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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Many reliable sources – the National Fire Academy (NFA), National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF), etc. – agree that a minimum "effective force" is 15 to 20 personnel.

Just as often, there are big-city fire departments that have more than enough resources available to get all the tactical bases covered, the problem is strategic. Resources simply weren’t managed competently. Tactical freelancing is rampant, strategic coordination absent. There are as many action plans as there are companies on scene.

6. Absence of "tactical accountability."

You can get by without a proactive accountability system for many years; that is, you can get by without proactive accountability until you need it, and should proactive accountability not be there when you need it, you’re in trouble.

Worse than an accountability system that is reactive is to have an accountability system that isn’t used. It’s easy to identify a fire department that does accountability but doesn’t like doing it: they dump responsibility on an "accountability officer" (see Indiscretion 12).

Here’s the problem: Reactive personnel accountability systems are designed to quickly identify missing and dead firefighters. As designed, the existence of reactive accountability systems infer that there are going to be missing and dead firefighters. Accountability should be proactive, not reactive.

Let’s add a new phrase to your vocabulary: "tactical accountability." If by design personnel accountability is reactive, then tactical accountability is by design proactive. A tactical accountability system will proactively account for teams and companies: who, what, where, when and why:

Who is there?
What are they doing?
Where are they?
When did they enter the hazard area?
Why they are doing what they are doing where and when they are doing it.

It is impossible for a team, company or individual firefighter to be "tactically accounted for" if they are freelancing. For example, consider the tactical accountability of an engine company operating at Main Street Command:

Who – Engine 1
What – Confine and extinguish
Where – From side A on floor 2
When – Entered the hazard area at 2:30 A.M.
Why – Because Main Street Command is offensive from side A on floor 2

As shown above, Engine 1 is tactically accounted for. All accountability systems will identify who is at the incident. A handful of systems identify where everybody is at any given moment. Only the Integrated Tactical Accountability System (ITAC) will account for every team, company and individual firefighter throughout the course of an incident. It doesn’t matter if there are 10 firefighters or 1,000 firefighters on scene, ITAC will continuously, seamlessly and with little effort help incident managers achieve and maintain tactical accountability – without batteries, wires or expensive hardware. (More on "tactical accountability" in part two.)

7. Nobody watching the clock.

This indiscretion has killed far too many firefighters. The typical scenario goes something like this: Fire located in a basement/attic…firefighters operating above/below the main body of fire…no civilian life safety problem…fire department refuses to yield offensive positions…nobody is watching the clock…ignored minutes elapse…the structure fails…the bagpipes play…repeat six months later in another part of the country.

Both NFPA 1500 and 1561 "require" that dispatchers provide 10-minute notifications to the command post, beginning with the arrival of the first officer on scene. Of the "13 Fireground Indiscretions," failure of fire officers to factor the passage of time is arguably the most critical strategic fireground factor.

The informed strategist factors the passage of time into the overall strategy and incident action plan. The reactive tactician ignores the clock and reacts to problems as they emerge. Team leaders must consider time, distance, and exertion as essential components of SCBA "air management." Time, distance and "suddenly deteriorating conditions" have killed many firefighters in unoccupied buildings.