First off if you aren’t reading Urban Firefighter go now and start. This is the baby of Erich Roden (Milwaukee FD) and Ray McCormak (FDNY) two guys who created a magazine with amazing content to inspire, educate, and remind those of us whose vocation it is to crawl down a fire ravaged hallway to “keep fire in your life.” Read it now, thank me later.
Second, my post today has generated some great conversation. I was on the phone with a friend of mine who is an aggressive Fire Officer and Career Battalion Chief who brought up some good points. It is important that we remember that each and every fire is the first time we are seeing it, sort of like each time a surgeon removes a skull based tumor its the first time he or she has done it in that persons head (even if they have removed them thousands of times before). That means we need to be vigilant in our size-up and allow good information to guide our decision making on the fireground.
Your size-up should be starting before you ever get on the rig in the morning. Who are the brothers and sisters you are riding out with that day? What are the strengths and weaknesses of the individuals and the crew? I had a Lieutenant who looked at his assembled crew one morning and said, “These guys are like dogs on a chain. If we get a fire its going to be like turning three pitbulls loose on a hunk of raw meat.” Those are people you can trust to do things like Vent Enter Search, or allow an Outside Vent Member to go to the rear alone. Conversely if you have new, or less talented, folks on your crew you MUST reduce the speed of the fireground operation.
Unfortunately we do not always get to dictate that the crew for the day will have all of the abilities we would love. Not everyone willingly assumes that mantel of being a Fire Service Warrior. Or, we may not have the staffing we need to operate safely.
I’ve discussed the Line Of Duty Death of a 24 year-old volunteer firefighter (NIOSH F2008-34) in the past. He was one of three people operating on the scene of a house fire, where there we reports that the occupants were out, and he entered alone, became disoriented, and was caught in a Flashover. That is unacceptable. Not because he wanted to be aggressive, but because he didn’t have a solid Standard Operating Guideline to follow that spelled out how many people needed to be on scene to make the building behave BEFORE we commit to interior operations. He did not belong in there, but his personal condition: his view of his Duty, compelled him to act. Rather than relying on an inexperienced member to stop we should have training or SOGs that spell out the minimum safe standards when they can go. It shouldn’t be about deciding if the victim might be savable, it should be about deciding if our department can make the building behave to afford us a relatively safe battleground.