By: Robert Avsec, Executive Fire Officer
A couple of years ago, I wrote a piece entitled, Stop Romanticizing Firefighting. Apparently some people didn’t get the memo.
This video was posted on a Facebook Group I follow with the caption “Fearless.” Along with a bazillon hastags:
#firefighter #fireman #rescue #firstresponder #thinredline #firedept #firelife #firefighters #firerescue #firetruck #firestation #firemen #fire#wildlandfirefighters #firstrespondertaskforce
For me, fearless is not the first word that came to mind. Stupid, foolhardy, and reckless are three that immediately came to mind.
This is the kind of behavior that gets firefighters killed. Worse, it “inspires” the next generation of firefighters to want to be just like them.
What instructor, in what firefighter training class, taught this firefighter that it’s acceptable to walk up to a single family dwelling that has plenty of fire showing from multiple locations–including directly over their head!–and then stand there taking direct flame contact whilst they pound the front door in?
What company officer directs a firefighter to do this or doesn’t stop it when they see it? What about the other firefighters in the frame? Do they also not see the insanity of this behavior? Behavior that goes against all their training on fire behavior, situational awareness, fire attack…essentially everything that a modern firefighter should know and their actions should adhere to at all times.
Putting aside for just a moment the incredible danger this firefighter exposed themselves to, what about their personal protective equipment, i.e., their turnout gear? Including the cost of SCBA, that firefighter’s protective equipment costs more than $10,000.
The structural firefighting protective ensemble is not a proximity suit. It’s purpose is to protect you from thermal hazards and mechanical hazards (e.g., cuts, scrapes, abrasions).
But its primary purpose is to be your last line of defense in the event you get caught in a flashover.
Intentional flame contact is reckless and causes unnecessary damage to the protective garment, making it less effective against future thermal insults. The firefighter in the video is showing a callous disregard for the investment in their safety that their department and community made when they purchased that gear.
On that Facebook Group there were several comments that pretty much echoed the thoughts I’ve already expressed. But the best came from one of my former fire chiefs, Paul Mauger, Fire Chief (Ret.) Chesterfield (Va.) Fire and EMS Department. This is what he wrote:
You took the words right out of my mouth Bob. I’ll never forget the first Richmond Metro Chiefs meeting I was at where they were discussing the joint IAFC/IAFF firefighter safety stand-down initiative.
All the chiefs were sitting around cackling about what they were going to do for the day. Finally someone looked at me and said, “What’s wrong with you Mauger, are you not into safety?” I responded, “You know better than that, don’t go there with me.” I said, “Listen to yourselves, you’re sitting around here cackling about what you’re going to do one day out of the year to promote fire fighter safety. If we were having this conversation every day of the year, we wouldn’t be having over a hundred firefighters die annually.”
The fire service continues to do the same stupid things over and over expecting different results, almost bragging about the loss of life we experience annually. It’s this type of stupidity demonstrated in this video that these young people are going to look to and try to emulate.
In the work I currently do, I get sick and tired of hearing “leaders” (in title only) say, “We’re just a volunteer organization.” Looking at this video, I don’t think the fire really distinguishes nor does it care whether that guy [gal] is a volunteer or a career firefighter. Certainly they are not a professional.
Professional is not defined by whether you get compensated or not. I know my union brothers would not agree with that, however there were some career people I would not want backing me up and volunteers that I would fight the fires of hell with and vice versa. If nothing ever changes, then nothing ever changes. Our nation’s fire service; unhampered by tradition.