The On Scene Report

It has been said for years that a picture is worth a thousand words. If this is true, the on scene report should paint a picture for all units responding to the incident without using a thousand words.It has been said for years that a picture is worth a...


Occupancy can fall into four main categories: private dwellings, multiple dwellings, high rises, and commercial buildings. The time of day will come into play on all alarms that the fire department responds too.

At fire incidents in private dwellings, the unprotected stairs and the interior furnishings along with hidden voids are going to be are the main issues to deal with. Normally, during the daytime, there are no occupants at home as most are at work, however, during the evening hours we can expect to find occupants. History has shown most rescues are made from second floor bedrooms in private dwellings, as most people are sleeping when fires occur. If they had been awake, they would have noticed the fire and tried to escape.

For this reason it is paramount that the first hose line be placed to protect the interior stairs, where firefighters will be attempting a search & rescue of the second floor.

Multiple dwellings compound the problems for responders, in that we are now looking at a building housing three or more families.The life hazard in these type occupancies becomes more a factor. Unlike the private dwelling, the likelihood of people being home during the day is greater in multiple dwellings due to varying work schedules and the larger number of occupants within these buildings. Fire concern areas for us are: the stacking of kitchens and bathrooms, unprotected staircases and open attic areas. Some multiple dwellings are converted private dwellings, which may or may not have been converted legally. For those that were converted illegally, local building codes may have been skipped over to save construction costs, thereby; posing great risk to the interior firefighting efforts (this is why building inspections of multiple dwellings are so important).

Like the private dwelling, quick positioning of the first hose line at the stairs is key to a successful operation.

Commercial buildings, for the most part are built of either Type II (Noncombustible) or Type III (Ordinary). Areas that we need to draw our attention to will be:

  • Flat roofs with cocklofts
  • Light weight construction materials (bowstring trusses)
  • Difficulty with forcing entry
  • Heavy fire loads
  • Maze-like storage areas in the cellars/basements
  • Masonry floor on wooden floor joists or Terrazzo flooring

Here again knowing your district helps you make important decisions on attacking the fire. Are we responding at 3 A.M. to a storage warehouse or at 10 A.M. to the neighborhood school?

How do we respond to that high- rise? High-rise structures are breeds unto themselves, but we still need to consider some factors in our approach. Unlike some of the other occupancies, life safety will play a major role, due to the size and number of occupants in these type buildings.

Upon arrival a determination as to the specific floor the fire is on must be made. This can be accomplished in one of two ways. First, check with the building representative. It might be they called in the alarm. Another way is to check the alarm panel for the floor or area that triggered the alarm. After we have this information we will need to verify the location. This can be accomplished by sending a scout team up. The verification needs to be done before commitment of any hose lines.

Evacuation of occupants will be our first priority. Occupants in the immediate area of the fire need to be addressed first, followed by the floor directly above the fire. The next group of people in danger may be those on the upper most floors. Another major job facing the fire personnel is that of gaining control of the building systems (elevators, HVAC, communications, fire pumps). Here again the importance of building inspections plays a major role in the knowledge of these buildings.

Next in the on scene report mention has to be given to any unusual conditions/hazards present. This could be reporting people trapped, power lines down, or hazardous materials being involved. As is the case with any situation posing a danger to the firefighting forces it needs to be addressed right away. If the power lines to the house have burned off the riser and are lying on the fire ground, immediate attention needs to be given this situation. Station a firefighter near the downed power lines to keep others away.