The Strategic Six & the First Five Minutes

Initial responding companies to the scene of a working fire have a huge responsibility when it comes to setting the stage for a successful suppression operation. When it comes to tasks on the fireground, the National Institute for Standards and Technology...


Initial responding companies to the scene of a working fire have a huge responsibility when it comes to setting the stage for a successful suppression operation. When it comes to tasks on the fireground, the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) “Report on Residential Fireground Field Experiments” has identified 22 key fireground assignments that are completed during a residential structural fire; the big question that faces the initial Incident Commander (IC) is: What tasks need to be done first?

Incident Priorities

Decisions on the emergency incident are reached as incident managers consider three main incident priorities: Life Safety (both the occupants and the responders), Incident Stabilization and Property Conservation.

These priorities are what tactics are based upon, and the deployment of companies and resources are made to support the best “solution” while keeping these priorities in mind (see Photo 1). However, it is not solely based on having the correct number of resources; the apparatus, personnel and equipment on-scene must be capable of handling the needs of the incident. Personnel must be well trained, disciplined, efficient and well experienced in the tasks at hand.

Many times, the tactics employed at an incident may be suitable for the operation, but for various reasons, fall short in the delivery of the desired outcome. Some of these shortfalls include:

Lack of Pre-Planning – Knowing as much as possible about the building prior to the emergency significantly arms the IC with the best information to reach a positive outcome at the scene. It is imperative that pre-planning be a crucial part of member training and communications.

Incorrect Operational Mode – Simply put, this author has witnessed many times the attempt at offensive operations at an obviously defensive incident. Operational modes are directly related to apparatus/personnel/equipment needs and what is available on scene. Keep in mind that offensive operations save victims, and defensive modes save firefighters. If there aren’t enough resources on scene for offensive tasks, consider a defensive position until they arrive (see Photo 2).

Poor Fire Behavior Considerations – Fuel loads facing responders in today’s structure fires are putting them at greater risk for injury and death. The hydrocarbon fuels found in the furnishings of modern day homes are significantly increasing the amount of energy and heat release rates during fires, leading to significant fireground dynamic events shortly after the arrival of the first-due units. Consider the possibility for these events prior to committing forces to an aggressive interior attack.

Officers at Task Level – While it is understood and accepted that no one on-scene is above rolling hose, during the actual firefighting operations it is critical that officers direct the operations, not perform them. Company officers serve as the eyes and ears for the IC inside the structure during the fire. Progress reports and company updates during interior operations are what drive the IC’s decisions; if no one is reporting conditions back to command, the commander cannot possibly make decisions with all of the facts.

The “Strategic Six”

Considering the amount of decisions that will be made during the incident, none are as important as the ones that will be made in the first five minutes upon arrival. During this period, there are six considerably important tasks that I refer to as the “Strategic Six” for the incident. These tasks are done immediately upon arrival and are best done simultaneously:

Command – The initial IC has the responsibility of directing the arriving companies by performing a thorough size-up and reporting the conditions through a Preliminary Size-up Report (see Photo 3). This report should include who has established command; structure conditions such as type of construction, occupancy, location and extent of fire and potential exposures; actions to be taken by arriving companies; and any other resources needed to deal with the emergency.

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