* Image from Ukiah Blog.
Ok, now 'dat I have your attention you better sit down and have some of this Irish regulah wit' me because I've got a feeling this one is going to get me in some trouble. Here goes…
"Risk a lot to save a lot" is B.S. No offense to Chief Brunacini but what has become a fire service golden rule is, in my opinion, a myth. The over-simplified saying attempts to take our entire job and box it up in a nice little saying that rolls off the tongue and can easily be remembered standing outside a burning building at 2 A.M., unlike RECEO and COAL WAS WEALTH and all that other crap. Along with its sister-sayings of "risk a little to save a little" and "risk nothing to save nothing" , "risk a lot to save a lot" has been bastardized to justify some actions or to crucify others. And I think it's crap. Maybe my logic is flawed but here's why I think so.
The Brother from FF Robert Wiedmann of FDNY Rescue 2 in Crown Heights, Brooklyn; FF Jon Davies from Worcester Rescue 1; the Worcester 6; FF Paul Brotherton, Lt. Jeremiah Lucey, Lt. Thomas Spencer, FF Timothy Jackson, FF James Lyons and FF Joseph McGuirk; FF Corey Ankum from Chicago Truck 34 and FF Edward Stringer from Chicago Engine 63. What do all these men have in common? They have been seriously inured or killed while fighting fire where people were reported to be or thought to have been trapped. What else do they have in common? They saved no one. Does that mean that their memories are somehow tarnished? Does it mean that there was no reason for them to have been in a situation where their lives could have been at risk? My humble opinion is a resounding, "NO". Each of these men, and thousands of others, have been injured and killed doing a job that is predicated upon one thing; risking our own lives to help someone else. Nowhere in any oath that any of us took does it say that there absolutely, positively must be someone trapped in a fire building or another emergency. No where does it say that we absolutely must have infallible knowledge that someone is in there, under there or on top of there. Wherever there happens to be. We risk a lot every day just by going to work and rarely do we ever make true saves.
One of the closest calls I've had in my career occurred on an interstate highway at the scene of an MVA. It was a minor accident. A couple people with neck pain who wanted to go to the hospital be checked out. I was holding the head of the backboard while we removed one of the drivers from the vehicle. My back was to the lane of traffic that was still open and our apparatus had been placed in a blocking position behind the accident. At the time I had one of those big Mag Lights hanging from my truckman's belt and it usually hung right off my right butt-cheek. Just as the patient was being moved onto the board a car whose driver was obviously far to important to be held up by all this traffic, used the inside break-down lane to pass all the slowed or stopped vehicles. Problem was there was a Mass Statie cruiser sitting in the break-down lane right even with the accident. So this moron jerks his wheel to the right, cuts across two lanes of traffic heading right for us, jerks it back to the left and continues on his way. But not before he hit that Mag Light hanging from my belt hard enough that it flipped up and struck me in the back hard enough to leave a bruise that lasted for weeks. I thank God every day I had that bruise too because a couple more millimeters and it would have been much worse. What did I save? A patient who wanted to go to the hospital to get checked out probably for no other reason than to strenghten their court case when they sue the other guy? Yet I risked everything. It's my job. It's what I was called to do.
Operating in the roadway at an accident; operating at a structure fire; natural gas leaks; electrical hazards; Haz Mat jobs; domestic violence or other EMS runs. They can all injure or kill you just as quickly as searching ahead of a hose line looking for someone who may or may not be there. In my eyes at least, the risk is the same but the end-benefit to most types of runs we take in is far less. For most of those types of runs the only thing that will be saved is property. And it seems as though in todays fire service property isn't worth any risk. But do we still go on those runs? Of course. Should we stop going on those kinds of runs? Of course not. Do we need to develop risk matrices and acronyms for every type of run we might encounter? If that's what happens I'm throwing my helmet at someone and walking out of the firehouse giving a double one-finger salute. We do our jobs. We train to minimize risk. When the bell goes off we go. We use our knowledge, training and experience when we arrive to make decisions and act upon them. That's what we do. We are firefighters and Jakes-of-all-trades.
There are those that will say of
the Brother from Rescue 2 Brother Wiedmann, "He shouldn't have been there!", "There was nothing to save!", "It was too much risk!". But what if he had been burned when the natural gas leak he had been investigating in the same apartment building, with all the residents standing safely in the street, found an ignition source and exploded? Then it would be, "What a brave firefighter!", "Their job is so dangerous!", "You just never know.", and other such statements. Yet the end-result would have been the same. A burned firefighter who risked everything in doing his job to save what? "Risk a lot to save a lot", my ass. We risk a lot to do our jobs. Period.