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Whenever I think about my first working fire as a fire captain on Engine 15 in the Newark, NJ, Fire Department, it seems as though it happened just yesterday. My company and I encountered a heavy fire condition in a row of two- and three-story frame dwellings on Fourth Street near Orange Street. In my mind, I felt that my actions were a seamless evolution of all of the proper things a first-due captain should do. From the size-up, through the messages to my battalion chief, to the performance of my crew, it was (at least to me) just great.
Unfortunately, one of my most sincere and honest critics was at this fire – my brother Bob (later a deputy chief and commander of Newark’s 4th Tour). After the fire, I was sitting on the front bumper of our old R-Model Mack pumper when he came up to me, grabbed me by my throat and dragged me to my feet. He told me what a screaming meemie I had been and how disappointed he and the boys on Engine 11 and Truck 11 were with my first performance as an engine company commander. Talk about splashing cold water on my spirits.
The important lesson was the manner in which I took this criticism. I vowed that I would never again act that way. He and my buddies were right. He said they could not understand my messages because I was shouting into our rig radio’s microphone. It took a lot of effort for me to overcome the tendency to become excited.
As the person riding the right-front seat, you must concentrate on being calm, cool and collected when your brain wants to bring out the screaming little child in your spirit. This can very difficult as you enter a housing development and meet with a tongue of fire licking out across a street filled with cars, bicycles and screaming people calling for your help. But you must do this if you are to set the stage for a proper operation.
The key to success at times like this is to stay with the procedures you learned and then taught to your crew. Assess your situation and then deliver a proper size-up. Indicate the location of the situation and establish command according to your departmental operating guidelines.
As the person riding the right-front seat on the first unit, you must concern yourself more with tactics than strategy. You have one unit at your disposal and you must decide how best to use it. Ask yourself “What have I got?” and begin to deploy your forces in response to what is happening in front of you at that moment. The answers to the “What have I got?” question serve as the basis for your emergency response size-up. This column introduces some answers to this critical element of your initial size-up.
Weather is a given. You cannot avoid it. There are problems with heat, cold, rain and drought. Each affects the manner in which you manage an incident. You begin to study the weather by looking out of the windows of your home, and then keep an eye on it during your trip to the fire station.
However, unless you are experiencing a real run of severe weather, this particular size-up factor is a quick study. Once you have noted that rain is falling and the wind is blowing, you can move on to the next important area. But extreme or violent weather does occur from time to time and it will affect all that you do during an emergency response.
Weather can slow down what you do. During the snowy months it takes extra time to arrive at a fire and mount your attack. Operations must proceed more slowly and cautiously when ice is present. Cold weather also puts a strain on your personnel and requires you to consider finding a warm place for them to thaw out.
Are hurricanes a problem in your area? They can place severe demands on your operation. Normal routes of response may be unavailable. It will take a lot more time to stage and deploy your resources on the fireground during a major storm. Resources normally included in your mutual aid network may be tied up with operations in their own communities. If you respond in severe heat, firefighters will have to be rotated out sooner and rehabbed to guard against heat exhaustion or heat stroke.