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This is part two of a report about a fire in Oconomowoc, WI, in which a firefighter narrowly escaped with his life. The close call occurred on Sunday, July 1, 2012, after the Oconomowoc Fire Department (OFD) was dispatched for a report of a structure fire with victims trapped in a second-floor apartment. Part one, in the November issue, described the initial response, size-up, operations and rescue of the trapped officer. This month, we focus on the lessons learned at this incident.
Our thanks to the members of the OFD, especially Lieutenant Mike LaVenture, the trapped firefighter, and Firefighters Kevin Jezak and Bob Diehn, who made entry to assist the lieutenant. Further thanks to Firefighter/Paramedic Adam May, Deputy Chief Glenn Leidel, Public Safety Director David Beguhn and the entire Western Waukesha Rapid Intervention Crew. Thanks also to the numerous fire departments, rehab units, EMS, law enforcement, strike teams and related agencies that responded to this fire. Additionally, thanks to the Mutual Aid Box Alarm System (MABAS) and its CEO, Chief Jay Reardon, for their assistance.
The following lessons learned are provided by the OFD with specific related commentary and general discussion with Chief Goldfeder:
This was a tough run, given the needed resources for a fire and related rescue of this type. Although the civilian victim unfortunately could not be rescued, this fire could have ended much worse if not for several factors, including a rapid request for mutual aid assistance, firefighter training (specifically Mayday training) and a trained and firefighter-rescue-focused rapid intervention crew response.
• Command must be in command and not play an active role in firefighting.
This is challenging, especially in areas with limited or delayed staffing. It is also challenging for the many fire officers who identify tasks they want done and then want or need to do it themselves – sometimes, that must happen until the balance of the alarm assignment arrives. However, because most fire responses and assignments can be planned for well ahead of time, every effort should be put into a heavy first-alarm assignment based on worst-case conditions. This lets the incident commander operate in the role of “head coach” on the sidelines with an overview of what may be needed based on personal observations – and information from the other divisions.
A friend who tragically lost several firefighters and children in a duplex fire told me something years ago that I will never forget: “No matter how tough it is, we must always maintain command from the moment we arrive in order to handle the predictable...that way we take care of our firefighters so that they can take care of the civilians and the fire.” Simply put, as much as we want to be hands on, we should plan as much as possible to ensure that we are hands off and in command, handling the many challenges of command.
Command officers predictably will be busy with their own responsibilities and tasks – tasks that firefighters operating in the hazard zone are counting on being accomplished. Looking at the standard eight functions of command as outlined in the Blue Card Command Certification Program (bluecardcommand.com) – Assumption, Confirmation and Positioning of Command; Situation Evaluation – Size-Up; Communications; Deployment Management; Strategy and Incident Action Planning; Organization; Review, Evaluation and Revision; Continue, Transfer and Terminate Command – it is not hard to understand why command must be an immediate focus to support all the other critical tasks on any fireground.
• One firefighting tactic should be used until proper staffing is available.
As a part of size-up, we must state by radio exactly what our plan is. This should include:
What does the building look like?
What’s the construction?