In Search of Tactical Patience

Today commemorates the anniversary of the Sofa Superstore fire in Charleston, South Carolina, in which nine firefighters lost their lives while engaged in aggressive interior operations at a commercial building occupied and operating as a furniture store and warehouse. On the evening of June 18, 2007, units from the Charleston Fire Department responded to a fire at the Sofa Super Store, a large retail furniture outlet in the West Ashley district of the city. Within less than 40 minutes, the fire claimed the lives of nine firefighters and changed the lives of countless others. The incident galvanized the nation’s fire service and to this day continues to generate commentary and observations within wide latitude of functional areas. What has changed since that day, three years ago?

The publication of the Routley Report was a wake-up call to the fire service, but did we hit the snooze button and roll back over? Are we catching those extra forty winks at the expense of what we should be jumping out of our bunks and engaging in? If you haven’t taken the time to read the authoritative reports, now is the time to do so. Make it one of your definitive activities for the weekend. Reflect upon its insights, recommendations and suggestions and think about your organization, department or agency.

Stop and think about where the fire service is today; where is your department today? Any measurable changes that reflect the front page news of past events or reports? Or is it business as usual? More importantly; where are YOU today? What have you done based upon the lessons learned or insights expressed to make you a better prepared and knowledgeable firefighter, officer or commander?  

During the past twelve months of travels around the country presenting programs on building construction and command risk management and firefighter safety, there continues to be a common thread within the Fire Service that resonates loudly (at times and in some regions); “were’ just not getting it”.  Dialog and discussion, ranting and challenges; sometimes on the verge of aggression and hostility at times continue to punctuate and permeate program conversation and debate. We argue about the merits of operational aggressiveness at the expense of looking (and understanding) the ways to increase our proficiency and knowledge that can translate into refined and intelligent tactical operations.

I continue to suggest that it’s no longer just brute force and sheer physical determination that define structural fire suppression operations, although any seasoned firefighter and company officer knows that at times; it is what gets the job done under the most arduous and demanding of circumstances. However, from a methodical and disciplined perspective, aggressive firefighting must be redefined and aligned to the built environment and associated with goal oriented tactical operations that are defined by risk assessed and analyzed tasks that are executed under battle plans that promote the best in safety practices and survivability within know hostile structural fire environments.

We can still meet the demands of the job, as firefighters; but do it with Tactical Patience and not at the expense of Command Compression and Tactical Entertainment or worst Operational Recklessness.

The traditional attitudes and beliefs of equating aggressive firefighting operations in all occupancy types coupled with the correlating, established and pragmatic operational strategies and tactics must be adjusted and modified to include intelligent risk assessment, calculated risk analysis, safety and survivability profiling, and strategic operational and tactical value. The demands and requirements of modern firefighting will continue to require the placement of personnel within situations and buildings that carry risk, uncertainty and inherent danger. As a result, risk management must become fluid and integrated with intelligent tactical deployments and operations recognizing the risk problematically and not fatalistically, resulting in safety conscious strategies and tactics. We need to think about the Predicative Strategic Process, refined Tactical Deployment Models integrating intelligent Structural Anatomy and Predictive Occupancy Profiling. ( more on these in upcoming posts…)

Take the time today to remember and honor the Charleston Nine.

Comprehend the sacrifice and grasp the essence of our noble profession and the tradition of the Fire Service. Remember the past and learn from it and improve the future so that that the cycle of potential history repeating events is disrupted and eventually broken. 

Work conscientiously and diligently to improve our profession and yourself; identifying gaps, correcting the deficiencies and improving the job, through a legacy of operational excellence and safety- for tomorrow’s firefighters.

Honor and Remembrance- The Charleston Nine  

  • Bradford Rodney “Brad” Baity – Engineer 19
  • Theodore Michael Benke – Captain 16
  • Melvin Edward Champaign – Firefighter 16
  • James “Earl” Allen Drayton – Firefighter 19
  • Michael Jonathon Alan French – Engineer 5
  • William H. “Billy” Hutchinson, III – Captain 19
  • Mark Wesley Kelsey – Captain 5
  • Louis Mark Mulkey – Captain 15
  • Brandon Kenyon Thompson – Firefighter 5

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