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.