Command Post

Until the Boss Gets There, You Are in Command



HARRY R. CARTER, Ph.D., a Firehouse® contributing editor, is a municipal fire protection consultant based in Adelphia, NJ, and a veteran of 47 years in the fire and emergency services. He is chairman of the Board of Commissioners in Howell Township Fire District 2 and retired from the Newark, NJ, Fire Department in 1999 as a battalion commander. Dr. Carter has also been a member of the Adelphia Fire Company since 1971, serving as chief in 1991. He is a life member and past president of the International Society of Fire Service Instructors and a life member of the National Fire Protection Association. Dr. Carter holds six degrees, with his terminal degree being a Ph.D. in organization and management, with a specialization in leadership, from Capella University in Minneapolis, MN, where he is an adjunct faculty member.


pull quote:

It is up to you to get the job done safely.


Perhaps the best way to start off this column is to cite an ancient observation: “Be careful what you wish for, you might just get it.” So it is in when you’re riding the right-front seat. Many people study very hard to get to a position of command. While many of my columns deal with leading people in non-emergency situations, this one will speak about command in times of trouble and travail.

It is said the fire service performs at its best when surrounded by flames and smoke, for that’s when all of your resources are brought together to control the challenge of our enemy: fire. A well-trained fire department performs highly interrelated and interconnected activities according to set guidelines. Here is where you come in as the person riding the right-front seat.

Like it or not, when you are riding the right-front seat, you will periodically end up being the incident commander, a least for a short time. As an incident commander, you will need an understanding of the elements that form the equipment base for your fireground operations in the years to come. Here is a list of items to stimulate your thinking:

• The latest in strategy and tactics

• Sturdier aerial and ground ladders

• Later-generation tower ladders and snorkel equipment

• Large, mobile air re-supply systems

• Large, mobile smoke ejection and ventilation units

• Personal alert safety devices (PASS) to let us know when our firefighters are in trouble

• Stronger ground ladders

• Better self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) seat-mounted brackets

• Large-diameter hose and many special fittings to enhance its use and flexibility

In short, you must know what your department has available in terms of apparatus, equipment and talent. You must also know how to employ these system elements within the range of responsibilities you will face as a person riding the right-front seat. You will also need to understand how fire behaves and what you can do to interact with it when you encounter it.

Possessing knowledge of fire and how it behaves is essential to your development as a firefighter and critical to success as a fireground leader. How can you attack a fire properly if you have no idea what fire is, how it behaves and how it travels? You must be able to recognize the potential for a variety of fuel packages within a building or compartment. This forms a critical part of your size-up. If you do not have this information, how can you possibly estimate the fire growth potential for that space or the building as a whole?

Once you are aware of how fire behaves and how it travels, you will have a solid basis on which to build your assessment of the fire. Here is where you can begin addressing the earliest of what I consider to be your critical fireground size-up questions:

• Where is the fire?

• Where is it going?

• Where do I have to stop it?

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