The fire service is filled with an alphabet soup of acronyms many of us are aware of. Whether for fire suppression, EMS, Hazmat, etc. these acronyms are convenient aids that help firefighters and officers remember size-up points, operational and procedural considerations, and can be effective in recalling critical actions to be taken in emergencies.
Examples of common suppression acronyms:
C-Construction S-Size-up R-Rescue
O-Occupancy L-Locate fire E-Exposures
A-Apparatus and manpower I-Identify and control flow path C-Confine fire
L-Life hazard C-Cool space from safest location E-Extinguish
W-Water Supply E-Extinguish fire O-Overhaul
A-Auxiliary appliances R-Rescue V-Ventilation
S-Street conditions S-Salvage S-Salvage
E-Exposures C-Conditions L-Location V-Vent
A-Area A-Actions U-Unit E-Enter
L-Location and extent of fire N-Needs N-Name I-Isolate
T-Time A-Air supply S-Search
As firefighters, we take in so much information that unless you have a brain that can retain and recall all that information instantly, acronyms can be a helpful aid to navigate the emergency scene and to support the incident commander. From a command standpoint, acronyms can be used on command boards as reminders or benchmarks, especially in high stress circumstances where covering all your bases is important. But keep in mind; however and whichever acronyms you use, they are simply tools. We must know and understand the actions and intent behind the acronyms.
Some people create or add to existing acronyms to customize them to better suit their own operational purposes, while others may cry foul when a letter is added to an existing acronym. For example, firefighters with 15 or more years on a department may know vent, enter, search as VES, the way it was originally introduced to the fire service. Newer firefighters know it as vent, enter, isolate, search or VEIS. The “I” was added following scientific research findings by Underwriters Laboratories Firefighter Safety Research Institute (UL-FSRI). While some say their initial VES training emphasized door isolation, others claim the isolation piece was lacking in detail and not clearly understood in their training. As well, some departments may not even recognize VES or VEIS as an operational opportunity within their departments.
The research findings reinforce the importance of the isolation component, so for some, it made sense to put the “I” in the acronym. We can’t assume the training many of us received years ago is understood by everyone. Today’s firefighters, and even some of our established firefighters, may benefit from a new or refreshed understanding of VEIS.
Some argue adding the “I” is rebranding or reinventing the wheel. It’s as if some are upset by the additional letter, as if to say, “Don’t change the name of OUR acronym, just learn it the way we did.” Yeah, sounds silly doesn’t it? I’ve said it before, pride and ego is often the obstacle that gets in the way of recognizing the benefits of research based findings.
If newer firefighters receive a better understanding of VEIS because the “I” was added, that’s a good thing. I know for some, including myself, the early VES training was not as clear as it is today, thanks to modern fire science, which has helped to clarify how important the isolation piece of this operation is.
Acronyms are tools to be used as each of us and our departments see fit and to suit our needs best. Add a letter, don’t add a letter, it doesn’t matter. It’s not personal, nor should it trigger an emotional response or insult. The bigger focus should be on a thorough understanding of the VEIS operation toward proficiency and success.
There is a balance between experiential based training and current academic training that is research based. While both are equally important, the firefighters of today and tomorrow still have to gain their experiential field training. Sharing our stories of the past with them can offer insight, but their foundation of learning should come from modern research based information that is more suited to today’s fires. The stories can be a great teaching tool, so long as we are not passing on bad habits, misunderstandings, or information that is no longer relevant or suited to current day fire environments.
There are many tools that can be used on this job to make life easier and to keep us effective. Acronyms are some of those tools. Pick the ones that work best for you and your department. Don’t get hung up on letter changes in the alphabet soup. The fire service is and should be an evolving profession that keeps up with our evolving fireground. Whether through experience or science based research, change within the service is inevitable and constant. Acronyms may change and new ones created. It may look different to some of us, but keep in mind the bigger picture, to train up current and next generation firefighters with the most up to date and relevant information we have available to us today. Until recent/relevant training meets experience, eat the alphabet soup that suits you best.
NICK J. SALAMEH is a 36 year veteran of the fire service. He was a Fire/Emergency Medical Services Captain II and previous Training Program Manager for the Arlington County (VA) Fire Department, with which he served 31 years. He is a former Chair of the Northern Virginia Fire Departments Training Committee and was a former volunteer firefighter for the Fairfax County, VA Fire and Rescue Department, Bailey’s Crossroads Fire Station 10. Nick is a contributor to Fire Engineering Magazine www.fireengineering.com and Stop Believing Start Knowing (SBSK), https://www.facebook.com/StopBelievingStartKnowing/.