Blanket Statements

A new post from "Captain" Dave LeBlanc.

All vacants are empty….

Fire through the roof means no entry….

We have 20 minutes interior before collapse happens…..

Victims can’t survive in burning buildings……

It is concerning that the fire service has become so bent on defining every situation, for every department and trying to develop cookie cutter responses to solve these problems. We have become so entrenched in trying to make the most risk free fireground, that we constantly lose site of one thing. Each fire we respond to we are seeing for the first time. Sure it may be similar to a thousand fires we have gone to before, but it is different for a multitude of reasons.

So why do we insist of trying to create these blanket policies? Trying to make everyone see the world through the same pair of glasses?

I would like to take this opportunity to apologize for my lack of writing for the past several months. We are constantly forced to find balance in everything we do, and recently personal and work issues took more time than I had. For those that have taken promotional exams, you know that the commitment of time necessary is incredible, as often hundredths of a point can separate #1 from #2. As I focused on the books, my daily reading suffered and that often was the source of much of my topics. Fortunately things have settled out and hopefully this piece is the beginning of another long run of articles. Dave….

There is a genuine concern for the safety of our brothers. Even with the number of line of duty deaths decreasing, far too many brothers are still being killed and injured at today’s fires. Are some of these deaths and injuries avoidable? Absolutely. Will we even have a risk free fireground? Never. We can eliminate the risk to our members, if we avoid risk and leave the trucks in the stations. In reality all that does is transfer the risk to someone else. Our citizens.

Everyone Goes Home is an example of a well intentioned policy that is often misinterpreted or misapplied. Sure our goal is for everyone to go home at the end of the shift, in reality our goal is for everyone to go home at the end of the career too. But EGH has never been, and never should be used as a shield to hide behind and not to the job we have sworn to do. So yes everyone goes home, after we respond and do the job we signed on to do.

The move to try and force everyone to read from the same sheet of music is baffling. It is impossible to develop a standardized way to thinking and operating, when everyone’s situation is so vastly different. Departments running with six-man shifts cannot operate the same as departments with six-man engines. Because of this, company officers and incident commanders must evaluate the fire before them and then decide how to attack it based on their resources and what they see. The overall strategies the same, and so are the tasks, it is at the tactical level where things will change. How things get done and when is the big variable, and the one factor that changes in every fire department. How things get done is so different, depending on each departments resources and capabilities, that there is little chance of a nationwide, cookie cutter approach ever gaining traction.

So then why do we keep hearing these blanket statements that we are all supposed to buy into and embrace as “The Word.”? Why do we constantly ignore (okay not ignore, how about emphasize less) the leading causes of line of duty deaths?

There is no easy answer to this. Each of us are “brought up” in different environments and exposed to different experiences. In some cases our experience level may be really low, causing us to accept a more tentative approach because that is where our comfort level is. That is fine, you are working in your environment and adapting to your circumstances. But when that approach then gets published in the mainstream media as gospel, and other departments are chastised for operating at their level, well that is where we have gone wrong.

Recently Camden Ladder 3 made a successful grab of a civilian female while operating at a vacant structure with heavy fire showing from the first floor. By many of the new ideas being written about, this rescue should/could have never happened. Why you ask? Because there are those that suggest there is no reason for us to enter a vacant building (it’s vacant after all) and furthermore there are those that would advocate that the fire conditions present would preclude the survival of a civilian victim.

Should they use what is tested, proven successful within their own department or should they operate under a nationwide general consensus, a “safe” popular opinion? (Lloyd Mitchell photo)

It is important that we stop trying to take the decision making away from the incident commanders. And remember the first IC in the first arriving officer (or firefighter in some cases.) If we continue to advance an agenda that any action that is unsafe is unacceptable, we will pigeonhole our nation's fire departments into a position where doing their job, what the public expects us to do, is unacceptable.

There is nothing more important than the safety of our members. It should be the primary goal of every department, chief officer, company officer and firefighter. But that safety has to be inserted into the context of what our mission is. We cannot, or should not advance an agenda where the primary mission is significantly altered just so the safety of our membership is achieved.

Physical fitness, constant training, and education in the hazards we face should be the tools used to achieve firefighter safety, while maintaining our commitment to the Public we swore to protect.

 

Dave LeBlanc is a Captain with the Harwich, Massachusetts Fire Department. Dave entered the Fire Service in 1986 as a Call Firefighter with the Dennis Fire Department. He worked full time during the summers in Dennis, while attending the University of New Haven in West Haven, Connecticut. In addition to his regular duties, Dave also manages the Department’s Radio system, is responsible for conducting Fire Investigations, and assists in maintaining the computers systems.

 

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10 thoughts on “Blanket Statements”

  1. Dave, this is a direct result of a lack of fire experience for many of our officers and our adoption of EMS, technical rescue, haz-mat, and other training responsibilities that have taken resources and training from our core mission, saving lives and property from fire.  And yes, liability has a place in this trend as well.
    It is easier and cheaper to write and SOP/SOG that puts in writing how we are to operate than it is to provide the training opportunities necessary to ensure that our officers (and by extension, firefighters) can make good, experience based decisions on the fireground.  It also addresses the concerns of the city attorneys because it provides a written operational standard that can be likened to a "standard of care" that they can use to defend the city or department from lawsuits.
    Of course, since every fire, building, city, and department is different, this "cook book" approach to our craft will hamstring good departments who have their stuff together and allow marginal departments to "skate by."  The result being an erosion over time of our craft as firefighters and the service we will be able to provide to the people who rely on us on the worst day they will ever endure.

  2. Comment posted by Mike Bricault on Fire Engineering Training Community:
     
    -Dave, I think you know how I feel about this issue; I hate it when firefighters use the EGH mantra as a convenient mask for cowardice. I'm happy someone else can see these folks for who they really are.
    -So why do we need the cookie cutter policies and silly rules of thumb? Simple, in departments that have had their manpower levels raped and reduced by administrations that need a scapegoat for their own budgetary ineptitude, having these blanket policies is a way of compensating for the lack of properly trained manpower caused by their maladroit bungling and blatent budgetary malfeasance. 
    -Its much easier to have a catchy little saying that exonerates burning down a building, absolves cowardice or excuses not performing a search, rather than to hire and train firefighters. And the situation is even worse for our volunteer brothers.
    -Its as if administrative and budgetary insanity has become an epidemic thats as communicable as the common cold and just as difficult to cure. And a special thanks to all the Tea Party people out there who have convinced society, while everyone is looking for a scapegoat, that union firefighters are the sole cause of the economic ennui. 

  3.  
    Comment posted by Ian Bennet on Fire Engineering Training Community:
     
    I completely agree with this. We are supposed to be highly trained professionals capable of making split second life and death decisions not robots that follow a flow chart. If people really cared about what kills fire fighters we would never leave the barn without seat belts and a high level of physical fitness and regular health checkups would be mandatory.
    As to why we place less emphasis on such things as heart health, cancer screenings and seat belts, I think is basically not as sexy. When one of us dies in a fire it's a bit like a plane crash, loud, obvious, brutal and very unique, from a public perspective. Cancer and heart attacks on the other hand are things that happen to everyone and are obvious only to those closest to the one who died. They are also easily dismissed. Every time I read a story about a heart attack LODD I find myself thinking, "Well he was probably out of shape anyway", even though I know that we are at a higher risk of heart attacks as a result of our profession. 
    I don't think there is an easy answer. We have to be intelligently aggressive and continue to educate ourselves and teach others the best traditions of the fire department along with the best new information. 

  4.  
    Ray and Ron, Thanks Brothers.
    Chris, I agree that our expanding mission has "weakened", for lack of a better word, our focus of fires and firefighting.  That and the fact that we are going to less fires.  But it is unrealistic to expect that I could even begin to tell a firefighter from Oxnard how to fight fires in his community.  Not without knowing the manpower and resources available, as well as the level of training and experience.
    Brick, I do know how you feel and I am not surprised you were the first to shout out.  I wonder if some of this is an outfall of the "everyone" get a trophy mindset.  We are unable, or unwilling to weed out the mediocre.  So we accept them and then alter the mission so their level of performance (or lack of) is acceptable.
    Ian, until we get behind and embrace the fix for the majority of the causes of LODD (Medical) things will not change.  As Bill Carey says all the time, when one of these National Training programs sponsors a Medical Evaluation Screening Day for all the participants, we will finally accept that the "unsexy" causes are important.
    So much of the "National Movement", not EGH per se but the daily articles about "I have found a better way" is geared toward such a small percentage of the cause of LODD, and while that certainly represents the pointy end of the spear; it can't be the only focus.

  5.  
    Comment posted by Mike Bricault on Fire Engineering Training Community:
     
    -Dave, I could not agree more with your observations of mediocre mentality. "What one generation tolerates the next generation will embrace".
    -I am so perplexed with the current mindset being instilled in our children, who are the next generation of firefighters. This emerging mindset of, "I deserve, give me, I want, I need" has become visible in some young firefighters coming aboard right now. The mentality of believing they are entitled to something completely ignores the reality that the fire service is in fact a service oriented way of life.
    -EGH is a great mantra as long as it is applied by courageous firemen. Firefighting is about calculated risks not foolish chances. Yet many are now using the EGH mantra to mask their ineptitude, which is born out of a lack of drive, courage and resourcefulness; the willingness to be apathetic, unexceptional; uninspiered and mediocre. 
    -The cookie cutter "isms" are ways of justifying low levels of manpower, excuses for poor training and a lack of professionalism. Remember, a paycheck doesn't make someone a professional firefighter, just a career one. Professionalism is a level of performance, a designation of excellence and Every firefighter should be capable of professional level work; if not, then quit and make room for someone who will strive for excellence. 
    -There are still far to many firefighters proudly posting videos on the internet displaying the gross ineptitude and blatant malfeasance. Videos of firefighters that cannot properly force a door or properly stretch a hose line?!? Really?!? And incident commanders making decisions thatclearly display their ineptitude; chief officers who should not only not be in command but most probably prosecuted for their incompetence. Where is the professionalism? Or is everyone just satisfied calling themselves a firefighter because it impresses the ladies? Or achieving rank because it comes with more money and/or less physical exertion? 
     
    -When did it become ok to embrace mediocrity? Who said everyone gets a trophy? The way I remember it, "Second place is the first looser". Loosing is not acceptable. Chief Halton related a quote to me once, "anything short of total success is defeat". I remember a time when there were tryouts for little league; and not everyone made the team. Young people had to learn to process defeat and turn it into courage, determination and the will to win. Vince Lombardi was correct when he stated, "Winning is not everything, it's the only thing. If winning didn't matter no one wouldn't keep score.".
    -Handing out trophies for fifth place breeds poor ethics for success yet TOTAL success is what firefighting is all about; pushing harder than you thought possible to achieve goals thought unreachable… persevering for others.
    -No thanks, I'll stick to my old school values even though some may say there're outmoded, outdated and call me a dinosaur. There is nothing wrong with being a dinosaur so long as you understand there is no future in it. 
    -And for those that are afraid but yet refuse to leave the fire service, I would submit to you that your tenacity is an indication that you may in fact have undiscovered, untapped courage within yourself. The only clause for fear that is relevant is, "Courage is not the absence of, it is the mastery of your fear".
     
     
    -There is no such thing as an abandoned/vacant building until firefighters enter the structure and perform a search and verify whether or not a building is devoid of savable lives.
    -Abandoned buildings do not set themselves on fire; and that means, short of a lightning strike, someone, somebody; a human being entered the structure and caused the fire either by accident or design. And that person may still be inside and in dire need of firefighter assistance. 
    -The only reason not to search is a condition that would needlessly endanger firefighter lives. But don't use that to mask fear, a fear of performing. Will performing a search be scary and dangerous? Of course, but that is the nature of structural firefighting. If that is unacceptable to you than maybe you're in the wrong line of work. All the safety regulations cannot make a perfect world. Calculated risks not foolish chances. Be a thinking fireman not a reacting one.

  6. Dave great article … why is it so great … well I think Chris Minick, Mike Bricault, Ian Bennet, and all the others have pretty much said it all. 
    I just want to add that because you pass a promotional test it does not make you a fireman. We have far too many mangers in the US Fire Service, and not enough Leaders. 
    I like a lot of the men who I work with, but I do not repsect their ability to lead … here's a news flash … if you want to Manage, get a job at a furniture store, or Publix, or a restaurant, they are all honorable jobs that need good managers.
    So quite simply put … LEAD, FOLLOW, OR GET THE HELL OUT! Just my humble opinion … keep up the good work Dave, and welcome back to spreading the word … and that promotion … Hoooorah!

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