Friday, April 13, 2012

Deep Survival Part 1

As I have mentioned before, the IAFF has a great online survival program that is open to everyone, including non-union members.  While reading over the handbook from it, I located the inspiration for the post on  The Abilene Paradox.  That article seemed to resonate with many of you and made some pretty vast travels across the internet.  While its great to understand what that post mentioned, I think this one may be much more important when it comes to truly being safe at work or on calls.

The handbook also mentions a book titled "Deep Survival" by Laurence Gonzales.  This book is a great book, and for me it has been a great read thus far.  the book discusses the stories of many mountain climbers, pilots, and other risky hobbies and jobs, and their stories of tragedy and survival.  Throughout the book, the author continues to address many of the same issues no matter what realm they are discussed in, be it in an avalanche, or on an aircraft carrier, many of the same root problems and solutions exist.

Of course, being an "Eat up" fireman I have attempted in every way to relate this book to the fire service and so far, nearly the entire book relates directly to what we do.  Within the first few pages, he struck me with the first of many points that will stick with me the remainder of my fire service career.  To paraphrase he says that you need to control all of the variables you are able to control all of the time, there are variables that you can't control, but you must have a plan on how to react to them.  Then he goes on to discuss emotions, and he isn't talking about you all crying during a Lifetime movie.  He is talking about emotional responses and the problems that they can bring.  Gonzales says emotions can cause stress and panic which in any of the environments he describes as well as the fire service can be deadly.

More profoundly to me, he says that emotions create "bookmarks" that we refer back to in split second to base our decisions on.  We as humans essentially flip through a Rolodex of these bookmarks and we react in whichever ways we find the happier ending in.  This sometimes can turn us into sitting ducks, firefighters in some deep s%^&, or genuinely lucky firefighters.  Basically, he is saying that if we "get away" with some stupid action, when faced with the same situation, we will react the same, but unknown to our emotions at the time, we may be failing. 

We may push ourselves that much deeper in the building because we've done it before, we may say ohhh we got this, we just had the same fire last week.  Meanwhile the new guy is thinking, WTF, I scared but this guy knows what the hell he is doing.  Then he forms that same bookmark in the same dumb ass spot as the senior man has.  I think you see where I'm going with this.  As a service we have to assert some leadership to realize the way we have always, isn't always the best.  Maybe our bookmarks are on the wrong page, maybe they are in the last chapter, as we all have seen 100's of times each year. 

He also presents an interesting point in his book.  he says that the more experience someone has, may be detrimental to their successful outcome in a panic or survival situation.  While this isn't entirely fool proof, stick with me for a second...You have a 20 year veteran who has been there done that.  Place him in a survival situation on the fireground, then he controls his emotions and his brain searches for that bookmark of a positive outcome for this same experience that I spoke of earlier.  Well that bookmark may have been from recruit school in 1990, long before much of the self survival info or RIT items that we have today.  Does this individual call the mayday or does he macho his way out, after all he has done it 10 times before?  I hope that he uses his background, skills and knowledge to do the right thing and survive.  Gonzales states that unfortunately the more experience one has, quite often it can be a factor working against their survival, not always but much of the time.  I hope you see what I mean here, there is a slow but steady shift for firefighters to call for help when they need it but many still fail to do it.  We are beginning to tone down the egos, and understand that some of the macho elements of the fire service should go by the wayside so that we can hug our kids the next day. 

We all need to start understanding the fires have changed, so we must.  We can't charge in the door like the senior guys did in the 80's and expect the same result.  They didn't have wooden laminated I-beams, gusset plates, and furniture made of gasoline.  Flashovers are happening earlier, houses are less ventilated, and houses are less well built, so we have to be smarter than we have ever been.  However, as Gonzales says, we can't reason ourselves into a safe spot.  We have to use our senses and control our emotions in order to remain safe.

Firefighting is scary at times, there I said it, sometimes its scary.  If it isn't then you are lying or you don't respect what we do.  The difference is a good firefighter doesn't get emotional and show it, we pin our ears back, calculate the risk, and put the fire out, save the people, etc.  This is the way it should be, calculated, not reckless. 

We need to ensure that individuals don't leave bookmarks for survival in bad spots.  Good training and education can eliminate this possibility.  Do some recognition primed decision making and see how that helps to keep you calm and develop a plan.  I am not saying that what Gonzales writes is the gospel, but it sure is some food for thought especially as an officer.

Well, that's my pre FDIC rant.  I hope to see some of you there.  Thanks for reading, and there will be more to this post when I get to read some more of the book.........

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