The more sweat on the training ground, the less blood on the fireground

By Dave LeBlanc

Originally published 21 November 2009

I just recently finished reading “Lone Survivor” by Marcus Luttrell. In this book Luttrell paints a horrific picture of death and survival for a United States Navy SEAL recon team. Luttrell, the lone survivor, discusses tough decisions that were made and their consequences.

The United States Military is bound in its operations by Rules of Engagement (ROE). ROE stipulates when and how a unit will respond to enemy threats. In Afghanistan, US forces operate under a “don’t fire until fired upon” ROE. In other words, the enemy gets the first shot.

Luttrell’s squad, bound by these rules, allowed some native “goatherds” to leave the SEAL’s position and most certainly report the patrol location to the Taliban. This was proven several hours later when the Taliban attacked the SEALs in force.

Luttrell claims in his book, that these rules are inconsistent with winning; Luttrell’s point being that soldiers are trained to fight and win. Furthermore, they are educated and have the skills and knowledge to accomplish their mission without overly restrictive rules that give the advantage to the enemy. That’s right, the ROE gives the advantage to the enemy; they get to shoot first.

As I was reading this book and thinking about the arguments put forth about the Military’s ROE, I began comparing it mentally to the Fire Service’s own ROE. The rule I am referring to is 2 in and 2 out. I began thinking that 2 in / 2 out is another ROE that doesn’t give us the flexibility to operate as we may need to. It restricts and binds us to an unrealistic ideal.

2 in and 2 out gives us a false security that 2 exterior firefighters will be able to save 2 interior firefighters if things go wrong. It also forces us to split a minimal amount of manpower into a less than acceptable level. Often it forces us to allow our enemy to grow stronger.

Wouldn’t it make more sense, if after a good size up is done, that four-man engine companies make a swift and direct attack at the seat of the fire? Moreover, those four fully equipped and trained firefighters rapidly advance an attack line and knock down the fire before it spreads?

2 in / 2 out forces us to compromise our attack force. Rather than using all assets available, we must divide our personnel to maintain our “safety” blanket. We are forced to debate what constitutes “known life hazard”. ”. 2 in 2 out is a crutch that supports the Political decisions of lower staffing levels and fewer companies. We all have read about the Phoenix studies conducted after the tragic death of Bret Tarver. What did those studies prove? It proved that upwards of 12 firefighters were needed to rescue one firefighter. Yet 2 in / 2 out say we can save 2 with 2.Many feel that 2 in / 2 out is a standard we will be judged against when all goes wrong and we fail. A fear many soldiers have, being judged by the rest of the world, that wasn’t present when the aforementioned decision needed to be made.

So what is the answer? Obviously, I am not recommending that we throw caution to the wind and rush blindly into every structure. The answer really is quite simple; although the process of attaining it may not be. TRAINING- that one word solves a multitude of problems. Train our people to make effective decisions. Train our people to make accurate size ups. Train our people to get in and fight. Train our people to know when to get out. Train our people to be accountable. Train, Train, Train. The more sweat on the training ground, the less blood on the fireground.

Training makes more sense to me than one size fits all rules that often cannot be effectively applied to our circumstances. Much like the soldiers being constrained by a ROE thought up by civilians not trained in their craft, we operate in an environment that does not always fits into the little OSHA box of 2 in / 2 out.

Photo courtesy U.S. Navy

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Published by Data Not Drama

Data Not Drama is writings that provide a point of critical thought about firefighter fatality data and education, line of duty deaths, and risk. The main focus is to encourage less risk aversion and better knowledge on the subject of firefighter fatalities in firefighters, fire departments, and fire service organizations.

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