The Ten Command-ments of Intelligent and Safe Fireground Operations

Mark Emery continues this series with Command-ment III: Thou shall identify, factor and monitor three situations that kill firefighters.


The Ten Command-ments Of Intelligent & Safe Fireground Operations By MARK EMERY Command-ment III: Thou shall identify, factor and monitor three situations that kill firefighters. First the bad news, then the good news. The bad news is that a firefighter is going to die. If this...


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The Ten Command-ments Of Intelligent & Safe Fireground Operations By MARK EMERY

Command-ment III: Thou shall identify, factor and monitor three situations that kill firefighters.

First the bad news, then the good news. The bad news is that a firefighter is going to die. If this yet-to-be-identified firefighter isn't killed by a physiological crash or a crash involving a vehicle, this firefighter is going to be killed by one of three situations:

Working below a structure fire (frequently below an attic fire)

Present during a hostile smoke or fire event (frequently a flashover)

Working above a structure fire (frequently above a basement fire)

Collectively, I refer to these three situations as "The Three That Kill." "The Three That Kill" has killed and injured scores of firefighters and has produced innumerable "close calls."

Now the good news. Identify, factor and monitor "The Three That Kill" and your response from the fire station is much more likely to be a roundtrip. By routinely identifying, factoring and monitoring "The Three That Kill," you have incorporated a crucial risk-management component into your square-foot (structural) fireground operations. Excluding physiologic and apparatus-related events, strategic stuff - not tactical-stuff - kills firefighters.

If you read the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) firefighter injury and fatality investigation reports, you know that firefighters aren't being harmed because hoselines are improperly handled, granny knots are failing, the wrong nozzle was selected or because there wasn't a ladder available to tumble down after diving out a window. Consider this: why would firefighters need to escape a burning building by performing a ground-ladder carnival stunt? Likely because poor strategic decisions were made by a fire officer, that's why.

Prior to the hostile fire event:

  • Why didn't fire officers notice that conditions were deteriorating?
  • Why didn't they have a charged hoseline?
  • Why wasn't there a backup team protecting egress?
  • Why wasn't the operation coordinated with ventilation?

Firefighters need to know tactical stuff. Much more important, fire officers need to know strategic stuff. Borrowing from the Warren Bennis book Leaders, firefighters need to know how to do things right and fire officers need to ensure that firefighters are doing the right things - at the right place, at the right time and for the right reason.

Often firefighters are doing tactical-stuff right; the problem is they are doing things right at the wrong place, at the wrong time and for the wrong reason, culminating (predictably) with a survival-motivated tumble down a (hope it's there) ground ladder. A fire department should be embarrassed if there is no civilian life safety problem and its "most valuable resource" must escape deteriorating fire conditions by taking turns at a window to "save themselves."

Background & Significance

First of all, this article will not address the two factors that most frequently kill firefighters: physiologic events and responding/returning events. This article will focus on factors than can be managed, factors that influenced by obeying the "Ten Command-ments of Intelligent and Safe Fireground Operations" (Firehouse, February 2007) and ensuring that none of the "13 Fireground Indiscretions" are transgressed (April 2006).

Responsibility for time and proximity can be managed - and this responsibility can be shared. In my "Command-ment II" article (April 2007), I suggested that a fireground strategic "thread" be established that connects the command post to division/group supervisors and finally to the team on the nozzle (or saw, or hook, ax, pole, whatever). This invisible thread links all three operational levels: strategic, tactical and task. An intelligent and safe fireground establishes and maintains a strategic presence at each of these three levels. The strategic presence at the task-level is the team leader (usually a company officer). Firefighter safety is compromised should this thread be severed.

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