Recently a neighboring department had a fire that involved 2 structures. The department called for mutual aid from 2 neighboring departments and together made a great stop with no one getting hurt. Later, after the situation was mitigated the Chief used social media to express how proud he was of the team for their aggressive stop. Well as happens many times on the internet it lead to a discussion about why must we be aggressive…..aggressive gets people hurt…….its irresponsible to risk firefighter lives. It led me to consider is being aggressive reckless? In a time when we fight fewer structure fires and have faster burning buildings is it wrong to be aggressive?
As I delved into this topic I feel like we must first understand the meanings of “aggressive” and “reckless”. The Webster Meriam Dictionary defines Aggressive as:
1a: tending toward or exhibiting aggression
b: marked by combative readiness
2a: marked by obtrusive energy and self-assertiveness rude, aggressive personality
b: marked by driving forceful energy or initiative : ENTERPRISING an aggressive salesman
Webster also defines reckless as:
1: marked by lack of proper caution : careless of consequences
2: IRRESPONSIBLE reckless charges
Notice these two words are not synonyms, neither word is in the definition of the other. They in fact have no where near the same meaning.
So can we be aggressive without being reckless? First what is an aggressive fire department? In my mind an aggressive department is a culture. The upper level command staff has empowered line officers to be decisive, supports their decisions, and provides them the training to make sound decisions. This “aggressive” department trains their firefighters from day one to be prepared. they spend time on topics like building construction, fire flow path, pump operations, scene size-up, and understanding engine and truck company ops. You won’t hear phases like ” That won’t happen here” ……” I took that class years ago”….. or my personal favorite” We’ve done it this way for 25 years.” They are always striving for perfection knowing its unattainable. When these firefighters pull up on scene he come off the truck, dressed out, tool in hand, ready to go to work. The officer makes a size-up, The engine guys stretch the line to the door, the truck company prepares for the search and ventilation. Decisions are made and everyone is working off the same sheet of music. How many time have you been on a scene that was like a grade school band concert? You know what I mean, yeah, all the kids are playing their instrument and the notes on the sheet but the timing is off and it doesn’t sound right. Well, an aggressive department works and trains so the timing is right and everyone knows their job and when it needs to be done.
What is a reckless department? I don’t think there are many intentionally reckless departments out there. I think most departments are well intentioned. I do feel like a department that doesn’t spend time on the previously mentioned topics may end up making reckless decisions. Without understanding building construction or flow path how can IC make the determination whether and interior offensive attack is appropriate, whether to send a vent crew to the roof, or are there tenable spaces for potential victims. Not having skilled firefighters who are well trained and having set procedures regardless of conditions is reckless, not having well trained officers is reckless, having to wait for Chief, Assistant Chief, or Battalion Chief to start identifying strategic objectives is reckless. I was standing with a group of firefighters one afternoon at an event. A longtime firefighter whom had been an officer was telling me of an incident where they rolled the engine with himself, a 6 month probie, and a guy who was issued gear 3 days earlier. They arrived on scene and made an interior, offensive attack. When I asked why his response was that that’s the way they fight fire and you need to be aggressive with your attack…….That’s not aggressive, its RECKLESS!
I will go to battle with an aggressive firefighter who comes off the truck, tools ready and is smart enough to recognize potential hazard. A passive, unconfident firefighter make me nervous. Many time we see a professional athlete injured when the outcome has been decided and the effort is not where it should be. I want my crew to be giving 100% effort 100% of the time. I want them to be knowledgeable, physically fit, and confident. I want them to be AGGRESSIVE.