The Ten Command-ments of Intelligent & Safe Fireground Operations

Mark Emery continues this series with Command-ment #4: Thou shall ensure that four sides are seen and compared.


Command-ment #4: Thou shall ensure that four sides are seen and compared. The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (fourth edition) offers the following definitions of "size-up": to make an estimate, opinion or judgment; to arrange, classify, or distribute according to size; the...


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Command-ment #4: Thou shall ensure that four sides are seen and compared.

The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (fourth edition) offers the following definitions of "size-up": to make an estimate, opinion or judgment; to arrange, classify, or distribute according to size; the actual state of affairs.

Size-up is a close relative of another word: triage. The definition of triage is not restricted to the medical community; the same dictionary defines "triage" as a process in which things are ranked in terms of importance or priority.

You are the first fire officer to arrive at a "routine" building fire. Your apparatus driver cruises past the building, allowing you to view three sides from the right front seat. After the apparatus stops, you exit the cab and immediately:

1. Start doing tactical stuff

or

2. Perform a thorough size-up.

As the first fire officer on scene, if you immediately start doing tactical "stuff," you are functioning as a task-level firefighter, not a fire officer; on the other hand, if you continue to seek strategic information — by performing a thorough size-up — you are fulfilling your role and responsibility as a fire officer. What you do when you step out of the cab will determine if you are a reactive tactician or an informed strategist.

As the first officer to arrive, it should not be a surprise that you have "command responsibility." That means you are responsible for three things:

1. Strategy

2. Resources

3. Risk

It is impossible to manage strategy, resources and risk competently without strategic information; identifying problems and determining value is the most important strategic information you will obtain during size-up. You also must quickly develop an initial action plan based on size-up information. Acquiring and processing information during an incident is called "size-up." This article will provide a model for quickly and consistently performing a strategically meaningful size-up.

If the incident is a situation you have seen many times, such as a car fire, dumpster fire or automatic fire alarm, you can employ a mental process called "recognition-primed decision making." Using RPDM means that you are able to tap prior knowledge and experience — mostly experience - without having to slow down and ponder what to do; you are able to react quickly and initiate appropriate action. In other words, your prior experience primes your decision-making "pump." For example, if you notice a rock traveling rapidly toward your head, you rapidly assess the situation and take appropriate action: you duck. (If you contemplate speed, trajectory and alternative actions, it's too late ...Thwack! Pain! Long-term physical therapy!)

A fire burning within a building is different. There are many factors that require the contemplation of a fire officer: building construction features; occupancy type; phase of fire growth; fire load; location of the fire, contents or structure, and smoke; occupied or unoccupied; available resources; time of day; survivability profile; personnel safety, etc. Because of the demands on the contemporary fire officer and the variables present on the structural fireground, this article will assume that:

1. It is unlikely that you have extensive fireground experience that can be used to "prime" your decision-making pump.

2. Buildings and building fires are not all alike, even if you do have lots of experience.

This article will place a great deal of responsibility on you, the first company officer to arrive. What will happen after you arrive is based on your size-up and subsequent decisions. As a fire officer, your decisions must be based on what you know is true, not based on what you think is true - or what is usually true. What you see through the windshield will tell you what you think is important; size-up will reveal what is important.

Size-up = Determining Value and Identifying Problems

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