Fire scenes are dynamic in nature and must be continually monitored or sized up. The failure to complete this can lead to tragedy. No matter where you are riding on the rig, approaching an emergency with a team attitude is the best way to avoid this common mistake. Using all members' eyes will give the commander a better awareness of the surroundings on the scene. Calling out hazards is a practice used by many firefighters to make everyone on the company aware of a danger; "Folks we have power lines on side A-B" or "Ladder is placed on the C-D corner for crews on the second floor."
A team approach to size-up needs to be organized and structured. We use a command procedure for a reason - the officer is in charge! With this being said, any good commander on the fire scene will use their people to keep an overall view of the scene. "Interior crew to command, we are experiencing high heat and zero visibility," can be one report. This is great communication and one must never assume that someone on the exterior sees the same interior conditions, because they may not.
The same goes for the outside officer relaying information back the interior crews. "Command to interior, conditions seem to be getting worse from the outside, have you found the seat of the fire?" These things are made possible with good communications between crew members and over the radio to command.
Pre-plans and walk-throughs are crucial when it comes to preparation for the next run. How many times have you been into a building for a fire alarm or medical run, only to miss hazards for the call when you are crawling down the smoke filled hall? Look at the doors, windows and overall layout of the structure and that could help you when Mrs. Smith is trapped at 3 a.m.
On the exterior, where can you position an aerial ladder with minimal hazards? How is the municipal water supply, if you have it? If not, where do you set up the tenders and drop tanks?
Freelancing is a common occurrence on today's fireground. Working as a unit in an orderly and systematic function is all of our jobs while operating on the fire scene. As companies arrive, everyone should be assigned a task to complete or your department needs a standard operating procedure (SOP) to lay out the groundwork for every type of response. From the first-due engine to the 12th-due water tender, everyone should be assigned a function, even if that function is to stay in a staging area until called.
A word of caution when assigning crews to a staging area. Idol hands make for a hard sell to the firefighters. Most firefighters are driven people who want to be in on the action, so if you are assigning them to a staging area, don't expect them to just sit there for any length of time. Give them a task: putting up scene lights, preparing the staging area for rehab, or throwing ladders for a secondary means of egress are all good ideas to keep them in service while contributing to the safety of everyone.
This is a problem that can be prevented with some preparation from your company officer. The officer should have a talk with their crews before the bell sounds to tell crew members what is expected from each one of them. Some departments go so far as to assign riding positions to needed tasks.
An example would be to make the rear seat the hook man or something similar. This should allow the crew to know their roles in the first few minutes of the operation; beyond that roles can and will be changed within the dynamic fireground. The best practice for any crew in these situations is to borrow a line from the movie Top Gun, "You never leave your wingman." With your officer in charge, you, being the wingman, are to remain by their side throughout the entire operation.
These things mixed with good communication from the officer to the crew can lead to an organized, smooth-flowing fire scene.
This is a small sample of common mistakes with some simple solutions. One thing remains constant; with all mistakes that we make, they can be cured with three things - training, communication and preparation. This seems so simple in nature, but is commonly looked over by us all.
The fire service has taken some hits these days, from staff being cut in career department to the overwhelming need for more volunteers, so we need to review and possibly change the way in which we operate.
Keeping positive attitudes toward our common goal of protecting life and property while dealing with this will keep us all focused on safety and make sure that we all go home!