Science fiction Portals are amazing.
Pass through an undulating Portal or worm hole or even Dorothy’s
tornado, and experience altered realities, new dimensions; and see
the universe from a new perspective.
Career firefighters usually pass
through a “Portal” of sorts; a “safety awareness
portal” where new perspectives are achieved and their reality
is meaningfully altered. Transiting the Portal is often related to
traumatic events - such as South Canyon, Thirty Mile, or a personal,
more intimate close call. It may have happened to you, a co-worker,
or someone we read about. Some people think there is no significant
emotional growth without a link to traumatic experience. Many psychologists
think the opposite.
Yet once through the Portal, you
finally do comprehend how veterans you previously considered bland
and worrisome do understand the severe implications of risk and why
they demonstrate an absolute commitment to safe practices. Transiting
the Portal is likened to a wake-up call. Suddenly, we see the forest
as trees that will grow back and we see buildings as things that can
be rebuilt, but we see each human life as precious and irreplaceable.
Can we transit the Portal without
personal trauma? Here lies the objective for every safety course ever
written, the intention of every strategy and tactics ever authored
and the reason we promote staff rides, distribute investigative findings,
and ask for the “lessons learned” via after action reports.
The 10 and 18, Downhill and Indirect
Fireline Guidelines, Complexity Analyses, Fire Behavior Pocket Cards,
LCES and others, all have deep personal foundations, invented by compassionate
individuals who have been through the Portal and articulately share
in a traumatic event is no guarantee you will “get it”,
or even pass through the Portal. Transiting a Portal is a deep and
absolute process; it is career changing. When we cross this plane,
compliance is no longer a struggle and we emerge as motivated leaders
with the courage to do the right thing. Driving regulations, IHOG,
and the 10 and 18 become obvious and automatic – like fastening
After transiting the Portal, complacency
is buffered by deeper insight, often called a core value, “core”
meaning all the way to the bone. Our human tendency to rationalize,
succumb to peer-pressure, or miss incremental changes is restrained.
Oddly enough, production improves. Decisions improve. And these core
values become license for confident aggressive firefighting.
who have learned these lessons, through either personal experience
or by studying momentous events, understand the fear firefighters
can be subjected to. They can visualize a wall of flames bearing down,
and run many “what if” scenarios in their head. They will
never identify safety zones without considering these implications.
They intrinsically understand the timing and trigger point elements
that are critical to escape routes, they know what a lookout must
see, and with intuitive wisdom - recognize when communications are
Science fiction writers rarely leave their characters out in new dimensions.
At the last possible moment they heroically make it home. There are
no climactic escapes back from the “safety awareness portal.”
Once you “get it” you will never trade tactical objectives
for life and personnel safety. You are unwilling to subject firefighters
to situations where last minute heroics are necessary.
Such is the altered reality
of transiting a Portal.