How to Nail Your First-Due Strategic Responsibility: Part 4

Back in July (Firehouse®, July 2012), we described box one of our first-due fire officer “Four-Box Strategic Progression.” Our structured and systematic four-box progression has been crafted so that you nail your first-due strategic responsibility every time.


We identified that, according to National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) Standard 1021, Fire Officer I, the first-due fire officer’s strategic responsibility is to complete a size-up; develop and an initial action plan; and then implement the preliminary action plan.


Box one revisited

Box one contains five items that represent the first-due fire officer arrival report; the box one arrival report is brief and meaningful, but does not qualify as a size-up. Your focused and systematic size-up is represented by box two, which we will open in a moment.

Your box one, five-item arrival report consists of:

1. Occupancy and showing – Not building construction or dimensions, but simply the occupancy type (house, multi-family, high-rise, commercial, strip mall, store, hotel, etc.) and one of three showing situations (nothing, smoke, fire).

2. Designate side Alpha – Make sure your designation is perfectly clear to all responding units (“The address is side Alpha,” “Main Street is side Alpha,” etc.).

3. Park responding units – “All apparatus park.” Park is a non-specific location. The general meaning of park is each officer on each unit will park as close to the address (or to staging, if designated) as possible with two important caveats: leave the street open to traffic can get in and out; and personnel will remain with their rig unless other otherwise assigned. This simple assignment serves to herd the cats until you know what the problems and hazards are. It also eliminates annoying radio traffic such as, “On your arrival…” and, “We’re a block out, what’s our assignment?” Talking to people who are responding interferes with your focused size-up.

4. Initiate command – Command that has been initiated is informal and mobile. In other words, no command post and the officer will be doing a size-up. Later, in box four, a command post will be “established” (named and located).

5. Investigation mode – The initial operational mode should usually be the investigation mode as described in box two.

Resist the temptation to cram additional stuff into box one (or into any of the four boxes). For example, if you need a second alarm, police for traffic control or the gas company, make the request before opening box one, after closing box one or as part of opening box four. Shoving an additional item into a box tends to push something out of the box. The point is that we want you to nail box one.

Caveats can be built into the box one arrival report. For example, the announcement “nothing showing” would assign all responding units to park and await your update. Should you announce “fire showing” or “smoke showing,” all units would park “except” – and “except” means whatever your fire department decides it means. Where I came from it means that the second-due engine, first-due truck and battalion chief would continue to the address and all other units would park. The spirit and intent is to

• Immediately capture and control all resources

• Facilitate the need for assembling firefighters at the address

• Prevent a mishmash of fire apparatus clogging the street

• Ensure vehicle access in and out (such as medic unit, tender shuttle, etc.)


Box two: Focused

and aggressive strategy

Box two is filled with focused and aggressive strategic action; box two strategic action is what you do, not what you say on the radio. During a typical dwelling fire, box two strategic action can be completed in about the time it takes to view each side of a typical house: 30 to 50 seconds. It will be the most important 30 to 50 seconds of the entire fireground operation. (You do not receive size-up credit based on how fast you can complete a lap around a building; you get size-up credit for the information you acquire during the lap.)

We could write an entire article on value-time-size (and likely will), but in a nutshell here is how the V-T-S model works:

• Value – People and property. Is there value? Where is there value?

• Time – How long there will continue to be value. Also factored is how long the structure will survive. A heavy-timber-floor structure will endure fire longer than an engineered-floor assembly supported by unprotected wood I-joists. That said, if an unprotected steel column supports both, the failure of the column would bring both down. (Refer to my structural hierarchy described in the April 2009 issue of Firehouse®.)

• Size – The size of your response package and the resources required. Resources include the number of personnel, gallons of water, the number/size of hoselines, etc.

The determination of V-T-S will determine your fireground operational mode. Key questions to consider are:

• Is there value? Where is there value? Who has the most value?

• Is there time to preserve and protect the value that exists right now? How long will there continue to be value?

• Are enough resources on scene to preserve and protect the value that exists right now? Will responding resources arrive soon enough to preserve and protect the value that exists right now?

The strategic math is simple:

Three yeses = Offensive

One no = Defensive

Value-time-size is scalable; to accommodate the size of your response and the time it will take to assemble an effective force, you can expand the margins of value until you reach three yeses. If you still cannot reach three yeses, protect the neighborhood and develop a strategy for dealing with the media.

Problems and hazards would be listed on a fire officer tool such as the IMS Alliance First-Due ITAC Status Board shown below.

The status board shorthand is explained below:

F2 = Fire on floor two

S2 = Smoke on floor two

SATT = Smoke in the attic

PO2 = Possible occupants on floor two

PO1 = Possible occupants on floor one

E1 = Exposure floor one

ED = Exposure side D

As there are no verified occupants (VO) or access (A) problems, they are not listed on the board; if there is not a problem, it is not listed. You could also note the side information, but you won’t forget that. Once you have seen and captured that there is fire on floor two, you will not forget from which side and from how many windows fire is showing. This process must be quick and simple.

Also, do not complicate the process. For example, if there are two or three occupancies with fire and smoke showing, pick one to be the primary occupancy. List the problems for that occupancy and note the other two occupancies as exposure problems. Example: EB (exposure Bravo) and ED (exposure Delta). Problems for each exposure would be listed at the command post or on division status boards. Later, the action plan to solve those problems would be added. More on this when we open box three in a future issue.

This list of problems and hazards will serve as the most important strategic action during the entire fireground operation. It will determine the operational mode and be used to develop the incident action plan. The important point is that the fire officer looked for and captured problems and hazards. In case you missed the significance: the officer looked for specific problems. This few seconds of first-due fire officer strategic focus is critical.

If you have fire officers who refuse to do their fundamental first-due strategic responsibility, perhaps you should select new fire officers. Fundamental fire officer responsibility is ignored when the first on-scene fire officer jumps off the rig and defaults to a fast attack.


Strategic legacy

This series of articles serves as an introduction to our “Four-Box” process, “big six size-up” and the V-T-S mode and position determination model. These articles scratch the surface of how to nail your first-due strategic responsibility, but nail it you must if you aspire to be a master-craftsman fire officer!

Until aggressive strategy becomes the norm, random acts of tactical violence will continue to injure and kill firefighters (and damage property); focused and aggressive strategy will help prevent firefighters from being injured and killed (and property being unnecessarily damaged). Aggressive strategy will help ensure that aggressive tactics are intelligent, safe and appropriate. n

Next: Box three


Mark Emery will present “The Essentials of Fire Station Leadership” and “How to Not Be There and Not Do That” at Firehouse World 2013.