The ISO’s Checklist for Fireground Safety

The fireground is a dynamic place that starts out as unbridled pandemonium and shifts, through calculated, well-coordinated intervention, to a place of restored order. Working fires are in the unbridled pandemonium state when the fire department arrives. The restoration of order is dependent on a number of factors, including the employment of sound risk assessment, calculated and deliberate actions based on this assessment, and the assignment of someone to manage the overall safety of the scene–the incident safety officer (ISO).

ISO Duties & Checklist
One of the ISO’s most significant challenges is scene coverage. Their role is to maintain a 10,000-foot-level view of the fireground, focusing on keeping crews safe and the incident commander (IC) informed. This is no small task given fireground action.

The ISO frequently operates on the fireground alone, relying solely on their personal knowledge, skills, senses and abilities. The closest “partner” for the ISO is the IC; everyone else involved in the firefight is operating (or should be operating) with a partner.

Effective ISOs have developed an incident scene management strategy involving checklists to divide their duties into manageable parts. No single checklist published is a national standard; however, a number of individual fire departments have developed effective, user-friendly ISO checklists that can be copied and adapted. Finding one that fits your department’s needs may be easier than creating one from scratch. But if you are of the mind to create your own, the checklist should include the following action steps and information points.  
Initial Actions

  • Ensure ISO essentials

     – Full PPE, including SCBA
     – Handlight
     – Portable radio
     – Identifying garment (e.g., vest, helmet color)
     – Using checklists (e.g., check sheet, erasable board)
     – Pen or marker for checklist instrument

  • Report to command post
  • Obtain briefing from IC. Confirm:

     – Strategy (Offensive; Defensive)
     – Mode (Investigative; Fast attack; Command)
     – Accountability: In place and being managed adequately (Yes, by whom; No, take action to correct)
     – RIT (Adequate personnel, tools and equipment in place to effect rescue? Inadequate personnel, tools and equipment in place to effect rescue?)
     – Rehab (Is there a rehab plan? What is the work cycle? Where is rehab set up? Is EMS support on scene?)

Secondary Actions

  • Conduct a 360-degree assessment

     – Ask, “What is my gut telling me about the fire attack?” (Note: In the list below, observations with an asterisk [*] require notifying command immediately.)

  • Hazard zones established?

     – Hot: Full PPE and SCBA in use
     – Warm: Full PPE and SCBA at ready
     – Cold: Limited or no PPE

  • Observe fire and smoke conditions

     – Fire (Visible [color, intensity], Not visible)
     – Smoke (Color, Speed, Volume, Pressure)

  • Focus on scene safety

     – Correct unsafe behaviors immediately.  
     – Provide observations and updates on conditions to the IC.
     – Stay out of “hands on” engagement unless a life is in danger. Your role as an ISO is to keep an eye on overall conditions, not engage in fire suppression.
     – Leave strategy and tactics to division and group supervisors.

  • Assess

     – Climatic conditions (Wind: direction and speed relative to fire; Temperature: relative to firefighter rehab and stack effect; Humidity: relative to firefighter rehab)
     – Building construction type (Type I, fire-resistive; Type II, non-combustible; Type III, ordinary; Type IV, heavy timber; Type V, wood frame)
     – Occupancy type (Determines rescue effort; Impacts strategy)
     – Fire conditions (Advancing*; Declining)
     – Fire vs. building (Impinging structural members*; Signs of structural weakening*; Not impinging structural members)
     – Fire attack (Significant progress being made toward under-control status; Marginal progress being made toward under-control status*; No progress being made toward under-control status*)
     – Incident and risk-management plans (Everyone knows and is functioning within the strategy; Correct anyone not functioning within the strategy immediately)
     – Hazard zone PPE (Proper PPE being worn properly? Adequate air supply in SCBA?)
     – Utilities (Gas; Electric; Water)

Final Actions

  • Participate in the hot wash
  • Complete report(s)

You Can’t Remember Everything
The critical point to remember is that you can’t remember everything. Other industries involved in high-risk enterprises (i.e., commercial aviation, nuclear power, military) use checklists as a means to ensure that all elements required to complete a task safely are covered. In the dynamic period that constitutes a fire attack, the checklist is the organizational tool that helps ensure that no stone goes unturned with regard to fireground safety.     

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