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...


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.

OR

Complete the registration form.

Required
Required
Required
Required
Required
Required
Required
Required
Required
Required

While it can create justifiably very emotional discussions, the fact is that it takes firefighters to operate at fires along with all the related fireground tasks - like it or not. You can pick up a newspaper almost anywhere these days and find where this mayor wants to cut this or that city manager wants to cut that. And as hard as some fire officers and firefighters try, some community "leaders" either cannot provide what is needed because the money simply isn't there or they won't because they don't feel what we demonstrate is needed actually is needed.

When fire company staffing and alarm-assignment response staffing are cut, fire chiefs have a clear responsibility to openly and frankly explain what that can mean to their superiors, their elected officials and their communities. All too often, when cuts are made, the attitude is "we'll be OK" - and the "we'll" is the big question. What do you mean "we"? Who will be OK? Are firefighters now expected to perform the same tasks, but with delays or with less staffing? Simple math will show that the risk to the structure, the occupants or the firefighters is greatly increased. The fire will continue to burn and destroy until the required tasks are performed. When responses are reduced, companies are shut or staffing is decreased, there should be no question that the risk to the citizens and firefighters is increased. And there is a clear obligation for jurisdictions to make sure their citizens understand what we already know. There are other factors when it comes to budget issues, such as increased salaries and benefits, but this is a tactical column related to us trying not to get hurt or killed.

In some communities, those "in charge" have sliced and diced on-duty firefighter staffing to the point that it is virtually impossible for the fire department to do its job, but the problem is that many of those making the decisions do not understand our job. So let's take a quick look and use a very basic example of a small, single-family-dwelling fire involving a one-story, wood-frame structure in a hydranted area. And you have used the ISO guide to fire flow (here it is for your use in the future: http://www.isomitigation.com/ppc/3000/ppc3001.html ) to determine that you need, for example, a fire flow of 750 gpm.

Estimating Water Flows

In using the ISO guide, it generally means that if the structure is fully involved, you are not going interior, so that would be your estimated required flow to handle the fire-and it would be done from the outside with a monitor or large handlines. However, if the fire is interior with, let's just say, a room burning and extending into the hallways, you will generally have several crews go interior to extinguish that fire. So while you have less of a fire problem initially, you actually have more tasks because you are committing your members to the inside. And for success, these tasks should be performed as close to simultaneously as possible and as directed by command. Note: We do understand that some larger cities may operate with more and other areas operate with less, so this is a general overview to simply set the basis for the discussion of supporting the firefighters operating.

The tasks to be considered are:

  • Hoselines - We would want at least three 1¾-inch lines flowing approximately 180 gpm. Each line would require a minimum of three firefighters: the nozzleman, the officer and a control firefighter helping move the line. One line would go to the fire, another line would be a protection line (such as to protect the stairs, the search crew, etc.) and the third line is available for immediate deployment as required. If we have three hoselines, we need at least nine firefighters. Fewer than that potentially puts less water on the fire and takes longer. Water on the fire, in coordination with truck company crews and command, is the most critical role on the fireground.
  • Water supply - We would want one firefighter on the hydrant and one at the pump panel. We would assign two firefighters, as we must ensure that water reaches the apparatus and we must have a trained and qualified operator on that apparatus to ensure that we get water to the hoselines.
  • Forcible entry and search - We would want a crew to search each floor; in this case, there is one floor and the basement. We would assign four firefighters. Fewer firefighters slows down the process, which has proven to result in victims not being rescued and fire spreading.
  • Ventilation - Be it opening up the roof or simply taking out some windows, we would assign at least two firefighters. In a fire where we must vent, it must be done in coordination with the attack to ensure that the spread of fire and the removal of smoke are controlled; otherwise, we have the proven potential to injure members and civilians.
  • Firefighter rescue - We would want a crew assigned to this as a part of the first alarm (of any reported fire problem within a structure) because if this crew is called after companies arrive and go to work, it may be too late if something goes wrong. We would want at least one company assigned and, if conditions warrant, assign more based on proven rapid intervention studies. But for the first alarm, we would need four firefighters. While to goal is for firefighters to not get in trouble, we are in a risky business and sometimes the risk is necessary when there are potential victims. When members are operating inside, four firefighters are the bare minimum to just start the process of planning for rescue and removal.