Contrary to the faster tempo traditionally utilized at opened structure fires, for safety, firefighters operating at the scene of an enclosed structure fire must slow the action down after arrival and fully anticipate the potential danger associated with the enclosed structure. Firefighters also are to resist the impulse to charge into the structure, without making an accurate enclosed structure size-up; even though the heat and smoke may indicate that the structure is tenable. Taking a slower, more calculated approach, is highly recommended in the effort to prevent a disorientation or fatality sequence from unfolding. In other words for safety, learn from the past and do not allow adrenalin or the repetitive standard use of opened structure procedures to control the action at an enclosed structure fire.
When larger enclosed structures are encountered it is important for all responders to fully understand and to follow a flexible guideline programmed to avoid the danger. For safety and task predictability, the Enclosed Structure Standard Operating Guideline (SOG) should be implemented in the sequence of company or resource arrival. This allows the pre-determined action plan to be placed into motion with minimal confusion and allows the incident commander to continue the size up process, to serve as a facilitator, to anticipate potential hazards, the need for additional resources and to monitor the companies as the guideline is implemented.
One of the most important operational rules firefighters must also understand is that safety, not speed of execution of tactics, is what is ultimately sought during an enclosed structure incident. In addition, all firefighters must follow their department's risk management statement which should indicate that firefighters are not to needlessly risk their lives to save a structure or a victim who is not viable. However, firefighters can take calculated risks to save victims who can be saved. Sound firefighting principles and nationally recognized safety standards and procedures, including utility, traffic and crowd control, use of an accountability system, preplans and of the incident command system, are also presumed to be utilized during the safe implementation of an enclosed structure SOG.
Traditional Size-Up No Longer Useful
In addition to the possible life hazard present, many critical factors are routinely considered during an initial size-up and throughout the course of a structure fire. During this rapid initial evaluation, factors observed will warn firefighter's of existing or impending danger. These factors include:
- The type of occupancy
- The type of construction
- The condition of the structure
- The amount of smoke and fire showing
- The size and age of the structure and others
However, despite warnings provided by these traditional factors, traumatic line-of-duty deaths in structural fires continued to plague the fire service. Analysis of the disorientation study showed that firefighters at enclosed structure fires clearly and confidently took action based on a traditional size up, established procedures and sound firefighting principles. However, safety was still compromised resulting in unfavorable outcomes.
Enclosed Structure Size-Up
A critical and complex safety issue dealing with the misinterpretation of initial size-up factors will exist during the early stage of an enclosed structure incident. Although traditional size-up factors do accurately warn firefighters of the danger at opened structure fires, they may not at enclosed structure fires. Light, moderate or heavy, but tenable smoke showing from an opened structure may indicate that it is safe to make a quick and aggressive interior attack, but during the course of an enclosed structure fire the factors may have a completely opposite meaning indicating that conditions are extremely dangerous. Since this misinterpretation has been a serious area of confusion, officers and firefighters must be aware of the special attention needed with the critical and variable initial size-up situation described and summarized below.