To access the remainder of this piece of premium content, you must be registered with Firehouse. Already have an account? Login
Register in seconds by connecting with your preferred Social Network.
Complete the registration form.
This two-part column, which began in February, covers one of the most critical aspects of avoiding close calls: appropriate staffing on the first alarm. We opened by reviewing the basics of first-alarm staffing by responding fire companies and apparatus. This month, we focus on how to support those companies initially.
For these two columns, I am joined by my own Chief of Department, Otto Huber, of the Loveland-Symmes Fire Department. Together, we describe an automatic mutual aid program that includes additional command-level officers responding on the first alarm and the clear roles they are expected to perform in supporting our firefighters.
Within the past year or so, our department and others in our area (northeast Cincinnati, OH, including Hamilton, Clermont and Warren counties) have focused on increasing our staffing. Some departments have been able to hire more firefighters - and that's great. But others have not. In order to meet minimum task-oriented staffing needs on first-alarm assignments, an aggressive automatic mutual aid "box alarm" dispatch system has been put into place. Prior to this system, in our department, for example, we would get 10 to 15 firefighters on a first alarm - as long as all companies were in quarters. Was it enough? In many cases it was - but we didn't want to operate with that gamble. To solve the problem, we worked mutually with neighboring departments and now we average 20 to 25 firefighters on the same run, depending on the pre-planned risk and type of structure. But we still had a problem.
The problem we were faced with was our responsibility as chief officers to our firefighters - to support the job they are expected to do when they arrive. It was very clear both from our experience as well as case studies that, in most working incidents, and especially when something goes wrong, command officers can be overwhelmed with tasks that range from firefighter rescue to dealing with the initial fire emergency.
At the Loveland-Symmes Fire Department, like most in our area, there is a shift commander (district chief) on duty who responds in a command vehicle to function as the incident commander (IC) on arrival, much like a battalion chief in most cities. Our concern wasn't that role, but the various other roles that should be performed to provide support to the IC as well as support and supervision to the firefighters. For example, at a fire involving a single-family dwelling, other roles to be considered include:
- Division supervisors - Who is overseeing the safety, operations and conditions of a specific side/division of the exterior of the structure to determine where the fire was, is and may go? What is the smoke telling us? What are the conditions of the structure itself? What progress are the companies making - as seen on all four sides?
- Accountability - Who is making sure we maximize our potential in tracking our personnel?
- Safety - Functioning as another set of eyes and ears for the IC and interior members.
- Chief's aide - Assisting in fireground channel monitoring and logistical support at the command car.
In many cases, our IC did all of these functions - and many of you can relate as you have too. But we knew that wasn't the way to handle it. We also could count on staff chiefs responding from home or the office, but there was no guarantee that they would always be available on the first alarm. We decided to take the "automatic mutual aid box alarm" concept and expand it into assignments to include additional chief officers from other departments on the initial dispatch of the first-alarm assignment.
It is important to note that, in some cases, just a chief officer may be dispatched from a particular department without the entire station. Keep in mind that we have the fire companies responding to provide a significant increase in staffing, but we now wanted to support the firefighters.