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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Another reliable indicator is the "Groucho Commander." Have you ever watched an old Marx Brothers movie? Picture a hunched-over Groucho Marx striding back and forth, one arm behind his back, the other holding a cigar to his mouth. Instead of the cigar, picture a portable radio…

Migratory incident commanders are too overwhelmed and emotionally attached to the incident to be anchored at a command post managing strategy, resources, and risk. When span of control is out of control, it is impossible for the Groucho Commander to keep track of who is there, what they are doing, where they are, when they entered the hazard area and why.

13. No regular, periodic situation reassessment.

Closely related to Indiscretions 1, 2, 3 and 8, once a fireground operation is set in motion, it continues until something bad happens or the incident is stabilized. A reliable indicator is the absence of regular, periodic and structured status reports. Other indicators include offensive operations without a time limit (see Indiscretion 10).

It is impossible for a migratory Groucho Commander to manage the clock, span of control, an incident action plan, regular status reports, mode confirmations and periodic situation assessments. Bottom line: It is impossible for an uninformed reactive tactician to be an informed proactive strategist.

Your Call To Action

How many of you have experienced a fireground operation where one or more of the "13 Fireground Indiscretions" were transgressed? I have no doubt that every firefighter reading this article will (be honest now) answer "yes." With over 200 years of North American firefighting and incident management experience, why are there still fireground operations that repeat one or more of these indiscretions?

The time has come for unintelligent and unsafe fireground operations to be considered unacceptable. Don’t allow your firefighters to become victims. Your challenge is to learn from the indiscretions of the past in order to prepare for your next alarm. Then, when mistakes are made (and they will still be made), these indiscretions will be identified and not repeated!

Consider the following: When and where did four firefighters die during a fire at an unoccupied car dealership when unprotected steel bowstring trusses failed? Answer: 1968 at Yingling Chevrolet in Wichita, KS. (Gotcha! How many of you answered 1988 at Hackensack Ford in New Jersey? Five Hackensack firefighters were killed when timber, not steel, bowstring trusses failed during a fire at an unoccupied car dealership. Repeating mistakes is unacceptable – particularly mistakes that result in the death of firefighters.)

Ultimately, fire officers make decisions that place firefighters in the wrong place at the wrong time. Worse, fire officers don’t make any strategic decisions, letting firefighters place themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time (freelancing). Until something changes, the most dangerous element on any fireground will continue to be the uninformed, inexperienced, overly aggressive fire officer.

Do you remember the plan at the beginning of this article? The next incident that you manage will not become the subject of a NIOSH fatality investigation report. If you ensure that the "13 Fireground Indiscretions" are factored and addressed – managed, not ignored – you will all but guarantee that future firegrounds will be roundtrips for responders.


Origin of the "13 Fireground Indiscretions"

The “13 Fireground Indiscretions†are the product of studying firefighter fatality investigation reports from the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH; see page 136) and U.S. Fire Administration (USFA). When selecting a report for study, the focus was on fatalities and injuries that were the result of firefighters being at the wrong place at the wrong time. Being at the wrong place at the wrong time is manageable; fire officers have the responsibility for ensuring that firefighters are doing the right thing at the right place at the right time.