Be smart about the hype: Transitional attack, SLICE-RS, and our blue collar roots

The coupling of transitional attack and SLICE-RS together is a complete fallacy that is bringing a poor light on a tactic that has legitimate value on the fireground. Transitional attack is a means of attempting to control the fire, or in this application, knock it back enough so that crews can transition into the offensive mode. I make no apologies when I say that SLICE-RS is a means to killing the civilian, which was obviously unintended, but desperately needs revision.

For those that are ready to tar and feather me for saying this, let me ask you a question. In what world does a firefighter put the rescue of a civilian at the bottom of the list? You can tell me all day that our safety is paramount, to which I will adamantly disagree. We have a dangerous job that we volunteered to do; no one held a gun to your head and forced you to apply to the fire department (career or volunteer). We are asked from time to time (some more than others), to do dangerous stuff because that is what we are expected to do by those who are helpless at their worst time. That doesn’t mean be reckless and unaccountable; there are thousands of departments that are wildly successful at taking risks everyday in order to protect civilians and their property. How are these departments successful? By developing a culture of aggressiveness through training, which creates buy-in, and will automatically force out those who are not willing to perform at the same level.

I by no means deny the science behind the live burns in the UL/NIST studies, but a house prepped for a 1403 burn is not the same house that we are responding to at 3am with people trapped. We do not remove all non-class A combustibles before we go to a job, we don’t create our own flow path via interior set up before our jobs, and we don’t know the extent and location of the fire as we would with a live burn. In turn, I am skeptical of a lot that is produced from “Principals of Modern Fire Attack” studies.

Everything about our operations should revolve around the simultaneous rescue and fire attack operation. Transitional attack is a very viable option as a first due officer completes his size-up. A very simple “Hey get some water on that while I do my 360” is a transitional attack providing the crew goes offensive once the size-up is complete and conditions dictate that be the appropriate course of action. Frankly, I am tired of seeing photos and videos of a 1200 sq. ft. home with one or two bedrooms off, or hell, even fire in the attic, that caused the entire home to burn down because it “doesn’t fit our department’s survivability profile” and we aren’t going to risk anyone getting hurt. Again, we do a dangerous job and we are expected to take risk.

When we as a service create an acronym, you’re essentially creating a step-by-step list for the firefighter to follow. When we as a service make everything an acronym, we’re calling ourselves dumb. I want a firefighter smart enough to analyze what he is seeing, and not just check-marking down a list. We can teach a seven year-old how to throw a ladder and how to open the bail of a nozzle, but the difference between an adult and child (other than shear strength and size) is the ability to think critically and apply critical thinking. Acronyms have created a mass application of tactics that aren’t meant to be mass applied to every fire we go to. Just because it’s a thing, doesn’t mean you should do it. The role of acronyms in any setting (educational, professional, firefighting, etc.) is to help aid a person in remembering a specific process.

What this fire service needs is the revival of the thinking fireman and the “pass it on” aspect of the senior man. After speaking with a mentor of mine this past weekend (an engine company officer at a fairly large Florida fire department),it was his assertion that the blue collar roots of this profession need to be placed at a higher value, to which I totally agree. This doesn’t mean we should not attempt to gain higher education, it just means that our priorities should be focused on having a workforce that is highly proficient at the basics before anything else. One example of a “system failure” is that we still have firefighters who are unable to operate a 2.5″ line due to poor education, technique, and line management. This is unacceptable. We need to boost the levels of department training, not to satisfy ISO, but to create and breed a culture of firefighters who are confident in their skills, abilities, and fellow firefighters in order to best protect the community as a whole.

If your department places their first priority on anything other than the people you are sworn to protect, I encourage you to start asking questions and help change the culture. “Me first” has never been the motto of the fire service, and I’ll be damned to see it happen.

SLICE-RS didn’t put this fire out and it didn’t save those people. Blue collar basics and high levels of proficiency did, if they did it in rubber coats and pull-up boots, our fire service can do it today!

Photos are not mine, I believe credit is due to Michael Dick, but I am unsure.

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