What About Before The Fire?

This account is provided by a reader. Chief Goldfeder's comments follow. On a very cold winter night, around midnight with a temperature of minus six degrees, our fire and rescue department was dispatched as automatic mutual aid with a nearby city...


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2. The strategic and tactical setup of the apparatus. Many fire departments have equipment that looks great, but is useless at a fire. "Ready" apparatus should look that way - ready. Easy, quick and simple access to the lines, tools and equipment is critical! But look at some of the rigs we see at the fire shows. I saw one brand-new "pride of the fleet" rig recently where we would need a small tower ladder to reach the crosslays. That may look cool, but it is a big problem when you actually have to grab that line and stretch it to a fire.

3. A response plan that identifies to the dispatchers the correct amount of resources to send "on the first alarm," based on the situation requiring assistance. Different risks require different responses. If you have significantly different types of homes in your community, you should have different responses. Example: A 1,000-square-foot dwelling may not get the same response as a 10,000-square-foot mansion. The same goes for residential versus commercial versus institutional versus industrial responses. And then there is the issue of hydranted versus non-hydranted.

As you read this, it seems to make sense that different reported structural fires should get different responses, right? Yet so many fire departments send the same response of equipment, stations and manpower to "any" building fire. Sure, there is a minimum that should go to any reported structure fire (enough firefighters and equipment to take on the initial numerous simultaneous tasks), but after that, take a look at what may have to be done initially and have a plan to insure that gets dispatched as well.

4. The timely arrival of trained and qualified firefighters and officers. It takes well-trained firefighters and officers to give your department a "fighting" chance of returning home safely. Sadly, so many departments respond with horrifically low staffing levels and then wonder what happened when a building fire isn't controlled quickly, someone gets hurt, rescues can't be made or preventable situations occur due to tasks not getting done.

At a dwelling fire of any size, certain specific tasks must get done from stretching primary and backup lines to venting to search, etc. It takes firefighters to get that done in a fair and timely basis. Sadly, budgets continue to be balanced on the backs of firefighters - and civilians.

An article in a local newspaper quotes the city manager as saying, "The fire department is a heavy expense and we'll likely have to make cuts." Somehow, people like him forget the essential services (and the need to staff them), but always make sure that the parks and recreation budgets are in good shape. Green grass versus prepared fire departments? I'll bet if Mrs. Smith had the facts, we'd be in better shape.

5. An effective and simple radio communications system. As odd as it may seem, numerous "new" radio systems are being put in place at a cost of millions of dollars, but in many cases we simply cannot speak to each other clearly on the fireground.

Today's buzzword on fire radio communications from those "in the know" is "interoperability." Quite frankly, I couldn't care less about talking to the cops, the public works folks, the water department or the health department until I am confident I can hear our firefighters calling us.

6. "Like the back of your hand" training, knowledge and strict enforcement of the incident command system, and personnel accountability.

7. Leadership that runs the fire like Lou Holtz or Vince Lombardi would run their football field. Fire officers generally have the courage to do something physical, like running into a building to make a search. But do they also have the courage to run a strict fireground, where they won't hesitate to question what, where and why regarding freelancing or wandering by firefighters on the fireground?

Sometimes, you just have to "get in their faces" and when you do, they may not "like" you - do it anyway. What is the best accountability "system" for keeping track of your firefighters? A good, tough and disciplined company officer.

These are just a few examples of what can be used to determine the general level of predictable success on the fireground. Certainly, things can and will go wrong. It's a matter of knowing that before the run comes in and doing everything possible to prepare for it - before the fire.