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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3. Coordinate tactical and support objectives

4. Obtain status reports

5. Manage strategy, resources and risk

“Be quick, but don’t hurry”

This article focuses on the contents of and rationale for the contents of box one. Again, the purpose of the “Four-Box” process is to slow things down strategically so that appropriate tactics will be assigned from the right place and at the right time. In other words, as legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden used to remind his players: “Be quick, but don’t hurry.”

You don’t want to hurry strategy; hurrying strategy makes it likely that you will miss something important. Many of you have viewed the video showing college students passing a basketball. Viewers are directed to count how many times the basketball is passed among three students wearing white shirts.

About halfway through the video a student wearing a gorilla costume enters from the right side of the screen, pauses at mid-screen, faces the viewer to pound its chest, then turns and exits the left side of the screen. Although the student-gorilla is on-screen for nine seconds of the 80-second video, half of all viewers fail to notice the gorilla. It is as if the gorilla was invisible.

The point is this: Even though viewers are comfortable, relaxed and 100% focused on a small on-screen viewing area (the video clip), they do not notice the gorilla. How can something so obvious go so completely unnoticed? However, once they are told that there was a gorilla and seeing the video for a second time, everybody sees the gorilla. If you know you are supposed to count basketball passes and look for a gorilla, it is likely you would notice the gorilla. If your strategic focus does not narrow during size-up, you will often miss the “gorilla.” Missing the “gorilla” during a fireground operation has killed and injured scores of firefighters.

The “Four-Box” process provides a focused, yet simple and quick process designed so that you do not miss the “gorilla” on your fireground. The progression will begin with the “psshhh” of the apparatus airbrake; prior to the sound of the airbrake, the first-due fire officer will initiate the strategic process during the “final approach,” perhaps as you roll by three sides:

Final approach: Get things going

1. Final crew consultation (“Does anybody know or see something I should know?”).

2. Survey the approach area for debris, victims, bystanders, occupants, security guard, wires down, wind-driven embers, etc.

3. Address water supply (approach cues would be smoke showing from a block away, the dispatcher reports receiving multiple calls, etc.)

4. Take care of housekeeping stuff such as police for traffic control, utility company, arson investigator, the Red Cross and a bus for multi-occupant shelter.

5. Confirm that the dispatched address is correct (“Approaching 123 Main Street”) or that the dispatched occupancy is correct (“Approaching Golden Years Retirement Home”). Now, open box one.

Box One: Arrival Report

1. Occupancy and "showing."

After announcing “on scene,” confirm that you are at the correct address and it is the correct occupancy. If the address or occupancy is different from that dispatched, make a correction. Be sure to use your unit designator. Identify the type of occupancy – house, multi-family, strip mall, church, school, commercial.

“Showing” refers to one of three possible arrival situations: fire, smoke or nothing. Examples: “Church with nothing showing.” “Strip mall with smoke showing.” “Multi-family with fire showing.”

Based on the concept that what you see through the windshield does not count as size-up, don’t try to paint a verbal picture until you have seen as much of the picture as possible. You will paint the picture in box three after you have completed your box two size-up. (It may appear to be a two-story building from the street, but there is a basement that is visible only from side C, which makes it a three-story building.)