The Definition of Insanity

How can we expect change when we repeat the same behavior?

According to some, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.  It would appear that this applies to Charleston, South Carolina based on a report based on a fire that occurred in 2010.

The Post and Courier published an article entitled “The Same Mistakes”.  According to the article and the report this incident contained many of the same mistakes that occurred in the Sofa Super Store 4 years ago.

Every day articles are written from both sides of the “safety” spectrum.  Those that feel we are too aggressive and too risky, to those that feel safety stands in the way of us getting the job done.  As we often write about here, the answer does not lie in the extremes.  As firemen, we signed on to protect life and property, to protect the lives of others at the risk of our own.  As our “battleground” becomes more dangerous, we must adapt to it and continue to train and learn so that we can execute our mission while affording ourselves the best possible chance of coming home.

It is hard to say how accurate the article is from the Post and Courier.  We all know that there can be a bias in the media, often time founded in a lack of understanding of what we do as firemen.  But when the article is based on and supported by an official document from the Charleston Fire Department, it becomes harder to ignore.  According to the article, there are discrepancies with the report and it has yet to be officially released.

However, even just part of what is written is true; it appears that many lessons have not been learned.  Rather than criticizing Charleston though, think about your own department.  Does your department embrace “lessons learned”?  Are you using every available piece of information to make sure that your brothers are safe?  You don’t have to be a Charleston fireman to learn from the Sofa Super Store, you don’t have to suffer an LODD in your department to learn the lessons paid for in blood.

Every day we suit up we have an obligation, several in fact.  Our department’s owe us the training, tools and structure to be able to perform as we are expected too.  In return we have an obligation to our crew to be ready for whatever happens, to be in position, to do our job.  That obligation carries over to our communities.  We owe them the service they expect.    We also owe it to those that have gone before us to learn from the mistakes, mishaps and circumstances that have led to their deaths.  As we look back in history, every line of duty death should be a marker for us.  It should be a place where we stopped, evaluated, and then applied the lessons learned as we move forward to tomorrow. 

If insanity is defined as doing the same thing over and over again and expected a different result, then maybe we should heed the words of Albert Einstein, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”

"The Same Mistakes" Glenn Smith, The Post and Courier, December 11, 2011
"Critical Incident Review – Structure Fire, 899 Island Park Dr." Charleston Fire Department
SCOnFire, coverage of fire report and fire.
"Nine Career Fire Fighters Die in Rapid Fire Progression at Commercial Furniture Showroom – South Carolina" NIOSH, February 2009

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  • This lack of response seems to never have an end.  From my earliest days as a rookie I recall a clear lack of change to keep from doing the same thing all over again,  Bobby Goldfeder's "The Beat Goes On", my Groundhog Day Diatribe over at Fire Daily, and now yours, Dave.  It's all cyclical.  Someone please help us stop the madness.

  • Ron Ayotte says:

    Philosppher George Santayana stated "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it"…
    Apparently, there are some firefighters who have very short memories…

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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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It should read stratifying ......please fix that typo.
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