When I think of Pvt. 1st Class Desmond Doss, I ask myself was Desmond just brave or did he have something to prove, was he so confident in his faith that he had no worries, was he suicidal or just plain crazy? When I contemplate those questions, I must answer “I don’t know’”. But they lead me to another question.
Do people like Desmond exist in todays fire service? The short answer is yes there are people like Desmond in todays fire service. We have people who are brave. When I think of the World Trade Center on 9/11. There were definitely brave individuals who made the ultimate sacrifice for others. We also have individuals in the fire service today that have something to prove. This may have been the case with Pvt. Doss. I believe that the Culture, Ego and Ongoing need to fill the adrenalin pump drive people to feel they must prove something.
Culture: The culture of our organizations is one that takes pride in that we are an aggressive interior firefighting force. The attitudes that accompany this culture are that, we are defeated should we not go interior. An exterior firefight is viewed as a failure from some members of the organization. Why else would we take some of the actions we take? I am not pointing the finger at anyone, because I have also been guilty of over aggressive behavior and the feeling I had something to prove. So I get it.
Ego: Our Ego is one of our greatest assets possessed by firefighters today. But it is also one of our greatest liabilities. Because of our egos we sometimes write checks on our skills and abilities that cannot be accomplished. This should not be a surprise because we hire “Type A” personalities because of the Ego and the requirements of the job to do the unthinkable when it is required. The issue is the unthinkable is not always required. So we need to figure out when is it acceptable to let the ego come out and take the risk, or when is it unacceptable to take that risk.
Ongoing need to fill the adrenalin pump: There are three types of people who become firefighters. A small number of us should have never chosen this career path, they are either ineffective, do not possess the skills or courage needed on the fire ground, we all know them and try to stay clear of them. A second group also a small number that are just plain suicidal, they will take unacceptable risks without a second thought. These individuals are sometimes considered by the crowd as a symbol of what a great firefighter looks like. When in actuality these individuals may place their peers in peril by their actions. The final group, which is the majority of us, are adrenalin junkies. During different times in my career I see an adrenalin junkie and sometimes suicidal. Lucky for my peers I was accidently successful many times in 30+ years and did not cause anyone to receive injuries or worse by covering for my stupid actions that I took in light of culture, ego, and adrenaline.
So how do we determine the correct amount of Commitment, Heroism, and Bravery? This should come down to acceptable risk, which is determined by our rules of engagement. That is “We will risk a lot in a calculated manner to save savable lives, we will risk a little in a calculated manner to save savable property, and we will risk nothing to save lives and property that has already been lost.” These statements are more than just buzzwords. They should be considered anytime we go interior on a working incident. We should ask ourselves two questions 1) do we have victims inside this structure? If the answer to question 1 is no then we must check the ego and determine whether the risk of a firefighters life is worth the property we are saving. If the answer to question 1 yes we must ask question 2. Question 2: Are these victims in a location and atmosphere that they can survive without any Personal Protective Equipment? If the answer to question 2 is no we must go back to check the ego and determine whether the risk of a firefighters life is worth the property we are saving. Based on a no answer to these questions, your actions are either body recovery or property conservation, and I would hate to have to tell a wife or a child that their Husband or Dad is not coming home because he was a hero saving a house full of furniture. If the answer is yes to both questions then go get them, because it is worth the risk.
In closing, make all decisions based on facts and probabilities, don’t risk your life or the lives of your crew on a possibility. If all you have are possibilities take the time to gather more facts and probabilities. Gather enough facts and probabilities to justify your actions to panel of experts. (Because it may come down to that) Then and only then is it acceptable to risk your or your crews’ life.