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Warning: This article is intended to push your buttons; it may even offend you. The truth is often uncomfortable and meaningful change requires courage. It is time for the fire service to take a step back and ask: What are we thinking? This multi-part series provides a “fly-over” perspective of the structural fireground landscape that reveals problems, factors consensus recommendations and offers fresh solutions that enable you, the first-on-scene fire officer, to nail your first-due strategic responsibility.
Part 1: The Traditional Stampede to Tactics And the Glaring Omission of Strategy
If you read fire service publications and training manuals or attend conferences and training seminars, you have discovered conflicting information and that some instructors ignore standards and mandates – for example, some suggest that the initial incident commander operate on a hoseline. And for more than a decade, we have been investing training time and money to make sure firefighters know how to “save themselves.” Why haven’t we invested that time and money to make sure fire officers know how to keep firefighters from getting into trouble in the first place?
Why is the emphasis of the fire service on reactive tactics rather than proactive strategies? The answer is simple: aggressive tactics are easy; proactive strategy is difficult. It is time to recalibrate; to reboot the “system.” This series focuses on the concept of aggressive strategy, in particular aggressive strategy by the first-on-scene company officer. We begin by identifying “The Problem” and establish a case for changing how the first on-scene fire officer does business. We also identify the first-due company officer’s role and responsibility and plant the seeds for an “Aggressive Strategy Initiative.” Subsequently, we offer “The Solution to The Problem,” a structured and systematic “Four Box” first-due methodology designed so that you will nail your first-due strategic responsibility every time, provide scenario exercises that demonstrate “The Solution” and finally address the issue of command as it pertains to the first-due officer.
We assure you that “The Solution” will solve “The Problem” and comply with applicable National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) standards and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) mandate.
Imagine a fire service today that for generations had cultivated a proud history and tradition of aggressive strategy. If imagination were reality, many fine people would be alive today. The reason that a proud history and tradition of aggressive strategy does not exist is simple: The execution of good strategy is much more difficult than the execution of great tactics.
Not convinced? Revisit the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) reports on firefighters who died because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time (exclude apparatus-related and physiologic fatalities.) Notice that botched tactics do not kill firefighters; it is always inappropriate strategy – no size-up, no risk-benefit analysis, no action plan, no accountability, no incident commander at a command post, nobody watching the clock, inadequate resources, span of control out of control, failure to factor building construction and fire location, failure to factor escalating fire conditions, etc. Being caught in the wrong place at the wrong time has strategic roots. Doing the same thing again hoping for a different outcome is the definition of stupid.
The fire service must embrace and nurture a proud tradition of aggressive strategy. The only way to make this happen is for your fire department to ensure – through clearly articulated expectations backed up with training – that your officers function as officers (leaders, supervisors, mentors). Laissez-faire tactics are much easier than disciplined supervision.