WFSTAR: Fire Orders 2009


For 50 years our credos remain the same fight fire aggressively having provided for safety first you should recognize This as the tenth fire order and this module were going to look at the history of the standard fire orders Dr. Jennifer Ziegler’s a professor of communications at Valparaiso University in Indiana she recently wrote a paper titled the genealogy of the ten standard orders A summary is provided in your student workbook Listen closely as Dr. Ziegler describes her research into our most fundamental principle I originally got interested in doing this kind of project when in the mid 90s I had recently read Norman Maclean’s book on the Mann Gulch fire. It’s called Young Men and Fire and I was living in Colorado at the time and About that time the South Canyon fire happened, and that was a fatal fire that killed 14 firefighters near, Glenwood Springs And I had read the accident investigation report for that fire, and I noticed that in the report there was something called the standard fire orders that were being cited as a cause of the tragedy and I thought to myself, huh? I don’t I wonder what that list is and I don’t remember hearing about that when I read about Mann Gulch So I became really curious From an organizational communication point of view to me that suggested that if if it’s okay to make an argument that You know people died because they broke the rules then That must be a very strong culture and that list must be very important in that culture Everybody must know what it means and I became really curious about How do you manage to create a list that comes to exert that much control? so I began digging a little bit into just learning about the fire orders as a list in general and I actually found that they were At about that time the subject of a lot of controversy which kind of surprised me In the 1950s the list called the fire orders was created in response to public pressure from a fire called the Inaja fire in California The then chief of the Forest Service commissioned a task force to study And it actually has a very long title you know they went back and they looked at 20 years of tragedy fires to try to figure out What those fires might have had in common? and in particular they focused on the five worst fires that killed ten or more people at once and they found that those five fires had about eleven things in common and the task force actually called them sins of omission that firefighters who otherwise knew what to do simply forgot in a critical emergency So in a sense that is compatible with the previous Storytelling mode of praise and blame by calling those firefighters sinners The task force was kind of blaming them for faulty actions So the task force wanted to develop a tool that could help firefighters to remember or to not forget what they Knew in the time of an emergency, but they had a little bit of a problem is that they couldn’t really put their finger on What the heroes were doing right For example the task force in addition to looking at the tragedy fires They also looked at successful near-miss situations, so fires that really could have become critical, but somebody saved the day the task force decided that Those fires were successful because some cool head They literally called them some cool head sized up a change in local fire behavior in time to get them into safety You can tell from that explanation they really didn’t know how that worked it was sort of you know a personal virtue seemingly unconscious and So the taskforce had a sense of what the sinners did wrong in fact they had a whole list of eleven things and They had an outcome that they knew that the heroes or the cool heads did right they kept the fire small they kept people safe so what they did was they took the list of sins of omission and Kind of flipped them around and said well these eleven things must have been what the heroes were doing right The task force came up with one list, which they were they spelled out the mnemonic fire scalds, but chief McArdle actually He’d kind of monkeyed with that list a little bit He deleted one thing he combined a couple of them, and he added one important fire order at the bottom This is a very well-known fire order fight fire aggressively But provide for safety first, and if you think about it that fire order Captures the two simultaneous virtues that those cool heads were somehow able to do correctly fight fire aggressively Keeps the fire small provide for safety first keeps people safe and so that’s why I say, it’s a kind of personal task book because if you can come to internalize all of the other nine items you can literally become the tenth fire order you can literally become one of the cool heads who automatically knows how to do both at once and Really in a sense doesn’t even need the lists anymore By the 1980’s the fire orders had migrated from an individual list to an organizational one and Specifically they became a kind of employee/employer contract where the fire orders were understood as duties that firefighters had to follow and They were specifically Reorganized in 1987 to make them easier to memorize and they were revised to spell the mnemonic fire orders and During that time in that kind of second era of the fire orders the fire orders shifted from a list of personal virtues that an individual firefighter came to embody To a set of duties that the firefighter owed to the fire organization so in a sense that second list was a kind of employee/employer contract and you started to see particular fires being evaluated using the fire orders so for example it became possible in the late 1980s early 90s to actually violate the fire orders to break them That language was not necessarily used in the 50s when they were originally created In 1990 the investigation into the fatal Dude fire in Arizona was one of the first accident investigations to actually use the fire orders as a checklist to try to figure out what went wrong on the fire and From what I’ve seen that kind of set the standard for how investigations were done throughout the 1990s investigation teams would write the story of a fire and then kind of filter it through the fire orders and find instances where this or that fire order was not followed on an assignment at some given time perhaps even in a way that led to The tragedy that that they’re there to investigate That’s when they became kind of controversial And there were opinions on both sides that you know one group thought there are hard and fast rules they’re called orders for a reason and Another group thought. Well no. They’re really just guidelines for you to use in your work and exercise individual judgment So it’s interesting that in 2002 there was kind of a proposal to let’s reclaim the original intent of the fire orders as a systematic tool I hesitate to say checklist but a Systematic set of steps that you would take on a fire to ensure a safety so we Have in a sense Remembered the original intent of the fire orders in a way that resonates with contemporary discourses of risk management And if you look at the way that last fire order has been changed from fight fire aggressively but provide for safety first to fight fire aggressively having provided for safety first There is a sense that the first nine fire Orders are intended to kind of create safety and by the time you get to the tenth fire order You’ve kind of earned an organizational permission to fight the fire aggressively so if you think about it now we have The same list in the very same order as we did in 1957 but in 1957 the fire orders were a group tool that could help exert control over the individual But now we talk about the fire orders as a tool that an individual can use to question the potentially irrational decision of the group Now that you’ve been given more of a background on the standard firefighting orders, let’s go to the student workbook and complete the exercise a Link to the article written by dr. Ziegler has been included in the student workbook

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