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I thought it time to leave for awhile the references to tools in the Modern Fire Attack (MFA) arsenal and instead look at a few of the new tactical rules that should be guiding our actions.  First, though, a few words regarding the whole idea of attempting to create strict edicts for something as dynamic and variable as structural firefighting.  Since one of the things that characterizes a true MFA proponent is avoidance of the words “always” and “never”, pretty much eliminated from the start is any statement that could be considered a “rule”.  Instead, what I will be addressing in these posts are some of the traditional firefighting guidelines that have been developed over the years; passed on from instructor to trainee, veteran to rookie, officer to firefighter; morphed into virtual commandments; and now, in many cases, completely debunked by the results of fire dynamics research.  

To be fair, most longstanding tactical rules are merely experience-based, well-intentioned, easy-to-recite and -remember phrases that described what were understood to be good practices, and not strict dogma.  Also, like theology, these guidelines required interpretation and application to a specific situation.  That is, a consideration of context was always needed.  They were never intended to be, and should not have been presented as, “one size fits all”.  Regardless, mantras and mottos have a way of taking on a life of their own, and becoming more than a memory aid.  The newly-discovered inaccuracy of many of these axioms requires that they now be corrected.

One criticism of the MFA movement is that it has “made the fireground more complicated”, which is only partly true.  Research has, indeed, informed us that fire dynamics is much more complex than we had previously known, providing additional factors to consider, or to ignore at our peril.  So, the complexity was not created by research, but merely illuminated.  From an operational standpoint, some fire service innovators have crafted new techniques that exploit these breakthroughs in our understanding of fire behavior, and those modern tactics are naturally different from traditional approaches.  Still, other than the difficulty of unlearning long-taught and -practiced knowledge and skills, the new procedures are no harder, and in many cases easier, than those taught previously.  While the knowledge of additional fireground factors, and the availability of new fire control interventions, does increase the decision making burden for all firefighters, there is no turning back.  (Ignorance of the law [truth] is no defense.)

While adhering to the old rules is comfortable, and continuing our routine approach is usually adequate, “Easy and Okay” is no motto to live by.

MJC

The author can be reached at markjcotter@comcast.net

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