Here's the scenario:
You are assigned to a truck company and are dispatched to a reported structure fire with people trapped. Your company arrives first on scene, and a frantic woman screaming that her baby is trapped inside greets you.
This is a one-story, wood-frame, brick veneer, single-family structure, with heavy fire venting from the A and B sides of the structure. Heavy smoke is issuing from the other openings, and there are burglar bars on the windows due to the neighborhood's high crime rate. The mother is pointing to the window of the room in which her child is possibly trapped.
Your crew makes entry through the back door, which is located on the C side, and you encounter zero visibility and moderate heat. You make your way down the hallway and into the bedroom where the child may be located. Upon entering the room, you notice that rollover is starting to occur in the hallway. The last man closes the door, thereby controlling the rollover. Inside the room, you find a semi-conscious child hiding in a closet. You break out the window for ventilation but are confined by the burglar bars, and exiting through the hallway is out of the question due to fire, heat, and smoke conditions.
You call for assistance with the burglar bars. While waiting for help, you decide to attempt a breach of an exterior wall, due to the possibility that current conditions in the room could change at any moment. The question is: Have you had any practice breaching walls since rookie school? And what obstacles do you anticipate?
Let's start from your arrival on scene. How many of us get off of the truck or engine with a specific assignment and make entry through the front door, without conducting a building size-up? I am willing to bet that every one of us has done it from time to time, and I am also sure that some still pay no attention to building size-up as they approach a structure. As an officer on the first arriving unit, one of your primary responsibilities is a size-up of the situation. Once you step off the apparatus, do you give building size-up any further attention?
I know that a 360 degree size-up is strongly encouraged, and there are departments across the nation that practice this on a regular basis, but others do not. Is this a mistake? I think it depends on the situation. If you live in a large metropolitan area, where your entire first alarm assignment arrives within five minutes, it's conceivable that you can forgo a 360 if you are first on. While pulling past the address you have obtained a 270 degree view of the structure. One of the next arriving companies should be assigned the rear of the structure, whether for forcible entry, ventilation, or utilities. This way the C side can be quickly and properly sized up. But I'm certain there are those who will strongly disagree with me.
So what should you be looking for as you approach a structure? Here are some suggestions. Is it one- or two-story? Is there brick veneer on the exterior? Are there burglar bars covering all of the windows and doors? Are the windows and doors boarded up? These important questions can be answered in a split second.
Wall breach is one of many tasks that require hand tools. So here is another reason every crewmember needs to bring a hand tool with them as they enter burning structures. Carrying tools is a basic concept; yet, day in and day out, people enter burning buildings without anything other than what they have on their person.
In most instances, personal preference determines the hand tool you carry. Some departments have position assignments (see article "Apparatus Seating Assignments" by Battalion Chief Pat Grace) that dictate which tools are carried by which crewmember. Personally, I don't care what tool you bring with you, as long as you have one. Of course, if you grab the 12-foot hook, and you are assigned to search, your tool won't be the most effective, so use common sense.