Saturday, May 2, 2009

"The Speech" ....and what I think I heard

There is a whole bunch of banter going on in the Internet world about the FDIC speech of FDNY Lt. Ray McCormack. I am a little late getting to this but I wanted to throw my two cents in about this issue.

These thoughts are in no particular order and just represent what I think I heard in replaying it a couple of times.

I am going to use the phrase " I think I heard" in the points listed below. It does not represent the actual quotes that the Lt. used it is my impression and opinion of those points. (Official disclaimer, no flaming emails please ! (grin)

  • I have attended several classes with Lt. Ray McCormack in several venues. I have always learned a ton of stuff to take away and he has lot's to offer.
  • His experience and ability in this job stand on their merits and nobody should be questioning that stuff.
  • He was voicing his opinion as are all the other folks voicing their opinions, as I am doing right here. There has been a bunch of real vicious cheap remarks at some folks that disagreed with his few. I was taken aback by some of that stuff. Let's disagree as professionals at least.
  • I was not offended at the speech in general.
  • He made some particularly offensive comments which are bandied about about "too much safety" etc, etc. I found those particular remarks a little over the top, but I believe he intended them to be direct, way on the edge and incite the discussion which is now taking place. Those specific remarks were a bit much, but heck that is only my opinion, ...he expressed his, I expressed mine and I think that is OK.
  • Not in exact words but in concept I also heard him say, that the pride, desire, and core values of the job are changing and that made him mad. He did not use those words but when you invoke the names, of Ray Downey, Pat Brown, and others you are talking about firefighters in the truest sense of the word. I think I would agree there is some loss in that area and I am not sure how we can get it back.
  • I also heard him describe his passion and love for the job which was verbally visible out there on the sleeve of his Class A uniform. If you were not inspired about his passion and love for the job then you missed some stuff.
  • I heard him say that putting out the fire makes things safer. "Nuff said.
  • I heard him say that he was a little disappointed in some fire service leaders. I think I heard him say that leaders are become paralyzed by political and liability concerns. I think his statement was a little far reaching, but I get it and I don;t disagree.
  • I heard him say that fear on the fire ground can be dangerous. I don;t disagree but there needs to some healthy respect and knowledge of fire behavior and fire attack so that decisions are being made appropriately.
  • I heard him say that folks are not going in to make rescues when there is life involved. I am not aware of folks doing that nationwide but it is something he said. If there is a life involved we had better be doing all we can to change the outcome of that in anyway we can. I am not an advocate of "Trading lives" but we had better damn well be wrinkling the envelope.
  • I also heard him say train, keep training, and keep training. For the folks that know me, there is no argument there.
  • His terse and direct remarks with a sarcastic bent upon the safety culture, I have to disagree with as they were presented. I thought they were a bit tough. I know why he said them but I truly believe that the amount of "safety culture" is department specific and I also believe that it is like a pendulum in balance. I believe that sometimes we do some unreasonable things on the fire ground and fire scenes that can be corrected and fixed. It is a dangerous job and we will never get to no injuries and deaths but I think there is some fixable stuff and we need to continue to hop on that stuff until we get it right. I agree that we should never hide from doing our job when the bell rings, but I do not believe we have to be injured or killed when there is no civilian life involved.....however we come to that decision on the scene.

I think that the fire service needs to have the dialog it is having on a national scale.

I think we can have the discussion professionally and with a touch more dignity then the present one on this issue. Everyone who believes in safety is not a coward and everyone who stands next to FDNY Lt. Ray McCormack is not as experienced or trained as him by osmosis. There is somewhere in the middle as many other authors have pointed out.

I am thankful and grateful for the folks from FDNY, Chicago, and LA, and Phoenix who have a ton of experience to share with all of us and to continue to train us.

The downside to having those folks train us is some if the policies, procedures, and tactics that are employed by them, do not always translate into the majority of departments that attend the training they give. When you go to as many fires as
FDNY Lt. Ray McCormack does and you respond with an adequately staffed first alarm, you have a different view from the six folks that arrive first at the same house fire, in a non hydrant district.

Unfortunately fire ground safety has some basic principles to it which must be interpreted and applied to the circumstances and conditions you are presented with. Those circumstances include people, procedures and equipment.

Lots of people, lots of equipment, lots, of training and experience, and rigid well thought out procedures = maybe a less emphasis on safety because you success rate is high and continued to be likely.

Minimal people, minimal equipment, less experience and training, and less procedures = maybe a greater emphasis on safety because bad things are likely to happen.

We need safety at all incidents. We need to keep talking about it. Training will always help us no matter what we believe we heard in the speech.

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11 comments:

  1. Good post. I also was not there and have listened to it several times to make sure I heard what I thought I heard and not what I thought I heard (? sorry, but cutting down on the coffee )
    For myself, I still do not think he means to throw caution to the wind and perform unnecessary and dangerous acts but as a reminder of what our core job is and always will be.
    I agree, available resources are definitely a major factor when determining strategies & tactics at incidents. If only we could all have what they have.
    At the same time I realize liability is a real concern and is something you must consider when operating but you cannot allow it to handcuff you from doing your job.
    We all can improve in how we operate, levels of training, and dedication to "learning the trade" but let us remember that there are no "experts" on this job (my opinion). I feel far too many members perceive that they are, whether they equate longevity with experience or a wall of fame of certs and sheepskins. To me they are all equally important.
    I read in one of the comments on another post about "oversimplifying everything" ,true at times, but at the same time you can also overanalyze something too much.Some times what you see is what you get.
    IMO
    Erik Pettaway Boston Fire

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  2. I think we need to take what the folks from FDNY and LAFD say and put it into context. They live in a world most of us will never live in. They dont respond to fires where your crew is 5 firefighters and only 2 of them are qualified interior firefighters and the rest are old men and junior firefighters.You can criticize that all you want but in a lot of the real world that is reality. that is where the judgement of fire officers really becomes critical. Ray is right we must not forget our core duties but we also have have to face the liability issues he doesnt deal with.

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  3. Doing things safer does not necessarily mean giving up something. As a Safety Officer I pointed out hanging branches from trees during brush / woods fires, got firefighters to button up their coat while on the nozzle and encouraged firefigthers to wear gloves and goggles. Ok so maybe this took 30 seconds away from the call but perhaps it prevented an injury. Don't bash the safety officer. In regards to building fires there is a time when you have to stop and pull out even if it means the loss of a firefighter. At some point you have to stop before you kill everyone. You can't define that point here it is a case by case situation. It was done at the cold storage warhouse in Mass. It's been done other places.

    Hopefuly we are learning not to push the envelop so much that we get caught in vacant buildings when there is no life loss and no real property value.

    No one has said just stay outside and spray water through windows. At least not at any trianing I have been to.

    Gary McGinnis

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  4. Erik you would agree with JOE BLOW if it meant you could write on a blog. Look at all of your other post...

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  5. If his purpose was to generate discussion on this very important topic, he succeeded. However, as one who has spoken to groups for 37+ years I can say that his approach was not the best for the topic and group. We continue to kill about 100 of our brothers each year. We need to develop safer ways of doing what we do while at the same time staying aggressive with our tactics on the fireground. The way this was presented has been interpreted by some as a need to be more aggressive, and safety a secondary consideration. I would hope that this was not the message he wanted to convey. If anything I am disappointed that a person of his stature didn't put more thought and peer review into his message before delivering it. I'm sure he's built a strong reputation over the years or he wouldn't have been asked to speak at FDIC. He needs to be reminded that within minutes you can do serious damage to that reputation if you're not very careful. We can remain humble while still delivering a powerful message.
    J. Allen, Irmo, SC.

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  6. Wow,
    My opinions have not changed nor are they any different. I'm trying to convey my opinion without insulting anyone something you have chosen to do Anonymously. Another E-thug I see.I have my own and do not need to write on others but when I do I try to respect theirs. Please tell me where I double talked. I've only tried to put it in a more respectful way.
    If you choose to still insult please do it in person.
    Erik Pettaway

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  7. Available resources is a huge factor in determining what you can or can not do.This is what I agree with.
    This is what I get on a box:
    4 Engines, One as a RIT (16 members)
    2 Ladders (8 members)
    I Heavy Rescue (4 to 5 members)
    Myself & Aide (2 members)
    If the fire is confirmed (Smoke or Fire Showing) I recieve in addition
    1 more Ladder (4 members)
    Another Chief officer as RIT Chief (2 more members)
    One Re-Hab unit (1 more member)
    As far as EMS, Boston EMS will send 1 BLS & 1 ALS with supervisor (5 more people for EMS related issues)
    On a box I get a total of 36+ FireFighters & 5+ EMS people, so yes I can do a lot of things other departments cannot.
    I still think the speach was great and I still agree with it but I realize most departments do not have the pleasure of having as many members as myself.
    Now if you think that is me talking out the side of my mouth so be it.I have my own blog, 3 in fact, where I say what I want without worrying about others.
    Once again, let's meet for a "spirited" debate over some coffee. If you chose to still insult keep it on craigslist or FHs forum.
    Erik Pettaway

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  8. We recently faced a house fire with four- two Captains & two recruits. We still got on the trucks when the tones went off, we still tagged a hydrant,staged,deployed an attack line & confirmed the house was vacant. Knockdown was 8 minutes, we were lucky,lots of factors were in our favour that day. We also have lost homes & buildings due to manpower, distance of 2nd due crews,water supply etc. We train hard, often & do the best to our abilities, safety is always priority one,but things happen. I beleive in being aggressive,being smart & Risking a lot to save a lot, risking little to save little. Seems we have heard that before...

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  9. With all due respect to the Lt, reality is we sometimes respond with what we have at the time.Point in case, while three of our members were attending FDIC, we got toned out to a house fire in town.
    We had two Captains & two recruits available, That's it, 2nd due station was 30 minutes away. We, with four, managed to tag the hydrant,deploy a line,ensure everyone was out & knock the fire down in 8 minutes by going to the attack upon arrival. It doesn't always end that way though, we were lucky that day with numerous factors in our favour. We believe in "Risking a lot to save a lot,risking little to save little" & we practice that mantra.Being aggressive doesn't mean placing firefighter's in harm's way to save "stuff". And yes, we too don't have the luxury of unlimited resources, minutes away in our district.
    I was at FDIC last year & heard Billy Goldfeder talk about "Everyone Goes Home" & couldn't agree more.Too many LODD's, for the wrong reasons.

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  10. Kelly,
    Before another E-Thug attempted to insult me, I was looking at the subject from a different perspective and it made me think "what if I didn't have all the resources that I do". It made me realize that we are somewhat spoiled with the amount of manpower we get on a box. All but the last few who would normally arrive in under 10 minutes. You are able to be more agressive when you know that many people are coming behind you.
    I still agree and enjoyed McCormacks speech and my own issues with making a mountain out of an ant hill that I feel too many people are trying to make firefighting.
    Having a difference of opinion and handling it without insulting one another should be the way to handle it. Unfortunately when you can hide behind an alias it tends to bring out the worst in people.
    Erik Pettaway

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  11. Kelly,
    Before another E-Thug attempted to insult me, I was looking at the subject from a different perspective and it made me think "what if I didn't have all the resources that I do". It made me realize that we are somewhat spoiled with the amount of manpower we get on a box. All but the last few who would normally arrive in under 10 minutes. You are able to be more agressive when you know that many people are coming behind you.
    I still agree and enjoyed McCormacks speech and my own issues with making a mountain out of an ant hill that I feel too many people are trying to make firefighting.
    Having a difference of opinion and handling it without insulting one another should be the way to handle it. Unfortunately when you can hide behind an alias it tends to bring out the worst in people.
    Erik Pettaway

    ReplyDelete

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