Speak Up: Tactical Vs. Strategic Decision-Making on Arrival

I have been using elements of Chief Mark Emery’s series “How to Nail Your First-Due Responsibility” to reinforce the importance of distinguishing between tactical and strategic-level decision-making in the minds of our first-arriving officers.

One of the frequent requests that at this point has remained unanswered is for the development of a checklist to guide their decision-making. I have been somewhat reluctant to provide one because most existing tools tend to either be so generic that they are of little practical value or conversely are so detailed that decision-makers get lost in the weeds of tactical-level concerns.

Chief Mark Emery’s articles have been well conceived and at times quite thought provoking. Thank for your fine work.

Joseph De Francisco

Fire Coordinator

Madison County Fire and Rescue

Wampsville, NY

Arrival reports

I’ve been enjoying reading Mark Emery’s multi-part series, “How to Nail Your First-Due Strategic Responsibility” regarding the duties of initial-arriving fire officers

It seems like we, as company officers, are stretched so thin on the fireground that we do botch our arrival reports because we’re in a mad dash to get a thousand things done in two minutes – with less staffing. I thank and applaud Chief Emery for the work he is doing for us.

Beau Gardner


Port Orange Fire Rescue

Port Orange, FL

Predictable equals preventable

I am writing to express our office’s thanks to Firehouse® and to one of your contributors, Daniel Byrne, for his excellent article “Global Lessons: Bringing Fire Prevention Home” featured on your website (http://www.firehouse.com/article/10863663/global-lessons-bringing-fire-prevention-home). This article, as with Dan’s previous submissions, continues to emphasize that the fire service must take responsibility for shifting its collective mindset from suppression to prevention. A firefighter I knew once very perceptively stated that there is no honor in fighting a fire that should have been prevented (through education). Dan’s article clearly supports this remark.

Although there will always be a need for fire suppression and rescue, it is consistent fire safety education that will ultimately have the most profound effect in reducing loss of life and property from fire – including the lives of our firefighters.

Admittedly, the fire problem ultimately belongs to the entire community (in fact, it is, as Dan stated, an issue global in scope), and the fire department alone cannot have a long-lasting impact in reducing fires without a buy-in as to public fire safety/prevention education, code enforcement and promotion of home fire sprinklers. However, Dan makes an undeniable point that predictable equals preventable. We cannot keep calling predictable and therefore preventable fires “accidents” as though they were random, unplanned events. In fact, what we call accidents are many times actually bad judgments people make about safety in general.

If we as the fire service are aware of the primary causes of fire within our communities, and do not go far enough with education, we are in part culpable. No, we can’t do it alone, but until we back up our efforts to stemming the main cause of fire – human behavior – we will continue to needlessly jeopardize the lives of our firefighters, as well as the public.

Carol Nolte

Public Education Officer

West Virginia State

Fire Marshal’s Office

Charleston, WV

Education: A secondary means of egress

You are a firefighter. You train during every shift in the valuable areas of hoseline deployments, VES, RIT/self-rescue, truck company operations and the like. You work to improve your firehouse and the tools you operate with. You are a proactive firefighter who takes pride and ownership in your career. You train with your engine company working on communication, teamwork and learning each other’s strengths and weaknesses. You identify weaknesses and train on them. You preplan strategic structures and learn your first-due zone like the back of your hand. You know what needs to be done on a fire scene and you do it. You do it well. You stay busy with proactive tasks and always err on the side of caution. You are aware of the term “tunnel vision” and you consciously avoid it on the fire scene. Sound familiar?

What you may fail to realize is that although you are aware of tunnel vision on a micro scale, you are guilty of it on a macro scale. You’re concerned with getting tunnel vision on a single fire scene, on a single shift; yet, that is but a microscopic fraction of a long timeline. An average professional fire service career lasts 25 years. It is possible to suffer from tunnel vision with respect to the longevity of your career.

For example, on a structure fire scene you are tasked with interior operations. As you make entry into the structure you already have, in your head, a means of secondary egress. Whether it be a laddered window on the second floor and RIT crew standing by at the Bravo-Charlie corner, you have a second means of egress. What is your second means of egress with regards to the macro scale?

Firefighting is a dangerous profession. No matter how many National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) guidelines and safe practices are followed, this profession comes with risk and we all know it. So, what if you find yourself in the unfortunate position of having suffered a back injury, for example? What is your backup plan? What is your secondary means of egress? I know at 19 years old I had not given it much thought; but, just like on the micro scale of a three-hour fire scene, it is an important consideration when entering a dangerous 25-year career.

The following excerpt is from an article published on the NFPA website:

“NFPA estimates that 70,090 firefighter injuries occurred in the line of duty in 2011. An estimated 30,505 (43.5%) of the all firefighter injuries occurred during fireground operations. An estimated 13,295 occurred during other on-duty activities, while 14,905 occurred at non-fire emergency incidents. The leading type of injury received during fireground operations was strain, sprain or muscular pain (50.7%), followed by wound, cut, bleeding, bruise (14.5%).” (Michael J. Karter Jr. and Joseph L. Molis, “Firefighter Injuries in the United States.” National Fire Protection Association, October 2012. www.nfpa.org)

You can train on fireground operations and personal fitness every minute of every shift and still only marginally minimize the risk of this career. A single back injury can not only end your fire service career, but also limit your options outside of fire-rescue. You will find it hard to use your EMT certification to earn a living outside of the fire service and not be forced to spend a substantial amount of time on your feet, for example.

The solution is a balanced continuing of education. If you only concern yourself with the short term, you may find yourself only sitting in technical classes. This would be your first mistake. Let me emphasize that I am not arguing that continuing technical classes beyond the fire academy is a mistake. However, I am arguing that only taking technical classes is where the error lies. Supplementing technical classes with degree-seeking course work is my argument’s spearhead. Securing a college degree early in a career opens many doors in case of a career-ending incident. Remember, it takes only one.

I am personally content with actively pursuing a degree (in my case, a bachelor’s degree in biochemical engineering) before or simultaneously going onto pump operations or hydraulics, for example. During this time, simply focus on becoming a good firefighter and mastering the basics. After all, if your long-term intentions are to promote up your department’s organizational chart, a college degree certainly will help.

Continuing the fire scene analogy, you can look at it as securing a second means of egress before going in search of the seed of the fire. We all make that initial size-up when we first arrive at a structure fire, yet not everyone has that same approach when entering into a dangerous 25-year career.

Zachary Murphy


Marion County Fire Rescue

Ocala, FL