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In the fire service training books, lectures and HOT classes we always hear about communications. If you "see something say something" Chief John Salka (FDNY) has just written in another trade magizine. While in another article, Chief Vince Dunn ( Ret. FDNY) countered with a suggestion on what command should do when something is said.
The question is; what should we say? What should we report to command? Do firefighters working without the guidance of officers (like on the roof) have the rights to report? And what should they talk about?
It seems that many times, in the Close Calls and Niosh reports, the near miss or firefighter deaths can be traced back to someone knowing something, but not actually reporting it in a timely manner. Maybe they just didn't know what to say. Maybe they didn't know what they saw. This also goes directly to the coordinated fire attack. EVERYONE goes home, right?

Do you find that this to be a problem on the fire ground?
If so, what are the critical communciations on the fire ground that MUST be done during an interior operation? Also, what must be reported to change attack modes in your department?
Do our "Back To Basic" programs address this problem adequately? For the good of the whole operation?
Does the IC need to make EVERY DECISION on the fire ground?

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Replies to This Discussion

I agree with Dave here that FD's, at least mine anyway, don't teach proper radio communication skills. They give you a radio and a very vague and generic SOP, and basically say "go do it". Some guys love to talk on the radioes, some don't say near enough. Another problem exists when the IC doesn't request on scene companies to change to the FG frequency until 10 to 20 minutes into the incident. How many FF's will hear or be able to change their radios at that time? When we had our LODD in May of 02, radio transcripts revealed that someone was calling for help for several minutes before the Fire Alarm Office finally acknowleged the message and relayed it to the on scene IC. Our semi-duplex radio system caused him to keep getting walked on by Dispatch and therefore was not heard by the IC. There were many otgher problems as well, but lack of adequate radio communication was a big contributing factor. When companies arrive on scene, some give decent size-ups, others give little more than "we're here" type of info. Some BC's give additional size-up info upon arrival, and some don't say anything. Sometimes Fire Alarm repeats back over the air what was said, other times they don't. And our communications system has no city-wide repeaters, so if a company or BC is fairly distant from the incident and the FA office doesn't repeat the info given by the first in companies, then the others don't know what was said. Our system is typical of one that "got by" for many, many years, but is now totally inadequate for what we need it to do. And with budgets the way they are right now, I don't expect it to change any time soon.
I believe the CO's should do most of the radio communication with the IC. But everyone needs to be better instructed in knowing what info is critical and pertinent on the FG or incident scene, and how best to comunicate that info, and what to do when the communication of critical or emergency information doesn't seem to be getting through. Also, our dispatchers really should spend several shifts riding out with busy companies to see how communications really function on the FG. They don't seem to have any clue what the problem is. They also need to be instructed about repeating back ANY vital information (size-up; initial actions taken; additional emergency information encountered; etc) when acknowleging receipt so that other units can hear it. Portable radios are just like any other piece of valuable FG equipment, if we're not trained to use it properly, it can be worse than not having it.
Jim, I'll start my answer off from last to first. The IC doesn't not need to make every decision on the fire ground. They don't have all the views of the scene, inside and out. That's what company officers are for.

Basics should address radio reports, but since we seem to have the need to go back to basics, to learn to stretch a line, do a 360, or any number of given duties that should be second nature to all of us, radio reports come in near last. My feeling is education, empowering our members to ask questions and speak up. Let the officer report to the division commander, the chain of command must be followed to prevent to much chatter, but our folks need to speak their mind freely, if unsure of any situation.Let your officer know if something doesn't look right to you as a firefighter, with no fear of BS later, same goes for company officer to chief.
Communication is one of the most important safety elements we have on a structure fire, lets learn to use it correctly, so EVERYONE does go home.
Sorry so late on the reply, sick kids and writting assingemnts due.
All Good points
I like Dave's dept Sop's on what and when to use the radio to communciate. What are some examples of communciations that would prevent injuries on the fire ground? I've been thinking oof ways to prevent FFs from falling into the basements fires in these Lt Wt frame constructions. I'm wondering if , as a group of FF's on the scene, we could somehow investigate for the fire in the basements better and communciate to the engine company to prevent them from entering the first floor over the fire.
Jim
We should be able to determine on our 360, if we have involvement in the basement. A 360 is not just walking around the building, it's looking up and down the structure, to make an accurate size-up. I've found the main body of fire in the basement before, can be easy to see glowing bright in the widows. Communications need to be made, whenever fire is confirmed in a basement.
Jeff
Hey I am new here but this is an important topic. IT seems alot of time you have people who love to hear themselves on the radio who clog everything up when you have something important to say but I will try to address your questions.
What should we say on the radio? As little as possible (only important traffic needs to be on the radio)
What should we report to command? We need to report any and all information that he would need to make decisions.
ie. Completion of assignments, any information that would change the current tactics
Do ff working alone have the right to report? Yes, only experienced ff's should be working alone so they should know what needs to be reported and what doesn't.

For example, a week ago we had a fire it was going good on the first floor fire out all the windows on first floor. There was a line in the front. We were stretching a line around back. And the whole back of the house was lit up with fire blowing out of the attic and second floor. I notified the IC about this and he came around (our IC's aren't hidden away in a car down the block) and saw what I saw and pulled everyone out and we went defensive. I think eventually from the front the IC would have eventually made the decision to back out, but that decision came quicker based on information transmitted from an area he couldn't see.
Jeff
If you find the fire are you able to and have you stopped the engine from going in the front door over a basement fire in a Lt Wt frame? This is one of the worst case senarios on these constrcution types. Guys are falling into these fires quite frequently. 2 FF's dead in Ohio of just last April 09.

Jeff Schwering said:
Jim
We should be able to determine on our 360, if we have involvement in the basement. A 360 is not just walking around the building, it's looking up and down the structure, to make an accurate size-up. I've found the main body of fire in the basement before, can be easy to see glowing bright in the widows. Communications need to be made, whenever fire is confirmed in a basement.
Jeff
Mark
Thanks for joining us here at CSF.
Your story makes the point of FF's saying things that they discover they only they can see. The IC probabaly would have seen the glow and would have eventually gone to see what was happening but you might have saved some injuries and or deaths of the brothers inside the building. Good Job!
I think we need to teach the younger memebrs of the Fire service what need to be reported to prevent the maydays from occuring in the first place.

Somtimes these things don;t go the right way. I think if we are constantly sizeing up the situation like is described in the literature out there we normally come across some situation factors that only we know about. It then that a single FF can make a difference in the outcome of the operation. Often this comes down to what is decribed in the NIOSH reports as the continous size up that should have been made. I really don;t think that we talk to our FF's and our officers about what should be reported on the scene to the IC.
Sometimes we need to say to the IC we are getting out or get everyone out, this is that bad a situation.
Does everybody have an emergency evacuation SOP on their depts?
Jim,

I am actually a Captain, but that is neither here nor there. I do agree about your point that we do not specifically go over what needs to be communicated and what doesn't. It is just left in the air. We do have an emergency evacuation SOP but we don't really follow it. I have been on several fires that the IC has ordered everyone out of the building but we have never sounded airhorns or anything like our SOP says to. I guess maybe since they weren't "emergency" but get out to change to defensive etc... So here is a question when does an order to evacuate become an emergency evacuation or should you sound horns everytime? We would probably have guys filling work comp claims for hearing damage if we did it all the time:) How good is CFD at doing PAR's ?? That is something else in your SOP's we dont really do

Jim Mason said:
Mark
Thanks for joining us here at CSF.
Your story makes the point of FF's saying things that they discover they only they can see. The IC probabaly would have seen the glow and would have eventually gone to see what was happening but you might have saved some injuries and or deaths of the brothers inside the building. Good Job!
I think we need to teach the younger memebrs of the Fire service what need to be reported to prevent the maydays from occuring in the first place.

Somtimes these things don;t go the right way. I think if we are constantly sizeing up the situation like is described in the literature out there we normally come across some situation factors that only we know about. It then that a single FF can make a difference in the outcome of the operation. Often this comes down to what is decribed in the NIOSH reports as the continous size up that should have been made. I really don;t think that we talk to our FF's and our officers about what should be reported on the scene to the IC.
Sometimes we need to say to the IC we are getting out or get everyone out, this is that bad a situation.
Does everybody have an emergency evacuation SOP on their depts?
We blow the horns almnost evey time to get the guys out and here is why; The FF's inside or on top of the building can;t always hear the radio order to get out. But they will almost always hear the horns. Everyone knows to get out when they hear it.
The Pars are another issue. I believe there was just a bad one 2 weeks ago that compormised the operation after the evacuation. I'm not certian of all the details but that's what I heard. Pars are an important part of the survivalbilty of the members - that everyone should be accounted for. I also think that it makes the officer think at least a small amount about their responsibilites to the members. I think to be effective, it needs to be in writting and studied for the promotional exams. If it means money in the pocket , then it will be acknowledged by the rank and file.
Why is there resistance to pars?
Jim,
In the fire I spoke of, I did initially stop the crew from going in the front door, I got lucky, I had a walk-out basement. I had the line stretched to the rear, finished my 360, joined my 2 firefighters, and knocked the main body of the fire down, with about 100 gallons. The second line did go in after the knock and got the minor extension on the first floor. We can make a differenceon our 360 on basements, even if we have to take a basement widow in the process, but, that's a whole different thread.

Jeff
We also sound the airhorns anytime an evacuation order is given. With our radio system, it's very likely that some companies won't hear the order on the hand-held radios. We have encountered the problem you mentioned Dave, where a crew with a line protecting the upper floor evacuates before the firefighters on the upper floor can make it out. This can cause the scene to become both chaotic and dangerous very quicky. We use a version of the PAR called a "20 minute MARC. (Member Accountability Roll Call) However, it's not always used consistently. Also, on fire where things aren't going well, which is when we need the MARC the most, is usually when it is overlooked or forgotten about in the midst of all the radio traffic and chaos on scene. Our situation goes to show that just because every riding position on the apparatus has a portable radio assigned, this alone doesn't mean that FG communication is consistently adequate nor efficient. Much training needs to be conducted regarding radio discipline; coordinating on scene communications with Fire Alarm's ongoing dispatch duties; and what should be communicated and to whom it should be directed to.

As far as the discussion about crews entering the first floor, unknowingly above a working basement fire, Jeff hit the nail on the head! The officer MUST do a thorough 360 around the structure which includes intentionally looking for evidence of a basement fire anytime heavy smoke is visible from the first floor. Our companies have made this mistake many times, thank the Lord no one has been hurt seriously YET, but it's a scary feeling when you are crawling around on a hot and smokey first floor, only to hear over the radio that a working fire has been discovered in the basement. I really believe their is no reason we should ever enter a residential structure without first knowing what floor the fire is on first. And when an officer discovers some critical information about the fire or fire building, he or she should relay it to the IC or Operations officer who should then relay it to each division or group officer if it will affect their operations. We can't know everything, and we certainly can't control all of the variables at a working fire, but there is no reason that we shouldn't control what we can and communicate ANYTHING pertinent as soon as possible. The IC relies on division, group, or company officers to be their "eyes and ears" in other parts of the fire building. Especially the roof, interior, and oftentimes the rear (side C) of the structure.
I think the PAR is dependant on the officer having an idea of where his members are. Even if this is a truck company where the crew is split up to inside and outside duties an offcier must have a plab for what needs to be done. For example, since I'm a floating LT I have to do new roll call with a different company every work day. One of the things I go over is what to do if the horns are blown by the IC for evactuation. This includes talk on if how to get out from inside, FF's first then myself, even if they are in front of me on the hose line. To me, the officer is first in and last out. I really believe it's the officer's duty to duty to have an idea of how the roof team will get to the roof and how they would get off. Then if I don;t hear from them I know where to look for them. I also bring up that if we get off the roof and out opf the building we need to get to the front of the building to get a head count. It ain't "no thang" special to do this, I just think it's the officer's job for the fire ground

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