Opinions from Around the Country
Bobby Halton and Bill Carey
We are reinitiating the Fire Engineering Roundtable column however it will be online on Fire Engineering and FirefighterNation. We have received a lot of interest in the last question and heard from many wanting to participate. This month’s question is:
“Upon arrival what is the most fundamental fireground responsibility as a crew, engine or truck?”
Upon arrival, the most fundamental fireground responsibility of a crew is accountability. Both personal accountability and the scene as a whole.
Each and every firefighter must be accountable to themselves and arrive physically and mentally prepared to go to work, but disciplined enough to listen to command. Personal accountability includes following through with tasks assigned, and speaking up if you are uncomfortable or unsure of how to complete a task. This is especially important when multiple departments are required to work together as officers are probably not as intimately aware of other departments members strengths and weaknesses as they are with their own crews.
Speaking from a small city department’s point of view, when requesting mutual aid, you never really know what you’re going to get. The arriving company could be anything from two experienced firefighters, to three rookies and an officer, or just one guy in a tanker. Think of every fire like a pickup game of basketball, every single time, your team is different. It’s important that as crews arrive on scene they communicate what resources they are bringing to command. In turn, command needs to establish some form of an accountability system to help manage these resources. There is a fine line between not enough, and too many resources. A bored firefighter is a dangerous one, without supervision these individuals find work for themselves, often freelancing into trouble. Accountability prevents things like this. Either put them to work, or send them home. Excess personnel can be just as dangerous as not enough and only puts undue strain on overburdened incident commanders.
The most fundamental responsibility for each firefighter to conduct when arriving on scene is to perform their own personal size-up. Every firefighter, no matter if it’s from an engine or truck company, from their first run until their last, must conduct an immediate size-up of the conditions encountered so they’re able to perform their specific duties, tasks or tactics in a timely and safe manner. If you can’t size-up the situation that you’ll face your bound to make a mistake and this could lead to the snowball effect, where one small problem leads to a larger problem. Each firefighter must size-up the scene and pay close attention to the specific area where their actions are needed in according to the tasks that they are assigned. In addition, all firefighters must continually size-up the scene and understand how it is evolving and how it may change their mindset and the tactics that they are performing. You can’t be part of a knowledgeable engine or truck crew if you don’t learn how to perform a personal size-up at every emergency or fire scene.
The most important function for the first arriving companies especially if they arrive before a chief officer is to start the fire ground off on the right foot by giving an accurate standardized size up and arrival report. This is the first deliberate action in the control of an out of control situation. Proper incipient stage fireground operations are a result of much pre-fire ground preparation. Disciplined officers commanding disciplined fire companies operating under a unilaterally adopted and enforced standard operating procedure will start off the incident control phase in the proper manner. When all the players are on the same page, the fire ground be a beautifully choreographed operation. The glue that holds all of this together is the solid and enforced SOP. Even when the right actions are taken, if they are not coordinated with the other companies on the scene then their affectedness can never be optimized.
I think the most important and fundamental responsibility for an engine or truck company is locating the fire. To be effective in eliminating the problem, which includes life safety, getting to or confining the fire must be a priority. Rescues become more targeted and we can greatly improve conditions for search teams and victims by locating and getting water on or limiting the spread of smoke and flames. That might be from water on the fire to shutting some doors and protecting corridors and egress components.
The most fundamental fireground responsibility is size-up. Any fireground task that occurs must be preceded by a size up of the task at hand. All too often firefighters and officers see size-up as a function of command. This could not be farther than the truth.
Regardless of your rank, position, job or task you should be sizing up the incident and your specific task(s). Without a solid size-up you are setting up yourself, your crew, your assignment and the overall incident for failure.
Example; if you are tasked with fire attack you need to size it up to make appropriate fire attack decision, 1.75”, 2.5”, deck gun, point of entry, interior attack, transitional attack etc. If tasked with forcible entry; irons, through the lock, rabbit tool, go around, attack hinges etc. needs to be determined.
Each assignment must be sized up. You cannot be successful by accident every time. You need to look at your objective, size it up, determine best option and go for it. Do not forget to continually size up as you progress. This confirms you are being successful or if you must move to plan b.
The fundamental responsibility upon arrival is setting the table correctly to support your departments operations and SOP’s. This includes proper apparatus positioning for the first engine. Is the first due Engine required to establish water supply or is that the 2nd engines job, either policy is found to work throughout the nation. Does your engine leave room for the truck? Blocking out the Truck is one of the few tactical failures that should result in public execution on scene (you can stretch lines not ladders.) Both companies must perform a quality size up. Who is in command? Is the Chief delayed? Can we handle this alarm with the resources arriving on scene? Are there enough personnel to safely, efficiently and effectively to mitigate the alarm? Are there enough resources if a member has a mayday? This is one of the fundamental issues throughout the nation. Everyone wants to be in the right seat yet many lack the courage to pick up the radio to make sure they have enough resources on scene. As it has been said when in command, command. It is also a fundamental responsibility when you must direct actions of your company that go against an SOP the action must be announced on the radio so command can adjust, and companies will be able to adjust.
Regardless of any strategy or tactics, the most fundamental fireground responsibility is discipline. Whether it’s a house or warehouse on fire, an interior attack, or defensive operation, it is everyone’s duty from the lowliest member to the incident commander that they conduct themselves in a disciplined manner.
As the saying goes “When the machine breaks down, we all break down.” Discipline on the fireground starts at the intrinsic level of SOGs that companies must use as a starting point. Unless conditions dictate otherwise, SOGs should be adhered to in a disciplined manner without deviating from the plan.
An undisciplined company will negatively affect every subsequent one; thus, making any deviance more significant the earlier it occurs in an incident.
From SOGs then comes discipline in orders; these are absolute and non-negotiable, especially from the Incident Commander. There is no place for disobedience on a fireground. One can be a free thinker but never a free doer. A Chiefs orders are not up for discussion. Evacuation tones mean evacuate now, not later. Everything we do is a concerted motion; soloists will not be tolerated.
Lastly, is individual discipline in the form of personal decisions taken when operating as a team. Aside from accountability of your partner, individual discipline means coordinating your actions and understanding consequences. Having the discipline to not arbitrarily kick a door, break a window early, or pulling ceiling when you’re assigned to search is what makes the machine work.
These three forms of discipline must be indoctrinated early in one’s career and be continually supported through an agency’s mission. An undisciplined culture is dangerous, an undisciplined fireground is deadly. Whether it’s checking your SCBA first thing every shift or knowing when to put a fan in a door. Discipline isn’t something that can be seen but its outcomes surely will be.
Strategically, the most fundamental fireground responsibility of both engine and truck companies is the same; that is, protection of civilian lives. What differs with engine and truck companies are the tactics carried out to fulfill the strategy of protecting civilian lives. Considering open floorplans, energy conservation features of modern homes and a fire load of petrochemical based contents, we can see that fires are reaching flashover in a fraction of the time than they did in the past. Additionally, when we consider the toxicity of the smoke produced by burning synthetic materials, we can understand why today’s fires leave building occupants with a very small window of time to escape or be rescued by firefighters. Simply put, today’s fires are not going to take a “time out” while ladder company firefighters search for occupants. The lives of ladder company firefighters, as well of the lives of the occupants they are searching for, depend on engine company firefighters rapidly and effectively stretching, advancing and operating that crucial initial attack hose line. I explain to our recruits that when they are stretching hose at a fire in an occupied residence, they are performing every bit as much a life-saving action as if they were dragging an unconscious occupant down a smoky hallway.
A good size-up!
A good size up with radio report is critical to everything that will follow on the fire ground. I agree with many people who say “nothing showing” means nothing, but I also like the first due officer to paint a picture for me as the responding chief and soon to be incident commander on what conditions, type of building etc. they do have. Critical information such as size, type, basement/no basement etc. is all good information. In some instances, the initial report can and should include more details like if smoke/fire is showing from where?
Then comes all the other info that helps paint the picture for other responding units, water supply, apparatus location/staging, strategy etc. Just today I responded to a reported structure fire in my community. the first due company initially had “nothing showing” but quickly updated that they were pulling a line for a fire in an electrical box, that’s good info but where is the box? interior or exterior? attached/detached, basement or first floor? Location and what’s on fire makes a big difference in resource allocations and hazards etc. Sometimes we have a tendency to say too much on the radio, but when the initial company arrives and gives their scene size up as well as any 360 update is when I want my company officer giving more information and painting a picture for the rest of us to be prepared for and react to. As it turned out today the fire was in the actual electrical meter box attached to the hose with extension to the interior wall and floor joist in the crawl space, a lot more than just a fire in an “electrical box”.
Can sum up in one sentence; locate the fire and get first hoseline in operation. Also, in high-rise fireproof multiple dwellings or new law tenements the ladder company needs to get control of the apartment door if it’s left open.
If the situation warrants (e.g., building involvement, etc.) don’t deviate from our tactical responsibilities.
First, rescue (people, people, people) with primary then secondary searches. We are in a people-business both internally and externally. Before the call internally, you have already set your fundamental responsibilities (hydrant, attack, etc.). Upon our arrival, we can take care of the external customer on the fireground by rescuing people and accomplish the other needed tactical considerations.
Second, fire control (hydrant, hose selection, ladders, get ahead of the fire, etc.).
Third, property conservation (i.e., save their stuff).
Basic skill number one needed by firefighters is hose line deployment (water supply, getting the proper sized line in place, proper location) in order to accomplish effective and efficient fire extinguishment. As we know, getting water on the fire helps to alleviate all other allied issues during a fire emergency. Basic skill number two are rescue techniques. From structural fire rescue to MVA’s to technical rescue such as confined space, high and low angle, water/ice, etc. These are the places where people expect us to “get them out” of. In large big city fire departments, there are usually enough units and personnel to “specialize” however these departments are the exception to the rule. Small fire department operations are the bulk of career and most volunteer fire departments around the nation. The firefighters of these departments need to hone most if not all these skills in order to effectively serve their communities, mutual aid aside. The last item isn’t so cut and dry. The third skill (and I’m going out on a limb here) every fighter needs is integrity (caring, kindness, etc.). It starts with the recruiting process where I believe that sometimes you want to recruit the “good” person to come on the fire department. If their firematic skills are mediocre but they can learn and are “nice” as Chief B used to say, then they are worth a shot. Most of our customer base nationwide usually comment on how nice and compassionate we were on their worst day. A west coast fire department published a booklet which they distributed to all their personnel initially and all subsequent probationary classes noted as “The West Coast Fire Department Way.” (Forgot the name of the FD.) I do however remember that the content stated who they were, how they operated, how they behave, etc. It was more like an “integrity statement.” I think it served as a great reminder of why they got into this business. A moral compass guides. I love the concept.
Water-rescue-integrity. My top three.
Having an initial attack be organized. Certainly, this is “deeply rooted” in a comprehensive size-up. All members must have an awareness of construction, occupancy, build-in fire protective features and exposures. With communication and training the first few minutes of any incident can start off in a positive approach.
First: Regardless of being an engine or truck, is for the
officer(s) to obtain and communicate to another responding units/dispatcher a
proper size-up. Although it is understood that this size-up may not be complete
or, not completely accurate based on the arrival conditions, this report will
set in motion the most crucial elements of the initial attack. It can also be
updated as more detailed information is received and/or obtained.
Second: rapid water/water supply. Getting the first line into operation at nearly all costs will prove to be one of the most crucial elements of both the initial and ongoing fire attack. Getting quick water to the nozzle and water on the fire will allow ladder company firefighters to perform rapid primary searches for life and fire location/extension. Although arguably, rapid primary searches will save the most lives, getting the first hoseline in operation will allow the ladder firefighters to perform those searches and buy trapped occupants valuable time. Putting water on the fire makes everything better — for both firefighters and occupants — immediately.
Coming from a small town in Wisconsin where we are 100% volunteer and rely on our neighboring departments to come and help often. I will be thinking outside the box on this. The most fundamental fireground responsibility upon arrival:
First unit on scene: make sure you park your piece of equipment where you can utilize it the most without having to reposition. The officer in charge needs to perform a 360-walk around and share what he finds. It is a very dangerous waste of time and puts people in danger having to shut down an engine or a truck just so it can be moved because something else needs to be positioned or you cannot reach your target.
All other units after that: make sure you check in with accountability, follow orders, and work as a team (2 in 2 out)
This is a broad question, but as a rule, the most fundamental responsibility of arriving units is to take the immediate actions necessary to make the problem better. In a perfect world, the engine’s primary responsibly is to locate, confine and extinguish the fire as quickly as possible. Simultaneously, the truck’s most fundamental responsibly to gain access to the fire building and rescue any occupants in harm’s way. While there are a variety of supporting tactics that are important for both units, achieving these two respective goals usually results in a “win,” for the responding department in a perfect world.
Reality sometimes finds units arriving alone and having to make difficult choices. For example, when an engine arrives alone for the first five minutes, they may have to choose between a rescue or water on the fire. A truck may have to attempt a rescue and do the best they “can” with five gallons of water. Sometimes out of necessity, we wing it, sending one firefighter to do the job of two. No matter what vehicle you ride to the fire, be prepared to do the best you can with what you have now.
When arriving as part of an alarm with multiple units, it’s critical to understand your department’s tactical guides so that you can support the primary mission. Hopefully, your third due engine knows their assignment when arriving on a structure fire without having to ask for it over the radio. All firefighters should have a strong understanding of their tactical plans so that when things take an unexpected turn, they can quickly fill other rolls as needed. You may normally be third due, but suddenly find your company second due because a unit was at the shop or on another run. I believe all firefighters should understand the broader tactical plan so that each can push in the direction of the commander’s intent whenever an opportunity arises.
Crew Integrity and Safety
Solid Fire Ground Communication
Exposures and additional hazards — see and unseen
Adequate resources to attack the problem
Planning for a potential long term event and resource management
Upon arrival the most fundamental fire ground responsibility of an engine or truck crew is what their assigned job is! If you are the first in engine your responsibility depending on your department, should be, fire attack. If that is your job because you are the first in engine, we expect you to do that. If you are the first in ladder Company you job will be ventilation, entry, and search of the fire building. Your most important task will be finding the location of the fire. If your department does not have a dedicated ladder company than the job of ventilation, entry and search might go to the second in engine company and they might be responsible for finding the fire. If you have ladder companies the second in engine will most likely be responsible for a water source and a positive water supply. Again, these factors can differ depending on your departments SOG’s and resources. The most important and fundamental fire ground responsibility is the task you have been assigned. Command is depending on you to do that job. That is why one of the most important communications on the fire ground is the inability to complete an assigned task for whatever reason. The IC must know that something is not done because when we assigned the task we expected to be completed. So, on the fire ground you are responsible for completing your assigned tasks and when it is completed you report to command that you have completed it and find out what else they would like you to accomplish.
Read the Dec. 2019 Roundtable: 3 Most Important Skill Sets
Note: Responses are solely the opinion and views of the individual and have only been edited for grammatical reasons.
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Contact Bill Carey at William.Carey@clarionevents.com