Learning From Others’ Experiences

Ask how you would have handled this situation before judging them

One of two vacant dwellings on fire before the arrival of fire companies. (Photos by author.)

By David Traiforos

What does it mean when we read or discuss events that happen in the fire service? We can read an article about an event that took place, or we can watch a YouTube, Facebook, or Twitter clip showing the actions of firefighters that took place on the “fireground” or at an incident worth calling attention to. This is all known as “Learning from Others’ Experiences.”

When you read an article or watch these videos, there should be lessons learned from those who were involved. It seems many times we are too quick to jump to conclusions about what took place or Monday morning quarterback what we saw. The thing to remember is to go to the source and ask questions. Remember, we may not have been there or have been in the mindset that we saw or read about.

All members of the fire service have different levels of knowledge or experience based on where we work, how much training we receive, and how much action we regularly see. Your fire department may be fully staffed, or your mutual-aid resources may be plentiful, whereas the fire department we are watching may not have many of those resources available.

The first-arriving engine company stretches hoselines. The fire has now extended into the exposure building.

They are captured on film and now being viewed by thousands of firefighters who seem to watch these videos first thing in the morning at the kitchen table, sharing their thoughts with others in the firehouse. You should watch and compare your fire department to theirs and ask yourself how you would have handled this situation before judging them. Would you have done anything different? How would your actions differ from those in your rank? Does your fire department have any policies or procedures, general orders, standard operating procedures, standard operation guidelines, or best practices that would cover your actions or the actions displayed?

The original building has started to collapse. A firefighter is attempting to apply water to the exposure building using a hard line because of a bad hydrant where the engine went to seek a water supply. Water is being applied by another source or method rather than doing nothing waiting for a secured water supply to be established and supply the hoselines.

A lot of the actions that are captured show the fire department’s level of training. Many may say they were to slow, where others may say they moved without regard to safety.

Remember, we should have all had basic training to join the fire service; many of us have advanced to learn more of this job, making it a career, or have the desire and passion that we love what we do. But sadly, many may not see the fire service as you do–maybe because of monetary reasons or having to hold down a regular job five days a week and trying to raise a family and find time to take an interest in their children while you may be on a regular shift.  Many others try to come when called at all hours of the day and night. What is their frame of mind?  How much staffing do they have? Do they run with two on a rig or more? How much do you run with?

The first hoselines are charged. A water supply is secured, and companies take a defensive posture. An aerial device is put to work for the knockdown.

Who is watching out for them on the fireground? Do they practice accountability? Are their safety officers watching out for their well-being, doing that term firefighters don’t like–risk management–with their actions? Who is in the staging area to provide relief when we want it or when the IC directs us over the radio that we need to take rehab?

There are so many angles that we could talk about, just like at the kitchen table, but here are the important things to walk away with. Contact that fire department that you are watching. You can call them, you can send them an e-mail, drop them a line: Ask what happened and then ask your specific questions. What lesson were learned from what they did? What went right? What went wrong? Do they have department policies or procedures that they followed, or did they change things around? Will they continue to do the same thing?

The Chicago (IL) Fire Department battles an extra-alarm fire in several warehouses in subzero conditions.

Learning from others is a way to understand what challenges we could be faced with and how we might handle that type of situation. Watching a video or reading an article has many lessons to learn. Put them to good use and try to learn from them even if that fire department you read about or viewed would rather not talk about it. Look at the situation and sit down with your crew or invite other companies or stations to sit down and review how they would handle this. What you think and what another company officer or even chief officer thinks might differ. Hopefully, you can all agree on the way your fire department would handle what was just viewed.

What if the next time the video is of your fire department, and you must explain your actions?

David Traiforos is a 47-year veteran of the fire service, having retired as chief of the Franklin Park (IL) Fire Department after 30 years. He has been active in fire service training for more than 30 years and has been teaching H.O.T. and classroom sessions at FDIC International for more than 20 years. He is a fire instructor at the Northeastern IL Public Safety Training Academy (NIPSTA) in Glenview, IL, and at McHenry County College in Crystal Lake, IL, and is the lead instructor for the Great Lakes Fire & Rescue Solutions, LTD.

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