Leading: When Lives Still Mattered

The American Fire Service is expert in at least one area: discovering ever more creative ways to kill and injure firefighters, often under pointless circumstances.


Every line-of-duty death calls for a serious examination, especially when aggressive tactics are employed. It is imperative that we closely monitor the length of time firefighters operate in hostile and rapidly deteriorating interior environments in order to create a healthy margin for firefighter safety and survival.

The American Fire Service is expert in at least one area: discovering ever more creative ways to kill and injure firefighters, often under pointless circumstances. They are sent to their deaths by the dozens in big-box stores, warehouses and other obviously unoccupied buildings. A few have gone to their deaths in abandoned buildings; in at least one case the fire building was under active demolition. Today, no scenario is too ridiculous to sacrifice, as we virtuously say, a few of "our own." In this fire service, everybody, most assuredly, does not come home though we like to profess otherwise.

Many of these obviously avoidable deaths and injuries are the direct result of chiefs and company officers blindly and rotely employing standardized strategies, tactics and procedures that are completely unsuitable to the actual situations they face. The one thing they all have in common is that they needlessly and recklessly place firefighters in forward positions where they are hopelessly overexposed and unable to retreat safely when fast escape is the only hope.

Divisions, Battalions, Companies
Our fire service, in terms of its perspective, structure and behavioral norms is based on military doctrine. Indeed, few would disagree that we are a para-military organization with a core mission very similar, where companies and whole battalions are deployed systematically to win a fight.

A key tool of a successful military force is the ability to be aggressive, to deploy in such a fashion that you create and sustain a relentless momentum that will carry you to and then through your objective. The fire service has now religiously and fanatically adopted this theory and doctrine of tactical aggression with little regard to its negative effect, especially when it is applied without intelligence. (That's intelligence as in information, not smarts, though a little smarts is a good thing, too.)

Our brothers and sisters in the military know that applying naked aggression is a fool's errand if you don't know what you are up against. It's ironic that, in this "age of information," firefighters ignorantly barge into burning structures with virtually no information about civilian life risk, the make-up of the structure or the intensity of the fire they face. Even George Patton would be appalled. We are aggressive because it's the only accepted leadership style, the only tool in the toolbox, the only game in town. It wasn't always so.

The 38th Parallel
On June 25, 1950, 90,000 North Korean troops stormed across the 38th parallel and struck the Republic of Korea (ROK), South Korea's defense force, with a shocking blow. The In Min Gun, (IMG) as the North Korean troops were called, were agile, tough and battled hardened. Many had served on the communist side during China's civil war. The IMG were fast and ruthless, capturing Seoul and relentlessly driving the ROK southward. The civilian population fled in terror, blocking roads and bridges, making a coherent defense virtually impossible.

Help was painfully slow in coming. The closest U.S. troops were on occupation duty in war scarred Japan and by most accounts they were under trained and seriously lacking in equipment. For the next two months troops and supplies poured in from Japan and then eventually directly from the west coast of the U.S.. The best these early forces could achieve against the North Korean juggernaut was a series of delaying actions and retrograde movements that threatened to result in U.S. forces being driven completely off the Korean peninsula.

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