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Product development and performance improvement are two processes that are alive and well in the fire service, resulting in a continuous stream of proposed “advancements” for our consideration.  Stronger, lighter, smaller, safer, and faster are typical descriptors of “upgrades”.  Most of these "new" items or methods are actually just modifications of equipment or procedures we already have on hand, with only a few being novel, such as the Personal Alert Safety System (PASS) or Rapid Intervention Team (RIT) were not so long ago.  Refurbished or newly invented, they are universally intended to enhance our efforts to accomplish our traditional objectives of protecting life and property.  (Despite the unending efforts to design a better mousetrap, it’s still all about trapping mice.)

Even with these constant forces for change, it is rare that something comes along that renders anything in our current inventory of equipment or tactics obsolete.  Certainly, models or methods become worn out or outmoded, but we still keep or practice our newest versions.  (I wracked my brain for examples of truly discarded firefighting aids and acts, and could only come up with scaling [“Pompier"] ladders, life nets, and water curtains.)  From a practical standpoint, this means that we are usually given more things to wear, carry, and do, rather than less.  While some innovations may have unique abilities and qualities, they, too, are effective only when used as a part of a comprehensive system of fire suppression.  A recent example of such a tool would be the Thermal Imaging Camera (TIC), which has quickly become indispensable for interior firefighting.  (That is, if a department doesn’t have one, it’s probably only because they can’t afford it.)  Still, while a powerful adjunct when operating in a zero-visibility environment, it is not a replacement for sound search and extinguishment techniques. 

On the tactical side, the MFA methods also fall into the category of upgrades, and characterizations of them as an abandonment of our mission would be inaccurate.  While the use of exterior streams can quickly and persistently reduce interior temperatures, and controlling ventilation dramatically slows the progress of combustion, neither of these significant additions to our fire attack toolbox are typically sufficient of themselves to accomplish fire extinguishment.  Furthermore, despite reported sightings, I know of no department that has foregone interior fire attacks in favor of merely exterior cooling and closing up the building (except maybe some that never succeeded in acquiring that skill in the first place, and which have now merely been “lapped” by the firefighting tactical cycle).  On the other hand, a fire suppression organization that finds these measures too complex, time-consuming, or otherwise burdensome, is not using them as intended. 

MFA advocates promote these methods for the improvements they represent, without diminishing the importance of interior fire attack skills and abilities, despite the accusations of traditional fire suppression fans.  Furthermore, utilizing new approaches with the proven ability to increase firefighting ease, speed, and safety should not lull an otherwise competent department into forgetting the other tasks needed to properly control structure fires.  In fact, ignoring these validated tactics is, in the opinion of this writer, evidence of a worse incompetence: one based solely on maintenance of the status quo; the resistance to change. 

It would be like performing interior operations while leaving the TIC in the rig.  Feasible, but indefensible.

MJC

The author can be reached at markjcotter@comcast.net 

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