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The Kitchen Table Debrief – Talk Like A Firefighter

Scenario #1: There are people inside a building (civilians who are normally inside the building) and you want them outside the building. This could be because of an event or situation leading you to the belief that it would be prudent and safer to get them outside. You want your people (firefighters) to go inside and lead the citizens out. You want your firefighters to evacuate the building.

e·vac·u·ate [ih-VAK-yoo-eyt] verb,-at·ed, -at·ing.
–verb (used with object) leave empty; vacate. remove (persons or things) from a place, as a dangerous place or disaster area, for reasons of safety or protection: to evacuate the inhabitants of towns in the path of a flood. remove persons from (a city, town, building, area, etc.) for reasons of safety: to evacuate the embassy after a bomb threat.

Scenario #2: There is a reason that you now want your people (firefighters) outside the building. You want them to bring all of their tools out with them. Maybe you are changing strategies from offensive to defensive. You want your firefighters to withdraw from the building.

with·draw [with-DRAW, with-] verb,-drew, -drawn, -draw·ing.
–verb (used with object) draw back, away, or aside; take back; remove: She withdrew her hand from his. He withdrew his savings from the bank. retract or recall: to withdraw an untrue charge. go or move back, away, or aside; retire; retreat: to withdraw from the room.

Blasting air horns and screaming people usually accompany scenario number two.

Scenario #3: There is a reason that you now want your people (firefighters) outside the building immediately! You don’t care if they bring their tools. If they don’t need the tools to make their exit, they should leave them behind. You want your firefighters to abandon the building.

a·ban·don [uh-BAN-duhn]
–verb (used with object) leave completely and finally; forsake utterly; desert: to abandon one’s farm; to abandon a child; to abandon a sinking ship. give up; discontinue; withdraw from: to abandon a research project; to abandon hopes for a stage career. give up the control of: to abandon a city to an enemy army.

Blasting air horns and screaming people accompany scenario number three.

Trouble is, since air horns are used for both withdraw and abandon, to the poor hose-dragger inside, without using the proper words, he/she has no clue what was meant.

We have an electronic accountability system. It is capable of monitoring and identifying when an individual’s PASS device activates. It is also capable of issuing a visual/audio signal to each PASS device to indicate withdrawal/abandon is necessary. From the accountability base unit, this is referred to as the “Evacuate” signal. (Even our accountability system got it wrong.)

Think about the phrases “evacuate the ship” and “abandon ship!” Is there any doubt what is meant by that? When I hear “evacuate the ship,” I think of an orderly, guided exodus onto a gangplank, dock, or other boat. Usually, the words “abandon ship!” are followed by people leaping from the deck, over the handrails, and diving into the water. It is more urgent.

We want our message to get across clearly and without confusion. Sometimes, our messages can be slightly confusing to the person receiving the message. This sign, for example… is not clear, is it?


Let’s keep this in perspective: Is it really critical that these words be used properly?


If, in a dire situation someone yells “Evacuate the Building! Evacuate!” I think we can figure out that means it’s time to move. It just seems that if we can have 12 ways to say “snow”, and where we already have the words to more clearly articulate what kind of ‘get out’ message we want to send (evacuate, withdraw, or abandon), we should use the right word.

At a meeting recently, our Assistant Chief Engineer kept referring to all hose appliances incorrectly as fittings. He stated, “…that’s what we call them at work.” We had to keep explaining that in the fire service, there are hose tools and hose appliances. Tools are items like wrenches and spanners, clamps, and bridges.

Appliances are the collection of fittings, valves, and intake devices. Basically, anything water passes through, is an appliance.

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