Are we too aggressive, or just using the wrong word?

SeymourTN

The Seymour (TN) Fire Department made the right choice with this fire and did a great job. Photo by author

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 “hero attack mode” or in some classes and publications as “old fashioned firefighting.” 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 we’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 “Thank God we are!” 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 argument’s sake, could you imagine a fire service that wasn’t aggressive? A fire service with a laid back we’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 are…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 “coordinated aggressiveness” 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 enemy’s ammunition is most often found in its weapons. The fire service trains to face an enemy, the building, and our enemy’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 “fire will never get me” or “it won’t happen here,” 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 “…in a highly calculated and controlled manner” 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:

 

“We will risk our lives a lot in a highly calculated and controlled manner to save a savable life.”

“We will risk our lives a little in a highly calculated and controlled manner to save savable property.”

“We will NOT risk our lives at all for lives and property that are already lost.”

 

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 “coordinated aggressiveness,” 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 we’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

12 Comments

  • keith bertogli says:

    This is a great and interesting blog. I agree we are aggressive At what we do and we are good at it. Yes we do have a tendency To be reckless And not think. This has opened my eyes I will pass this on to my department. Thank you rick for all you do.

  • Dave Mitchell says:

    I agree with you 100% Rick. We need to be intellectually aggressive at what we do in firefighting and we need to be good at it. Train, train, & train!!!

    Thanks for sharing .

  • Mike Rehfeld says:

    Chief, I believe you have a good grasp of the issue. I would like to add a thought, our lack of understanding on a vast scale the need to have a handle on the fire dynamics and coordinated attack is a significant contributor to our inability to make sound judgements on tactics. Especially in the initial attack stage. Keep up the great work brother.

  • Stan Mettinger Jr. says:

    Chief Lasky,
    You are spot on with your analogy. I would submit that we certainly need to be aggressive and that we have been, are now and will continue to be in the future when most of us old timers are gone. Where we fall short is the “calculated risk” and “controlled manner”. What we should be saying is that we are in so much of hurry that we fail to think outside that box (all 6 sides off it!!) Some folks lose their ability to focus and act appropriately because of the “big eye” that causes both eyeballs to fuse into one and then the “moth to the candle” sequence takes over. It happens all the time. How many of us, despite not being there, (me included) watch Fireground videos and immediately say, “What were they thinking”? Or in some cases we even muse that “they just weren’t thinking”. Face it, all of us old timers are getting older and we are going away. This causes us to promote folks younger and younger and with little to no experience. Those folks learn in the academy to “get in there and get it” in that very controlled atmosphere. I mean, face it, a concrete burn building with gas fire props is not going to fall down on you and the fire will go out with the flip of a switch. These folks graduate the academy, often with a belief that they can walk through h*ll with a garden hose. They hit the fire station, take a few more classes, and until they get tenure they may ride the unit that primarily runs EMS calls and in a few years due to attrition, they take a promotional test and become a company officer, perhaps only seeing a few fires in their short career. This is especially true in smaller rural departments. Then suddenly these newly promoted officers hit the big one and they revert to what they know best….”get in there and get it”. We fail to adequately prepare them teach them to think about what the fire is doing now and what it is going to do next and what it will do in 30 minutes if it keeps burning. Then add to it the significant difference in modern buildings as compared to older buildings. Then the brand new incident commander arrives (he she is the reason the new company officer got promoted). It is a recipe for disaster. Oh yea…..did I mention that since it is a small department, that driver engineer is brand new, getting promoted to fill the seat vacated by the new company officer? We must train our folks to be tactical and methodical in their approach to Fireground management. Control must be established from the beginning and chaos must be kept off the Fireground. We have come full circle from when I started and must again understand that it is not a bad thing to knock down that fire from an opening and then go get it when the cavalry arrives. You can call it what you want, but “transitional fire attack” is not a bad thing and it does work.
    Fire service leaders such as Chief Lasky, Chief Hayes, Chief Goldfeder, Chief Bruno, Chief Buchanan, Dr. David Griffin, Chief Varner, Chief Salka, Chief Marinucci and so many others travel the country teaching this whole leadership concept, Fireground management, officer development and more. Their objectives are simple yet complex but in a nutshell provide training that helps you manage things in an attempt to increase the chances that “Everyone Goes Home”. I am a believer that you can never know everything and that you often need to archive the old slide show tray in your head and replace it with a new power point. Therefore, I take in these classes when I can. Usually they are full. However, my experience finds that they are often full of the wrong people. The “old guys” are showing up and not the new guys, because they know it all. However, they just don’t “get it”
    So yes…..we do need to always maintain an aggressive posture in our daily operations. However, we need to stop being stupid and doing stupid things. We need to focus on the big picture. We need to be aggressive but as Gordon Graham often says we need to “ssssssssllllllloooooooowwwwww down”. We need to train, train, train, and then train some more. We need to mentor new officers and let them learn from our mistakes and our “parking lots”. We need to stress the need to remain calm, calculated regimented in our Fireground activities. Lastly we need to exercise “common sense” (regimented in our Fireground activities. Lastly we need to exercise “common sense” (Yes….I said it!)

  • Jim Martin says:

    “In a highly calculated way, firefighters:
    • will take some risk to save saveable lives. • may take some risk to save saveable property. • will not take any risk at all to try to save lives or properties that are already lost.”

    This statement is included in the UK Fire and Rescue Manual, Volume 2 Fire Service Operations, Incident Command, 3rd Edition 2008 and embodies the UK FRS approach to risk and risk assessment. We also use the term ‘offensive’ if we are operating within the immediate risk area and “defensive” if we are not to describe our operational tactical mode or stance. There has been a lot of discussion in the UK in recent years around whether our emergency responders are suffering from ‘risk paralysis’ and whether our application of health and safety policies and procedures have made us ‘risk averse’. I think the key to it is that our critical incident decision makers know the letter and spirit of the ‘law’ [policies & procedures], are experienced enough to exercise risk based judgement and are blessed with a reasonable amount of common sense. Sounds simple doesn’t it?

  • Steve Dube says:

    Thanks Chief for saying what I think is truth! Be safe out there!!

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