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Fireground tragedies generally occur when proper supervision isn't applied, when strict and daily organizational discipline is lacking, when we don't have qualified (or enough) people involved, when strict accountability, command and control aren't applied, when only one "head" does the thinking without fostering appropriate input and, most critically, when constant, aggressive and applicable training is lacking. A constant state of preparedness by expecting the unexpected with discipline by members at all levels is critical for our safe return. It's easy to "blame the bosses," but this applies to every one of us, at every level.
In this specific fire, it is obvious that several things went right. Automatic mutual aid is a part of the local response plan, and that is critical these days. Automatic mutual aid used to apply only to rural areas, but now with staffing and budget cuts it applies nearly everywhere. Fire departments responding with each other has become common. Unfortunately, most of these departments do not drill and plan with each other, and that's a problem.
We cannot "meet and greet" on the fireground. Pre-planning through drilling and operational familiarization is critical before the fire. Simple issues like common radio channels, common hose threads and simple understanding of how each department operates can make a big difference in our success.
Some of the factors that led to the problems at this fire include:
- The failure for these fire departments to drill together. You can't run together successfully if you don't drill together.
- Strict command and control. A firefighter was directing a hose stream into the hole through which the fire was venting. Not only did this interfere with the ability to vent and place the firefighters in further danger, but the excess water placed in the building appears to have contributed to the collapse. Either the firefighter who did this was freelancing or the orders given were contrary to standard and accepted firefighting practices. Either way, the officer in charge is responsible to insure strict command and control.
- How are you getting out? It is a coordinated responsibility of the chief in charge and those operating to think ahead about what might happen and how the members will escape. In this case, there was no backup plan.
- Rapid intervention teams. Simply put, who will rescue your firefighters when (or before) things get ugly? Are there enough qualified firefighters assigned to that task and are they ready? In this case there was no rapid intervention team.
A simple fire call? Another "routine" run? Don't count on it. Expect that something will go wrong at your emergency scene and seriously plan and train for it now. Knowing that "bad stuff" has happened to other fire departments gives you and your department the opportunity to do everything possible to minimize history repeating itself - on your fireground.
Readers are asked to share their accounts of incidents in which firefighters found themselves in dangerous or life-threatening situations, with the intention of sharing the information and learning from one another to reduce injuries and deaths. These accounts, in the firefighters' own words, can help others avoid similar "close calls." We thank those firefighters who are willing to share their stories. We invite readers to share their experiences. We will not identify any individuals, departments or communities. Our only intention is to provide educational information and prevent future tragedies.
We thank Contributing Editor William Goldfeder for compiling these reports. You may send your reports to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
William Goldfeder, a Firehouse® contributing editor, is a 30-year veteran of the fire service. He is a battalion chief with the Loveland-Symmes Fire Department in Ohio, an ISO Class 2 and CAAS-accredited department. Goldfeder has been a chief fire officer since 1982 and has served on numerous IAFC and NFPA committees, recently completing his sixth year as a commissioner with the Commission on Fire Accreditation International. He is a graduate of the Executive Fire Officer Program at the National Fire Academy and is an active writer, speaker and instructor on fire service operational issues.