I recently found myself at a conference of firefighters and officers from all across the United States and Canada. During the conference, the usual classes and seminars took place covering the usual gamut of topics in the modern fire service: response to active assailants, diversity in the fire service, workplace violence, etc. For many of us in the room, these topics were relevant, but they were also very far away from the reasons that we got into the fire service. After all, there weren’t very many topics concerning big red trucks, pulling lines or the “fun stuff” of the fire service.
After the “formal” seminar was over, many of us retreated to where the "informal" conference is held. There, the topics were much more far ranging and more geared toward the things that many of us held at heart. Inevitably, the topics covered things from what fire apparatus different people preferred (red), to turnout gear (definitely not red), to fire tactics. This is where things have gotten passionate and divisive over the past several years.
Anyone who is a student of the craft over the past 5-10 years has had a front row seat to what has become a microcosm of our country: pick a side, dig in. On one side you have those who are students of the “science” of the modern fire environment; and, on the other side you have those who are of the staunch believers in the “traditions” of the experience of the fire ground. Both have camps that have evolved to extremes in which people feel inclined to choose sides; you have to be “this” or “that”. Much like many topics in our world, it seems as if people must be one or the other. But why?
Are we in a profession in which these two camps must be mutually exclusive? Why can we not acknowledge the things that we have seen through our years of fire ground experience and apply those things that we are now learning through science to coincide with one another and enhance our abilities? Can’t we look at what we are learning through the ongoing studies and apply this knowledge into furthering our ability to be aggressive, mission-focused firefighters? Much like all things in our world, the answer lies somewhere in the middle.
A lot of what we are learning through the research is providing scientific proof for the things that we have taught for a long time; that ventilation and fire suppression need to be coordinated and that these things aid in victim and firefighter survival. This does not, in anyway, mean that we do not have an obligation to fire victims who may be trapped in a burning structure; much to the contrary. At the same time, the data and research does not exonerate firefighters from using a proper risk/benefit analysis to make every attempt to save those affected by danger; it is an unfortunate reality that there are those that will not survive the environment that they are in.
There are too many people who get hung up with mnemonics and acronyms and choose hard-line stances for or against ideas. Is RECEO-VS better or more appropriate than SLICE-RS? Do they both serve an intended purpose given the mission or level of decision making? Are they sending us a different message? Do these ideas send us down totally different paths? (And then there are the heathens that add an “I” to “VES”!)
The two supposed “sides” that we see every day are more alike than they are dissimilar. All of us who consider ourselves “aggressive firefighters” want to do anything possible to be able to make a push into a burning building to do everything within our power for those that we are sworn to protect; anything less is unacceptable. At the same time, those of us that are students of the science and research of what is being studied understand that the findings and recommendations of these studies give us the ability to more effectively do the aforementioned.
As with anything in today’s world, we are faced with a constant influx of information, viewpoints and opinions around every corner. The findings of scientific research and those of the experiential learning both have a place in the modern fire service; I am quite certain that I do not want to be part of a service that doesn’t have and embrace both. At the same time, I think that it is imperative that both sides of the debate acknowledge that each opposing side has something valid to offer to the way that we do business that is the best for those that we serve.