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Firefighter or civilian safety: Which takes priority these days?

Digging into the assertion that there needs to be a new search-and-rescue-focused culture in which civilian safety comes first

In this edition of “What’s YOUR Problem?” Deputy Chief Billy Goldfeder digs into the heated issue of firefighter safety culture and the assertion by some that there needs to be a new search-and-rescue-focused culture in which civilian safety comes first.

The issue is also addressed in the recent FireRescue1 article ‘It’s time to embrace a new culture – a culture of search and rescue’ by Chief Daniel Folks, who writes:

We need to search every fire. The incident commander should assign primary search no matter what. If it’s a light smoke condition, do a search! Even if the building is fully involved, the primary search team can do a 360 and check for victims in the yard or maybe find a searchable space to quickly handle vent-enter-isolate-search (VEIS).

Primary and secondary searches should be done even at a smoke investigation or fire alarm. Never pass up an opportunity to train in an unfamiliar environment. That one piece of knowledge or skill that you learned or passed up on learning could mean the difference between a successful and unsuccessful rescue of a child.

From the firefighter to the fire chief, we need to change the mindset and begin to bring the civilian back to the center of our focus. Combine all the task, tactics and strategies to focus on making sure we save our civilians. Show up, select the appropriate extinguishment tactics, and make sure a search is done.

This doesn’t mean we become reckless; it means we learn to do our job faster and more efficient, and that will lead to us being safer.

Let’s get water on the fire, a primary search started and the backup line protecting egress as quickly as staffing allows. We have PPE, our civilians do not.

Two firefighters standing in the yard as RIT will not make an impact on the fireground, but a backup team with a hoseline protecting the attack team and search team will have an impact. I am not saying we don’t need RIT, but it should not be prioritized over civilian rescue, especially at a residential dwelling fire. Seconds matter for our unprotected civilians.”

Check it out and let us know where you stand on the issue.

Do you have a question for Chief Goldfeder? Email or submit a question here.

Chief Billy Goldfeder, EFO, a firefighter since 1973, serves as deputy fire chief of the Loveland-Symmes (Ohio) Fire Department. He also serves as Lexipol’s senior fire advisor and is a member of the Fire Chief/FireRescue1 Editorial Advisory Board. Goldfeder is a member of the Board of Directors for several organizations: the IAFC, the September 11th Families Association and the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation (NFFF). He also provides expert review assistance to the CDC NIOSH Fire Fighter Fatality Investigation and Prevention Program. Goldfeder is the recipient of numerous operational and administrative awards, appointments and recognitions. He has served on several NFPA and IAFC committees, has authored numerous articles and books, and presented several sessions at industry events. Chief Goldfeder co-hosts the website
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