What kind of mindset are we in when we go out the door?
It’s been a while since it took the time to write something.Â Part of that is because of life and part of that because the constant drone of fear and the associated arguments are growing old.
Instead I turned my focus internally and focused on my work, my job and settled for the occasional comment here and there.
But enough is enough.Â My excuses are weak and the debate is growing tired.Â So here is the deal, there is risk associated with being a firefighter.Â It’s just that simple.Â Whether injury or medical event, chances are you won’t finish your career without getting a ding or two.
There are things we can do to lessen the risk. They involve training, education, preparation, hard work and a commitment to yourself, your crew and the citizens you serve.
Lessening that risk cannot come from avoidance of it.Â First of all that goes against the mission of the Fire Department and secondly avoidance of risk simple sets you up for failure and guarantees that when confronted with it, you will be ill prepared to deal with it.
I read a Facebook comment today that we should never go on a roof to ventilate because every week firefighters die on roofs; taking that risk is simply too great.
News flash folks, if you get your data from Facebook you will be ill informed.Â Firefighters don’t die weekly on roofs, they don’t even die yearly. Much like the bad press VES used to get before they added the “I”, this statement is fear mongering, plain and simple.
Interior attack, roof ventilation, searching, and VES are all valid – proven – tactics.Â It’s just that simple and all this “new” stuff has its place too.
Risk is tricky, because it is in the eye of the beholder.Â The folks you work with are probably the only ones that will have a similar view of risk but even their view may be miles away from yours.
If all the folks on the internet spent half their time trying to learn from what the read or watch, instead of condemning it because it doesn’t fit into their little safety box, maybe we could have an honest discussion.
Instead the fire service is mired in a debate worse than the current presidential election.Â Immediately after a picture is posted there is a flurry of posts from firefighters all over pointing out every unsafe, risky act that they would never do.Â Well how about this?Â Good for you for knowing your limitations Mr. Facebook Firefighting Guru, but the adults are talking so why not sit back and learn instead of showing your ass by condemning a department based on a picture that equals 1/250th of a second.
You see it’s these absolutes that put road blocks into the path of learning.Â We can’t get past whether the action is “right” or “wrong”, when in most cases it’s neither, so no learning gets done and everyone ends up pissed off.
Here’s the thing about the fear based discussion.Â If we only talk about the job from our failures, from the worst case perspective, what kind of mindset are we in when we go out the door?
Mental forecasting is an important part of what we do. Anticipating what we will find, based on the call type, area of town, construction, time of day is a big part of our success.Â But assuming that certain conditions will exist can also be a pitfall.Â Because not all vacants are vacant, not all businesses are empty at night, and heavy fire doesn’t always mean there aren’t survivable spaces.
We should be crossing the threshold expecting we are going to a fire, that there will be victims and that we will be going to work.Â Then we should make a plan based on our resources, capabilities, the building and the fire we face.
And while we are doing that we should not be focusing on dying. I don’t understand how people can go to work expecting to die.Â I don’t want to work with a guy with that mindset.Â Does that mean I am not aware of the hazards?Â Absolutely not. I go to work planning to succeed, and part of that success is living to see another day.Â And that’s how all of our training should be focused, on a positive outcome and success. If we constantly train with the message of failure, we are doing ourselves a disservice.Â And if you are going to use line of duty deaths as the reason for your position, then please do the research and make sure they apply to your argument.Â 100 firefighters a year don’t die for one specific reason.
It is incumbent upon all of us to verify the information we read, before we condemn someone’s actions. Furthermore if we took an attitude of asking rather than telling, maybe we would actually find out some facts before we become judge, jury and executioner.
Photo courtesy of Mark Brady, PIO Prince George’s County Fire and EMS Department
Dave LeBlanc is a Deputy Chief 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. While at the University of New Haven, Dave studied Arson Investigation. He also was a volunteer with the Allingtown and West Haven Fire Districts in West Haven. He spent his sophomore year as a Live In student with the Allingtown Fire District. His education included internships with the Aetna Insurance Company and the Boston Fire Department Arson Squad.
In 1993 Dave went to work full-time with the Harwich Fire Department as a dispatcher. In 2000 he transferred into suppression and was promoted to Lieutenant in 2008. 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.
Dave’s blog tends to focus on current day issues and maintaining a commitment to the ideals and principals that created the fire service, while keeping today’s firefighters safe.