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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Additional strategic considerations include the weather, construction features, type of occupancy, time of day, sun spot activity (just kidding), etc. These considerations —- and more - can influence whether your action plan will be life-safety priority or stabilization priority tactically. Nifty acronyms are available that factor a broad assortment of strategic considerations. These models are great for developing fire officers in the classroom, but should not be used as a checklist on the fireground. When selecting and assigning tactical objectives, your focus must narrow to addressing your three strategic priorities:

1. Life safety

2. Incident stabilization

3. Property conservation

Everyone responding should be able to figure out that it's Tuesday, 3 P.M., raining, the wind is blowing, roads are wet and they're responding to a reported house fire. After unbuckling your seatbelt and exiting the apparatus - "investigating four sides, update to follow" - your strategic focus will narrow to listing the Big Six, determining risk versus value and factoring important strategic problems that will influence your action plan (occupied vs. unknown if occupied, structure versus contents, lightweight vs. conventional, occupancy type, etc.). You do not have the ability to fill pot holes or change lightweight to conventional, and you certainly can't change the weather; you do have the ability to solve life-safety problems, stabilization problems and property problems once you know what the problems are.

"State of the Fireground" Address

Your arrival (windshield) report is not your size-up report. Save your size-up speech until you really know what's going on. When you arrive, limit your report to what people need to know at that moment. Once you have identified, listed and prioritized each Big Six fireground problem, you are prepared to report what you found. Think of this size-up report as your "state of the fireground" address. The Big Six are key components of this address. Your arrival report should be a strategic snapshot, lean and brief; later your Big Six state of the fireground address will provide meaningful strategic detail.

Remember, this report is simply a brief snapshot of what you know so far and what those still responding need to know. Establishing side A is much more important than describing smoke and fire conditions observed through the windshield - you've told responders there's a working fire, so get out of the cab and conduct your Big Six size-up. After investigating a sample fireground (read: Big Six size-up), your state of the fireground address would sound something like this: "Small two-story frame house, fire venting from side C on floor 2. Smoke venting from side A on floor 2. Floor 1 clear and stable, no basement, light smoke from the attic, unknown if occupied. Engine 11 is transitional from side A on floor 2."

This report provides just enough detail to paint a concise, yet meaningful strategic picture of the fireground. The declaration of "transitional" as the mode of operation and as the initial action plan will be discussed in Command-ment VI: Thou shall declare one of six operational modes. Also, notice that because a command post was not "established," the status of command remained "initiated" (mobile and informal). Once a second fire officer has arrived on scene, command would need to be established. (Refer to Command-ment I, Firehouse, March 2007).

Strategic Poise and Confidence

This article began by placing you in the right front seat as the first officer to arrive at a building fire. After conveying a brief, through-the-windshield arrival report, you will exit the cab and complete a deliberate Big Six size-up. Taking the time to do this requires poise and confidence. A degree of poise and confidence can be achieved through experience; genuine fire officer poise and confidence can be achieved only through ongoing strategic preparation before the incident - independent study, education, simulations, etc. Evidence of a fire officer who is poised and confident is the ability to slow down, focus, and identify and prioritize problems. Evidence of the highest degree of fire officer poise and confidence is the ability to develop and implement an incident action plan that factors risk versus value and big-picture strategic problems, and addresses each tactical problem identified and prioritized.

You are the first on-scene fire officer: what you know, what you say and what you do will determine how the rest of the operation will evolve. Your initial action plan will be the catalyst for the more comprehensive action plan developed by the formal incident commander. ("Formal command" means an incident commander managing strategy, resources and risk from a named and located command post.)