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Jack Of All Trades, Master Of The Fundamentals

Chris Bauchle July 31, 2022 289

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We don’t fight fire like we used to. With the exception of perhaps a small minority of companies across the country, the act of actually fighting fire truthfully falls into the high-risk/low-frequency box of ol’ Gordie Graham’s risk management matrix. Despite that, our duties on the fireground remain the same, and our obligation to skillfully and safely perform those duties has never been more crucial.  

We must obsess over the fundamentals. While every technical specialty requires our attention, the fundamentals of firefighting demand true mastery. The old adage, “as the first line goes, so the fire goes” is a constant truth in our business. I believe the best safety officer a fireground can have is a well-practiced engine crew – a crew who has relentlessly drilled all aspects of putting hose on the ground – short stretches, long stretches, and everything in between. Or perhaps the ladder crew who can single-man throw every ladder on their rig and has a plan to cover forcible entry, search, and coordinated ventilation before they’re even assigned.  Bruce Lee is quoted as saying, “I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who had practiced one kick 10,000 times.” It seems to me that we trend towards practicing 10,000 skills once. It is repetitions that make this high-risk/low-frequency event safer for us and them. There is no trick to this level of proficiency. It is only the product of humble, hard work and an avid pursuit of precision. 

One of my favorite, now retired, fire officers routinely went through a painstaking dissertation of expectations with new additions to his crew. It was time-consuming and grueling and there was never a question about what was expected when we arrived on scene. There was no “every fire is different, we’ll figure it out when we get there.” While every fire is different, our strategies, and ultimately our tactics, are not that vast. Firefighting is a thinking man’s game and there is certainly no cookie-cutter solution to the challenges we face, but I believe our oath of service makes each of us duty-bound to do more than just figuring it out when we get there. The public deserves a finely tuned plan of action with the option of calling an audible if necessary.  

We’ve all heard and maybe said things like “remember, it’s not our emergency” and “every fire goes out eventually,” but I am confident each of our department’s mission statements say something different than “making fires go out, eventually.” I hope we can agree that the patch on our shoulders represents a commitment to making it our emergency – not in the sense of emotional involvement, but through arduous preparation and a calculated willingness and ability to act.  

I have very little time on this job compared to many and it is easy even for me to write this mindset off as being young and gung-ho. That being said, I have made it my career ambition to make that the furthest thing from the truth. I think Brian Brush says it best when he describes his intention to be a 20-year new guy – always eager to train, never salty. I wonder how often the feeling of we’ve “been there and done that” translates into becoming content with our abilities and the status quo. We become content with barely meeting the minimum standard and justify it by knowing we’re better than X company or Y company. Contentment is the root of complacency and there are few greater evils in the fire service. There is no shortcut to truly mastering the fundamentals of our craft, just hard work and the relentless pursuit of perfection.  

Gentlemen, we are going to relentlessly chase perfection, knowing full well we will not catch it, because nothing is perfect. But we are going to relentlessly chase it, because in the process we will catch excellence. I am not remotely interested in just being good.

Vince Lombardi
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Chris Bauchle

Senior Master Sergeant Chris Bauchle is the Reserve Deputy Chief with the 434th Fire Flight at Grissom Air Reserve Base in Indiana. He is an instructor with DoD Firefighter Rescue & Survival course and is a graduate of the Indiana and Georgia Smoke Diver programs. As a civilian, he serves as a private with the Indianapolis Fire Department on Engine 10. He serves as a host for The FireDawg Podcast and content contributor for FireDawg.us.

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