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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 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. How is this done? With as graphic an on scene report as is possible.

There are three areas that need to be covered by the first unit on location to obtain this graphic picture, specifically:

  1. What have I got
  2. What am I doing
  3. What do I need

What Have I Got?

Let's examine the first of these three questions. What Have I Got? Here we want to look at several items that concern all members responding to the incident. Therefore, it is important that the first-in unit reports the following observations.

  1. Type of construction
  2. Type of occupancy
  3. Unusual conditions/hazards
  4. Location and extent of the fire
  5. Exposure hazards
  6. Water supply

Knowing the construction type of the building is very important in determining some factors about the structure. First, the degree of compartmentation within the building could give an idea of the type of floor space involved. It could be a room and content fire found in an apartment style building or a large open area found in a core constructed high rise. We could also come to some conclusion as to the fire load present and the degree of fire spread possible. Other related construction features that pose problems for the firefighters are flat roof buildings with cocklofts, unsealed pipe chases, and balloon construction.

The main concern to any buildings construction is its ability to withstand collapse. The materials used in the construction of the building will help give an understanding of its resistance to gravity. I will use the NFPA Inspection Manual (seventh edition) for classifying the construction types.

Type I: Fire Resistive. This type of construction contains structural members that are of non-combustible or limited combustion material and have a high fire-resistance rating, generally 2 to 4 hours. In most cases only the combustible products and furnishings within these buildings burn posing danger to the occupant and firefighters. The buildings are very sound under fire condition and can withstand a great deal of punishment by fire.

Type II: Noncombustible.This type construction material does not meet the requirements of Type I construction. Generally the materials are metal-framed, metal-clad buildings and concrete-block buildings with metal deck roofs supported by unprotected open-web steel joists. Firefighters should be very cautious in this type structure if any sizable fire involvement exists. These buildings are the least stable in terms of collapse during heavy fires.

Type III: Ordinary. This type construction consists of exterior construction being of noncombustible or limited combustion materials, such as brick, concrete, or reinforced concrete. The floors, roofs, and interior framing are made entirely or partly of wood but in smaller dimensions than are required for heavy timber construction. This type construction is widely used for mercantile buildings, schools, churches, motels, and apartment houses.

Type IV. Heavy Timber. This style building is fabricated using columns, beams, and girders. And roof deck planks that must have specific minimum dimensions. The exterior walls are normally masonry. Contrary to the heavy fire loads within these structures, they hold up well in terms of fire resistance.

Type V: Wood Frame. With this type construction the exterior walls are principally or entirely made of wood or some other combustible materials and it does not qualify as Type III or Type IV. Sometimes this type of construction is referred to as "frame" construction. Interior walls and partitions are framed with 2-by-4 inch wood studs attached to wood sill plates. The main concern to firefighters in this type construction is the void spaces through which toxic gases and fire can travel undetected.

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.

Location and extent of fire should be given in this report. Try to include in this report what floor the fire is located, amount of smoke, and flame showing, and the involvement or anticipated involvement. This could be as simple as "heavy smoke and fire showing from the second floor rear window" or "this is a small kitchen fire on the first floor."

There may be times that the size of the fire will dictate defensive attacks. A structure that is fully involved may require a blitz attack before firefighters can make any attempt at an interior attack.

Broadcast all exposure hazards. This will give the second due engine an idea of actions that will have to be taken upon its arrival.

You may want to include in this report other information that may add to the success of the operation. Examples may be that reporting a water supply has been established, or a Rapid Intervention Team (RIT) has been set up.

What Am I Doing?

The next item on this list is What Am I Doing? It is during this phase of the report that the first in company officer will give a brief synopsis of actions being conducted by his crew. This is yet another piece of the picture that is being painted to help responding units get a better understanding of what is taking place on the fire ground before they arrive on location.

One of the most important functions undertaken at any incident is establishing command. This is the foundation upon which all activities will be built on. It is also the starting point for accountability. If you are not focusing on accountability I would urge you to rethink your strategy.

With command in place, other radio reports might be that a hose line is being stretched to the seat of the fire. You have just put more color into the picture for that second due Engine Company. By giving your report they will now work at getting that all important backup hose line deployed.

It may have been reported upon arrival to the first in company that occupants are still in the building in need of assistance. A transmission over the radio stating, ?Engine 1 will be performing search and rescue? brings the incident to a new level. Additional units responding now have to start thinking about performing the roles of that first in Engine Company?s job. Had this report not been transmitted chaos and confusion would be running this fire incident.

Another function that may draw attention is ventilation. Backdraft conditions dictate that ventilation be performed at the highest possible point to prevent an explosion from occurring. If, upon arrival, a Backdraft condition exists, the first in company officer has to inform units (not on location) of this condition. Before an interior attack can be started ventilation will have to be conducted by the next in company. Once again, we find communications playing a key role in the success of the operations. The next due-in company has just received vital information concerning actions they are going to have to perform upon arrival.

The respiratory protection laws OSHA 29 CFR 1910.134 requires a rescue team (2-in 2-out) be in place before interior fire attack takes place. The terminology used for this team varies from fire department to fire department. Some refer to it as an F.A.S.T. Team, R.I.T. Team, or R.I.C. Crew. The name given is not important. What is important, however, is the establishment of this team. The first in officer assuming command of the fire should announce who will perform these functions. In making this announcement the team can start the all-important job of assembling tools and performing a size-up of the structure.

What Do I Need?

This is where you report any additional needs that may have to be handled by the next in unit.

It could be that as you turned down the street nothing was showing until your company had committed itself. Now you are in need of a water supply. This should be addressed in the report for the next in engine to bring a water supply conditions may be such that ventilation is going to be needed as soon as possible. Once again this information has to be reported to the truck company informing them of a situation in need of their attention upon arrival. The truck or rescue company responding may find it helpful if a report was given over the air waves that a search & rescue operation has to be conducted or that forcible entry is needed. All this information received by units not on location aids them in gearing-up for a specific task.

You might be dispatched on a single engine company response for EMS at the scene of an MVA. The information received by the 911 operators never indicated that a possibility of people trapped existed. Upon arrival you receive information that two people are trapped in one of the vehicles. The need for a rescue company and power hydraulic tools exists. Radio these needs to the dispatcher and set up your command structure to handle this incident.

The "On Scene Report" is very important to a successful operation. If we remember these three key elements of that report:

  • What have I got
  • What am I doing
  • What do I need

Operations should run smoothly and the responding units will have a good picture of what is taking place at the incident.

This is an example of what an "On Scene Report" might look like. See if you can paint a picture of the activities being performed and ask yourself, what will be required of my company?

Here is a short and to the point report covering the three key elements of an "On Scene Report."

"Engine 9 is on location. I have a working fire in a two and a half story wood frame; there is heavy smoke and flames coming from the second floor windows of the building on the 'B' side. I have a report that all the occupants are accounted for. Engine 9 has a water supply and will be advancing a hose line to the fires location. I?ll need ventilation and a R.I.T. team established. Engine 9 will be assuming Command."

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