Tactical Safety: The Stockholm Department

By Ray McCormack

The Stockholm Syndrome is something people who are held hostage for a period of time may experience. It was named after a group of bank employees who were held hostage for six days in Sweden, and is shorthand for how, after a time,  hostages will often empathize with their captors. Firefighters are no different in how they will defend and support their fire department even when it’s hard for others to grasp.

A close-up lens is a wonderful thing because it provides an intimate view without a contrasting background. We all have our beliefs on fire attack and the procedural methods to accomplish it. If you look at how a department operates, you will see similar fire attacks, not just because of SOPs, but because of belief.

If a department changes like the wind, it probably had a weak stand on tactics in the first place. Some are constantly looking for something and ending up with too many options. If you see a department that doesn’t change much, that is not necessary a bad thing. It is just that change often has a lot to prove before it is implemented.

Departments that operate under a system that many progressives would cringe over must realize that they are doing it their way, too. They are just as much hostages as the constantly changing department is, but for different reasons.

The first department is subject to constant change while the other is married to routine. The problem with the first system is that they will probably keep changing and adopting all types of tactics, creating a vast options menu and a very confused officer core. The second group has no such confusion and, while they may appear to some as very legacy, they operate with a broad understanding of capability and uniformity of fire attack and are slow to take on new options.

All will defend what they do; they have no choice. It’s what they believe in. The bigger question is: Will the first department ever get it straight and when will the second department ever modify? Neither will until they are released from their own captivity.

Keep Fire in Your Life

Ray McCormack: Tactical Safety for FirefightersRAY 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.




  • RAY McCORMACK is a lieutenant and veteran of the Fire Department of New York. He delivered the keynote address at FDIC 2009. He is the co-creator and editor of Urban Firefighter and the an FDIC International instructor.

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