Risk a lot to save a life

Three guiding principles that Chesterfield Fire & EMS had posted on the walls of fire stations for years were:

  • Risk A Lot To Save A Life
  • Risk Little To Save Little
  • Risk Nothing To Save Nothing

As I think about the tragic loss of life to firefighters in West Texas, I wonder what I would have done if I had been on that first arriving engine? There are three primary goals that are considered on arrival, with the first two falling in the lap of the first-arriving officer, which the Incident Command System says is the Incident Commander, until relieved by someone of the same rank or higher. The three goals are:

  1. Life Safety
  2. Incident Stabilization
  3. Property Conservation

If this fertilizer plant were in my first-due area, I would have wanted to know everything that I could about this facility. A pre-fire plan would have been developed, and carried on all units on the first-alarm assignment. Frequent walk-throughs of the facility would be necessary to ensure that as much could be known about this plant’s processes as possible. Our President said today, at the memorial service at Baylor University, “that these men were volunteers, not professionals.” This is all the more reason to be intimately aware of the hazards in their response area.

I used to be a part of the Hazardous Incident Team or Haz-Mat Team. Incidentally, every firefighter is required to be trained and certified in Hazardous Materials Awareness and Hazardous Materials Operations. I am not sure if that is a national standard or a state standard. Haz-Mat team members must be trained above that. Things are handled differently when working with hazardous materials. No response is meant to be a suicide mission. One of the things that I learned about handling hazardous material’s incidents was the DECIDE module:

  • Detect the presence of hazardous materials
  • Estimate the likely harm without intervention
  • Choose response objectives
  • Identify action options
  • Do best option
  • Evaluate

The results of this investigation are very possibly going to tell and teach us many things. There are two potential victims in every incident: non-fire service personnel and fire service personnel. Firefighting is a dangerous job, but training, discipline and experience are required to protect the lives of firefighters. We saw and were saddened by the large number of firefighters and other first responders that lost their lives on September 11, 2001, all to save as many lives as possible. We did not know what the effect of planes flying into those towers would be until that day. Similarly, if we have other plants in America like the one in West Texas, immediate changes need to take place. The lives of these firefighters cannot have been lost in vain.


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