The fundamental doctrine of firefighting has remained unchanged for thousands of years. From the Romans to today, the industry has embraced it with an uncommon clarity. Perhaps it is the genius of the craft – the modern names Braidwood, Sylvia, Stapleton, Fredericks, McCormack, and Fields all advanced the primary doctrine in their times, adapting the technologies and resources of their times. In doing so, they all embraced the lessons and methods of the past and combined the newly acquired knowledge they had found. They each uniquely added another, perhaps fire service, trait – modesty. The doctrine they all supported and advanced was, Firefighting is the craft of putting water on the fire decisively.
As we go boldly into the future, as we have for the past 2,000 years; continuously evolving, adapting, and responding to the challenges, threats, and opportunities; accepting each with unbridled enthusiasm, we should reflect on the adoption of technology. We have adopted technology as no other industry. We have outperformed the wildest expectations of the creators and ignored the skeptics and naysayers with grace and kindness. The American fire service is at this point in time the most educated, innovative, and motivated workforce in history. We owe it to every firefighter who came before us and to every person who accepted the duty to protect others to continue this legacy.
Our closest military partner, the U.S. Navy, shares our love of innovation. In 1941, as the United States accepted the duty to go forth and stop the ruthless aggression and subjugation of the world by the Axis powers – as she has done throughout her history – she did so at a significant disadvantage. We were in a tight spot: We had two theaters of war; the focus was placed first on Europe. Our military resources had been depleted by years of neglect, and now most of our resources and manpower were directed toward the European theater. That left the Navy in the Pacific theater, understaffed and undersupported. Nowhere was that demonstrated more vividly than at Guadalcanal.
The Navy had outstanding leadership – some older, some newer – and it faced a very experienced, well-equipped, and well-trained foe in the Japanese Navy. The battle for Guadalcanal would pit some of the bravest warfighters in history in epic encounters that to this day are spoken of in reverence. Legends were created – Chesty Puller, the marines and airmen who held Henderson Field, the five Sullivan brothers who would die when the USS Juneau would go down. But, how did a smaller fleet in size and firepower overcome and defeat a larger, stronger, and more experienced adversary? The answer lies not only in the adoption of a new technology but in the sense to test and train that technology in high-fidelity exercises.
Radar was emerging as the war erupted; however, the older American ships deployed did not have it at their disposal. The newer ships – the DD class – were being outfitted; however, in early battles, the commanders, unfamiliar with the capabilities of the technology, failed to deploy the DD radar-equipped ships and instead fought with the traditional line-of-sight firing solution, which required much closer contact and resulted in devastating losses for the Americans. As commanders who received the training on radar capabilities and saw firsthand how lighter ships now with greater range could successfully engage from greater distances, the fundamental historical doctrine of warfare was embraced again. Warfare is the craft of putting ordnance on the target decisively.
The genius of the craft of naval warfare of the time also recognized the need to adjust the method of communicating the firing solution from the targeting to the gunners, and so tactical adjustments were made that reduced the time it took and increased the accuracy of the targeting. Subsequent battles against the Japanese used radar-equipped DD class ships as pickets, and the tide of the battles turned. This does not discount many other incredible acts of heroism and sacrifice; this merely highlights the new technology, radar’s adoption, validation by training, real-world simulation, and tactical evolution into operational effectiveness.
Today’s American fire service is made up of the finest apparatus and the most advanced electronics, tools, and management systems that have ever been used in the history of fire protection in the defense of our communities. Our training and education programs are unsurpassed. The American fire service has a reputation as the most skilled, energetic, and educated fire service in the world. But that imposing honor is not a birthright. We must do our part to continue to deserve that place as the most emulated and admired fire service in the world. We do that by continuing our tradition of adopting and embracing new technologies.
Firefighting is a violent, intellectual, and physical contest between a nonthinking lethal phenomenon – a deadly adversary – and us. To defeat fire, we must always be at our best. We must always be open and searching for the next technological advantage. The fire service is being exposed to augmented reality; virtual reality; and the ability to harvest real-time data on the interior environments, supply air to firefighters on their backs inside structures, and stream images and conditions to command – integrating into our grand, minor, and applied tactics in ways that will forever change our command and control models, improve our small-unit leadership, and make us even more lethal against fire.
The fire service is adopting these new technologies as we have adopted emerging technologies for 2,000 years: boldly, courageously, intelligently, and effectively. We are seeing firsthand across this great nation incredible innovations integrating these new technologies with wisdom and elegance. Genius blending existing and emerging and deploying the result with supreme skill, advancing yet again our fundamental doctrine: Firefighting is the craft of putting water on the fire decisively.
Fire Engineering Archives