Size-Up

Size-up is defined in most fire service texts as the on going evaluation of problems confronted within a fire situation.


The smoke conditions need to be noted and taken into account. Smoke is a combustible gas that can indicate the type of fire and volume, upon arrival. Heavy smoke indicated that a large fire problem exists within the fire building and this might indicate to veteran firefighters that we have a recover operation not a possible rescue. Smoke can lead to a rollover, flashover, or even a backdraft. Before firefighters enter the structure, they should be aware of what is confronting them. Remember that bunker gear only allow escape if you are within five to ten feet from an area of refuge, that is not that far into a building or fire area!

The last thing one needs to do prior to entering the building is to look for any peculiarities with the fire scene, fire building, or its exposures.

Upon entering the building, notice the location of stairs and elevators in regard to their relationship to the fire area.

The lay out of the floors below should be noted in the event that they correspond with the layout of the floor that is on fire. Smoke, heat and fire conditions should be assessed by all members in the fire area and relayed to the Incident Commander. This is especially important if smoke and/or heat are encountered in unusual locations or on the floor or floors above the fire.

As firefighters enter the fire area, they should immediately locate the escape routes and determine if the fire is extending and where it is extending. This information is then passed up the chain of command to the Incident Commander.

The size-up should also include whether the fire is controllable with the resources on scene or if more help is needed.

As the fire attack progresses so will the size-up. The effectiveness of fire attack, the condition of the fire, and the condition of interior firefighting forces will have to be made known to the Incident Commander. This is done continuously until the fire is under control or members are relieved for rest and rehabilitation.

Post control operations are done before leaving the scene of the fire or emergency. A size-up should again be done to determine the condition the area or fire building will be left in, thus, preventing injuries to civilians returning to the building after fire personnel have left the scene. All windows that have been broken should be trimmed and free of broken glass. Allowing glass fragments in place could result in injuries, if they were to fall.

If necessary, the utilities providing the building with gas, water, or electricity can be shut down if they present a potential hazard to civilians returning to the structure.

The building and surrounding area should be left in as safe a condition as possible. Security should be provided by the police or the building owner, it would then be determined what measures are necessary. These may include posting a security guard or boarding up a structure to prevent people from entering.

The importance of doing a size-up cannot be stressed enough. It is a basic safety measure for all firefighters and officers. Proper training on how to do a size-up is essential.

There is an opportunity for members of the fire service to learn and practice correct size-up techniques every time they enter a building. Whether it is for drill, a minor emergency, EMS call or for an educational visit, a size-up should be done reviewing every step involved. With practice, doing a size-up will become second nature in any situation.

Newer members of the fire service who are more vulnerable to "Tunnel Vision" (the focusing of attention on only a specific area of the problem and not allowing the member to see the total picture) must receive training and assistance in learning how to correctly do a size-up. Once this technique is mastered the benefit to that member and the overall operation will be immeasurable. A good training idea is once inside a building or before leaving ask a new firefighter how many stories, windows, are fire escapes present? Get them in the habit of looking at a building not just walking into it.

Remember that size-up is the constant gathering of information and knowledge that will protect all firefighters who are operating at the scene of a fire or emergency. The end result of which will almost always insure a successful and safer operation.


Michael M. Dugan is a 17-year veteran of the FDNY, serving as a Captain of Ladder 123 in Brooklyn?s Crown Heights. He has been involved with the Fire Service for 27 years. He is also a ?HOT? instructor at the ?Firehouse Expo.? He is a contributing editor to ?Firehouse? magazine. While assigned as a firefighter in Ladder Company 43, Dugan received the James Gordon Bennett medal in 1992 and the Harry M. Archer Medal in 1993, the FDNY?s highest award for bravery.