Fireproof: Real-Life Firefighting
Before we jump into the
horror relief that is The Europa Conspiracy, we have our third and final installment of Inquisitive Raven’s expert additional critique of the firefighting in Fireproof. (I forgot to post it sooner because between a Wintermas cold and Kirk’s obsession with hot chocolate, I guess I banished him from my thoughts!)
So without further ado, I’ll hand it over to Inquisitive Raven!
Now for the third and final installment of my Fireproof critique. Today we’re going to cover the fire call, and let me tell you that it is a textbook example of how not to run a fire scene. Now while our hostess’ criticisms of the protagonist’s actions are spot on for his actions inside the building, in the context of the entire incident, he comes off much worse. How can this be? Well, before I get into that, let me introduce you to the Incident Command System.
In short, the ICS is a system for determining who’s in charge of what in an emergency response, especially one involving multiple agencies. Using the fire call in the movie as an example, the responding agencies would be the fire department (two companies), EMS, and one hopes, the police department. Now each of the fire companies is presumably headed up by a captain, and in the absence of a battalion chief, one of them would be the Incident Commander. Protocol dictates that the one who arrives on scene first is in charge until someone with higher seniority, e.g. the battalion chief, arrives or the IC explicitly transfers command to someone else. Caleb is the captain of his company. I’m sure most of you can see where this is going.
I’ll follow up on that later, but for now, let’s start the play-by-play. The filmmakers don’t set this call up the way they did the vehicle rescue. Instead, they go directly from horsing around in the bunkroom to reacting to the dispatch:
“Engine 2, Engine 1, Aerial(?)1, Battalion 1, Respond to [incident location], structure fire, residence. Time out XXXX.”
Note that I’m not sure if the dispatcher is saying “Area One” or “Aerial One,” but in context, I think “Aerial One” makes more sense. It could easily refer to the ladder, and calling the ladder “Aerial One” makes more sense than calling it “Battalion One,” especially since the ladders are listed as “[x] feet aerial” on Albany’s Apparatus Page. Now, if the dispatch is being sensible instead of internally consistent, then “Battalion One” might actually be referring to the battalion chief this time. With two companies being dispatched, they’ll need a unified command and that’s the battalion chief’s job.
Our hostess makes a point of mentioning how all the firefighters in the company are men, but in fairness to the filmmakers, I feel I should point out that firefighting is still a male dominated occupation. Case in point, a complete roster of full time firefighters in my sister’s town is available on the department website, and out of forty-five firefighters, at most three are women. I say “at most,” because one of them has a given name that could go either way. That means that out of four shifts, at least one has no female personnel on it. Similarly, when I joined Manoa, there was exactly one woman with firefighter qualifications, and that was the case when I checked Manoa’s website to research these articles. By the time I left, a few more women had qualified as firefighters,but the male firefighters and EMS only women still outnumbered them.
At any rate, the apparatus rolls, and when our hero (I think I’ll call him Dolt) notifies dispatch that they’re responding, dispatch tells him “Please be aware we have received numerous calls regarding this structure fire.” Yep, another useless transmission from the dispatcher. A better message would have been something along the lines of “Please be aware that we have received several reports of flames visible,” which at least gives some idea of the seriousness of the situation. A report of smoke visible would also provide some information, although, unlike flames, it’s no guarantee that there’s actually a fire (If people want to find out how I know that, ask in the comments).
When they get to the scene, Dolt calls the dispatcher to notify them that he’s arrived and takes command as first on scene. This is important. Again, I note a distinct absence of cops. They should be doing crowd control.
While talking to the residents and their next door neighbors, they find out that the residents’ daughter is still inside. Dad freaks out and attempts to run back inside only to be stopped by Lt. Christian. This only works because distraught dad runs right past the guy; otherwise, I have no doubt he’d be able to outrun the fittest person in firefighter turnout and wearing an air pack. Having put one on, I can assure you that they are not lightweight objects. A couple of cops would be better suited to the job.
Now we get to the part that our hostess covered in detail. She writes:
For all his talk (even in the truck on the way to this very fire) about sticking with your partner, Caleb…crawls into the house on his own, looking for the kid. Everyone else sticks at the front of the house and are separated from Caleb when some of the roof caves.
So, Caleb is trapped in a back bedroom with the kid, but without his partner. Because he left his partner.
Oh, and for reasons best known to himself, Caleb deliberately set down his walkie-talkie before heading into the house. So he has no way of letting anyone know exactly where her is.
Now I wanna know why he goes in to rescue the girl. Doylisticly, it’s to show him being a hero, but IRL terms, he’s just abandoned his post. Keep in mind that unless he hands the job off to someone else, he’s the Incident Commander. As such, his job is directing the other firefighters, not going into burning buildings to rescue little girls. Lt. Christian is busy restraining Worried Dad and the rookie is operating the pumper, but there’s two more firefighters in his company and however many from the second company that he can send in. That’s their job. His job is to give the orders because someone needs to be in charge of the scene. I would add that as people are scrambling to prep for entering the building, no one seems to be. That also makes his leaving his walkie-talkie behind even more reprehensible. Later on we see a different officer giving orders. Since he has a red helmet, I’m assuming that he’s the captain of the second company, but whether he’s the second captain or the battalion chief, he’s doing the job Dolt was supposed to be doing, but isn’t and didn’t formally hand off. At least there was no sign of him doing so onscreen. Note: Rank and file firefighters wear yellow helmets; the known officers wear red helmets. Based on my experience, I’d expect the battalion chief to wear a white helmet, but I don’t know for sure that zie does, and we never see any helmet colors except red and yellow.
Okay, rant over. Does everyone understand why I consider this guy’s antics much worse than our hostess did, when her opinion was quite bad enough?
Now, I am about as far from being an expert on firefighting as it is possible to be, but is it really advisable for Caleb to take off his oxygen mask and his firefighting jacket, and put them on the unconscious kid? Doesn’t Caleb need them more at this moment? I mean, I keep thinking about being on an airplane—secure your own oxygen mask before assisting others. Because if Caleb is injured or collapses from smoke inhalation, they’re both screwed. Isn’t it better, instead of wasting time fumbling with the gear, to get them both out as quickly as possible so the kid can get medical attention?
There’s not much I can actually add to that, but we’ll see what I can do. One correction first, those tanks contain compressed air which is only about 20% oxygen. That’s because you don’t want pure oxygen anywhere near open flames.
As for taking off the mask and the turnout putting it on the kid… Remember Rule One, “Don’t add to the number of people needing to be rescued”? Yeah, this is a violation. You look to your own safety first, because if something happens to you, it’s not just that you’re both screwed. It’s that now people need to expend effort on your behalf that could’ve been used to help the original victim. Like I said in my previous post, the entire first day of EMT class was spent on this.
Also, the reason I have experience wearing an air pack is that one of the firefighter drills I participated in was the proper use of same. The training officer rather pointedly told us not give the mask to any anyone we found inside a burning building. So, yeah, Dolt shouldn’t have done that.
In conclusion, that fire scene is a fine example of how not to handle incident command and how not to rescue an entrapped fire victim. It would have been entirely appropriate for Dolt to called in front of a review board regarding his conduct at that fire.