The Path You Chose

Are you certain this is the job for you?

Depending on who you are speaking with, there seems to a gap when it comes to how to accomplish our goals and not get killed or injured in the process. Words like “cowboy”, “aggressive” and “sally” are all used when someone takes issue with how someone else is getting the job done.

Safety, true safety, does not come from tentativeness in operating on the fireground. “He who hesitates is lost” is an accurate statement. Preparing yourself mentally and physically for the job you have chosen, yes chosen, to do is essential if you plan on responding and acting in a manner consistent with saving lives and extinguishing fires.

Look, Think, Act. Sure it isn’t as fancy as the Boyd loop and it certainly isn’t meant to replace much deeper discussions into how we prepare and evaluate our surrounding. But for most of us it is a good place to start when we think about our actions on the fireground. You have to be ready to act, and you do not have the luxury of taking hours to figure out what you are going to do.

Look – This is your size up. You should already know the things you need to know as far as resources, structure, water supply, weather, what you had for lunch, etc, etc. That stuff should be in your brain and plugged in as you evaluate this fire, your fire, and prepare for the next step. Where is the fire? Where is it going? Confirmed victims? Construction type?

Think – This is where you do the math. You take you look input and factor in all those other details and decide what you are going to do. Offensive, Defensive. Passive search or Proactive search. Your decision has to be based on what your department is capable of at that moment in time. If your decision commits resources that you won’t have for several minutes or longer, then your plan must factor that it. At the end of the day you must decide, and decide quickly. This isn’t reckless, or even aggressive. It is simply reality. The longer you take to process and decide what you are going to do, the more the fire is going to grow and make you mind up for you. Conditions that existed five minutes ago are a distant memory. And the perceived “safety” of a slow and thorough evaluation increases the risks to your companies as the fire continues to attack the building and weaken the structure.

Act – Now you have figured it out, so do it. As they say “the time for talking is done.” Your companies should be ready to go, because we should respond to every incident with the expectation that there will be a fire. This is not the time to go find your gloves, or to finish buckling your coat. The public has an expectation that when they call the fire department, someone will respond to help them. That expectation also includes that when that help gets there, it will be ready to do whatever needs to be done. Now we all know that sometimes we can’t meet those expectations. But out failure to meet them should be because the incident is beyond our capabilities, not that we were not ready when we got there.

Earlier I mention Passive versus Proactive in terms of searching. These are not new concepts and certainly not my idea, but for smaller departments that don’t have the manpower to initiate fire attack and search simultaneously, these are areas that need exploring. Passive searching is done in conjunction with fire attack. One or two members will search off the line as it is advanced toward the seat of the fire. It doesn’t address those areas beyond the fire very well, but it is typically used in fires without the obvious victim. As manpower arrives, the other areas where victims may be located can be addressed. If you don’t know where the victims are, the best course of action may be to put the fire out. This makes the building safer for everyone.

Proactive searching comes into play when you get off the rig and Mom is standing in the front yard pointing at a window and saying “my baby is there.” Fire attack may take a back seat or your small crew may be split infinitely smaller. You still need to look and think but acting may be happening simultaneously. This is when people often get confused and say, "We are doing more with less." What we doing is stretching our resources and running the risk of getting over extended.

We need to remember that this is the path we chose. If we are unwilling to do what is necessary to be prepared to act and act appropriately, then it is time to consider that this may not be the right choice for us. “Everyone Goes Home” and the 16 Initiatives were not intended to be a shield to hide behind while we do nothing. Both programs are designed to force us to consider our safety while we accomplish the mission of the Fire Service. While some, including myself, take issue with flippant use of  “Everyone Goes Home” at times because it is presenting an ideal that is no always attainable, it is the spirit of the program that we need to focus on. We need to remember the words of Captain Paddy Brown, “That you can do everything right on this job and still get killed.” So prepare like your life depends on it, it will keep you and your crew alive while you fulfill your commitment to the Public.

Photographs courtesy Lloyd Mitchell Photography.

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