So You Are In Charge - Part 2: Do Not Assume

Feb. 20, 2006
Do not assume is really easy to say, however, once you begin thinking about what applies to this you realize it is a huge monster on its own. Let's cover a few basics that are easily forgotten or "assumed".

Looking back for a second to last month you will remember that I gave five basic actions for a newly promoted company officer that can ensure your success. These actions are:

  1. Do not Assume
  2. Make a Decision
  3. Be Reliable
  4. Lead
  5. Be In Charge

For the next five months I plan to take up each action individually and hope to elaborate for a better understanding of these actions.

Do not assume is really easy to say, however, once you begin thinking about what applies to this you realize it is a huge monster on its own. Let's cover a few basics that are easily forgotten or "assumed". First, be sure your company members know how to contact you outside the department. This would include home and cellular phone numbers, and you should have contacts for them as well. Next, your company should know the rules and regulations, GOGs, GAGs, SOPs, SOGs, or whatever they are called in your department and this goes for yourself as well. Make sure everyone knows how request are made for everything from equipment, to uniforms, to leave requests. Be sure they know where the proper forms are located to make these requests. Ask that they give you a copy of these requests so you can assist if needed. This is important because you will have some knowledge about the request if someone higher up asks you about it and you won't be dumb founded.

Speaking of uniforms let your company members know what you expect from them, and you must adhere to this as well. Some officers expect their members in a department issued uniform from beginning of shift until the end of shift. Others are less stringent and allow for members to wear any uniform shirt, but require bunkers outside the engine house. Either way, make sure everyone knows what you expect and it conforms to department policy.

Let's not assume that the apparatus your company is assigned to is ready to go. All company members should inspect the apparatus as a team and a through inspection will identify deficiencies early in the shift that you can address. You and your company members must check all their protective equipment including the SCBA. Approaching a 2 1/2-story wood-frame dwelling with victims trapped is not the time to realize the SCBA bottle is not attached to the regulator. When your protective equipment is ready, then move methodically through the apparatus starting on the chauffeurs side and work to the rear and back up the side. If you are on an engine, be sure you know the hand line lengths and what type of nozzles you are carrying. If you have adjustable flow nozzles, set them at the next to last setting i.e. 150 gpm on a 175 gpm max nozzle. This will provide the ability to increase flow if you should encounter a body of fire that will not be handled by your initial setting and allow a margin of safety. Be sure to look for defects in the nozzle and have them addressed immediately. If you are assigned to a truck company, set the aerial up and operate it. Check any portable ladders or equipment that is carried up on the ladder itself. Finish up by inspecting all your equipment and tools.

Discuss with your company how each piece is used, what its limits are and how to overcome problems when they arise.

You should have riding assignments for your firefighters. If you are riding on a three person company, the assignments become easier to determine. However, if you are fortunate to have four or five riding, then you must address who is doing what! Arriving first due at a working fire is not the time to debate who is staying behind to catch the hydrant and who will make the attack line. Do not assume that everyone knows the plan. Stretching a handline is one of the single most important operations an engine company can do and yet it's rarely practiced. Every captain has their preference on stretching a handline for operation and the one common goal for all engine companies should be to advance the handline and operate effectively. To do this takes practice either in a drill yard or around the station. Practice advancing handlines around corners, up and down stairs, up and down ladders and do this using 1 3/4 and 2 1/2-inch handlines. For 2 1/2-inch handlines on engine companies with less than four personnel, practice grouping companies together for effective operations. Do not assume your firefighters are effective at handline operations.

If you are a truck company officer, everything up to handline operations is the same just exchange aerial ladder operations for handline operations. As a truck company officer you must be sure that your truck gets the front of the structure or a corner from which you can operate safely from. Depending on having a rear-mount versus a mid-mount aerial also effects how you spot your apparatus. Do not assume that your chauffer knows the best way to spot your apparatus or how you want it spotted. Being a truck company officer requires you to be certain your personnel know what they are doing, considering you are splitting your company up to accomplish many tasks at once. Those tasks vary from vertical ventilation, horizontal ventilation, advancing down a hallway with the engine company opening up the ceilings and rooms to allow for extinguishment. Your company may also be responsible for search and rescue of trapped occupants and quite possibly the rescue of trapped firefighters. As a truck officer, you must have competent firefighters working for you to accomplish the many tasks you are asked to perform. Along with this you must be competent and always willing to seek additional education and knowledge that you can pass on to your company.

Another big issue that you must settle early on is: who will move-up in rank during your absence? The acting officer must know how your company operates and what the riding positions are. Ideally the company's regular chauffer will move-up along with the senior firefighter who will move-up to the chauffeur's position. Discuss with your chief officer about who is going to be moving up in your absence and take care of this issue early on. Do not assume that whoever is going to be there, knows how to operate within your company.

There are many more issues that are encompassed in do not assume; however it is such a large area we can not cover them all. Just ask yourself "What can I not assume?"

Good luck, and stay safe!


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