Don't Believe Everything You Read

By Charles Bailey


But it does bring about a valid point: Just because someone says something and just because you read it on the Internet, on a blog, or in a magazine or book does not necessarily make it true.

The Internet world and its assortment of blogs and sites is what it is, but in the end the responsibility for critical filtering lies with the reader. A reader must approach each article he/she reads with a critical mind.

I write from the perspective of my past. I was a volunteer chief officer for many years. I went to some fires. Before that I rode the seat as the engine captain on a lot of fires. I have put out a few in my day, but does that make me an expert? What if I have been making the same dumb mistakes over and over and have yet to get caught? I personally don't think so but I admit that it's possible. I have also been a career firefighter, medic and officer, but still that does not mean much.

I spent the vast majority of my time in the same two departments. While I have traveled, my intimate experience is limited to these two departments. It just so happens that they both go to a good number of fires. It so happens that the science behind fires is the same everywhere. It so happens that no matter where you go, you have to get the right rate of water being applied to the burning surfaces before the fire goes out. The rest is up for discussion. So it goes.

Own circumstances
The onus is on the reader to take what I and others say on paper, analyze it, flip it over, compare it to their experience, and then act based not on what we say alone, but rather by taking what we say or don't say and molding it to their unique set of circumstances.

My two most recent columns, one about NIMS, and one about mobile home fires both created a bit of a stir. Those who criticized my NIMS article did not read it. I didn't say NIMS is bad, I said NIMS has limits. That NIMS has limits must be true because all systems have limits. Those who took issue with my discussion of mobile home fires argue that a line through a window is a bad idea. It may be, but no one can prove either that or prove the converse.

 This job of fighting fires is much too dangerous to take everything you read at face value.

When we act on the fireground or other emergency scene we must take everything that we have been taught and compare it against the unique set of circumstances we face. We must take all that we hear and read and compare it to our SOPs and the practices of our parent organizations. In other words there is more work to be done than simply reading an article on the Internet or watching a video.

The challenge is to become a critical reader. You must weigh what you hear, keeping what makes sense and throwing the rest in the trash. There are some situations that scream for extra attention. Articles that say "always" and "never" are probably wrong because few things are either always or never true.

When you see the words always and never BEWARE! Another situation that screams BEWARE is folks who do not provide any supporting information for what they say. For example, if someone likes me says that the first line extinguishes 95 percent of all fires within a few seconds, you should quickly realize that I have no way to prove that. In other words I am using anecdotal data and personal experience to make a point, and you are silly if you base your life on that alone.

Impressive titles
Finally, don't be automatically impressed by titles and organization names. Who cares if I am a captain here or there, who cares if I am from the Chicago FD, FDNY, or a small rural town in Idaho that runs 43 calls per year? It does not matter if FDNY uses a 2.5" attack line on their fires if you don't have the staffing to stretch one or the training to use it. What does it matter that my volunteer department uses 1.5” hose in their standpipe pack if you don’t understand why?

In the fire service, opinions are plentiful and I am no exception. For almost any circumstance I have some notion about how I think it should go. You can listen to me if you want, but after I am done talking or you are done reading the real work begins. Ask yourself how what I offer would work in your system. Ask yourself if my science makes sense. Read some of the references that I offer. I sometimes spend an entire afternoon chasing references from articles. Ask yourself if what I say is repeatable in your world.

I cannot promise what I say in my columns is perfect or that my science is always right. However, I do take the time to look for what other people have said and done in the same arenas. I chase references. I call people. I ask questions, and I even change my mind when presented with sound arguments.

This job of fighting fires is much too dangerous to take everything you read at face value. This job of firefighting is a lot of hard work, made even harder if you ask why all the time?

We owe it to ourselves and to our communities to continually improve our operational proficiency and efficiency. We can do neither if we never challenge what we know. Remember at one point in history the leading scientists of the day would have laughed us out of the room if we said the earth revolved around the sun or that the world was a sphere with a flat top and bottom. One day future generations might laugh at the fact that we actually stretched hoses full of water into vacant burning houses. Maybe they are laughing now.

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