Article Archive
Still Our Greatest Enemy
Volume 24, No. 5

One of the most destructive weapons of warfare continues to be the use of fire. Even a nuclear holocaust involves a very destructive wave of fire in the process of total destruction. Everyday in the world some of us see an act of fire destroy something tangible that is usually beneficial for our comfort and survival here on earth. Fire is part of our daily lives and can have a positive aspect. But when negative circumstances and actions occur, fire becomes ruinous and very ugly.

Look at the character of the arsonist Ronald in the firefighter movie "Backdraft." He wanted the whole world to be destroyed by fire. "Burn it all," he said. It is not that difficult for a terrorist or anyone with capable means to initiate an act of combustion and disrupt someone's traditional way of life. One does not need to be of sound mind to start a fire ... watch the movie and watch Ronald! We have not arrived at a fire proof state of living in this 21st century to negate this threat. We are still not secure despite making great advances on many fronts of fire prevention and protection.

Let us transport ourselves back in history and understand how the Roman Empire grew as a result of a very effective tactic of their army. The Roman army understood the factor of fire quite well. Their archers (Sagittari) fixed ignited sponge cloth to their arrows, hoping that a critical military and flammable target became the end result. They were able to reach beyond their enemy's main battle lines and set fire to stores and supply points, especially when aided by the wind. If the surrounding woods could be set alight behind an enemy's battle line, then the purpose of that fire served as another battle tactic, that of a growing band of flame encircling many enemy solders and denying them an escape route or alternate means of retreat. Havoc was quickly and methodically distributed.

As the Roman Empire grew during that timeframe in history, detachments of the Roman fire brigade (Vigiles) traveled with the main body of their army to protect them on their conquests. The Vigiles were an indispensable unit of the very professional Roman Army!

Temporary wooden structures and flammable tent cities, erected by the Romans to support their battle troops on the move, could easily become alight by direct enemy actions or indirect simple carelessness of tired, battle weary soldiers. Fire was too well feared and respected to be ignored, even in war zones by military commanders of that period. Nighttime, with soldiers asleep, was the period of much concern. Consequently the Roman fire brigade officers soon established a Vigiles position entitled "nocturne." The nocturne, with his new role, served a dual purpose assignment: (1) night time fire watch and (2) supplementary security detail. By now the Roman generals had learned several "hot" lessons regarding the power of fire upon a battle victory. Once again, the Vigiles were both front and rear protectors, after all, they were soldier-firefighters.

With 20 centuries passing between us and the Vigiles, today's firefighters continue to perform essentially the same basic tasks in a troubled world. As so noted in the previous paragraph, the Roman firefighters took on expanded roles back then. Fire and terror alloy well together. The poisoning element of fear blends in strongly, confusing the best strategic plan. One warfront is enough. Fire needs an immediate application of control and extinguishment. Otherwise it grows into a "beast." Seasoned firefighters everywhere know that hard fact. The phrase "heat of battle" was probably in place over 19 centuries ago.

Military historians have known that weapons of fire were employed as first-strike devices for centuries. Long before gunpowder was invented the combination of brute physical force and a command of fire yielded total victory. Spies knew how to study and watch the daily lifestyles of their enemies and report back to their military superiors all critical vulnerabilities, including anything flammable. The use of fire was of immediate advantage to attacking troops. Fire provided a diversion and put the defenders in an unstable atmosphere. Fire by itself became a handsome foe to those under siege! They could not ignore its course of destruction.

Jumping back 60 years ago to World War II, fire was utilized everywhere in the theaters of global war. Both Axis and Allied forces utilized incendiary bombs, bullets, shells and napalm compounds. London burned every night during the Blitz raids, cities in the Russian Front were in endless flame and Pearl Harbor, along with Hickam Field, had its heart burned out. In 1945, a massive Allied air raid of incendiary bombs created the "Devil's Tinderbox" which swept the German cities of Hamburg and Dresden. These magnificent cities were turned into ashes as a result of these crippling raids. The best of Europe's major city fire brigades were powerless. There was too much fire! A balanced mixture of incendiary and high


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