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

Rising-Costs-Graph-Rocket-300x262

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.

Chris

When 5 One-hundredths Matter

* Image from the BBC

Five one-hundredths of a second doesn’t even exist to me. I really have no comprehension of what that measure of time even means. But try telling that to Michael Phelps. Better yet, try telling that to South Africa’s Chad le Clos. Because that was the exact amount of time it took to out-touch the world’s most decorated swimmer and win Gold in the Men’s 200 Meter Butterfly. An imperceptible amount of time to most was the difference as big as the Grand Canyon to a man who had just beaten his self-admited idol. But that’s not really what this particular story is all about. Although I love a good underdog story. It’s about what Michael Phelps said later about the race.

In an interview with NBC’s Bob Costas after the race Phelps said; “It’s probably the finishes I’ve done in work-out that ended up coming out here. You know, there were times where I’d go kinda slow into the wall in work-out or kinda touch kinda lazy, and it showed.” If you’re interested the entire interview can be seen here. I give kudos to Phelps to taking ownership of what he classifies himself as a lazy performance or perhaps taking something for granted. Something that he had done hundreds, probably thousands of times in practice, came out on the biggest stage in the world and cost him, for the moment anyway, his record-breaking 19th Olympic medal. If you’ve read my rants for any length of time you may know where I’m heading with this.

Pulling hose is pretty boring. I get it. But it doesn’t have to be. Remember when you were a kid and you’d make up scenarios? Like 2 out, bottom of the ninth, bases loaded and you’re up to bat with your team down by three? Why can’t you do that with your hose drill? You’re first-due, on the knob, it’s three A.M. and the fire’s on the second floor with no one standing outside. The truck is right behind you and you have to secure the stairway and get into the hall. GO! Would five one-hundredths matter? Realistically? Probably not. Would five seconds? Ten? A minute? Anything that you can do now, on the training ground to make yourself more proficient, more smooth, more complete will pay off on the bigger stage. Like Mr. and Mrs. Smith’s house at 3 A.M.

Around the Chicago suburbs we do a drill called the “Paxton Drill.” It is in honor of the Paxton Hotel fire that occurred in Chicago, Illinois on March 16, 1993. The Paxton Hotel was a four story single room occupancy hotel in which most residents made their homes on a permanent or semi-permanent basis. When the Still Alarm was dispatched for light smoke it took initial arriving companies less than one minute after arrival to begin screaming for a Still and Box Alarm and an EMS Plan 1 for a heavy fire with numerous people trapped. The late Chief Ray Hoff was then Captain of Truck 10 and was the first-arriving Truck officer. He and his crew immediately began throwing ladders to as many windows as possible rescuing the people trapped by smoke and the advancing fire. Once those rescues were made they would roll the ladders into new positions or strip the other on scene apparatus of their ladders. Most firefighters on scene that night operated on their own, at least initially. The “Paxton Drill” times a crew to see how fast every ladder on the rig can be deployed to designated windows on a building or training tower. Can it be kind of boring? Maybe. Can it be monotonous? Perhaps. Did it pay off for the members of Truck 10 and the other units that operated at 1432 N. LaSalle that night? Ask the 100 people that were rescued by the CFD, most over ground ladders. Did time matter? The next time you do a ladder drill wait for a crew who is motivationally challenged and hold your breath as soon as they begin the task of removing the ladder and see if you can hold it until it would be in a position to actually effect a rescue. Then you tell me.

In many ways the world of sports is parallel to the profession of firefighting. I think Michael Phelps’ words are very apropos to us. We cannot expect to continuously practice at half-speed with no sense of purpose and then think that we will just be able to “turn it on” when it really counts. It just doesn’t work that way. Five one-hundredths of a second. About the amount of time of the last agonal breath of a victim in a smoke filled bedroom at 3 A.M.

Train with purpose.

Be safe.

Chris

‘Dis One’s Gonna Be Quick

Things I’ve learned so far at firefighter camp;

1)  I really have no business writing a blog because I’m dumb.

2)  I have so much more to learn.

3)  Some of the people who would have every right in the world to be arrogant, pretentious jerks aren’t because they’re firefighters who love the job and love passing on their knowledge just like you and me.

4)  Whudder means water when spoken by someone from Philly, or Camden.

5)  With newer, more energy efficient construction a first-arriving company can pull up on a fire that is either heavily involved or has darkened down on the inside and left very little signs of active fire on the outside (which leads to a “light smoke” or “nothing showing” radio report) and as soon as you force the front door or a window fails that space will reach flashover in 60 – 90 seconds. Go to Underwriter’s Laboratories and check out the research for yourself if you don’t believe me.

6)  Our tactics have to change folks. They have to. And in order for our tactics to change our thinking has to change. That’s where the hard part is. 100 years of tradition…

7)  Aggressive tactics can also be safe tactics. But in order for them to be so you need to be trained and educated.

8)  Operating safely on the fire or emergency scene is NOT synonymous with doing nothing, going defensive or being unaggressive. It simply means you are taking every precaution humanly possibly to minimize the risk to yourself and your crew while carrying out the tasks that need to be completed for the job you are working on. Sometimes that means saying the job simply can’t be completed.

9)  Walking back and forth from the hotel to the convention center with all my gear 6 times sucks. But I wouldn’t trade it for the world for the experiences of the HOT classes.

10) Being in the room to hear Bobby Halton’s opening remarks, seeing Firefighter Larry McCormack from Chicago’s Squad 5 receive the Ray Downey Courage and Valor Award and hearing Chief Steve Kraft’s keynote address was a moving experience. I encourage every firefighter who cares about this job to do it at least once in person.

People I’ve met while at firefighter camp (and some of whom have known me too!);

1)  Jason Jefferies ( Working the Job )and I finally got to meet in person. It was touching and kinda uncomfortable all at the same time.

2)  Jonah Smith ( The Hose Jockey )

3)  John Mitchell ( Fire Daily ) Ok, truth be told, John doesn’t really count. We used to work together but he’s way more famous-er than me.

4)  Gabriel Angemi ( CMD FD )

5)  Ray McCormack  ( Urban Firefighter Magazine )

6)  Pete Van Dorpe, Chief of Training, Chicago Fire Department

7)  Robert Hoff, Commissioner (Ret.), Chicago Fire Department, Deputy Chief, Carol Stream Fire Department

8)  Rhett Fleitz ( Fire Critic )

9)  Willie Wines, Jr. ( Iron Firemen )

10) Paul Hasenmeier ( Paul Hasenmeier )

11) Christopher Naum ( Buildings on Fire )

These are guys that I think are some of the brightest and most talented firefighters, officers and writers of our time. And to actually get to meet them and have conversations with them, and on top of that to actually have a couple of them know who I am, was surreal and an honor. I’m really looking forward to meeting some more tomorrow and to be in some classes and learn more to lessen my dumbness, but for now I’m going to take some Prilosec to calm down the bar-b-que I had for dinner and get some rest.

Be safe!

Chris

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!

Chris

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