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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The preparing mode means the same thing as transitional mode, with one important strategic difference. The preparing mode describes a ventilation-controlled fire situation; there is evidence of heat and smoke, but insufficient oxygen to sustain fire growth. The preparing mode conveys that fire/heat is not venting horizontally, the only evidence of a working fire is smoke. An example would be a strip mall occupancy charged with low-velocity smoke and no visible fire.

The preparing mode is always announced including the words "for," "from" and "on" as in: "Engine 1 preparing for offensive from side A on floor 2." Notice that by calling this play Engine 1 is tactically accounted for. Even if no other information is conveyed, "preparing for offensive from side A on floor 2" communicates the following information and initial action plan:

  1. Fire growth is ventilation-controlled and static. Thus, using a wood-burning stove analogy, the "dampers" will remain closed until more resources arrive. (Strategic tip: Air is the governing component of fire growth; when you control horizontal ventilation, you control fire growth.)
  2. There is not a verified rescue or search and rescue situation; the status of life safety is unknown if occupied, thus life safety will be addressed with the tactical objective primary search.
  3. The first company to arrive will literally "prepare" the fireground for a coordinated offensive transition. (Establish water supply, shut gas off at the meter, stretch two charged handlines to side A, prepare for coordinated ventilation, gather entry/overhaul tools, etc. In short, be ready to pull the offensive trigger. Take care of your people first; time is on your side when the dampers are closed.)
  4. Once additional resources have arrived and the fireground has been prepared, the offensive transition would evolve just as the transitional mode did after subsequent resources arrived.

O = Offensive Mode

Offensive mode means what it has always meant, with the addition of one important contemporary caveat: two-out. Thus, on the contemporary fireground, "offensive" means that at least four personnel are on scene. Four personnel is the absolute minimum required by law for an offensive operation during a stabilization priority fireground. (Stabilization priority tactically; life safety is always your strategic priority.)

Strategic consideration: Although four personnel (providing two-in/two-out compliance) may be legal for hazard area entry, when the fire department is the most valuable "thing" on the fireground, it may not be prudent. An "offensive from side A on floor 2" operation with two engines and six personnel on scene would imply the following initial action plan:

  1. Engine 1 — Delegate or establish water supply, Initiate Command and declare the "investigating" mode.
  2. After investigating (size-up), Engine 1 declares the mode as "offensive from side A on floor 2."

    (Important note: The word offensive means that there are at least four personnel on scene, water supply has been established, the status of life safety is unknown if occupied, entry will be coordinated with ventilation, and that there is enough value to deploy firefighters in and around the hazard area.)

  3. Engine 1 — Perhaps coordinated with positive-pressure ventilation (PPV) from side A, two members conduct confine and extinguish from side A on floor 2 with the third member at the pump panel. (By calling the play "offensive," the first company has assigned itself to confine and extinguish.)
  4. Engine 2 — Two members deploy as the two-out standby team on side A. The Engine 2 officer would establish a command post and direct responding apparatus to park, base or continue to the scene. When resources are ready and coordinated, Main Street command would pull the offensive trigger. Engine 3 arrives, perhaps establishes its own water supply, and all three personnel would deploy as rapid intervention and stabilize utilities.
  5. Once Engine 3 has deployed as the rapid intervention team, Engine 2 would don facepieces and enter as the backup team. As the backup team, Engine 2 would follow, but never quite catch, Engine 1 and protect egress.
  6. To ensure there are teams available in staging, a second alarm would likely be called. Second-alarm apparatus would be directed to base and (more than likely) personnel would be directed to remain at base with their apparatus, effectively placing these resources in your back pocket. (Recall Command Caveat 1: If you need it and it's not there and available, it's too late.)
  7. Personnel from subsequently arriving apparatus would move from their parked/based apparatus and report to temporary staging at the command post for assignment and to harvest passports (see "Command-ment I," Firehouse®, February 2007). This procedure establishes tactical accountability and eliminates freelancing!
  8. Exchange teams would be retained at temporary staging or assigned to the division supervisor.
  9. Truck 1 — Unless otherwise directed, Truck 1 would continue to the scene, spot its turntable and provide ventilation or be assigned floor 2 primary search or floor 1 primary salvage.
  10. Battalion 1 — The battalion chief updates the size-up, meets face to face with the incident commander, ensures a 10-minute clock has been started, and assumes and relocates the command post. The former incident commander (the Engine 2 officer) would be assigned as a division supervisor (probably as division A) or as incident safety officer.