On the topic of fire ground searches, I often hear a gross amount of misinformation and fear speak. This normally perks my ears and readies my mind for a conversation of great importance to me. After the talk, which usually turns into an argument that ends with “Well you just have to do what I tell you to”, I find myself thinking. Why should I have to convince firefighters to do a search? This topic of search culture usually leaves me searching for something else. Some of my associates think the answer is simple, and can be boiled down to misguided priorities. If that’s the case, what we really should be searching for is understanding. But it’s not that simple. We’re talking fire service culture, generational gaps, and different knowledge and skills. So how can pro search firefighters effectively argue their points? I have a few pointers that I think can help move you forward.
The most important thing we have to do is know our job. Don’t go into a battle without a sword. If you cannot argue your point, then don’t bother, because you’re about to hear every reason in the world as to why you’re wrong and they are right. By knowing our job, we know that every situation dictates a different response. So, don’t get sucked into a “Well what if this happens” battle. You will lose. Stick to the fundamentals of the fire service and remind them that our goal is to remove victims as quickly as possible from IDLH, or potentially IDLH environments by occupying as much space in that structure as we safely can, as quickly as we can.
This next one is important. Lose your ego and be prepared for theirs. We all know the rules. Don’t discuss religion or politics right? Well in this day and age we’re close to not being able to rationally discuss strategies and tactics. Once the ego comes out, just walk away. Come back another time prepared for rational conversation. It is not easy to challenge someone else’s opinion when they have held it for so long. Remember we have to stay on point. When they say survivability profile or insist that exposures are top priority, we have to provide evidence and time proven tactics to counter argue.
Do some research. Get the numbers on deaths during search. Find out what happened. Was it a floor collapse or heart attack? This is important because fear is a huge search deterrent. Research different department’s standards regarding searches, especially the big boys like FDNY, Chicago, Detroit, etc. These guys see a lot of work and their input on the fire service is priceless. This is a great time to consider your staffing levels and how they impact the fire ground. If you have plenty of personnel, discuss efficiency in completing task using different companies’ traditional roles. If trucks are being assigned to RIT instead of search or being used as manpower for suppression, ask why. Try and understand the viewpoints of the opposition through your research. If you are at a smaller department, discuss how search could be better integrated into fire suppression or maybe why a quick search in priority areas could be more beneficial to potential victims than suppression.
Riding assignments and standing orders. In my opinion, this is one of the best things a department can do to increase efficiency on the fire ground. If you have a dedicated company for search, usually the truck, and they show up knowing the task they have to complete, operations can flow and command can focus on the incident and not each individual task. Does your department understand the difference between a strategy and a tactic? Is command laying out the strategy and letting the officers use tactics to control the incident? Find these things out, understand what you’re up against. You may be closer than you think.
These pointers should get you off to a good start. We still have to consider where the fire service is at the moment. NIMS and ICS has sprung a “check box” style of command. Some use it better than others, but if RIT is on the checklist, and the next company in is a truck, then this can be an issue for completing a timely search. If your department falls into this category, then discuss utilization of resources. Discuss utilization of personnel and officers. Are we using our people correctly for the type of incident we have? Do we really need to take officers away from a crew to set up divisions, resource units, sectors, groups, or whatever else we can think of on a typical residential structure fire? Plan for these things to come up in discussion and have an adequate argument. Lastly, this will be a long fight. The more people we have on our side that believe in having a strong search culture, the more likely we’ll see improvement. Remember, everyone has an opinion, but our side puts the citizens first, and it’s a conversation worth having.