Command Post: Riding the Right-Front Seat – Part 7

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...

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Incident Type

What type of incident are you dealing with? Other questions can then come quickly to mind:

  • • Is there a life hazard? (This is always our first priority)
  • • Is it a vehicle fire?
  • • Is it an extrication call?
  • • Is it a structure fire?
  • • Is it a woodland or wildfire incident?
  • • Is there something dangerous in the structure?
  • • Is something really screwy involved?
  • • Is it a petroleum storage depot?
  • • Hazardous materials?
  • • Chemical facility?
  • • Piers and ships?

Identify the answer to each of these questions as quickly as possible. They have a strong impact on the steps you can take with the limited resources under your command. Each type of incident will present a distinct set of tasks to be accomplished. Think and act as the situation dictates, taking pains to protect the people entrusted to your care.


Time of Day

What may not be a big problem at 2 P.M. can be a serious matter at 2 A.M. At this point, I want to caution against the standard obvious comparison of a home in the afternoon, with no one at home, and the same home in the middle of the night. This presumes stereotypical patterns that may no longer be valid. Determine the demographic patterns in your community. Does a young family with small children live the same way as a senior citizen couple residing in an adult community? There are as many variations on this thought as there are neighborhoods in your community. Be aware of how your community lives its life so that you can make intelligent decisions on the fireground.

Learn about your community. Let me ask a few questions about whether any of these situations is a problem in your town:

• Is there a rush hour?

• What parts of your town are affected by heavy traffic?

• Are there industrial plants? If so, are they on shift schedules? What impact does this have on your response?

• What buildings in your community have a variable occupancy based on time of day?

Time of Week

There is a great deal of variability when it comes to time of week as a practical consideration. Here are a few questions to stimulate your thinking:

• Is your middle school going to present the same problems to you on a Sunday as on Thursday afternoon?

• Will your church present the same problem to you on Wednesday as on Sunday morning?

• Are you faced with heavy commuting traffic on a daily basis?

• Is there a busy time and a quiet time for your shopping district?

You cannot learn this information from the comfort of your fire station. You must get out and visit.


Time of Year

Time-of-year scenarios vary widely. A fire officer riding the right-front seat in an engine company in Arizona surely faces different problems in January than I do in New Jersey. Learn your weather patterns and then gear your operation to the unique problems found in each season. Here are some questions to guide you:

• Do you have a flood season?

• Are there dry desert winds at any time of year?

• Are you prepared to fight a fire during a Force 3 hurricane?

• Can you move your equipment through snow-congested streets?

• Can your mutual aid assistance make the run to your town in January with the same speed as in June?

• Is your community more heavily populated during certain seasons?

• Is your fire department membership roster steady on an annual basis? Or are there periods when more people leave town on vacation?

This list is by no means complete, but should get you thinking. You could face many what-if situations. If you have not spent a lot of time thinking about different variables and how to deal with them, you will be in for a rough time when fire strikes. Time is a variable in everything you will ever do or face. Recognize it and be ready.


Height Factors

It has been my experience that fire suppression problems increase with the height of the building involved. Some of the things to consider on your arrival are:

• Can you reach the roof of buildings in your first-response district with ground ladders?