Fire Service Sun Tzu [Part 1]

Photo courtesy of Om Imaging
 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 "attack by strategem" and "tactical dispositions", 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. 

A community that is not in accord with their fire department (or its leadership) will not support it.  In fire prevention, our primary enemy is education.  We can talk all we want to attempt to educate - on fire safety, purpose of inspections, building construction, fire department practices - however, if there is no trust, if the community is not in "accord" with its public officials, the education battle will be lost.

However, as a community, sees its department and official going to bat for them, standing up for them, listening to them, trust will be built.  As this trust is built then the community will follow.

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.

In prevention, knowing the political climate, or understanding where people are coming from, or where there mentality is based plays a huge role in forming a plan of education and outreach.

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?

In overcoming fire prevention hurdles, the challenge (in order to be victorious), is to make the risk real to the community.  Make the community see the loss, and therefore, take action to prevent it.

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 charactersitics 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.

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 there maintenance) any army or fire crew will fail in its fight.  In order to stay ahead of the game, it is of utmost importance to control finances.  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, constant, and evolving streams of income.

"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