Monday, January 25, 2016

The Art of ARFF (part 1) - Laying Plans

In his landmark work on battlefield strategies, The Art of War, Sun Tzu aptly outlines his strategy for victory in battle.  These strategies, when properly applied, will guarantee certain victory.  Sun Tzu discusses the process of war from laying plans, to tactics and strategies, to exploiting the enemies weaknesses.


The principles of, The Art of War, although written for battlefield purposes, can just as powerfully be applied to the fire service. Through a series of posts, I want to demonstrate how these tactics can be applied to achieve success in the fire service.


Sun Tzu opens by stating that the art of war is governed by five constant factors.  These five factors should be taken into consideration when "seeking to determine the conditions obtaining in the field".

  1. The Moral Law
  2. Heaven
  3. Earth
  4. The Commander
  5. Method and Discipline

Sun Tzu says, "the MORAL LAW causes the people to be in complete accord with their ruler, so that they will follow him regardless of their lives, undismayed by danger".


This is the first essential that must be in place to ensure victory. If the firefighter is being led into "battle" by a chief that they do not trust, they will go there own way and experience loss.  Or, a new leader will rise up, one without the title, but others will follow him, then you have internal division, which will ultimately lead to destruction.  A firefighter who experiences a chief not acting in the best interest of his people will not be in accord with him.


Likewise, if our communities and the people we protect are not in accord with our department they will not support the work we do. We must get out, leave the stations, and walk among the community of people that we serve.  We must constantly be looking for additional opportunities to add value to our constituents. The most powerful to combat negative perceptions, is to create positive perceptions.


HEAVEN "signifies night and day, cold and heat, times and seasons."  When Sun Tzu wrote of the heavens he was  considering  the five elements (wood, fire, earth, metal, water), the four seasons, the winds, and temperatures.  As a firefighter the "heavens" play a large role in containing and extinguishing a fire.  Knowing what is burning (wood, metal, plastics, etc.),  the wind direction, humidity, temperature, and time of day is essential in forming a plan of attack for fire extinguishment and rescue operations.


The EARTH is comprised of distance, danger, security, open ground, and the chances of life and death.  These are the things which are palpable.  That which is real and solid.  This is the firefighters equivalent to risk versus reward.  What are the risks involved? Does the potential reward outweigh the risks? Do we ensure that our policies and procedures are properly prioritized - life safety, incident stabilization, property preservation?  


Closely related to the moral law is the COMMANDER.  This has all to do with the character of the leader. The commander stands for the virtues of wisdom, sincerity, benevolence, courage, and self-control.  These are characterstics that any fire service leader, should stand for, and strive to instill in his subordinates.  Check yourself.  Which of these are you weakest in?  Which of these are you strongest in?  Cultivate these characteristics in order to be the leader of a victorious crew. See also: What makes a leader crumble? and How to Be a Weak Leader


The physical logistics of a department are summed up in METHOD AND DISCIPLINE.  This is understanding the proper rank structure, and chain of command, maintaining supplies and equipment, and controlling finances.  Without proper tools (and their maintenance) any army or fire crew will fail in its fight.  Without finances equipment falls into disarray, newest technology cannot be purchased, proper training is not affected,  and personnel are not appropriately compensated.  Beyond simply managing the available finances, a victorious leader must create new, and evolving streams of income. Typically, this can most effectively be accomplished by taking advantage of every opportunity to serve and provide a service.

"These five heads should be familiar to every general: he who knows them will be victorious; he who knows them not will fail." - Sun Tzu

Other articles in this series: