By Alex Langbell
So, you have a large balloon-frame residential structure with heavy fire on the exterior fueled by a broken gas line with heavy fire extension into the basement and attic. The fire has had 20 minutes burn time before you can even get a RIT team on scene so that first-in crews can go interior. You are understaffed due to two large fires occurring basically at the same time. What are your tactics?
I don’t know what your answer would be, but I would hope it would be the same decision an engine company and a training officer with over 70 years combined experience arriving first on scene was: to go defensive, protect exposures, and don’t get anyone hurt.
As Yakima firefighters, we are so programed to winning these (house fire) battles that when you have to step back and realize you’re not going to win this one, it’s difficult for our egos. There will be a time in your career you will need to accept that sometimes you just can’t win and you need to make sure everyone goes home to their family. This was a decision we had to make recently. As one of those aggressive Yakima firefighters with as much pride as anyone on our department, it’s difficult for me to accept “in our eyes” these kind of “failures.” But in no way was this anything but successful. There is no structure, no contents, no public opinion, and no amount of pride worth one of our lives.
Our department is young, and with the additions of the new hires we will be receiving in the next round of hires. One fifth of our department will have fewer than five years on with one third of our officers having less than two years’ experience as company officers. We have to know when defensive is “okay” and not a loss. I’ve always prided ourselves on being aggressive because we all know that’s what puts out fires, but I’ve also prided us on being intelligent and experienced. Just because we are losing the experience for a while doesn’t mean we will be anything less than intelligent. Continue to be aggressive, but let’s make sure we are intelligent while doing it. The responsibility of the experienced firefighters to make certain they educate and share their experience with the newer guys
Alex Langbell is a captain with the Yakima (WA) Fire Department.
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