Succeeding In Spite of Our Selves…

By: Christopher Brennan

I think there are days that as firefighters we end up succeeding in spite of our best efforts to get killed.  There are folks who drive too fast, refuse to wear seat belts, think a healthy lunch is ordered off the McDonald’s Value Menu, and whose exercise regime consists of shuffling to the pop machine on the apparatus floor during commercials.  I’m pretty sure at this point anyone who is regularly reading this blog knows that that kind of behavior will cause you to meet an early death.

What scares me are tactical errors that we make that by shear luck work out okay.  There is a maxim I’ve read from the fine folks over at Magpul Industries (click on their Mindset tab for some great quotes), “Familiarity and prolonged exposure without incident leads to a loss of appreciation of risk.”

Watch this video to see what I’m talking about.  It’s a fire from the 13th of January, 2011.  By all rights it could have become a NIOSH report in my opinion.

I dislike being a “Monday Morning Quarterback” of a fire department’s actions if I wasn’t at the fire, but this video scares me.  There are issues with opposing lines, a PPV operation that I think spreads the fire, and committing to an interior operation with what looks like too few resources.

Look at the smoke conditions on the “A” side.  That front eve is highly pressurized, and that was before the PPV went into operation.  That is a sure sign that the attic is well involved.  Fire burning above me concerns me.  If you go to the YouTube video and read the comments the video’s author says they had problems with water supply.

I think if we want to be serious about reducing firefighter injuries and LODDs we have to acknowledge that our ability to operate in a relatively safe way on the fireground has a direct coloration to our staffing.  That was the key point in my article “Why We Need Firefighters” that Fire Engineering featured on their website.

I know there are people who see my writing and my ideas as advocating an overly-aggressive mindset.  I really don’t think that is the case.  This is one of those fires where I think we needed more people on scene to make the building behave.  Again, I was not there, and I can only judge based upon what the video shows.  I have to say that I spent the six minutes and forty odd seconds waiting for a collapse.

Consider the last fire you had where Everyone Went Home but it was only because of the grace of whatever divine creator is looking down on you that you did.  We all have those stories where things could have broken bad at any moment.  Learn from the fires where things “went right” as well as the one’s where things went wrong.  My buddy Dave LeBlanc talks about this some in his post “From Sir Lancelot To Wyatt Earp to Dick Winters, Putting Others Ahead Of Ourselves”.

I’m glad everyone from the Lafayette County Fire Department went home.  Believe me I’m not criticizing the guys and gals who put the fire out. I think this is one that needs to be learned from and not repeated with that “loss of appreciation of risk.”  This is a fire where something could have broken bad.  While I think we sometimes have to place our toes over the edge to fulfill out duty it cannot be allowed to happen without careful thought, discussion, and post fire analysis.

On another note, take some time to look into what’s happening in Camden New Jersey today, too.  Tomorrow, January 18th, 1/3 of their Firefighters are due to be laid off.  Thoughts are with the Brothers and Sisters there.

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