Slow Down! There Is Only So Much You Can Do...

There was a time when I first became a company officer that I used to sit there and imagine my strategies and tactics for a whole host of horrors that might await my crews.


There was a time when I first became a company officer that I used to sit there and imagine my strategies and tactics for a whole host of horrors that might await my crews.

The practice of thinking through 'what to do' for various scenario's with in your response area is not a bad one. It all adds up to good pre-planning, one of the essential ingredients of incident command. However, I used to get deeper and deeper into these scenarios with "what ifs" and "why's" until I got to a stage where I doubted my own ability to do the job.

Inevitably then the call comes in, and you find yourself on the spot where you deal with the incident. Unfortunately your dreams of how you were going to put this one in the bag went straight out of the window, as you caught a glimpse of the smoke column in the sky. After the job you start to analyze again, I could have done this, I could have done that and there we are, a vicious circle.

When I first joined the job, the London Fire Brigade was still full of great "Post-War Fire Commanders." We would be running ourselves into the ground trying to stay one step in front of the job when these 'seen it all a million times' chiefs, would roll up in their cars. They would casually get out of the car, stand there watching, light up their pipe and slowly get rigged in their turnouts. On the way to the command point they would take time to nod at people, ask a firefighter how his new baby was, ask another how the move to the new house was going and so on.

What?? Were these guys mad! No, they were taking there time to see what was happening and bringing deliberate calmness and stability to the fireground. As time went on these old guys began to disappear. The company officers became chiefs and some of us firefighters became company officers. So then the mantle began to fall to my generation. London was being re-developed like no time before, post WWII. Many of the old buildings we cut our firefighting teeth on were re-developed or pulled town to make way for offices and loft apartments. We still got the jobs but not in the way we did in the 80's.

I was a company officer in my mid 20's who had gained a lot of firefighting experience but never received that type of exposure as a commander. Then things started to change again in the mid 90's. Following A couple of hot summers and a recession; you guessed it, the fire duty started to increase again. We got to the point when every week or so we would pick up a substantial fire and I learned to cope, but I was still missing something. Running headlong into the battle right there beside the nozzle man or the first team inside, no wonder I was missing out on the full picture. Sure, things were taking care of themselves but they were going on in spite of me, not because of me.

Then one day the revelation came, I remembered the old guys who I used to see on the ground. That day I took a conscious decision to slow down, shut up, and take in my surroundings?.and I never looked back.

So now we roll up and no matter what you are faced with, there is only so much you can do with the initial attendance, don't waste it. If you arrive and the job requires a multi alarm attendance they are not with you at that moment, they are still in the various stations in the surrounding area. So use the time to gather information and set the stage for the job that this is going to become.

A couple of weeks ago we got called to a fire in a block of flats, (apartments) when we got there the occupant of the flat was in the road franticly waving us down. Most of the other residents were self evacuating and smoke was showing from a couple of windows. As we pulled up the crews were off. Gathering gear, laying out hose, running toward the block with the occupants buzzing around them, I took a good look at the smoke condition, read it for the signs of backdraft, ensured that we were pulling the correct size of line for the attack and saw the drivers heading for the hydrant, so far the incident is going well.

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