Thursday, May 19, 2011

Equations or Effectiveness? Have We Become So Smart We’re Stupid?

The following entry is a scaled down (censored) version of the original from my personal blog, which can be read HERE.

In article after article and blog post after blog post I gaze with soft eyes at the material being placed into the hearts and minds of this Nations very young and ultimately often inexperienced fire service. Amazing catch phrases and profound statements like “risk little to save little”, “big fire – big water”, “risk vs. reward” more often than not from guys and gals with resumes as long as this blog entry. Resumes so long that if you’re like me, you get bored just reading them. Class after class, one accreditation flowing seamlessly into another; your eyes stare in awe at the seemingly endless stream of knowledge that these “authors” must possess behind those magical finger tips that typed such thought provoking words as “survivability profiling”. Yes! That’s it; these are the innovative people that will guide our young fire service into the future, teach us right from wrong. These innovative people who rely on their lessons learned from their infinite battle proven firefighting experience to make broad generalizations about the state of the service and….hold on…did you say “infinite battle proven firefighting experience?”

Hmmm, let me go back and check that resume again…instructor 1 thru 1000 – check, Master’s Degree in fire science – check, Command Level Officer in bum “f” anywhere – check, beat up the red devil in his living room and pulled little babies from deaths grasp in defense of his neighbors life and property – che….hey wait a minute, I don’t see that anywhere in this resume! In my haste to read what glorious mind nuggets were hidden in the article of this published “author” it appears I forgot to check their qualification to tell me anything relating to fighting fires. But the article was about “survivability profiling during FIREFIGHTING operations” was it not? (Now before you all flip a lid I pulled that title out of my a%$ so don’t get bent, and if you do, suck it up).

This concept of “checking that resume” before I read an article or watch a video about anything professional (in any field) is something I learned somewhere around 3rd grade. That’s when I realized that the bitchy, unwed, childless, cat infested 40 something year old woman down the street really had no leg to stand on when informing my mother on how to raise her bad-ass 8 year old boy. The same seems to be true in today’s fire service, except someone forgot to tell the new kids the deal. Someone forgot to tell youngins that are new to the game that these so called “experts” can leave their shoes on when counting how many times they have even been in a burning building. Yet we continue to accept these broad generalizations that are shaping the future of tomorrow’s fire service from people who have never really been in today’s fire service. Have we really allowed our brains to get in the way of our ability to protect the public and even ourselves?

When did this become classified as fully involved?

How did this happen?

How did it come to be this way? Is this truly the future of the fire service, to not fight fires at all? It’s hard to be called out for being wrong when you stand on the side of over-cautiousness with a second helping of safety. And alas that is where the nation’s authors have gone to avoid confrontation, a catch phrase contest on who can be the safest.

I have a new catch phrase for you, “Return to Effectiveness”. Effective actions combined with appropriate timing to achieve a positive outcome. Effectiveness = fires go out, people get rescued, the fire department does it’s job. Instead of having front yard arguments about the friction loss of a 2in handline or the gallons-per-minute requirements for fire load in 3 rooms instead of 2, how about we just do what works, what is effective, and we put the fire out in the quickest most efficient way possible?

I will not argue the point of GPM numbers with you as apparently it is science; proven fact. But can someone please tell me how many GPM’s from a 2in handline make it to the seat of the fire when the 2-man crew that pulled it can’t get it up the front steps, let alone to the second floor. But they said big fire-big water didn’t they? Ah yes they did, it was right after the article about the shrinking staffing numbers across the country. So let me get this straight, apparently as the average size of an initial attack crew gets smaller the lines we choose to maneuver with less man power should get bigger?…Sorry I don’t follow. How about the 10’s of thousands of gallons of water we lob into second floor windows from the outside of single family homes and then wonder why the floors collapse when we finally go in to do overhaul. Maybe I can get an explanation on how across the country Compressed Air Foam Systems, which are supposed to be the savior of the fire service, are being used as initial attack lines when even a 3rd grader can tell you that fire needs “air” to grow. How several of my associates have been burned because of it yet in many jurisdictions it remains in initial attack use because a report says it puts out fires better than water alone.

Perhaps someone else smarter than me can explain the concept of allowing a fire that doubles in size every 30 seconds wasted minute after wasted minute as marginally trained crews struggle to get their line in service, waiting for the full complement of the alarm to arrive and ensure their “safety”. How much more dangerous is that home now with 10 minutes of free burn time then when we first arrived? Maybe someone can help me understand how National headlines more often read “body found after fire” then “firefighters make daring rescue” although firefighter fatalities don’t decline.

The "Public" is losing faith in the fire service, I promise

Now don’t get it twisted, I support educated decision making. Things like circle and basement checks, information gathering, back up lines, etc. All important things when walking that fine line between duty and stupidity. However what I do not support is the use of the phrase “firefighter safety” and others like it in defense of the coward and cowardous actions. We do the job we were asked to do by our neighbors and our friends, to serve and protect their lives and property with all that we have. If not us, if not the fire department, then who is going to do it?

The fact that I am trying to bring to your attention is our new age “phrases” are killing as many fire fighters and civilians as ever before because of the lack of effectiveness that goes along with them. Is there merit to some of these concepts? Yes of course there is, but if you don’t link them with common sense, the ability to adjust to each situation and the skill to be effective with them then you’re using these concepts as a crutch to hide behind. Fires have been going out for hundreds of years under the same concept; water on fire makes fire go out. Anyone that tells you they have invented an innovative approach that hasn’t been invented in the last 100 years all while going to historically less fires now than ever before is probably just trying to cash in on the na├»ve (or make an industry name for themselves without actually going to fires to do it).

I challenge each of you to pull yourself above the latest catch phrase and concept, reexamine your ability to do your job, to be honest in your abilities and ask yourself “am I being effective in my efforts or am I merely showing up in my fireman costume to watch a house burn down?” Do not accept a concept just because it was written by someone with a 10 page resume. Examine where these concepts come from, ask yourself if they make sense, step back into the shoes of the public we protect and look at your tactics from their perspective. Don’t let equations and catch phrases get in your way of your ability to be effective on the fireground. Be honest, let common sense prevail, and let’s help America’s fire service make a “Return to Effectiveness”.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

PLAY LIKE YOU PRACTICE: Part 1 “Introduction to the concept”


A concept which seems to be increasingly lost on today's fire service

Complacency is the foundation on which many great fire service debacles have been constructed. Many good, sometimes even great firefighters, have allowed themselves to fall victim to complacency. If this occurs, often it provides them with a front row seat to the “domino effect” it can cause on the fire ground. Actively training during times of peace is not itself enough to ensure success in war. Regardless of the training regimen employed in the class-room and out in the field, failure to carry that performance onto the emergency scene will no doubt lead to a less than desirable result.

The fireground is the battlefield on which firefighters wage war on a very experienced and aggressive adversary. The enemy has no care of what you think you know; it worries no more of a 30 year line officer than of a 6 month rookie. It hasn’t the slightest worry for GPM debates, friction loss equations, risk/reward analysis or ISO ratings; it will fight the good fight just like it has done for thousands of years. It is the burden of the firefighter to stop it.

Just as in battle, the enemy does not always present itself as one might like. It may hide in wait preparing to ambush its attackers, or it may flex its muscle for all to see, as if to say, “Here I am, what are you going to do about it?”. To achieve victory the firefighter must meet his enemy swiftly and effectively, connecting adequate training with appropriate timing to knock the enemy down into submission. The key to this concept is appropriate timing. One single misstep at the onset of an incident will often dictate the next 10 corrective actions it will take to reverse the downward spiral of the situation. Adversely, one correct, well timed action at the onset of an incident will set the tempo for the rest of the firegrounds journey towards a positive outcome.

(Positive outcome= fire goes out, those in danger get rescued, no more property is burned than when we arrived.)

“Play like you practice” is an adaptation of the better known “Practice like you play” concept which equates to the fact that firefighters must train with as much intensity and purpose as if it were the real deal. Being “Combat Ready” and training with a purpose is absolutely the goal to which all firefighters should strive in their skill building. However this saying alone leads one to believe that a firefighter will automatically perform well on the scene because they practiced before the fact. “Play like you practice” should be a concept used in conjunction with the previous in order to connect all the dots and mount a stout attack on the enemy when it counts.


Spot hydrants, stretch lines and leave room for other units even if everything seems "normal"

Play like you practice, what do you mean? I’m referring to the fact that a company can be as well rounded in training as is possible, but if they are complacent when the run comes in, it can be disastrous. Every member can stretch lines quickly and effectively, they know various ladder throw techniques, forcible entry is second nature, ventilation concepts are repeatable on command and the intricacies of their areas streets and buildings are like a glossary index in their minds. Their preparation can be flawless, but if they show up to a “fire reported out” without stretching lines and throwing ladders the best way they know how then the tempo is already on the side of the enemy when it finally decides to show itself.

We have all seen it done and we have all heard the excuses, “it sounded like BS, it was 2 in the am, we were tired, we didn’t want to rerack all that hose for nothing…” the list goes on and on. All of these are big, bold examples of how “Complacency” can turn good companies into lawn ornaments when things aren’t as they seem. Playing “catch up” is no place for a fire company to be when lives are on the line, especially when the flip side is so easily obtainable with correct discipline and effort.

Say you don’t stretch a line or bring ladders to the building for a reported “food on the stove”. Say you turn out to be right, there really is no fire, it really was so called “BS”, what have you accomplished? What have you gained? True, we didn’t waste any extra effort: True, we don’t have any hose on the ground or tools to be stowed: True, we can leave immediately for another call. To these facts I say big deal! Effectiveness is our mission, as such effort is not only a prerequisite but a continued requirement. So… we have hose on the ground and tools to be stowed, are we serious? This mindset is simply a poor excuse for an excuse. How long does it really take to disconnect or rerack a line? How long does it really take to put a ladder back on the truck or equipment back in its compartment? If the answer is any more than a few minutes then I would say you should probably become more efficient at that also, through practice.

the push
The abandoned school you've run 100 times for alarm bells might look like this on trip 101. Show up ready to play.

Even though there was no fire, still what have we lost? We lost one more opportunity for our members to use their skills, one more opportunity to “practice like we play”, and one more opportunity to prepare for that time when we open the door for food on the stove and find a kitchen off with people trapped in the rear bedroom. Complacency and laziness breed further complacency and laziness, and the only way to stop it is by removing it from our mindset. We do this by treating every call as if it were a working fire, we do this by practicing our positioning, our techniques and our size-ups on each call whether we think it is “BS” or there is fire showing. We must place the wheels in motion for a positive outcome from the onset and ensure that we are giving our crews every possible advantage over the enemy we fight.

A well rehearsed fire scene is pure poetry in motion, effectiveness and efficiency, on display for the community we serve.

A complacent fire scene looks more like a beaten force routed by its enemy, with ineffective actions scattered sporadically across the fireground in a desperate attempt to turn the tide of incompetence. Firefighters must “Play like we practice” if we are going to match our adequate training with appropriate timing and effective action.

Part 2 will look into some techniques to accomplish this objective on a daily basis and help keep your company at the top of its game, fire showing or not. Stay Safe.