BY ALAN BRUNACINI
Editor in Chief Bobby Halton and I have been discussing the future of the Fire Engineering magazine back-page column since the sad passing of our dear friend Tom Brennan. Chief Brennan’s “Random Thoughts” column has been the most widely read and retained piece of monthly fire service journal material for almost 20 years. Bobby, Tom, and I were close friends and had a decade-long relationship that centered around a long, continuous, and very spirited discussion, interaction, and exploration of firefighting tactical operations. We sometimes had energetic arguments that sharpened our conversation. We would argue until the various points got connected to some agreement that made us all (mostly me) a little smarter. We all had our own points of view, and that made hanging out with each other educational and interesting. We continued the three-way “Unplugged” conversation on the FDIC stage. It seemed the audience enjoyed listening to our happy blab.
Editor Halton and I agreed that the back-page space should continue to be written and presented in the spirit of what Tom did so well and for so long. Bobby nominated me to do this and then closed nominations. I guess I will be with you until I keel over or they ship me to the home for the elderly and insane.
Following Tom is a lot more than just a daunting task; it is a lot like being the act right after Noah and, as you walk up on the stage, they tell you to talk about flooding. I cannot in any way ever replace Chief Brennan, simply because no one could. He had an absolutely unique combination of street experience, tactical wisdom, and fire service intelligence. He worked, learned, and refined the application of tactical operations to burning buildings at a time and in a place (FDNY-“the fire years”) that produced the toughest and most profound tactical lessons that have ever occurred in our service.
One of Tom’s special capabilities that I always admired (and took advantage of) was his insight into the details that form the foundation of effective tactical execution. I call that category of knowledge “the whys.” There are lots of firefighters who are (thankfully) very skillful in performing the physical part of fire operations. This is a critical and very necessary capability, because this creates the action that gets the work done and is where our service actually gets delivered. What is rare, given our highly action-oriented approach where we typically skip the whys and go directly to the whats (very instinctive), is to find one of us who has seen a huge amount about the work so he really knows what the action is based on and can also explain the rules, principles, and guidelines that describe why we are doing what we are doing on the fireground. Tom was the master of this ability.
I would continually ask him “why” we should do what we were discussing. He would give me the “Brennan look” over his glasses and then would patiently explain why that action fit into the tactical plan. His explanations expanded my understanding and orientation of fireground operations that I had been a part of my whole career. He would explain the reasons (why) we do what we do-then describe in plain, understandable terms why things go right and why things go wrong. The reason he was so creditable was that he was an expert in both why and how. Simply, he was bilingual: He knew and could talk in principle-based (why) language and in vocational (how) language.
As the three of us would get together and continue our ongoing discussion, I started to jot down notes so I would not lose what I had heard. Later when I would try to make sense out of my notes, I became concerned that our conversations were many times very energetic and far flung and I did not have a very effective framework to organize what we had talked about. Sometimes a lack of effective packaging will outperform the quality of the content (if you can’t find it, you can’t use it), so I began to create some standard categories that would arrange our conversations into a usable form. It also occurred to me that we mostly talked about the details of fireground engagement. This caused me to begin to call our major discussion categories the “Rules of Engagement.” This short and simple reference will be the new name of the back page.
As the Rules of Engagement have started to take form, I have begun to connect them with the educational and operational experience and material I have been involved with for the past almost 50 years. I have been a student of firefighting tactics since I became a firefighter. In fact, my attraction to tactical operations is basically the reason I became a firefighter in 1958.
While there is a lot of really good material available about how to do tactical operations, I have started to notice there is not much written direction on how to teach the operational and command part of that material. It would seem the back page is an excellent place to discuss the tactical and command package and the teaching delivery and (hopefully) learning. The format will be the categories I developed in our Tom/Bobby/me discussions. The stuff we talked about all fit into (in some way) the following major blivits:
- Standard Outcomes
We can slice and dice these as we continue the project. There isn’t anything sacred about how we bundle the material, and I’m sure it will change as, I hope, we actively interact.
Please contact me (firstname.lastname@example.org) with any comments, observations, ideas, disagreements, etc., as we go along. I’ll get back to you as soon as I get off my latest airplane.
Alan Brunacini recently retired as the chief of the Phoenix (AZ) Fire Department, where he has served since 1958. He was promoted to chief in 1978. He formerly was chairman of the NFPA board of directors and headed the NFPA’s Fire Service Occupational Safety and Health Committee, which developed Standard 1500. He is chairman of the NFPA’s Career Deployment Committee. He is the author of Fire Command and Essentials of Fire Department Customer Service.