In the Fire Service, We Only Lose
Stress, that psychic trauma brought on by the horror of major incidents such as earthquakes, plane crashes, collapses, and large life loss fires, is finally being recognized and treated before it attacks, with full impact, the mental stability of the emergency responder.
Yet, stress isn’t limited to the myriad disasters receiving national coverage. Maybe you weren’t involved in mitigating a commercial plane crash or a major hotel collapse, but that lifeless bundle that hadn’t even seen its third birthday that you carried out of a two-story private dwelling strained your emotions just as severely.
And while great strides in initial and on-going treatment in the area of firefighter mental health are being made throughout the country by such knowledgeable experts as Dr. Jeffrey Mitchell, maybe we ourselves could go a step further.
I’ve always been concerned about the stress brought on ourselves by our own annual gathering of the data that describes our productivity and worth. According to the National Fire Protection Association’s “Fire Loss in the United States during 1985,” there were 4,885 deaths related to home fires; the report also states that the more than two-million fires last year accounted for more than $7-million in property loss. We measure our effectiveness in loss. Even in the station, as work shifts change, our verbal reports to each other usually take the negative form: “We lost three last night,” or “We lost half the block in our commercial district.”
Maybe it’s time that we reverse that type of data gathering. It would surely be to our mental benefit, and to our community’s financial benefit if we could report our activities on a save basis. Formulas and criteria have already been developed to measure life and property loss before our arrival (see “Risk Analysis,” FIRE ENGINEERING, April 1985). If we implement these, then the response scene could be evaluated in the “expected” additional loss that would have occurred had we not mitigated the incident at the point we did. Strategy and tactics employed would be evaluated as a save in dollars and, more importantly, in lives.
Being able to report the number of lives and the dollar value of property saved based on performance levels of a fire department’s response and operations would not only make our fire companies a profit center (instead of a constant loss center) for the tax dollars spent, but it would be a mental upbeat for our members as well.
Remember, once that alarm comes in, there has already been some amount of loss. You’re going in to save what’s left.