Company Level Training: Honoring the Charleston Nine by Training

How should we honor the nine brave souls that lost their lives in a retail South Carolina warehouse fire on Monday, June 18, 2007? Should we hang banners, place special stickers on our rigs, or wear commemorative t-shirts? Should we "Monday morning quarterback" this incident? "If command would have just done this, if the officers would have just noticed this, if the building would have just had this." So how do we go about honoring our fallen brothers in not just an appropriate way, but a truly meaningful way?

As firefighters riding on fire trucks that go out on incidents everyday, we don't have the luxury of finding fault with what another crew does. We all live in glass houses. We should leave that to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF), fire chiefs, and people looking to make a name for themselves through a tragic incident. These are our brothers, our fallen brothers. Do we really want to drag their good names through the mud? Of course we don't; were a family, and families stick together in tough times.

What about the shirts, banners, stickers and all the other stuff that will come along? There's nothing wrong with all that stuff. But what is the best way to honor these men who gave their lives while doing their jobs? Learn from them. Not blame them, not second guess them; learn from them.

I have three little boys who I am constantly telling them, "If you do something and you don't get the outcome that you want, it's not a mistake, it's a learning opportunity. Do the same thing again, with the same outcome, then it's a mistake." That describes this situation perfectly. This is a learning opportunity for all of us. Everyone.

As an officer, you should be pulling up the mountain of video that is available, showing it to your crew, and asking them about it. If they were in that situation, what would they be thinking? This is the perfect time to train with your crew. Use either the video that is available or the facts of an article to discuss the different circumstances and actions taken by those that were on a particular scene to enhance the training that you are currently doing. Any fire scene, especially ones with extraordinary events like a mayday or flashover, can be used as a training tool.

There are a number of topics that can be covered from just about any fire event that is covered by the media. Discuss the venting of a commercial roof. Discuss trying to perform as a rapid intervention team at a commercial structure fire. How about being asked to perform search and rescue in a large building? You could talk about the breaching of walls or the different uses of a thermal imager. You can review the techniques for the removal of a civilian trapped by fire. Discuss the removal of burglar bars.

Officers should not be the only people responsible for using an incident as a learning tool. Firefighters riding on the back are just as capable of pulling video from one of any number of websites, and simply asking questions. If you don't think your officer would be willing to answer any questions, ask a senior member on the truck. If a senior member is not available, ask someone from a different shift. Ask your battalion chief, hell, ask the fire chief. Ask someone. Use these videos to brainstorm with crew members that have the same amount of time on as you do. Maybe they will notice something that you missed.

Battalion chiefs in charge of multiple stations could share these videos and stories with their officers. Officers can reach their crew; battalion chiefs can reach any number of crews. My battalion chief has sent me multiple e-mails concerning this incident. He brought it up in an officers meeting that we recently had. He was able to reach eight officers with one mention of a few facts from Charleston.

The point is this; we should all be using the incidents that occur around the nation as training tools. It doesn't have to always be a line of duty death incident. On Wednesday, June 20th, three Houston firefighters were hospitalized after having to call a mayday inside of a three-story house fire. Three Boston firefighters were injured on June 19 when a third floor porch collapsed on top of them as they stood on a second floor porch. These are all incidents that we can learn from. Use them as a training tool to discuss the different topics that you are currently training on. These incidents will give your training a different twist and should make the points that you are trying to make, hit home even more.

Once again, I'm not saying and I'm not going to say that anyone did anything wrong. I wasn't on scene, I wasn't on the hoseline, and I did not have command of the incident. But ask yourself this, if we could talk to the Charleston Nine and ask them if they would want a different outcome, what do you think they would say? We all know they would want an outcome that sent them home at the end of their shift, to their families and loved ones. So what would they do differently? Unfortunately, they will never be able to answer that question. It is up to each and every one of us to answer it for them. That way, if we are ever presented with a similar set of circumstances, we take the appropriate actions and hopefully have a different outcome, one that would make them proud of each and every one of us. Don't find fault in them, they were doing their jobs just like you and I do everyday. There is no fault to be found of the men that went into the Sofa Super Store in Charleston, SC. Just learn from them. May their souls rest in everlasting peace.

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Larry Manasco has been with the Fort Worth, TX, Fire Department for 13 years and has served as a lieutenant for the past three years. He holds the classification of Fire Officer I and Hazardous Materials Technician. He currently works in one of the busiest engine companies in Fort Worth. He has worked for Firehouse World in San Diego where he was an assistant instructor for FDNY Battalion Chief Salka's "Get Out Alive" H.O.T. class. View Larry's recent webcast: Company Level Training on Firehouse TrainingLIVE. You can contact Larry by e-mail at