Tactical Safety: Marginal Effort Equals Marginal Results

By Ray McCormack

Fire departments that make the YouTube hall of shame may have just had a bad day, but more likely the converse is true: a fireground of marginal effort caught for all to see. It's not even the loss of the home that is so shocking. It is the lack of effort expended that creates the horror factor. Scarier still is the fact that we may just be seeing the tip of that iceberg.

Firefighters who lack direction and end up walking around the fire scene aimlessly are allowed to do so by the "incident commander." In these cases, we are bearing witness to people in positions they shouldn't be in. Now that is a direct example of risk. Commanders who lack a basic understanding of their job allow a marginally effective fireground to flourish.

When you view such chaos in the form of inactivity, don't be fooled into thinking they probably excel at emergencies, because they probably don't do well at those, either. It's Action Time and they are lost. This is a sad commentary on what it means to be a firefighter. Maybe they were never told how to engage the enemy because now when they have such an opportunity they are blowing it. If you want to do something positive for your community, get your act together on the fireground. That beats coloring books any day.

Firefighters need a game plan for results. The Free for All Fire Department should be a thing of the past. Many use construction, behavior, smoke, and risk slogans to mask the expenditure of marginal effort when it's time to extinguish the house fire in front of their windshield. We are not talking about the fire where it's all all going to fall down on you or the one that's flash ready...nope, we're talking about your garden variety fires. There is no need to risk your life for a loser, however your arrival on the fireground means that it's time for the basics to be supplied, stretched, raised, forced, and deployed.

Take a hard look at the effort you're putting forth--it usually equals the result. Marginal firefighting is what you're left with when there is barely a game plan: firefighters wander around disengaged, with incident commanders verbalizing the most basic of orders ("Engine 2, I want you to spot in front of the fire building and stretch a line." Duh!) If you happen to respond to a fire and hear this, there is a good chance you will soon be witnessing a clue-limited fireground, because if your people need this clue, then they don't have one of their own.

Tactical safety is achieved by putting forth maximum effort and by having highly tuned-in firefighters and commanders who deploy their troops with purpose and have an understanding of combat engagement. There are probably still a few bumper stickers regarding risk that cling to rusty tailboard bumpers somewhere in the desert, and while defining risk is a favorite topic for many, effort puts out fires. It's time for some new engaging bumper stickers.

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Ray McCormack - Tactical Safety

RAY McCORMACK is a 30-year veteran and a lieutenant with FDNY. He is the publisher and editor of Urban Firefighter Magazine. He delivered the keynote address at FDIC in 2009 and he is on the Editorial Board of Fire Engineering Magazine.

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