Did We Create Our Own Problem? – Repost

This is a repost from The Fire Science Blog

I recently stumbled across a forum post on the Fire Engineering Community entitled “Safe and Aggressive?” After reading and giving some thought, I’ll reply.

Bobby Halton is right, many teachers of firefighter safety have either intentionally or unintentionally made aggressive synonymous with reckless and careless. I think the best way to examine the vilification of aggressive operations is to look at what causes those teachers of overly cautious approaches to think that way.

The decline in fires over the past 20 years has led to a drying up of base knowledge of the “why” component of a lot of what we do, so we get concepts taught but not understood or fully explained, and hard lessons learned. I think this is partially to blame for the “Risk Nothing, Ever” type of safety models we see emerge. Knee jerk reactions to hard lessons learned and people are scared to make the same decision that had a negative result, but like the military we occasionally have to send people to and be sent into harms way. This lacks in fire officer training and firefighter training, that there is always a risk but through proper training we can reduce the risk by producing a standard response. The military teaches soldiers to kill by recreating the battlefield in a controlled environment, yet we teach people how to be firefighters in situations that are nothing like the real thing.

So as a result of training that is not so realistic, we get firefighters hurt by sending them into environments that they are neither ready for nor are they experienced enough to encounter. We get imprinting, they begin following the lead of the older generation with little explanation as to why they do what they do. Young firefighters assume that they must act this way every time, and so they do. What was aggressive operations is still aggressive, but is not done with skill, finesse, or professionalism of the previous generation. Recklessness ensures, more injuries occur. The chiefs above, seeing more and more injuries, become more cautious and what they see as an increase in danger potential is actually a generational gap forming.

I think aggressive should be augmented with other words. Fire operations should be aggressive, as well as coordinated, intelligent, and well practiced. The only way to get to those other words is through proper education and training.