The Art of the Size-Up and Risk Assessment

Since the early 1950’s and the advent and subsequent development of the incident size-up function, the performance of size-up at an incident scene played an important role and has traditionally been considered to be a crucial element in the overall...


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Since the early 1950’s and the advent and subsequent development of the incident size-up function, the performance of size-up at an incident scene played an important role and has traditionally been considered to be a crucial element in the overall step-phased approach towards fire suppression operations and methodologies.

More recently there’s been a constant hum in the background with dialog and discussion on the evolving process of size-up and what it means in terms of current day firefighting operations and developing theories on fire suppression and incident management.

Adding to the nomenclature of size-up, we find situational awareness, risk versus gain, decision-making summary, risk benefits, risk analysis, risk assessment, risk appraisal, incident evaluations, profiling, and the 360 to name but a few.

The operative question is this: “Is traditional phased incident scene size-up and monitoring antiquated and no longer appropriate or applicable to modern fire service operations?” If so, what process systems and terminology appropriately captures and defines what should be incorporated in and encompass those point(s) in time during an evolving incident that provide us with contextual information and reconnaissance to support the decision-making process of combat fire suppression?

Let me offer this related to the evolving concepts on Situational Awareness. SA is a combination of attitudes, previously learned knowledge and new information gained from the incident scene and environment that enables the strategic commanders, decision-makers and tactical companies to gather the information they need to make effective decisions that will keep their firefighters and resources out of harm's way, reducing the likelihood of adverse or detrimental effects. Everyone on the incident scene MUST stay alert to changing conditions, obvious or latent conditions or escalating factors that require prompt identification, comprehension and appropriate implementation of actions.

To the Incident Commander, fire officer or firefighter; knowing what's going on around you- in and around the building structure and understanding the consequences of building, construction, assembly, fire load and fire development and growth is mission critical to incident stabilization and mitigation and profoundly crucial in terms of personnel safety.

When it comes to incident scene assessment, size-up, risk profiling, etc.., what are the mission critical elements that you seek to identify, information gain and parameters that you evaluate?  How do they fit into the overall management and operations of the incident?