BY: Joe Pronesti
While relaxing one Sunday in my easy chair watching my favorite team the Green Bay Packers, a commercial came on for a popular electronic tablet; this tablet touted its new feature called a MAYDAY button. Supposedly when pressed by the user, a live chat agent comes on your screen to assist you with any problems you are having with the respective tablet.
I thought to myself how crazy it was that a tablet could have this technology getting you an actual live calm face to walk you through your computer "emergency" but we as the fire service can be paralyzed when we hear the word MAYDAY, MAYDAY,MAYDAY! In my opinion, we have done a better job in recent years getting our firefighters trained or at least prodded to think about what to do in the event of an emergency or how to avoid one altogether. But what about incident commanders, have we done enough for them?
A recently released NIOSH report on a tragic line of duty death in Philadelphia did an outstanding job reviewing this event; if you have not studied it please take the time to access it and review with your fellow firefighters. One thing that caught my eye that appeared new compared to previous reports was how it bulleted 13 points called "The Incident Commander’s rules of engagement for fire-fighter safety".
1.Rapidly conduct or obtain a 360-degree situational size-up of the incident. (As part of the risk assessment plan and action development plan, determine the safest approach to tactical operations before fire fighters are placed at substantial risk.)
2.Determine the occupant survival profile. (Consider fire conditions in relation to the occupant survival of a rescue event before committing to a high-risk search and rescue.)
3.Conduct an initial risk assessment and implement a safe action plan. (Before fire fighters are placed in high-risk positions on the fire ground, develop a safe action plan by conducting a size-up, assessing the survival profile, and completing a risk assessment.)
4.Consider a defensive strategy when you do not have the resources to safely support and protect fire fighters. (Do not commit fire fighters to high-risk tactical objectives that cannot be accomplished safely due to inadequate resources on the scene.)
5.Do not risk fire-fighter lives for lives or property that cannot be saved. Seriously consider a defensive strategy. (Do not commit fire fighters to high-risk fire-fighting operations that may harm them when fire conditions prevent occupant survival or when significant or total destruction of the building is inevitable.)
6..Extend limited risk to protect savable property. (Limit the risk exposure to a reasonable, cautious, and conservative level when trying to save a building that is believed, following a thorough size-up, to be savable.)
7.Extend vigilant and measured risk to protect and rescue savable lives. (During high-risk search-and-rescue operations where lives can be saved, manage search-and-rescue and supporting fire-fighting operations in a highly calculated, controlled, and cautious manner while remaining alert to changing conditions.)
8..Maintain frequent two-way communications and keep interior crews informed of changing conditions. (Request frequent progresses reports and continually inform all interior crews of changing fire conditions observed from the exterior that may affect crew safety.)
9.Obtain frequent progress reports and revise the action plan. (Obtain frequent progress reports to continually assess fire conditions and any risk to fire fighters and to regularly adjust and revise the action plan to maintain safe operations.)
10.Ensure accountability of every fire fighter, their location, and status. (Maintain a constant and accurate accountability of the locations and status of all fire fighters within a small geographic area of accuracy within the hazard zone and be aware of who is presently in or out of the building.)
11.Seriously consider a defensive strategy, if after completion of the primary search, little or no progress toward fire control has been achieved.
12.Always have a rapid intervention team in place at all working fires.
13.Always have fire-fighter rehab services in place at all working fires. (Ensure all fire fighters who endured strenuous physical activities at a working fire are rehabilitated and medically evaluated for continued duty and before being released from the scene.)
These points are an excellent start to help you in preparation when “the button” is pushed on your fire ground but as we close out 2013 and move into a new year it is my hope that the fire service makes 2014 the year of “the MAYDAY button”, the thing about this “button” is that it does not discriminate by fire, building type, and MOST importantly by department size. I worry that an incident commander in smaller cities such as the one I work in put more effort into hoping in doesn’t happen than they do in actually preparing themselves for the event.
Training yourself for these events does not have to be real elaborate, there are numerous fire simulation software programs available where you can input a picture of your town’s buildings adding fire and smoke conditions; a twist that you can add to these simulation is the addition of a MAYDAY, throw in an emergency with your crew when watching a You Tube video, listen to MAYDAY audio, search the internet, etc. When looking at buildings in your district ask yourself “what would I do in the event of an emergency here or a collapse trapping my firefighters?” Work on your situational awareness, train with your firefighters on handling these events even if its ten minutes at the kitchen table, the big thing is to just do it, sharpen your and your crew’s “button”.