Fireground Staffing...Yes! But What About Command Staffing?

Part 1 - Leading, Tracking and Supporting Your Firefighters This column, in two parts with the second to appear in March, covers one of the most critical aspects of avoiding close calls: appropriate staffing on the first alarm. In this case, however...


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Part 1 - Leading, Tracking and Supporting Your Firefighters

This column, in two parts with the second to appear in March, covers one of the most critical aspects of avoiding close calls: appropriate staffing on the first alarm. In this case, however, there is an aspect that may not be covered within your first-alarm assignments. The series opens with a review of what is generally needed to give us the upper hand for simultaneously working companies (dispatched on the first alarm) performing multiple tasks at a dwelling fire. With a focus on single-family dwellings (for discussion purposes), part one reviews the basics of first-alarm staffing by responding fire companies and apparatus. The issue of how we support those companies initially will be the focus of part two.

For these two columns, I am joined by my own Chief of Department, Otto Huber, of the Loveland-Symmes Fire Department, who has worked very successfully with chiefs in our area to create progressive solutions to staffing issues. Together, we address the issues of supporting and leading firefighter staffing on the fireground as an integral part of the first-alarm assignment. The importance of providing enough command-level officers to manage the companies arriving and operating at that dwelling fire is often overlooked as a part of the initial dispatch. This creates a "catch-up" scenario - and sometimes we cannot catch up. We feel strongly that while a department may (hopefully) send enough firefighters to do the predictable jobs, often the lack of enough command officers being dispatched on the first alarm may be a source of interest to the readers.

We want to share some thoughts related to the command challenges and roles specific to your staffing (firefighters: career or volunteer) being dispatched, responding, arriving and operating on the fireground. The focus of this two-part column is on taking staffing a step further by looking at the critical importance of "staffing your command" roles.

We have received a considerable amount of e-mail recently asking questions about this subject, and it is one that we can all relate to. We don't have to look far to find numerous examples of firefighter injuries as well as line-of-duty deaths (LODDs) where the issues of staffing - and specifically "commanding and supporting" our staffing - played a critical role before or during the emergencies. Several recent firefighter LODDs have provided us with examples of how quickly a command officer can become overwhelmed when things go bad.

For years, the fire service has stressed "span of control" at the company-officer level and we feel it needs to be included as a part of the entire fireground operation - including command. It is unreasonable to expect a fireground command officer to go beyond a reasonable span of control, as has been shown at some critical fires. We use some examples to try to improve upon the support we provide to our members.

Our sincere thanks go to Chief BJ Jetter of the Sycamore Township Fire Department, Chief Ralph Hammonds of the City of Sharonville Fire Department and Chief Rick Brown of the City of Blue Ash Fire Department for their assistance and cooperation. We also thank the other area and neighboring fire departments and their chiefs in our three-county area of Ohio for their mutually cooperative attitude so all firefighters - and citizens - benefit from a significant increase in protection and service with minimal cost.

Staffing falls under two primary areas:

  • The needs for staffing the interior - Doing the tasks that companies do
  • The needs for staffing the exterior - Supporting the personnel operating in hazard zones

Simply put, not unlike a football team, members of the "coaching staff" operating outside of the field use the information they see on the field to determine how they can win. The obvious difference we have is that our personnel are not playing - they are working, often at high risk.

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