Notebook Nuggets: Everything the Chief Needs to Know … And Then Some!

Nov. 1, 2004
Richard J. Blatus and Thomas J. Richardson describe what type of information a chief expects from company officers upon his or her arrival on an incident scene.
Photo by Richard J. Blatus and Thomas J. Richardson

Many firefighters have inquired about what type of information a chief expects from company officers upon his or her arrival on a scene. The chief, like any other firefighter, first gathers as much information as possible from the response ticket and the dispatcher. The dispatch information is your initial contact with a particular emergency. It will contain information and details such as:

  • Location of incident
  • Type of area
  • Occupancy, with regard to time of day (i.e., is it a residential building with a light occupancy load in daytime hours or a commercial store that is closed in the middle of the night?)
  • Number and type of companies responding

On a recent call, the chief noticed the dispatcher added a rescue and squad company to the assignment in addition to the normal complement of companies. He called the dispatcher to inquire if he was receiving additional information about the incident. The dispatcher’s reply was “you are going to work.” This let the chief and company officers expand their size-up while enroute.

Upon his arrival, the chief will look to verify the following from his or her company officers:

  • Location of fire
  • Occupancy
  • Difficulties encountered
  • Access to the building
  • Number of apartments per floor
  • Conditions of fire
  • Extension of fire

A chief officer needs information from the fireground officers in order to make good strategic and tactical decisions. In most career departments the first-arriving unit on scene is usually an engine or truck company. The officers of these units perform an on-going size-up and implement the initial tactical decisions. Their preliminary report to the chief should include a brief size-up that verifies the type of building, location of fire, occupancy and difficulties encountered. This information expands the size-up the chief is making. If information is not forthcoming, the chief must prompt the officers.

In many volunteer departments, the chief is on scene first performing the initial size-up. He or she then communicates tactical orders to incoming units as they arrive. Even so, the officers still must report information to the chief throughout the operation. A point to stress: If asked and unsure of the answer, say so! Tactical decisions are based on the information you provide. If there is heavy smoke in the cockloft, report heavy smoke! If you do not see fire, do not report fire!

In many situations, lack of information relayed to the incident commander can result in the implementation of an ineffective strategy. Unfortunately, the result may lead to firefighter injuries or fatalities. When training, visit structures in your response area to familiarize the troops with the layout and hazards. A size-up performed under normal conditions will assist you later. When operating, verify and report information as it becomes available. Keep sharp! Effective and relevant communication is the key to success on the fireground.

Richard J. Blatus is a 23-year veteran of the fire service, currently assigned to Battalion 15 in Bronx, NY. A strong proponent of training, Chief Blatus has served as both a regional and national instructor/lecturer for fire service trade publications and conferences, such as Firehouse Expo. He holds degrees in business and municipal fire administration.

Thomas J. Richardson is a 23-year veteran of the fire service, currently serving the FDNY at Battalion 38 in Brooklyn. A former chief of the Deer Park, NY, Volunteer Fire Department, Chief Richardson is an adjunct instructor for the Suffolk County, NY, Fire Training Academy.

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