By John B. Tippett Jr.
Published Sunday, August 5, 2012
| From the August 2012 Issue of FireRescue
Fire control strategies were defined by Lloyd Layman in the 1940s and continue to form the basis of fireground control tactics today. These tactics can be called “basic,” but they have a variety of applications.
In short, ensuring that fireground tactics are carried out properly requires:
- Trained personnel
- Clearly defined standard operating procedures (SOPs)
- Strong company leadership
- Disciplined firefighters
- Functioning equipment
When tactics are not properly executed, the fireground breaks down, creating a level of chaos that rivals the turmoil that’s present prior to fire department arrival. Once we get drawn into a chaotic operating mode, near misses abound, raising the likelihood of mishaps and injuries (see Heinrich’s Safety Pyramid). The fireground then becomes a stage where our spotlighted performance is less than what we know we are capable of—and the video is uploaded to YouTube and Tweeted before we have even returned to the station.
This month’s featured near-miss report takes us to a multi-level residential occupancy where the fire has the upper hand. The dynamics of fire development continue unrestrained while tactical missteps thwart basic fireground strategies.
Report Excerpt: #10-859
The first-arriving engine, staffed with four personnel, gave a size-up of a single-family dwelling with heavy black smoke showing. The structure was a two-story, 1,700-square-foot, stucco, wood-frame home constructed in 1928 and built up against a hillside. It was clearly visible that heavy black smoke under pressure was pushing out of every door, window and attic vent on the second floor of the structure.
The initial 1¾" line was advanced into the B side with the second-arriving engine. This engine was ‘Division B’ and consisted of three personnel as well as two paramedics and two firefighters from the first-arriving engine. The second 1¾" line was deployed by the fourth-arriving engine and they became ‘Division A’ with three personnel. They went up the front stairs into the front door.
The first-arriving engine parked in front of the structure and used its 500-gallon tank for the fire attack. The engineer of the first-arriving engine stretched a 2½" line approximately 300 feet up the street (with some help from the second-in engineer). The second, third and fourth engines did not lay lines into the fire and none were requested on approach to the incident.
The truck crew of four personnel carried a 35' extension ladder to the A/B corner for ventilation. The Ventilation Group had fire coming out of their inspection cut and rapidly exited the roof. The fire attack on side B was not successful due to parked vehicles limiting access. The Division B captain relocated his personnel to Division A. The Division C captain and crew of three personnel also re-located to Division A.
A face-to-face briefing occurred between the IC (first-arriving engine captain) and the fourth-arriving engine captain (Division A) before starting a fire attack. The sudden influx of personnel—consisting of Division B (seven personnel) and Division C (three personnel) into Division A—created a logjam of firefighters on a narrow second-floor patio. All were trying to gain access through a single front door with one 1¾" line. There was no face-to-face briefing between the captains of Division B or C when they arrived in Division A, so no account of personnel was communicated ….
Heavy heat and pressurized black smoke were visible from the entrance as crews entered, and the glow of the fire was visible approximately 10 feet into the structure and rolling up to the ceiling. The only ventilation that occurred was the breaking of front windows and the pulling of drapes from the outside as crews were advancing inside. The windows were blocked with household debris. Unknown to the IC, the fire had vented through the roof on the C/D side shortly after arrival.
After 15 or more minutes on scene, the IC ordered everyone out, using the tactical radio to notify personnel, for a defensive fire attack. A report from the Ventilation Group that the fire had gone through the roof and they were abandoning their position was heard only by the IC but not re-broadcast at the scene.
Division A was requested by the IC to confirm accountability that everyone had exited the structure. It was at this time that the Division A captain realized that he did not know who was inside. As personnel exited, he observed helmet numbers for personnel that did not match the companies on scene. Furthermore, one firefighter was covered head to toe in roofing tar, but the bottom of his turnout coat could be read, identifying who he was.
While personnel were exiting and the IC was asking a second time for an account of personnel in Division A, one engine in front of the structure deployed their deck gun (with a smaller tip size) over the heads of Division A into the fire. The Division B captain insisted he could get the fire and pulled personnel inside with him while the Division A captain was telling him and other firefighters to get out. While the original 1¾" line made it 20 feet into the structure, the captain of the second-arriving engine (Division B) insisted that he could make a stand from five feet in at the front door and stop the fire. It was not until the Division A captain told the Division B captain that the truck had their water tower up and was ready to start flowing water that the Division B captain complied with the evacuation order. There was obvious confusion from firefighters being told to exit the structure by one captain and told by another to follow him inside. Even while finally exiting, the captain who would not leave insisted that personnel pull the 1¾" line out of the building with them. Within 10 minutes of leaving the structure and going defensive with the deck gun, a water tower and four 1¾" lines flowing, the entire roof collapsed in a pancake fashion with a loud thud and belch of smoke and dust.”
It is only once we understand fireground strategies (i.e., how and when they are employed and why they were established in the order that Layman outlined so many years ago) that we can begin to explore the vast range of possible fireground tactics. And we need to know which tactics our departments are capable of handling—and then work those tactics into our SOPs prior to deployment to working incidents.
This month’s expanded report excerpt provides substantial insight into the critical relationship between tactics and strategy. The incident unfolds with a standard, sound, strategic approach (size-up, confine, extinguish, vent). The strategy is quickly undermined by a breakdown in tactical execution (establishing water supply, coordinated fire attack, entry control, conflicting orders).
Tactical breakdowns can be avoided, but it takes commitment and work from everyone, from the fire chief to the newest firefighter. Following are five steps that promote better fireground tactical execution:
- Establish SOPs that are based on sound fireground strategies.
- Ensure that all of your officers are formally instructed in firefighting strategies and tactics. Vernacular and ad hoc versions of strategies and tactics often suffer from communication errors (transfer, translation and memory) that create uncoordinated fireground action.
- Keep your officers sharp with periodic reviews of strategy and tactics instruction through in-service and refresher training.
- Schedule opportunities where companies can come together for practical drills that involve applying tactics to address the fireground strategies. These drills would involve actual apparatus placement, deployment of hoselines and ladders, and personnel taking their assigned positions.
- Ensure your hot wash or after-action discussion includes a review of your SOPs and has a strategy and tactics component to bolster on-scene performance at the next working fire.
Besides life safety, our goal at every incident should focus on the well-coordinated application of firefighting tactics to satisfy firefighting strategies. Each incident scene starts out with the same template: incident priorities that lead to strategies that require tactics and tasks to extinguish the fire.
With the ease of accessing information today, it’s harder and harder to argue that improving tactical performance is too difficult or too much to ask. Nearly every fire service conference delivers information on strategy and tactics. Grants are available to bring first-class training to your department at no monetary cost to you. In fact, the answers to improving tactical performance and discipline may be as close as the department next door. I haven’t yet come across a fire department that wasn’t willing to share what it knows to better the service. There are only two requirements: 1) Don’t be afraid to ask, and 2) don’t be afraid to insist on performance parameters that focus on high achievement. We tell our customers that we are first class. Keeping that promise is all on us.
Near-Miss Report Link
Heavy Smoke Showing Links
Reading Smoke Links
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