Emergency scene size up can be defined as “A rapid mental evaluation of various factors related to an emergency incident”, or “An initial on-scene report by the first arriving unit that is clear, concise and relevant”.
The fire service loves acronyms and of course we have some for scene size-up. Some of these acronyms are long and difficult to remember. This one for example, COAL WAS WEALTH, may be easy to remember until you try to recall what all the letters stand for. Here they are;
Construction, Occupancy, Apparatus (and staffing), Life hazard, Water supply, Auxiliary appliances, Street conditions, Weather, Exposures, Area (including height), Location of fire within the structure, Time, and Hazards/Hazardous materials. While it is good practice to consider all of these during an initial scene size up, practice and experience are needed to become efficient at using it.
Another easier acronym is “A-B-C-D Size-up”. This is an easy one to remember and can especially be used by any firefighter or officer who is first on the scene. The letters stand for;
A- Address- Sometimes the address you receive is not the address of the incident
B- Building Description- Includes construction, floors, and occupancy
C- Conditions- Smoke and or fire conditions, location of fire, weather conditions
D- Deployment and directives- Which operational mode, (investigating, rescue, offensive or defensive). Provide additional instructions to specific units or to dispatch.
There have been thousands (I’m guessing) of articles, books, and training sessions devoted to scene size up. As humans, we all do size up every day. When we meet someone new, look at new apparatus, read an article, or sit in training, we are performing a mental size up of what we think about any of those particular items. And there are a ton of size ups we do in our everyday off duty life. It really is not that hard and is certainly something we shouldn’t be intimidated by. Take the first example above, COAL WAS WEALTH, and once you see what the letters stand for, you realize that you don’t really need to memorize each word in the acronym. Most of what you do in your initial size up is included in the first two words, COAL and WAS.
A sample size up could be something like this;
Engine X on scene of a one story, wood frame residential structure with smoke showing from side B. There is no apparent life hazard, the street is clear for placement, have Engine W secure a water supply. The only letter missed was A for Apparatus, and we should know how our units are staffed before we leave the station. I would include exposures in the initial size up, if there are any, we know what the weather is, and fire is close to or at Side B. So we hit all the letters without mentally checking them off. As a last item and after taking command, the officer should report the mode he is in (fire attack, rescue, protect exposures, passing command to another unit on scene, etc).
We must remember there usually is not a lot of time to identify these points, develop a plan of action, communicate that plan to incoming units, and start whatever action you have decided on. Most of the time putting the fire out is the plan and may be done before other units arrive. However, we cannot fail to mentally develop a plan and communicate it so others, including whatever ranking officer is responding, will know what you are doing.
The objective is to implement a structured size-up process in your department, then educating your officers and firefighters in your department’s size-up policy.
Remember to stay safe – “Everyone Goes Home”
It’s been about two years since we published our article about radio straps and turnout gear. It has been shared throughout various magazines and training pages. A few readers asked about our ideas and pointed out that we didn’t address enough when firefighters are wearing the self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA). We took that point and went out to take a few more photos to assist with our findings.
The original article discussed the differences between wearing your radio strap either under or over your turnout jacket. We know the advantages and disadvantages of both without an SCBA on.
To the right we have the radio strap under the coat with the SCBA on. It is beneficial because it protects the radio and the cable of the extended speaker-mic. When all buttoned up, the speaker-mic may be clipped on to the front closure flap. This allows it to be accessible in a functional area when on air compared to using the collar tab or chest tab that often falls inline with the shoulder strap of the SCBA. Also with these morning pride jackets, it take a little effort to fold up the name plate in order to access the top controls of the radio should you need them.
The radio strap over the coat and under the SCBA method is another configuration that is used. This leaves everything exposed to the elements. The speaker-mic is accessible and not hindered at all. The SCBA straps secure the radio and straps however the waist strap interferes with the use of the radio controls. This may be overcome by extending the radio strap which will leave the radio hanging lower.
This style above is when the radio strap is equipped last, on top of the SCBA. This leaves everything out and the radio strap unsecured. This also allows for the radio controls to be easily operated including the speaker-mic. This style unfortunately heightens a firefighter’s entanglement potential because the unsecured weight of the radio will allow it to move in all directions. Using an anti-sway strap may be difficult in this situation because of the way the coat will have to be manipulated in order to access the belt area of the pants.
Here’s a quick method that was shared to us by one of our followers. If you don’t have a radio strap or don’t like to use the radio pocket on the jacket, you may use the standard interior pocket of the jacket. This is best used when you can “set and forget” the controls of the radio because once buttoned up, you will not be able to access the controls. Then the speaker-mic may be affixed to the front closure of the jacket in a similar manner that the radio strap under the coat method is used. Another potential con of this method is that it will be bulky in the area of the radio. Once the SCBA is equipped, it may even sit more to one side. Again, this is just another potential way of wearing your radio.
As mentioned earlier in this article, here is the difference between using the coat’s mic tab versus the flap of the front closure. Again, both have pros and cons. Using the coat’s mic tab will better secure the mic however it may be keyed up unintentionally when moving around. Using the front closure of the coat may be less secure however it will allow for better usage.
This article started off as a What’s In Your Pockets Wednesday? Facebook post but there was just too much good advice to cut it down so we turned it into a full article! Thanks to Chris Puzzanghero and Clint Cardinale for their input and advice. The article covers both a truck company firefighter’s and an engine company firefighter’s point of view. Keep in mind there are many types of chocks and while they can be all be used for similar tasks they also can have specific uses. Take for example the aluminum chock is a better fit for using as a wedge during forcible entry. While it is a good start to throw a bunch of chocks in your pockets, take the time to think about how you use them, where you keep them in your gear and if each chock has a specific use or not.
The wooden door wedge or “chock” as it is commonly labeled, is one of the simplest and most effective tools we as firefighters can carry. They are cheap, easy to make at the fire house and versatile. Whether you are running the line on an engine company or carrying the irons on a ladder company, the wooden chock’s usefulness is limitless. It’s two main functions though are to help force a door open and then to keep it from closing on a hose-line.
I spend the majority of my time at work on a ladder company and carry several wooden chocks in my gear, mainly for forcible entry. I have found that carrying two large wooden chocks in the radio pocket on my turnout coat to be the best place for them. I wear my radio on a strap under my coat which frees up the coat pocket to carry my two large chocks and my cable cutters. By having two large chocks in my radio pocket they are easily accessible and securely stored until needed. I like keeping them here because I can easily grab the chocks with a gloved hand and pull them straight out of the pocket for use and put them right back when done.
This is extremely effective for forcible entry, as the two large chocks can be quickly deployed to capture progress while forcing a door. The chocks can also be quickly put back after the Halligan bar has been re-positioned on the door to continue the force. This frees me from worry about the chock falling out of the door and having to pick it up off the ground. I may need it to continue the force. Having to hold the Halligan in place, get down on the ground, pick the chock back up and hold on to it while forcing the next lock that is holding is not efficient nor easy, especially in lower to zero visibility. The chocks can be taken in and out of the radio coat pocket gloved up with ease.
Another reason why I keep the large chocks in my radio pocket is our coats are a longer cut. They extend well over the turnout pant cargo pockets which require the bottom of the coat to be lifted up in order to access the Velcro flap on the pant pocket which is not ideal. The turnout coat pockets can present a similar challenge with the SCBA waist belt getting in the way of the pockets opening. Try storing a large chock in the radio coat pocket and see what you think.
Door chalks, door chalks, door chalks! I can’t say it enough, door chalks. They are cheap (free) light and have countless uses. If you are riding an engine you should have a pocket full of door chalks and 1 chock in each pocket. This insures that your hand line is not compromised or inhibited by free moving doors. But how many is enough? I always go with some advice my old boss told me, as a line firefighter you need 5 door chalks. His logic: the most doors you are going to need to chalk will be in mid-rise commercials and/or apartment buildings: 1 for the front door, 1 one for the other side of the vestibule, 1 for the bottom of the stairwell, 1 for the top of the stairwell, 1 for the apt/fire room door. All told 5 door chalks.
Size up begins after a call is dispatched. On the ride to the scene, all members should start to think about all potential impacts that the location will have on the type of incident. Upon arrival of the first due officer in charge he or she should give a detailed description of the incident over dispatch to advised all in coming units of the situation.
The on scene size up should be transmitted in a clear and understandable manner. It should contain specific details regarding the location, type of incident and any other important information that may be a factor in brining the incident under control. There are many different types of templates for the report. The photo below shows a guide that was created for and is used by the Allendale Volunteer Fire Department.
The Structure Fire guide consists of seven steps; confirm the address, describe the number of floors, occupancy, conditions found, water supply, mode of attack, and finally establish command.
Setting the Scene
When arriving on scene it is extremely important to confirm the dispatch address because you want all incoming units to know the correct address. It may determine certain special tactics such as condo complex or an occupied multiple dwelling.
Announcing the number of floors and occupancy is vital because it will allow for units to begin thinking about what tools and methods they may use at the incident. For example a one story residential type dwelling the truck company may use more ground ladders around the entire structure compared to a high-rise incident. Occupancy is a key component to the report because it will dictate certain operational tactics based on the risk-benefit analysis of life safety.
Pertinent information is vital due to the fact that it may completely alter your plan of attack. If the dwelling is set far back in a gated area then maybe the rig won’t be able to make it into the property. You can also be faced with a natural factor where the landscape changes in the rear of the structure and what was initially a one-story dwelling is in fact two stories from the rear.
Water Supply and layout info is important for incoming engines because it allows them to get an idea of where the nearest hydrant is or even a static supply such as a pond or river.
Mode of attack describes whether units are investigating the scene, offensively or defensively attacking the fire. Investigative mode refers to units arriving to a reported fire and finding nothing visible on arrival however units continue to search before deeming it unfounded. Offensively attacking and making a push allows for incoming units to understand that they will most likely be assisting with interior operations, search, etc. The defensive attack refers to an exterior approach that may require master streams, ladder pipes, and a larger water supply. (The photo to the right shows a well off end unit of a condo complex. Tactical considerations must be made such as setting up master streams to control it while protecting the exposures and potential extension to other units.)
The Auto Accident side follows a similar method as the structure fire card. Again, confirm the dispatch address, and then begin to assess the scene. Announcing how many and the types of vehicles involved can assist with distinguishing the patients mechanism of injury such as with convertible rolling over units may be presented with a more traumatic patient rather than a door pop in the school parking lot. Describing the conditions found is also vital because it will allow for specialty units to think about how they will stabilize the vehicles and what other equipment they made need to safely extricate the patient.
A proper size up benefits everyone on scene and it also allows for the Incident Commander (IC) to set the expectations of the operation. If the IC sounds hyped up then there’s a chance that the responding personnel will also get in the same manner and there is potential for unorganized chaos on scene. If the IC is calm, cool, and collected, then he or she will be able to establish a presence that the incident will be handled in an organized and professional manner.
The size up report is one of the most important components of basic incident stabilization and operation. Make sure to check you department’s SOG regarding the size up and if you don’t have one established yet. Draft something up, suggest it, and start using it. Remember to stay rescue ready and always stay proactive. Remember that the size up is always on going as condition change. Things happen, be prepared for variations. Always have a plan A, a back up plan B, then begin thinking about a plan C, and so on for a successful operation.
Communicating with another firefighter while both wearing masks can sometimes be very difficult. With sounds from engine companies, ventilation fans and radio traffic it’s a challenge to get your point across. To speak clearer firefighters use a battery operated amplification attachment to help with louder communications. Even with advanced equipment communicating is still difficult.
Pictured above: Lt Tom Broyles and FF Chris Morris Richmond Fire Dept
Let’s skip past the emergency scenes and go right to contract negotiations, union meetings and city events. How’s your communication skills? Unlike a mask or amplifier we have little assistance unless we allow ourselves to learn better ways to connect.
How’s your tone? How’s your facial expressions? How’s your speed and volume?
I strongly believe that building relationships by communicating effectively enough to connect with others is vital to the future of our police and fire service. Building long term relationships with decision makers depends on our ability to connect. Here are six ways you can learn to build better communication with others.
How many times have you said something you shouldn’t have. Maybe you felt bad after you said it or you may not have thought much about it at all. I’ve said things to others through the years that I wish I could take back and some I didn’t even realize how if actually effected them. It all starts with self-awareness. When you’re communicating with other people, you need to be aware your mood. If you’re feeling upset, angry and disturbed you may, unintentionally take it out on someone else.
We have a bad habit of throwing cynical and sarcastic zingers at others without thinking how it effects them. If you’re catching yourself doing this outside the fire department please remember they may not be use to this type of communication. Know yourself.
The best communicators understanding whomever they’re speaking with. Knowing what motivates them, different learning styles and what common ground you can find, allows you to adapt your message and increase the odds of effective communication. Empathy builds personal connections. It puts people at ease and builds trust. Understanding the other perspective will help you connect.
Making your point clear will allow you to connect quicker. If you have a vision but can’t seem to get anyone to buy in then ask yourself why. Do they have an investment in the idea. Are you allowing them to help with it? Are you allowing input, ideas or suggestions? People will take action on what it is your asking from them if they feel they are part of it. If your audience is more confused after a meeting than before you know you’ve got some work to do. It’s better to be open, clear and ready for questions than to leave room misunderstood.
Research suggests nonverbal communication is more important than verbal communications. Facial expressions, hand gestures, posture and eye contact all play a major role in undermining your message.
If you’re an instructor you understand. Looking out into a shift during a training evolution can be challenging. Glazed eyes and yawns are their way of telling you something nonverbally. If they look like this then how are you looking? The next time you’re speaking with someone, look at your own body language. Then look at the body language of whomever you’re speaking to. Does your body language match your words and tone?
One of the best ways to encourage open and honest communication is learning to listen. When someone is speaking to you, listen intentionally to what they’re saying. Ask questions. This will let the other person know that you are listening. Keep an open mind and focus on thoughtfully responding to what they say. Listening will build better long term relationships than speaking.
Don’t hold your rank over others or use coercion or fear as motivators. Instead, focus on bringing an honest, positive and ego-less attitude to every situation that arises. Serving as a cheerleader helps maintain morale and can even facilitate creativity and effective problem solving.
These communication skills take practice. You’re not going to master them in a day. In fact even though I write about communications and connecting its an ongoing challenge. Trying to learn from communication errors is important. Try to practice these strategies in your day to day life. Learn by reading books, attending seminars and becoming a student of connecting with others. The more you implement these skills, the more they’ll start to feel normal. Ultimately the more your leadership abilities will benefit.
As the fire service keeps evolving so do the tactics of company operations. Depending on the department and the respective jurisdiction everyone has their own special needs to better operate within their response area. Some area may require tankers/tenders due to their area lacking hydrants or a quint type of aerial apparatus may be better suited for an area that is isolated from other areas and has the potential to use the ladder for a rescue while a crew is stretching a hose line. The same concept may be applied to how engines are designed to be equipped with hose lines in different locations for better operability including traverse lines that may be deployed of either side of the apparatus, lines racked lines that allow for lines to be deployed off the rear, and lines that are designed in the front bumper. Each type of line location may have a different variation that allows for firefighters to deploy multiple lengths and in various directions.
The front bumper line is important to think about because it allows for multiple advantages when operating at an incident. Every department has their own operating procedure that details how apparatus shall respond and operate at an incident. The location of the line allows for the apparatus to be positioned nosed into the scene rather than pulling past or stopping directly parallel to the incident. This apparatus placement may benefit the operation in situations such as a vehicle incident in a roadway where there must be a constant flow of traffic, an incident at the end of a cul-de-sac where apparatus parking scarce, or at end of a property with an isolated driveway. As always department procedures and constant training with these types of set ups will better develop the skills and thought processes of your firefighters.
There are different ways of packing a bumper line ranging from a triple flat lay with ended loops to a double reverse doughnut roll that allows for one firefighter to deploy the line without much effort. Many departments differ the way they run their front bumper lines, and each department uses it for a different reason. Some departments need to run them as 1st in attack line due to home placement and apparatus positioning, others run them as car/trash fire lines. The photo above of Waldwick First Due Engines shows a 100ft of 1.75″ hose used primarily as a trash line. The hose is flat packed accordion style. This pack allows the department to deploy this hose in a timely matter when the incident does not dictate pulling a true attack line from the cross lays or the rear. This pack also allows the members to break the hose into a 50ft length, when 100ft is not needed. With this style of pack, the nozzle and backup firefighter just simply need to walk straight toward the incident, with little to no mess being made on the ground.
The modified triple horseshoe flat lay allows for the line to broken down into increments of 50’ in the case of this engine pictured . It works in a similar way as the accordion pack however the hose is vertically positioned and allows for a firefighter to either deploy directly out of the tray or pull the deployment loops on the left in order to take out each section out of the tray. The third photo shows a hose line on the front bumper of a quint that is designed for minor fires and incidents. This rack also features the reverse horseshoe with the loop closer to the piping rather than the opposite side. The way in which a line is racked depends on the apparatus, the personnel, and constant training. Every firefighter may have a preference to how and when to use the line but it the responsibility of the leadership to provide adequate training and guidelines on the usage of the dedicated line.
Robert Policht and Michael Ferrara
My ninth grade social studies teacher would put a quote of the day up on the chalk board every morning. One of my favorites which would make a recurring appearance was “Excuses are the nails that build the house of failure.” Now I don’t know if it was an original quote or if he borrowed it from someone else but it for sure had an impact on my life and for that I thank him!
“Excuses are the nails that build the house of failure.” Think about that for a moment. Think about how many excuses you have heard today or maybe even how many you’ve given to others today, both in life and at work. “It’s too hot to train today.” “It’s too cold to train today.” It is always too “something” to train everyday if we allow it to be.
We run fewer fires per person today than in generations past and the fire-ground has sometimes become overly complicated. The fire service has taken on a role of being problem solvers. We handle all types of emergencies and many times the training for the High-Risk, Low Frequency events takes priority over the High-Risk, Medium Frequency events. This means we should be training more than ever. But training how?
Sitting at a computer 4 hours a shift droning through PowerPoints or even articles like this are helpful but not the solution. The fire service is still a hands on environment. Which means most of our training should be hands on.
Now I know our whole day cannot be dedicated to training. We have calls to run and life situations to handle. What we can do though is keep our eyes open for the training opportunities that we pass up all the time. When I was a newly appointed volunteer lieutenant I asked my father for some advice. He has spent the last 42 years of his life as a volunteer firefighter, fire-line officer and chief officer. I asked him how he, as a young officer, was able to accomplish his training goals. He told me to keep my goals reachable. He mentioned how he would run short, quick drills on the way back from calls. They were quick and efficient, as simple as finding a building of opportunity and running a line or throwing a ladder. I took this advice and put it to use both at work and at my volunteer house. The beauty of this technique is you won’t have to spend as much time motivating individuals to train because they are already out and riding around.
One other great training opportunity is on actual calls. How many times have you watched crews downplay their actions on a fire call? Not stretching a line on a box because it’s dinner time and it smells like burnt food. Not laddering all windows because it’s just a small contents fire. I was always taught that we play it as a fire until we prove it’s not because as someone once told me, and science has proven, we don’t rise to the occasion we sink to the level of our training. If we don’t practice going all out then when the time comes we won’t be ready to go all out.
You made it here. YOU are the one that has the knowledge in your firehouse or on your shift about physical fitness, diet, and how to make them work to benefit yourself as a better firefighter and to support a better lifestyle. You’ve noticed a few others taking interest in what you are doing every time you are getting work done in the gym or in the stalls when you’re flipping the tire. Maybe they have even come to you and asked general questions. So, what do you do?
The answer is simple, but how you go about it is tricky. YOU HELP A BROTHER OUT! He or she obviously has a peaked interest in bettering themselves physically, but their guard may be up due to the fact that you may be an intimidating individual or they may just be nervous to take that big step. How you interact with this next fitness phenom in your department will make or break their future.
greatness or with the strength we have today. We were taught, we learned, we trained and we listened to those who knew what they were doing. This is your chance to give back what you have learned.
Remember this; whether or not you see yourself as a “fitness expert”, the fact that you DO work out consistently and eat healthy puts you on a level above many others in the fire department. You just as easily could say “screw it” and eat some donuts and pizza instead and not hit the gym five times a week. But you DO hit the gym five days a week. You put blood and
sweat into bettering your body for the challenges it will face in life. And for that, you are looked at as the ambassador for change in your department. You should expect to be approached with questions, to be asked for help, or to even help develop a fitness program. You should welcome all of these with open arms and embrace them.
You should be ready and willing to HELP A BROTHER OUT.
Need tips or want advice? Want a workout plan for your department? Contact Thin Line Fitness today!