By Dave LeBlanc
19 May 2022

As with the rest of the world, the fire service is a collection of different ideas, beliefs and experiences. All of these guides our actions and reactions, and they determine who we are on the fireground.

They also create conflict when matters of importance are being discussed among peers.

It wasn’t too many years ago that there was no internet and our spheres of influence and interaction were significantly smaller. We operated in an area where the majority of those around us worked on the same ground that we did, and the only “outside” influences came from infrequently held conferences, magazine (there were two) articles and maybe the mail.

In today’s world we can access training with our fingertips. Multimedia presentations of all types are available with a Google search. We are also in are era where more frequently offered training is available and less fire duty is happening. Overall this is a good thing, because the only way to supplement experience is through training.

There is a concern about the bona-fides of some of those teaching. There was a running joke about three guys and a Facebook page was all that was needed to become a training company.

What is lost in all of this is that no matter how similar the job is, everyone’s situation is vastly different.

There are those that feel every building should be searched.

There are those that don’t have the resources to do that.

There are those that feel every fire should be attacked from the outside first.

There are those that have the manpower and resources to only do it when necessary.

There are those that feel realistic, contents based, live fire training is a must.

There are those that don’t have the ability to do so safely.

We can agree or disagree about the examples, and that really doesn’t matter. Insert the latest internet discussion into those terms and you will understand the point.

We, as firefighters, are a product of our experiences and from the northeast to the southwest, those experiences vary as much as the size of each department first due does. Fire departments are a product of the experiences of their firefighters. Culture and history provide a foundation that is honed by what happens today.

But again, that is different from town to town, city to city and firehouse to firehall.

For as many like minded firefighters as there are across the country, there as many firefighters with differing thoughts and opinions. We can all agree that our primary mission is life safety, and then gets lost in the argument for who comes first.

Add into this equation the information provided by the inexperienced and untested and we can often end up in a conversation in which there will be very little common ground.

We are a group tend to be very protective of what we believe, and resistant to consider the thoughts of others. This belief is based on the assumption that because what we do has always worked, there is no reason to change.

The opposite of this set of beliefs is often grounded in a bad experience or reluctance to accept the risk that comes with the job, so alternatives tactics and strategies are appealing. Managing risk and reducing exposure make the job more palatable.

There are very few constants on the fireground. Manpower and response often fluctuate. Buildings aren’t the same and are often modified. Weather, time of day, what shift is working, all of these things can create a different fire each time we go out. All of these things will differ from border to border and we go across the United States.

But these operational differences are often lost when discussions come up on tactics and strategies. Everyone assumes that everyone else is just like them. They assume because they are comfortable conducting live fire training that everyone else should be too. They assume that because they can search ahead of the fire attack that every else can too.

There is so much that isn’t understood, that often opinion gets declared fact. A classic example of this is NFPA standards. Many assume they are the law of the land and must be followed to the letter. Others assume they are an overreach by an organization bloated within spectators and manufacturers. Neither is the case.

Every standard has within its first few pages a list of definitions and one of the first definitions is the Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ). What this means is that in some cases parts of the standard can be deviated from if the AHJ has evaluated them and determined they are inappropriate. This is not a free pass to ignore them. The standards are not designed to be adopted wholesale, but rather to guide the development of policy with what has been determined to be the consensus agreement of those on the committee. What is important to understand is that these are the standards you will be judged by, so your decisions must be based in fact not opinion.

So often instead of listening and reading to understand, we respond. We assert our opinion as fact of diminish the views of those who disagree. A lot can be learned from those who disagree. We just have to open our mind enough to evaluate that information. We have to understand our world well enough to advocate for what will work in our environment. And discard what won’t.

“Seek first to understand.”

This quote has so much meaning and is critical to our growth as the fire service. If we are to truly learn from others, we have to understand the foundation from which they speak.

More from Dave LeBlanc

Photograph courtesy of Bill Carey.

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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