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Firefighter Safety: Use Your Initiative
by Billy Hayes

Part 2: Paradox of prevention and fire porn

A focus on prevention is not a substitute for suppression, but the next step in the fire services' evolution

By Billy Hayes

Editor's note: To get a full sense of why the author felt compelled to revisit this issue, scroll to the bottom of his earlier article (How fire porn hurts the fire service) to read the comments, and read the comments on this Facebook post. 

Needless to say, it has been an interesting past few weeks since my column about the paradox of prevention and fire porn. I certainly knew that I would push some buttons and draw criticism, but I had hoped to generate conversation about the issues I brought up.

I quickly realized that it was going to be a big deal. The column was shared in many blogs and websites including Statter911 where my pal Dave Statter claimed to be Larry Flynt of the fire industry, thus, I assume, making me Jerry Falwell.

I would personally like to thank everyone who responded. I appreciate all of your insights, positions, and points of view regardless of whether in agreement or not.

While I've been called names and received hate mail, I also received tremendous support on my position. I wanted to respond because the over-riding theme of the column was missed by many. I hope the conversation and takeaways will continue as that was my purpose.

Power of the headline
As I stated in a couple of posts, I was not excited about the column's title. It was not my selection and I don't think it painted an accurate picture of the article. I certainly don't believe that fire porn hurts that fire service as much as it attests to the fact that it is what draws attention to the magazines and websites.

I don't believe many could get past the title to read the article before their opinion and bias was formed. However, I'm not sure it may have had the same impact in the fire service or drew the same attention if the title were different.

For many years, the National Enquirer was the top selling newspaper. It was strategically placed in the checkout lines, and even to this day, the headlines catch your eye. But using the term fire porn was for shock and awe purposes, and it too got everyone's attention.

My friends Dave Statter from Statter911 and Rhett Fleitz from The Fire Critic used the column to their advantage by driving traffic and comments to their websites as it was a hot topic. I would like to publically thank them for being supportive on the message and intent that I presented, even though they were not in total agreement because they post an abundance of those fire videos that I referred to.

They maintained their integrity, and even took a little heat with me and for me. So, the lesson learned here is that if you want to get your message out, sometimes you've got to take a risk to capture attention, and also rely on your friends to see the truth.

Question missed
Another lesson learned is to get your question answered, you sometimes have to ask it again. There were plenty of comments that supported the fact that prevention and community risk reduction isn't as popular or attractive as suppression.

I agree; I even said that in the article. But how do we make it sexy? How can we change the fire service culture to build more support and incorporate it in all of our duties and responsibilities more than just giving it lip service?

If changing magazine covers, conference presentations, and videos that include more prevention functions isn't the answer, then what is? I didn't see the questions answered and I am still looking. I hope they soon emerge.

It seems many missed the point in the column. I never said the fire porn should be eliminated. I said that we should begin incorporating, actually assimilating our members to, more photos and videos of prevention and risk reduction into our magazine covers, content, websites and conferences.

Missing the point
My point wasn't an attack on suppression, it was to promote prevention and find a way to make it as sexy, popular and as important as suppression. My attack was on our culture that there still is a belief that suppression is the only reason the fire service exists of which our constant exposure to only those images and videos could contribute.

I stated in the article that I have and always will support suppression as it is when training, preparation and opportunity meet. There is a time and place that we will lay it on the line, be aggressive, and risk more than what normal civilians will. At that moment, for the individual we respond to, that is the purpose of the fire service.

That means we should be well trained, brave, and fit to do the job for when that time arises. I would never suggest anything other than that, and I or anyone else would be reckless to say such.

The point is that it also takes bravery to engage in non-suppression activities such as prevention and risk reduction. And if we say that our mission is to protect lives and property, it equally applies in prevention. However, I will never accept that we only exist for suppression.

A good shepherd
From a blog I read, I also understand there are those who wish to be the "sheepdog" preparing for when the wolf shows up, because the sheepdog can protect the sheep. I agree; that is certainly needed because the wolf's arrival is always a risk.

However, a good shepherd should take every opportunity to reduce the risk of the wolf to protect both the sheep and the sheepdog because often instinct can result in tunnel vision of the overall mission. While the sheepdog may fend off one wolf, others could silently and secretly attack.

It doesn't mean that we won't fight the wolf, but the focus should be on making every effort to prevent the wolf from coming, not just fighting it. Equally, fires don't show up just because the sheepdog is there, or in this case, the firefighter.

Like the sheep, most of the American public is complacent about fire. Why wait for something to happen before we fight it when we should make every effort to prevent it?

Prevention is not absolute
Although there was little conversation about sprinklers, the fact is we will always be fighting fires. Not every building and home will be sprinkled, and things will happen that aren't preventable.

I wasn't completely accurate when I said that we only respond when prevention has failed. That is a majority of the case; hence, cooking is the number one cause of residential fires.

However, my good friend Chief Bobby Halton, reached out to me to respectfully disagree. He pointed out that natural disasters and events beyond our control will always happen. Chief Halton was correct and in my haste of getting the point across, I missed it.

Many of the comments said that the videos are a great training tool for individuals and departments. As said by many, with the lack of structural fire training, and even more with the lack of working fires, these videos provide a value to a great many.

It was pleasing to see that said so frequently. I too grew up on FETN and fire videos and learned a great deal from them. The next step is to share best practices on how we do that effectively.

Everyone is watching and reading
On some sites since the article, I have seen more questions asking what appropriate strategies and tactics should be implemented of the videos posted, rather than just throwing a video up.

I would further suggest that these videos be used for prevention purposes equally to help elected officials and the public to understand how important prevention and code development truly is and what can occur with the lack thereof.

A nugget to consider is that firefighters are not the only ones with Internet access. Keep in mind that the video and images of someone's possessions going up in flames is also accessible by that very customer.

Because we tend to beat each other up in the blogs and comments on these videos and images, question strategy and tactics, that customer who lost everything can begin questioning the capabilities of the organization that responded.

So when using these videos as many say they do, keep that in mind.

More encouragingly was the amount of support for prevention that exists. While there were many who respectively disagreed with some or all of what I wrote, there were more who were in agreement.

To me it indicates that we are making progress. And if writing that article was to begin that movement openly, then I would write it again.

Let me be clear
I love the fire service. Even in my career after the fire service, I still eat and breathe the fire service. In my role now, my goal is to contribute to making the fire service better than it was when I arrived. I believe that is all any of us wish to do.

However, sometimes that means we have to question the norm and the culture, as well as do things at the risk of hurting feelings and relationships.

That I have done.

I know there are those who have distanced themselves from me now and question my loyalty to the fire service, or even think this was a publicity stunt to gain "stardom."

Let me be clear, I risked my reputation in the profession I love only because I want to make it better. Going with the flow isn't an option. Watching 37,000 people die in fires since 2002 is not acceptable.

Reading reports of hundreds of firefighters dying in the line of duty and thousands injured responding to and operating at events that could have been prevented is heartbreaking. Watching prevention budgets be slashed because it's not the most important function of our job is criminal.

The black sheep
You can question many things about me as an individual, but my loyalty and love of the fire service is non-negotiable. We are in a tough profession that can be brutal and often very polar in opinions, such as suppression versus prevention.

I knew what I was getting in to and what I may be subject to when I wrote the article. And while I could have phrased some things differently, my values, beliefs and integrity are what I stand on.

If I must stand on the outside as the black sheep of the family because of my passion for prevention and the desire to save lives other than by rescue, so be it. I'll take my place.

I would ask you to read the original article again. I know there will still be some who disagree, but I think if you get past the title, think about the content, and evaluate our culture, maybe you can see the point — agree or disagree.

While I know this article will probably never get the traction or shares as the first, I want you to walk away with the idea that discussion was created. I think it will continue for some time, which is healthy.

I'm not a fan of the term "fire porn" as it was something I heard 24 years ago as a rookie, and repeated often throughout my career — even by some who now are in disagreement with what I have said here. After this article, I won't use it in my writings again.

As I asked one of the editors when he would produce a prevention cover photo of his respective publication, he said it may take some time. Planting the seed was the first step.

Now, I challenge each of you, when you see the cover of your next magazine or watch the next video on the web, before you engage in strategy and tactical discussion, ask two questions:

  • How did it start?
  • What could have been done to prevent it?

We may not get the answer, but if we can incorporate some of that thought process, my goal would has been met.

Be safe!

About the author

Billy D. Hayes has served as the Director of Public Information and Community Affairs for the District of Columbia Fire and EMS Department and as the Chief of Fire Services for the City of Riverdale, Ga., and is a past-president of the Metro Atlanta Fire Chiefs Association. He is a graduate of Georgia Military College and the National Fire Academy's Executive Fire Officer Program. He additionally served as the Advocate Program Manager for the Everyone Goes Home campaign through the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation, where he was also a State and Region IV Advocate. Billy frequently writes and speaks on the topics of firefighter safety and fire prevention. In this column series, he will be outlining the 16 Firefighter Life Safety Initiatives – and what they mean for you and your department. He can be contacted via e-mail at Billy.Hayes@firerescue1.com.



Comments
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Burton -Carolyn Smith-Clark Burton -Carolyn Smith-Clark Tuesday, August 12, 2014 10:38:17 AM Billy, to take the discussion to a different level, every firefighter needs to define what the manifest identify of the fire service (“Fight Fire – Save Lives- Save Property”) means to them and how they translate meaning into action. This is a continuing process for all of us in our search for meaning in our personal and fire service lives. I tried to capture my personal searching with my last graduation speech at NFA. I begin with a 1910 quote from Chief Croker and end with my 2014 belief. The beauty and genius, in pictures or words, of humans are what is inside us. I think Ed and I would have been friends. “I have no ambition in this world but one, and that is to be a firefighter. The position may, in the eyes of some, appear to be a lowly one; but we who know the work which the firefighter has to do believe that his is a noble calling. There is an adage which says that, "Nothing can be destroyed except by fire." We strive to preserve from destruction the wealth of the world which is the product of the industry of men, necessary for the comfort of both the rich and the poor. We are defenders from fires of the art which has beautified the world, the product of the genius of men and the means of refinement of mankind. (But, above all; our proudest endeavor is to save lives of men-the work of God Himself. Under the impulse of such thoughts, the nobility of the occupation thrills us and stimulates us to deeds of daring, even at the supreme sacrifice. Such considerations may not strike the average mind, but they are sufficient to fill to the limit our ambition in life and to make us serve the general purpose of human society.” -- Chief Edward F. Croker FDNY circa 1910 Farewell to the National Fire Academy: Dr. Burton A. Clark, EFO April 18, 2014 After 44 years of service, this I believe. As a member of the fire service discipline, what I know and what I do not know has life and death consequences for me and others. Therefore, a fire service calling demands my highest level of professionalism. Our proudest moment is when we accept the fact that fire prevention, smoke alarms, and fire sprinklers will save more lives and property from fire than we ever will. Our noblest deeds of daring are measured by having the courage to do each task 100% correct 100% of the time, especially when others around us are not, because lives are at stake. Our supreme success is achieved when there is no injury, or death, or loss from fire. As firefighters we honor the past because many people and events have put us here today; we celebrate the precious present because we have accomplished much and tomorrow belongs to no one; and we believe in the future because that is where we will spend the rest of our lives serving the people and achieving our purpose. Thank God for firefighters. Thank you God for letting me be a firefighter. Class dismissed.
Dean Melanson Dean Melanson Tuesday, August 12, 2014 5:19:50 PM Very well stated. . . . Though I think you might be addicted to fire porn
Damon Corr Damon Corr Friday, August 15, 2014 7:16:28 PM In the UK prevention work is now fully embedded in our fire service culture. It was delivered to us in my brigade around fifteen years ago when an officer from the newly formed 'Community Fire Safety' section came to give us a briefing. He began by asking us all why we joined the job, and to a man we began the predictable replies of "to fight fires' and "save lives", he then wound us up a bit more by drilling from us what's best about fighting fires and we were all hyped up in responding with calls such as "busting the door in", "feeling the heat" and other such. Then he went a bit quiet and simply said 'what you mean doing stuff like this' and stepped aside to give us clear view of the incident footage he had just started on the screen. I won't go in to too much detail but five kids died in a two-up two-down domestic fire, and the footage showed all five being carried out, worked on by firefighters, medics and police and all five never responded to the emergency treatment. If there is such a thing as 'fire porn' then this was snuff movie quality and it shut us all up like we'd been struck dumb. Following the intense audio-visual attack on the senses he switched off the screen and then started to tell us about fire prevention. Although the effect was instant it took time for the reality to work its way in to our lives, but it has and prevention now takes up probably as much of our time as intervention. Without fail every week we carry out targeted Home Fire Safety Visits (HFSV) in domestic abodes, Operational Fire Safety Checks (OFSAC's) in business premises and Operational Risk Assessments (OPRA) which gives us the chance to both observe and advise on fire prevention and gather information to form pre-planning data to be accessed in the event of incidents in the future. One thing I remember that CFS officer stating back then was that if fire prevention works how will we know? How can we measure the number of times a member of the public didn't cause a fire because of something we taught them? It's hard to answer those questions, to provide measurable data, but then as parents do we not nurture our children how to conduct themselves as decent human beings as a preventative act, or should we just shrug our shoulders and deal with whatever might happen when they're running wild and wrecking their lives. And with children in mind is there one single firefighter of parental status that doesn't habitually educate their own kids how to prevent fires at home? If there is I'd be shocked. So if we're educating our own kids...who's educating the kids next door? I'm an eighteen year firefighter (Crew Manager) that will openly admit to suffering PTSD. If prevention hadn't failed then the incidents that manifest the darkest places in my soul would never have happened. Isn't prevention a better life choice for everybody?
Jon Marr Jon Marr Saturday, August 16, 2014 1:32:26 AM Well stated.
Ian Montgomery Ian Montgomery Saturday, August 16, 2014 8:43:25 PM In New Zealand a large and continuing effort is being put into fire prevention, programs engouraging, smoke alarms, home sprinklers, TV advertising about the risks from cooking and smoking in bed. The clearance of flamable material from around and under buildings. There are 2 programs Fire Wise & Fire Smart running country wide.
Jon Darryle Marsh Jon Darryle Marsh Sunday, August 17, 2014 4:59:29 AM Although retired physically from fighting fire, I'm certainly grateful to God for allowing me the mental capacity to fight fire through the encouragement of prevention techniques and tactics. Certainly there will be a need for fire suppression teams for as long as there is earth. No matter how many ounces of prevention, there will be a need for many pounds of cure for generations. The uncontrolled start of fire will never go away. Lightning, automobiles, railroads, terrorists, airplanes and cooks who fall asleep are just a few fire porn contributors, (and yes Billy, I hate that term) that will provide action needed to quench the desires of those who need a dose of screaming Q's, a gut full of smoke or a soot covered helmet. Although it seems like common sense that firefighters would be the experts of fire prevention in the United States, there doesn't seem to be any significant progress in over 100 years to hold that statement true. There are very few departments in the U.S. who spend a significant amount of money or time in teaching firefighters to be "prevention savvy." We desperately need "Fire Prevention Bureaus" along with "Code Enforcement" teams who proactively train and enforce...train= firefighters, public officials and children accordingly to cognitive levels of each...enforce= established, existing, or new fire prevention codes and laws. I love what you all are doing in Alabama concerning this issue!
Billy D. Hayes Billy D. Hayes Wednesday, August 27, 2014 6:32:05 PM My good friend and Editor in Chief of Fire Engineering Magazine sent me this email to post. He tried several times to post this and asked if I would do it for him... Billy, I agree with every word you have written here, as I did with 99% of your first blog on this topic, and as always you are spot on in your assessment. I thank you for your mention of our discussion in your blog, as Jon said so eloquently before me there are forces over which our best prevention efforts will never overcome. I think the term "porn" is where I have been misunderstood and where I failed to be sensitive to a really destructive and painful addiction. I do not like the term fire porn because of how destructive pornography addictions are to folks who get addicted to it. I wish we could come up with a better term for good, useful and instructive fire video and pictures as you so well describe in your blog. I have many times referred to fire videos as fire porn. Never being aware of the correlation I was making, it was an insensitive mistake on my part. I regret deeply if I offended anyone who is struggling with an addiction to pron or who has had their lives hurt by pornography. I also know you share the exact same sentiments. Sometime when we are going for humor we forget that things like pornography, alcohol and tobacco are incredibly addictive and those who are struggling with them are our brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, mothers and Dads. Great piece and thank you old friend. Love your insight and wisdom. Bobby

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