Hook, Line And Sinker

* Image from Dan’s Ideas Blog.

I can’t keep quiet any longer. I have been beyond frustrated the last few days reading some absolute idiocy on the web related to our job. The topper came last night when Nate DeMarse, one of the founders of Brotherhood Instructors, posted a video on the groups Facebook page and asked for constructive input from brothers and sisters. The link to the page is here, look for the video from Hackensack, NJ. entitled, “How about a nice tactical discussion on the Brotherhood Instructors, LLC.Facebook Wall. Anyone with any thoughts? No bashing, no chest-beating…lets discuss this constructively.” I’ll let you in on a little secret. That whole no bashing, chest-beating thing lasted all of about two posts. Please. Go watch the video and then come back here. The comments are also worth a read but prepare to be there for a while. As of this writing there were over 70, mine included.

What sent me into a rage is all of the supposed brothers and sisters who went directly into keyboard firefighter mode. “They didn’t do this”, “they didn’t do that”. “I can’t believe they did this”, “I can’t believe they didn’t do that.” And those were the subtle comments. Much to his credit Nate edited many of the more harsh and callous comments out. One in-particular that raised my Irish to an almost new level was a gentleman who, in a spelling and grammatical error laden diatribe said so eloquently, “looks like this whole department needs to go back to fire school.” He then goes on to list off a litany of perceived errors and shortcomings that in his infinite wisdom and experience, he or his department would never have done given this fire in his response district. But what really got me was that in his “constructive” criticism he lists the non-use of PPV as one of the “errors” that Hackensack committed. Freakin’ seriously?!?! Who needs to go back to fire school? The problem is that he wasn’t the only one who advocated putting the big CFM’s in the front door. I wish, beyond anything that Santa could bring me this year, that this fire would have occurred in that gentleman’s district and we could have watched as his department would have flawlessly attacked this fire, put the PPV in the front door and watched as the entire building lit up simultaneously and then we could sit back with a nice hot cup of coffee and watched for the next hour or so as they deployed master streams and heavy lines until the entire thing collapsed in a heap of flaming kindling. But therein lies the problem, and what this post is about.

Any of you who have read my spoutings for any amount of time should know two things about me. 1) I have a large intolerance for not knowing your job and, 2) I truly believe that with enough of an effort there is no reason why every fire department in North America can’t be trained to a reasonable performance level. Lofty, I know. But they said a canal couldn’t be dug across Central America too. Keeping those two things about me in mind I launch into what I am talking about in this post.

It seems that as of late there has been a willingness by the neutered ( I know, I chose the PC term over what I have previously used. So shoot me.) American Fire Service to accept any new idea hook, line and sinker and to be applied in a blanket fashion to every situation that comes along. Much of this has to do with a lack of complete understanding of whatever tactic or technique we are using as an example. Now, I don’t want to hear from you PPV advocates about what a useful and effective tool it can be. I know, I guess. I’m not an advocate. But for this guy to criticize Hackensack for not having used it on that fire, in those conditions, is just dead-ass wrong and demonstrates a complete lack of understanding of not only the uses and limitations of PPV but also of building construction, reading smoke and basic fire attack tactics. So at some point this guy, along with thousands of others across the country, had a class or a drill on PPV, their departments embraced it as the new sliced-bread, and next thing you know it comes off the rig on every job they have. Now, have they burnt down countless structures since employing this tool? I have no idea, but my guess would be they have created a few more parking lots than needed. It all results from a lack of complete understanding and employing the tool in the right situation. If there is one. Which, in the case of PPV, in my own opinion, is at a CO leak or after the fire is out and during overhaul. But ‘dats just me.

The same can be said of the newest hot-button topic, the dread Victim Survivability Profiling. It seems as if numerous organizations and individuals across the country took a piece of research by Captain Marsar and held it up as the original text of the Bible itself. “Behold!”, was the cry. “We no longer have to do our jobs or put ourselves at risk because the pour souls have already been lost.” I envision Johnny Carson as the Amazing Karnak, standing in front of a structure fire holding up the card to his forehead. “Yup. They’re dead. Let’s just hit it from the outside boys and then we’ll go drag ’em out and tell the papers what a tragedy it was.” In a different post on Facebook Bill Carey, the editor of BackstepFirefighter.com, posted the video from Lake Station, Indiana of a fatal house fire in which two small boys were rescued. He makes the statement that, “Certain research would have written them off”. His post can be found here. He is almost immediately jumped by an VSP advocate who invokes the holy name of science. In the comments Bill and Dave LeBlanc, who writes “A View from the Front Seat” and hosts a web radio show of the same name, get into a discussion over VSP with that commentator a couple other posters. If you haven’t seen the video go check it out and then read the comments following, again, mine included because I’m a glutton for punishment. Bill makes a very good point in his response to the discussion about VSP. Captain Marsar wrote his paper in a very narrow scope, the FDNY and the FDNY’s experiences. Bill and Dave both make another point with which I happen to agree; Captain Marsar’s equation of non-civilian fatalities in fires that killed a member of the FDNY relates how? I still don’t think Captain Marsar makes a very good case for how the two equate or what they really have to do with each other. But that’s another discussion. The main point is that his paper has been held up, almost singularly, as a reason to not search in certain conditions. What those certain conditions are, however, is anyone’s guess and left up to each individual to decide because it is a completely subjective thing. It is different from person to person viewing the exact same scenario. Many retorts to detractors of VSP state that, “the science doesn’t lie.” Well, the definition of science is, “the intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behavior of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment;  a systematically organized body of knowledge on a particular subject.” Well, I don’t think one paper is is a “systematic study“, I don’t think any experiments were conducted in Captain Marsar’s research and he only “body of knowledge” that can be argued here is the knowledge of fire and the products of combustion in a compartmentalized space. Which we all know, or should, is so variable from room to room and area to area that standing outside and making a judgement call, in most cases, but not all, is in my opinion reckless and irresponsible.

So what’s my whole point? This isn’t really about the one commenter from the Brotherhood site or the argument about Captain Marsar’s research. It’s about educating yourself and having enough knowledge and experience to intelligently argue a point. How does the saying go? “Better to keep silent and let others think you are an idiot than to speak and remove all doubt”? Hey, I’m not perfect and I have certainly proven myself an idiot time and time again. But by God I try not to and I try to be educated on what I am speaking on. And so should all of you out there who are going to be keyboard firefighters. Think about what you are going to type the next time before you actually do it. Make sure you have a complete, or at least educated, understanding of what you are talking about beforehand. Otherwise all it leads to is bashing guys and gals that are just like you and me who were trying to do the best job they could with what they were confronted with.

Until next time,

Stay safe.


9 comments on “Hook, Line And Sinker

  1. Jason says:

    The main problem I see with many people commenting on video of fireground footage online is that a portion of the people stirring up the hornet’s nest are relatively new firefighters, or those that are simply stupid. If you’ll read into the comments, it does not take long to realize that the knowledge they possess is limited regarding basic fireground tactics, they make a generic recipe for command and control and think that it can be applied to any fire in any building by any department. Without having a good understanding of staffing, available apparatus and equipment, competency of personnel on the incident and a vast array of other variables, they wind up sitting at the computer and professing their disdain for the way the department in question operates, all the while thanking God that nobody follows them around with a video camera. Keyboard quarterbacks kill me, and I know I’m living in a glass house, but I am very selective about what footage I’ll put on my site to disect. I think this is gonna turn into a blog post for me. Thanks for sharing Sledge!


    • Jason, thanks for the comment and great post over on Working the Job in response to the same issue. I don’t know how long it will last because there are some really poor examples of firefighting out there, but I have committed to at least try and look for and point out the positives in any video I comment on. Maybe everyone should try that for a while.


  2. Don Adams says:

    Sir: I have been following your blog for awhile now and almost always agree with you, as I do this time. I watched this video on Statter911 and was amazed by some of the comments on there. As the chief of a small department and after thirty five years in the business, if I belive some of those posts, I obviously haven’t learned anything through the years and am a complete moron. The boys in Hack did a nice job. Wish I had their resources. Keep up the good work.


  3. Chief Adams, thank you for following the blog. I greatly appreciate it and always look forward to hearing from officers, especially chiefs. I guess it gives me a little validation that being “only” a firefighter I’m not a complete idiot. As for any differences of opinion, I don’t hold myself up to be all- knowing and certainly continue to learn. Much of what I write is simply my beliefs and my “style”. There is plenty of room for debate and constructive dialogue.

    I have to agree with your comments. There are so many videos of poor firefighting from around the country and so many commenters on those videos whose views differ so vastly from my own that I often wonder if I’m the one with the wrong perspective.

    I also 100% agree that Hackensack did an outstanding job on this fire and that the issues that were able to be seen in the video were minor, in my opinion, and present on the vast majority of firegrounds on a daily basis. I would venture to say that far more departments around the country would have lost this entire house than not.

    Thanks again for reading and taking the time to comment.


  4. B Sullivan says:

    I would not say I am an “experienced” firefighter, but I would say that I qualify as being “backwards and stupid,” filling that role every now and then. So, from the point view as a backstep firefighter here is my view on what these guys did good. First lets start with arrival on scene, the first in engine (Engine 1) has good rig placement going just past the house to allow room for the truck to take the front of the house, then having the second in engine feed them. Getting off the rig, the guys did a good job stretching a line to the front door and flaking it out. In the mean time job well done by the firefighter throwing a ladder to the second floor, probable bedroom. Another guy took an extension ladder to the rear. One crew started horizontally ventilating on the first floor on the D side as the line was being stretched. There are a couple ways to view this, however reading the intensity of the smoke and during this “pre-flashover” stage I believe they are trying opening the windows to let it flash. This will keep the hose team from advancing too far inside with no visibility, high heat and the huge potential for flashover. The first in engine company did a good job not getting all excited and rushing into the house without water, they were right inside the doorway, and if things went bad they had means of egress. Taking out these windows will also increase visibility inside the house (at least a little bit) but more importantly will make it 100 times easier for the guys to find the seat of the fire to make the knockdown, which they then did. Then the truck, which was positioned for aerial placement started to set up the main to the second floor for further horizontal ventilation, also throwing additional ground ladders. I think the guys did an excellent job with the second floor ventilation, which could be a huge pain with kneewalls in the atticspace, especially if the house is a balloon frame, which it looks like it is. They horizontally ventilated the attic, then moved to work off the main ladder cutting the roof exposing the “B” side of the roof/voidspace. The second truck did a good job maneuvering around the power lines and working off the main ladder again cut and exposed the “D” side. Once the attic was fully vented, they did a good job knocking the remaining fire on the second floor using the waterway on the truck. Overall I think Hackensack did a fine job. People can criticize all they want, but no matter what no fire we go to will ever be absolutely perfect or will everything be accomplished like clockwork. There is always something that could be done different and maybe more effectively. We are not perfect, were firemen. I am just a backstep guy for now, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t need to worry about the “big picture” at a fire or any event in that matter. To Chris and anyone else reading, please let me know what you think. I think any video of a fire and how the department handles it is a valuable learning tool, and I try to take something away from every one of them.


    • EDITOR’S NOTE: Brendan is a probationary member of my department and assigned to my shift at my house. He was asked to view the video of the Hackensack, NJ house fire and to find at least 5 things that Hackensack did well, instead of focusing on what was perceived to be errors or short-comings. This was done for a couple reasons; as an exercise for him, and to prove that a firefighter with good intentions and regardless of time on the job or experience, given good training and a drive to improve himself and to be a student of his profession, can speak intelligently and proficiently on a subject. Unlike some with far more years and “experience” on the job.

      Good job Grasshopper.


  5. John says:

    I did not watch or visit either site you mentioned. I don’t feel I need to because I, with my experience and education, I can envision a fire not going well. Seen many of them on YouTube. What I will say is this. Watch with an objective unbiased opinion and try to learn something. Every job is different. Every run we take in is different. And every leader/commander/officer/firefighter is different in the way we think and act and make decisions. The problem I see is that we, as a fire service, have people who don’t have “outside” experience. By that I mean the only perspective they have is that of their own department. And they feel that is gospel. To them I say go and take a class. Not one put on by your area or training academy. Take one I the numerous federally funded classes offered through out this country. Not to learn the topic taught. But to speak and learn from the others taking the class. It may surprise you what can be learned!!


    • John, I couldn’t agree more with your statement. Finally someone out there who gets it. That was my whole reason for the post. Instead of people watching videos trying to learn something they automatically go into dissection mode and look for every little thing that they think is wrong. You make a great point about having experience or exposure to other methods from other departments. If you have a minute go read this article on Teague Kenny’s site, The Tailboard, and read his article entitled, “Have You Been Departmentally Institutionalized?” That post talks exactly about that issue.

      Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment.


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