Detecting a Clog

By Ray McCormack
Publisher/Editor, Urban Firefighter Magazine

I recently read a blog that started off okay, but then went south on me. It is not unusual to read something and then find out it was not what you expected it to be; I frequently use that writing technique myself. The problem with this particular piece was that the southerly direction the blog took concerned unsafe tactics that were not evident to the blogger. The only inkling he will ever have of his tactical faux pas is if he sees this, or another reader clues him in.

The blog was about a fire on the second floor of a small two-story house and how firefighting operations were conducted at it. We were privy to thoughts, concerns, and tactics from arrival to conclusion as the writer was at the event. The story’s main thrust was to demonstrate how safely they operated. The problem was the writer was unaware of how to safely conduct extinguishment operations–and that is what turned this blog into a clog.

Fireground operations vary throughout the country, but there are some practices that are universal because they are sound. The problem we face is two-fold. First we have people who make bad decisions on the fire ground and that is a local issue you must deal with where you work. The bigger issue is when unsafe tactics are broadcast via the Internet to anyone with a home screen by people who do not know that they are doing things incorrectly. 

Although we need people to discuss all aspects of the fire service, operational blogging is different. Operational blogs demand competency and awareness of the subject matter.

Unfortunately, many blogs fall into categories such as:

  • “Green Blogs” which rely on recycling the same material over and over
  • “Bandwagon Blogs” where the blogger jumps on board and champions an already-launched idea or program 
  • “Sometime Blogs” are where the author sometimes has an original idea
  • “OPP Blogs” which specialize in using parts of Others People’s Posts
  • “Advocatory Blogs” where you sense the blogger is secretly working for a special interest group

At this fire, all the exterior benchmarks that so many in the fire service feel are the essence of firefighter safety were accomplished.

The size up radio report was extensive and covered all kinds of visual information. Check.     

Command was passed off. Check.

A 360 was done. Check. 

The smoke was read. Check 

An interview with an occupant was conducted. Check

As the operation moved inside, some questionable decisions were made. Apparently exterior-awareness skills do not necessarily translate to inside-awareness skills.                                   

A decision on handline placement was made–the rear entrance was picked, not my first choice. A decision on when and where to charge the line was also made–the second-floor hallway: Wrong!

Charge the hoseline outside the house! Not debatable.

If you are not aware of this little tidbit of safety concerning hoseline operations, you and the blogger should be. This is the first and most important thing you can do to provide real protection and safety for those inside and those going inside.

There is no excuse. There is no short cut.

Luckily no one got hurt. Check.

RAY McCORMACK is a 28-year veteran of the Fire Department of New York and a lieutenant with Ladder 28 in Harlem. He was previously assigned to Engine 69 for more than 10 years. He is a contributor to Fire Engineering, WNYF, and other fire service magazines and Web sites. He helped to develop Training Minutes for, for which he contributes tips on engine tactics. He is the founder of, which provides firefighter training and benefit seminars. He delivered the Keynote Speech at FDIC 2009.

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