Legacy Tactics Part I by Training 38

I have viewed the “Legacy vs. Modern Room” video that was done by NIST a dozen times. Every time I watch the video, I wonder how many departments are still operating as a “Legacy” department with tactics. Strategies have pretty much stayed the same throughout time, Life Safety, Incident Stabilization and Property Conservation. The last two always seem to switch based on what we as a fire service has presented to us upon arrival.

“Legacy” departments have not stayed up with building construction, fuel loading and validated articles, classes or the NFPA standards. When I started my career almost twenty years ago, NFPA standards were just a number on a label in the gear. Little did I realize back then, what they really meant or how few actually pertained to firefighting. In the recent years, 2in/2out, Rules of Air Management, Rapid Intervention Teams, Manning standards have hit the fire service. Understanding that these documents are national consensus standards and not law or regulation is a hard thing to swallow. The fire service has seen some major advances in the quality of PPE and apparatus design. However, this comes with a cost. The first thing you probably thought of was cost. Let’s look past the cost and look at how many departments don’t know that these documents even exist. This is the start of the “Legacy” department.

In recent years, NIST and UL have done extensive research on room by room comparisons, fuel loading, burn through times and even what can be accomplished tactically from a 5 person crew down to a 2 person crew.  NIST and UL have been major advocates in promoting firefighter safety.  When you view the videos and can’t see what has been done for the fire service with the research, well then, please don’t play the part of the incident commander.

Numerous articles have been published in recent years with some very solid research that has had a major impact on the fire service as a whole. Articles dealing with building construction, effects of fog stream nozzles, positioning, command and control. There are numerous reputable professional journals that are on the market today, that if you say you can’t find the information that you are looking for, then you are not looking. The internet has allowed us to watch some very interesting videos and well some less that desired tactics and training.  The “Art of Reading Smoke” has become a major part of the fire service. NIOSH reports unfortunately give us history lessons of what does go wrong.  To many NIOSH reports have the same items that seem to have a consistent theme: Command and Control, Communications, Standard Operating Policies and Training.

“Legacy” departments have been put into motion well before the call for service to respond to a working incident ever goes out. Change is not an option. Evaluation of current practices of tactics is not even considered. When these above mentioned items are not considered, read or even researched, the term that runs ramped through the firehouse is “We’ve always done it that way” or “It’s worked like that in the past”.

Why it is then these departments are surprised when something bad happens or even worse a close call occurs and nothing is learned from the incident.

Building construction has to be a driving force into our tactics. As materials become more lightweight and cost effective, benchmarks have to become part of our everyday fire scenes. Checklists have to be used to make sure that we are still on track and not deviating from firefighter safety and survival. “Legacy” department’s incident commanders and members will have denial and frustration. Why, because the admittance of being labeled as a “Legacy” department means there is a lot of catching up to do and a lot of changes that need changing. The likely hood of these departments truly changing is slim to none. Now I am sure there are some that will change. But, understand this cultural change. The “Legacy” departments will not even understand the 16 Rules of Engagement for the Incident Commander and the firefighters will not understand the 11 Rules of Engagement for Firefighter Safety published by the International Association of Fire Chiefs. Departments do not want to admit how the lack the resources, knowledge or procedures to change. Firefighters will not understand in a “Legacy” department what they are doing wrong or what they need to be looking for.


  • Green Maltese says:

    Very good article!

  • From what I understand, former Charleston Fire Chief Rusty Thomas still thinks he did nothing wrong at the Super Sofa Furniture Fire, in spite of the NIOSH report on the incident: http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/fire/reports/face200718.html
    For background, read:

  • anchorpoint1 says:

    I really want to take offense to this article. I do think the generalization of all legacy type departments’ inability to move forward is unwarranted. Now if you have a certain department in mind for your writing, have at it.
    My department would likely fall into the legacy column. I’m going to try to defend us, try.
    1. We are an old department. Old guys don’t like change. The city is trying to bring our staffing down by any means possible; one way is to only replace 50% of the retirees. That way they can say there is no money for recruits but they cannot say they want to change staffing numbers.
    2. We ARE changing. But again it’s hard to make drastic changes. A comparable city near us took 3 years to get to the point where there was not constantly a PASS device going off at every fire. 3 YEARS! And that was with using progressive discipline.
    3. Dinosaurs lay eggs. The older guys on the way out tell the new guys “The way we used to do it”. ’nuff said.
    4. We do damn good work. We look like crap beat the hell out of everything and don’t use the proper phrases on the radio, but guess what? They all go out.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *