Company Rhythm: A True Band of Brothers

By Donald Wedding

Since 1735, when Benjamin Franklin organized the Union Volunteer Fire Company, there have been many analogies and similarities made between firefighting and other trades or professions. As the American fire service moves forward with new technologies, better training, and an increased call volume, there is one element that remains the same and virtually unchanged over time: the human dynamic.

From our first day as firefighters in the firehouse or training academy, we are taught the importance of working together as a company and relying on one another to achieve common goals. Almost instantly, new members are searching for that "rhythm" of working together. Whether operating at a building fire or performing mundane tasks in the station, we rely on each other to get things done. If one member fails to do their job or complete tasks--especially when it comes to working on the fireground--we jeopardize the safety of other firefighters and those who called us for help.

Operating as a company of three of four members is in many ways like a band of musicians. The fireground, then, is like a show or performance. Whether you're the "lineman" on the engine company, the outside vent-man on the truck company, or the rescue company chauffeur, you have a job to do, a part to play in the song. In a band, all the musicians must play their part or instrument. The singer has to be in key, the drummer has to set the pace, the guitarist has to carry the melody, and the bass player has to follow the drummer and glue the song together. If one of these four players fails to play their part correctly, the music sounds horrible, the show is loose and uninteresting, and the future of your band is at stake. You'll also face loss of support from a dwindling fan base.

Just like a song or show will suffer from lack of cohesiveness and skill between players, the fireground (and ultimately the public) will suffer when firefighters perform poorly and fail to complete tasks and objectives, i.e., establishing a water supply, performing searches, stretching attack lines, ventilating, etc.

How would you feel if you paid money to see your favorite band from the front row and they sounded horrible and were out of sync? You would probably feel a little disheartened and ripped off and contemplate never seeing them again. How do you think the public or your fellow firefighters would feel if you or your company failed to operate accordingly at the scene of a working fire with people trapped? It's all about working together…the rhythm of the fireground, the song.

So how do we as firefighters prepare for our next show, the emergency? We train. We take classes to expand our knowledge base. We conduct drills in the firehouse as companies so we know what each other's next move is going to be. We train for that fire, that next song. Musicians call this "rehearsal." Just like musicians and bands rehearse for the next show or leg of a tour, we rehearse or "train" so that we know what to do the next time the bells go off. We check our tools, apparatus and personal protective equipment to ensure they are "combat ready" and in good, safe, working order. These things are our instruments. We need them to play the song, to do our job (put the fire out). If they don't work, we forget to bring them, or do not rehearse with them, we cannot assist those who called for us help.

I have personally been a musician in a working rock band almost as long as I have been in the fire service (19 years). As a drummer, I know the importance of working/playing together to make the song sound great and the show as a whole appeal to the audience, no matter how large or small. We as firefighters must do the same. Every response is a new gig, and there is always an audience--not just composed of the public, but of our brother firefighters, assisting companies, and chief officers.

Practice really does make perfect. Train to be the best and train together as a company. Learn as much as you can about your tools and equipment; your instruments. Do these things and you will have success in the firehouse and on the fireground…your next show.

Donald Wedding is a firefighter for the Fredericksburg (VA) Fire Department and an instructor with Traditions Training, LLC. He is also a drummer with Story For Hire.

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