What Are You Thinking?

Most departments have a structured order in which apparatus is dispatched and how it should be positioned according to its duties. At times, when companies are on the air, or on the street, when an alarm is dispatched, the order of response is changed...

This has an obvious effect on the fireground; however another effect that is just as serious is not easily recognized. Personal attitude towards the job. We always complained and moaned about it, and our chiefs went to bat for us when the squad officer had to report why he deviated from the RIC assignment, but we couldn't change the problem. As a result we looked at the RIC as a punishment. Some members even spoke aloud about discontinuing running a rescue squad. A lot of pent up frustration that, without constructive release, shows itself in the attitude of individuals. In the end, the problem still exists, but the company has become more aggressive about being the RIC, and defending their actions when arriving ahead of the trucks. They have even made notice of their exploits on their department website, respectfully stating the problem when it happens. I used to tell the men on my shift that even though we may not like being the RIC, it's a job that is given to us and everyone on the fireground knows it's on us. We need to shine, and if we can't go to "work", then we'll make the incident commander put us to work. I would tell them that if you are the RIC, and you are doing the RIC job, getting ladders up, taking off bars and you see things wrong with the operations report it to command. Don't be a backseat incident commander, but let him know you see problems that need to be fixed and he needs to send you and your crew in, such as:
"RIC to Command, the roof needs to be opened up and the due truck is understaffed, assign us to the roof."
"RIC to Command, we still don't have a line in exposure four, and we have indications of extension in the cockloft.
"RIC to Command, the second due truck is understaffed. I can split my crew if you wish."

It may not work in your area, but my philosophy behind this was that as the RIC, and as an officer, my priorities were the safety of my crew and then the safety of every firefighter while we are assigned the RIC. That means we throw ladders to every window, we take off every set of bars, we have our tools and ourselves ready to go. We also monitor the fireground for potential problems. That is the "intervention" part of RIC. We aren't supposed to put the fire out and dictate tactics and strategy, but we are responsible for the men inside when things go bad. When that happens, we need to ensure that we, the squad, are operating in the best environment we can create as the RIC. Do your assignment to the fullest of your abilities, and never neglect your assignment because you think you're being slighted. Another prejudice involves your attitude towards other companies. I knew of companies that routinely ran understaffed, didn't take their assigned position, would freelance like crazy, or simply fail to complete their assigned duties. Did that impact the fireground? Sometimes, however as an officer I am responsible for my shift, my men, and not what company __ does or does not do. When we responded to a job, and I knew one of these companies was responding as well, I simply kept it in the back of my mind that we might have to pull a little extra weight, be a bit more careful. If you run with problems such as this, you need to be thinking of a few little things such as:

  • I am not their officer.
  • We are not replacing them or doing their job. We have our own job to do.
  • We'll deal with any problems one on one, after the fire.
  • This is another reason why my shift needs to be on top of things.

A little thing that changes your train of thought.

Radio Returns

In my area, returns are what we call the initial report by the first arriving officer of what he has as he is investigating. You may call it a size-up report or preliminary report. Either way, it gives us a general description of what is found, if it isn't apparent upon arrival. Returns also state the search results, where the extension is, and the like. Radios are perhaps the most important tool we have, and each firefighter should have one.

But, not every firefighter knows how to talk on one.

Everyone, officer and firefighter alike, should know the basics of an initial radio report by the first arriving company. Most departments have a detailed order or SOP stating what is to be said. Some even have it that updates should be given at certain times. Most of us, at least on the east coast, are familiar with the FDNY type of report:
"Battalion one-nine to da Bronx, K."
"One-nine go ahead."
"The address is a five story multiple dwelling, h style, occupied, approximately one-five-oh by one-five-oh, wit fire on da number four floor. I have two lines stretched, one in operation. Primary searches are in progress and da trucks are openin' up. Fire is doubtful, K."

You don't have to be a New Yorker to understand this and have a mental picture in your mind. Some of you after reading this have already thought, "that will go to a second". Clear, concise, and to the point. Here are some opposite examples I have heard in my experience:
A fire reported in a high-rise, numerous calls:
"Engine __ is on the scene."
Where did they layout? Is anything showing?
Working fire in a garden apartment:
"Hey, uh Jimmy, it looks like you got some extension in the attic there."
Who the heck is Jimmy?
"Command to Truck __ I want you to ventilate the house, take out all windows."
Did they need to be told this?
After the fire is knocked down:
"Truck __ to Interior, confirming the electric has been shut off."
They were on the same floor, separated by 10 feet.

Whatever your department's procedure for initial reports, chances are there is not a lot of thought put into what your members should say next. Some important rules, little things, for everyone to think about would be: