Firefighting Philosophy

I put up fire pictures all the time.  I love them.  I wish they were scratch and sniff!  I love fighting fire.  I love being first on.  I have been assigned to a truck company when I first made captain.  I had a fantastic crew, great guys, everyone of them.  But truck work just wasn't for me.  Gimme an engine, a busy one.  Gimme carnage, gimme chaos, gimme the worst situations that a fireground can throw at you, and let me be first on.  I love it.  Bad wreck needing extrication, yes please.  First on fire with people trapped, oh oh oh, pick me, pick me!  A call comes in with a person stuck in the air (no kidding, I had that one time), we will take it!  So that is me in a nutshell, I'm a nut, when it comes to the craziness of the fire service.  But here is my philosophy on that craziness.


I believe in aggressiveness.  I believe in being smart.  Those two go hand in hand!  If you prescribe to my particular brand of aggressiveness, it has to be joined at the hip with intelligence, training, common sense and the ability to blend them all together.  If you are going to be aggressive in going interior on a structure fire, you had better be just as aggressive in going defensive and also have intelligence, training, experience and common sense when it comes to being able to decide which to do.  Here are two examples from my career when I both succeed at being aggressively defensive and when I failed at going interior aggressively.


I was a lieutenant at a very busy engine company.  Rockin and rollin!  100 mph with our hair on fire.  I had the world's best driver (Medrano, oh yeah!), and two gung-ho, young firefighters on back.  We were always running the streets.  When we were at the station, we trained almost daily on our own.  We had made an EMS call in a house that we saw all the time.  We knew that they were jumping power from across the street.  We also knew the house was in shambles.  What we learned on this EMS call was that the house was cut up, and bad.  They had screwed doors shut to prevent access to the the rest of the house.  They had separated it to house four separate tenants.  This was originally a single family home that was about 1500 square feet.  To top it all off, there were old cars and a ton of junk around the outside of the house.  Can you say death trap???  So one morning we get called out to a tree on fire.  It's about 5:30 am and we have been up all night and already had two working fires.  We are tired.  I throw my bunker pants on and damn near fall back asleep en route.  My driver made a noise that made me look up.  That tree on fire looked like the sun coming up over the tree tops.  I was awake now.  We then get a radio call that this is now reported to be a structure fire.  As we pulled up we found our lovely little crap house with about 50% involvement and fire through the roof.  This was an easy call.  I gave the size-up and we went defensive.  We pulled a 2 1/2" and connected our Blitzfire monitor.  I got on the radio and called for a supply line and repeated several times to all incoming companies, "This is a defensive fire!!!"  All the incoming crews were every bit the hard chargers as we were.  This horse train needed the reigns pulled and pulled hard.  We went around to the exterior doors on the uninvolved side and checked for victims and found none.  In the end, no lives were lost, no firefighters hurt and an eyesore of a house meet its end, bulldozed!


So what is the opposite of aggressively defensive?  How bout stupidly offensive!  I'm a captain now.  I have swapped stations with another captain.  He is now a truck captain (and a damn good one at that!) and I am back to being a water wagon weenie, HOLLA!!!  I was yet again blessed with a fantastic crew.  The firefighters on back were the best duo I had ever worked with cuz they brought a ton of experience to the table.  My driver too was top notch.  We get toned out to a structure fire.  I started off bad by being on the wrong channel.  We were working off of our secondary fire channel as another structure fire had been going on and still had companies on scene.  I'm thinking that this call must be nothing because I'm not hearing anything on the radio.  We round the corner and the sun truly was coming up.  This freaking duplex was blowing and going!  The truck was first on scene and we were the second engine on.  I figure out that I'm on the wrong channel and change my truck radio over.  The captain of the truck company is telling us to come pull an additional line.  Oh boy, good times ahead!  There is a hydrant right by the manifold engine so we pull a line and get ready.  He tells us to go in the front door of the other side of this duplex.  Now looking at this house and the amount of fire, I am thinking "You want us to do what???"  Red flag #1.  But, I decide to follow orders and do what we can do.  Our line is charged and here we go.  We encounter heavy fire but start knocking it back.  As we progress forward, I fall through the floor.  This is a pier and beam structure with no basement.  Can anyone say red flag #2?  I crawl out of my hole and we keep going.  It's ok at this time to say out loud, "What a moron!"  We each, my nozzleman and myself, fall through the floor two more times.  Stubborn, yep.  Stupid, yup.  Not thinking, not a bit!  I'm pretty sure my brain was left in my bunk back at the station.  The floor had been weakened because that's the side that the arsonist/s threw the gasoline.  But we manage to get the fire knocked down, at least from what we could see.  My nozzleman is asking me if I see anymore fire when I felt like someone hit me in the shoulder with a sledgehammer.  The roof had collapsed on us, seven in total.  It knocked me back through the floor, bent me at the waist at the floorline and shoved my face into the back of my nozzleman.  I was stuck.  The rest of the story is for another time.  Know that we all made it out but for the grace of God.  I thought I was going to die and that I had killed my crew in the process.  Why?  I paid no attention to ALL of the MANY warning signs.  I was aggressively stupid and almost got a lot of good people killed.


So to sum up, I believe in aggressiveness. I believe in going interior on most fires!  Put the fire out and most of the problems are solved.  But you have to have the intelligence, training, experience and common sense to know when you can't win by going interior.  And when you make that decision, be as aggressive as when you pull up to a one room and contents fire.  Standing out at the street and squirting water on almost every fire is not doing our job.  And firefighters get hurt and killed even when good and right decisions are made, it happens.  But not very often.  We have to continue to train ourselves, both physically and mentally.  If you're young and have the opportunity to go to a busy station, do it!  Nothing trumps experience.  And pray that the good Lord has blessed you with common sense.  On this job, you're gonna need it, a lot, and often!