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POV: Go/no-go decisions simply can’t be litigated on social media

If you have a problem with the tactics in another organization, get over it, get over yourself and move on


Some fires, simply because of size and type of building, fire load and state of fire on arrival, predetermine the decision of go or no-go for us. A large furniture warehouse heavily involved on arrival is a no-go for interior attack. Defensive operations with master streams and larger handlines directed to cut off further extension should be the priority over a direct interior attack. While most would say this a “no-go” fire, that does not necessarily mean the entire building. If there is tenable space, that space must be searched for victims and then it must be protected from extension.

Photo/Chris DelBello

There’s a lot of rhetoric on the internet and social media these days regarding go/no-go situations. It’s a daily bash-fest at times. Most of the debates I see are some keyboard warriors bashing other firefighters or smaller organizations on social media over tactical decisions. I may know unquestionably where I stand tactically, but I find it difficult to voice my opinions for a few reasons:

  • The department being bashed perhaps could have done more at the incident, but we really don’t know all the facts surrounding their tactics. We simply don’t know the individual firefighters’ training and experience.
  • I have seen from experience that the keyboard warriors are often far more aggressive online than they likely have ever been on the actual fireground.
  • I know my capabilities. I know my crew’s capabilities. We train regularly together. The same, however, cannot be said for over 80% of the fire service. Add an additional 10-15% for the crews who think they know it all and don’t train based on their inflated sense of their abilities.
  • I want no part in feeling responsible for the death of a 19-year-old firefighter with no real training who reads some social media post about how they “should” be fighting fire, all because someone with 20-30 years of experience and training is pushing tactics for which that young firefighter is simply not prepared.

My recommendation to the instructors yelling about what everyone “should” be doing: You do you, but quit making everyone else feel like they must follow in your exact footsteps. Remember, many fire departments in this country have no formal training program or any decent budget for training, and most are small volunteer organizations. When your words and videos hit their eyes and ears and they run off into something they have never experienced, you hold some responsibility in putting them in that position.

Now, let’s dig into the matter at hand: Go/no-go decision-making.

The universal question

Go or no go? That is the question on every fire. However, it’s never for me or you or anyone else to decide for someone else or some other organization. Go or no go for any individual will be based on their experience, abilities and departmental guidelines – a far more complex process than can be encompassed by the one-line zingers or catchphrases we see online or the battles that ignite on social media.

I like to consider myself an aggressive fire officer, always at the busy station, always pushing training, always looking for a good fight on the fireground. However, through real career growth and leadership, I have learned that we are not all alike. For one, you will never see me bashing any organization or individual on social media related to their tactical decision-making.

Why? The fire service doesn’t belong to me or any of the keyboard warriors or conference speakers. It is the American fire service and, like America, it is made up of many different types of people from many different walks of life. No matter how much you shout on social media, our training programs and organizational abilities are different.

For example, consider one department that has 30 members and operates with a $58,000 operating budget. Now consider a neighboring department that has full staffing (plus a waiting list) and an operating budget approaching $1 million.

My volunteer organization was made up of mostly of a handful of hardcore volunteer lifers and full-time firefighters from one of the largest fire departments in the country. To look at us from the outside, you wouldn’t think much of us; however, we were aggressive on the fireground and typically stopped the fire where we found it with fewer than six members on scene.

The much larger and better funded neighboring organization made up of volunteers with regular 9-5 jobs could have long parades with their apparatus fleet, but on the fireground, they were timid and fought the fire from a distance or areas of protection. Defensive operations were the default mode.

It might not be intuitive, but the small department in this example has more experience with interior fire operations than the big one. Outsiders might see a story online about either department and make assumptions about their abilities and training, what they should or shouldn’t do – all because they don’t actually know anything about those two departments.

Bottom line: No matter the size or approach of your department, we do what we can do based on our experience, abilities and training.

A question of comfort

Who are we to judge and ridicule another firefighter or organization on their tactics or level or aggression?

The answer is simple really: We can’t and we shouldn’t. Our opinions are based on our individual training and experiences. And guess what? Our training is different and our experience is different based on where we work and how we were trained.

We cannot smash our keyboards and yell from the farthest reaches of the internet about how an organization should have entered a structure if we do not know their training program or lack thereof. We cannot berate an organization or individual without knowing the experience level of that IC or firefighter making those decisions.

Part of the confusion and complexity with this topic comes down to a contingent of members who have pushed the mindset that anyone can be a firefighter, that firefighter safety comes before civilian safety, and the word “aggressive” is bad. Who would’ve ever guessed that semantics would play such a significant role in fireground tactics?

Fortunately, most of us understand that aggression is what it takes to breach the threshold of a door that has thick black smoke pumping out under pressure and then push through to the seat of the fire in zero visibility. You cannot do this job without a lot of good aggressive tactics or at least a lot of luck. As we know, luck will eventually run out, and the true abilities of an individual firefighter or an organization will be on full display.

Individual go/no-go decision-making is not a simple decision for some members. To the well-trained, well-versed and experienced firefighters, there is rarely a time that they will have difficulty in making that decision; however, they may be impeded by an IC who has less experience or actual tactical training than a well-seasoned officer. Having said that, how can we judge the IC if he is following departmental guidelines? We may not like how they handle the fire, but let’s face it, we are not in a position to tell the chief they are a hack and expect to keep our jobs. And maybe the chief is right about not going in. We don’t always know better.

Side note: If you have a problem with the tactics in your own organization, don’t take your issue to media, discussing it with people you don’t even know. Take it to your organization. Request an audience with your leaders. You might not get what you want, but at the very least, it’s with the correct audience. Work on your organization before judging another organization.

If you have a problem with the tactics in another organization, get over it, get over yourself and move on. It’s really none of your business and, frankly, not even your place to say what their tactics should be. Again, you do not know their training program or the individual members’ experiences.

The go/no-go debate will be with us forever simply because no matter how many tabletop classes or seminars one attends, the decision will always boil down to individual comfort level. One’s individual comfort level is based on their training and experience. The more a firefighter lacks in either area, the higher the likelihood of them choosing a less aggressive tactic. If a company officer’s or IC’s experiences and training are lacking on the subject, we know they are already behind the 8 ball, and they will likely never catch up tactically in a timely manner or at all if they are seeing things differently. This fact will ring true for the life of the fire service.

Stop judging

So, go or no go? It’s up to the individual, but for the sake of the fire service, please stop bashing these departments that decide “no-go,” especially if you’re only seeing it through the lens of a social media post.

You should know and understand that no organization is the same as the next. I work in a department where no single district works the same, so to expect the entire fire service to share the same views is entirely impractical. Such shortsighted thinking only shows those around you that you lack common sense about fireground decision-making.

Go or no-go situations and decision-making require training and experience, and Monday morning quarterbacking a still image or short video clip on social media helps no one.

Train your crews to the level that they can make the decision as a team. You’re not going to change the fire service on Facebook.

Be safe.

Chris DelBello is a 31-year veteran of the fire service. He currently holds the rank of senior captain with the Houston Fire Department, working in the Midtown District. He is also the district training officer, which encompasses all the stations in downtown and midtown, and holds a Training Officer II certification. DelBello also serves as a captain with the Fort Bend County (Texas) Emergency Service District. Connect with DelBello via email.