My contribution to the First Due Carnival Blog second edition (Influential Fire Reports) involves two firefighter fatality reports. What may make mine different from others is that these two reports, and one book, have influenced the purpose I have in writing and in learning more about ‘firefighter behavior’.
I grew up as a third generation firefighter and spent a lot of time as a young adult in a firehouse. During those formative years I learned and understood how the informal daily firehouse conversation had as much, if not more, impact as formal training. Likewise, long before I entered the fire service, I learned that training and experience alone simply do not make a competent firefighter. There are many personality traits one has that influence the type of firefighter or officer you are. Through additional education I learned that some help, some hurt and some you have no clue about. What captures my attention the most, and what I find myself writing about more and more, is understanding the ‘why’ in ‘why do firefighters do ___.’ Sometimes, in the aftermath, we learn the ‘why’. More often we are left still asking.
Good Fire, Bad Fire
Sometimes mistakes happen. You or I make a minor mistake and if it hasn’t killed or injured us, or someone else, we get the opportunity to recall what happened. We can learn where we erred, and why, and reinforce the better behavior. In Cincinnati, on 21 March 2003, Firefighter Oscar Armstrong III responded to a house fire as part of the crew of Engine 9. In the end, Firefighter Armstrong died when the seemingly simple kitchen fire, grew, flashed over and engulfed him. The independent and NIOSH reports identified errors and improvements. But what neither of them could explain is why a career firefighter with three years of experience, and numerous training, would not back out of the structure as the fire grew, reaching and passing the stages of rollover, flameover and flashover.
Line of Duty Death, Enhanced Report, Oscar Armstrong III
Career Fire Fighter Dies and Two Career Fire Fighters Injured in a Flashover
Why, when it was obvious that the stretch was messed up and water was delayed, did he not drop back to the porch?
Into The Breach
Sometimes the choice is made for you. Either jump and live, hopefully, or stay and burn. The fatal Bronx fire that killed Lt. Curtis Meyran and Firefighter John Bellew and seriously injured four other firefighters intrigues me, but not in the same way it intrigues you. The reports and additional information contain many details, but what I find interesting is the varied actions of those immediately involved. What is it that leads the victims, all with multiple years of experience and training, in a large, busy urban department, to make split-second decisions deciding their own fate. Why is that one victim can crawl out, hang out of a window, while another climbs over the back of one firefighter and bails out almost blindly? What is it in the mind of one victim that causes him to pass up the rope to his partner – because he has a wife and kids? Of course the foundation for some of the answers lie with the training and experience, but psychology and sociology tells us that it is more than that.
Career Lieutenant and Career Fire Fighter Die and Four Career Fire Fighters are Seriously Injured
What Went Wrong
Anatomy of The Fall
I read quite a bit, for work and pleasure, and ever since the start of this ‘writing’, there has been one reference book, if you will, that I go to at least once a month. “The District of Columbia Fire Fighter’s Project” is study of occupational folklife done by the Smithsonian Institution. Based on research done by Robert McCarl in the late 1970’s, the findings are a testimony to how the spoken word shapes and molds a firefighter. As a reference, it allows me to verify that much of what many new firefighters, and new officers, think of as being new or fashionably unique, is really only another form of education handed down via tradition. Unfortunately, some fire service leaders have not recognized that it is what is spoken inside the firehouse, at the kitchen table or on the front ramp, that has the greatest impact on a firefighters performance – and life.
So, there you go. Two actual reports and one old book that have had the greatest effect in my search for the ‘why’. Perhaps the writing is a type of catharsis. When this blog first started, it was titled ‘Fire(fighter) Behavior’. The original intent was to look at our eduction and actions. Aside from that I’m certainly not out to make a book or a be a presenter. But, as my literary mentor wrote we have to find the disconnect, not in order to place blame, but to make progress. We use physical and medical measures to determine if a person is suitable for firefighting, so why not psychological ones as well, beyond the average background check and psych test? Maybe knowing where you are on the Myers-Briggs is just as important as knowing what addresses get the 400′ line and the rack? Would knowing Adlerian psychology help if you were part of a promotional board? It just might if you want to assign that new lieutenant to your busy truck company. If we’re concerned about reducing firefighter injuries and deaths, then we have to look at firefighter mentality.
“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.”