How to Nail Your First-Due Responsibility Part 3

Back in 2007, Firehouse ® Magazine published the first installment of Mark Emery’s 11-part series “The Ten Command-Ments of Intelligent and Safe Fireground Operations.” The series began by identifying 13 “fireground indiscretions” that...


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The “Four-Box” strategic process

The “Four-Box” strategic process has been crafted so that you will nail your first-due strategic responsibility every time – even at 3 o’clock in the morning. The process is designed to provide you, the first on-scene fire officer, with a logical strategic progression that will help you maintain your poise and confidence. Just as firefighters must be able to execute tactical evolutions (water supply, hose, ladders, etc.), competent fire officers must be able to execute strategic evolutions. This means that your fire department must articulate strategic expectations that are practiced – and that are enforced.

Over time, the list of first-due fire officer considerations has grown and become unwieldy, exceeding an individual’s ability to function. This increased responsibility erodes poise and confidence, and increases the likelihood of choking. The “Four-Box” process emerged from the following realities:

1. During the evolution of a building fire, the first-due fire officer has the most pressure of any responding participant.

2. If the first-due fire officer blows the arrival radio report – and blows off the first-due strategic responsibility – risk increases and the subsequent operation is more likely to turn into a tactical mess.

3. Many first-due fire officers believe what they say while gazing through the windshield qualifies as their size-up.

4. First-due fire officers arrive with too many things to think about. Thus, they don’t think; instead, they default to the comfort of “fast attack” – often the result of possessing too much firefighter confidence and not enough fire officer competence.

5. Freelancing is tolerated because there is no (enforced) expectation of aggressive strategic frontloading. This includes institutionalized tactical freelancing in and around the hazard-area – often referred to as pre-assignments – before a size-up and action plan has been completed. Don’t believe me? If first-arriving companies are pre-assigned to tactical action, and then – at some point – a fire officer will arrive and do a size-up…need we say more?

6. Many first-due fire officers don’t know what their strategic responsibility is. (NFPA 1021, 1500, 1561, OSHA and NIMS; also refer to the January and March 2012 issues of Firehouse®.)

7. Many first-due fire officers do not rely on a structured and systematic arrival process nor do they have strategic tools that enable and support the process.

Rather than arrive with one “big box” filled with an assortment of actions and considerations, most of which you will forget after the adrenal glands infuse your body with adrenalin, we have rationed the considerations, announcements and actions of the first-due fire officer into four boxes.

Arriving with one “big box” generates sensory overload that exacerbates stress, thus making you more likely to choke. We want you to be successful; we want you to nail your first-due strategic responsibility every time.

The “Four Boxes” are, of course, figurative; we are not suggesting that you respond with four boxes lined up along the dashboard of your rig. Each box contains five items:

Box one: Arrival radio report

1. Type of occupancy and what is showing

2. Designate side Alpha

3. Capture responding units

4. Initiate command responsibility

5. Declare investigation mode

Box two: Aggressive and focused strategy

1. Set the table (get team going at task level)

2. Find someone to talk to (occupant, security guard, etc.)

3. List “big six” problems – fire-smoke-verified occupants-possible occupants-exposures-access (F-S-VO-PO-E-A)

4. Identify hazards

5. Determine value-time-size (V-T-S)

Box three: Size-up report

1. Building snapshot

2. “Big six” problem report

3. Update the operational mode (call the play)

4. Draft the initial action plan

5. Assign the objective of the Initial Action Plan (IAP)

Box four: Establish command post

1. Name and locate the command post

2. Achieve and maintain tactical accountability