Tactical Safety for Firefighters: Pushing to Save Lives

By Ray McCormack

What are you pushing for? Slow down, the outcome is already sealed! Slow down, the outcome will be better! Is firefighting time-sensitive? If it is not, then pushing to save lives may not be necessary. If we are pushing for no reason, then let’s put it in our strategic plans and not be so pushy anymore.

Firefighting is a time-sensitive endeavor, just like medical responses. The need for rapid medical intervention before life starts to take a downward spiral is about four minutes. When a heart-attack response is dispatched, we don’t give up. We arrive, apply the pads and the drugs, and try to bring the patient back from the brink. This type of medical response is why the fire service provides emergency care. We accomplish this timely lifesaving medical response because we are strategically located in the community. Fire response is no different.

The medical timeline is well established, but the fire timeline, although definitive, is still blurry. The blurry survival timeline is clear in the sense that, in many cases, in defiance of that very timeline, there are savable victims among the trapped. Those that still reside inside the fire area may have suffered thermal insult (burns) and/or smoke inhalation. Survival timelines vary between occupants. The fire area has many life variances while the medical myocardial infarction and subsequent brain damage have no protected area.

Believing that fire victims were dead before you turned out is fine as long as you believe the same thing about medical responses. Otherwise, it’s just disinformation pervaded with a sense of defeatism. How much of a push to save lives is engrained in you, if you believe such rhetoric? It can’t be much. What a shame it is to be so defeatist.

We are a service that pushes to save lives every day. Our response is platformed by training, adequate resources, and timely response. We don’t fold up the medical boxes because we arrived five minutes in. We start working on the patient in a push to save a life. That same push to save life should be as plain as day for fire response. We try everything until it’s called.

Follow your protocols for saving life and remember that your tactical safety is a continuous evaluation of benefit vs. risk. If you’re stuck on the negatives of the fire timeline, it’s not too late to change your thinking and realize that timelines don’t call it. We do!

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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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