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Accidental Success? / Application!

I hope the title of this peeks your interest and got your attention. My goal when you are finished is for you too hopefully spur some thoughts regarding “accidental success” and “application”. Also, be able to identify what accidental success is and what it can look like. As far as application, I want you to ask yourself and be true to yourself as to whether you are applying to the best of your ability the things you read, training you have received, your past experiences and some of the current and past research that has been done.

First, lets discuss accidental success. Many organizations, crews, and individuals of both are and have been “accidentally successful” and do not even realize it. Here are a few examples.

Some organizations that have an abundance amount of manpower (like 4 or more on a rig) are many times not able to see short comings or performance issues on the FG. The amount of manpower they can throw at a scene can camouflage operational and or skill deficiencies. This in turn leads them to interpreting their performance as a “success”. Aggressiveness also can lead to this. Now, having an abundance of manpower and being aggressive is great. Just ensure that you take a hard look at your performance and be honest. I have seen departments with crews of four or more not be as effective as or successful as departments that have only three per rig. Now, one could argue that there are many variables that can dictate this. I do not disagree, could be who is or is not on the rig that day, their training, experience and aggressiveness all can and will play a part in success. This can also happen at the company level. I have seen this one firsthand. An example is when a company is making an interior attack. Let us say the company has a small still alarm area and has great response times to their area. Because of this maybe they seldom must flow and move to advance to the seat of the fire and extinguish it. Due to the size of their still area and quick arrival times the fire is extinguished in the incipient stage. This is actually a great thing for everyone right? They can extinguish the fires quickly which results in less property damage and less likely loss of life. Due to their perceived successes from their practices a false sense of security is given if members are not cautious. The crew then does not practice and or train on flowing and moving or keeping the nozzle open as long as possible while advancing. So, then they have a fire that has grown past the incipient stage prior to their arrival and now they are presented with a flow and move or hit and move situation. Due to being “accidentally successful” in the past now a life is lost, or unwanted property loss occurs, and everyone wonders what happened and went wrong. One of my mentors Lt. Ray McCormack (retired FDNY) says “If you never had to keep the line open to advance that’s not bad ass that’s good luck but one day you will”. Another example could be the use of a booster size line for an interior attack. If a department has great response times and can arrive quickly and has extinguished many residential fires successfully with a booster line then, has a fire in a McMansion or commercial building if not careful they may use the booster line in an environment where they are bringing a knife to a gun fight. Accidental success sometimes is hard to identify, but the consequences can be deadly.

Now, lets look at application. In my opinion the fire service does not do a particularly good job at application. I am not referring to water application. It is my belief that we as a craft are improving but must continue pushing. The fire service, organizations, administrations and officers need to hone their application skills. The lack of application of current and past research, reports, education, prior experiences and training can lead to accidental success. NIOSH reports are continually neglected, and many organizations do not pay any attention to the recommendations (not referring to the organization the event occurred with), and it is a revolving door. Our craft continues to have FG fatalities over and over and many of the contributing factors are mostly the same from report to report. This is no disrespect to those who have died in the line of duty. Sometimes things just happen and the NIOSH report contributing factors may or may not have prevented a tragic death. However, we are disrespecting prior LODD FF’s by not learning something from each of their tragic deaths. Maybe your organization or training division is attentive to these reports, and I commend those efforts, but I ask the rest of you when was the last time a NIOSH report was reviewed. These reports are excellent quick and easy training opportunities and can also assist you in building and maintaining your FG SOG’s.

Studies done by Underwriters Laboratory and National Institute of Standards and Technology many organizations are not applying the data and findings from their studies and research. Many are even unaware this research and studies are being done. This is not acceptable or professional. I still see and hear FF’s and officers say, “don’t flow water till you see the fire”, we know from the findings and from our craft experts that this is not the best practice. Refer to the Ray McCormack quote earlier. Please refer to for research results and for free online training thru the UL FSRI Fire Safety Academy. I promise it will give you the “why” with regards to best practices.

The FF Rescue Survey done by Chief Brian Brush and team is another example. This study has provided data that has not been previously recorded regarding rescues performed on the fire ground by FF’s. Please refer to and become intimate with the results, you just might save a life. The data and details of this survey and project matter.

We must pay attention to and support these reports and studies. If we want to call ourselves professionals then we must adjust our training, SOG’s, and fire ground operations to reflect the science and data these reports tell us before the emergency occurs. Instead, many organizations do not apply these findings or routinely take a hard look at their operations, and they perceive their actions as a success but, are they only “accidentally successful”? So, I ask which are you or your organization? Just because the fire went out and everyone came home, and we did not tear any equipment up does mean you were successful or professional. If that is your mantra it just means your standards and expectations are not real stellar. If that is the case just remember, this job is not for everyone, and Amazon is always hiring. As Fire Life Training says, “Be dedicated, Be Passionate, Be Aggressive”.

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A trend that I've seen is leadership in the fire service becoming more and more political. These folks use this "accidental success" to their advantage and tend to pretend that since nothing went wrong, we are doing an amazing job. This is furthest from the truth. They are catering to politicians instead of the citizens we serve. Without them setting the standard and having the highest expectations, we will always have to accept accidental success as the norm.

Kevin Mccart
Kevin Mccart
Jul 22, 2021
Replying to

Completely understand. Your right, our citizens deserve better for sure. I think we will always have accidental success to a degree, but we have to try and do what we can to educate those around us what it is and when it happens and try to prevent the best we can. You sound like you understand it, keep pushing and doing what you can brother.👊

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