07 July 2011

"Cheat Sheets" and "the Culture of Extinguishment"

I've been in the business for about 10 years now, and I learned a lot of things the hard ways first, especially operating fire pumps. I learned all the mental calculations and solutions to fireground water supply problems and then having those concepts drilled into me until I could recall them instantly.It was old fashioned learning taught in an old fashioned way and it was quite effective.

I was thinking the other day about things that we all could do better, and thinking on the idea of checklists, I realized that despise the idea of cheat sheets. Checklist, ok, that follows a logical form that acts as a memory aid. A cheat sheet by my definition is a memory aid that gives you the answers as opposed to making sure you followed the steps correctly. I have seen them in a lot of places, and none more so on the topic of pump operations at a fire scene.

Maybe it comes back to my background and style of training. We were trained and educated that fireground objectives and the processes by which tactics are achieved (water supply, attack, search, etc) be initiated quickly and without time to consult a cheat sheet on how to achieve draft or what to set the discharge pressure at the pump at. All of this should be pre-recorded in the operator's mind or anyone that may be called upon to drive. I have seen some operators simply set the pump to a low engine pressure dictated by policy and go about doing other things. Meanwhile, the nozzle (a fog nozzle working to create a stream) creates a pretty stream with no reach or power and calls for more pressure go unheeded, or not heard. That, in my mind, is how people get burned. We must think about supplying adequate water to the attack team, or the attack will fail. I will be dedicating more time to basic firefighting skills and more fire science in the near future.

Some have started to see the success of a firefighting operation as "no one got hurt." I disagree, that is only one of the measures of a successful operation. Looking at only one dimension is not doing the citizens that called us for help a service, other than saving them some tax money paying for OJI benefits because someone got hurt or killed. When people all the fire department they expect that someone is going to show up and extinguish the fire, not letting the building go to the ground unless it was absolutely necessary.

Ray McCormack said it best that we need a culture of extinguishment and not safety. I agree and disagree, we should have a culture of extinguishment while doing it safely, but taking risks when we must. Risk a lot to save a lot, risk little to save little.

Try that on a cheat sheet.

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