Ideally, a fire officer's role should be to take a "hands off" approach and look for hazards and pitfalls that the members might encounter. To participate in individual tasks can lead to tunnel vision and this can compromise safety. Nevertheless, due to the abysmal staffing level, we have no choice. We have to get that line in operation and place it between the occupants and the fire. With two officers inside the building, one solution could be for the first due officer to take a "hands off" approach once the additional personnel arrive. Again, this requires training and forethought prior to the actual fire.
Given the fire scenario above, we still have other requirements that must be fulfilled. The establishment of the secondary sustained water supply and a back up line is a mandatory requirement. To achieve these goals requires that two additional engine companies be assigned to this fire. These two companies work in a manner similar to the first two engines.
Basically, the picture we are starting to portray is that to get a single line into operation requires two engine companies and four or more firefighters tasked with line placement. The backup line has to be of equal to or greater diameter than the first line. In this case, given the type of occupancy, a back up line also of 1 3/4-inch supporting the attack line will allow for this fire to be contained quickly.
The handlines needed for the protection of exposures or for any floors above will require additional staffing. For many departments, this translates into the calling of additional alarms. Also, other considerations include rotation of personnel and SCBA logistics. A longer duration firefight will require that personnel be replaced on hoselines and rotated to a rehab site and where SCBA bottles can be replaced.
In these situations, it is important that the IC also have a tactical reserve ready to plug any gap that all of a sudden appears. The IC must be able to expect the unexpected; it is the hallmark of good fire service leadership. This reserve of resources in staging allows for additional strategies and offers enormous flexibility to the incident commander.
Staffing levels are critical to our safety and standards exist that we can use to support our case and justify our needs. In the mean time, we are responding with engine companies that are understaffed. Until these limitations are met, the public still expects us to help them. To do this requires a bit of imagination. Basic principles such as establishing a sustained primary and secondary water supply and stretching charged hoselines that flow sufficient amounts of water quickly, safely, and effectively are mandated. Our safety depends on it, as does the public we protect.
ARMAND F. GUZZI, Jr. has been a member of the fire service since 1987. He is a career firefighter with the City of Long Branch, NJ, and is an instructor for the Monmouth County, NJ, Fire Academy, where he has taught since 1990. He has a Masters Degree in Management and undergraduate degrees in Fire Science, Education, and Business Administration. You can reach Armand by e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org.