Tactical Safety: Back to the Future

By Ray McCormack

When new or reworked ideas come about for fire attack, they either stand on their own merit, attach themselves to existing methods, or clash with the current standards. New ideas are always popping up, with or without a track record. What is a track record, anyway? Is it how we’ve always done it explained? For most, yes, that is our empirical evidence: years of successful extinguishment balanced against something we’ve never tried.

Those who clamor for early adoption of new firefighting tactics have to realize that people’s lives will hang in the balance and not every test burn will end up successful. The mistakes and knowledge omissions of those that conduct live fire training events is well documented. NFPA 1403 is the standard for conducting live burns with a house that was donated to the fire department. If you are unfamiliar with that document, don’t be surprised when someone gets lucky and finds a window to jump out of.

True testing of tactical ideas needs to be done correctly and not just on a whim. Those that feel the modern fireground fire is insurmountable unless a particular tactic is employed are wrong. The modern fireground is an interesting concept built from many factors, some of which may be missing at your next fire. How many must be checked off to reach a totally modern fire? Furniture, room geometry, distance, fire growth stage, capability of the fire crew–ouch.

Tactics and capabilities go hand in hand. Many believe that it is just simpler to utilize tactics that are much less demanding of on-scene firefighters. Do we ever evolve from that position? If you always do something a particular way, isn’t that the change agents rub? Caution must be given to limited fire attack capability that becomes a standard, unless, of course, that’s what we want for the fire service.

Years from now when the old timers say, “Well, that’s the way we have always done it,” at least we can trace it back to the modern fireground, which will seem so legacy by then.

Keep Fire in Your Life  

Ray McCormackRAY 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. For more on Urban Firefighter, visit http://www.fireengineering.com/urbanfirefighter.html.


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