Realities of the fireground

It is important that we balance the risk without avoiding it


Editor's note: We're pleased to announce FireRescue1 friend and columnist Charles Bailey has authored his first book, "Discussions For Fire Service Personnel," which is available in both paperback and digital formats. Check out Charles' archive of columns for a flavor of his work for us – and head to Lulu.com to order his book of new, original content.

By Charles Bailey

I was recently in Eugene, Oregon, where I met a couple of fire service thinkers, Capt. Brian Smith and Chief Joe Zaludek. Over the course of four days we drove through Eugene and the surrounding areas drinking coffee and talking about fires.

I even took in a small dwelling fire and ate a wrap (a rolled up sandwich). It was nice to visit a fire department where a senior captain was drilling on hand line deployment on a Sunday afternoon with his crew and where a young officer up for promotion was put through a battery of severe tests, including live burns, in preparation for his final officer test.

Part of our discussion centered on conducting risk/benefit analysis and how that works and how it should be done. Capt. Smith showed me some pictures of a rip- roaring, rocking house fire.

It was obvious that no one would be able to survive inside. Using anyone's risk/benefit analysis tool, you would have come up with the same answer; no one could survive that.

Then he showed me the pictures of the aftermath, the rooms remote from the fire with closed doors, no soot on the walls and not a shred of heat damage anywhere.

These were rooms where it is obvious that people should have been able to survive. But like I said, "Using anyone's risk/benefit analysis tool, you would have come up with the same answer; no one could survive that."

Though the decision to enter a burning building and the decision to search that building are distinct decisions, we must search every structure we enter. We must not write people off too quickly.

It is important that we balance the risk without avoiding it; that we understand that while flames are impressive, they are the smallest part of our concern. We must learn to engage using nimble, adaptive structures and to make adjustments as necessary.

In our efforts to be safer, we risk irrelevance. If instead we seek to be smarter, safer will come as a matter of course. The only way to get there I think is by spending more time studying fire behavior, by coming to truly understand the behavior of the physical processes that we see before us.

But even after we have a solid grounding in fire behavior, it is important that we understand the truth of Eugene Fire's SOP 3-4-15, "…Command must not lose sight of the very simple and basic fireground reality that at some point firefighters must engage and fight the fire.” The whole of it is that simply said.

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