Seven Key Actions and Observations for Safety Officers

Jeffrey Pindelski discusses the key points for an incident safety officer or division supervisor.

Considering the dynamics involved in today’s fireground environment, it is easy to understand how it can become overwhelming and even compromised. Challenges such as limited experience or staffing, violent fire conditions and building construction practices all contribute to the importance of having someone dedicated to looking out for our safety on the fireground.

No matter if that role is filled by a dedicated safety officer or division supervisor, the considerations in this role remain consistent. There are numerous considerations in this role. Seven of the most basic and important that are often forgotten are:

1. Command Briefing

It is imperative that a safety officer get a good understanding of the fireground upon their arrival (see Photo 1). Important questions that must be answered include:

  • Which companies are operating and where?
  • How long have they been operating?
  • How much progress have they made? 
  • How deep into the structure are companies? (A good rule of thumb is not to exceed 150-200 feet into an IDLH.)
  • What type of accountability system is in place?
  • Are command officers established in tactical positions as needed?

By no means should a safety officer take the Incident Commander’s focus away from the incident for a lengthy dissertation of what is taking place – most of the information needed can be easily obtained from a well-designed and properly filled-out tactical worksheet, if one is present. A quick glance and short verbal exchange of some important points is all that it should take before the Safety Officer has what they need.

2. Size-Up and Engagement Evaluation

The process of size-up should be continued throughout the incident by the Safety Officer. Size-up consists of getting a proper perspective (conditions, resources) of the situation and establishing the constant evaluation process – what does a 360 of the building reveal? (See Photo 2.) If you can’t get a look at all sides (including the roof and basement), do you have the ability to get someone to those positions to get you (and others on scene) the needed information? Know where the fire has been, where it is at, and where it is going (BAG). Incident size up plays a key part in completion of the risk-hazard analysis.

Every incident begins with the completion of a Risk-Hazard Analysis. This analysis needs to be completed on every incident prior to committing firefighters and should be based on the department’s risk/benefit policy mandated by NFPA 1500. First-arriving company officers that arrive prior to command personnel should be completing this assessment mentally on each call that they respond. This information serves as the foundation for all other decisions made on the fireground.

An Engagement Evaluation should be completed as a part of that analysis. The probability of success of an operation must be considered in relation to the degree of risk presented. Rescue profile, fire stage, savable property and danger level to firefighters are all categories that make up this evaluation. The Safety Officer needs to reevaluate this evaluation upon their establishment on scene.

The Safety Officer also needs to consider if there are adequate resources available for the situation at hand or if the alarm need to be upgraded. If this is the case, this information needs to be passed to the Incident Commander. Remember, it is easier to return someone if they are not needed rather than to not have them there and available. 

3. Fire Flow

Is an adequate water supply established to support the operations in place and is the initial line being backed up with an adequate line with the proper provisions in place to not be compromised if integrity of the initial line is (loss of water, pump issue, etc.)?

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