Seven Key Actions and Observations for Safety Officers

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

It should also be understood that a well-prepared fireground involving proactive behavior is very important. Minimum proactive behavior for the RIT should incorporate the use of ladders at secondary egress points around the building to provide for immediate access as well as escape. Lighting at every entry point that a fire company has penetrated should also be established. This will provide a point of orientation for a possible lost firefighter or crew. An additional hoseline for possible backup if conditions deteriorate at these entry points should also be put into place if needed. Removing all barriers (softening the structure), especially boarded or barred windows, chained gates, window gates, accordion gates and any exterior items that may block escape should be removed. This proactive action also allows for rapid egress at various points around the structure if needed.

Important to remember, however, is that a RIT should not dedicate itself to performing tasks that will make it unavailable for its main mission – responding to and aiding firefighters who need help. If a proactive task on the fireground will take the RIT away from this, make certain to get the task assigned to another company.

6. Structural Stability Checks 

Structural stability checks need to be completed consistently at different time intervals.

Gravitational forces are always at work to bring a building down. When fire takes possession of a portion of a building, changes begin to take place with the materials and components that provide the structure with its ability to stand. Most times, these changes are able to be detected before collapse occurs. The type of construction of the building that we are operating in has to be recognized early and the way that it will react must be understood. Many newer buildings contain some form of lightweight truss construction, which is susceptible to collapse from fire exposure in a very short amount of time (as little as 6-8 minutes from exposure). Is the building that we are in able to support the forces that are taking place as well as what we are applying? Excessive water flow with little or no runoff should indicate potential collapse conditions due to the increased weight load on the structure.

In the case of basement fires, collapse needs to be considered during initial operations, even in the cases of quick notification and response. Regardless of the flooring type, configuration, ventilation, fuel load or mechanical load, collapse can take place within 8 minutes of arrival. When possible, Safety Officers should make it a point to inspect the integrity of a floor system where firefighters are operating. 

7. Rehab

The importance of rehab cannot be stressed enough when it comes to firefighting. Rehabilitation resources should be requested as soon as possible. Even the smallest incidents should require a rehab to be set up for firefighters if they are working for any extended period of time. The rehab location should get firefighters out of the elements, be located away from vehicle exhaust and concentrate on providing hydration through fluids. When faced with environmental stress, the body can lose up to three liters of water per hour through sweating. Hydration becomes paramount and fluid replacement must take place or problems will occur. Water is the most important item that should be consumed for hydration. It is recommended that firefighters consume at least one quart of water per hour when working. 

Make certain that a rehab is established and that the proper resources are available to support it.

These seven considerations discussed are not the only ones that exist. There are many other items that must be considered when filling the role of the fireground Safety Officer. We must also realize that we are truly responsible for one another’s safety on the fireground, even if we are not filling the formal role. Today’s fire service operates and competes in a very volatile environment – both on and off the fireground. Are you ready for these challenges when it comes to our safety?

JEFFREY PINDELSKI CFO, a 24-year plus student of the fire service, is the deputy chief of operations with the Downers Grove, IL, Fire Department. He is a contributing editor and is the co-author of the text: R.I.C.O. – Rapid Intervention Company Operations, and is a revising author of the third edition of the Firefighter's Handbook. Pindelski has earned a masters degree from Lewis University and was a recipient of the State of Illinois Firefighting Medal of Valor in 1998.