What Are You Thinking?

One of the most interesting and exciting aspects of being a firefighter is that every run, every alarm and every call for assistance is different from the last run and from the next. It is this idea that led me to the title of this column. When I ask “What are you thinking?” the answers can be dramatically different, depending on many factors. Let’s look at what you may be thinking on your next run.

If you are a volunteer firefighter, your first thought may be whether you are going to arrive at the firehouse in time to board an apparatus for this run. I remember being a young 18-year-old firefighter in the Mineola Fire Department on Long Island. I didn’t live close to the firehouse, so I never knew whether I would make a rig. I certainly did want to get there in time to be part of the first apparatus to respond, but time, traffic and speed limits usually prevailed. The only really good piece of advice I can give you is take your time – there will be another run and another after that. No need to have an accident or a roadside conversation with a local cop.


What will you find?

If you are an officer on the first apparatus to respond, you are probably thinking about what situation you will find upon arrival. Just because it is a reported house fire does not mean that is what you will find. We all know that often what passing civilians think they see is a much different situation in reality. Of course, you must consider where the reported incident is, what the caller has reported and all of the other possibilities. If you are responding to a reported house fire, you should start to prepare for a house fire. You should also, after considering other factors, consider briefly the other possibilities and the tactics that may be required. The best rule of thumb to follow is to be prepared for the worst or most serious possibility and scale down if it is something less severe.

If you are a firefighter riding in the crew compartment, you too may be thinking about what to expect, but you are also probably thinking about what you may be doing upon arrival. What assignment do you have for this shift or this run? What tools will you carry to the assignment and who, if anyone, will you be working with? Your officer will certainly issue some orders upon arrival, but you must be able to move quickly to that assignment, properly equipped and ready to go to work. An example of an order may be, “Tommy, get the roof.” That doesn’t sound like much, but it is in fact a mouthful. Now you know what tools to take, where you are going and what you must do when you arrive.

If you are a chief officer, you have many of the same thoughts as company officers and firefighters, but you are also thinking about some strategic issues. Is this going to be an offensive attack? Do I have a senior officer working in my first-in engine or a brand-new lieutenant? Is my assignment of two engines and one ladder going to be able to handle this situation? Is my neighboring department available for mutual aid if needed after its working fire earlier today? These and many other important issues must be answered, but often need to wait until we arrive and size-up what we have.

Other issues that officers and firefighters may be thinking about while responding to an alarm include the following:

• Will we be stretching one of our four- or five-length pre-connected crosslay hoselines for this fire or will we be using the longer attack line off of the back step? This is a major decision and can almost never be decided upon before arrival. The fire may be in a private dwelling, on the first floor at the front of the house. As long as there is not a long driveway or front lawn that must be covered, the four-length pre-connect will almost certainly fit the bill. Now consider a fire in the garage at the rear of this same house with several vehicles in the driveway preventing a close approach by the engine. Now firefighters may be required to pull the longer line from the back step to reach this fire.

• Will a 1¾-inch hoseline work for the fire or will a 2½-inch line be required? Again, many conditions can influence this decision, such as the occupancy, fire location, defensive or offensive posture and even how much water your engine carries.

As you can see, many issues and items must be considered at every fire we respond to. The one decision you must make on every run is what? Think! n


John J. Salka Jr. presents “Command Objectives” and “You Are Not in the Front Seat to Beep the Horn” at Firehouse Expo 2014.