Station Pride Articles

Fear Mongering in the Fire Service

Fear usually stems from a lack of understanding. It’s easy to be afraid of something unfamiliar. The term “fear mongering” is used in political discussions while discussing hot button issues these days. The Google definition is: the action of deliberately arousing public fear or alarm about a particular issue. This article will discuss how it is used to describe the modern fire service in some areas. Unfortunately, phrases like “Everybody Goes Home” and “Risk versus Reward” have been taken out of their common sense meanings and been used as an excuse not to do your job. How many times do you hear things around the kitchen table in regards to NOT utilizing a tactic due to its danger? Roof operations, for example, is a fiercely debated topic amongst departments – both volunteer and career. There are also way too many leaders who limit themselves tactically because of fear. This usually comes from a lack of experience and/or training in the particular tactic such as running an involved heavy rescue or sending a crew to the roof of a multi-dwelling to trench cut. Let’s break down some current trends and some possible solutions.

Risk vs. Rewardroof

There are an awful lot of people who are trumpeting the widespread use of transitional attacks (“hard from the yard”). At an acquired structure drill last year, I witnessed firsthand the tactic being put into play. The fire was lit in the Delta/Alpha corner in a living room and had self-vented through the large front window. Fire was rolling under the 8 foot porch roof but was fairly well contained to the room of origin. The first engine company stretched to side Alpha, the driver charged the line and secured water, and the officer did his 360 and established command. He instructed the second-due engine to stretch to side Charlie, proceed through the house, and extinguish the fire while his firefighter sprayed water through the window to keep the fire in check. After I playfully ribbed him for this tactical choice, he beat around the bush with his answer. What I got from his response was that he felt somewhat pressured into doing it because the current trend. This is a well respected man who is not afraid of fire; however he didn’t aggressively attack the fire because of what amounts to peer pressure. In 2005, I was taught the transitional attack as a tool for my toolbox and it has stayed in there as a viable option ever since. It was just common sense to me – if the fire is getting out of control, darken it down so you can advance to the seat of the fire. At the 2014 High Rise Operations Conference, Captain John Ceriello of the FDNY said it best: “…we didn’t need to call it something fancy, we just used common sense. If we needed to spray some water in a window, we did it and moved on.”

“I’m not risking the lives of my firefighters for someone’s house.” How many have heard this? How many were also taught that the fire service is here for life safety and property preservation? I, for one, am sick and tired of hearing cowards say shit like, “I’m not risking my life to save someone’s property.” If that’s how you feel, PLEASE set your gear at the door and get out. Our entire lives are represented in our houses and businesses. Irreplaceable items that are invaluable mean the world to people and it is our job to save them. Does this mean we act recklessly on scene? No, use your head for something other than a helmet rack. However, we have some of the best equipment, best PPE, and best training in the history of the fire service and yet we underutilize it. Get inside, put the fire out, and salvage people’s personal belongings. THAT is what we are here for.

Using the Words “Never” and “Always”

After a first due fire last July, a captain and I were having a talk about tactics. The fire was in a townhouse that ran the outside wall off the deck and extended into the attic. The Battalion Chief sent a crew to the roof for vertical ventilation as is common practice, especially on multi-dwellings/townhomes. The captain I was talking with has approximately 20 years of service in the northern Virginia area and is a volunteer battalion chief within the county. The phrase he said that really set me back was, “I will NEVER put a company on the roof for operations,” and then cited building construction as the factor in his decision. This is an interesting statement for two reasons.  01297490595_origThe first is that any leader should know that “never” and “always” are limiting in nature and should be used sparingly. I find that more and more, people use the word never with something this is, in fact, dangerous and then use firefighter safety as the guise to justify it. For example, “never touch a downed wire” is a common phrase we hear and for the most part it holds true. However, there may be a time when you must use your training and common sense when dealing with a downed wire. “Always use jack pads” is common despite rigs today whose jacks have large feet already. Jack pads were designed to increase the surface area and spread the load using something called the double funnel principle. It should be up to the operator to determine what the ground surface is and whether or not pads are needed. I once had an officer who said, “Always pull the 300’ attack line on any dispatched fire.” This I attributed to his complete lack of confidence in his firefighters; instead of training them on estimating the stretch, he gave an ultimatum. This standing order failed to make the firefighters think on their own, failed to allow the firefighters to make decisions based on training, and watered down yet another firefighter responsibility.

The second reason I found his statement interesting is because of the risk versus reward debate. Roof operations are a necessary tactic at some fires. Most of us that don’t hide in the front yard pretending to be busy understand that hot gas going up and out is better than running throughout the house. Something else to think of from a command officer’s point of view is a roof report. Structure fires have six (or more) sides and who better than to give you the roof report than the roof man? (If you said, “launch the drone,” stop reading and go somewhere else…this job isn’t for you). So by saying he would never put a crew on the roof, he limits his tactics. When I asked him why he felt this way, his response regurgitated half-truths about modern building construction and gusset plates and how lightweight construction kills. So instead of really diving into building construction and doing research on how little it actually causes firefighter deaths, he allowed fear to continue to rule his tactics.

Drinking the Kool-Aid

Having a discussion with a company officer this past weekend yielded some similar sounding scare tactics. This discussion involved a recent class I attended which was advanced tactics for heavy truck stabilization and extrication. In one scenario, we performed practical evolutions lifting a 53-foot trailer off of a car utilizing the ICC bar of the trailer. trailer1The captain said he was instructed to only lift using the bar as a last resort. “They are weak and can’t support the weight,” was what he was told. Nothing against this captain – he’s a good guy – but instead of doing research himself, he drank the Kool-Aid and thus limited himself on tactics.

Similarly, an instructor in the class asked us an important question after we had stabilized and lifted a large dumpster truck off of a car. He explained that at this point in the scenario, he likes to ask his students who would be comfortable sending their firefighters under the truck to complete the extrication. While all of us said that we were comfortable, he stated that a large majority of his students all over the mid-Atlantic region answered him with a no. The reason for that no answer was a lack of confidence in the equipment and capabilities. You can increase confidence by training and getting more comfortable with your equipment and their capabilities.

Safety Sammie/Sally

The modern fire service is comprised of all different backgrounds and people. Depending on how busy your jurisdiction is, there can be any number of types of people in your department. Some places are much easier to hide from work or hide from fire than others. Rumor has it that back in the day, DCFD had a phrase written in their applications that said, “No cowards allowed,” or something similar. Due to someone getting offended, it was removed. It brings up a valid point however that this job requires mental fortitude. If you’re not willing to sacrifice your safety for the safety of others then you are just a leech suckling at the teet of the fire service. This calling isn’t pretty and it isn’t easy. If you are more concerned with what NFPA/NIST has to say than the safety of the people you are sworn to protect, please remove yourself from our fire service. If you are more focused on following the regulations to the letter than completing the mission, please head for the door. Lastly, if you take more pride in not getting hurt and pushing paperwork than you do in the reputation and morale of your men and women, GET OUT. You are a dying breed and we’re here to see to that.

My overarching plan to combat fear mongering is to train. Yes, we hear people preach training everyday, but it is important to train for the right things. If you are unsure of certain abilities or capabilities, train until you are sure. There should be no second-guessing of tactics in your tool box. If there is, you need to train on those tactics. Likewise, once you’ve topped off your toolbox, seek out more knowledge to expand your strategy and tactics. I’m not an expert on any tactic but I constantly strive to be better. I also get my inspiration from guys like Battalion Chief Nick Martin, Fire Chief Tony Kelleher, Lt. Ray McCormack, and a few others who publicly express their feelings on aggressive tactics and getting the job done. Technology and knowledge are at your fingertips so there is no reason to be using scare tactics to train people. There’s no excuse for failing at your tasks because you let fear dictate to you. Expand your horizons, trust your training, trust your men and women and join us in taking back the fire service.roof

About Corey Lockhart (6 Articles)
Corey Lockhart started his fire service career in 2005 in Loudoun County, Virginia. He is a member of the Ashburn Volunteer Fire-Rescue Department located in the dense, suburban first battalion and currently the truck sergeant on his shift. He holds numerous fire service and EMS certifications and loves to focus on special service tasks and technical rescue. He is also a 6-year USAF Security Forces veteran with tours in Korea and Afghanistan, where he was the Noncomissioned Officer in Charge of the FAST Program at the 455th ESFS/774th EAS. Corey enjoys his off time with his wife and two children and builds cars and motorcycles in his off time.

30 Comments on Fear Mongering in the Fire Service

  1. Right on my Brother! I have 38 years in. Some of what I see today just boggles my mind. Stay safe and keep fighting. j. Tebo , life member and past commander Arbutus Volunteer Fire Department -35 Baltimore County Maryland.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Corey, your article brings up some good points that are related to constant learning process during a firefighter’s career. But I question the calling someone a coward or placing their gear by the door because the officer would not risk firefighters for property is wrong. Property or a business can be replaced, it happens everyday, just check with the insurance companies but you can’t replace a human life. NO property is worth a firefighter life. It’s not being scared, but being realistic and it is common sense. Those that think differently have not attended a firefighter’s funeral. Now the reasons given by the officer to you on why an aggressive firefighting operations or a needed roof operation was not conducted may be inaccurate. But I rather have an officer second guess their decisions then the Monday morning quarterbacking by others after the fire when a firefighter is injured or killed. It amazing but we can do this job safely and be aggressive when needed. As a life long student of this profession and instructor for many years I love to hear student’s questions starting with the word Why or What if. This shows that the firefighter is thinking, which we need more of those firefighters. Realistic and constant training provides experience and knowledge to be able to safely do our jobs. I would ask the following question to the officer mentioned in your article. If you will not allow roof operations to be conducted when needed because of roof failure based on the roof construction then why are you conducting or allowing interior firefighting operations.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. On the bright side, firefighters with this kind of throwback macho bullshit attitude are the most likely to…let’s say, get themselves weeded out of the service by taking foolish and unnecessary risks that put themselves, their fellow firefighters and the people and property they are trying to protect in danger so they can make some kind of point about how big their nuts are. “No cowards allowed” is kinda different from “no testosterone-overloaded 17th century posturing about how ‘real men’ feel no fear.” So yeah, keep up the good work, and we’ll be looking for you when the next Darwin Awards posthumous presentation ceremony swings around.

    Like

    • Corey Lockhart // July 25, 2015 at 4:35 pm // Reply

      Well, you’re certainly in the minority with your opinion. Maybe the article stung so much because it applies to you? You certainly had no problem throwing out insults, despite them not making sense because they don’t apply to my article. Either way, come by Station 33 and I’ll show you around. You can see firsthand how motivated and professional a group of “throwback macho bullshit attitude” men really are. Who knows, maybe you’ll learn something. Thanks for reading!

      Like

  4. Ben Franklin // July 25, 2015 at 8:12 pm // Reply

    I totally agree! This research and science shit is destroying our fire service. I’m tired of these fire fighter truthers with their PhDs and all that flow path crap! They just like to hear themselves talk! They probably never fought a real fire!

    Sorry to be so short but I got to go get my leather out of the oven and go roll around in my fire pit in my new bunker gear.

    Like

  5. Mark Padier // July 26, 2015 at 12:19 pm // Reply

    I believe in and teach agressive attack and I seem to always have 1 or 2 that question why I entered a non tenable structure. I always answer the same way. You didn’t make entry and if you dont make entry how are you so sure no one could survive. To use an old phrase. Fear (forget everything and run. Or face everything and rise) its your choice. But I always go home knowing that I did everything I could. After 22 year’s in the service. FACE EVERYTHING AND RISE has served well. No guilt here. If you feel like you’re in over your head fall back on your training. Be safe

    Like

  6. I love how some commentators confuse “macho bullshit attitude” with “reckless and careless” firefighting. Where I come from, the R & C firefighter is schooled/counseled by the MBA firefighter. The MBA firefighters I know are self driven, capable, calculating with a keen sense of situational awareness. They know the job, know what needs to be done and surrounds themselves with like minded members. The R & C firefighters are the one’s typically seen riding a stretcher during the firefight.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. One of my favorite jokes also illustrates a problem we have in the fire service – an awful lot of salt spread, but not much earned:

    A Scotsman and his son were walking in the highlands one day. Off in the distance, the son sees a herd of sheep. The son excitedly says to his father “Da, lets run down and f**k one of those sheep”. The older, wiser father ponders, then replies “No son, lets walk down and f**k them all.”

    I’m with the father on this – he’s tactic is to take his time, look around, do the right thing.

    Risk a lot to save a lot.
    Risk a little to save a little.
    Risk nothing to save nothing.

    Like

    • Corey Lockhart // July 28, 2015 at 11:42 am // Reply

      Your cute story did not apply to anything, considering I never talked about running and screwing anything. I also didn’t write about blindly running into a building without using your head.

      Like

  8. Corey,

    Thank you for your service to our Country. It should be noted that those folks who are promoting Everyone Goes Home and Risk versus Gain are not the ones making excuses for firefighters not to do their jobs. Nor are those folks sounding alarms that fire is scary and firefighters should act cowardly. If you look closely, the original creators of the Everyone Goes Home program also coined the phrase “Make everyday a training day”. There are a lot of things I agree with in your article. Train, train, train, until you can’t get it wrong, keep all the tools available to you as options to extinguish a fire. Salvage! great point, a function of the fire service that is being lost. Salvage is something we should bring back as a normal fireground operation. There is a lot of common ground here, and I hope that one of those included wanting to never attend another firefighters funeral.

    In my opinion, you do not make your case about some of the folks who have made tactical decisions that you do not agree with. Simply saying that they are afraid or lack confidence or haven’t trained enough sounds good and rally’s the troops but may not be overly accurate. Clearly these folks had to do something to have achieved the rank and status within their departments.

    It appears that many of the comments in your article may lack proper context. I will attempt to highlight these points, I do so with a high level of respect to your positions.

    “Unfortunately, phrases like “Everybody Goes Home” and “Risk versus Reward” have been taken out of their common sense meanings and been used as an excuse not to do your job”.

    In my 35 years in the fire service I have never heard anyone say don’t do your job as a firefighter i.e go put a fire out because of these phrases. I do agree that these phrases have been taken out of the context and unfortunately I believe your article is perpetuating that.

    “How many times do you hear things around the kitchen table in regards to NOT utilizing a tactic due to its danger?”

    These are healthy discussions that should be encouraged. To the degree possible firefighters, company and chief officers should have these discussions. It helps them asses the abilities of the crews and helps them define areas that need more training and provides framework for deciding when a tactic is too dangerous to risk lives. Which, by the way is sometimes the case. Of the 84 firefighters who will be honored for making the ultimate sacrifice this October, many of them would be alive today had they utilized a different tactic.

    “Roof operations, for example, is a fiercely debated topic amongst departments – both volunteer and career. There are also way too many leaders who limit themselves tactically because of fear”.

    Have they truly limited their tactics and if so, what makes you believe they are afraid? Perhaps it’s a genuine concern about firefighters lives or a healthy respect for what fire is capable of?

    ““I’m not risking the lives of my firefighters for someone’s house.”

    Taken out of context one might believe that an officer who say’s this is really saying “I will let a house burn down before I let my firefighters go inside to put it out so as to not risk their lives”. I believe the common sense of the statement is being removed without proper context. I’ve never heard a company officer or chief officer say, “Firefighter _____ died in the line of duty, but we saved Mrs. Smiths valuable possessions so it was worth it”. I doubt any of the fire officers you want to emulate would trade property for the life of a firefighter.

    “Having a discussion with a company officer this past weekend yielded some similar sounding scare tactics. This discussion involved a recent class I attended which was advanced tactics for heavy truck stabilization and extrication. In one scenario, we performed practical evolutions lifting a 53-foot trailer off of a car utilizing the ICC bar of the trailer. The captain said he was instructed to only lift using the bar as a last resort. “They are weak and can’t support the weight,” was what he was told. Nothing against this captain – he’s a good guy – but instead of doing research himself, he drank the Kool-Aid and thus limited himself on tactics”.

    Corey, I am unclear on the “Scare tactic” used here, how is this connected to fear mongering? The Captain may be poorly informed but there is nothing here that strikes fear into the hearts of a firefighter. What Kool-aid did the Captain drink? Is the implication here that the Captain is connected to risk a lot to save a lot so don’t use the ICC bar?

    “Some places are much easier to hide from work or hide from fire than others”.

    This has nothing to do with fear mongering or Safety Sammy and Sally. This is about people who don’t do what they are supposed to and I will add company officers, chief officers and peers that allow them to get away with it. I presume you are making a connections with non-performers and safety. If not, feel free to correct me on this. If so, you are wrong! The most safe firefighters on a fireground are those performing at their peak of performance, with a thorough knowledge of fire behavior, fireground tactics, wearing their full compliment of PPE, constantly assessing their situation and adjusting to changing environments. Looking out for their brother/sister firefighter and making sure they too are operating safely. Those promoting safety have the same message you have for non-performers on an emergency incident. They only increase the risk and they have no business being there. Company officers should deal with non-performers and weed them out before they hurt themselves or contribute to someone else’s injury or worse. Those hiding from fire and doing so behind the guise of safety are just as bad as those taking unnecessary risks under the guise that there is a house on fire and regardless of the conditions I’m going inside.

    Connecting non-performers to safety Sammie and Sally helps perpetuate the idea that if your safety conscious your a coward and afraid to go into a fire. I don’t know how one can make that connection, the myth is wrong.

    “Rumor has it that back in the day, DCFD had a phrase written in their applications that said, “No cowards allowed,” or something similar. Due to someone getting offended, it was removed”.

    This might be a bit nit-picky, but…Really! We are quoting rumors? I recommend we stick to facts.

    “I also get my inspiration from guys like Battalion Chief Nick Martin, Fire Chief Tony Kelleher, Lt. Ray McCormack, and a few others who publicly express their feelings on aggressive tactics and getting the job done. Technology and knowledge are at your fingertips so there is no reason to be using scare tactics to train people. There’s no excuse for failing at your tasks because you let fear dictate to you. Expand your horizons, trust your training, trust your men and women and join us in taking back the fire service”.

    I could not agree with you more, the folks from whom you receive inspiration are well versed in their profession and should be admired for their contributions. They too will tell you that safe operations are vital on a fireground and the way to achieve safety is to be courageous everyday and hold your crews accountable to know the work that needs to be performed and not an excuse to act a fool on a fire scene. I also agree that technology is at our fingertips as never before. Learn as much as you can and don’t be afraid to change your strategy and tactics when science is teaching us there is a better and safer way to operate. Courage comes in many forms, sometimes it’s demonstrated by adopting something an old tactic with a new name, simply because, well yes a PhD had to show it to us.

    Like

  9. Tom Sanders // July 28, 2015 at 1:28 am // Reply

    Garbage article. What a waste of time I will never get back. If you’re risking killing someone over a house/property etc, you are the insurance companies best dumb friend. This writer needs to give his head a knock.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Started the fire service in 2005. That says it all.

    Like

    • Corey Lockhart // July 28, 2015 at 7:15 pm // Reply

      Please explain to me how being an urban firefighter for 10 years makes my thoughts invalid? What Department do you work for?

      Like

  11. Wow what a disappointing and scary article. I am glad at least that there are some intelligent responses, shutting this nonsense down.

    Like

  12. References a training fire – lots of experience there. Ashburn is a great place, with a great FD, but they don’t burn a lot there. It’s obvious the author has never been responsible for the lives of a crew.

    Like

  13. Sounds like you’ve drank the punch and stayed at the bowl. As a former NCOIC of the largest FAS during Operation Enduring Freedom, I am surprised at your willingness to sacrifice your people for a battle that gains you no advantage. Fancy sayings are never, yes I said never, meant to replace common sense. “Everyone goes home”, some in body bags”, you know that one, we used to say repeat that after mission briefings in Iraq.
    I commend you on furthering your education and training to get it right, but you also need to open your eyes and realize that there are smarter, safer ways of doing our job.
    When I started in the fire service three decades ago, I learned the same methods of attack as you preach. Don’t attack from outside, yes, I’ve received steam burns while conducting searches because a captain deployed water through a window, that was far less severe that the flash-over that he prevented, and yes we rescued three children all who survived, none of whom would have without the quick suppression from outside.
    Under another captain, we used your tactics, attack from the ventilate and attack from the unburned side and don’t put water on it until you find the seat. Ventilation feed the fire, room lit up and burned over while the two guys where entering what used to be a darkened room.
    The fact is that we have evolved in our understanding of fire behavior. I agree, we shouldn’t be afraid to do out job but we need to protect ourselves in order to protect those who are relying on us to do our job.
    One area I totally agree with you is that we need to be aggressive in doing our job. However, this doesn’t mean we sacrifice our firefighters for empty buildings or replaceable objects.

    DC Milton Burgess
    (First Sergeant US ARMY Retired)

    Like

  14. Jason Ferreira // November 1, 2015 at 8:19 pm // Reply

    You bring up a good point Corey of safety in our trade. Have looked at the construction trades and see the changes in safety devices, codes and regulations implemented today? i also agree to common sense being pushed out as well.

    However………..
    You need to listen and research a bit more before you write it down on paper. Your inexperience in the trade and lack of respect for your peers shows. Have you ever commanded a situation that your very brothers/sisters lives are at risk? Have you worked a construction trade that has one of the highest injury and death rates? I don’t believe you have. I’ve seen the horrific construction accidents that invoke both death and dismemberment. I believe in being aggressive with both of my trades but I will not risk the lives of my co workers knowing it’s going to fail. I’m sure you wouldn’t do that, at least I hope you wouldn’t. You need some coaching on portraying your thoughts to paper because this article turned your points into you being the “tough guy”, “we got this Chief” guy, when in reality you really don’t.

    Please take this as constructive criticism and listen. It may save your life or others that work with you.

    Lt. Jason Ferreira
    Iron worker / Welder – by trade

    Like

  15. To the author: Please rethink your approach to firefighting.
    Bravado is a poor substitute for sound judgement, training, education, research, and experience. Transitional attack works; so does flow path management. Vertical ventilation is not always necessary; roof operations are sometimes unnecessary. Taking unnecessary risks to save property is a bad bargain.
    Read the research, take the training, gain the experience (particularly command experience) and leave ego behind.
    Good luck to you in your endeavors.

    Like

  16. Richard Bull // April 6, 2016 at 4:45 pm // Reply

    Maybe the people who oppose this article should seriously consider switching back to ems. The fire service is becoming to soft in its way of thinking these days. This job is a choice. No one is drafted into it. If you show up at my house it’s on fire and you take that soft stance you won’t have to decide about your fire career. I will make sure your unemployed by the end of the week. My tax dollars pay for your job.

    Like

  17. Rediculous article.Inferiority complex gone mad.

    Like

  18. Corey,

    You raise some excellent points, and your passion for the job is obvious. Speaking of that….some of your words in the article could have been considered name-calling, but I gave you the benefit of the doubt and took it as passion. I can dig that. But coming down to the comments section here was disappointing.

    Not every troll here needs a reply. You’re a better writer than that. And some people are replying to you with some disagreement with the same passion you had in your article…and you’re bashing them for it. The professionalism of your writing is lost from that.

    You’d be far better served to rise above and let your initial writing do the talking rather than resort to petty insults, and listen to the constructive disagreement from others with a little more respect. Just skip the trolls.

    Like

  19. It reflects poorly on the website and the mission of station-pride that the person who wrote the articular responded to a nasty review by calling the reviewer an idiot, it also takes away from the over all articular by discrediting the writer. If you want to try to change things you need to be ready to have you views dumped on calling names and responding poorly is not going to help you get your point across.

    Like

  20. GREAT article!

    Like

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