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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What’s really cool (no pun intended) is that by converting one gallon of water to steam, it is possible to generate 1,700 gpm of heat removal/oxygen displacement potential. During conversion to steam, one gallon of water is capable of producing 223 cubic feet of steam. Here are some other facts about water:

At room temperature, without steam conversion, one gallon of water applied directly onto a fire will absorb 1,200 Btu.

Completely converted to steam that same gallon of water will absorb 9,283 Btu. (More than a 750% increase in heat-removal capability!)

A 100-gpm hose stream completely converted to steam will absorb 928,000 Btu per minute. The same 100-gpm hose stream completely converted to steam will generate 22,300 cubic feet of steam per minute! (22,300 cubic feet can be compared to a room measuring approximately 50 by 50 by nine feet.)

Once again, consider the wood-burning stove: Visualize a well-developed, free-burning fire in the stove. The stove door is open. You have a one-gallon bucket of water next to the stove. There is a tube (say EMS oxygen cylinder tubing) extending from the bucket to a child’s water pistol. You start pumping the trigger of the water pistol and water begins to flow from the bucket through the squirt gun and onto the burning logs. Because there are more Btu than gpm, the bucket of water will not extinguish the fire until the fuel is consumed. Because the stove door is open, steam conversion will not be a factor.

As an alternative, suppose you hoist the same bucket and throw the entire gallon of water onto the burning logs. What will happen? You will completely extinguish the fire. (You will also make a big mess.) Same bucket. Same gallon of water. Same fire. Different gallon per minute application. Different outcome. Don’t leave your heat-removal potential at the curb.

11. Company officers operating at task level.

Granted, occasionally a company officer (team leader) must briefly drop down to the task level. However, a situation that should not be tolerated is a company officer/team leader operating at task-level while team members (firefighters) watch. This role reversal creates a dangerous situation.

Should a company officer seek the entertainment value of operating a nozzle or chainsaw, then suggest that the individual be demoted. Operating nozzles, tools and equipment is the role of a firefighter, not the role of a company officer. I suggest you begin by making sure everybody understands their fireground roles and responsibilities – firefighters, company officers and chief officers.

There is an invisible strategic chain that links task-level, to tactical-level, to strategic-level. At the task level the strategic chain is connected to the team. At the tactical level the chain is connected to a division/group supervisor (or the person who has that responsibility). At the strategic level the chain is connected to a branch director, to the operations section chief or (more likely during a single-address, square-foot-fireground operation) directly to the command post. When all team members – including the team leader – are operating at the task level, the strategic chain is severed.

There needs to be a strategic presence with the team. This strategic presence is the team leader. The team leader monitors progress, monitors conditions, monitors remaining SCBA air, monitors the radio and looks for alternate egress. When the team leader is at task level, nobody is looking out for the team. Everybody is focused on the task. Make sure your company officers know how to be team leaders.

12. Span of control out of control.

At the core of fireground span of control that is out of control is an incompetent incident commander. One indicator is a command post laboring to track each and every company (or worse firefighter) throughout the course of an incident (Indiscretion 7). If span of control isn’t being managed at the command post, where is it being managed? Get personnel accountability out of your command post!

Yet another indicator is the designation of an "accountability officer" (Indiscretion 7). Accountability is a contemporary component of competent incident management. Managing an incident means managing span of control. If you haven’t yet done so, seamlessly integrate accountability into your incident management system.