Between The Extremes

There will always be fires.

By now many of you have read about the comments made by Ken Farmer at the VCOS Symposium.  In fact, Bill Carey has already commented on this here, "Those Fires. Maybe Andy Fredericks was right".  I have not read Bill’s comments yet, as I wanted to write this with a pure mind and having my own thoughts clear.  It will be the first thing I do once I finish this.

Not having been present for Mr. Farmer’s presentation, I can only comment on it based on how it is presented in the article here, "Fire Service must adapt and change".  Mr. Farmer cites in his article that we, The Fire Service, must change our focus based on how the demographics of society are going to change and further based on the reduction or fire deaths and injuries.

While there are some areas I am inclined to agree with Mr. Farmer about, there is one statement so extreme on its face that I cannot accept it.  This statement is an example of the continuing loss of direction of the Fire Service for some of its leaders.

"Stop fighting interior fires," he said. "Don't go into those fires anymore. It's not worth it. They build disposable houses these days. Our lives are not disposable."

Every day we see examples of how not to fight fires.  As valuable a resource as YouTube can be, it also show us that some of our brothers are not up to task when it comes to fighting structural fires.  But as bad as some of those examples are, this statement from Farmer is equally as bad.

You cannot replace Fire Suppression with Fire Prevention.  There will always be fires, because not all of them are preventable.  As a Fire Department, you must be prepared to extinguish these fires.  Or you must be prepared to tell your citizens that you are going to save them a lot of money in operating expenses.   Because if you are not going to plan on putting fires out, then you certainly don’t need as many trucks and people as you currently have.

And while I agree that no building is worth a firefighter’s life, I will never agree that risk avoidance is the solution to preventing injuries and deaths in the Fire Service.  While not the numbers guy that my Brother Bill Carey is, I can tell you that we have not killed our brothers during interior fire attack any more frequently than we are while driving to calls, and because of medical issues.

Don't worry, it'll stop when it reaches the snow.

So what is next?  Do we not “respond” to fires, because that is too dangerous?  Heck that could solve a couple problems.  If we don’t drive to the calls, then we won’t put ourselves in danger, and then we also won’t be at the scene, so will be safer still.  Heck we may have just solved some of the Federal budget issue, because we might as well give back most of the Fireact funding is we are not going to actually fight fires.

Why is it, whenever we discuss preventing Line of Duty Deaths, there are those that will avoid the discussions of training and fitness, and fall down to the risk avoidance solution so quickly.  And an increase in EMS responses is not a reason to shift focus from Fire Training.  In fact, firefighters being busier with EMS is even more reason why we should train more often, train harder, train better.

Many of you have heard me discuss Victim Survivability Profiling and the potential problems it presents when we operate on the fire ground.  This “always” statement is just as troubling.  What comes next? Do we write off whole blocks because there is too much fire?  Towns next?

Tom Brennan used to write that there are very few “always” and “nevers” in the Fire Service.  It is a statement that is so simple, yet so perfect in defining our job.  You must be flexible, you must be able to adapt, and you must expect that no matter how similar this fire is to your last, something might be different.  Wholesale determinations that some fire or some building or some people are no worth risking our lives for is just as dangerous a mindset as those that supposedly think every fire must be fought from the inside.

This world is not black and white, and there has to be room for us to live between the extremes.

Photo courtesy Mark Filippelli/ with permission.

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