Close Calls: Multiple Challenges –Then a Firefighter Trapped: Part 2

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...


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Also consider: What is the plan? Are companies going in offensively? Are companies operating with big lines on the outside, defensively? Where are the people and where is the fire? Where has it been? Where is it going?

A critical aspect of size-up is to understand that it really has three integral parts or determinations:

1. What do we have? What is on fire and what are the initial considerations/concerns?

2. What do we want to do about it? Do we want to make rescues, vent, search, put it out, etc.?

3. Do we have the resources to do that? Do we have adequate numbers of firefighters and equipment to do “that” simultaneously (because all of this could be done one at a time, but we will run out of building – and time – so it’s best to have numerous companies do it together) in coordination with each other and command?

Where we can often get in trouble is the third question of size-up: Can we do what we want with the resources we have? Sure, in our minds and hearts, we want it all to get better right now – but the reality is that it takes firefighters and equipment. An easy way to understand that is if we have a fire where the fire flow is requiring three handlines and the usual related tasks (water, forced entry, vent, search, etc.) in a 1,000-square-foot, single-family, wood-frame, one-story dwelling, we need 20 firefighters on the initial alarm. The problem is that when we have fewer firefighters, something won’t get done as well or as quickly, as the fire isn’t waiting. It gets even worse when we try to do so much with so little without understanding and determining our realistic capabilities.

Tactical coordination

• Coordinating fire attack with rescue.

Clearly, rescue is the most important task we can perform on the fireground. Placing ourselves in harm’s way when there are victims is an expected risk. However, planning ahead (which includes training, training and more training) lets us fully understand that rescue includes the roles of all companies, including the engine to protect those attempting the rescue.

Naturally, there will be those rare occasions when a rescue must be performed without the protection of a hoseline – to hold or to extinguish the fire or to protect those needing rescue and those doing the rescuing. But in so many cases, departments can plan ahead to do everything reasonably possible to ensure that the resources that are needed are there when needed. Few things can make things better overall than lots of water on the fire.

Multiple simultaneous tasks

• Firefighting must continue while a Mayday is occurring.

Resources means people and equipment. While most fires do not have the challenges that the members of the OFD had last summer, we must be ready when it does happen. In this case, the OFD and the Western Waukesha Rapid Intervention Crew were ready and on scene when needed. A good test for any chief or commander is to constantly ask yourself the question (or think back to your last working fire): “If we had a Mayday right now, who would handle the Mayday and who would continue to handle the initial fire?”

Having a “heavy-loaded” first-alarm assignment that sends more than you may need at the time can be priceless when things go bad on the fireground. I like to use the football analogy showing plenty of players on the field, but plenty more “on the bench” in case things don’t go well. What resources were on your bench at your last working fire? What will be on the bench at your next fire?

Crew integrity

• Always maintain crew integrity.

While technical solutions are being worked on to help us track firefighters on the fireground, the best solution is (and always has been) disciplined and well-trained firefighters and officers who do what is expected. It is life-saving critical that all firefighters understand that they must do what they are assigned and not what they want or wish they were assigned. Additionally, the company officer (or senior firefighter) who goes with a crew is responsible to know what they are doing and where they are at all times. The failure by firefighters to do what they are supposed to be doing and be where they are expected to be – and officers not supervising – has led to the deaths of firefighters. Avoidable deaths.