The Art of ARFF (part 2) - Waging War

Of primary importance to any war that is being waged  is that the cost be counted.  In, The Art of War, Sun Tzu provides guidance as to what costs of war can be expected. In Section II. Waging War,  he details how to count, maintain, keep these costs to a minimum.

Have we counted the real cost of a fire, crash, or incident at our facilities?  How much does it cost to shut down a runway for any period of time? How much could any "lost business" cost? What would be the cost and impact of a lost hangar or shut-down of a terminal? What is the cost of equipment and agent for successful fire extinguishment? What toll may be taken on the personnel (after the Asiana Flight 214 incident, San Fransisco experienced a 19% attrition increase)? What would be the economic, political, organizational, legal, or psychological impacts of an incident

Tanklöschfahrzeug Oshkosh Striker by Neuwieser

Sun Tzu makes the point that, when fighting, if victory is long in coming, the campaign lasts for a protracted amount of time, the "men's weapons will grow dull and their ardor dampened."  As leaders in the ARFF community how can we mind this principle? There are four areas in which our ARFF personnel could have "their ardor dampened" and limit their effectiveness.

Incident response.
     A major aircraft crash, or structure fire, will result in a prolonged response by firefighting personnel.  In the ARFF world this is sometimes easy to forget. Our training often consists of a couple hours of spraying water from the truck, deploying hand lines, conducting simulated rescues.  All done in a non-emergent environment.  The reality is, when a major incident occurs multiple operations will have to be conducted simultaneously, without rest, and with limited personnel performing multiple tasks:

  • exterior firefighting - initial knock-down and laying of rescue path
  • interior firefighting
  • interior search and rescue
  • medical care, treatment, and triage
Are our personnel aware of this reality? Are they physically prepared for this? Does our training adequately prepare them for this level of activity? Have we incorporated rehab into our emergency response plans?

Daily activities.
     Every department has the many required daily activities that must be completed, and 'routine' operations that must be conducted. These activities may include:
  • station clean-up
  • equipment inspections
  • data entry and paperwork
  • issuing of permits
  • aircraft standby's
We all understand that these are items that have to be done.  However, is everybody contributing to the completion of the work?  If the same few individuals are issuing all the permits, doing the station duties, cleaning up all the paperwork, shift in and shift out, eventually they will have "their ardor dampened", and the team environment will start to erode. On extended aircraft or medical standby's we need to be mindful of the time individuals are out. Perhaps it would be most beneficial to rotate personnel and units to ensure that, if needed, personnel are energized and ready to respond.

Work schedules. 
     We all have those one or two people that will always work when we ask.  So, it becomes easy to just ask those one or two first, and get the spot filled.  Are we aware of the hours our personnel are working?  We need to remember that the employee that is saying 'yes' to picking up extra hours, is also saying 'no' to some other activities that would require their time. As the leaders of these individuals it is our responsibility to sometimes say, "no, you can't work today, go home".  

Everyone seems to enjoy the various firefighter work schedules that abound - 24/48, 48/96, 24/72, etc.  Do we periodically evaluate these schedules to make sure they best fit our personnel and operations?

     Repetitive and familiar training material and scenarios can quickly cause our personnel to have "their ardor dampened".  With the rise of on-line training, it has become easy to assign our personnel to simply watch a video or read a slide show and mark it off as completed training.  Is this training alone adequate (see above under incident response)? Are our personnel truly learning and being stretched in their knowledge? Officers and personnel must be creative in their training. We need to develop probable scenarios and experiment with alternative approaches. It does take more effort to plan and prepare, but the reward and learning experience will be richer.

In war, then, let your great object be victory, not lengthy campaigns.  Thus it may be known that the leader of armies is the arbiter of the people's fate, the man on whom it depends whether the nation shall be in peace or in peril.  -Sun Tzu

Other articles in this series: