The Pussification of the American Fire Service

 

I freely admit that this post is coming from a place of anger and frustration. If you don’t like it, tough. It’s my blog, my opinion and this is not a professional, journalistic media. Get over it.

This all started yesterday when a good friend of mine, also a firefighter, posted a link to an article on his Facebook page. This link led you to an article on Fire Chief Magazine’s on-line blog that was written by a Mr. Robert Avsec. This particular blog post dealt with the recent deaths of two Chicago firefighters in a structural collapse at a  vacant laundromat located at 1744 East 75th Street. The basic premise of his post, in my opinion, was that the CFD killed Brothers Corey Ankum and Edward Stringer by conducting an offensive, interior operation for the fire located within this building. Click here to read the article and form your own opinion. I’ll wait here.

So. Whaddya think? Did you come to the same conclusion I did or am I totally off-base? If you think I’m off-base, screw-off. You’re one of the people this post is talking about. Told you I was pissed.

Turns out Mr. Avsec is a retired Battalion Chief from the Chesterfield (VA.) Fire and EMS Department. Looking up Chesterfield on the net I find that it is a county-wide, combination department that protects approximately 466 square miles and an approximate population of 311,000. Not a bad size district and a decent population. I’m sure they, and Mr. Avsec, have seen a couple fires. His article, however, leads me to question both his understanding and commitment to the job of firefighter.

Mister (I’m not even going to give him the courtesy of using his retired rank) Avsec bases much of his argument on the International Association of Fire Chief’s “10 Rules of Engagement for Structural Firefighting.” If you have not read this particular document you can click here to view it directly from the IAFC’s website. Again, I’ll be here stewing until you get back.

Interesting reading huh? What I find particularly interesting is that in the introduction of the document the IAFC authors state:

  • A basic level of risk is recognized and accepted, in a measured and controlled manner, in efforts that are routinely employed to save lives and property. These risks are not acceptable in situations where there is no potential to save lives or property.
  • A higher level of risk is acceptable only in situations where there is a realistic potential to save known endangered lives. This elevated risk must be limited to operations that are specifically directed toward rescue and where there is a realistic potential to save the person(s) known to be in danger.

Huh! A certain level of risk is accepted when life could be in danger. Kinda like when there is an abandoned laundromat on fire that has had the gas and electric shut off for years (hence no chance for an accidental ignition), previous fire and EMS runs have made the first-due companies aware that homeless people use this area, and this building in-particular, for shelter, the companies find board-up materials removed in the rear and a door standing open. The only possible argument is the last line in the second bullet point, “where there is a realistic potential to save the person(s) known to be in danger.” But that is only an argument that would be made by those of you on the no-risk bandwagon. The rest of us, those that signed up for the job of firefighter and not that of fire chief/risk manager, would say, in a Chicago accent here, “Ay, if ‘dere ain’t anyone out front pointin’ and yellin’ ‘den I guess we godda go in and make sure ‘dere ain’t anyone in ‘dere.” That’s our job, you bunch of pansie-ass fuck-sticks! You do not simply pull up on a structural fire and automatically write-off the building and any life that may or may not be present simply because the building is abandoned! Period. You pack of assholes. <Exhale>

Rather than keep writing as I get more and more irritated all over again, I am going to post something that was a reply to Mr. Avsec’s article. I think the author of this comment summed it up pretty well. Have at it:

“Bob, I don’t know why your post doesn’t show up here but I feel compelled to comment. I don’t know you, your rank, your department or your experience so I could be commenting on someone who is a chief of a large metropolitan department with 30 years experience, I don’t know. BUT, your article in “support” of the Chicago brothers showed this support by questioning every action of the CFD and, in my opinion, blaming the CFD as a whole for their deaths based upon their operating procedures or your misinformed, lack-thereof.
Firstly, CFD does have SOG’s regarding both abandoned buildings and bow string trusses. I am not a member of CFD but do have friends and other contacts in the CFD. According to both them and published reports, SOG’s for both these types of buildings were followed.
Secondly, as you eluded to in your comment that does not show up here, the first-due companies did find a door propped open and board-up materials displaced. This lead them to believe there was a life-safety issue.
Thirdly, the first-due companies had knowledge due to previous EMS and fire runs that homeless people used the buildings in this area, and this building in particular, for shelter.
Fourth, and I will argue this to the day I die (hopefully not in a fire event in an abandoned building), abandoned buildings do not set themselves on fire. Especially those with electric and gas services shut off.
Fifth and in conjunction with the above point, our job is entirely based upon life safety followed by property conservation. I am in 100% agreement that property conservation is in no way worth anyone’s life or well-being. Especially a building such as the one on East 75th. However, life safety, in my own opinion, is. As you pointed out in your article, we risk ourselves when people or callers are telling us someone is still in the building. In the absence of those bystanders or callers it is up to US, the firefighters who willingly take on a dangerous job, to ensure that everyone is out. This responsibility is not predicated upon what type of building the event is taking place in.
Sixth, the “accepted risk/benefit practices, such as the IAFC’s 10 Rules of Engagement for Structural Firefighting” is great for “writing off” buildings and even lives in buildings involved in fire to the point where no reasonable expectation of viable life exists or that the fire is so far advanced that it is not worth the risk of offensive operations. Neither of these conditions existed at this scene. In case you missed it this was a one-line fire that was extinguished and overhaul begun in under 20 minutes.
The last point I would like to make is a personal one and it also is in regards to the “accepted risk/benefit practices, such as the IAFC’s 10 Rules of Engagement for Structural Firefighting”. This is a dangerous profession. I will not risk my life unnecessarily for a life or a building that is lost. However, the problem with these “rules of decision making” is that they use static flow-charts to try and control a dynamic and unique environment. You need only look at the annual Firehouse Magazine Hero’s edition for proof. If you read those snippets of actions taken by firefighters from around the country the ones that are recognized the highest are usually for those involving great personal risk that resulted in the saving of a life or, at the least, giving that life the greatest chance at being saved i.e. the rescue was effected but the person succumbed anyway. How many of those simply would have added to another fire fatality statistic had the “model” been employed?”

Damn, wish I would have said that <wink>.

Over the last few years it seems to me that the American Fire Service has suddenly lost any form of balls it once had. Our fire chiefs came up, pulled down our zippers, yanked off our junk and threw them in their collective purses. Yes, I said it, and I’ll say it again, fire chiefs. In general you won’t find too many firefighters who think they should not encounter any risk in the performance of their jobs. Evidently our chiefs do. Do not get me wrong. I will not risk my own life or safety for a life that is already lost or a building that has nothing left to save (sounds kinda familiar, almost like that was written somewhere else). I will, however, gladly and to the best of my ability and last of my strength risk my life in an attempt to save another human being’s life. And yes, even if I don’t even know if that human being is even in there or not.

Another good friend of mine spent nearly a month in the burn unit after he was caught in a “rapid progression fire event.” He and his partner were searching the top floor of a Chicago brownstone for kids that were reported trapped. The fire had originated on the rear porch, a “Chicago lumberyard” as they are known. While my buddy and his partner were in the front room the rear door failed due to the fire, the fire rushed down the common front-to-back hall, into the living room where they were located and out the front, large, picture window that had been ventilated during their search. My buddy’s partner was able to roll behind a couch and pull it on top of him and suffered only a couple minor burns. My buddy, on the other hand, was directly underneath the picture window when the “freight-train of fire”, to use his words, blew over the top of him and briefly enveloped him. Pain, disability, skin grafts, infections, rehab and 9 months later he was back to work. Oh, and those kids they were looking for? Not there. They were down the block at a relative’s house and the other occupants of the building didn’t know. Does that mean that my buddy and his partner should not have been there? Does that mean that they essentially burned themselves? If you answered “yes” to either of those, fuck-off. Do I make myself clear?

The job of firefighter is inherently dangerous and may require us at any moment to put ourselves at great risk. Not carelessly, not recklessly, not without a real justification. What I think has happened in recent years is that those situations that are truly justified have been narrowed to such a fine focus that many in today’s fire service, such as Mr. Avsec, would only advocate the risk of a firefighter when there is stone-sober, MENSA member standing in the front of the fire building, pointing to a specific window, with a blueprint of the building and a personal guarantee that nothing bad will happen. Bullshit.

Ok, I need to go have a snort of something and calm down. While I’m doing that why don’t you go over to Chris Brennan’s page at “Fire Service Warriorhere and read his post entitled, “Quit Telling Me to Change My Culture.” He writes a good article and you won’t have to be subjected to all the profanity and negativity I just bombarded you with.

Until the next thing pisses me off,

Stay Safe!

Hallway Sledge

 

33 comments on “The Pussification of the American Fire Service

  1. fdsquadguy says:

    I enjoyed your post. I am amazed of the current thought process of fire leadership. Apparently he did not see that New Orleans pulled eight out of an abandon building. Do the homeless persons in our communities not need to be rescued from fire buildings? Or because they are homeless they should not receive the same care as one who owns a home/business?

    Wow we are becoming a very hypocritical service. So when the next plane hits an apartment building; we should not help those people….

    Like

    • Brad Hoff says:

      Right on Brother!!! I find it disturbing that the quoted reply you posted above from the MUTTs article doesn’t appear in the reply section on Fire Chief! Some how it has magically disappeared! It is in my opinion that the editors of Fire Chief should seriously take another hard look at what their writers are saying on topics such as this before they post it!

      Like

  2. Brad Hoff says:

    Hey Brothers and Sisters!

    Fire Chief magazine has pulled the MUTTs article! Here is Janet Wilmoths reply to the situation that led to all of us getting slapped in the face! its-too-soon-for-hard-questions-in-chicago/

    Like

  3. Brad Hoff says:

    Fire Chief mag posted a reply and removed the MUTTs article!

    Like

  4. Matty says:

    If I wasn’t a committed man, and a homosexual, I’d offer to buy you a fish sandwich. Well said brother.

    Like

  5. Tim Walsh says:

    Brother sledge nicely done a great article.
    You are welcome here any time your time off allows.

    Chicago FD Spec Ops

    Like

    • Tim, thank you for the comment. I must admit I saw your tag of CFD Spec Ops before I read your comment and was a little nervous. You are the first Chicago brother to comment and I hoped I had not offended or made greatly inaccurate statements regarding the memories of our two lost brothers. I am relieved that, at least in your eyes, I did not do them injustice.

      Like

  6. Walter Lewis says:

    Amen. The American fire service is losing it’s responsibilty to duty at the doctrine of inexperienced, unconfident and poorly trained few who tout the safety need rather than understand what the public expects of us. To do our JOB and control emergencies like professionals, not cowards.
    Our training should be realistic, not pretend, to prepare us for battle. And it needs to be done often. If things dont change for the better, we might as well trade tower trucks for wrecking balls.

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  7. Jon Schneck says:

    at this rate in 10 years they will say the fire is in the trashcan but the walls are covered in soot and it not worth saving. no 2 firefighters will agree on when to say when on interior attack when there inside so the chief across the street that has never seen the backside of the structure sure cant make an accurate evaluation of the structure. that being said everyone needs to keep there eyes open at all times as things can change on a heartbeat.

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    • 100% agree Jon. I do not advocate a blind rush into every situation because we’re hardcore and and have a death wish. Education, training and intestinal fortitude is required. Sometimes I think that the latter is lacking these days. It’s more about the paycheck and time off to run other businesses, etc. or the status of being a firefighter if you’re a volley.

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  8. Walt C says:

    As a retired large metro fire chief who had 40 years service ,I agree with sledge.In the In the 1970’s ,I was a capt. and a highly respected fire chief told me that we are the professionals and for us to go to the Natl.Fire Acad is like the tail wagging the dog.I respect the NFA but my experience working in very busy areas with seasoned firefighters is where I learned firefighting crawling down hallways and descending into basements(NO SCBA’s).I know I am a dinosaur but I believe maintaining my 5 senses in interior firefighting is safer in the short run and SCBA’s may or may not increase longevity after retiring. I hear of more members being caught in flashovers with Paks than ever before. With that said the hardest decisions I made were letting aggressive firefighters mount interior attacks on vacant properties,if I thought the structure was sound.I was lucky and thank God no one was ever seriously hurt. This was due to good officers ,good men,pride and camaderie.I could go on but I’ll stop.
    Thank you

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    • Thank you for your service Chief. Especially in the era when you worked on the line. I agree with you too. Working side-by-side with good firefighters and officers will teach you more than any class. It’s just the reality of the era myself and the other newbies are working in today that those experiences are few and far between.

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  9. Ant R. says:

    Great Article! Alot of talk recently about Slicers, VES, VEIS, Etc this article makes these bad departments and Non-fire fighting command staff look like a bunch of desk sitting F*cks. I had two buddies get severely hurt in a situation similar to your buddies in chicago. They did what they were trained and expected to do. Sometimes the ball doesn’t bounce the way it should, however these guys still don’t regret their decision to this day. Accidents happen sometimes, and it’s part of job. Cops Get shot at, Carpenters may hit their finger with a hammer from time to time, Electricians get shocked, Fire fighters put their lifes on the line for others when warranted.

    Like

    • There’s risk everywhere Ant. We risk everything just going to work. It doesn’t have to be a fire, could be getting hit by a car or a fall off a rig while doing maintenance. You just never know. Trying to decrease the risk we face is admirable and I am fully behind it, but trying to do so at the cost of efficiently doing our jobs I have a hard time with.

      Like

  10. John Pignataro says:

    BRAVO Mr Sledge I am glad you beat me to the reply… It is nice to know that other firemen out think the same way…

    Retired DC Fire Lieutenant
    John Pignataro

    Like

  11. Proff says:

    well said Mr Sledge. Since I joined the career service in the early 70s I have seen a alarmingly increase in many pathetic changes to the fire service. I am glad I retired when I did because I really dont think I could work with someone who is to afraid of breaking a nail or getting soot in their eyes.

    Like

    • I admit Proff, I sometimes stand there with my mouth open and eyes wide at some of the things I hear and see from some members of today’s fire service. Less about the job and others than about themselves and what they’ll get.

      Like

  12. Bill says:

    As I skip off into the twilight of my long career may I say this…. Well said. It’s time to move on..

    Like

  13. Jim drennan says:

    Amen Brother.. We are of the same brotherhood. Unlike the academician cowards, we take seriously our sworn duty of protecting lives of OTHERS. That is what firefighters do . That is what we do. Feel free to stop by the 2nd battalion Jersey City Fire Dept anytime.. B C J Drennan.

    Like

    • Chief, thank you for your kind words. I think that being invited to stop by another department is one of the strongest compliments that can be given to another firefighter. I don’t take it lightly. Thank you.

      Like

  14. Truckie says:

    Stand up, say it loud say it proud! I love the article. I am a 23 year veteran from the NY area now in the Hartford region. Being an Instructor and a Sr officer I say with great pride, you could not be more correct. We should all put in requests to all the Chiefs across the country asking “chief, can I have my balls back? I’d like to do some work”. CHAOS-chief has arrived on scene.

    Like

  15. LT J. Bowden says:

    Hmmmm… while I agree with the premise, I disagree with the “pussification” and “purse” comments. I work with some seriously tough women, and these comments that equate being female with being less than tough dishonor not only our contribution but also that of our sisters who have fought interior attacks and even died in Philly doing so.

    Like

  16. Michael says:

    While I understand his rant and agree to a point that sometimes we may play too safe I am offended by the unprofessional way it was conducted. There has been tons of research done as to when the safety of Firefighters must be placed above the situation. Chiefs have to make dynamic life altering decisions in mere seconds that determine real consequences. The new construction out there burns hotter and faster than legacy homes I fought fire in during my early career. All one has to do is read the paper or watch the news to see how our enemy has adapted and become much more dangerous. Dr Burton Clark has just released a new book titled I Can’t Save You But I will Die Trying. A good read and very eye opening. I think there are still valid arguments on both sides but considering some of the recent decisions made on scene that have had at the least an indirect effect on the lives of Firefighters that were entrusted to their command that we need to look at how we do business. I can assure you the Author , if put in the same situation would not want to have to tell a wife, husband, mother, father, or child that a bad decision made by me in the firefight is why their loved one will not be coming home tomorrow or ever. If that makes me all the bad names that the author used then so be it. I only hope he has a long and healthy career because his Chief will feel as most of us do.

    Like

    • Michael, first thanks for reading. Second, this was written four years and has recently had a sudden upsurge in popularity for some reason, not of my doing. Third, think it’s unprofessional? Fine. My blog, my rules. As for the rest of your points, you either only read part of the article or entirely missed where I say, on several different occasions, you don’t charge blindly into action. Perhaps if Mr. Avsec’s article, which sparked this whole post, were still accessible and you were able to read it you would better understand. Perhaps you should read my post on my home page entitled, “Response to the Sudden Interest in The Pussification of the American Fire Service.” That may clear up any concerns you may have. Or, try reading anything else by me before jumping on your high horse. You’d find in not such the cowboy you evidently think I am. I take personal offense at your scolding and implication I have no idea what’s going on in today’s fire service and I may have to answer to someone’s widow etc. You have no idea based upon reading one article written four years ago.

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      • Tim walsh says:

        Chris you were spot on 4 years ago as well as now. Keep up the good work!

        Capt. Tim Walsh Squad 1 Chicago FD

        Like

      • Thanks Cap, I appreciate that. Be safe.

        Like

      • Michael says:

        Chris,

        If it seemed like a scolding then my apologies. Usually people that say that feel guilty, ok ok just kidding, don’t want to sound like my horse is here ready for me to climb back onto. This article has apparently gotten a sudden uptick because a bunch of firefighters I happen to be responsible for do not like the fact that we are changing up some of our response protocols and re-evaluating how we do business as a result of some of the new NIST studies and other pertinent information out there. Not to “pussify” the fire service but to approach it in a safer and realistic matter using new information that is significant and must be considered. As a result of that your article ended up on my desk, I suppose as a “hint” to me that I was infringing on their right to be able to die like a hero if need be in the line of duty. My response was more directed at them but I do appreciate your reply. If saying it was “unprofessional” riled you, again my apologies. However it is my personal feeling that what we say and do as firefighters stands out in the public eye. There are people not in our line of work that also read these words and anything that would bring discredit or in any way tarnish our image is a personal insult to me and a profession I put on a pedestal and am very proud and humbled daily to be a part of. Over 35 years now I too have sacrificed both personally and professionally. I know what it is like to go into a very unsafe place. I have spent 2 weeks in a burn unit and 3 months recuperation as a result. Not bragging, just saying I have a damn good reason for not wanting that to happen to anyone under my command. And yes I have read your other articles and for the vast majority of your work I too agree and I will give you all the heartfelt credit I can for being truely passionate about your career. I hope that as a passionate person, you will know my response was written from my heart as well and if I gave you the impression you are a cowboy again I will apologize. However as you know (reference your article above) passionate folks tend to say what is on their mind usually without any sort of filter. And yes I have read Chief Asvec’s article and a lot of his other stuff as well and like you, I don’t always agree with it but I also try to understand the context it is written in and try to understand why they feel the way they do. And here you and I are, having a conversation to do the same. Just please do not paint all of us Chiefs with the same brush. Long before I was a chief, I was a firefighter riding backwards, kicking doors and pulling line. In fact I was a firefighter for a significantly longer part of my career than I have been a company officer or chief. So again, i appreciate your passion, your concern, and what you do. I am sure you are very aware of what goes on in todays fire service, otherwise you probably would not still be in this great profession. Again thank you for what you do, and please accept my apology and my appreciation for you and all the other brothers and sisters who gladly come to work every day to try and make a difference. My hat is off to you sir.

        Respectfully,

        Michael Staats
        Assistant Chief
        Ak-Chin Fire Dept.

        Like

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