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This one has been in the back of my mind for a long time, and it is meant as no disrespect it is just some thoughts and opinions.

I remember getting into the fire service at age 15 and getting introduced to some of the older guys a lot of whom worked for various fire departments around the area some worked in the Urban city but most in the suburban counties. Both had differing opinions on how the best way to do things was.

Then I remember going to college and meeting firefighters from all over the country, getting to go to FDIC and getting to take classes from guys like Mike Ciampo, Mike Dugan, John Newell, Jon Norman and other heavy hitters in the fire service world. While it was a great experience one thing has always stuck out to me. While I was in one of the Hands On Classes  another class was being taught in close proximity. One of the skill stations was how to ventilate hurricane proof glass. As they where utilizing a saw to do this skill one of the instructors of my class (from a large urban department) said “that’s the dumbest $%&ing thing I have ever seen”. That struck me funny especially at a conference that was supposed to be about learning and idea sharing, but I was an 18-year-old kid with 3 years in the fire service so I went along with it.

Fast forward to now and the Urban vs. Suburban tactical debate is as hot as ever, especially with a lot of the new information coming out of the UL and NIST studies. I have seen a lot of push back on social media and blogs, and I just do not get it.

Let me say that the knowledge and fire duty of most urban fireman is phenomenal I have learned so much from so many of them to dismiss that would be idiotic. I also learned a long time ago that some of the things they do, did not apply to me and my fire department wherever that was at the time. I remember being in Charlotte NC taking a weekend Engine Company operations class. The instructor was showing the class how they utilized the 2 1/2 with 3 people. My friend and I attending the class asked if we could do the evolution with 2, when asked why we simply stated that we do not have three people and if we cannot do this technique with 2 then it would not be able to be done in our department.

For far too long in the fire service we have taken the opinion of the Urban firefighters as gospel when in reality a majority of what they do does not apply to the majority of the fire service!

Firefighters (2012)

  • Estimated number of firefighters: 1,129,250 (career:      345,950, volunteer: 783,300)
  • Firefighters by age group: 16-19 (3.3%), 20-29 (21.1%),      30-39 (26.3%), 40-49 (25.3%), 50-59 (17.3%), 60 and over (6.7%)
  • Seventy-two percent of career firefighters are in      communities that protect a population of 25,000 or more.
  • Ninety-five percent of the volunteers are in      departments that protect a population of less than 25,000 and about 50      percent of the volunteers are located in small, rural departments that      protect a population of less than 2,500.

Source: National Fire Protection Association, U.S. Fire Department Profile Through 2012

The 2012 statistics show the number of volunteers far outnumber the career sided folks, and that 95% serve in rural or suburban areas based on population. Not to mention the resource and staffing differences. Simply put the Urban mindset may not apply to YOUR DEPARTMENT!

I have worked in departments with 2 firefighters assigned to an engine, and no other engine in the county. Would making the interior fire attack with 1 firefighter pumping and 1 firefighter on the line make sense? I have been on an engine overnight in a part-time department and volunteer department by myself with little to no back up from other companies, should you stretch the interior in that situation? The problem is there is some young kid reading the FDNY operations manual, or listening to some of the rhetoric out there about how transitional attack is whack, and they are going to go to a fire tonight with two people and stretch in because the guy on the internet said so!

Am I saying you can learn nothing from the Urban Mindset? ABSOLUTELY NOT! Robert Morris from FDNY taught me more about forcible entry in 8 hours than I have learned in 16 years, Mike Ciampo has been my truck company god since FDIC 2001, I could go on but the point is you can learn a ton from these guys but do not let the Urban opinion skew you as to what you can and cannot do in YOUR DEPARTMENT! I always try to take the things that apply to my district and department and then forget the rest. Make sure you are spending some time in your district, training with your firefighters, you may just discover something no one else has.

It is far past the time that those that serve in a rural or suburban setting need to stand up and not let the Urban firefighters define our fire service! Or define what is and what is NOT a firefighter. Whether you go to 1,000 or 1 fire a year doesn’t matter it is how ready you are for that 1 fire that is. That’s what makes you a professional no matter the pay check. It should not be the URBAN WAY or NO WAY, it should be the BEST way for your department and for the fires YOUR department fights. We should not be dismissing things like transitional attack, SLICERS, and the like because someone in with a 5 person engine and 30 firefighters on an initial alarm says its “dumb”. Perhaps it does not apply to them, but it may apply to the 6 person fire scene! Staffing, and fire conditions should dictate our actions not opinion.

Again this is not meant to be insulting, or anything of the like. It is meant to influence learning from multiple schools of thought, and put sweat equity into finding out what works for YOU, and do not just blindly follow along with the opinions of someone just because of the department they work for. Do not just read one book, read all the books and then find out what works for YOU.

As usual, thanks for reading, spread the word, and STAY SAFE!

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Comment by P.J. Norwood on March 31, 2014 at 11:23am

Robert, I echo your praise for the large departments across the country and their personnel. We as a fire service would not be as advanced as we are without the trials and tribulations of the urban departments. The instructors that bless FDIC from these departments are some of the finest there are. However the most important lesson I learned from one of these large urban departments is "take what I bring to the table and adapt it to meet the needs of your department and staffing".

Each and every tactic is not for each and every fire or fire department. Those that say every fire is the same are wrong! Each and every time you roll out the door it will be different. We must master our craft and have a extremely diverse tactical play book. We need to learn from each other and share all of the lessons, data, research, experiences and adapt that to our fires in our departments.


Thank you for sharing your opinion!

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