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...


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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

Firefighter/Paramedic

Marion County Fire Rescue

Ocala, FL