Those of you who have read my previous articles know that I am not an advocate of the SLICE-RS implementation; I have been categorized as a dinosaur for my thoughts on the topic. But one thing I have never been against is science. I do not doubt what the people at UL/FSRI do. They give firefighters information so we can better understand what we are dealing with when we arrive on scene. Our understanding of fire and the science behind it must increase over time. But giving us the information is not enough. My primary concern is that people will ignore the information because of the way it is presented. With all the players taking bits and pieces of the studies and tailoring it to their agenda of the week are we turning the science into a sideshow?
Six months ago I was transferred to my department’s training division. I volunteered to go and I have enjoyed my time teaching incumbent and recruit training. I have been a staunch proponent of interior attack when conditions favor it, rallying hard against terms like “hitting it hard from the yard.” So imagine my trepidation when I was approached to teach transitional attack to our department.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against knocking back some fire so I can go inside; this tactic has been used for years when it’s needed and to most of us is nothing new. What I am against is “hitting hard from the yard” for the sake of firefighter safety. Yes, our job is dangerous. But here’s the truth: if you look at some of the most dangerous jobs you will see that the more information you know the more aggressive you can be in mitigating the hazard. Whether we’re talking about law enforcement, the fire service, or the military, the same thing is true: the more you know about the enemy the better. A military friend once told me he studies insurgent videos so he can understand them in order to get ahead of their planning cycle. He tries every day to be an expert on his enemy and be proficient in everything he does. We need to be experts on our battlefield (building construction), our weapons (pumps, nozzles, hose, TIC’s), and the enemy (fire). Fortunately our enemy is more predictable and does not try to outthink us. But instead of taking that information and using it to perpetuate a culture of fear that promotes sayings like “hitting hard from the yard”, we should be able to be more aggressive in our actions, manage the risks, and perform our job at a higher level. But that’s not what’s being taught. Instead, the information is framed in a way that tells us, “be safe on the job” instead of teaching us how to be more effective and aggressive.
UL can give us the intel report on our enemy, but we have to be the ones who take the information, combine it with the information about our battlefield and our proficiency in our weapons, and go to work. This is where I see the disconnect. We create a disdain for transitional attack and the research info from UL because of the way people teach it. All too often, the information is paired with video footage from Line of Duty
Deaths and close calls (MOST of the videos/examples used to prove points don’t actually apply to what is being taught). In doing so, all we’re teaching is how dangerous it is to be in certain environments instead of how to recognize and mitigate the hazards. We are being oversaturated with words like “safety” when in reality most things we signed up to do aren’t safe. We are using sayings and acronyms to dumb down legitimate scientific information that will and should impact how we operate on the fireground. We are teaching it as an “offensive exterior attack” and trying to get cute with how things are worded. We are allowing sound bites from social media to over-simplify reports that consist of hundreds of pages. We’ve said it before: WORDS MATTER, and we need to make sure our firefighters realize this.
Why aren’t we teaching firefighters to use transitional attack on traditionally defensive only fires? If the numbers are correct we should be going into more fires, not less. So why isn’t this being stressed? Why are we continuing to use phrases like “hit it hard from the yard” when in reality if it’s too hot to go in we’re just knocking it down and making a push inside? We are debating whether or not to use the tactic on bread and butter fires and allowing all the great information to go to waste. It boils down to this: water on the fire makes things better (shocker I know) and it’s okay to fight fire from the burned side if you do it correctly. Let’s cut the crap and let the science speak for itself. Allow firefighters to take risks when justified and allow us to be true “thinking” firefighters by not dumbing down information to acronyms or cute sayings.