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Flashpoint blog: Sept. 2009

Sept. 23, 2009 - A few years ago in Indianapolis I had the honour of being included in a panel discussion on reducing firefighter injuries and fatalities on the fireground.

September 23, 2009
By Peter Sells

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Among the panelists were a few well-known fire
officers who write and speak on specific topics and hold their own distinct
philosophies on firefighter safety. The battalion chief who teaches
firefighter self rescue said that was the way to reduce injuries and deaths. The
fire chief who teaches how to read smoke conditions in a fire building felt
that was more critical. If I had known more than a dozen or so people in
the audience of 700 or so, I would have suggested that firefighters would be
safer if they could only improve their powerpoint skills. A retired fire chief,
who focuses on fireground command (guess who) took the position that strategic
and tactical errors that result in firefighters operating in offensive
positions under defensive conditions are the biggest threat to firefighter
safety. "After all," he said, "nobody ever got hurt because
someone screwed up the finance sector.

Although I am totally in agreement with his approach to hazard zone management, I
disagree with his comments about the finance sector. Taking his
quote out of context, strategic errors in the planning and budgeting of fire
departments can very definitely have a detrimental effect on firefighter
safety. Equipment
that is too old or inadequate, apparatus that are past their useful service
life, or simply too few people on the scene could all be the result of
inadequate funding. Training that did not happen due to competing
priorities, poor leadership or lack of foresight could definitely get people
hurt. All of these are examples of errors at the strategic management
level, beyond the fireground (and, in fairness now, beyond the context of the chief's
comment). And all could get you killed.

Sun Tzu said that the general who wins a battle makes many calculations in his
temple before the battle is fought. In our context, the fires are put
out through planning, budgeting, training, maintenance and standardization of
procedures before the alarm hits.

I had the chance to speak with St. Catharines, Ont.,
firefighter Mike Gilbert just a few minutes after his recent win at the 2009
FireFit Championships in Gaspé, Que. He said it this way: "People don't
see the training in the gym, the sweat and pain, the trips to the doctor's
office to look after the muscle pulls and strains. That's where this thing
is won. The event is just where they hand out the medals.

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So, your turn to weigh in. If we go by Sun Tzu's
and Mike Gilbert's philosophy of preparation making victory inevitable,
shouldn't we be training, managing, purchasing and leading as diligently and as
seriously as we can? There's more at stake than medals.


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