Close calls happen more often than we admit
In my short career of just over 10 years, I have unfortunately been involved with two close call incidents. For a long period of time, I was simply unable to speak about those incidents. If I needed to talk about them, I joked about them or brushed them off like it was nothing. Many of my closest friends don’t even realize how these two incidents truly affected me. I actually didn’t communicate my thoughts about my situations until I was having dinner one night in Raleigh, NC with Dr.Rich Gasaway. As with much in this tough job, we tough guys don’t share our true thoughts with the brothers about what we feel about certain incidents. It wasn’t because I didn’t think that the brothers cared. It was because I wanted to be tougher than the feelings of guilt, regret, and anger I was encountering. In addition, when my incidents occurred, it didn’t seem that the firefighter safety and survival push was occurring nationwide yet. If you had asked me at the time about a “close call” I wouldn’t have been able to explain the definition we all know today.
I found that many felt a close call was just a situation that turned out good. A close call, by definition is the near injury or fatality of a firefighter while engaged in training or incident tactics. I don’t want to get into my situations in this post, however just take one item to bed with you; close calls are real, they happen more often than we the fire service admit, and we don’t handle them well.
Firefighting is a dangerous job. We all knew this when we got here. There wasn’t a draft. We signed up for this knowing the danger. As a culture, the fire service doesn’t recognize that close calls happen more often than we realize. It may be a direct result of how in our own minds we categorize what a close call exactly is. For example, in my mind for years, a close call was a firefighter that was transported to the burn center from a fire attack gone bad. Was I right? Of course. However, that close call extends to much more. Something went wrong to have caused that particular situation and outcome, intentional, manmade, or just chance. Does a situation like the one depicted above have to be that severe to classify as a close call? Not at all. A situation in which severe injury or death is narrowly missed falls into the category. Like it or not, a fact is a fact.
How often does the fire service create situations in which injury or death is narrowly missed? I would assume worldwide, many times a day. You may not even realize the close calls you are encountering. That busy intersection where you busted the red light and a minivan had to lock up the brakes to stop, just in time to avoid t-boning your rig. Close call? In my opinion, yes. You narrowly missed serious injury or death. Admit it or not. You decided not to wear your mask while chasing hidden fire. You pulled a ceiling and smoke banked down quick. You ran choking to the next room just in time. Close call? Again in my opinion, yes. What would have happened if you had become disoriented, trapped, or stuck? You are now in a toxic IDLH atmosphere. Get the picture? A firefighter’s ability to recognize these potentially hazardous situations cognitively and then implement countermeasures to avoid the potential risk behavior is the key here in minimizing close call situations.
There are situations in which fate arrives. We cannot avoid all situations. Sometimes it is simply out of our control. However, it is my belief that many of our “close call” type situations are avoidable. It is a simple case of our failure to train appropriately, our failure to accept changes to our business model, the refusal to accept responsibility and our tough industry.
Take a moment to think about your career and situations in which you nearly were severely injured or killed. I bet you will be surprised at the situations you are groomed to ignore the significance of. Don’t just think about those situations though, think about how they can be avoided and decide to become a fire service leader. Make the decision to go against the grain and train hard, teach others, share experiences, provide support for your brothers and sisters, make smart decisions even if they are not popular, and call others out when they need a reality check.
If you have survived a close call, think about sharing it. It is important to not only get your story off of your chest, but it is important to share your situation with others in the job. The sharing of information is a powerful tool. I recommend you make contact with Dr. Gasaway through their Close Call Survivor Project.
Be smart and safe.