The Dichotomy of Risk

What works in Brooklyn won’t work in Deals Gap.


Recent events in D.C. highlight one of the problems the fire service faces on a daily basis. Earlier this week five Washington, D.C. firemen were trapped and burned when a portion of roof collapsed on them during suppression operations at a residential house fire. Dave Statter, Statter911, has coverage of the event on his blog “Update on Injured DC Firefighters”.

Certainly a department like Washington, D.C. has enough boots on the ground, that even when a situation like this occurs, in the early part of the incident, they are able to effectively remove the injured brothers from harm’s way. When you go read Statter’s stuff, take a moment to listen to the fireground audio.

So now with two near misses in the last week, the other being Gary, Indiana; the internet will be alive with ideas, thoughts and reasons why what happened in D.C. and Gary shouldn’t have happened. The debate will again continue about the safety of “us” versus the potential risk to “them”.

Safe Firefighter raises an excellent point with his blog, “Is anyone else out there? First arriving and trapped”. While D.C. and other metro/urban departments may have the resources on scene in the crucial early minutes, many departments do not. We all know that fire has no prejudice; it will kill just as quickly in Brooklyn, NY as it will in Deals Gap, NC. (Population 6)


You can be fully equipped to fight the world, but without a plan you’re out in the open just asking for trouble.
(Lloyd Mitchell photo)

As has been mention here before, it is imperative that your department determine how it is going to operate prior to the incident occurring. Regardless of the resources available, “failing to plan is planning to fail.” What works in Brooklyn won’t work in Deals Gap. However this doesn’t mean that the strategy is different, only the tactics used. While we are on the subject, it is important that people realize the difference between Strategy and Tactics. Strategy is defined as; “the art of devising or employing plans or toward a goal.” Tactics are defined as; “the art or skill of employing available means to accomplish an end.” To put in into simpler terms, Strategy is the plan and tactics are the method. Our manpower and resources have a much bigger effect on the strategy than they do on the tactics. The plan needs to be based on an honest appraisal of what it coming. And while the approach to some fires is often similar, we have to remember that we are seeing every fire for the first time.





So what does all of this have to do with the title? Good question. Here are some truths about our enemy. The longer fire victims spend inside a burning building, the greater the chance that they will not survive the event. Carbon monoxide and the other fires gases are quietly working against to end the life of those we are sworn to save. The longer fire burns uncontrolled within a building, the greater the chance of structural failure. That’s right; the fire is constantly weakening the building. For every minute it burns unchecked, the risk to the firemen responding increases dramatically. The addition of lightweight structural members makes the risk even more significant.

Dichotomy is defined as, “something with seemingly contradictory qualities.” If we initiate interior operations with a small amount of resources, while others are still responding, we run the risk of not having anyone available outside to come get us if things go bad. However, if we wait until we have the enough resources, we may have allowed the building to become too safe to enter and left our victims inside too long to be viable. Therein lies the contradiction. It is unsafe for us to operate without enough resources to save us, yet waiting makes it more likely for structural failure to occur, which means it will be less safe for us to operate. Also the longer we wait, the less chance there is for any victim to survive, which seems to be the first item listed in everyone’s mission statement. Saving lives.

This is not a discussion that ends while a global answer. There is no “you must or else.” What should come out of this is that you look at how your Department is prepared to deal with these issues. The time to determine if you will commit to a search is not as you stand on the front lawn. Certainly your observations will be the final piece of the puzzle, but you had better have a plan of how way before that moment. Many departments will cite “2 in, 2 out” as their guideline, and then before they can finish that statement will state that “2 in and 2 out” goes out the window with known life hazard. A good question to be asking is “what is a known life hazard?” It has been debated since the inception of the OSHA rule. Again the time to figure that out is not 2 a.m. in February as your engine turns on to the fire block.

It is incumbent on each and every department to determine the hazards and risks that exist, and develop a plan for each situation. Standard Operating Procedures, riding assignments, predetermined response plans (run cards), and determining the operational priorities are all part of this process. And while it may sound like a lot of work, it will be done one way or the other. If you do it ahead of time, your Officers and firemen will have a framework to work it that will help them during the critical moments at 2am. If you don’t, then they will fly be the seat of their pants and become overwhelmed as they figure it out on the fly.

Thoughts and Prayers to the Brothers of DCFD Truck 13 and Rescue Squad 3.


Photographs courtesy of Lloyd Mitchell with permission.




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4 thoughts on “The Dichotomy of Risk”

  1. Hi,

    I think the first point which can do the difference, is the strict definition of strategie and tactics. The definition you make are right, but not applied the right way.

    The “plan” strategie is about, is the plan made by the city, or the country to put hydrant, to build fire station (where) and so on. As a FF on the scene, you can’t change the strategie: you can just use the “tools” the strategie gives you.

    From a military point the result of the strategy is the number of tank the country build for you, the tactics is the way you will use the tank.
    The tactic is the way you use the tools and the human ressource you have, in order to perform “something”. If you have only 3 tanks, you will work with 3 tanks.

    What we notice is that the US FF use (perhaps without knowing that), the same method that the US Army. This method is based on the book “Of the War” by Carl Von Clauswitz and is about the “gravity center”. Meaning the enemy has a gravity center, a point of max energy and you need to attack it here.
    In fact, with this concept, there is one goal.

    Unfortunatly, is the result was perfect in front of “classical” enemy (III Reich for example), it’s not right against other enemy (Vietnam was the first example, and Irak is an other). And against modern fire, it’s not better. The spread of fire, the high quantity of smoke create a “moving enemy”, a 3D enemy, a gazeous one, so, a one yçou can’t really understand.
    Firing tank against tank is pretty easy.

    But firing at an enemy which is “inside” the population or in the forest is harder. And even with thousand of tons of bomb against Vietnam, the result was not of the same impact than during D-Day in Normandie.
    Against a “traditionnal” fire, flowing 1000GPM with solid bore is effectif. In front of today’s fire, it is not.

    The French army used a change in this way of doing, called the “major effect”. The major effect is the best result you can get, according to the situation, to the time, and to the tools you need. It’s not the final goal.

    For US FF for example, the final goal is to save so you perform the VES action. But in some cases you find no-one and have accident. The major effect can be “attack the fire” as, in some cases, this is the attack which, acccording to tools and human ressource, will give you the “major effect” against the fire, and then let you perform the search and rescue.

    On his book “Theorical Tactics”, the General Yakovleff talk about an exercice he performs with the US army, showing the problem of the use of “gravity center” as the only goal. During this training, destruction of the enemy artillery has been defined as the gravity center, and the US officier perform that, and destroyed about 80% of the enely. At first step, it seems to be a victory. Unfortunatly the enemy made a back-attack with his 20% tanks still intact… and win the battle!

    Tactic is interresting but very hard to study. On our group of flashover instructor, we have a team working on that for about 2 years. We start to be able to describe some points.

    I suggest really to read “Of the war” by Clauswitz. It’s not easy to read, but open mind to very interesting concept.

    Best regards
    Pierre-Louis

  2. Pierre Said:
    “The French army used a change in this way of doing, called the “major effect”. The major effect is the best result you can get, according to the situation, to the time, and to the tools you need. It’s not the final goal.”

    Dave Said:
    “It is incumbent on each and every department to determine the hazards and risks that exist, and develop a plan for each situation. Standard Operating Procedures, riding assignments, predetermined response plans (run cards), and determining the operational priorities are all part of this process.”

    Those two statements say pretty much the same thing Pierre.

    I am not sure I agree with your statement “And against modern fire, it’s not better. The spread of fire, the high quantity of smoke create a “moving enemy”, a 3D enemy, a gazeous one, so, a one yçou can’t really understand.” There is more information and training available today regarding Fire Behavior than ever before. Certainly some of the close calls and Line of Duty Deaths are a result of a failure of understanding Fire Behavior, but that is not a global failure on the part of the Fire Service. Folks like Paul Grimwood and Ed Hartin have done yeoman’s duty educating the Fire Service on the “guerrilla enemy” we face on the modern fireground.

    “The “plan” strategie is about, is the plan made by the city, or the country to put hydrant, to build fire station (where) and so on. As a FF on the scene, you can’t change the strategie: you can just use the “tools” the strategie gives you.”

    Again I am forced to disagree with you. Certainly decisions the Town or City make about staffing and equipment will affect your strategy, but strategy needs/is determined on a per incident basis and then we need to choose the tactics or tools that will accomplish that goal.

    Dave

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