Blah Blah Blah Safety

Each day I find at least a few minutes to read through some of the fire service commentary on the prominent social media sites. After all, I’m trying to add to the mix by providing a few things here on Not Just Another Fire, so I like to know what everyone else is talking about, as well. Some of us post news items, while others post training tips or instructional pieces. No matter the type of page or format of the content, the intent is almost always to offer some food for thought before the next run, while often focusing on the aspects of training, firefighter safety, and ultimately, a reduction in LODDs.

There are, of course, the number of pages that regularly post scenarios or photographs of incidents, and then they ask for comments on a theoretical approach, feedback on the approach that was taken, or just general thoughts overall. Unfortunately, so often these particular discussions take a quick turn toward the non-productive, either becoming a bunch of Monday morning quarterbacking at best, and an attack fest on fellow brothers at its worst.

I reached a point recently where I started genuinely worrying about the state of the fire service, and more importantly, the mindset of those who comment the most on many of these sites – as well as the mindset of those who are reading and taking many of these comments to heart. The old adage often holds true that the “squeaky wheel” gets the most attention. But I fear that some of the squeaky wheels I see posting time and again on these sites are voicing opinions that put many of us at a disadvantage as we work so hard to train firefighters to work smarter and safer. In fact, I would go so far as to call a few of these comments dangerous. Today that concern really jumped off the page at me.

During my online meandering, a photo caught my eye showing a two-story residence with heavy involvement on the visible sides of the second floor. While the first floor showed little to no involvement, much of the initial discussion started speculating on additional scene information and conditions, along with talk of size-up and a 360. From there, a fair number of comments cited firefighter safety concerns given the unknowns, and thus supported the notion of sticking with a defensive approach, unless other information warranted a different strategy. Of course, in these discussions, that’s when things always start to take a turn.

Anyone who has ever read through a thread of comments on one of these posted scenarios knows just how quickly a firefighter who even thinks about suggesting a defensive approach will immediately be questioned repeatedly. And I’m not talking about questions to clarify why they would suggest that approach, or asking for a better explanation of the approach. I’m talking about the personal attacks questioning his “testicular fortitude,” or in her case, the respective anatomical bravery indicator. Nothing chaps me more than a bunch of comments that start spouting off that someone is a coward and should rethink their interest in the fire service simply because they suggested taking a safe approach, no matter what scenario is being presented.

But this time was different yet again. Beyond the usual banter back and forth about offensive vs defensive and anatomical measurements of bravery, one comment in particular somehow caught my eye.

Post by HFD member

“Blah blah blah safety this safety that… show up, pull a line, go in, give it hell. Hiding from danger is for COPS.”

For whatever reason, my curiosity drew me to take a look at the profile of the commenter. Here I found a young man who clearly is in the prime of his fire service career or is quickly growing into it. And as is the case with most young fire service guys and gals, the profile was adorned with photos in turnout gear and with various apparatus. But something else caught my eye. The thing that really bothered me most about this particular post was that this young man’s profile prominently noted his association with a major metropolitan fire department – and not only that, but a department that experienced a multiple-LODD incident earlier this year.

Now I realize that “boys will be boys” when it comes to brothers and sisters in the fire service being gutsy and proclaiming it loudly, especially when it’s on a social media site for all to see. But for someone within a department who has recently lost brothers to an interior attack gone awry, should a comment like this be a concern? Is this “just a comment” showing pride in the willingness to do anything it takes to do the job – or is this an indicator of an attitude that may be destined to tragically repeat history? In this particular case, I wonder what debriefing and training was provided to ensure that such a horrible tragedy never occurs again. I also wonder if those messages are being overpowered by comments that simply suggest “growing a pair and doing your job.”

My real concern is that so many of the individuals posting about how everyone needs to grab a line and race into the door do not fully understand how the dynamics of fire response have changed. And how many of our young recruits are picking up on this attitude from something as simple as social media comments? Oh, but wait. If they are posting it online, surely they aren’t telling anyone that at the station or on a scene, right?

No one can know it all, and I know I certainly don’t. But as we train, do we really spend enough time talking about fire behavior and attack, along with properly making the all-important “go / no-go” decisions? Do our firefighters truly understand what goes into making that decision? Or are we still just letting them “use their gut?” Are we getting our point through to people that we must do everything we do as safely as possible? And in all of this, why do we let a culture that mistakes or treats safety as cowardice continue?

There are a number of great online resources that go to great lengths to educate firefighters on fire behavior and strategies, among so many other important things. In the case of Not Just Another Fire, we are focused on providing discussion that helps firefighters recognize and address special circumstances found in non-residential settings. But everyone must realize that not a one of these resources can be effective at protecting firefighters if there’s not a clear-cut dedication to safety on the front end of all of it.

Don’t get me wrong. We still have to get the “wet stuff on the red stuff”, but we also now have to think about how so many things have evolved over the years.  Response times, construction types, staffing challenges, fire loading. Any of us could probably go on and on without thinking about it too hard. But perhaps the first thing we need to be thinking about EVERY TIME is safety – before thinking about any of those other things.

As an insurance safety professional in my day job, I recognize and understand that attitude shifts with respect to safety are a cultural thing, which takes more than overnight to accomplish. In fact, it may takes months, years, or even generations. But to get that shift made, we must continue to make every effort to reinforce the importance of safety – rather than allowing people to place safety in the column of things that make you less of a firefighter.

A classic Seinfeld episode revolves around what a person can “yadda yadda” and be acceptable. In this case, is it acceptable for firefighter safety to be thrown in with a “blah blah?” I certainly hope not.

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