Have you ever sat at a red light and in your side view mirror you see someone coming up too fast to stop at the light, and then you realize they have no intention to stop. Immediately you look at traffic coming through the green light and at that moment, what we like to call the pucker factor kicks in, and you cringe as the speeding car barely gets through the intersection without incident thanks to the well timed braking of the oncoming traffic.
If you are first to arrive at a house fire and have a fire showing in one or two rooms, you handle this fairly easy. Establish command, assign an attack crew, assign a vent crew, and have backups in place and as the attack crew makes entry, the vent crew breaks the window out in the room involved just as the attack crew fills the involved room with a fog stream, knocks the fire out and waits for the smoke to clear. Fast, easy, effective and somewhat routine.
Take the same scenario and as you pull up to the scene a woman runs up to you and frantically tells you her baby is in the crib in the back bedroom. You begin a size up and see fire in the room inside the open front door and also in what is probably the front bedroom. Remember that car running the red light? I’m certain you now have the same feeling. While it is never a good time to have some type of failure on the fire ground, even at routine calls, when life is at risk it is really not a good time. So, what do we do to minimize the opportunity for failure?
As the first arriving officer on the scenario above, establishing command at the onset becomes paramount. Establishing command lets other units know someone is on scene, someone is in charge, and that someone is the person all other companies need to get information to and from. The Incident Commander’s (IC) next steps should include size-up, verifying the location and ETA of incoming units, assigning a crew for rapid entry and search once a backup crew is in place, communicate with the mother to verify location of the child and if there are any obstacles or other things you should be aware of before entry.
Other items to consider include ventilation, fire suppression, EMS and transport, water supply if needed, power company, law enforcement and fire investigation to name a few.
So far we have;
- Command established, size up completed
- Entry crew assigned
- Backup crew assigned (may include the IC depending on manpower)
- Decision on need for water supply
- Ventilation crew assigned (may be on arriving company due to life risk)
- Established dialogue with mother
- Notified dispatch of other resources needed.
This should all be accomplished within the first one or two minutes. As the entry team prepares to enter, the backup crew may need to perform some horizontal ventilation to relieve some of the smoke conditions inside. Notify dispatch when the entry team goes in and also give updates as the entry team reports back. This type of radio documentation could become extremely important at a later date.
If all goes according to the IC’s plan of attack, the search and rescue will be successful without injuries and will be uneventful.
Certainly in this scenario, the search and successful rescue of the child is all important. However, just as I consider fire prevention to be most important in the fight against fires, I also believe the first one or two minutes that the first arriving unit is on scene and assumes command is the most important two minutes to a successful outcome of any fire or emergency incident. Not only do we as fire service leaders want to have successful rescues, we also want incidents without injury to the citizens or our personnel.
We know that our firefighters do effective and exceptional jobs at emergency incidents. And we know it is because of the training everyone gets all the time. How much of that time is spent on training our officers about incident command and all of the things that go with it? I’m guessing it is a lot less. Certainly incident command training can be improved in almost every department. If possible, try some scenario-based training using buildings in your town. Another way is to have an officer bring in a pre-fire plan of a target hazard to your officer meeting, have them make a presentation on the building and why it is a target hazard, then create a scenario about that building. This gives each officer an opportunity to show their skills in public speaking, planning and command. I think you just might be surprised.
Remember, stay safe, Everyone Goes Home.
William Jolley has 37 years of experience in the fire service with 20 of those years in a management position. William was the Fire Chief of Haines City, Florida, a city of Approximately 20,000. Prior to that William was the Assistant Chief of Saint Petersburg, Florida, where he worked for 35 years.