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Not Everyone Goes Home

Not Everyone Goes Home

Michael West, Fired Up Training Services

On my website a while back, a brother posted a simple statement- everyone goes home. I thought about it for a bit. I reflected on the 343 firefighters that didn’t go home on 9-11. I thought about the more than 600 (and climbing) who have been killed since then. I wondered, why don’t we all go home safely?

We should all understand that we work in a dangerous place. Things can and will go wrong. I believe, though, that we could all do better in a few areas. Maybe, through each of us, we can assure that more of our brothers and sisters return home after the tour is over.

  • Risk benefit analysis. How many officers are looking at the facts of the fire? Really looking. What if we recognized when we are the only life hazard involved. What if we recognized when a building is a loser from the get go? We shouldn’t unduly risk our greatest asset, right?
  • Know that a commercial fire is a much different animal than a residential fire. Many of you know that, since you have little experience in wildland fires, they can be dangerous, fast moving, and potentially kill the under-trained, under-prepared firefighter. Yet, most departments in America, spend way too little time preparing for the commercial building fire and fail to recognize the vast differences in fire load, disorientation factors, air supply needs, and tactical needs. The working fire in a big box store needs more than an inch and a half. A standard right hand search pattern will lead to confusion and duplication.
  • Engine operations. I recently saw a list of “truths” written by a firefighter in his experience on the fireground. They made a comment that 200 feet of 1 ¾” was enough. He is right; it is enough to handle a typical room and contents fire in an average sized residential 1 or 2 family home. Good engine companies understand how to determine the right length and size of hose for the fire they are on right now.
  • Driving. Not too long ago I heard an officer make a push for promoting driver operators much quicker. “We hold them back by making them wait to get in the seat” he said. It’s not to say that a person with one year experience couldn’t make a good engineer, hell lots of departments do this. The issue is, how are we training them and do they have the knowledge, skills, and abilities to safely transport our members to the scene? Time on the job shouldn’t be the determining factor on this. A honest, courageous, and a competent officer, should make the call. If the person driving for you is out of control, take them out of the seat and fix the problem.
  • Attitude. We all need to understand what this job is and how dangerous it is. Training is vital to our survival, fitness is vital to our survival. Seatbelts are vital to our survival. I’ll admit that I have not always worn mine. I still occasionally forget or blow it off…but I’m getting better at it and I encourage you to do the same. We all need to develop a healthy respect for what we do and what we are asking our firefighters to do.

A firefighter recently told me that, to him, the perfect death was to die while fighting a fire. I told him a perfect death to me is to be old and in bed, with the person you love, after drinking too much Champaign in the hot tub. If your fate is to die in a fire, so be it, but wishing for it is another story.

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We all face danger and take risk for people that we have never met before. This is our job and it is an honor to do so. We cannot continue, however, to kill our brothers and sisters needlessly, in ways that are preventable, for buildings that are already lost, or by driving too fast for conditions, or for one more plate of pasta.

Michael West has been a member of the fire service since 1982. He is a 4th generation firefighter who has instructed internationally at fire departments and conferences. Mike is a Captain with South Metro (CO) Fire Rescue. He has a Master’s Degree in Strategic Communication and Leadership from Seton Hall University, a Bachelor’s degree in Management from the University of Colorado, and an Associate’s Degree in Fire Science. Mike has written dozens of articles for fire service publications and websites and has contributed to several books as an author and technical advisor, Mike was awarded the 2006 Colorado Fire Trainer of the Year Award. He is an officer of Fired Up Training Services, LLC, a fire training and consulting company and can be reached at .