In the fire service you will find that a little education mixed-in with experience will provide the wisdom it takes to make a safe environment to work in.
We all believe that we belong to an aggressive fire department who works hard for all that they have; we are raised that way from the beginning of our training. So does there come a time when you have to "back the truck up"? I believe there is such a time and I am hoping that by reading this article you will begin to see my view from the jump seat.
Is it on a structure fire when fire is showing from two or more rooms and we have confirmed that there are no people inside? Or when we arrive at a car wreck with a heavy traffic flow around it? Or just maybe when we arrive at an EMS scene with a mother and a teenager yelling and screaming at each other? At what point do we just stop and "back the truck up"? All too many times we end up in situations where we should not be because we let our ego get in the way, we decide even before we arrive on scene that "I can fix the problem" (we're trained, after all, to be the one's to put the fire out!) and we loose sight of our surroundings.
So at what point do we hesitate and "back up?" We have all taken the classes and scene safety is most always what we hear the most about, and we need too, but I say a little common sense goes a long way.
It is important to use of all your senses while analyzing the scene, by taking a few moments to look, listen, and size-up the area is a great place to start. A 360-degree walk around is paramount to an accurate scene size-up! How about listening to bystanders to discover if everyone is out of the structure! Once that is done you can "feel;" what I mean by that is the ever most important reference to our instincts or "gut feeling." A complete and total assessment of the scene is crucial in the outcome of the situation. Now you're asking yourself: "How can I use these things in my position, I'm just a firefighter."
There are many tools that I am finding that work well while I am spending my time riding in the jump seat. First, wait a minute and don't put your mask on until you're ready to go into any environment that will give you a more open view of the conditions as you approach the scene. Second, take the time while you are approaching the structure to note possible means of egress. Third, listen to your officer when he or she gives out commands; yes and you must trust and follow them. Finally and what usually is the most important thing on any call, don't get tunnel vision. Tunnel vision is defined as "Vision in which the visual field is severely constricted, as from within a tunnel looking out." This is a real and common problem within today's fire and EMS services alike.
Can we as a firefighter look at that auto accident on a four-lane highway, which can be very complex and dangerous, and decide how many lanes we should shut down? How far away from the accident should we park the truck? These decisions are not being made from the seat that I'm riding in, so what can I do to protect myself and crew? First, never turn away from the oncoming traffic until a safety zone has been established. Second, did you put on your "pretty green vest?" If not, it would be a good idea to put it on! They may not look cool but they sure do make us visible to oncoming traffic. Third is size-up. Have you got one? When I refer to a size-up I am referring to the hazards that can be present with the vehicles themselves. Is this a hybrid vehicle, maybe a new car with side curtain airbags that have not been deployed, or maybe the vehicle themselves are not stable or safe. These are all thing's that as basic firefighters we could use to make our job safe for us all. The main key to this process is identification and notification; there can be no assuming in this business. For when we assume, our safety is being gambled on and we just can't continue to take that chance. We all must swallow our pride and listen to our officers, it may change the outcome in a positive light on every scene, which is in turn enables us to all continue our shift.