The No Fail Mission

The risk is great, the cost high, and the task is your responsibility.

I recently saw a picture that was posted on Facebook that came from an article that was on the Stars and Stripes website. For those who don’t know, Stars and Stripes is the military’s version of USA Today, featuring news and information from all branches of the armed forces. It operates from within the Department of Defense but is editorially separate from it.

The picture was of a severely wounded Marine who had a tattoo on his right side that read “for those I love I will sacrifice”.

The story was about a medevac rescue mission in Khandahar Province, Afghanistan. The crew of the Blackhawk medevac helicopter, codenamed Dustoff 59 had made three attempts to land under heavy fire to evacuate the wounded, they were successful on the fourth attempt while under fire from small arms and rocket propelled grenades. Their tenacity saved the lives of those warriors defending out freedom. They potentially sacrificed their own lives to save others.

“It is a no-fail mission. If we don’t fly, they don’t live,” pilot and Chief Warrant Officer 4 Stephanie Truax said. “When it’s your time, it’s your time. I don’t think any of us worry about dying. It’s what we see, day in and day out. War is hell.”

In 2009, Defense Secretary Robert Gates issued an order that all military medevac crews transport critically wounded personnel from the battlefield to a military trauma center within the “golden hour”. Today’s crews have an average flight time of 39 minutes. How did they get to this point? Performing the mission and training.

We can look at these actions and draw a comparison to the fire service. When the bells ring or the tones go off, we are a lot like the crew of Dustoff 59. If we don’t respond within a timely manner, lives and property can and will be lost. Although we do our best to avoid injuries on the fireground and go home to our loved ones at the end of the tour, there are times where, unfortunately, it is our time.

There are those in the fire service who have made the statement that “it’s not our emergency”. They look at firefighter injuries and LODDs and say that we are far too aggressive, that we should write off potential victims and property based on observations, or that we should just fight a fire from the outside and just protect exposures. They may think this is fine and dandy, but what does this do for the family trapped above the fire, or the businessman seeing his life’s work go up in flames? What does this do for our profession’s image? Are we going back to the days of the fire marks, just protecting the lives and property of the insured?

There are times that we can do everything right and the outcome will not be good. Taking the attitude that “it is not our emergency” doesn’t cut it. It became our emergency the moment the box rang in or when the 911 call was made. We swore to protect life and property the day we took the oath to get on the Fire Department, whether it is career, call or volunteer. Nobody goes to work and says “I think I’ll go out injured or be a LODD today”.

We have to be vigilant, keep an eye out on our brothers and sisters and realize our limitations. We are not supermen and superwomen, neither is anybody else. Nobody goes to the firehouse with the intention of getting hurt or dying.

A couple of years ago, FDNY Lt. Ray McCormack stated at an FDIC conference that “the best way to saves lives and property is to put the fire out”

What are my own thoughts to add to Lt. McCormack’s statement?

Every fire incident should be looked at as a “no fail mission”. Lives depend on it.

We encourage and support constructive dialogue and debate. View our comment policy.


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1 Comment

  • Doug Fritz says:

    I releievd to see someone else is challenging the mantra "it's not our emergency".  When you take a handfull of young firefighters, put them in aparatus, travel through traffic, weather, RR crossings, only to arrive at a structure fire and  have to deal with it, how can it not be our emergency? 

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Backstep Firefighter

“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.”

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Dave... you hit it to of he ballpark again! Every firefighter, fire service instructor and every fire chief should read this...i n some cases, it should be read daily as a reminder of what the core mission of our profession is.
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