The Ten Command-ments of Intelligent & Safe Fireground Operations

Mark Emery continues this series with Command-ment VI: Thou shall operate within one of six operational modes.


Fireground Pre-Assignments Your local high school football quarterback can call a play and 11 young athletes know where to go and what to do. Wouldn't it be great if you could call a fireground "play" and the first three or four arriving companies would know where to go and what to do? In...


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Fireground Pre-Assignments

Your local high school football quarterback can call a play and 11 young athletes know where to go and what to do. Wouldn't it be great if you could call a fireground "play" and the first three or four arriving companies would know where to go and what to do?

In the offensive football huddle the quarterback calls a play. The play called is not a random selection; play selection is based on awareness of the current situation (behind 10 points, third quarter, second and eight at the opponent's 30-yard line). When the play is called, the quarterback doesn't need to explain to each player where to go and what to do ("left guard block number 75, right guard pull left and kick-out the defensive end, fullback you've got the middle linebacker, tight end, blah, blah, blah"). Trimmed of conversational fat, the quarterback calls a clear, concise play ("Pro left 34 trap on two"). The play selected is from a playbook, the play called is based on the current situation and each play in the playbook has been practiced many times.

Command-ment VI offers six fundamental fireground "plays" that will help you create your own fireground playbook. These six basic plays are:

  1. Transitional
  2. Rescue
  3. Investigating
  4. Preparing
  5. Offensive
  6. Defensive

You may have noticed that these basic operational mode plays form a nifty acronym: TRIPOD. After adapting the TRIPOD model to your organization, declaring the operational mode will convey more than whether or not firefighters will be operating inside or outside of the building. Command-ment VI will update and re-tool traditional fireground operational modes by adding contemporary strategic and tactical significance — including using the mode to call a fireground play. When a fire officer declares the operational mode, the officer is calling a play from a fireground playbook. The play selected is based on available resources and a thorough size-up of the "game" situation. The play called will inform the first three, four or five arriving companies where to go and what to do.

Traditional Fireground Modes

For decades the fire service has recognized these fireground operational modes:

  • Offensive — The offensive mode places personnel in or around the hazard area. An offensive fireground conveys that the fireground has value — life value, property value or both. An "offensive position" is any location where the incident can harm a firefighter. For example, if an exterior strip mall mansard were to fall and injure a firefighter, the injured firefighter was in an offensive position.
  • Defensive — A defensive mode simply means that there is no life or property value and no part of the incident will be allowed to harm a firefighter or the neighborhood.
  • Transitional — Using the traditional model, you can't simply declare that the fireground mode is "transitional." (Some will believe you mean offensive/defensive, while others will believe that you mean defensive/offensive.) Since there has never been a single transitional mode, you must clarify whether the fireground will be "offensive to defensive" (starting offensive, later transitioning to defensive) or "defensive to offensive" (starting defensive, later transitioning to offensive). Without adding words of clarification, your "transitional" fireground was susceptible to strategic and tactical confusion.

The world has moved on. It's time to add contemporary strategic significance to traditional fireground operational modes — in particular offensive and transitional. In a moment, I will dust off, re-tool and shepherd these modes into the 21st century.

Calling The Plays

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