13 Fireground Indiscretions

Mark Emery details 13 indiscretions that have killed and injured firefighters and mistakes officer make.


Here’s the plan: None of your fireground operations will become the subject of a firefighter-fatality investigation report. If this plan is acceptable, you will appreciate this article, which introduces you to "13 Fireground Indiscretions" that have killed and injured many firefighters. By...


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Here’s the plan: None of your fireground operations will become the subject of a firefighter-fatality investigation report. If this plan is acceptable, you will appreciate this article, which introduces you to "13 Fireground Indiscretions" that have killed and injured many firefighters. By addressing and factoring these problems, you will all but guarantee that future firegrounds will be responder roundtrips.

Risk Management

A basic principle of "risk management" is that once a risk has been identified, it can be managed. It is no revelation that structural firefighting involves risk. There will always be fireground risk that cannot be controlled by incident managers: attitude, chemistry, physics, lifestyle, genetics, gravity, testosterone, etc. The "13 Fireground Indiscretions" identify critical fireground risks that are manageable. Failure to recognize, factor and address each of them is irresponsible.

Of course, it is much easier to identify problems than it is to provide solutions. No worry, part two will provide 10 solutions to these 13 problems; specifically, "The Ten Command-Ments of Intelligent and Safe Fireground Operations." Obeying them will help ensure that the "13 Fireground Indiscretions" do not occur on your fireground.

Strategically deficient firegrounds exhibit some or all of the "13 Fireground Indiscretions." They routinely emerge during poorly managed fireground operations. Often, just one or two of them transpire; occasionally, all 13 are evident. The more that emerge, the more likely a firefighter will be injured or killed. The number 13 represents bad luck, but addressing each of the "13 Fireground Indiscretions" will dramatically improve your fireground "luck":

1. Lack of pre-incident knowledge and information.

Notice that it does not say "Lack of a pre-incident plan." The first indiscretion refers to strategic development of fire officers before the incident. (It is easier to develop a great tactician than it is to develop a good strategist.)

Sure, a concise and informative pre-incident "plan" is beneficial; more important is personal pre-incident preparation. Personal pre-incident preparation includes incident management/command competency, a solid foundation of strategic building construction knowledge, radio communication skill, secondary size-up skill, and the ability to quickly develop and implement an incident action plan (IAP).

Example: A firefighter is killed by the failure of a truss. Is the truss to blame? Is the fire to blame? Is gravity to blame? When you peel the "layers of the onion," the true core cause of the fatality becomes apparent: Why didn’t fire officers know the trusses were present? Why wasn’t the presence of trusses factored by incident managers? Why was the firefighter there when the truss failed? Why wasn’t someone monitoring the passage of time?

Had fire officers been provided (front-loaded) with comprehensive fire behavior, incident management, and building construction education before the incident? You get the idea. It is what fire officers don’t know, what fire officers don’t factor and what fire officers ignore that kills firefighters.

2. Most significant problem not identified.

Like dominoes, you will find that one indiscretion triggers another: If no fire officer has strategically "triaged" the fireground (secondary size-up), the most significant problem will not be identified. This indiscretion has killed many firefighters. Strategic triage – location of fire, status of life safety, construction features, reading smoke, type of occupancy, required gallons per minute, value-time-size, etc. – is more important than tactical triage – where to position apparatus, which hydrant to bring, where hoselines will be deployed, which nozzle to select, where ladders will be raised, etc.

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