Beating Up on Aggressive Firefighting

Don't let shoddy workmanship by others keep you on the outside. Don't let aggressive firefighting take the blame for personnel and department problems either. The safely and properly extinguished fire, with minimal injury or loss of life, should be a sign of your craftsmanship. It should also be an example to others.

Don't let shoddy workmanship by others keep you on the outside. Don't let aggressive firefighting take the blame for personnel and department problems either. The safely and properly extinguished fire, with minimal injury or loss of life, should be a sign of your craftsmanship. It should also be an example to others.

Beating that dead horse which is Charleston…

The latest news about the Charleston Sofa Super Store fire involves an investigation of possible negligence on the part of the incident commanders and others. If you think that the liability stops there, then you must also think that the safeguard is to simply have knowledgeable chief officers in place. I’ve read the various comments to the local news stories and those on fire service websites. The general attitude is that only those of you with the combined knowledge base and experience (neither of which are universally quantified) to qualify as a chief officer should be chief officers. And if you’re not, then you shouldn’t be wearing the white hat. How simple, yet impractically ignorant. There we have it, the default remedy of generic knowledge combined with experience. But, if your department doesn’t subscribe to this, as is both proven and implied with Charleston, what is the default culprit? Surprisingly, not the chiefs. Instead, it is aggressive firefighting.

Have you noticed that amidst all the trees cut down to make the various reports, recommendations, articles and commentary, the one excuse mentioned time and again is the culture, however abstract and nearly extinct, which defines aggressive firefighting?

“Nationally, departments have edged away from fighting fires inside buildings, particularly when property alone is at stake. But the Charleston Fire Department, like the city it serves, values tradition. And that extends to the way it fights fires. The city’s firefighters have a saying: You don’t want to be an “outstanding” firefighter — one left standing outside a blaze. Joe Schofield worked 42 years with the department before retiring last year as assistant chief. He said there is simply no other way to preserve property and ensure no one has been left inside a burning building. That lesson was driven home in January 1999 when fire crews found the bodies of three homeless men in the ruins of a King Street building thought to be vacant, Schofield said. You can’t put fires out by standing outside, shooting through the windows,” he said. “Nobody wants to be on the outside looking in that’s a firefighter. Everybody wants to be on the inside, where it’s at.””
“‘Old school tactics’ questioned after Charleston, S.C., fire” The Post and Courier (Charleston, SC) 2007 [bold mine]

“”We want justice, not vengeance,” Mike Mulkey said on Monday. His son Louis died in the June 18, 2007 blaze at the furniture store in Charleston.”
“Families of Charleston’s Fallen Meet with State to Investigate Negligence” Firefighter Nation/Associated Press, 2010

‘Justice’ implies accountability to a law or standard, reinforced by reward or punishment. NIOSH reports, as my literary mentor reminded me, do nothing for us other than make more rules. Be careful if your members use the term ‘aggressive firefighting’ or ‘aggressive interior attack’ in a flippant manner. If your department doesn’t bring its A-game to each and every fire, the ‘aggressive attack’ could become an illegal act.

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4 Comments

  • Dave LeBlanc says:

    “Nationally, departments have edged away from fighting fires inside buildings, particularly when property alone is at stake. But the Charleston Fire Department, like the city it serves, values tradition. And that extends to the way it fights fires.”

    That one quote says it all…much like I posted about the Safety Mantra. When will the madness end. If all we do is change how we fight fires, there will still be an untold number of firefighters killed each year. Yet the whipping boy is aggressive firefighting………..

  • backstepfirefighter says:

    True Dave, very true. What is even truer is the numbers. Look at the Stats page and the facts replay like an old sitcom. I believe part of the reasoning for blaming a tactic or phrase is that folks still get to go to fires, even though safety may be a short leash. When faced with having to tackle issues such as physical and medical health, in a serious or maybe heavy handed manner, we hear “but then we’ll have to close the firehouse because some of our members might not pass.”

    One thing for certain, two actually; fire departments that don’t subscribe to the safety fad will have to be on top of their people and operations giving no quarter to error. Second, those same departments are going to have to ‘market’ aggressive firefighting in a quality manner, not in a school yard, name-calling style. It will take facts and quality positive examples to support the cause.

    - Bill

  • Jeff Schwering says:

    Can you be an Aggressive Interior Firefighter in todays world? My answer simply is YES! We can be safe and as I was taught years ago, a “Get in and get it” Fireman. Training, being a student of the Fire Service, and good old fashioned common sense, come into play here. As an officer I must train my company to be as good as they can be on every alarm, yet my guys know I’ll never send them where I won’t go!

  • Ben Waller says:

    Aggressive firefighting is fine – in solid, well-built structures where the fire doesn’t have a long head start on the suppression effort.

    Aggressive firefighting in well-involved, lightweight structures built with non-dimensional lumber or with well-involved truss voids are well-intentioned suicide missions for firefighters. An aggressive trip inside a Born Loser might be survived through sheer good luck, or it might not be survived at all.

    Big fire, big water helps, too. If you have a big fire in or autoexposing a big structure, small hoselines are usually inadequate.

    Fire chiefs, company officers, and firefighters need to spend more time studying building construction and fire behavior. We also need to realize that using single-family dwelling strategy and tactics in large, enclosed structures will continue to kill firefighters.

    We need to be smarter to survive today’s hotter, faster-spreading fires in flimsier structures.

    I’m all for aggressive interior firefighting – when it’s appropriate. We just need to be preplan well enough, size up accurately enough, and to be smart enough and controlled enough to stay out of the ones where interior attacks aren’t appropriate or survivable.

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Backstep Firefighter

“To provide a point of critical thought about certain acts and events in the fire service while incorporating behavioral education and commentary in a referenced format.”

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Comments
Bill Carey
Wanted: Honest Discernment in Our Fire Service Discussions
Thank you Ed.
2014-10-22 14:26:50
Ed Hartin
Wanted: Honest Discernment in Our Fire Service Discussions
Excellent article Bill!
2014-10-14 12:47:14
Ron Ayotte
Complacency and Awareness: History Lessons from the Mog and Rangers
Bill.. I agree with Tony C. The situations we respond to sometimes reuire that we tune and tweak SOPs and SOGs "on the fly" in order to complete the tasks given. Fire doesn't care what is stated in our SOPs/SOGs.
2014-10-11 22:14:29
Bill Carey
Complacency and Awareness: History Lessons from the Mog and Rangers
Thanks Tony.
2014-10-06 11:06:34
Tony C.
Complacency and Awareness: History Lessons from the Mog and Rangers
A great read, Bill. I see so much of this in the fire service. I forgot to pull up my hood on the last fire and I didn't get burned. I didn't buckle my waist strap on the last fire and I didn't get tangled up. I didn't check my bottle before my last fire…
2014-10-05 15:37:05
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