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...

To access the remainder of this piece of premium content, you must be registered with Firehouse. Already have an account? Login

Register in seconds by connecting with your preferred Social Network.


Complete the registration form.


Here’s a sample of how the address, occupancy and “showing” report would sound: “Engine 54 on scene at 1235 Main Street. House with smoke showing.” Short, simple and succinct.

2. Declare side Alpha

Next, you will designate side Alpha: “Main Street is side Alpha” or perhaps “The address is side Alpha.”

Here’s the rationales for the declaration of side Alpha:

• The designation of side Alpha is often overlooked or confusing

• Many commercial or multi-family complexes are given the address and each building within the complex is designated with a letter or number

• Many commercial and multi-family occupancies have no front (there are separate, back-to-back occupancies with parking on each side)

Considerations for designating side Alpha are:

• The location of side Alpha must be crystal clear to everybody responding

• Side Alpha is where you say it is and should not be changed

• Even if side Alpha is logical and intuitive (the house at the end of a cul-de-sac), declaring the location of side Alpha must become a strategic habit

• Side Alpha is often declared as the address side – “Side Alpha is the address”

• Side Alpha is often declared as the street side – “Side Alpha is Main Street”

• Side Alpha could be designated as your apparatus – “Ladder 31 is side Alpha.” – if your apparatus is actually parked on side Alpha and not on the building corner

3. Park responding apparatus.

One of your command responsibilities is to herd the cats by capturing all responding apparatus. This is accomplished by parking responding apparatus: “Apparatus park at Second and Main.” Another option is to simply direct all apparatus to park. The important concept here is to slow things down and for responders to chill. If you know you are going to park for 30 seconds, there is no need to get hyped-up or drive like a maniac.

Herding the cats has benefits:

• Because everybody has been given an assignment, nobody can freelance

• People will be quiet and leave you alone

• People will remain in the cab of their apparatus with engines idling

• This prevents the address-area from becoming clogged with randomly positioned apparatus

• All of which frees you to complete a master craftsman size-up

• Addresses a resource reality – you need more people than apparatus at the address

You can customize the order to park to suit your response profile. For example, at a typical house fire, you should not need more than two engines, a ladder truck, a chief and perhaps an EMS unit at or adjacent to the address. On the other hand, you do want a bunch of firefighters at the address.

If smoke or fire is showing (and you haven’t already done so on your approach), address water supply. This can be a non-hazard area pre-assignment for a subsequent engine, the first-due tender or it can be assigned: “Second engine bring a hydrant.” Or, if you are 100% certain of the actual arrival sequence, you can assign a specific apparatus: “Engine 42 bring a hydrant.”

Once a company has decided it will establish the supply, that should be announced through the dispatcher: “Dispatch from Engine 2. Water supply in progress.” The dispatcher repeats this announcement, letting other responding units know they will not lay hose. The point is this: If smoke or fire is showing, water supply will not be delayed or assumed.

4. Initiate command responsibility

Initiating command responsibility is different than establishing a command post. You may think this is splitting hairs until you examine what is really going on with “command.”

Command responsibility that has been initiated is informal, mobile and perhaps tactical (outside the hazard area). This frees the fire officer to do things like view the rear of the fire building and deploy a hoseline. (More on this when box four is discussed in a future article.)

Can we agree that incident commanders do not function as team leaders? If a company officer has one foot in team leader responsibility and the other foot in command responsibility, there is no reason to change the officer’s designator. If Engine 1’s officer changes her company name to “Main Street Command,” where did Engine 1 go?