Conducting a 270 Size-Up

Feb. 22, 2018
Brian Butler reviews the case for conducting a 270 size-up in situations where a 360 is not feasible.

“Yeah, yeah, I know, we’re supposed to do a 360-degree size-up upon arriving at a structure fire.” 

For firefighters in urban environments with rowhomes, taxpayers, semi-detached homes, high rises, multi-family dwellings, fortified gates and fences that prevent access, the 360-degree size-up isn’t always going to be possible. This is where performing a three-sided 270-degree size-up will have to suffice. 

Three-sided size-up

When getting to the rear can be difficult for the first-arriving company, take a quick peek down the sides of the building and look for indicators that the rear will be a concern. If the only exterior access to the rear is through a narrow alley walk between the homes or if obstructions are present, your recon of the rear will be delayed. Keep in mind that you may lose your fire. What I mean is if you take those extra few minutes to check the rear because “that’s what we’re supposed to do” or because you read it in a tactics book, don’t be surprised if you return to the front of the building and realize that another company “stole” your fire. Obviously, I’m not suggesting that we compromise our situational awareness or the recon process to engage in a competitive process with another company, but to say this won’t occur is an unrealistic statement as well. Long and short, get as much of a view of the structure as you can as fast as you can. 

The first-arriving officer will have their hands full noting numerous size-up factors. During a 270-degree size-up, what signs can we look for on arrival where that report from the rear is going to HAVE to be made a top priority?

Let’s say you have fire showing in the front bedroom windows on arrival and the rear looks clear from the B/D side peek down the alley between the homes. That’s a good time to assign another company, the RIT team or the battalion chief to get you a report from the rear. If you arrive and there’s a column of smoke coming from the back of the house or a glow in the rear yard, that’s a sign a report is top priority. It must be checked and a report given to the attack team before entry or upon advancing, if possible.

When the entire row of homes on the block is connected with no access to the rear, there may be an alley or street behind it. This is a perfect opportunity for someone to use the smaller chief's vehicle for access and report any dangerous conditions from the rear. Don’t hesitate to request that the arriving chief perform this duty, as they will need this information to develop their incident action plan anyway. 

Companies responding from the direction of the rear should give a radio report if there’s heavy fire, signs of collapse, power lines popping off, occupants hanging off porches or fire escapes, and any other identifiable dangers in the rear. This is why we must pay attention to the radio while en route. If you recognize any dangerous conditions on approach that haven't been reported to the engine company ready to advance, let them know!

What if even a 270-degree size-up isn’t possible and you can only perform a 180-degree size-up? The first-due engine preparing for fire attack will have a difficult time getting to the rear of this taxpayer. The quick two-sided 180-degree size-up looking at the A side and down the B side while preparing for entry can tell you a lot about this building. Determine the location and extent of the fire, access door leading to the fire, construction, and rear fire escape routes. Notice the wires, fence and awning obstructions for ground ladders in the front of the building.

In sum

A 360-degree size-up sounds nice, but it isn't always possible. Doing a 180-degree or a 270-degree size-up is very effective, realistic and should only take 10–15 seconds. When you're looking down those B and D sides of a structure, check for that glow or column of smoke in the rear. Look for fire venting from side windows, jumpers or trapped occupants on balconies and fire escapes, and then determine how important that last 90 degrees is going to be.

About the Author

Brian Butler

Brian Butler is a fire captain in the city of Trenton, NJ, where he has worked for 21 years. He is a member of King of Prussia, PA, Fire Rescue in suburban Philadelphia. Butler serves as a rescue/hazmat technician with the Southeastern (Montgomery County, PA) Regional Technical Rescue Task Force and the Bucks County, PA, Hazmat Response Team, and is a level 2 fire instructor. He is the 

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