just have to be a PUPIL." 


He described PUPIL as follows:


P - Preparedess  This involves Training, Planning, Teamwork, SOGs, and everything else that makes individuals and teams ready to tackle the job and survive the unexpected.


U - Understanding  You must have the gut-level ability to know the job inside and out.  You must know how your equipment works, its' capabilities, and its' limitations.  You must also know your individual and team capabilities and limitations.


P - Practice, Practice, Practice  'Nuff said on this one.


I - Intelligence  We must not only have the mental ability to learn the job and to find ways to improve it, we must be smart about how we operate.  That means following the rule that sometimes the brave thing to do is to NOT go inside.  It also means that we must call the MAYDAY as soon as it is indicated while avoiding a misplaced sense of courage, individual effort, or embarassment get in the way of personal survival.


L - LUCK  Yes, Willie, luck.  Jerry's point is that we will have either good luck or bad luck both when we arrive on scene and during our operations.  We cannot choose where incidents occur or how bad they may be.  Sometimes we cannot intervene in time to prevent either a good luck or bad luck situation from occurring.  Dr. DeVane didn't discuss whether or not luck is involved - he KNEW it was involved.  His point was that we need to be able to recognize when a bad luck situation occurs and overcome it, and we need to also recognize when a good luck situation occurs and take advantage of it.

This made such an impression on me that I use it in training, especially driver/operator training.  I sometimes ask driver/operators to describe the locations of certain tools on their rigs, usually like this; "So, in what compartment do you carry the pickhead axe?"  I ask them the same question when it comes to luck: "In what compartment do you carry the good luck."  So far, none of the drivers have been able to find good luck on their rig checklist. 


The bottom line is that luck does play a part in what we do.  The smart course of action is to plan for bad luck...and when we find good luck, make sure that we don't count on it lasting through the end of the incident.  After all, Mr. Murphy likes to show up on our calls, and Mr. Murphy is a real SOB.


I'm very glad that we are talking about near-misses and not more LODDs in the cases Capt. Wines describes, whatever variables may have ultimately led to those firefighters' survival.


There is no better way to celebrate this joyous time of year than by knowing that the skeletal guy with the scythe lost his shot at a few of us...this time.


Willie, thanks for making us think just how much luck may play a part in "Everyone Goes Home".

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