Tactical Safety for Firefighters: Outplaying Your Opponent

By Ray McCormack

Plenty of satisfaction comes from being successful and claiming victory. Battles come with varying challenges, some difficult and some difficult to determine until we engage. Do you want to engage the opponent? All will say yes, but allowing operational stipulations to surface holds many back. Are you ready to do battle against a fully engaged opponent and do it safely?

Many believe that we are not being safe. Sometimes we’re not, but to believe that firefighters see injury and death as some twisted merit badge, come on…please! No one is looking to get injured or killed. If you think that this statement is just crazy, look around. Some in the fire service actually believe you are cool with getting injured or killed. Theories such as these are nothing but disinformation that needs to be exposed for what it is–nonsense!

Being cognizant of your exposure to injury is all part of firefighting. There are many transition points where we encounter more danger or get more deeply involved in the attack. Typical examples include climbing a ladder and stepping off onto the roof; that is an operational transition point. Forcing entry and then entering the fire occupancy is another operational transition point. Pay attention to what you’re currently doing and what you’re about to do next.

Your opponent works under one basic tenet: it grows until we stop it. Outplaying your opponent is about a lot of things, but one thing stands out: commitment. What is your level of commitment? What is your level of commitment to your job, community, and fellow firefighters? Your commitment needs to be active through continued education so that before you arrive, you are a learned firefighter.  After you arrive, you needn’t hyperventilate. Instead, focus and get into the job.

Understand what you see, look for more clues, and figure out what your next move is. Once your mission is focused, get to it, do it faster than anyone else, and do it better than anyone else. We are firefighters. We get it done when no one else does. If you think that’s too strong or that it’s incorrect, then that’s a stipulation that hurts you. You must discard your negatives and move forward. You want to win, don’t you?

Do we always win our battles? No, we don’t always win in the truest sense, but we have to engage and believe we make a difference. If you arrive unprepared, underdressed, apathetic, and full of negative stipulations, then you’re probably not doing much good for your department, community, or fellow firefighters.

Settling for loss is not the game plan. Dealing with losses and trying to outplay your opponent is. Remain focused on tactical safety and shed stipulations that keep you from winning.

Next Tactical Safety – Chief Croker Wants You


Ray McCormack: Tactical Safety for Firefighters

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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