Recently I saw on a website forum a comment that offended me. Usually I am not quickly or easily offended, especially given the nature by which a majority of forum users display their reasoning, but this one bothered me. The writer, commenting on the recent death of a Homewood, Illinois firefighter, stated a desire to have a legislation requiring placards on homes that use medical oxygen. The rationale, if you will, was that having this foreknowledge might lead to influencing the initial sizeup decisions.
While the opinion of one among many is a clear minority, what should be alarming to us is the quickness and acceptance of this lone thought. The collective body in fire service forums, no matter what the site, believe in a grieving process method, a period of waiting. They exist with a accepted norm that says questioning the acts of the fallen must wait a period of time since the announcement of tragedy. After this period of time has passed the questions are raised and the deceased firefighter’s department is piled on with “should have” and “could have”. The recommendations are laid out better than any NIOSH report, since cyberspace firefighting has few faults.
Richmond firefighter, and former Kentland volunteer, Jake Rixner wrote a article describing a moment during his recruit school where a firefighter’s cause is expounded. He tells of a moment during PT when a recruit would be near exhaustion and the instructor would go face to face with the recruit and yell, ‘are you going to get the baby?!’
“The high temperatures and the fact that these sprints were taking place in full turn-out gear, and after the recruit was tired created a situation where you had to dig deep into your heart to force yourself to find the energy to continue. The instructors would get right in the face of anyone who showed signs of fatigue, “ ARE YOU GOING TO GET THE BABY?” The question was, do you have the heart, the guts, the drive to keep going after you think you can’t go anymore and go rescue the baby in the burning building. With the mental image of a trapped infant how could you give up?”
I know Jake and he didn’t write this to piggy back on the unintelligent reasoning that says you must rush in to every burning structure you find. He wrote this to emphasize the need for firefighters to be physically and mentally fit to face one of the two universal reasons why you ride the engine, that is to save life. The intelligent passion for the job requires you to be courageous and, note this, intelligent. The intelligence comes by using your fire service education to evaluate the conditions on the fireground and influence your operations. It is not intended to be a loophole for you to place your personal safety in an extreme manner above the very people you have chosen to serve. I’m not advocating a reckless approach to interior firefighting, but emphasizing that the basics, get the baby, cannot be marginalized by risk management, victim survivability profiling, and lately hazard labeling.
If we quietly accept the remote notion of labeling for medical equipment, such as oxygen, then what else do we label? Should explosive placards be placed in the homes of those who have firearms and do reloading? What about home hospice care? Do we place a DNR sign on the front door, so not to rescue Grampa if the house catches fire? I hope you see the rationale in the irrational. I believe, as Ray McCormack put it, that too much safety makes Johnny a poor rescuer. What good does having a hazard label on a private dwelling do when we are faced with the obvious rescue?
If a danger sign on the front door does more for your mental sizeup than the burned person in the front yard screaming that the baby is still inside, I hope you reconsider your decision to be a firefighter.
Also on Backstep Firefighter …
Hayward and Contra Costa County – June 15, 2012
Is Taking Off Your Facepiece For a Occupant a Bad Thing? – July 6, 2012