Learning from the past to improve the future
When I was learning how to pump the engine apparatus I was assigned to as a young firefighter, I remember some sage advice from one of my drivers: water in, water out. This was how he attempted to simplify the job of an engine company apparatus operator for me by putting it in operational speak: how not to think that any technology found in modern fire apparatus can overcome the no-water problem if it just isn’t there in your pump. I’ve also used this sage advice as a metaphor: We can’t save lives if we don’t have the tools or ability to pull it off.
When it comes to water, we’ve realized that none of us have been to a fire that hasn’t been put out with it. It’s needed for foam and also for those fires that our chemical extinguishers just can’t get. This is also a good metaphor in that we often rely on what we’ve always used to fix the problem, and sometimes this leads to failure-sometimes glory. But what we all need to consider is that although our basic mission changes at the same pace of human evolution, we sometimes need to rethink basic technology and best practices to come up with other ways to use them; that’s how we keep pace and make the necessary changes as we go.
Paul Hashagen brings us another installment of his Distant Fires column this month. I certainly hope that everyone’s reading these, not to repeat history in an operational misfortune sense, but in that water was still everything 100 years ago. Although Paul describes major incidents and high-profile fires of the time, consider the ones he doesn’t have the page count for! Imagine the backstep chats after a job where I’ll bet my pension that they discussed the operations of the first hoseline and the amount, or lack of water, they had at the fire area. One hundred years later, with digital fire apparatus and state-of-the art breathing apparatus, and the first thing we talk about at a fire is what happened with the first hoseline-and its water.
Dave Rhodes discusses this topic in a contemporary sense with this month’s Hump Day S.O.S. Dave brings up a great point about our perspective of rapid intervention operations by not getting into a jam in the first place. He posits the idea of placing greater emphasis on the first hoseline and ensuring that it is adequately staffed. I couldn’t agree more as we often dismiss this hoseline once we see a company starting it toward the fire building. We often think that our thermal imaging cameras, breathing apparatus, and unbelievably protective bunker gear will afford us the same protection as this hoseline, so we may opt to dismiss its operation to attempt to conduct a rapid search. This places us in harm’s way by ideology, and we couldn’t be more naïve in that the first hoseline has been the greatest life-saving tool since Day One.
Here’s another question to posit: What if water isn’t what’s needed? What if actually using fire against itself is the best way to kill it? Sound confusing? Fear not, because Todd McNeal describes how this actually works in the wildland urban interface (WUI). Todd describes the need for this action by engine companies in the WUI environment to reduce the problem before the main fire gets to it. In the WUI, ignition operations at the engine company level is just as important of a skillset as getting water to the places it’s needed, as well.
Switching gears a bit, the demand of emergency medical services (EMS) on fire departments has been a fire service evolutionary change in our mission and scope for quite some time. Although the fire service is still finding its place in the EMS world, this world seems to be changing at a much quicker pace. Consider your local volunteer fire department: You’d expect it to come with a fire truck and a few people if you were a civilian, but what if you now expect it to come with an ambulance? EMS is becoming a much bigger part of the volunteer fire service and some consider it to be their primary service delivery to the community. Ryan Harding describes the impact of EMS on volunteers and why volunteer departments are finding a decline in membership as a result.
EMS has also transcended the fire department’s role and now crosses over into law enforcement on a tactical scale. With active shooters being the new normal, the fire service and law enforcement have adopted a new way of responding to these incidents. Although we’re not bringing water to these events, we’re bringing EMS. Jason Gallimore writes that we should also bring situational awareness as these incidents should complement our philosophy of helping the helpless.
Let’s not forget our history and the tools, operations, ideology, and technology that allow us to complete our historical and current mission. Using what we’ve learned and developed to help us should be the driving force in making any evolutional change to our profession. And remember, it will always be water in, water out.