I was the back-up man on the 2nd in Engine, and we could see the column from the firehouse. “Great, we’re getting some work today” I thought, “even though I’ll just be humping the second line.”
We arrived first in, however, and as I got off the truck and gave the usual “Is everybody out?” to the first person I saw, the answer surprised me: “No, there is a 4 year old boy on the 3rd floor…”
My arousal level skyrocketed. Not only was I not simply the back-up guy on the 2nd in line, I was now the only firefighter on scene who could break off for a search.
The fire was a horrendous one. Driven by high winds pushing against the A side, the second floor front bedroom fire was being torched down the hallway throughout the second floor and directly up the stairs to the third floor, already igniting the 3rd floor rooms and even out onto the roof. @firstresponderathletes was on the nozzle that day, and made an absolutely heroic push through the second floor, becoming enveloped in fire on at least three occasions as the wind pushed, and receiving burns to prove it. Once he splashed enough water on the steps to ascend them, I made a dash up and into the 3rd floor rear bedroom. I searched the room as best I could, knowing the child was supposed to be there. I was under and on top of beds, working my way around. No luck. I did the same to the other 3rd floor room, and finding nothing returned to the rear bedroom. The smoke lifting slightly, smack in the middle of the floor was the young lifeless victim. I’d searched around him in a perfect circle, never sweeping the center of the floor. He did not survive.
A few weeks ago we discussed successes. Today it's about failures, and how you learn from them. This was perhaps the most impactful job of my career. Yes, my search technique failure changed how I operate and how I teach. But the worst failures on this day were mental. This job was a textbook failure of mental and human performance. You could write volumes on the different cognitive errors, failures to control arousal, and lack of preparation to thrive in uncertainty/extreme stress. This fire led to deep research in those areas and hopefully significant growth.
When you screw up, and you will, don't wallow in dust and ashes. Get up, own it, learn from, and if you’re so led, teach it.