07-30-2011, 12:21 PM #1
When did it become okay to say no?
In keeping with DC Gonz's good threads....
Dave LeBlanc reminds us that a blanket safety policy does no good when it comes to people trapped. Your sizeup is your own; no other department is going to fight this fire for you – and for the victims possibly inside.
By now many of you have read about the tragic death of an eight year old boy in Niagara Falls, New York. The young boy was playing in a vacant building with two other boys; the eight year old was killed when he became trapped after the house caught fire.
What is at issue here is not the actions of the Niagara Falls Fire Department. For the news account it appears as though there was no chance for them to get to the child until it was too late. What is at issue is the running debate within the Fire Service about vacant buildings and interior operations. There are many that believe that there is no need to search a vacant building, in fact they believe we should not even go inside these structures.
These people would have you believe that most of the hundred plus Line of Duty Deaths are a direct result of the Fire Departments operating with “wild abandon” and searching every building for victims. That these Departments have no risk management model and are just doing things “the way we always have.”
Yet by this story we can see that not all vacant buildings are vacant. With some minor changes in the details this could be a scenario where the first engine arrives and has no indication there is anyone inside. They would “assume” the building is vacant, and by the standards of some they would operate from the outside so no one gets hurt. One problem, there was someone inside. An eight year old boy was inside playing with his friends and the house caught fire and he was killed. How does that fit in to the “vacant buildings are vacant” thought process?
Now this is not a judgment of the NFFD. There are not enough details in the news account to determine what they knew or found on arrival. The little information provided did indicate that the fire was in an advanced state on arrival.
So the naysayers will say it is just one instance, one case where a vacant building wasn’t vacant. But six months ago it was a “vacant” car dealership in California and last winter it was a “vacant” warehouse in Massachusetts.
Our charge, our basic mission statement is quite simple, to save lives and property. Now certainly there has not been a building made that is worth the life of one fireman. However, firemen are supposed to risk their lives to save lives. That is a basic mission requirement. It is certainly something the Public expects from us.
What seems to be causing the debate is when do we search? For some reason there is a shift from allowing Officers to base their tactics on a good size up to generalizations about what our tactics should be based on preconceived notions of what we will find in certain buildings. Why are we taking those decisions away from today’s Officers? Are they less capable from the Officers of yesterday?
An old Chief once said, “every situation is a situation.” It used to cause chuckles as everyone thought it was a Norm Crosby type of statement. However, when you think about it, there is a lot of truth in that statement. Sure, we should risk a lot to save a lot (aka a life), and risk a little to save a little (aka a building). But those decisions need to be made by the Officers that are on scene. Their tactics and actions need to be based on the conditions found, their experience and training. If the Fire Service continues on its current path of generalizations about what is and isn’t occupied, it will remove this critical decision making ability from those Officers that are destined to respond to these situations.
So the next time someone says it is just a vacant building, think about young Patrick Collura and how he died last Friday in a vacant building that was on fire."I was always taught..." Four words impacting fire service education in the most negative of ways. -Bill Carey
07-30-2011, 02:10 PM #2
- Join Date
- Apr 2011
Great Post. Absolutely Agree. Some forget that our job is to search ANY building that could be harboring a human life. That obviously includes vacant buildings. They like to hide behind words such as safety. If you don't want to make the necessary sacrifices to protect the citizens you swore to serve then please quit and let someone else fill your spot who will do their job they are paid to do.
07-30-2011, 02:33 PM #3
I will say, safety is still a concern but my job is still my job. If a building doesn't look structurally sound then don't make entry. An untold portion of the decision is "how long has this been burning?". There are very few here that do not feel it worth their time to devote their resources to fighting a vacant building fire but if they take 10 minutes to get the call, 10 minutes to arrive, and 10 minutes to figure out what to do, then a search won't be needed anyway as anyone in there would be (likely) dead. We have the luxury of early detection, very fast response time, and excellent decision making from the white shirts. Is it always the most correct choice? Probably not, but we are fighting the fire very quickly. Like Mr Brannigan said, "If you aren't winning against the fire, you're losing; there are no stalemates". I am trying to understand the counter-points to my article and I can 100% understand the previous situation.
Sometimes you can not get a fast enough turnout to do anything offensive much less mount an interior attack. If you have the men, the water, and the means, barring any questionable building status, what would be a reason to NOT search?"I was always taught..." Four words impacting fire service education in the most negative of ways. -Bill Carey
07-30-2011, 02:59 PM #4
- Join Date
- Apr 2011
Exactly. I probably should have clarified. What this comes down to is the experience and decision-making skills of the IC or first on-scene company officer. If the building looks structurally deficient with impending collapse likely, its a no go. And your also correct. Being that my department is full-time, we can get to a scene in 4 minutes or less anywhere in the city. This allows a much greater chance of survivability for an entraped person(s). However, near us there are some volunteer departments that during certain times of the day it will take them 10 minutes to get a rig out the door. This drastically lowers the chance of survivability. Response time, decision-making, and experience are all key factors.
07-30-2011, 03:50 PM #5Opinions my own. Standard disclaimers apply.
Everyone goes home. Safety begins with you.
07-30-2011, 07:42 PM #6
Dave LeBlanc used to post here as HFD66Truck until he got tired of the BS. I consider him a good friend and have had the pleaseure of training with him and dining with him and the lovely Mrs. Leblanc.
Okay..enough for sentimentality...
The fact is...
Vacant and abandoned structures with no heat and no electricity do not spontaneously combust. Rats, mice, roaches, squirrels and pigeons don't smoke... that leaves two factors... the human one and lightning, and if there hasn't been any thunderstorms, the latter cam also be ruled out.
The homeless will squat in vacant buildings, children go in to play in vacant buildings, and unless one puts security on them 24/7/365, they will continue to make entry.
No firefighter goes to work and sets out to make the tour of duty a suicide mission. We have buildings in my community that are marked with a 24"X24" reflective X or a /. The X means no interior firefighting
operations, the / means limited interior operations.
Any pertinent information about marked building is in our CAD system, and come up as red flags so Fre Alarm can notify us en route.
Chances are if a building with these markings is on fire, it will have a tremendous head start... but what if you happen to be nearby and catch it in the incipient stage? Write it off?
As the article states.. every situation is a situation, and no two are alike.... if there is fire blowing out each and every window and through the roof, nobody is going in... period. If there is a light smoke condition, firefighters may very well make entry, not to save property, but to save potential victims."The education of a firefighter and the continued education of a firefighter is what makes "real" firefighters. Continuous skill development is the core of progressive firefighting. We learn by doing and doing it again and again, both on the training ground and the fireground."
Lt. Ray McCormack, FDNY
07-30-2011, 07:58 PM #7
- Join Date
- Apr 2004
- Bossier Parrish, Louisiana
Again, give me a reason to make entry and I'll have no issues with that, but the simple possibility that it may be occupied, especially in a rural area with likely advanced fire conditions on arrival, which will likely will render any victims as non-viable, simply doesn't give me a good enough reason to risk the crew's lives.
That's not ducking our job. That's protecting our folks from unreasonable risks.Train to fight the fires you fight.
07-30-2011, 08:05 PM #8"I was always taught..." Four words impacting fire service education in the most negative of ways. -Bill Carey
07-30-2011, 08:27 PM #9
I have to chime in on this issue.
One of the deeply seared scars on my soul came from one of these supposed-to-be vacant buildings.
Years ago, when I was a young officer arriving with my crew to an abandoned bait shop/garage out in the sticks, we did the size up, walk around, made contact with the owner, etc... No one was supposed to be inside. The door had been secured by a large hasp and lock.
Three 10-12 year old kids had climbed in through a broken window and started a fire, which quickly blocked their exit. If we had not heard one of them screaming over the yawn of the Engine's pump within the first minutes, the outcome would have been more tragic.
We cut through a rear wall (our best guess to get to them). Two of our guys scurried in and quickly tossed them out to me and the Driver who was tending a line. The last one brought out was the toughest, for all of us. Two survived, although badly burned.
Even in the 1980s we had adopted a policy which took our instincts away and was based upon the assumption that a secured vacant building was vacant. It took this incident to change that policy back to one based on common sense and case by case.
Just because you have never had a vacant building death does not mean it will not happen in the future. It really ticks me off that we have yet to study our own history on this very issue. We seem to go in circles, citing progress in the process, only to find ourselves where we were years before.
It was only a couple of years later during a "supposively occupied" 3 story home my life nearly ended. We were searching for two kids at the time of the collapse, when I became entrapped. It turned out that the family had left for vacation in a rented vehicle, so for all intents and purposes, it appeared they were home to the neighbors.
We had 9 guys injured that night trying to get the family out... the family that wasn't there. In this situation, we followed the orders of our scene commander, who ultimately was found to have made many terrible mistakes during the event. Did I mention that this event was worse than a cluster? Four of our guys disobeyed a direct order to not attempt a search/rescue for me. I owe them my every breath today.
So where do we draw the line? How can we assume that a building is empty based on a policy? How can we assume that in every situation the conditions are not condusive for life to exist? Both of these calls clearly would have had unnecessary loss of life if actions were based on a damn policy. Two kids and myself are evidence of this fact.
The point is, we must make our decisions quickly in every case. There is no policy or cookie cutter approach to any type of event that we can go by. We can try to create policies that provide some boundaries, but if you handicap the commanders and crews you lose everytime. As stated, there are no stalemates in what we do. There are no acceptable loses in what we do. Sometimes "the book" just does not apply.
Losing one life, a citizen or one of us, because a policy dictates our action or inaction should be a crime if we are robbed of the free will to determine a course of action. I am not advocating a couple of guys playing John Wayne, but rather an organized plan of action based on what we know and what we can see. Anything short of that and the public begins to believe we are not doing our jobs. Nothing turns my stomach worse than knowing we didn't do enough to get someone out, because a policy dictated how we will conduct operations.
Saving/Protecting Life = Mission #1
It still applies. Yes, our personal safety is also number #1. But where do the two intersect and begin to become at odds with each other?
It depends on the situation... and we do not know until we arrive. A policy cannot advise us.
Gentlemen and ladies: be smart, be safe, but remember what you are.
Last edited by PaladinKnight; 07-30-2011 at 08:45 PM.HAVE PLAN.............WILL TRAVEL
07-30-2011, 09:01 PM #10
Aggressive searches are something we're implementing to circumvent the fact we have low manpower and such. Anyone using these tactics due to the same circumstances?
07-30-2011, 09:07 PM #11
- Join Date
- Aug 2007
07-30-2011, 09:10 PM #12
- Join Date
- Apr 2004
- Bossier Parrish, Louisiana
If there was history of the use of abandoned in either my combo or career district by squatters, kids and teens hanging out, that would certainly have an affect on my outlook, but there is absolutely no history of those situations being in play on a regular basis, so an abandoned being is in my mind, a highly usual event which requires an unusual response.
Bikes outside, vehicles outside and/or bystander information regarding a current or very recent Hx of occupancy may assist in justifying entry, but to simply throw out the line that all buildings need to be searched, or it's not empty until we determine it's empty simply doesn't cut the mustard with me in terms of our safety and risk v. benefit.
There may be areas where the risk is there to justify such blanket actions, but that is not the case, and likely will never be the case unless the demographics and the population behavior changes significantly.
As far as me staying out of the discussion, I'll speak when I choose.
Last edited by LaFireEducator; 07-30-2011 at 09:15 PM.Train to fight the fires you fight.
07-30-2011, 09:16 PM #13
Thanks for the feedback...
I think this is an issue that will always cause various and often opposing opinions to be presented.
But this issue does not just apply to a few of our departments, but all of them, large, small, urban, rural. There is no limiting factor and yet there is nothing much in common. But it happens...
My primary purpose for posting is nothing more than an attempt to reach those of us that have never yet carried a body bag out of debris, knowing you failed your mission based upon someone's demand that you do not try just so you would be safe.
Discuss and resolve this issue in your department before you get there. Don't join the club of those of us that carry our hearts and souls heavily as we wait our final day.
BS Card in Play now...
PKHAVE PLAN.............WILL TRAVEL
07-30-2011, 09:21 PM #14
07-30-2011, 09:33 PM #15
1. What needs to be done.
2. What do you need to do to get that done.
3. What resources do you have to assist and what resources are you without that will prohibit
So if the truck pulls up to a house with the front burning pretty well and there is no one outside then...
1. Search for fire, search for life.
I know the captain and other firefighter are going to be stretching a line to a side door or back door.
After my captain knows my intention..
2. I'll find a window that my skills point to being a bedroom, make entry, find the door to that room and shut it, make a quick but thorough search of the room and get out.
I'm maximizing my efficiency with my search by pinpointing it to high recovery probability areas.
I'm minimizing my time in the building and thusly maximizing safety by getting in quick, shutting the door, and getting back out.
Entry into a building isn't a death sentence, firefighters do it on a daily basis.
07-30-2011, 09:35 PM #16
- Join Date
- Apr 2004
- Bossier Parrish, Louisiana
In many cases though the argument is moot in the rural or volunteer suburban environment, as compared to the urban environment, due to the high likelihood of advanced fire conditions on arrival extended responses times caused by delayed notification, response times to the station and/or apparatus response times from the station to the scene. The simple fact is a rural or volunteer suburban department is far more likely to find a situation where the fire has made the decision for you regarding entry irregardless of occupancy status.
In these situations, IMO, a firm, blanket policy regarding entry, is a protection against an young, inexperienced officer making a decision to make entry based on a fear of being perceived as a coward or timid by both his firefighters and more experienced officers. In the volunteer suburban and rural VFDs such policies are critical in protecting us from us, and protecting us from decisions based on culture of fear of being perceived as not having the "right stuff".
Throw in the likelihood of limited manpower and/or water issues, and such policies add an additional layer of firefighter protections.
Though we often agree, that statement that a dead body constitutes failure is something that I see a completely incorrect, and may encourage some to take risks beyond our training, experience and resources to prevent a perceived "failure" either as firefighters, company-level officers and incident commanders. The fact is an incident was never our problem and we never controlled many, if not all, of the incident variables. In many, if not most, they were controlled either pre-incident and/or during the incident by the victims. To constitute ant death as a failure of the fire department simply because we responded, when we controlled so little of the variables that went into casing the death, could create a responsibility within some firefighters and officers that may create a drive to take actions not consistent with training, experience and resources simply to satisfy that perception of responsibility.
The fact is we do not hold the responsibility for victim survival in our hands.Train to fight the fires you fight.
07-30-2011, 09:38 PM #17
- Join Date
- Apr 2004
- Bossier Parrish, Louisiana
And there have been examples of citizens entering buildings to make rescues, and dying in those attempts.
So why should the citizens perceptions of fire conditions even be in the discussion regarding our response to similar situations?
Sorry to disagree with your feelings that we should always play the hero, however, I will continue to discuss the merits of conservative fireground response based on situational factors as compared to blanket policies such as "all buildings need to be searched"Train to fight the fires you fight.
07-30-2011, 09:45 PM #18
And there have been people who died because no one searched so your point is null.
Your second question wouldn't even be asked by a green recruit.
No one claimed always playing a hero.
No one claimed all buildings need to be searched.
Your trolling knows no bounds. Again, please move on to the other countless threads you troll on a daily basis. This is my last response to you.
07-30-2011, 10:37 PM #19
Thats just my takeGet the first line into operation.
07-30-2011, 10:43 PM #20
07-30-2011, 10:53 PM #21
While I will agree with most of what you state, and I agree that we most likely agree on most issues, my position is also found in what you write.
You have countered my examples where policy did in fact restrict actions.
You say we cannot prove policy has an impact on the outcome. That is exactly my point. Our policies at the time guaranteed certain death for those boys and myself. But because a policy was tossed out in a moment of chance or opportunity, I survived as did those boys.
The rest of the stories should be told I suppose.
In my case, the 4 guys that cut me out were suspended pending an investigation. Because I was the evidence, the Chief also suspended me, although it didn't matter since I was in a burn center 100 miles away. In my statement to the investigators, I stated that I was glad the Chief made the decision to send those guys in.
I was not told the truth for about 6 mnoths when the Captain let it slip that he was facing charges. They hid everything from me as to the investigation. The Chief tried to cover up the incident by threatening a few others with his wrath if they did not lie about what he did. It all came out in the end and every one of those guys was awarded a medal for their part in the rescue.
I was promoted in my hospital bed because the others claimed they would have been killed if it were not for my actions before the event. I refused it because I only did my job and did not consider my actions extraordinary. I don't recall anything that I did that I would not have done on any other situation.
But the policy was changed to give the scene commander back his toolbox. If it took my injury to do that, then it was worth it. It should have been the policy under investigation in the first place... it tied our hands and certainly the commanders. It was his actions during and after the fact that hung him.
In the case of the three boys, our policy guaranteed their death. We were prohibited from entering any burning un-occupied or vacant building under all circumstances. It was badly written and prevented what many of us have done for many years without pause. This policy also restricted our ability to suppress the smallest interior fires which lead everything to a worse situation that it should have ever been. So we also guaranteed loss of property that could have been prevented.
I was not in a position to have a public opinion or an audience with our bosses. Our command just didn't fight back too hard and finally embraced the rules. But as I recall, no one liked it because it prevented us from doing basic and rudimentary functions. In a nut shell, all structure fires were defensive with the intent to control.
Well I am pretty sure that anyone that has done this job very long and has been to a few fully engulfed structures knows when it time to go defensive. But even a defensive fire can present you with a cause to enter and rescue.
I was a young officer just a few weeks into a new assignment. I knew the guys on my crew pretty well; we could almost read each others thoughts. We had worked together for some time. You all know how that works.
We knew when we arrived the fire was defensive. Our primary focus was to prevent the fuel storage tanks next door from becoming involved. When we heard the screams, not one of us stop to think about what we knew to do. We did not discuss it, we acted.
The reason I gave this example was because it illustrates exactly why a restrictive policy will make you fail. Ok, I was suspended pending a investigation. So what, I would do the same thing again. I did not ask the two guys if they felt like going in... I did not ask for volunteers. We were all on the same page and act together, but it was my butt, and only my butt.
My statements to the Captain and Chief were the same. If we cannot do our job, then why are we here? No one I have ever worked with would just stand there and not act if they thought there was a chance. Again the policy changed because we are not McDonalds.
OK moving on...
I know what you are trying to say, and I agree with a lot of your points. I have been there to hear the final screams of a couple of kids that we could not get to. That hurts my friend... I cannot describe what I felt, but I am sure I never want anyone to feel it. It was not a policy that kept us from them, it was the situation. Any kind of interior operation was doomed, I knew it, my commander knew it, and every man out there knew it. All we could do was hold our lines and cry.
So I agree with you that the situation should dictate our course of action. I disagree that a policy should provide us safe harbor. The guy that wrote the policy is not going to stand there and cry with me when we fail to get that kid out.
Will young inexperienced officers make mistakes? It happens everyday... it is part of the process. There is no one serving in the capacity of authority that is perfect. And a policy does not make you any more perfect, but it sure can make you less human.
I have never figured out how to turn off my human side when I see a tragic situation. This does not mean it keeps me from doing my job. I can focus and do my job in the worse situation without thinking about it. But there is always an end and time to reflect. I deal with it my way, like everyone of you.
For me, just to have the chance to still make a difference when someone is having the worst day of their life, is my life. My life was given back to me when a policy failed and some guys decided to throw away the book.
So again, how can a policy designed to protect us, protect the citizens we swore to protect?
The fact is we do not hold the responsibility for victim survival in our hands.
And as stated... we will just have to agree to disagree on this issue.
It is obvious that our worlds are much different. I have never worked in your world so I cannot know what you world issue are. But my mindset has never changed on this subject during the last 40 years, 8 departments, 5 States and 6 Chief positions. Other than that, I am just a guy that is lucky to have an opinion.
For the record... Part of my job is to make sure we are protecting our people. I preach it, I live it. We teach the same covenents of NFPA, IFSAC, etc... as the rest of you. But I will never agree to a policy that takes your training and common sense from you. Having said that, a Policy does not provide you any protection, it is the actions of humans that determine the outcome. If I worry about a policy providing me protection against loss of job or a lawsuit, then most likely I am not doing my job.
My apologies to those in the peanut gallery... sometimes the soapbox seems to keep elevating until I step off. Time to put it up now boys...HAVE PLAN.............WILL TRAVEL
07-30-2011, 11:05 PM #22
- Join Date
- Aug 2007
Based on my training, I would tend to equate an "aggressive search" with what I was taught regarding the "primary search" - a quick moving search predominately focused on hitting the "common" spots where victims tend to be found or hide rather than a more thorough "leaving no stone unturned" type of search.
It my understanding that when one "circumvents" something, it means getting around or bypassing something (an obstacle of some sorts).
I work in a department with an on-duty staffing of 5-7 FFs and typically it takes about 10-15 minutes until our back up arrives so I'm very familiar with low manpower operations, but I'm not sure how your concept fits in regarding low manpower situations.
07-30-2011, 11:12 PM #23
Theres plenty of other sources to read up on.
Some call it simply VES, some call it aggressive searching.
07-30-2011, 11:23 PM #24
Every arriving company is short handed, even if you have a 10-man truck. The point is there are never enough hands in the beginning.
After all of these years, I can only remember crawling maybe 20 times... the rest were mostly focussed.
You know... the Kurt "Bull" Russell Rescue... (I jest of course)HAVE PLAN.............WILL TRAVEL
07-30-2011, 11:28 PM #25
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