The Art of ARFF (part 3) - Attack By Strategem

Sun Tzu says, "If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles."   Section III, of The Art of War, is dedicated to knowing how to accomplish this, how to know yourself and how to know the enemy. Sun Tzu summarizes his instruction in five essentials of victory.

"He will win who knows when to fight and when not to fight."

To this point Sun Tzu provides two guiding principals:

"supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy's resistance without fighting"

"the highest form of generalship is to balk the enemy's plans"

In these statements Sun Tzu is suggesting a strategy of counter-attack and anticipation of the enemies moves.  If our enemy is a fire incident, our counter-attack is fire prevention. 

All firefighter's get excited about the fire incident and response. Bring up the topic of fire prevention or building inspections and the mood seems to drop. Fire prevention and pre-planning activities are the most important component of a successful incident response and fire extinguishment.

Sun Tzu states that the "next best [strategem] is to prevent the junction of the enemy's forces". The goal of fire prevention is to keep the four components of the fire tetrahedron - fuel, oxygen, heat, chemical reaction - from coming together.   This is accomplished in engineering structures and plans review, fire inspections and code enforcement, and public education and training.

Knowing our facilities should be of primary importance. Conducting regular inspections and thorough pre-plans will help us identify potential areas of weakness, know what areas pose the greatest fire risk, and create plans for potential incident occurrences.  It is through fire prevention efforts that we can know and anticipate our "enemies" potential plan of attack. 

"He will win who knows how to handle both, superior forces and inferior forces."

At times your force will be greater than the "enemies", but at other times the "enemies" force may seem bigger. We can be victorious in either case by continuous learning of fire tactics and strategies. By understanding and training in tactics and strategies for all different incident types, sizes, and occurrences we can be prepared to defeat whatever may come. 

Does your training program consists of different types of training - hands-on, lecture, table top, online, drills, exercises? Do you train on various types of incident occurrences, or is it always the same 2 or 3 scenarios? Do you incorporate "unforeseen circumstances" into your training scenarios (i.e., primary apparatus is unable to respond, tools needed are not working properly, man-power is diminished, etc.)?

The Art of War commentator, Chang Yu, explains it like this, "The secret lies in an eye for locality, and in not letting the right moment slip."

"He will win whose army is animated by the same spirit throughout all its ranks."

Is your department and individuals all pulling for the same goal? Are you motivated to work together for a common task?  Do your people do whats best for the department as a whole, or is it every man for himself? Are the department goals and "same spirit" regularly communicated throughout the organization?

To get to a level where all are "animated by the same spirit throughout" requires intentionality of both, the individual and department leadership. 

3 Ways in Which a Ruler Can Bring Misfortune Upon His Army
  1. By commanding the army to advance or to retreat, being ignorant of the fact that it cannot obey. This is called hobbling the army.  
  2. By attempting to govern an army in the same way as he administers a kingdom, being ignorant of the conditions which obtain in an army. This causes restlessness in the soldiers minds.
  3. By employing the officers of his army without discrimination, through ignorance of the military principle of adaptation to circumstances. This shakes the confidence of the soldiers.
Be fully aware of the "position" of your people, understand where they are and who they are. Take the time to learn each of your people's strengths, weaknesses, fears, ambitions, concerns, and needs.

In a fire scene situation, the IC cannot be in the thick of operations and continue to give orders, he has lost perspective. He must remove himself and see the "big picture", so as not to misjudge and give wrong orders. The fire scene is no place for politics, posturing, or hurt feelings. "You can't handle an army in kid gloves."

To be victorious the leader must put the right people in the right positions.  Commentators on this section state, "If a general is ignorant of the principle of adaptability, he must not be entrusted with a position of authority."  

4 People Every Crew Needs
  1. Wise man - delights in establishing his merit
  2. Brave man - likes to show his courage in action
  3. Covetous man - quick at seizing advantages
  4. Stupid man - no fear of death

"He will win who, prepared himself, waits to take the enemy unprepared."

Certain victory comes to those who are prepared.  Preparation comes by training, exercise, drill, and knowledge of facilities, aircraft, and equipment.  An attitude of "life long learning" and "continuous education" should be promulgated throughout your department and personnel. 

There is a saying that says, "When opportunity comes, it's to late to start preparing."  This can apply to the organization as a whole, and the individual.  It is only through continual preparation and improvement that we can be ready for what may come - large scale incident, natural disaster, promotions, additional responsibilities.

"He will win who has military capacity and is not interfered with by the sovereign."

Are you operating in your designated role? Victory can be easily lost when people start to get involved in tasks and activities that are not part of their role or responsibilities. We each have a position to function in and a part to play.  It is when we are all working our part that the organization is in sync and great success can be achieved. 

Each individual must master his assigned role, before taking on other responsibilities. Too often, people want to skip parts in the middle to get the top.  These individuals never excel at any part, often fail to get to the top, and can be destructive to moral and the department as a whole.

"It is the sovereign's function to give broad instructions, but to decide on battle it is the function of the general." - Wang Tzu


  1. He will win who knows when to fight and when not to fight - PREVENTION.
  2. He will win who knows how to handle, both, superior forces and inferior forces - TACTICS.
  3. He will win whose army is animated by the same spirit throughout all its ranks - LEADERSHIP.
  4. He will win who, prepared himself, waits to take the enemy unprepared - TRAINING.
  5. He will win who has military capacity and is not interfered with by the sovereign - ROLES.

Other articles in this series: