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Fire News in Focus
by Adam K. Thiel

Calif. save highlights 3 key issues

Firefighter near-miss and fatality reports are filled with instances where command, control, and coordination breakdowns were contributing factors

Editor's note: Earlier this week, San Rafael Chief Christopher Gray praised crews for "an aggressive, coordinated effort" that led to the rescue of an 80-year-old man from a house fire. Chief Gray added there were some "very important lessons learned. It was a textbook situation from our end." Check out the full story here and read FR1's Editorial Advisor Adam K. Thiel's take below.

The positive result of this incident demonstrates three related issues:

1. The value of fire prevention and life safety efforts

2. The importance of tactical coordination between companies working on a dynamic and challenging fireground

3. The need to identify lessons learned for all incidents, even (especially) the ones where everything goes right.

Even the best aggressive interior attack is often not enough to make a successful rescue; as Chief Gray suggests in this case, "we're all lucky he had a working smoke detector."

So many people either don't have smoke detectors, or have one with dead batteries. Fire departments that spend time on fire prevention and life safety education will often increase their chances of making the save(s), as well as providing a higher safety margin for both occupants and firefighters.

Firefighter near-miss, injury, and fatality reports are filled with instances where command, control, and coordination breakdowns were contributing factors in firefighter casualties.

By contrast, this incident offers an example of how coordinated fire attack, search and rescue, and ventilation operations led to a good outcome.

While this was by all accounts a textbook situation, Chief Gray still identifies that, "There were some very important lessons learned."

Firefighters tend to be hyper-critical and we generally do a great job finding things that went wrong; it's just as, if not more, important to identify things that went well on an incident during regular after-action reviews and post-incident analyses.

About the author

With more than two decades in the field, Chief Adam K. Thiel FireRescue1's editorial advisor is an active fire chief in the National Capital Region and a former state fire director for the Commonwealth of Virginia. Chief Thiel's operational experience includes serving with distinction in four states as a chief officer, incident commander, company officer, hazardous materials team leader, paramedic, technical rescuer, structural/wildland firefighter and rescue diver. He also directly participated in response and recovery efforts for several major disasters including the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Tropical Storm Gaston and Hurricane Isabel.

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