Since the end of 2014, I have been reading and listening to year end thoughts and data related to the fire service. There has been discussion on types of calls, near misses and, of course, line of duty deaths. Numbers are broken down and categorized for each type of injury or death that is fire service related and then scrutinized. In many cases these are supposed to be used as lessons and to determine the effectiveness of different messages from different mediums about the prevention of listed injuries and deaths.
The number that was standing out and that created immediate debate from many camps was the 9%. That 9% was the number of firefighter line of duty deaths directly related to interior firefighting operations. There are different interpretations of this number and what it means to the fire service.
Some are arguing that the number represents a low occurrence of line of duty deaths while participating directly in interior firefighting, therefor, the need for ‘new’ tactics (primarily the UL/NIST/ISFSI material that includes exterior water application in certain circumstances) is not needed and that the drumbeat that firefighters are frequently perishing while fighting fires on the inside is inaccurate.
Some are arguing that the number is indicative of and directly related to the initiatives, both old and new, that have been employed and taught to lower the number of line of duty deaths in the fire service.
Others will say that it is obvious that our problem is not interior firefighting, but rather health and wellness which have much greater “on duty deaths” than active firefighting instances. This is not to downplay the 9% that did perish in interior firefighting activities, but rather the emphasis for reducing LODD’s should be focused more on the higher numbers.
I think the number says all of those things and validates just about every argument, on all sides, that can be thought of in relation to how we fight fire and train. To me, it’s time we quit the argument about who's right and who's wrong and start focusing on what is working. For me, this 9% is a sign that things are going right from both sides of the tactical debate.
First, in the last few years, I have seen, read, attended, taught or heard about more basic, fundamental firefighting training than every before in my career. And I’m not talking about "text book for rookie school" training. I’m talking about training that combines real world experience from some of the most respected names in the profession coupled with recognized standards. Guys and organizations like Bill Gustin, Aaron Fields, Curt Isakson, Ray McCormack, Traditions Training, LLC, Engine House Training, LLC, PL Vulcan, FireTown, Kevin Story, FDTN, Jim Crawford, Jim Silvernail, Eddie Buchanan, Jerry Tracey, Nick Martin, Ricky Riley, Doug Mitchell, Dan Shaw, Tim Klett, John Salka, and the list goes on. (I’m sure I missed somebody and I didn’t do it on purpose.)
You can’t go anywhere without seeing the basics taking precedent at just about every fire conference in this country. It’s exciting and a trend that I hope never goes away. This, and I am positive about this, has contributed to that 9% statistic and to the proficiency of the fire service in general. I also believe that if the pace of this training continues to grow and to be emphasized, that 9% will be less in the coming years, along with fewer injuries related to interior firefighting.
Additionally, all one needs to do is pay attention to the news, websites and blogs to see that firefighters are successfully going inside and still doing what we are supposed to do; rescue and save lives. If you aren’t paying attention you’re really missing out on saves made daily. There is a website dedicated to sharing as many news stories on firefighter rescues at firefighterrescues.com. Check it out and see that firefighters are still saving lives!
At the same time I can’t help but believe that the science that has been provided by UL, NIST and the curriculum created by the ISFSI has also had a hand in that 9% number. Like it or not, we have to believe that just as much as those foundational skills and methods are critical to fireground success, the fact that firefighters may have conducted a good size-up, read and recognized conditions, and then deployed appropriately, possibly starting with an exterior application of water and then making the interior attack successfully, can be attributed to the science and information provided has also contributed to fewer firefighters putting themselves in a bad place to begin with.
This is not to say that we don’t have work to do or that we’re ‘good enough.’ This is also not to say that every fire needs to be attacked from the inside, nor does it mean that every fire must be attacked from the outside. What it says to me is that there is value to all of the validated and relevant information from many leaders and educators of the fire service and I believe that collectively it is all making a positive difference for the fire service.
All of this has also lead me to believe that we need better information on the tactics and incidents that go well. We need to hear about the calls that went right by making the front door from the get go. We need to hear about the calls that went right by applying some water from the exterior before making entry. I believe we can learn as much or more from these stories as much as, or more, as compared to the near misses and LODD’s.
Thanks for reading and contributing to the fire service and have a great 2015!