Carter: Each of Us Is Truly Our Brothers' Keeper

As fire officers we are truly our brother’s keeper, not only to him or her, but to their families and loved ones.

Ladies and gentlemen, let me now state, for the record, that we in the fire service are not now nor have we ever been like the Kamikaze pilots which flew against our Pacific fleets during World War Two.  Our job is not to crash into the innards of a burning building and sacrifice our lives for the glory of our fire department.  No, it is our job as 21st Century fire service leaders to take all of the necessary steps to insure that everyone goes home safely at the close of business each day.

A number of years ago, I was asked by a friend, the late Bill Clark, to provide a short list of thoughts for the second edition of his outstanding text, Firefighting Principles and Practices.  In our discussions Bill and I spoke of such matters as hose sizes, tactical deployment strategies, pumper pressures, and the like.  We also spoke of our regard for the human element in any fire department operation.  It was this last thought that he chose to employ in his text.  He quoted me as stating that you can never justify spending people on property.  I still fervently believe in that notion.

It is my belief that there are damned few situations where it is permissible to risk the lives of your firefighters.  We must always teach our people that it is never permissible to risk lives solely on property related operations.  The cost of learning this lesson has been great. Many have been the funerals for needless death in the fire service.

As a matter of fact, the odds had better be strongly in our favor for us to take a shot at saving a life.  We are not chicken, but just prudent.  More than that, the latest research tells us all that our old ways of firefighting will not stand up to the challenges of firefighting in modern structures.

It is difficult for me to tell you when and where to take a risk.  You are the ones who will be eyeball to eyeball with the fire which threatens the life and safety of your troops. It is equally difficult to look a distraught property owner in the eye and tell them that you are not going to risk the lives of your people in a vain attempt to save an obviously self-destructing building. 

However, I have fought a fire where our troops here in Adelphia did a fabulous job of halting the fire in its track.  You can imagine how angered we were when we discovered that the person who was buying the McMansion home refused to complete the sale because of the damage.  Imagine how we felt when we saw the building we had saved razed to the ground and replaced by a freshly-built structure.  It is tough to ask the troops to do battle after a situation like that. 

Anyway as I sat back in my chair on the front porch puffing on my cigar, my mind once again drifted back to the time in the back of that fine old church in New Brunswick watching a brother firefighter embark on a new journey, with his wife on his arm, the decision to come down on the side of safety became more obvious than ever before.  As fire officers we are truly our brother’s keeper.

Please do not take my message in the wrong way.  I do not want you to suddenly become panic stricken with concern and stop fighting fires.  However, I do want you to become thoughtful and judicious in using your most important resource.  Those people with the helmets and turnout gear are not numbers on a chart.  Rather, they are living breathing humans, with lives, loves and futures.  You must do all you can to insure that your people are ready to do their jobs.  Then be sure to use them wisely.  And remember to say thank you a lot.

These are just a few thoughts from one man's front porch in Adelphia, N.J.  However, these are thoughts which come from an exciting career filled with fabulous people and great experiences. Take care and stay safe.