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 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 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?
These are the logical steps you must take in any emergency. They were initially created for fire-related emergencies, but times are changing. We all know (or should know by now) that fires and fire-related emergencies are now a smaller percentage of the average fire department’s workload. We need to broaden our thought processes to the widest possible range of emergencies that our fire department may be called on to handle. Here are just a few for your consideration:
• Motor vehicle accidents
• Vehicle extrication and rescues
• Water-related emergencies (drownings, swiftwater rescues, etc.)
• Potential hazardous materials/chem-ical incidents (including suicides involving various combinations of household cleaning materials)
Train yourself to be an observer, and train yourself to become a recorder of observations and thoughts. It is this combination of thinking skills that will make you a successful “right-seat” rider. Assess the elements of the call to which you and your unit have been dispatched, then calmly decide which of the many actions you and your crew have been trained to do is appropriate for the situation at hand.
None of the above tasks are easy to master. They all require a conscious effort on your part to learn and make them a part of your riding-the-right-front-seat tool kit. When they become a part of your soul, they will become your standard way of operating. Further, you must train your crew in the ways in which they will need to operate at a given emergency situation.
Team-building starts with the person riding the right-front seat. So too does a successful emergency operation. You may be a rookie or a veteran, a permanent or an acting officer. You may not even be with your regular crew. Regardless, it is up to you to get the job done safely. When riding the right-front seat, you have a short time within which to succeed or fail. How you do is up to you.