Recently, I was working on a pre-incident plan and drill at a local pharmacy. As I went through the building with the manager, she looked at me and asked, "At two in the morning, when there's nobody here, you're not actually going to put anybody in this building to put the fire out, right?"
One of the most significant skills fireground commanders should possess is one they can obtain before arriving on scene.
Regardless of my response two facts remained.
The first is that she asked the question. I mean really? Do you think a lot of business owners even give this consideration? And since she had considered it, and she had decided that the value of the property and its contents didn't warrant our entry, who were we do decide differently?
This building had a nice-sized parking lot and plenty of room between the B and D exposures. It had a metal truss roof and, due to the narcotics, had some very serious locks and security devices that would have slowed horizontal vent or entry.
Quite frankly even a low heat but smoky fire would have destroyed the contents, and any fire generating high heat would have likely destroyed or at least damaged the trusses. The building would be torn down with any significant fire.
Plan beyond the building
I'm not suggesting we write off all pharmacies. I am suggesting putting some forethought into the pre-incident plan that involves not just the buildings, but the intent and desire of the community.
What is your community willing to loose? How far are you willing to push? Are the two thoughts in sync? If not, you have some discussions that need to occur.
Too many departments collectively strut around stating that they can arrive with a certain amount of staffing and perform a certain amount of fireground duties. And quite frankly they are lying to themselves and their community.
And, that's not OK. They aren't going to show up with the right staffing or training to carry out what they suggested to the public, and themselves, they can do.
Knowing who we are
There are departments in my state that simply don't do interior attack. If you have a fire, they will attack it from the outside untill it's flooded, then ask a mutual aid department to head in and mop it up. Some departments do this intentionally, some simply don’t make the push.
For those departments that intentionally choose this path of attack, there are many who would chastise them, but there's something to be said for their honesty. They don't march around claiming to be something they are not
They are good honest members of the community doing the best they can with what they have. And interestingly, because they are honest about what they do, their training plans, equipment and activities reflect it. They are good at it and they meet they safety requirements for what they do.
We run into trouble when we are not honest, when we claim to be something where not or trained to be. When we are no longer doing this for the community we swore to protect, that's when we ask, who are we doing this for?
Tom LaBelle serves as an assistant chief with the Wynantskill (N.Y.) Fire Department where he is responsible for training. He has been employed by the New York State Association of Fire Chiefs since 1995. Prior to joining NYSAFC, Asst. Chief LaBelle served as the legislative director for the New York State Assembly's Sub Committee on Fire Protection Services. He provides support for career and volunteer departments from the nations largest to smallest. He currently sits as a voting member on the NFPA 1720 committee. He is a certified fire instructor and fire officer. Chief LaBelle can be reached via email at Tom.Labelle@FireRescue1.com.
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