This is a profound analysis not just of firefighting but of how all of us deal with safety, with rules, and with managing our daily lives. Preventable deaths in high hazard industries illustrate at the extreme the issues that all of us face every day when we drive and do other things that are more dangerous than we realize. By showing us the cultural and personal side of safety behavior this book can be an important guide to leaders, managers and ordinary citizens. It is not only a vivid account of fire fighting but is much more in making us aware of our own thinking under crisis conditions and making us understand what those who deal with crisis face.
Edgar H. Schein
Professor Emeritus, MIT Sloan School of Management
Author of Humble Inquiry (2013) and Humble Consulting (2016).
Dr. Burton Clark has been writing and lecturing in the American fire service for many years, and is a very respected voice within every campaign to make firefighters safer and to reduce line of duty deaths. He speaks forcefully on life issues in firefighting and advocates reform of many age old cultural assumptions, the most fundamental one being that firefighters are hurt and killed in fires because something went wrong, may not have been addressed properly, and responsibility should be acknowledged. Since I was trained by FDNY in aggressive interior firefighting techniques, which puts life preservation as its number one mission, I can see clearly that many of the actions and behaviors that guided us in our work certainly can be made subjects of analysis. This very complicated political, social, and psychological idea becomes widely controversial as it applies to firefighter safety. And so sides are often drawn, and when they are I am usually on the side against the “Everybody Goes Home” approach to firefighting which advances safety first. Still, when reading Dr. Clark’s fine collection of articles in this book I am reminded of many situations that occurred when New York before Washington DC had the busiest engine company in the world, and I was attached to it. And Dr. Clark’s is to be applauded for bringing those situations home for the unsafe situation they might have been. But, I never thought of myself as lazy or thoughtless in acting out the cold reality of doing what is necessary in the process of attempting to save a life in a dangerous environment. I was not committed to the idea that we would all go home after a job where life survival was in question. I, and I know I speak for all of the men I worked with, were primarily committed to ensuring that the life was protected, even in situations where our success was very questionable. It is because I believe that statement I am sure that as many people as possible should read “The American Fire Culture,” to remind themselves of what they do wrong, and the when and the why of it when a life, predictably near expiration, is made safe because of what can be read as unsafe practices. I respect Dr. Clark’s opinions, and I will leave it to you to read his book and determine for yourself those lessons you agree with. Every page is worthy of thought and discussion. Now, that is being safety-minded.
Founder, Firehouse Magazine
Best Selling author of Report From Engine Co. 82.