What I Really Think, In Case You Didn’t Already Know

I’ve been doing a lot of reading on other blogs lately and doing some soul-searching related to what I’ve read. Much of what I have been reading has had to do with aggressive versus safe operations, and what those two terms really mean. Indeed, much of my “Pussification” post that caused a little stir dealt with that very topic. Because of that post and the subsequent debate I entered into on Firefighter Nation I feel that perhaps where I really stand on this current hot-button issue may have become a little blurred in all the rhetoric and back-and-forth. I’d like to take a little time to try and clarify my position and perhaps open up some more discussion, because I think open and honest debate in our profession is good and constructive.

Ok, so in the one corner you have what others have termed, “the aggressives.” I use the picture of our friendly neighborhood pooch up there to illustrate that camp. In the other corner are the “safeties.” Some other people have used a little more disparaging terms to describe our brothers and sisters in this camp. I, for once, will not. Then there seems to be the third camp. I haven’t seen a catchy name for them yet so I’ll make one up. Let’s call them the “scales”, as in balance the two approaches. All these camps are populated with good, strong and well-respected firefighters and fire officers. They all make good and convincing arguments for their stances and all have sizable followings. If you have read any of my comments in either my posts or my debates you would probably put me in the “aggressives” camp. That may be a fair assessment but I am going to disagree. I’ll give you a moment to pick your jaw up off the floor.

I consider myself to be an aggressive firefighter, that is true. I also consider myself to be a safe firefighter. I believe I am well-trained, have a good understanding of my job, tactics and strategy, building construction, basic chemistry and a kind of sixth-sense that taps me on my shoulder every once in a while. All of those things aid me in approaching an incident scene in both an aggressive and safe manner. I think that perhaps many of my comments previously may have been misconstrued to mean that I may suffer from “Duty to Die Syndrome” or that I am aggressive to the point of ignoring any potentially fatal circumstances. Believe me, I do not want to die any earlier than I have to and I certainly don’t want to be internet fodder for the second-guessers if I were to meet my demise on a run. I don’t want to sit around the camp fire singing Kumbaya or appear on the evening news tearfully pleading for us all to just get along, but I would tend to put myself into a different camp. Again, take a moment to compose yourself before reading further.

I’m going to try and make a singular statement to sum up my own, personal, firefighting edict. I suppose you all will be the judges if it is effective or not. Here it goes.

“I believe that I freely chose an honorable, important and inherently dangerous profession that may leave me seriously injured or worse. I believe it is incumbent upon myself and my brother and sister firefighters to risk our well-being to try and save another human life within the limits of our human selves. I believe that a building is not empty until we say it is empty, regardless of the tactic or technology used to determine that. I believe that, although secondary, property conservation is still a part of our mission and should not be treated as an option or a matter of convenience. I believe that training, including physical fitness, is the best way to prepare for our missions and to ensure that the highest quality of service is delivered to the people that depend on us. I believe that it is unequivocally my job and responsibility to pass my own knowledge and insight into this job on to our younger members and anyone that does not believe or accept that should remain quietly in the corner and await their retirement date. I believe it is up to the administration of our departments to give us the tools and support we need and deserve to carry out our missions and to stand up to those that would seek to diminish our ability to do so. Finally, I believe that the job of firefighter is much more than a job, it is truly a calling, and the participation in this profession should be treated with the utmost respect.”

With liberty and fraternity for all. Amen.

So there it is. I think I got everything, maybe not, but I think you got the idea. I do not believe you can be 100% in one or the other of the “aggressive” or “safety” camps and be an effective firefighter. On the one hand you would be dangerous to yourself and others. On the other you would be completely ineffective as you were immobilized into inaction. That’s what I think anyway. And I would like to be clear on something else, also. I don’t apply my edict only to the rank of firefighter. Our officers, from company level on up, should have the same core belief structure as well. I completely understand that as you progress in rank so do your responsibilities to those you lead and by extension their families. I get it. But sometimes I think that if we get involved in a little bit of a real firefight and companies have to do a little work suddenly the fire becomes a “loser” and we’re waiting for the fire to remove the fuel side of the tetrahedron so we can all pack up and go home. I may have lost some people there so I’ll try to illustrate better. Sometimes it seems that if a fire can not be contained and extinguished with a single pre-connected line and less than one minute of nozzle operation troops are pulled out and the building is written off. Many times the “safety” argument is made to support these decisions. If everyone is out and accounted for then it isn’t worth a firefighter’s life. And I would totally and completely agree with that basic statement in its most simplistic form. However, if it is possible to get in, get at it and get on it, then do it and the building gets a lot safer.

So there it is. Believe me, sitting on the fence goes against just about every fiber in my body but I really don’t think that I am. I still would put myself in the aggressive camp. Or maybe I’d lead a popular uprising and go start another camp fire somewhere else and hang a banner reading, “The Aggressively Safe” camp. Yeah, that’s it. And it would have nice warm cabins with satellite TV and refrigerators instead of tents and those cheap styrofoam coolers those other camps have. Come join me, we’re better.

Stay Safe!


6 comments on “What I Really Think, In Case You Didn’t Already Know

  1. Jeannie says:

    Stumbled on your website through Digg. You know I will be signing up to your feed.


  2. Andrew Richmond says:

    Well said and I am in agreement with you about 99%. I would personally change the camp name to read “Safely Aggressive” but other than that I feel your on the mark. I would also like to ask permission to use your statement/pledge during an upcoming board meeting. I believe it says pretty much everything that needs to be said, especially the segment for the bean counters that are hovering overhead looking to cut our budget. TCSS Brother.


  3. Another nice post on a thought provoking and much debated topic. I like it when reading gets me to “engage the brain”. It seems as though you may have come to the same realization as I; either you are attempting to solve the impossible hypothetical scenario, or you are caught playing armchair quarterback and second guessing others’ actions. Discussions like this always end with me debating myself over what I would do, trying to imagine every possible scenario.
    I think you hit a major point when you mention 6th sense, or what I call my “gut feeling”. There are infinite variables the human mind uses to make a decision, many of which are not recognized on a conscious level. The sights, sounds, and even smells all play a part, and when we aren’t standing next to the decision maker, or when we try to simulate events, it can sometimes be hard to justify a choice made by others.
    Thanks for sharing and keep up the great posts.


    • Matt, thanks for the comment and the compliment. I was debating what to name my camp and just eventually settled on “Aggressively Safe”. I like your name too, and that was one of the names I thought of. I settled on mine because I think that it portrays both aspects but I wanted to kind of change the perception that you can’t be safe while being aggressive. I think by saying it as “Aggressively Safe” some people may take it as pursuing safety at all costs, but hopefully they might read the article, engage their brains as you said, and maybe come to a different conclusion. Thanks for reading. Stay Safe!


  4. David Peterson says:

    Nicely written rant and appropriately humorous and edgy. You have a way with words and I’m with ya on everything. I wrote an article for Firehouse back in September 2009 that forwarded the concept of “smart and aggressive” firefighting. So, we are on the same page!
    Retired (Jan 2012) Firefighter


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