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Note: With the dawn of a new year, I'm determined to become a better blogger.  The Modern Fire Attack series has been running as a self-posted blog for about a year and a half now, and I have simultaneously, though less often, been submitting more general fire service articles under the title of my old column "From the Jumpseat".  Other than the topics, the size of the two (and the effort I put in to them) are roughly the same.  Having long ago begun writing for emergency services magazines, I find myself defaulting to the thousand-word format, covering an issue as comprehensively as this venue allows, though somewhat more extensively than your average blog.  

At the same time, I have accumulated a long list of MFA ideas that I want to explore, but which are sufficiently narrow as to not require such a wordy presentation, or far enough down my list of topics that I won't reach them before the "modern" descriptor no longer applies.  I therefore intend to begin to post some of these MFA topics without the extensive surrounding documentation, though still with the purpose of promoting - maybe even inciting - discussion.  In other words, I’m going to use this platform as it was intended.  That said, I’m here introducing a blog series titled “MFA Tools and Rules”, in each installment of which will be discussed a rather narrow aspect of the otherwise broad category of firefighting tactical changes inspired by fire dynamics research.  Here goes:

Firefighters like new tools, but not new rules.  The problem is, sometimes it’s hard to tell the two apart.  They are both utilized to help us accomplish our work, though our tools are usually chosen by us, while the rules are often imposed by others.  Still, we often are forced to work with, and adapt to, less-than-ideal equipment, and voluntarily adopt guidelines, whether formal or informal, that we believe are beneficial.  Furthermore, and regardless of how they came into use, we tend to become intimately familiar with our particular tools and rules, relying on them to assist us in our mission, and thereby creating strong bonds through experience, if not fondness.  They become a part of our identity.

The fire service supports an entire industry devoted to developing improved equipment and apparatus for its use.  This ranges from the firefighter tinkering in his or her garage in an attempt to craft a better forcible entry pry bar, to a major manufacturer with formal research and development capabilities brought to bear on such products as electronic tracking for interior firefighters.  There is also a similarly diverse and robust “industry” working on the more abstract firefighting tools of concepts and information.  From a fire crew experimenting with new methods for folding and deploying hose, to an organization with the capability of staging and analyzing full-size structure fires, the outcome of either of these processes can be "tools" for our potential benefit.  Fortunately, the intellectual variety are usually free of cost, though often still quite difficult to master.

Tools become rules when we integrate them into our standard practices, whether formally (SOPs, SOGs) or informally (anything to which someone might comment “That’s the way we’ve always done it”).  Sometimes, an outside entity compels us to adopt rules (e.g., Two in-Two out, traffic safety vests).  We have even been known to change our tools in order to help enforce a rule, as in modern fire apparatus no longer having a rear riding step.  Our tools and rules help define us as individuals, crews, departments, and a profession.

Given the title of my blog, it should be obvious that introducing new ideas is my bread and butter.  Through it, I am expressly attempting to facilitate changes in our individual or collective practices.  Like most every other writer on this topic, my motivation to promote these concepts is based on a strong belief in their benefits, regarding both safety and effectiveness.  As a proud fire service veteran, I bring to this process the utmost respect for the craft of firefighting, and its participants.  I am also mindful that ours is an activity that can have life or death consequences, so the opinions expressed regarding these topics are naturally more passionate than those regarding most any other endeavor.  Disagreements can be intensely expressed.  Know that my awareness of these various facets gives me pause every time I’m about to hit the key to post a new installment. 

Truth is, just like everybody else, firefighters don't like to be told what to do.  They will adopt and follow strict guidelines governing their behavior and actions, and regularly purchase equipment and apparatus priced on a par with the aerospace industry.  But, even the suggestion that a new idea or item is being forced upon them is sufficient reason, in the view of many, to slow the implementation of, if not kill, an entire concept, despite its intentions or supporting evidence.  In order to avoid even the appearance of coercion, there is a metaphor often applied to MFA tactics indicating that they are “another tool in the toolbox”, as in they represent additional options for accomplishing our mission.  Interestingly, this figure of speech is used by both its proponents and critics to express the view that the new approaches are neither a “cure-all” nor a mandate.  

I, for one, LOVE this model for describing our varied tactical menu.  Not only does it present a non-threatening and nonjudgmental view of all of the fire service’s naturally and understandably varied approaches to structural fire control, given our different buildings, resources, culture, etc., but it provides a perspective from which to view the whole process of integrating new practices.  In that vein, this series of blogs will explore various MFA topics - be they tools, rules, or both - in the context of their potential applications.  Whether we like it (or know it) or not, every fire department has most of the MFA tools in its toolbox already.  In my opinion, what we do, or not do, with these new tactics represents the next big thing for the fire service; a major decision point for every department; and the theme behind this blog series.  I hope that you find it useful.

MJC

The author can be reached at markjcotter@comcast.net

(803 words, not counting the intro.  Still too long, but I’m trying.)

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