Firefighting, Fireground Management, Leadership

Firefighter and Fire Officer Survival: Why Things Go Right and Why Things Go Wrong

Billy Loveland-Symmes (OH) Fire Department Deputy Chief Billy Goldfeder and California Highway Patrol Captain (Ret.) Gordon Graham led this workshop that taught students how identifiable risks are manageable risks, and how using the risk management principles taught by Graham and reinforced by the experience and training of Goldfeder will help students learn better ways to avoid problems, thus ensuring that “everyone goes home.”

Goldfeder spoke at length on how the fireground decisions that firefighters make can impact not only the customers’ families but the firefighters’ families as well. He put a face on this discussion by using photos and stories of his own family to point out the importance of the people off the fireground who will be affected by the choices members make during a time of crisis. He also presented pictures and videos of size-up techniques and the consequences of a lack thereof and how they can influence negative fireground outcomes. “Be it a chief officer commanding an incident, a company officer commanding his personnel and group, or a firefighter responsible for his tasks at a fire or rescue emergency, everyone has the potential to not survive.”

Goldfeder continued, “Survival—for the purpose of this program—includes not just firefighters’ lives, but also getting firefighters and fire officers to clearly understand what their roles and responsibilities are at the most critical and serious levels. As seen in so many examples, the loss of a firefighter is often not just one ‘cause,’ but a series of often very predictable causes that lead to a horrible outcome, one that was often predictable well before it occurred.”
Graham then took over the class, using his expertise in law enforcement to explain the differences in what he called “external intentional misconduct” and “internal negligible conduct.” He noted that the former, which can include such harmful behaviors as terrorism and arson, cannot be controlled. The latter, however, which includes roadway incursions and horseplay, can be avoided. “Most deaths occur from internal negligence. If you understand where the errors come from, you can fix the errors.”
Graham added, “Firefighters have not figured out any new ways to get in trouble. There are no new ways to get sued. There are no new ways to get indicted. There are no new ways to get fired. The focus of this program is to show how there are no new ways to get hurt.”