The Fantasy World of Firefighting

By: Christopher Brennan

 There are articles being written everyday about the “real world” of firefighting, discussing topics like Crew Resource ManagementEveryone Goes Home, and The Courage to be Safe.  I’m not entirely sure that all of them really address real world operations.  It seems to me in fact many of these catch phrases really are advocating a Fantasy world of firefighting.           

Now, as someone who spent many years playing Dungeons and Dragons®, and has become an avid reader of Neil Gaiman I think Fantasy is cool.  I can totally see the Fantasy World of Firefighting working.            

Your Engine Company arrives on scene to find a two story, ordinary constructed, two-flat, with a garden apartment, with heavy fire showing from the first floor, front windows.  As a level 7 Officer you have Situational Awareness of a Base 10 plus a skill bonus of 15.  That allows you to know intuitively that the second floor is unoccupied.  Your Wisdom score plus your EGH ability modifier give you an overall VSP Insight of 14: you know that there is no possible way that anyone could be alive in the rear of the fire apartment, so the flames are really just a foolhardy trick by Loki, Norse God of trickery and Fire, to get you to commit to the inside of a building that should probably just get bulldozed anyway.

You pulled up with that three man Engine the City Council told you would have a +8 Attack bonus because of the Stinger Monitors they added to allow you to attack without entering, so you figure, Why not use the tools I was given and make sure that no one gets hurt? 

You give the order, “Hit it from the street!”

The Truck has staged in front and has started to deploy.  The OVM (Outside Vent Mongrel) has headed to the rear and the Truck D/O is getting ready to throw the main.  The Inside crew is walking to the front door and hears your order to the Engine.

“We have to primary the floor above,” says the Level 8 Truck Officer.

You have no choice but to stop him from such a dangerous plan. 

“I use my Cloak of Safety to stop you from entering a possibly dangerous place until we have an IRIC team on scene!”

This Truck officer didn’t get to level 8 without some serious XP. 

“I have the Outside team functioning as an IRIC and I have a +4 Brunicinni modifier which allows me to act before all the Incident Management Team sections are staffed.” 

This guy is good.

“Hey, hey, wait a second here, that doesn’t allow you to move forward without at least a Level 9 I/C and a Level 8 Safety Elf!”

“The Safety Elf is allowed a seven minute response time, and the rules say I can move forward.  The I/C already turned the corner.  Get that line in and protect the stairs.”

He may have a Charisma score of 18 but there is no way you are going to risk the lives of this Truck crew on a building that really isn’t worth that much.  They probably have insurance anyway, you think. 

“I’m casting a Call Rules of Engagement Companion.  You can’t commit to the inside without the consent of the team!”

“You’re going to use that petty CRM spell?  Come on!”

The Incident Commander calls over the radio, “Hey, I have this SOG of Immobility tying me to the front seat of the buggy! Are you guys getting water on the fire yet?”

The fireground is a dynamic environment that is all too filled with threats.  While we must never willfully or negligently commit our people to a scene that is likely to fail catastrophically because of Flashover (or another fire event) nor because of the imminent potential for collapse because of fire growth or building construction, we cannot pretend that this environment can be made, “safe”.

We must strive to achieve Relative Safety.  We do this by requiring our members to be competent in a host of skills that are interrelated and interdependent.  Passing an exam that says you have learned all there is about Building Construction is of little value if you don’t have a comparable level of expertise in Fire Behavior. 

Knowing just enough about ventilation techniques to say, “We have to open up,” serves no good if you don’t also have the knowledge base to finish with, “…opposite the Engine Company so we don’t drag this fire over their heads.

It is only in a Fantasy World where the fireground can be made to behave to the point where risk is eliminated.  The reality is that every structure fire response is an ambush.  We have the strategic initiative, we have trained and equipped ourselves to deal with the likely threat, but the fire always has the tactical advantage.  Assuming an operating position that defaults to not allowing offensive operations will seriously hamper our effectiveness on the fireground and may end up costing one of our neighbors their lives.

Thanks to Dave LeBlanc for encouraging this idea with a text message thread today (he gets full credit for the Brunicinni line).  No actual persons, places, or buildings were harmed in the writing of this blog.  I cannot speak to hurt feelings from reading it.

7 July 2019 Editors Note: This article was mostly written while sitting in an Instructor class that was driving me insane and a text messaging thread with my buddy Dave LeBlanc (credited above).

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