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.


Whaddya Think?

Hey all, came across this video on Statter911.com. After watching the video I clicked on the comments as I saw there were more than 40 at the time. After reading them my blood was boiling. The thing that got to me the most was the number of people ripping this department for their choice of attack tactic. Seems the “we need to crawl in and get everything” crowd is alive in well, at least as they sit behind their computer screens and keyboards. Take a look and please tell me what you think.

Ok, so there are some issues in the video. There are on every fire. I’m not talking about air horn blasts, speed or purpose of movement or not coming off the rig on air. Those were points brought up in the comments as well. I really don’t care about those for this particular discussion. What do you guys think about the choice of a transitional attack? That’s what the all-knowing commentators seem to be blasting these guys for the most. I personally think it was a solid choice. You have houses very close to each other, the flames form the B side window are getting pretty close, the wind appears to be helping push it in that direction. Why not knock it and then go in to mop up? Aside from maybe using the B side window instead of the A side window like this particular crew did, I think I would have made much the same choices.

I think this argument of “aggressive interior” versus “ultimate safety yard-breathers” is getting a little out of hand on both sides. The recent comments by the chief from the USFA to the VCOS were, in my opinion, irresponsible and unprofessional. If you don’t know what I’m talking about click the link and read what he had to say. It’ll only take a minute. But so too are comments saying that you need to crawl in on every fire, get to within inches of the seat of the fire (so your gear gets nice and crusty looking) and then beat the red devil into submission. A transitional attack, used correctly, is an extremely effective tactic.

Much of what I have written on this platform has dealt with my belief that we are losing our “edge” as a fire service. I think that the comments made in Clearwater  are indicative of a growing trend in the fire service that believes any risk is too much risk to take. I disagree with that statement but I also disagree that every fire has to be a balls-out, hard-charging, fix bayonets attack. Instead of being labeled as a supporter of the “aggressive interior attack” I would rather be known as an advocate for smart, well trained, thinking firefighters who are not afraid to do their jobs or fulfill their calling. A chief I know recently likened some firefighters to robots who have an order programmed into them. They dutifully turn, leave the command post, vent the window and then turn and return to the command post for their next order. Since their order didn’t specifically tell them to take their hook and sweep inside the window after they vented the newspaper read, “the victim was tragically found deceased after the fire was extinguished, mere feet from a window that could have led them to safety,” instead of, “after firefighters broke a window to clear smoke and heat the victim was found and removed. They are now recovering in a local hospital.”

The most useful thing on a fireground is a thinking firefighter. The most useless is a non-thinking firefighter.