Station Pride Articles

Salvage?! But I’m Here To Save Lives!

Ok, so when I started writing with Station-Pride, I made it very clear that I wasn’t going to write any kind of operational, tactical, strategic article, ever. Because I will admit it, I don’t know it all. Shocker to some guys I work with…you boys hush.

But today I watched a video of a respectable department in a medium-large city that were defensively fighting a very obvious total-attic fire in a 2-story brick/wood-frame residence. None of the pics I attached are related to the video mentioned. There was no visible fire involvement on the first floor and minimal smoke on the second, but they had a tower ladder or 2, flowing “big water” into this attic, as more firefighters than on my whole department were walking around the front yard.

Obviously, this was a tactical decision made by incident command, who most likely had a lot more information than I did from the video, but it brought up a big question.

I am in NO WAY “Monday Morning Quarterbacking” this event. I just use it as an example.

When we were young, and we tried to get into the fire service, most of us were asked, “Why do you want to be a fireman?” Many of us probably said something along the lines of, “I just want to help people.” I believe this is what we would say because that’s all we knew to say.


Pretty basic stuff. Simple…… and perfect. At what point in the growth of your career did you decide that if there weren’t a life to be saved, you would sit back and watch a building (somebody’s home, mind you) burn to the ground as you attempt to turn it into a swimming pool?

We are taught about salvage in the academy. According to the IFSTA manual, salvage is an “after-fire event.” But why?

When my great-grandfather was a fireman, they salvaged personal/important belongings DURING firefighting activities. The video I saw showed an entire first floor of someone’s home being ignored and flooded because two floors above was on fire. Again, I obviously don’t know the whole story from just a video, its just an example.


Most fire departments have a motto or a mission statement and in that paragraph, it talks about saving or protecting more than just lives. It’s re- assuring to the citizens in our response districts that we will take the risk to treat their home and its’ contents almost as important as their lives. That includes salvage during the fire event. If we filled a whole house full of water damage when the fire was through the roof, what have we done? Created a “total loss” for the insurance company, and forced the residents to lose more property than necessary. Not just property, but memories and sentimental objects that may not be readily replaceable.


Are departments short-staffed and behind the ball from the time the tones drop? You’re damn right. Across the nation, we’re fighting a short staff issue but that does not mean we don’t have a job we have promised our citizens we would do. If some departments wrote their mission statements based on past factual practices, I’m afraid some of the public would lose confidence in their local fire departments.


The decision to use a couple of members as a salvage team during the fire may not seem glorious, but it falls on the IC to make that call. Train with your crews with the explanation of; “try to save what you can. Clothing for the kids, picture albums, veterans flags… If you see vehicle keys hanging on the wall, maybe even a laptop or computer tower.” Trust your men/women to accomplish the very best they can when you make that assignment.

If your home had a fully involved room and contents fire, what would you want to save from another room in the home?



I live in a relatively small home. If we have a room on fire, I want some dedicated men and women to save, to the best if their ability, things that my kids will need to live out of a hotel room with while we recover.

About James Cook (32 Articles)
James's great grandfather was a career Firefighter, his grandfather was a firefighter, making his way to fire chief in his home town and taught at Texas A&M fire school for 50 + years. James’s grandfather on his dad’s side was a naval firefighter in the Navy Seabees, James’s father has been a paramedic since 1979, and his mother’s a nurse also. James himself is a career Captain / EMT-I in northwest Texas, and has been in the fire service since Aug/2005. James loves teaching as much as learning the craft.

1 Comment on Salvage?! But I’m Here To Save Lives!

  1. Rick Talbert // March 26, 2019 at 3:30 pm // Reply

    An undervalued and often overlooked facet of our craft. Securing and protecting someone’s valuables along with segregation of what’s damaged and what is not has a long lasting effect on the home our business owner. If you are looking for community support and advocacy, this effort will build it for sure. Great article!


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