For years now we’ve been hearing that the fire service is too aggressive with its fire attack and with how we operate on the fireground in general. That firefighters are concerned more with getting in faster and deeper and throwing caution to the wind. Some have even referred to it as â€œhero attack modeâ€ or in some classes and publications as â€œold fashioned firefighting.â€ I understand their argument, and our goal as a fire service should always be to do whatever we can to keep our firefighters healthy and safe, but here is where we’ll have to agree to disagree on whether we’re too aggressive on the fireground. In fact, I believe if we look a little bit closer at it weâ€™ll realize we’ve been using the wrong word.
Aggressive vs. Reckless
Whenever I hear someone say we’re too aggressive–and I know they have good intentions–I respond with â€œThank God we are!â€ I tell them I thank God every day that firefighters are aggressive enough to stretch that line and make that hallway to search for that child, make the floor above the fire to search for a missing occupant (they are counting on us), and I know I thank God every day that firefighters are aggressive enough to make that push to save a trapped firefighter or crew. As a matter of fact, I think we’d be setting ourselves up for really bad times if we weren’t aggressive. Instead, maybe we should be concerned more with when we’re being reckless in our actions and operations and not being too aggressive.
Just for argumentâ€™s sake, could you imagine a fire service that wasn’t aggressive? A fire service with a laid back weâ€™ll-get-to-it-when-we-feel-like-it attitude. Being aggressive is in the very nature of being a firefighter and it’s not just on the fireground. Imagine a non-aggressive firefighter at a pin-in accident, baby not breathing call, tech rescue job, etc. That type of inner drive is what we need to be successful and is absolutely what we need to stay alive and survive the dangers of firefighting. Being aggressive is how we win the battle.
Now, before anyone goes off half-cocked and launches a social media air strike on me and assumes that I’m saying you have to be crazy and run into situations where we shouldn’t be trying to prove how tough you areâ€¦don’t. I’m not! What I’m saying is when we trade being aggressive for being reckless we get people hurt and killed. No, burnt helmets and burnt turnout gear are not cool and making decisions based on emotions and not common sense is wrong. Fighting a fire with a â€œcoordinated aggressivenessâ€ is where we win most of our battles and where we must be. When we lose control, make rash decisions, and become reckless, bad things happen.
If you have a chance to take a look at some of the past Line Of Duty Deaths (LODD), serious injuries, or a video of a firefighter getting jammed up and hurt, the vast majority of the time it wasn’t because they were too aggressive, it was because we became reckless with our actions and decisions. I know it may sound like just a play on words, but I really believe it isn’t. When we become reckless, bad things happen.
Highly Calculated and Controlled Manner
Often we hear many in the fire service compare the fireground to the battleground (fire service to the military), and there are some similarities. We both have to study, prepare, and train to fight the enemy and prevent harm. We both have to learn and hone our craft, become a student of our trade, and realize that logistics and planning both play a huge role in our success. And did we say train? Yes we did! Train, train, train!
Where we differ slightly is in who are enemy is. The military trains to face an enemy that thinks, eats, and breathes, and their enemyâ€™s ammunition is most often found in its weapons. The fire service trains to face an enemy, the building, and our enemyâ€™s ammunition is fire and yes, you could say that our enemy thinks, eats, and breathes as well. Where we both come together again is that both of our enemies can and will kill us! When we let our guard down, stop thinking, stop training, stop preparing, and give in to the arrogance of â€œfire will never get meâ€ or â€œit won’t happen here,â€ then we end up hanging bunting on our firehouses, lowering flags to half mast, and hanging plaques on the walls.
What is needed are company officers, firefighters, and incident commanders who work in and around the fireground with a calm, cool, and confident demeanor and that only comes with training and being into the job. You can’t pick and choose what you’re going to be good at, or be good here and there or once in a while. You have to be good at what we do all of the time and be committed to it, understanding what we do and why we do it.
This is where that whole â€œâ€¦in a highly calculated and controlled mannerâ€ comes into play. If you’re progressive, then you most likely have this hanging on the wall in your firehouse or in your Risk Management plan (we stole this from Chief Brunacini years ago) and, most importantly, you understand it and actually use it:
â€œWe will risk our lives a lot in a highly calculated and controlled manner to save a savable life.â€
â€œWe will risk our lives a little in a highly calculated and controlled manner to save savable property.â€
â€œWe will NOT risk our lives at all for lives and property that are already lost.â€
Agree or disagree with the above statement, I bet most of you have something like this in your SOPs. Something that addresses just how far and at what level you can commit your troops. Our attack has to be one of a â€œcoordinated aggressiveness,â€ but never reckless.
In closing, most who say we’re too aggressive really do mean well and truly do care about the health and safety of firefighters, and weâ€™re both heading in the right direction. But we have always been aggressive in our operations and have come out successful because of it! What we need to be more concerned with and pay more attention to is when our actions and the actions of those operating in and around the fireground become reckless.
Be safe and let me know what you think.
If you’d like to have Chief Lasky out for a presentation, please contact him at www.PrideAndOwnership.com