Downsizing Size-Up

July 30, 2003
In our work, there are many acronyms and saying well known to us in place for use on the fireground and emergency scene.

It's been one of those nights on your tour. The daily drill was frequently interrupted by EMS assist responses, the evening meal was late, and the game the crew was trying to watch between alarm investigations went into overtime. Of course you stayed up. You just knew your team was going to win?.

"In fact, there has been little, if any fire activity lately", you were thinking as you hit the rack, but knowing your vacation starts as soon as you are off duty in the morning lets you anticipate some good thoughts. With that, you drift off, running down the checklist for the first summer weekend at the lake.

The piercing tone and house lights come up at 0317 ending the slumber and announcing "A report of a structure fire, behind 7328 Taylorsville Rd. on Highbury, unknown address. Caller states flames are showing?". While getting dressed, you begin to try and sort out the information you'll need to have at hand to get your, and your crew's, plan on track as first arriving ladder. This information will be critical to the success and safety of your operation. Where do you start, and how do you organize these pieces. In our work, there are many acronyms and saying well known to us in place for use on the fireground and emergency scene.

For example, 'COAL WAS WEALTH' (or WALLACE WAS HOT) gives the user a thirteen point size-up for covering just about every aspect of the fire. I don't know about you, but there are those times after midnight in the station that thirteen points may be a bit much to put into play. While these are valuable and critical points, the company level officer may not be needing all of them immediately.

For some time, Bob Pressler (Lt. FDNY, Ret.) has used the term 'B.E.L.O.W.' for Engine company operations:

  • Building (general construction and size)
  • Exposure (most severe vs. most severely) - where do we need the water
  • Life Hazard (related to occupancy)
  • Occupancy
  • Water supply capabilities

In this article, we'll throw another one at you for Truck Company and Rapid Intervention Team Operations; O.C.E.A.N.:

  • ENTRY / E
  • AREA
Photo Courtesy Dave GallagherOccupancy: The front of this original single family is now showing five mail boxes.
Photo Courtesy Dave Gallagher Construction: The presence of a ridge vent usually indicates light-weight construction.
Photo Courtesy Dave Gallagher Entry/Egress: This new construction has no windows for the second floor on the B or D side. Rather limits your options.
Photo Courtesy Dave Gallagher Needs: Do you have the tools necesary to force this door? First, Occupancy. What is inside the structure in question, and also, inside the most urgent exposure problem. Is it people, or things. If people, what are the indicators of how many, and there condition? Are you going to a dwelling, or a nursing home? At 0317, both are going to be a problem, one definitely larger than the other.

Second, Construction. When was this place built? And moreover, in this day and age, when was it remodeled? A gas station / convenience store across the street from a local fire station went out of business. It was purchased and remodeled into a day-care facility. No big deal, right? Unless you take into consideration the flat roof typical in the convenience store world was covered with a peaked roof with a nearly 20 ft. peak. This isn't getting ventilated any time soon. The construction will dictate the tools you take with you?.Is it just me, or is any one else confused when an "experienced" firefighter takes a single pick-head axe into metal and block commercial occupancy? What is he going to "chop"? ('cause that's what is in the seat" is the usual reply.) He's also the one that takes the "closet" hook, or the multi-purpose (axe, sledge, pike pole one size fits all) tool that is 3 feet long into the single family farmhouse with 10 foot ceilings. That way, he gets to point and say, "there it is" or hey Pete, gimme your hook, would'ya?"

Third, Entry/Egress. Did you do your 360 around the structure? The single family dwelling tends to be a bit easier than trotting around the strip mall. Regardless, information needs to be gathered for functional doors of use, and windows. Consideration must be made with regard for visible security problems. When you, or the person you sent to the rear for recon, looks at the man-doors, notice the ones that swing outward (exit points from the interior) and hit the door with the beam from your handlight to see if the telltale heads of four bolts indicating drop-in bars are present. Are you prepared with your irons or hydraulic rabbet ram depending on what you are responding to? And, once you open them, did you chock them?

Fourth, Area. Even in the single family dwelling, think of the area involved. Remember, the truck firefighter needs to think of cubic, not just square, footage. Floors up and down, attic and void spaces, storage areas, etc., all come into play not only for fire travel and extension, but to weigh the areas to be searched with the air on your back. And, if you've attended the seminars, or read the articles and books, you now know the absolute need for search lines.

Fifth, Needs. Immediate needs, and needs for five minutes from now. Needs like portable ladders to upper floors for rescue and VES. Needs of saws (the correct type and blade) and equipment to the roof to open big and often. Needs of the TIC, and hand tools, and searchlines to the interior. Needs of forcible entry and the right place and time.

Again, at 0-dark-thirty, sometimes its tough to remember your name. Keeping big things (the whole fireground) in smaller parts (BELOW, OCEAN) can assist your efforts. Each item can have many parts. Its up to you to apply it accurately and effectively. For drill, review OCEAN with your crew, then take them out on drill and hit a dwelling or commercial occupancy. Hand them a legal pad and have each member OCEAN the structure. You may find valuable information from their various viewpoints. In our case, a member of the Division informed us there was a basement under one occupancy of a strip shopping center. It seems that he used to load adult beverages in the basement as a part time job when he was much, much, younger, and when the pub was in full swing. Now, 30 years later, the entry was covered over, and a another shop exists there. When asked, "Why the heck didn't you tell everyone about this basement?" his reply, "I thought everyone knew?.

Dave Gallagher is a retired Lieutenant of the Huber Heights, OH Fire Division with nearly 30 years of line experience in career and volunteer departments. He is the president of Brigade Instructional Services, Inc. which specializes in Firefighter Survival, RIT and Truck Company Operations. He is a Hands-On-Training Instructor for Firehouse Expo and Firehouse World in Engine/Truck Company Operations. He can be reached at [email protected]

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