Just Say No

As you probably already know, an unprecedented meeting of the American fire service met in Tampa back in 2004.  The Life Safety Task Force generated a list of 16 Life Safety Initiatives. I’m sure most of us had seen or heard them.  But, if you are truly dedicated to saving your lives and the lives of those on your department and your crew, you will have come pretty damn close to memorizing them.  Yes, they are that important.

I’d like to touch on one of those today. It is the fourth initiative, and it reads as follows:  “All firefighters must be empowered to stop unsafe practices.”

In preparation of our latest program over at Firefighter NetCast, I was exposed to the arguments both for and against the use of positive-pressure attack.  Chief John Kriska, a proponent of PPA, was the featured guest for the program which can be found at our site http://FirefighterNetCast.com or over at iTunes under firefighter podcasts.  I ran across what may well be the best video out there to demonstrate what happens when a PPV is set in a doorway and started before adequate thought is given to its potential effects.

I have accumulated a fair amount of training whether it has been in the classroom, at a controlled practical evolution, or on the fireground itself.   I know you have too, because I’ve seen you there as well, learning new ways to perform tasks, honing skills you’ve already learned, and perhaps even sharing your knowledge with others.

Help me then if you will, to figure out why we continue to see examples of near-fatal consequences on the videos regularly making the rounds on the internet?  Surely you know of a few of these head-shaking videos, and you may have seen this one as well.

This article is not meant to argue whether or not PPA/PPV should be used on your fireground.  Rather, as you watch the video, count how many “trained firefighters” it takes to kill an interior crew.  Take a peek:

As this video clearly shows, there are several on the fireground who seem to have forgotten some of the basic stuff we learned in our very first fire training classes: fire behavior.  As a “trained firefighter”, can you read the smoke?  Does it tell you what is happening inside this “box”?  Has the fire vented?  Will it?  What’s going to happen when it does vent?  Where do you want to be when this happens?  Would you have done anything differently before crawling inside?

Of course!

Sitting here in front of your computer monitor, not many of you would miss the signs of an impending hostile fire event, would you?  I wonder if the guys in this video would see the same signs if they were watching the video rather than performing the dance toward death.  If they were “trained” they probably would have seen the problems.  Why then, did no one speak up in a real situation?

I’ve seen it locally.  Firefighters with decades of experience seem to forget some of the basics.  Perhaps they take a shortcut, emboldened by the lack of disaster as their shortcut worked so many times before.  These are trained professional firefighters, many of them friends I have known for years.  They know better.  Why, then do we do stupid things on the fireground?

Maybe it’s because we have gotten away with it before.

Maybe it’s because no one stopped us before.

Maybe it’s because “that’s the way we’ve always done it.”

But, maybe our luck will run out one day, as it does about every 80 hours here in America.

As a firefighter, do you feel you have the ability, indeed the responsibility to say “NO” to your company officer?  As a company officer, do you feel you have the ability, indeed the responsibility, to say “NO” to your chief officer?

In this video, who should have said, “NO”?  Everyone.  Even the camera operator, if he/she were a “trained firefighter” should have the ability, indeed the responsibility, to keep our brothers and sisters from killing themselves, purely because we don’t feel it is our place to say “NO.”

Departmental policies, procedures, and guidelines must allow for “All firefighters must be empowered to stop unsafe practices.”

But moreover, each member must realize that they are not only able -but as trained firefighters- also responsible to stop unsafe practices.  We need to establish ownership of this responsibility.

If you or your department hasn’t made this paradigm shift, the time is yesterday.  Take your own steps now to enact each of the 16 Life Safety Initiatives.  Let each of us “trained professional firefighters” all work together to get the job done safely so we all go home at the end of the day.

Just say no.

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John Mitchell

Firefighter/Paramedic and a Lieutenant in suburban Chicago

Toledo prayers