Risk little to save little
We’ve all heard it. Probably the first time you heard it was in recruit school right? “Risk little to save little. Risk a lot to save a lot.” What is “little” though? Who gets to decide that? That question can only really be answered based on perspective. Depending on the person answering the question, the perspective is going to change. If you ask a lot of structural firefighters across the United States they are going to tell you that the “little” is anything less than life, whether civilian or firefighter. That’s what’s being taught these days anyways.
At what point do we as a profession evaluate what the “little” is? What if what you think is “little” is in fact “a lot” to the citizens you serve. In case you haven’t figured it out by now, I’m talking about property. Now let me make a disclaimer, I DO NOT think that my citizen’s property is more valuable than my life or your life. I DO think that we continually use the slogan above as a crutch not to do our job. What is our job? Well, I’m glad you asked. Did you not take an oath to protect “life and property”? Departments across the country seem to be forgetting about the property part.
I can hear you now saying “But they have home owner’s insurance” or “They should have had renter’s insurance”. That’s a valid point, but still somewhat of an excuse. But as I said earlier, it’s up to you beforehand to determine what your stance is and what you view is risk worthy. If you work in an urban environment like I do, a lot of our customers do not have home owners insurance and definitely don’t have renters insurance. The contents in their house or their apartment is all they own and when they call 911 after they get out of their residence, they expect the fire department to show up and save their stuff. Even if its rich, suburban area, they still expect you to show up and save their stuff.
I’m not here to argue with you, just to make a dialogue and get you to think. Forestry fire services, whether federal, local, or private, lose a handful of firefighters every year. So far this year I have counted five deaths (August). Three from falling trees, one from a chainsaw accident, and one from burns from a fast moving fire changing direction. I will admit, I’m not a wildland firefighter. I have the unfortunate pleasure of having some wildland/urban interface at my part time job and I do not enjoy it. I give props to the guys that have to do this for a living.
Wildland firefighting is mainly focused on protecting property. Yes, civilian lives are sometimes lost, an example being the horrific fire outside of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge last year. However, most of the time, when fire is threatening homes or cities, authorities have the time to plan orderly evacuations which in turns lead me back to the argument that wildland firefighting is mainly focused at preserving property. Imagine what would happen if wildland firefighters said that the risk is too much. “It’s just a house or some land, it’s not worth my life.” They don’t however. They go to work every day across this country knowing their risk and they except it.
It’s the same with us. We go to work every day and we know the risk of this job. We know what oath we took. Life and Property. We should be making every effort we can to protect both. And if we truly put our citizens first and commit to searching a structure whether the report on scene is everyone is out or whether it’s an abandoned structure, then we in turn are making every effort to save their property as well and thus fulfilling our oath to “Protect life and property”.