Rhetorical Lesson No.6:Excuse By Explanation Makes Everything Okay

If near-tragedy happens, does how we explain it make it okay that it happened?

A captain and four firefighters are burned in a reported flashover while searching for the seat of the fire in the attic of a private dwelling. Each received second and third-degree burns to their hands, necks and ears.

” – a contractor working on a neighbor’s home saw smoke coming from the foundation and the attic,”

““While firefighters were in the attic attempting to find the source of the smoke a “flashover” occurred (oxygen being introduced to extremely hot smoldering fire and gas), engulfing the firefighters. One NOFD captain and four firefighters suffered various second and third degree burns to their hands, necks and ears,” said a statement from the NOFD.” bold mine

It is culturally and scientifically proven that we are expected to receive some form of physical damage due to the nature of firefighting tasks. The point of receiving burn injuries can range in spectrum from not wearing all of our PPE to identifying burns at the places on our body where PPE is compressed. However they occur we should consider what were the individual and corporate actions involved leading up to the point of injury and where correction, if any, can be applied.

So how is it that the skill and training “prevented what could have been a devastating catastrophe” when:
1. The injured were burned during the point of flashover.
2. The injured were transported to a hospital.
3. The injured will meet with a burn specialist for further recovery.
4. The injured faced outward signs of a fire in multiple locations.

“Skill and training” did prevent death and you cannot be any more worse than dead but what did skill and training, as cited in the story, truly prevent especially when injuries were occurred by fire behavior. To say “prevent” means that the prevented act was not allowed to occur. Or in this case, the fire had been prevented from flashing over.

So for the rhetorical argument I state that it is a fallacy to credit skill and training when neither prevented the flashover and related injures. It is also a fallacy to say that since a catastrophe (i.e. death) did not occur all is well (i.e. you are expected to be burned). Finally, why are we getting burned while operating hoselines? True, the news stories do not state the burned members were with or without a hoseline; however, if you have signs of fire reportedly showing at multiple points, what has happened to your continuous sizeup? Better yet, the increase in heat associated with impending flashover should also be causing a change in the continuous sizeup as well.

The floor is yours.

Four firefighters injured early Saturday morning in Lakeview, NOLA.com
Four NOFD firefighters burned in Lakeview blaze, WVUE
Four firefighters injured fighting fire in Lakeview, WWL
Four firefighters injured in Lakeview blaze, WWLTV

Tactics for Battling Attic Fires, Jakubowski, FireRescue Magazine May 2011
Attic Fires from the Inside Up, Frassetto, FireRescue Magazine May 2011
Hidden Danger, Rice, Sheppard, Fire Rescue Magazine March 2009
Recognizing the Warning Signs of Flashover, Robertson, FireRescue Magazine August 2009
Understanding, Anticipating and Avoiding Flashover, Robertson, FireRescue Magazine August 2008

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  • John Mitchell says:

    Another substantive and important article- much need and appreciated.

    Skill and training are still hurting us. Why? In my opinion we suffer a serious void in ‘ability.’

    Let us assume that a fire company is the most skilled and best trained in the world

    Lacking the ability to transmit that knowledge and skill to today’s fireground continues to threaten them

    Lacking the ability to recognize and detail their mistakes succinctly and directly continues to threaten them

    Lacking the ability to keep from ‘changing the perspective’ to make an act ‘more palatable’ is shameful and disgusting in my opinion.

    No, it’s not alright.

  • DaveOC says:

    Wasn’t it Capt. Paddy Brown who said “You can do everything right in this job and still get hurt” ?

  • Rich says:

    You are 100% right. Personally i feel that this all starts with how we train new firefighters in the academy. how can we expect firefighters to learn real fire behavior and fire conditions when we are having them train with controlled propane burners in a room that shuts down at a certain temperature ?

  • Rich says:

    You are 100% right. Personally i feel that this all starts with how we train new firefighters in the academy. how can we expect firefighters to learn real fire behavior and fire conditions when we are having them train with controlled propane burners in a room that shuts down at a certain temperature ?

  • Jason Kuehler says:

    I am going to make an assumption that I am the only one here who has been severely burn. I have 11 years experience as a volunteer and 7 yrs as a career fire fighter. In the interest of firefighters everywhere please allow me to provide a different point of view so we can all learn from it.

    I was severely burned during firefighting operations and as you have stated, yes I was in the hospital, yes I am seeing a burn specialist and hopefully someday I will be able to return to work. Like many LODD report there were many factors that contributed to my injuries it was not one major event. My factors were wrong address dispatched, wrong box assignment, limited man power, radio problems and possible entrapment on arrival. I first want to say as the officer of the piece I am not making excuses. I made them, stand by them, and would make the same decisions today. We all know that when operating at a house fire you are expecting certain jobs to get done and you rely on people to make decisions quickly based on what they see (size up), training and their experience. We will never be able to predict all the events that occur at a fire scene. If you have a few years of service humor me and answer this question. Have you ever left a call and said, “That was close” or “Wow, we got lucky.”

    I have said many times since my burns “my training and skills are what saved me.” What I would like for you to think about for a moment is WHAT HAPPENED AFTER THE EVENT. The problem does not go away when you get burned or trapped you are still in that environment. You need to do something.

    The story listed talks about the firefighters getting out and going to the hospital. What would have happened if the FF lost composure, stood up, took their face pieces off? Yes I agree we need to stop the injuries from happening. Trust me I would give anything to have the last 6 months back. My point in all this is that the training possibly in this case and definitely in my, is what PREVENTED the injuries from being worse. When I felt it getting hotter I knew something was wrong, I went back to the line and found the nozzle. In my case I found the house line (I was searching) and tried to operate it but what I did not know was that a hole had burned through the line and we lost water and pressure. My crew bailed and were unable to contact me (they received minor burns). Their TRAINING taught them to leave the line because they knew I was still inside and if I became disoriented I might be able to find my way out. As I was lying on the floor trying to stay as low as possible I wanted to cool the atmosphere. As I opened the line (not knowing about the hole) all I did was soak my heated body and steamed myself. And before you say well you should have done…if you have never been in the situation and never felt helpless you will never truly understand.

    As things were getting worse by the second, my point in all this is my TRAINING taught me to maintain control and stay low. My TRAINING taught me to get to an area away from the fire and find a “safe haven” and radio for help. My TRAINING taught me to call the MAYDAY. As I said early we need to stop the injuries from happening in the first place. But please don’t discredit someone when they say their training saved them or kept them alive. Because as stated earlier we can do everything right and still get hurt.

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