Risk a Lot, Save a Lot

It is the nature of firefighting to have risk thrust upon you

By Ray McCormack

Originally published 18 September 2014.

What is the risk to firefighters at structural fires? Well, the risks start with the response and truly never end. Firefighting should be the biggest risk and often, it is the least. Accidents on the way to or from fires often lead in injuries while being theoretically less risky. So, what is risk anyway? Is it where injuries occur or is it where the most danger lies?

If you risk a lot, you are considered to be taking a chance that what you’re about to do may not come out the way you planned. Risk is also time sensitive in that smaller fires should produce less risk for firefighters, but often just the opposite happens. Large scale exterior operations which look dangerous tend to have fewer injuries because firefighters are operating from a distant location and in a different mode. Risk is also in the eye of the beholder; while some risks are apparent even to the most hardcore observer; many “risky acts” are up for interpretation.

So, how do you risk a lot on the fireground? Simple ways include not being ready to work, in the form of missing PPE or being too close to a losing proposition. So, are we aware of things that can hurt us or are we risk blind? No one wants to get injured and no one wants to get injured unnecessarily; however, it seems unnecessary injuries are common. Then is being injured unnecessarily just part of the job but we refuse to recognize it as such?

The risk a lot mantra; however, is different; it is telling us not to do something unless there will be a great benefit. The problem is many want to make a deal and when we pick what is behind the curtain there is always more risk. They will take risk not on a whim, not on hopes of glory, but on the hope that they save a life.

Is the problem with attempting to save a life the risk portion or is it the fact that firefighters are willing to have this in their heads? Is the real risk that firefighters believe personal risk is worth it to save lives? The job of firefighter is like no other because we must make calculated risk decisions that involve lots of time compression and often underdeveloped variables to save lives. Doctors save lives, but theirs is not at risk, pilots save lives but deal with more knowns then a firefighter. To lessen risk is not always possible on the fireground; to save lives requires knowledge and personal risk.

Firefighters get better at what they do by learning and practicing their craft. When a firefighter is faced with a decision to risk their life to try and save another life, they have reached the pinnacle of what being a firefighter is all about. Will they be successful? Will they emerge on the other side of risk unscathed? We just don’t know

What we do know; however, is that the fire service has plenty of risk available when it goes to work. We manage the risk as best we can, but often our people are asked to do more and have to push the envelope. It is the nature of firefighting to have risk thrust upon you. Your decision to challenge it so that someone else can survive is the risk a lot save a lot part. Using risk for live saving may not always be an even trade but it is what saving is all about.

Photo courtesy of Lloyd Mitchell.

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.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: