Preparing For The Future With Lessons From The Past

Like many of you, the events of the last week caused me to pause and mourn with my brothers on the other side of the country.


Like many of you, the events of the last week caused me to pause and mourn with my brothers on the other side of the country. A tear came to my eye as I read about the incident that tore three brave members of the Coos Bay, Oregon Fire Department from our midst.

As is my way, I reviewed the comments for clues as to what might have occurred. Many of the usual comments were there about how suddenly it all happened, and how danger was present. However, I saw one comment in particular that caught my attention.

As I have often stated, it is not my way to do any form of Monday morning quarter backing, but sometimes people say things that give me pause to stop and ponder. Bear in mind that I work the educational side of the street. I want to learn what went wrong so that it can be shared with those of us who stand ready to respond in our own communities.

Having said all of this, I had to wonder why a couple of the department members would choose to utter the words attributed to them in a Firehouse.com article. They were both quoted as stating almost the exact same phrase, "I never thought it would happen here." At first blush, it seems like the right thing to say. However, would you really want to say that you could not envision any situation where a member of your department would die in a fire in your community? I have buried friends, so I know that it can happen.

It seems to me that far too many amongst us labor under the mistaken impression that we are all immune from the grip of death. We operate with an ongoing sense of na?vet?. Just as most citizens will tell you that fire happens to the other person, firefighters will tell you that death and serious injuries happen to others, but not to them. While we may not dwell on the topic, we should acknowledge that the potential always exists.

A similar thought seems to be running through the world of fire training. It seems to me that there are those in the world of training who perceive that they and their sidekicks are immune from the laws of physics and chemistry. During the past year or so, two firefighters were killed in a live fire-training incident in a southern state; subsequently the incident was duly investigated by that state.

After a summary of the investigation report was posted on the Internet, my phone began to ring off of the hook. A number of people quickly called me to tell me that one sentence jumped out at them during their review of the summary. It involved the unanticipated consequences of tossing a foam rubber mattress in the burn equation. I believe someone actually stated in that summary that they did not foresee the negative impact of introducing foam rubber into a burn environment, or words to that effect.

This is not acceptable. Certain facts have been known for many years now. One of these facts involves the prohibition on the use of foam rubber in training fires. Expecting no impact from adding foam rubber to a fire would be somewhat akin to me going into my favorite fast-food restaurant on a daily basis, gorging myself on their tastiest treats, and then wondering why my pants were getting tight. Sorry gang, but I have to set the record straight here. There are certain actions that will always produce predictable reactions.

There is this seeming lack of reality when it comes to thinking about death and serious injuries. Death is something that happens to others, is it not? People get killed in New York, Boston, and Chicago. That stuff just doesn?t happen here in my town. It is one thing to act bravely; it is another to be foolhardy. We all hope that we will have the courage to act when the time comes. However, far too many people venture out to the end of the tree limb on a daily basis, and then begin sawing off the branches while they are sitting on them.

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