Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Looking Forward Through the Rear View Mirror


As the end of the year fast approaches and in turn the end of the decade, it amazes me how “fast” time seems to have passed. Certainly when looking back and reflecting upon the past year or the previous few years, each of us thinks and contemplates upon those events, milestones, anniversaries, highlights as well as those common everyday occurrences that seem to permeate back and forth in our minds and hang at times like the smoke from a smoldering contents fire. When reflecting, there are the good times as well as those that were not so good. There are those events that were life altering and changing that forever formulate a different view upon each of our respective worlds we live and work within. As well as those events that have provided us with the joys and virtue of what we do everyday as firefighters both on and off the job, at the firehouse and at home.

For each or us, the events that form and shape our worlds; our families at home and our families at the fire station and within the fire department or agencies we volunteer or work for, leave indelible marks upon us that at times formulate and transcend us. My good friend Chief Ben Waller reflected upon a number of issues and insights in his recent post that was right on the mark as did my partner Chief Doug Cline in his perspective of 2009 and for 2010. A lot has happened to this our Fire Service during the past ten years and most certainly in the past twelve months that has shaped and forged a new generation of firefighters and tempered the existing veterans. Stop and think about it.

Looking back at 2009 and in the waning decade, the one certainty that we all share is that we have the ability and look forward to a new year, a new decade and to new challenges. Prior to this week, the 2009 Firefighter LODD events that sadly have occurred seemed like it would pause and we’d end the year with no further events. Tragically, in the past few days, five additional line-of-duty deaths have been reported through the USFA. From the events of 9-11, to the seeds that were planted in Tampa and the crusade that was embarked upon to ensure everyone [has] the opportunity to go home, through the tragedy, wake-up call and the lessons-learned from Charleston. A lot has happened, many tears have been shed, alot was learned, with so much more work still remaining.

As of this posting, the United States Fire Service has borne ninety-three (93) LODDs this year. In comparison to previous years, this may finally indicate a turning point in the previous escalating trends in LODD we’ve experienced during the past decade. Take a moment to look through the USFA postings and the narratives of each of the firefighters who made the supreme sacrifice in 2009 and reflect upon the circumstances and events that lead to their respective LODD incident. Take the time to spend an evening reading through some of the recent or past reports published on the NIOSH Fire Fighter Fatality Investigation and Prevention Program web site. Look the History Repeating Events (HRE) and think about what you can do to champion changes in your organization, department or company to eliminate or reduce the likelihood for a similar event from occurring to you or your organization.

The formulative and diligent efforts of the NFFF and the Everyone Goes Home Program and the Sixteen Firefighter Life Safety Initiatives have made their mark in this decade and must continue to be embraced and institutionalized as we move forward to twenty ten. Don't forget about the inroads made by the National Firefigher Near-Miss Reporting System and the knowledge being gained to reduce HRE. We must look at and examine the successes and the failures of our methodologies, processes, culture and perspectives and continue to seek behaviors and practices that make our job safer. When we focus our attention on Building Construction, Command Risk Management and Firefighter Safety and the essence of combat structural fires; Structural firefighting is what it’s all about, is it not? The fundamental nature and reason we have such veneration for firefighting and the fire service and all it entails, has a lot to do with going into burning buildings and fighting fire. But firefighting has its adverse consequences, with all too familiar costs, in the form of injuries, debilitating accidents and line of duty deaths. As a firefighter; to say that we love firefighting would be an understatement, BUT one issue that we need to address is the fact that there are many individual firefighters, companies and organizations that employ fireground operational practices that promote the “enjoyment and entertainment” of working a good job within the occupancy compartment of a structural fire in the building environment.

One of the formulative postings I published this past year focused on working that good job for the shear enjoyment of what and who we are; firefighters. It’s worth repeating again, since this is an opportune time to reflect. Today’s incident scene and structural fires are unlike those in past decades and will continue to challenge us operationally when confronted with structural fire engagement and combat operations. Operationally, we need to be doing the right thing, for the right reason in the right place to increase our safety and incident survivability.

We also can share the belief and understanding that we at times may have found ourselves staying too long in the wrong place, operating tactically in an adverse environment with known hazards that do not have value, for nothing other than the enjoyment of nozzle and operating time in the fire. We have a tendency when working a room and contents, compartment fire or a structural fire in the building environment placing operating companies and personnel in high hazard environments- sometimes at the expense of justifying our own entertainment value in working the job, the assignment or in maintaining the interior operational interface. Think about it.

We need to stop “entertaining” ourselves. Don’t mistake determined, effective and proactive firefighting with that of reckless, baseless and risk-preferring and self-indulging firefighting. There is a difference. The job is dangerous, it has risks, we are not invincible, and we can die; at any alarm, in any fire, at anytime for any number of reasons. But it’s tragic when we die for all the wrong reasons. Think about the definitions; think about how they apply to you, your personnel, your company or your operations; past, present or future. More importantly, think about when and where you’ve found yourself doing any one of these; could the outcome have been different?

TACTICAL AMUSEMENT “tak-ti-kəl ə- myüz-mənt”

1: of or relating to structural fireground tactics: as a (1) a means of amusing or entertaining during fire suppression, support tasks or operations that places personnel at risk

2: the condition of being amused while engaging in fire suppression, support tasks or operations that places personnel at risk

3: pleasurable diversion while engaging in fire suppression, support tasks or operations: entertainment; that places personnel at risk

TACTICAL DIVERSION “tak-ti-kəl də- vər-zhən”

1: the reckless act or an instance of diverting from an assignment, task, operation or activity while engaging in fire suppression, support tasks or operation for the sake of amusing or entertainment; that places personnel at risk

2: the reckless act of self determined task operations that diverts or amuses from defined risk assessment and incident action plans; that places personnel at risk


TACTICAL CIRCUMVENTION “tak-ti-kəl sər-kəm- ven(t)-shən”

1: to deliberately manage to get around especially by ingenuity or approach that diverts for the purpose of amusing; assignment, operations or tasks that countermand or disregard defined risk assessment and incident action plans; that places personnel at risk

The demands and requirements of modern firefighting will continue to require the placement of personnel within situations and buildings that carry risk, uncertainty and inherent danger. As a result, risk management must become fluid and integrate all personnel. We must manage dynamic risks with a balanced approach of effective assessment, analysis and probability within command decision making that results in safety conscious strategies and tactics.

On any given day, at any give alarm, the dynamics around us at times may be in or out of our direct control. We may not be able to see what the cards have in store for us, BUT we must ensure we use every fragment of training, fortitude, knowledge, skills, courage, bravery, insights, luck and sometimes (other divine) intervention to get us through. We must have the fortitude and courage to be both safety conscious and measured in the performance of our sworn duties while maintaining the appropriate balance of risk and bravery.
• The demands and requirements of modern firefighting will continue to require the placement of personnel within situations and buildings that carry risk, uncertainty and inherent danger.

• As a result, risk management must become fluid and integrate all personnel.

• We must manage dynamic risks with a balanced approach of effective assessment, analysis and probability within command decision making that results in safety conscious strategies and tactics.

• The traditional attitudes and beliefs of equating aggressive firefighting operations in all occupancy types coupled with correlating, established and pragmatic operational strategies and tactics MUST not only be questioned, they need to be adjusted and modified.

Risk assessment, risk-benefit analysis, safety and survivability profiling, operational value and firefighter injury and LODD reduction must be further institutionalized to become a recognized part of modern firefighting operations. Aggressive firefighting must be redefined and aligned to the built environment and associated with goal oriented tactical operations that are defined by risk assessed and analyzed tasks that are executed under battle plans that promote the best in safety practices and survivability within know hostile structural fire environments.

Aggressive: Assertive, bold, and energetic, forceful, determined, confident, marked by driving forceful energy or initiative, marked by combative readiness, assured, direct, dominate…

Measured: Calculated; deliberate, careful; restrained, think, considered, confident, alternatives, reasoned actions, in control, self assured, calm…

There is a melting of both pragmatic aggressive firefighting with measured and deliberate tactical approaches. It’s a balance and equilibrium; the question is do you know when to recognize that balance, where it exists and how not to cross that adverse threshold?

Our current generation of buildings, construction and occupancies are not as predictable as past Conventional Construction; Risk assessment, strategies and tactics must change to address these new rules of structural fire engagement. You need to gain the knowledge and insights and to change and adjust your operating profile in order to safe guard your companies, personnel and team compositions.

Looking Forward through the Rear View Mirror; remember the past, recall those history repeating events that seem to manifest themselves time and time again; are we ever going to learn. I truly believe we are starting to finally “get it”-even if it’s on a smaller incremental scale, it’s a starting point. Remember the lessons from those events that have impacted you, your department, your community and the fire service; from close-calls to near-miss events; from minor or debilitating injuries to the tragedy and sorrow of a LODD event.

As we transition into a new year, and as plans begin to take place that frame and outline the year’s activities, foremost in this planning, preparation, scheduling and outlook should be those activities and commitments that training, education and skill development can be implemented and enhanced. Take the initiative to recognize and identify training and operational gaps and distinguish the risk and options available to lessen or eliminate the risk and reduce the gap deficiencies. Take the time to implement effective, accurate and frequent training and skill development drills, training curriculums and programs. Don’t sacrifice or forego on this mission critical area when so much is at stake in the domain of combat structural fire suppression. Understand the predictability of performance in the buildings and occupancies not only in your jurisdiction, first or second-due areas, but also in those areas that you may be called upon to respond to for greater alarms or mutual aid. Understand the structural anatomy of your community. Remember Building Knowledge = Firefighter Safety. Understand the fomulative issues affecting engineered structural systems (ESS) and the change in operational deployment and tactics on the fire ground.

Keep an eye in the rear view mirror; learning from the wisdom and knowledge from where you’ve been, what you’ve done and all your past experiences and practice; but at the same time focusing on the road before you with keen attentiveness on situational awareness, anticipating error-likely conditions and balanced risk assessment and operational management in both your strategic and tactical deployments.

We don’t know what’s in the cards on any given day, but the citizens we protect can rest assured, we will do our jobs as firefighters, to the best of our abilities, because of who we are; today, in 2010 and certainly well into the next decade and beyond.

Ensure you're glancing occasionally in your rear view mirror to monitor where you've been, while driving your initiatives, programs, processes and actions forward. Above all, maintain the courage to be safe.
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