It Can’t Happen Here

Our prayers need, right now, to be with our brothers at Bryan (TX) Fire Department in their loss of two valiant men, both of whom perished in the line of duty.  We need to also support the two firefighters who were also part of the Rapid Intervention Team that went in and they too, were injured in this fire.

I am not well-versed in the operations of the Bryan Fire Department or their reputation.  I can say that I have read some articles on their operation and have been impressed with what I saw; I have been to their website and they look like a progressive and forward-thinking organization.  They do a lot of the same things my department does and are roughly the same size department as the one I work for.  We run about the same number of calls, if my department were to have a "consistent" population (we have an "off-season" that causes a slight dip in response numbers).  I would bet their people are a lot like the people I work with, and I'd bet their chief officers are a lot like me and my colleagues as well.

My department uses accountability and incident management practices that are considered to be the best in our business, and our culture is such that we use them daily, routinely, and intuitively, from the newest firefighter to the Chief of Department.  We have modern equipment and we have high standards for our personnel.  We are not "safety nazis"; we foster an aggressive approach to fighting fire and dealing with emergency situations, but there is a difference between "aggressive" and "arrogant".  Safety is important, and we believe good situational awareness and good practices will keep us out of trouble, even when operating in harm's way.  From what I can tell, the Bryan Fire Department is one of these types of departments as well.

We don't shoot from the hip at our department.  For the most part, we try to take an unemotional approach to solving the problems we face on scenes.  We get facts, we do the job, and we are proud to say that combined with our codes enforcement and fire prevention activities, we stop fires where we find them.  When someone has a heart attack, between community involvement and everything else that makes up our team approach, we save them.  We have more good days than bad ones, and that is always a force multiplier.  I'd bet Bryan Fire Department is the same way.

As you can tell, I can identify with these guys and I have a lot of respect for their organization.  They are, like a number of departments out there, just like the one I work for.  But while I would like to think it can't happen here at my department, the difference between things going well and things going catastrophically, sometimes, is a crapshoot.  You can do all the right things sometimes and it just takes one element to spin out of control, and tragedy ensues.  I don't know all the facts about this situation, but I know this: we must try to give our people all the chances at success as possible in order for them to have any chance at all.  No raindrop believes it is responsible for the flood, and you wouldn't think a tiny bird could bring down a jet airliner, but small things happen and result in big consequences.  Everytime a brother goes down in the line of duty, it is imperative that we learn from it, so we don't have the same thing happen again.

If you really want to honor the brotherhood, you will walk away from all this with the idea that we must hone our art, we must pay attention to the details, and we must embrace changes that give us the opportunity to go home to our families at the end of the shift.  While we have those among us who would climb into a dumpster fire to put it out, those of us with a respect for the conditions present  at any emergency understand that we risk our lives to an extent just by responding to calls and there isn't a reason sometimes to increase that ratio of risk to reward.  But when we do, we do so with a skeptical eye and we always remember we are sending our brothers in to do a job where they are already, often or not, outmatched.

God Bless our fallen brothers, Lt. Eric Wallace and Lt. Greg Pickard, be with Firefighters Mantey and Moran in their recovery, and especially watch over the Bryan Fire Department and their families during this time. Whatever you do, never say "it can't happen here". Learn the lessons from this and many other incidents, and resolve that while these situations might very well happen outside of our control, we at least won't go down without a fight.

  • Mark vonAppen

    Bravo.  Burying your head in the sand and saying, "it won't happen to me," is a lie.  The only way to truly stay safe is knowing that it can happen to you, and actively working on contingencies to prevent catastrophy.  We are all very similar in many ways, the worst of which is our affinity for living in denial. 

  • Michael “Mick” Mayers

    Thanks for reading and for your comment, Mark. While we can't take all the risk out of our job, we can be aware of it and hold it at arm's length.  But to deny it is there is folly.

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Michael "Mick" Mayers

Deputy Fire Chief - Operations Division for Hilton Head Island (SC) Fire Rescue and an Emergency Response Coordinator with the United States Department of Health and Human Services  National Disaster Medical System Incident Response Coordination Team.

FE Talk: Humpday Hangout

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Although I am affiliated or employed by certain entities, I in no way speak in this forum or others on behalf of those entities unless I have specifically stated such. Any implication otherwise is doing so contrary to my agreements with those entities. The result is that the observations and opinions by myself or on behalf of Firehouse Zen are not sanctioned by any other entity other than Graffiti Train Sherpa Publications and are protected by the copyright laws of the United States of America.

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