Response to the Sudden Interest in “The Pussification of the American Fire Service”


Hi all. Over the last approximately two-and-a-half days there has been a very sudden and very dramatic up-tick in the traffic on my little old site. This increase in traffic has been to the tune of 11,883 visitors in this time-frame. Over 8,000 of those visits were yesterday alone. My previous one-day record had been 443 visitors. Imagine my surprise when I started getting notifications from WordPress about the increase in traffic and to what extent! This has been in large part due to my post “The Pussification of the American Fire Service.” This post was written January 5th, 2011 after the deaths of two Chicago FD Firefighters, Corey Ankum (Tower 34) and Edward Stringer (Engine 63) on December 22nd, 2010 and in response to a blog post by a Mr. Robert Avsec on Fire Chief magazine’s website. This blog post was, in my estimation, very insensitive and down-right inflammatory at the time of its writing and publishing. Much to her credit Editor-in-Chief (at the time) Janet Wilmoth removed the post and posted a sort of apology. This is why those of you who have tried clicking the link to the article have come up empty.

While the recent responses I have gotten to the article have been overwhelmingly positive I have seen a few that were not so. And I know that with as many visitors reading the piece and with far fewer comments on it, there are bound to be many more that have decided to let discretion be the better part of valor and just not comment. I understand this. The article is strong. It is polarizing. It is raw and decidedly not P.C. But it was me at the time of writing. As the last couple paragraphs describe I nearly lost a very good friend and CFD firefighter. I have seen countless others injured and killed. I watched live on local TV as the effort to rescue Firefighters Ankum and Stringer as well as their fellow comrades unfolded. I watched as they removed the bodies. I watched as the ambulances took them to the hospital, escorted by CPD cruisers and their companies apparatus. The lines of their Brothers and Sisters waiting to salute them. And I did it with a firefighter’s heart. A Brother’s heart. So when the blog post by Mr. Avsec appeared I reacted with the same.

I have been called angry. I was. I have been called bitter. I was. I have been called dangerous, a dinosaur, over-aggressive and someone who will likely get myself or someone else killed. Except for those last two, so be it. It’s my brand of firefighting. It may not be yours. As for the last two barbs, never. I may die on the job, no one knows. But I won’t do it recklessly or foolishly. I won’t do it uninformed or uneducated. And I certainly won’t take anyone else with me who is not there fighting side-by-side and equally as hard as I am doing the job we were sworn to do. If the possibility of dying in the performance of our duties, even while doing everything “right”, is not something that you can accept or are willing to risk perhaps your motives for doing the job are not what they should be. Does that mean I think you should die in the line of duty? Does that mean I want to die in the line of duty. Does that mean I have a death-wish? Absolutely and unequivocally no to all of those questions. It means that the risk of having to place my life in danger, or even giving it up, in the service to other people is something I have considered and calculated and come to terms with.

My definition of in the service to other people may differ from yours as well. I believe that it includes searching a years-long abandoned laundry mat that first-due companies knew was being used by the homeless and indigent for shelter. I believe it includes searching a building that was found to have board-up materials forcibly displaced. I believe it includes using all my experience, training and skills to help someone who may be in that building. Even if that building is abandoned, or dilapidated or supposedly empty. Because it isn’t empty until we say it is. The professionals who took the job, volunteer or paid, to search those buildings for people who may or may not be there.

So. To whomever started this post’s skyrocket ride. Thank you. I really appreciate it. Why now and how it has come to be so I’m in awe over. Honestly. I’m shocked and humbled that so many people would take the time to read something I wrote. Even if you disagree.

Until next time,

Stay safe.



This post isn’t going to be what about what you think it’s going to be about. I’m not asking the question that comes to mind most often when we see the abbreviation that this post is named for. In fact, I’m stealing it from Chief Billy Goldfeder and the others over at You see, for at least a couple of years those guys would use “WTF” in their gallery of pictures depicting firefighters and other emergency responders doing some not so smart things. Many of us, myself included, assumed they were just asking what many of us were thinking in our heads, “What the f*&K?!?” They took some heat over it too. Some called it unprofessional. Some called it picking on undertrained brothers and sisters. Some just didn’t like the implied cursing. And for a long time the Chief and everybody else just kept quiet and continued to do what they did and used the attention-getting abbreviation. Then, one day, kind of out of the blue, an explanation was posted. Some of you already know the story, but for those of you that do not it turns out we were all wrong. “WTF” didn’t stand for, “What the f*&k” and they weren’t calling anyone out per se. They had fooled everyone. Turns out they were asking a question; “Well-trained Firefighter(s)?” OH! Duh! <Forehead slap> That was a good one! Which is what brings me to my rant today.

I, along with many others in our profession, have been touting training as the answer for all evils in the fire service for some time now. If we just train harder, train smarter, train more realistically, train more often etc. etc. then our LODD’s will go down, our injuries will go down and we won’t see as many brothers and sisters getting into trouble across the country. Slowly, however, I’m starting to change my tune a little bit. Not that I don’t think we need to train in all those ways, we do. But in many areas we have been missing a vital component; training our firefighters how to think.

We are great at teaching our candidates how to do a task. We read the chapter on forcible entry, we watch the power point presentation, a couple YouTube videos of real scenarios, then we take them out to the training tower or an acquired structure and have them break some real doors and locks. Just. Like. The. Book. Says. Rarely do we get into the “why” part of how we do things. Someone once said to me that, “An airline pilot never had to load baggage to learn how to fly the plane.” Nope, he never did. But damn straight he understands the issues surrounding weight and balance and how that affects aircraft performance and fuel consumption rate. If the ground crew asks him at the last minute if he can take a rush cargo package that is an odd shape and weighs a lot he better know how it will affect his aircraft and the flight he is about to undertake. Shouldn’t it be the same with our firefighters? Here is how you do something but equally important here is why you do it this way. If we understand the why it leads to an overall better education and will help the firefighter overcome obstacles that are met in the field when he or she isn’t on a training ground with good visibility, lots of room and a prop that is intended to break. If they understand the why they can figure ways around problems when options A, B and maybe even C don’t work. Without that part of their education when the one method they have been taught for a given scenario fails they lack a critical thinking component to be able to come up with another solution.

This issue of teaching why is becoming increasingly important as more and more scientific research is showing what happens in fuel rich and oxygen starved fires. Things like flow path are becoming very important parts of our teaching these days. But why does a Probie need to know about its existence and the possible ramifications of early and aggressive ventilation. Because it may get them killed, that’s why. If a firefighter is ever only taught, smoke + heat + interior attack = ventilation and sets about taking every window in the place prior to the hose line being Robot Firefighterready can we really blame him or her when we’re still on scene two hours later trying to put the flames out from the outside? We need to be teaching, smoke + heat + all this research and stuff over here = controlled ventilation at certain key times and this is why. We need to be raising smart, thinking firefighters instead of dumb robots who are programmed to hit Halligan with flat head axe, repeat, repeat, repeat until set. Push on Halligan. Door open. What happens when door doesn’t indeed open but the robot has only been programmed with the one method of attacking this problem? Robots can’t think. They can’t adapt to a fluid situation and make decisions as to what the next-best course of action should be. Or to use information and clues from their surroundings to aid them in making those decisions.

My daughters are being taught using the Common Core curriculum. I hate it. I don’t get it a lot of the time. But you know what aspect about it I do get? The one that makes sense to me? They are being taught multiple methods of coming up with the same answer, particularly in math. Instead of sitting down with an 8.5″ x 11″ multiplication table and memorizing the entire stupid thing, like I did, they are given methods A), B) and C) to get to the same answer and allowed to pick the one that they understand the best. Heck, my oldest came up with her own method the other night that made sense to her and got her the right answer. How can you argue with that? I’ve seen her use different methods on different problems because it is easier or makes the most sense for that particular question. She’s being taught critical thinking without even realizing it. We need to do more of that in the fire service. Out with the old salt senior man screaming at the Probe, “Because I said so, that’s why”, and in with the here’s the task, here’s the desired end-result, here’s some different scenarios you may run into in the real world and here’s options for overcoming them.

Serving as an instructor at a multi-jurisdictional training at a burn facility I watched a crew give up and walk away. They were role-playing as the first-due Engine on scene of a working fire. The officer got off, did his 360, returned to his crew and gave orders. The line was pulled to the front door which was a forcible entry prop. They had to force their own door before the door to the tower was opened and they could advance the line. The prop was set with wooden wedges. Nothing crazy, not even soaked in water overnight. Just wooden wedges, two if I remember right. They worked on that door for what seemed like forever. i quitThe full assignment had arrived, received their orders and gone to work and still they were working on that door. The whole time using the same method that had not worked for them in the minutes preceding. Then they gave up. Literally dropped their tools, picked up the line and went around the tower out of my view. They eventually began their attack through a first floor window. Innovative? Sure. Adaptive? Yep. But I would argue that in a way it was kind of disappointing and deflating. This crew lacked resources upon which to draw when plan A didn’t work. They may have forgotten them over time. Maybe every forcible entry drill they had done over the last several years had only allowed them to practice one way and it had worked all those times. I don’t know. But it was an eye opening experience for me to observe. WTF?

Our profession has always had a strong and proud tradition of adapting and overcoming. Sometimes even to our detriment. We just fall back on this and maybe rely on it too much. As instructors, senior members, officers or just members with a passion for the job we owe it to those we serve with and those coming behind us to improve the way we instruct. We need to have a wide variety of weapons in our arsenal.

Until next time,

Stay Safe


Fire Behavior and Tactical Considerations UL/NIST

Some of you may have already seen this video talking about UL/NIST’s research into modern fires and ventilation. There are several out there regarding this particular subject so perhaps this is one you haven’t seen yet. We watched this for drill the other day at my job and while the information wasn’t particularly new to me some of the other guys were having it explained to them for the first time. The presentation is done a bit better than most of these types of research videos and there are plenty of pictures and videos to keep it going. I’ve it a watch and learn what all the talk has been about the last several months.

In the Wake of Tragedy

Image     In the beginning stages of a news-worthy story there are generally a few things that happen that have become common place in our society today. First, there is a storm of information that crashes onto the internet. These early reports are usually from scanner listeners and people near the scene of whatever is going on. The reports are usually short and to the point, perhaps not yet grasping the severity of the situation or being extremely limited in facts. “Boston Fire working a fire in a brownstone.” “Reports of victims trapped.” Or, “Huge fire by my office!” are blasted out across Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media outlets. This usually sparks some interest from those of us in the fire service community and we may begin to take notice on a professional curiosity level. Many lay people just go on about their business, perhaps seeing a cubicle-dweller’s picture out of his office window and giving it casual look, thinking “Oh, thats pretty cool.” Second, as the incident may escalate, the local media is drawn to the scene. Often their first information is also drawn from scanner feeds or social media outlets. This piques some reporters interest and he or she may grab a mic, a camera man and a van and head down to the scene. This may turn into something and their station/paper/magazine needs to be the first to break it in the name of ratings and advertising dollars (because if there are no ratings there are no advertising dollars and then they all lose their jobs). These reports initially consist of very little substance and even fewer facts. They are generally what we in the job would refer to as “fire porn.” A live TV shot from the ground, or a helicopter, or some remote cam showing a bunch of smoke and fire. The long lines of apparatus parked along the street. The sound of Q-sirens wailing. This draws in viewers and again piques interest among people. After all, most people are enthralled at the site of a huge header and blowing flames. Next comes the erroneous or mis-information. This is usually as the result of two different reasons. Firstly, uneducated people making statements about something they know little to nothing about or, secondly, a rush to try and get “facts” out to the public without the needed vetting of sources and corroboration. One need only think back to 9/11 to remember this. How many reports of more planes being hijacked were there? Reports of terrorists running around Manhattan with guns. Eye-witness accounts of missiles being fired at the towers and the Pentagon. The same thing happens on smaller scales at every major incident. Some are embellishments by lay people and reporters alike, “Firefighters are doing their best to keep this entire block from becoming a conflagration” when those of us with any kind of knowledge and experience can see it’s a room and contents with a window failure that might get the neighbor’s house going if left alone long enough. Some are inadvertent inaccuracies based on pieces of information from many different sources. And still others you just have to laugh at wondering where the talking-head pulled that little gem from? Then, mercifully, comes the wind-down. When the incident is all but over and the live-shots from the scene involve a couple aerial pipes and a whole bunch of steam. Facts are corrected. Some reporters may even admit to mistaken reports earlier. Public interest is now all but gone and the story fades into history. But, in the wake of tragedy, this sequence of events is kicked into hyper-drive. Huge fires draw viewers. Huge fires draw hits to social media pages. Huge fires draw fame to those that were previously unknown. Firefighters dying in the line of duty does that ten-fold. And this is where I am ashamed of so many of our own. In the wake of tragedy there are those that seek to exploit the situation in one form or another. Memorial t-shirts, hats, stickers are all available to order within hours by unscrupulous vendors looking to cash in on our collective grief and traditions of remembering our fallen. Still others look to gain notoriety in some fashion or other. The guy from next door giving his eye witness account. The retired so-and-so on TV called in to provide commentary as an “expert.” And then there is the lowest of the low, in my opinion. There are those that call themselves brothers and sisters who take to their keyboards and the internet and immediately begin the Monday morning quarterbacking. Each and every one of these belly-crawlers would have never been in “that” situation. They would have had that fire out by the time this event could have happened by using this technique or that. They throw out buzzwords and hot topics to prove what salty Jakes they are and that everyone should listen to them. It’s a grab at feeling self-important or respected by their peers. Some do it in the name of “education.” “Hey! I’m just trying to prevent this from happening to someone else!”, is their rallying cry. Playing the part of the selfless champion for today’s fire service our brave brother or sister points out every last flaw they noted on the 15 seconds of film they saw on their local news station. Or pin points the exact thing that caused the whole operation to go South from the one radio transmission they perceive to be the most important. Yes, in the wake of tragedy we should all bow down before these pillars of fire service knowledge and stalwarts of tradition. Or, in the wake of tragedy, we should shut the fuck up. We should come to grips with our own individual mortality and realize that in an hour, tomorrow or in a month that could be you or I. We should offer support and prayers and encouraging words to one another. In the wake of tragedy we should be still and let things develop as they will. Allow investigations and reports to be completed. Let the facts come out. Not speculation. Not supposition. Not your own goddam commentary based on the three fires you’ve been to in the last three years. In the wake of tragedy we should come alongside our brothers and sisters who have had huge, gaping holes torn in their lives and assist them in any way that we can, not add to their grief. In the wake of tragedy we support the loved ones left behind. We become surrogate mothers and fathers, uncles and aunts, friends. We play catch in the yard. We cut the lawn. We pick up groceries. We let them know that they are part of the biggest, most dedicated and most loving family in the world. In the wake of tragedy we continue to do what we have all sworn to do; we serve. In the wake of tragedy we honor, in actions and in words. Romans 14:8 For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. Rest in eternal peace Lieutenant Ed Walsh and Firefighter Michael Kennedy, we’ve got it from here.