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Stay Out? Not Me! – Commentary

Can Firefighting Be a Risk-Free Activity?

Someone from the USFA is pushing the end of interior firefighting. We all know there are winds blowing that way but it is a little bracing to see it stated so bluntly. You can sneer at the fact that he was talking to the Volunteer Chief Officers Section of the IAFC but that is really not the point. There is a battle for the soul of the fire service being fought between those who think any LODD is one too many and those who think that, in general, firefighters must die for the fire service to do what it should. Specifically, protecting lives and property.

I happen to be among the latter. I don't want to die, I don't want anyone on my crew or in my department to die, and I don't want any firefighter to die. And I will do everything I can to prepare and be very good at my job in the interest of preventing a LODD. But I know that property and lives are important and protecting those properly will require firefighters to do things that have a likelihood of causing so many injuries per thousand fires and so many fatalities per thousand fires. There is just no way around that.

The USFA official's statement that buildings are disposable is correct in the abstract but irrelevant in the specific. If you work in an affluent suburb then perhaps the buildings are more disposable than you might at first think. Insurance, savings, and tight social networks cushion any blows suffered by homeowners and residents. But in other areas the people have no safety net, no insurance, no savings, and live paycheck to paycheck. Losing houses and business in some areas is nothing short of catastrophic. It is both disrespectful and incorrect to say that those buildings and the property in them are disposable. The lives in them (which cannot be saved by exterior firefighting) are certainly not disposable.

So I say, stand up for property and for interior firefighting and saving lives, property, and livelihoods. If we decide these things are disposable then why do we exist?

………. Patrick Mahoney

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Comments - Add Yours

  • Bill Carey

    I agree with statements on facts such as disposable buildings, as far as including them in our risk perception. I also agree that even if the life hazard is nil, the fire service does has an obligation to protect threatened property, smartly. What I strongly disagree with is when each extreme side uses generalizations to support their opinion, or agenda. Not going inside, when smart firefighting says that you can do so safely with the available resources, is one extreme. Believing that we have to sacrifice our own lives for others, a irrational sacrifice and not a smart intervention, is another. Whatever “those fires” are, keeping firefighters from going inside them when it is safely permissible to do so will not reduce the number of line of duty deaths. This is where the rational firefighters and fire officers need to draw a line; Yes, firefighters do die inside burning buildings, some they should never have been in on a good day when you read the reports afterward, however the greatest efforts at reducing the death toll is directed at a small percentage. When one looks with scrutiny at each year’s numbers, and how “Fireground” “Fire Attack” and “On Scene” are tallied, we can see that far more die outside burning buildings. Unfortunately, until efforts to improve our health, fitness, and driving habits are made a glamorous as the newest bailout kit or glow in the dark Halligan bar, some in the fire service and with specific agendas will use the glossy images of the latest flashover, collapse and bailout to make the generalization that we will all be much more safer if we never went in, or at least providing specific details to support the argument. And on the other end, the far aggressive side, there will be those who believe they can defend their actions and the actions of the dead because “we are the fire department.” Each side buries their head in the sand, one fearful of risk, the other fearful of identity loss. When vague statements, like what was reported in the story above, are being used to change the way we operate, the first logical step is to look at the details, the facts and not the emotion.

    Bill Carey
    I’ve been to “those fires”

  • Larry Jenkins, retired captain

    It would be great if we went to war and nobody died. Wake up folks, firefighting is a dangerous occupation and people including firefighters get killed. I would love to see a year where there were no ff deaths, but that is never going to happen. Sometimes you do everything right and things still go wrong. We can do things safer, but it still a dangerous job. Don’t do stupid unsafe things and become part of the problem. Learn as much as you can, complacency will kill you. There are many things you can do to protect you and your personnel. Over the years I have seen many unqualified dangerous people climb the career ladder to quickly, because they have a big ego. Take your time and learn from others mistakes. Dissect LODD reports and learn from them. These are only a few things you can do to become safer. Don’t think you know it all and are an expert, that is when you become dangerous.
    I agree with the author that we have an obligation to save property, but not at the expense of anyone’s life. Remember, risk a little to save a little, risk a lot to save a lot.  
    Stay safe    

  • Mogadore Chief

    Wow! Hope you have your flash suit on. This ought to get good. 

  • Dave LeBlanc

    With all the talk about the 1%’rs, you would think someone would catch on.  While actually Fireground (inside working) deaths are more than 1%, they are far less than the number of deaths related to driving, medical and even training.

    Yet no one is advocating we don’t respond to incidents, or that we don’t train…funny no one (or very few) even mention the Medical aspect.  (That elephant is getting pretty big – we may have to sell this house)
    When you signed up for this job, you accepted a certain amount of risk.  More so than your neighbors who deliver mail, mow lawns, teach school.  You took this job knowing that risk was present, but also with a commitment to stand between your fellow man and danger.  Not recklessly running, willy nilly, into every fire…..but with the understanding that you have to put it all on the line in the name of duty.

    I fear that those who are too far removed from the street have a different view of risk.  They see it as unacceptable in any way.  They are losing, or have lost touch, with what actually happens at 2am in the dark streets of America.

    Stop trying to change the mission.  Especially when your focus is not the leading cause of our deaths.  

    Fight every fire like it is your fire, with your manpower, your resources and your knowledge.  “Those fires” are not the worst thing we face…….not if you are committed to training and prepared to stand in harms way for your neighbors.

    Dave LeBlanc
    “The Front Seat”
    Committed to fighting all fires, not just the safe ones.

  • Legeros

    Risk management in the fire service. Good, bad, or too early to tell?

  • Popknot

    The USFA needs to learn the meaning of the phrase ” Inherent Risk”. As firefighters we have all embraced the profession, dangers included. There is no way to make any job “risk free”.  

  • SafeButAggressive

    I have to agree Patrick. I read the article you are referring to and thought the same things you mention in your article. I have to go along with Dave as well, we are losing more firefighters to medical issues than anything right now. Look it up, its in the very statistics that the USFA itself puts on their website. I keep those numbers updated and posted in my firehouse so my brothers and sisters can see how we’re losing firefighters. I don’t see the government withdrawing all our military troops from all the countries we occupy because what they’re doing is “dangerous”. You know what you’re signing up for when you take this job and that includes the possibility of losing your life. Do I like to think about that? No, but it is a reality we all must face everyday when we walk out that door and leave our family behind to go pull another 24 hours at the firehouse or that volunteer who responds in their POV to answer the call. I believe in safety on the fireground and not doing “stupid” things, but interior firefighting is our job. Is it the right call on every fire? No, that’s why we train on tactics and strategies, reading smoke, company operations, etc. I believe the official was out of line calling buildings disposable. I believe the average citizen would probably take offense to that. I could go on, but I’ll stop here. I just wanted to voice my support. Thanks for noticing. Stay Safe!