FRIDAY FORUM: Uncertainty

Which is more dangerous: Alex Honnald’s 2017 Free Solo (no ropes, any mistake = death) climb of the 3000’ El Capitan in Yosemite Valley, or responding first-in to a structure fire?  My money is on the fire, and here’s why.

Honnald spent years preparing for that particular climb.  He memorized every hold, every move, and even spent time removing loose rock from the route.  With his level of skill, unique mental fortitude, and preparation, I think you can argue that for that climber on that day on that route, it was relatively “safe.” In a word, he reduced the uncertainty.  

Now consider the fire. What do we know for sure? Almost nothing.  Extent of fire? No. Location of trapped occupants? No. Layout of the structure? No. Structural element that will kill you when it fails moments after crawling through the door? No…

The point of this comparison is simple: you can’t take the lethality and uncertain reality of the fireground for granted. There is nothing safe about firefighting, and attempts to make it so only serve to dull the senses of those thrust into its precariousness. Do you want to positively impact the wellbeing of your firefighters? Start by calling it what it is. 

Photo Credit: Jimmy Chin

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