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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Tools with the crew getting off the rig

• Interior crew must always enter with a thermal imaging camera and proper hand tools.

Leaving the apparatus without the tools and equipment predictably needed would be like a cop leaving his gun in the car and then going back for it when needed. Firefighters must be trained and be expected to get off the rig with the tools needed.

Many fire departments have riding assignments to help accomplish that. Both career and volunteer fire departments succeed by identifying what roles or tasks (and accompanying tools) go in with the firefighters riding in specific apparatus seats. This is just one of the many simple goals we can accomplish well before the next fire. Do your members know what tools and equipment are expected to come off the rig at the next fire?

Communications

• Maintain communications between command and operating crews.

If the coach has a plan, but the players are unaware of it, winning – when it does happen – is only by luck. Communicating what the plan is between command and the various divisions, sectors or personnel on scene ensures that the plan works. Better yet – when plans (based on occupancy, staffing, resources, etc.) can be determined before the fire and then modified by command as needed, we have an even greater chance of success. Additionally, that lets us limit radio traffic, since companies will be doing as expected and keeping the channel open for more critical transmissions.

Saving yourself

• Early activation of personal alert safety system (PASS) device.

“Saving our own” hands-on training has proven itself in so many occasions. Understanding what to do – and what not to do – when things go bad personally can save your life. No line firefighter should be responding to structural fires without “saving yourself” training, which is available through state fire training programs. Or, email me and I will send you details on where you can find that type of training.

Command support roles

• Assign a safety officer and EMS Sector officers early in the incident.

When we look at the many tasks incident commanders must ensure get handled, we often forget that there are numerous they must handle themselves. While the incident commander must ensure the operational tasks are accomplished, support is of great value by providing more expertise as well as letting company officers focus on being company officers (as opposed to company officers being assigned command support roles).

What are some roles that other chief officers can provide to support the incident commander?

n Division supervisors. Who is overseeing the safety, operations and conditions of a specific side/division of the exterior of the structure to determine where the fire was, is and may go? What is the smoke telling us? What are the conditions of the structure itself? What progress are companies making as seen on all four sides?

n Accountability. Who is making sure we maximize our potential in tracking personnel?

n Safety. Functioning as another set of eyes and ears for the incident commander and all operating members.

n Chief’s aide. Assisting in fireground channel monitoring and logistical support at the command buggy.

In many cases, incident commanders try their best to do all of these functions, but that’s probably not the best way to handle it. How many chief-level officers are available to turn out on the first alarm? As written in the March 2009 Close Calls column, (“Fireground Staffing…Yes! But What About Command Staffing?”), the “automatic mutual aid box alarm” concept is expanded into assignments to include additional chief officers from other departments on the initial dispatch of the first-alarm assignment.

Rapid intervention

• Always have a rapid intervention team available soon in the incident.

Rapid intervention may be needed at any time. There seems to be a lot of debate lately as far as the value or need for rapid intervention teams. One person recently told me we should not need rapid intervention teams because we should never put firefighters in a position to need them. I responded the same goes for airbags and seatbelts in cars. Or extra engines on airplanes. Or co-pilots. Or life preservers on boats. Or homeowners insurance.