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Sensible Aggression versus Reckless Aggression


This has been weighing heavily on my mind, and I don’t particularly like a lot of what I am hearing. It seems like everyone with a computer and access to the internet is weighing in on the whole aggression thing. Unfortunately it seems like supporting a position on the use of aggressive fire ground tactics is a no win situation. The use of aggressive tactics on the fire ground is being discussed as if aggression were an attitude or political affiliation, and not for what it is, a mode of operation. Firefighters involved in this discussion are being forced to choose sides. They are either trying to validate what they are doing, right, wrong, or otherwise. They are trying to sell what they believe should be done. Or they are sounding off just to be heard, in hopes of being associated with the cool kids.

Aggression on the fire ground has killed; too much aggression, and lack of. To get back on track, what we need to do is start focusing on the quality of aggressive tactics, and not just the commitment to being aggressive. Aggressive tactics are like a gun. In the hands of a trained professional, aggressive tactics will save lives and property. However when used by untrained and inexperienced firefighters, they can be deadly. To be successful and survive, firefighters must maintain an aggressive posture. Expecting firefighters to always be “safe” on the fire ground, and then expecting them to kick into an aggressive mode when, and only when there is a savable life, is a losing proposition.

We must all realize that firefighting is not safe. Soldiers, Police Officers, Ice Road Truckers, and Firefighters must confront risks to be successful. Every person who chooses to be involved with fighting fire needs to understand the risks involved. They must also commit to doing everything they can do before, during, and after to minimize the negative impact that risks can have on firefighters. This means a commitment to training, learning, self discipline, and losing the egos. Additionally we must train fire officers and firefighters on the difference between sensible acceptable aggression, and reckless aggression.

Sensible aggression should be viewed as positive. Sensible aggression has strategic objectives; rescue, fire extinguishment, ventilation, etc. Sensible aggression is managed. There is command and control, accountability, and operations are based on established fire operations guidelines. Sensible aggression is risk regulated; not risk avoidance, but risk management. Sensible aggression is supported. Fire flows are based on the demands of the fire, not the ease of deployment. Effective fire ground communications are established and maintained. There are sufficient resources to support the chosen mode of operations. All operations are governed by the capabilities and limitations of the resources on scene.

Reckless aggression should be discouraged. Reckless aggression favors the “farther and deeper first” mentality. Reckless aggression cultures support an “it’s all about us attitude”, and “we don’t need any help” mind-set. Reckless aggression is attacking without a plan. It’s the mind-set that because it has worked before, it will work this time. Reckless aggression is based on being lucky and not good. Unfortunately reckless aggression has given aggression on the fire ground a bad rap.

Sensitizing firefighters towards aggression alone may cause more harm than good. In order to salvage the reputation of aggressive tactics, we must first stop recognizing reckless aggression as heroic and honorable. Too often we associate aggression alone as a trait of good firemen, yet we fail to look at the quality, justification and potential consequences associated with their reckless aggressiveness. Let’s face it, carelessness is often mistaken for aggression, it all depends on the outcome. Instead of fearing aggressive tactics, let’s embrace aggression and train firefighters on sensible aggression, and instill the belief that firefighters that attack with a sensible level of aggression can change the game…and they will save lives.

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