It’s 1500 hours on a bright sunny day. You are dispatched for a residential smoke detector activation. You and you crew respond and like most days, this should just be another routine call, right? While approaching the scene you see a column of smoke, you realize this is a working job. When you arrive on scene you find a two-story, wood frame, single family dwelling with Heavy smoke showing. Does this Sound like a call you have been on in the past? A good scene size up will set the pace for this scene and let your incoming resources know what they have and that they will most likely be going to work.
So, where does scene size up start? It starts before the incident even comes in. This is done by getting out of the fire house and learning your first due area. Know the building construction for the different areas in your district, know the residential vs commercial. Look for old vs new construction, as well as lightweight materials. Note these areas, either on a map or in a department database. Also, learn the water supply in these areas. Knowing if you will need more resources due to poor water goes hand in hand with initial size up.
Let’s break this down now, with residential vs commercial. With commercial structures, we can usually gain access to these buildings through either, fire inspections or pre-planning. This allows us to get the floor plan and note any fire safety issues like light weight building materials. They also help us to learn what fire safety features they have with these buildings, (ex. Sprinkler systems). When it comes to residential this becomes much harder. We usually have no authority to enter unless we are either invited in or are on a call there. This creates a unique opportunity of us. Most of our runs today evolve around ems calls. We can use these calls to get a quick layout of the residences we respond to. This becomes our pre-plan for residential structures.
When you arrive on scene what do you need to report? Start with the basics and use the following to guide you.
Here is what this would look like in a radio transmission, “Dispatch engine 1 is on scene of a 2-story, balloon frame, residential structure with smoke and fire showing from the Alpha Delta corner, Lt. Smith has command, stand by for a 360.” This is just an example, but could you get a picture in your head of what was being described?
The second part of this would be after your 360 size up and could be something like this, “command to all units, 360 complete, heavy smoke and fire conditions on division 2 Alpha bravo corner. We will be initiating an attack through division 1 alpha side, engine 2 catch the hydrant and ladder 1 perform a primary search of division 2 and division 1. Does this sound like something you have heard before? Not all incidents or departments have the resources on scene immediately to have a report like this. It can be spread out. This just paints the picture of what you have and what needs to be done.
After the initial scene size up the rest of the scene can be run with the three-way size up. Chief Billy Goldfeder from Loveland- Symmes Fire department in Ohio, has come up with the three-way size up which goes as follows:
If you follow the three questions stated above and continue to do reassessments as needed then you will have a winning plan when it comes to scene size up.
This will take some practice on your part to learn. The best way I have found to practice this is to find pictures of different fires on the internet and call in a size up. Practicing this way can be done at any time and under any weather conditions. The second way I recommend practicing this is to drive your first due district and start calling out size ups as you drive past different buildings. Having good sound knowledge of building construction will also help with sizing up a building. There are many different types of buildings out there and having good, sound knowledge of the type of building you are seeing will lead to safe and effective fire attack.
In conclusion, a size up is a vital part of what we do. It starts before the call, then continues to the initial call in. From there we have a continuous ongoing scene size up answering the key three questions. Practice this skill often and it will become second nature to you. Good luck and be safe.
Billy Goldfeder – Pass it on
I have spent the last eleven years on a small combination department consisting of fourteen full time firefighters and ten volunteers. We seem to run into the same problems firefighters across the nation run into every day. We fight fires with less resources but are expected to more than what we are capable of doing. Our shifts consist of four career firefighters with a three firefighter minimum. Consistently we are responding to emergencies with three personnel and having to do the work of ten, with help coming 10-15 minutes later. So the question is, how can we get our tasks done timely and efficiently on the fire ground with fewer personnel than our bigger city departments.
The first step is getting our personnel to buy in. Getting them to go from “We can’t do that this isn’t the FDNY”, to “Let’s make this happen,” can be a challenge. This takes a game plan and hours on the training ground and good strong leadership. Every firefighter knows the first five minutes can make or break a scene. Every situation is different and no two scenes are the same. Prioritizing our tasks becomes a way of life with few personnel on scene, as only one task may get done at a time.
So let’s start with the leadership. Company officers are the first step to buy in. In smaller cities and towns, we usually don’t see a battalion chief showing up and running the show, its usually the first arriving company officer. That officer has a million thoughts running through their mind including size up, resources needed and initial tactics and tasks. It takes a solid officer or senior firefighter with great leadership skills and a great command presence. You have to be willing to go above and beyond for your crew. As an officer it’s your job to stay up to date on your training, going to trade shows to see new ideas and technology and leading from the front. If you drill on the training ground on how you want things done, then when the time comes, it will never be questioned. A step like this takes time, patience and a lot of training. Also as the company officer you need to set your expectations out on the table for your crew to know. If they know what you want and how you want it done there will be no excuses or questions to be asked at any incidents that you respond to.
So the next question is how do you fight fire, do search and rescue, ventilate and possibly provide medical support with a small amount of people in that first five to ten-minute window. So what’s the answer, TRAINING. We train to do these things till it becomes second nature. We train our crews to make an educated decision like, how to position the truck upon arrival to allow maximum use of our hose line and deploying the proper hose line without being told. We train them how to do search off the attack line. We practice VEIS (Vent Enter Isolate Search) on known victims. We train them to use their senses to look at the time of day, read what the smoke is doing, look for vehicles in driveways and use their ears to listen for yelling victims. We want situational awareness 100% of the time as we don’t have the help of thirty other firefighters to get this done. Training has to become number one for small town USA departments, as fires are coming fewer and farther apart.
If we have a known victim or time of day leads us to believe that there is a victim inside and the may be salvageable then we need to figure out whether to put the fire out or initiate VEIS to search for victims. We do this by training on smoke reading, learning fire behavior, identifying building construction type and knowing general human behavior. These are basic things that all firefighters of any level in a smaller entity should know. Keeping up on the latest UL/NIST Research, such as door control for controlling ventilation and flow paths, and wind driven fire events, change how we train and how we ultimately act on the fire ground. Not to mention training makes us more efficient and just plain better firefighters.
I know this is all words we have either heard or read before but it leads into the next step which is fire ground efficiency. Utilizing your personnel when its limited is a testing task. You have benchmarks and tasks that need done but only limited personnel to do it. One thing that we have done that seems to work well is instead of assigning incoming units with predetermined tasks, we Have created a labor pool and use an on deck style of system. We take the personnel and when called for, assign them a task. This allows us to still get fire ground tasks done, but still maintain a personnel labor pool. For instance, you call for two personnel to do a VEIS to a second story bedroom, you get two firefighters that go and complete that task, report back on their findings and can rotate back into the labor pool. Need a backup line deployed, by the way this should already be done and waiting on personnel to use it. Firefighters can be assigned to that position upon arrival as needed.
So another question asked is what about Rescue intervention teams (RIT)? Well there is an answer, EVERYONE is RIT. You tend to hear the questions, “You don’t have a dedicated RIT team?” “What if something happens?” You tell them “you are trained in RIT and you become the RIT team”. We learn to adapt to these different roles. RIT equipment is still assembled, but you use the on deck firefighters as the RIT team. We’ve learned after the Phoenix studies of the Bret Tarver incident from 2001, that it usually takes more than one RIT team to get a firefighter out of a structure, situation dependent and this gives you a decent labor pool to get that done. You can assign crews to soften the structure, place ground ladders and do continuous 360s and report back their findings to the other firefighters and command. If the situation arises where a firefighter gets in trouble you have the personnel to get them out. We get better educated firefighters on the scene that have greater knowledge of the structure they could be entering. You have to again train on this as it goes against a lot of what is taught.
We all strive to be the best at our job and know that our training could mean the difference between life and death. So why is it that there are still firefighters that fight change and new ideas. We are creatures of habit and when new ideas are brought up that changes our habits, you get some resistance. So let’s help change the minds of these firefighters and motivate them to try something new. I wish we could drop three engines, two ladders, a battalion chief, a rescue and a medic on a scene in the first five minutes but this just doesn’t happen in most fire departments. In the case of the volunteer side, just getting the personnel to help can be a challenge. So, we need to learn to do more with less and become a solid, well trained team. We need to train with neighboring departments and get them to understand what we are doing. They are our help and if they are confused, then the system can start to break down. Teamwork and training becomes the priority. The emergencies will come, with increased training and efficient use of our personnel then we can make any emergency go our way.
You will learn to adjust your strategies and tactics to our personnel availability. We can use a lot of the same strategies and tactics as our big city neighbors just sized down and adjusted to our needs. I have met a lot of bigger city firefighters and have spent many hours talking with them. I have found I can get a great education and hear different ways of thinking from them. When this happens I bring back what I have either wrote down or can remember and try to figure out how to adopt it to my department. This will always be a challenge, but it’s a rewarding challenge.
So in closing I would like to say just because we don’t have as many people, as many apparatus or just plain the size and area to cover as some of the bigger city departments, doesn’t mean we can’t function and think the same. Through training, buy in and strong leadership this can be done fairly easily. Just remember we all have the best job in the world, so let’s make every second count.