Tactical Safety: Missing Something

By Ray McCormack

Do some firefighters wish to get injured or killed?
Do some firefighters misinterpret risk?
Do some firefighters not know danger?
Do some firefighters not understand their job?

I do not believe that any firefighter in their right mind wishes to get injured or killed doing this job. Some do die during the performance of their duties. Those fires are studied to find causation and answers that may prevent a similar tragedy. What the fire service does with that gained knowledge is the real lynchpin to better operation tactical safety.

Some firefighters do misinterpret risk. Risk to themselves and others around them. This is why we operate in teams so that what one misses, another can pick up. Do accidents happen? Of course they do. Do mistakes happen? You bet they do, and certain errors come from up high and some from the base level. Fire departments need to understand what they are doing or plan to do, and if that knowledge is lacking that is a accident waiting to happen.

So what one person sees as big risk another might classify as mild risk. Who is right? If nothing happens, the mild risk opinion is correct; if something does happen negatively, big risk was correct. While you may not agree with that assessment, that’s how most see it. So how do we come to some risk-based fireground allowances that span mild risk to high risk? We build standard operating procedures (SOPs) into our operations. They can be simple and we can modify them if needed, so if you think they handcuff you, they don’t. An SOP informs everyone of the playbook. Many injuries and deaths can be traced back to a lack of department-wide operational knowledge.

Firefighters know danger when it’s staring them in the face. When danger lurks, this is when we have to be on guard. Knowledegable and alert firefighters know this and work to stay focused throughout, but even the best can have a bad day. This is why we have redundancy between company members, company officers, and commanders. If things are off, someone must recognize it–the earlier the better.

The job of a firefighter may not be understood by all firefighters, and that of course is part of the problem. Firefighter knowledge can never be topped off; the tank must always require additional fuel. Those that truly wish to called firefighters must understand a lot of subjects, debate them, and pull them apart so that no stone is left unturned when it comes to tactical safety. Remember, you are your brother’s keeper.

Keep Fire in Your Life  

Ray McCormackRAY 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.


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