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I will start of with a brief recap of my last blog. I began with a contemplative question that challenged the value of our thoughts and trends, as they relate to risk assessment on the fireground. I opined, that we might be defaulting to a “risk avoidance” strategy because we were falling to acknowledge the other causes that make firegrounds go bad.

 

I then suggested that the fire service as a whole has done a poor job of offering a subjective and systematic way of assessing risk on the fireground. In every class I teach, I ask the students to raise their hands if they have ever taken a four-hour class on how to conduct a proper risk assessment. As expected, very few hands ever appear.

 

I ended with a caution to all in the fire service, that we must never fall prey to intellectual laziness. I offered that the only way we will ever be able to achieve maximum fireground effectiveness, which includes safe operations, is through the use of critical thought, inspired by dialogue, discussion and yes debate on the topic.

 

Over the past 12 months, I’ve spent countless hours, teaching to a broad base population of fire service members. This never gets old; the relationships, the fraternal environment and the ability to engage in meaningful discussions about fireground management. Whether you are the instructor or the student, if you show up for class with an open mind, a willingness to learn and a commitment to exercise your brain, you are sure to walk away, better informed and better prepared to execute your job on the fireground. I challenge my students to never except what I say as gospel and to verify for themselves what works best for their system. My goal is to challenge the students to think for themselves.

 

From San Diego CA to Lancaster County PA, from Daytona Beach FL to Rochester NY, the most common topic I encountered was the discussion of modern fire behavior and the associated results of the comprehensive studies conducted on the topic. Over countless hours of discussion on this issue, I found, that these discussions leave most people in one of three camps. The first (Group 1), vehemently oppose the study, the results and the discussion on how to improve our strategy and tactics. The second (Group 2) selectively takes pieces of information and a portion of the conclusion’s, with far reaching assumptions, issuing an edict on the value and safety of interior firefighting. The last camp (Group 3) has chosen to educate themselves on the study, value the science and findings, understands the value as a “piece” of critical operational information and then use this information as a catalyst to assess things such as: current operating systems i.e. SOG’s/Sop’s, command and control, risk assessment process, accountability systems, resource needs, employee competency and training to name a few.

 

To those in Group 1, who choose intellectual ignorance, there is a LODD(s) or serious injury(s) knocking on your door. If you are in a position of leadership at any level, shame on you. You owe your members and Department better. For those not yet in a position of leadership, I am thankful and hope you never will be as long as you remain ignorant on the topic.  My guess is, your attitude is based on opposition to Group 2 (see below). In doing so, you are as intellectually arrogant as Group 2 and twice as dangerous. My challenge to you, is don’t focus on Group 2, but allow yourself to study the information as presented, understand that the findings are factual and use that information as an ingredient in the entire formula for high performance fireground management.

 

To those in Group 2, don’t give me three thumbs up just yet. Let me reinforce what I stated above, you are as intellectually arrogant as Group 1, which leads to you being academically dishonest with your far-reaching assumptions and opinions. It’s my opinion (my blog my opinion) that if you are using this study in the absence of it’s context and complexity, your problems are far greater then your characterization that interior fire attack is both taboo and outdated. You sell yourself and your department short on providing the best possible service to the community as it relates to fire suppression activities.  

 

Let me offer this consideration. The members under your command, are far more educated (not talking degrees) then ever before. Their access to fire service information, training and education is unlimited. The greatest numbers of them are extremely passionate about the service and consume countless hours of information. They are also great at spotting a phony. They will not succumb to intellectual bullying or far reaching assumptions as a way of achieving “best practice”.

 

While this is not inclusive of all groups, I have observed another common theme amongst this group. They are elated over some of the tactical suggestions that accompany these studies (transitional attack). They are also willfully overlooking the fact that most if not all of these findings (coordinated ventilation, speed of fire progression, proper fire-flows and the importance of getting water on the fire quickly) are timely truths that we have known about for some time. Instead, they see this as an opportunity, to gain control of an underperforming, undisciplined and unstructured department, by manipulating the spirit of the studies in order to rein in the chaos.  

 

My common observations with this group is: they lack SOP’s/SOG’s or lack holding people accountable for following them, they fail to regularly train officers and firefighters on core basic skills, they fail to invest in officer development, they fail to hold anyone accountable for their lack of performance on the fireground and they promote people who cant or wont do their jobs. If you are in this category and have chosen to blindly create a default policy based on a transitional attack (hit the fire from the outside and then transition to the inside) this alone will not solve your fire ground problems. It's a lot like having a zero dollar balance in your checking account, depositing a $25.00 check and assuming that because you have money in the bank, the rent will get paid.

Let may say this for purpose of clarity. In many cases, based on resource limitations and response time constraints due to standards of coverage challenges, this may very well be the best policy to have. That is very different then saying this is a one-size model that all departments must adopt if they are serious about safety.

 

My advice is, don’t try to pull the wool over the eyes of your people. Don’t use science as an crutch simply because you lack the knowledge, courage and capability to engage in a comprehensives discussion and debate. If there is a true need to change your operations, then look at every aspect of it and honestly assess your department’s shortcomings. Work on all identified areas of weakness, which will inevitably result in safer fireground management. Recognize and prepare for the fact that these changes will not only take courageous leadership, it will also take relentless follow-up to insure compliance and requires swift and aggressive action for those who willfully choose to violate the policy.

 

To Group 3, you are on the right tract. You are using this great information much in the way that Doctors use findings from new medical experiments. The findings are used in conjunction with your previous experiences, education and training and done so as a means to enhance quality care not replace it.

 

You understand the context in which the experiments were conducted and the focus of the research. You also engaged your mind in the complexities of fire behavior, building construction and fireground management, working to make sense of it all. You understand that the findings verify exactly what many have understood for sometime and you value the time, energy, funding and the precision that went in to this study.   

 

You also understand that this information must be part of our continuous quality improvement processes for high performance fireground management. However we must move from simply “understanding” the information to “incorporating” the information in to our operations.

 

Here are some quick takeaways from those findings that must be considered moving forward.

 

  1. Todays household furnishing are largely made of synthetic fuels. These fuels burn rapidly, reach greater temperatures quicker and the byproducts of these burning materials (smoke) are toxic, highly flammable and have a wide explosive range.
  2. Today’s homes have building features, which, disguise (initially) the presence of fire, quickly denies the fire of needed oxygen (until we get there) enhances the spread of fire, conceals the presence of hidden fire and losses structural integrity quickly when exposed to fire.
  3. Fires will often be oxygen starved when we arrive. Any opening that either we make (forcible entry/ventilation) or the occupant makes (leaving a door or window open) will provide the fire with the oxygen it needs to rapidly grow beyond our control.
  4. This means that our discretionary time on the fireground, to gain control of the fire before it gains control of the structure and us is drastically reduced. In addition the time we have to recognize that conditions are deteriorating until flashover occurs can be as little as 10 seconds.
  5. This means that our training must be rigorous and constant. It must focus on core basic skills and must be measured against timed benchmarks. Our goal must be to reach the “expert” level of competency on basic fireground tasks
  6. This means that if you don't have the resources (people and apparatus) or the resources cannot arrive in a timely manner, then you must consider these findings when evaluating your SOG’s. If you do not have the people or apparatus to simultaneously place in-service at least two handlines, perform search and rescue with a team of two (minimum) and be able to properly ventilate the structure within a defined period of time, then you need to adjust your operational procedures accordingly.
  7. This means you must have a strong incident management component in- place on every fireground. This includes a competent Incident Commander, supported by a competent Command Team (sorry folks, no way of escaping the competency part)
  8. This means that we as leaders, must have the courage to honestly a**** the current state of our departments operations, identify our shortfalls, develop a team to find best solutions and then have the professional will and courage to take the journey.

 

In my next blog, we will discuss critical engine company benchmarks in order to perform a self-evaluation of time constraints and resource requirements for your department. This will be followed by truck company (support work) and incident command benchmarks.

 

Be Safe & Be Smart

 

 

 

 

 

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Comment by Chuck Ryan on May 22, 2013 at 7:56am
Chief, keep up the good work can't wait for the next blog.

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