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Fundamentals, Basics, Training, Oh My!

Last night I had the pleasure to listen to and get in on a discussion on Art Chief Reason’s new FirefighterNetcast radio show. The show was fantastic and the content was interesting and stimulating. However, the topic that came up that really got my attention was when he and Dave dove into the subject of risk vs. benefit and safety vs. extinguishment. I know, I know, this has been beaten with a sledge hammer over our collective heads for the last year or so. But, I just can’t figure one thing out; when did it become okay to perform different risk analysis and size-ups for assumed different buildings?

Now listen, I understand that if a vacant building is leaning and crumbling you have to take a different approach, but overall, your first 90 seconds should be very similar, if not the same, on every a call. I don’t buy into the segregation of calls and how you look at them in theoretical terms. I think that this is a crash course for failure. Oh, and I get that a commercial building is different from a residential building, but the basics are the same.

Before you start slamming me on this, hear me out. We are taught as company officers to size-up a call and/or building as soon as we get the dispatch. We should be familiar with our area and resources that are or are not backing us up. We should be more than competent at basic size-up skills and ideally get a look at three sides of the building before we ever get off the apparatus. We can determine within seconds and relay to our back stepper what size line to pull and give instructions to incoming units before we hit the ground.

We have heard of and there are some teaching victim profiling; determining if there is someone in the building or not and if it is survivable. While I understand what is trying to be done in regards to keeping ourselves safe, why should it be any different from your size-up and basic training as a company officer? A building is tenable or it is not, no matter if it is occupied or not occupied.

Decisions, decisions.
It seems to me that the real problem is intermingled between fewer fires, thus we have less real-world experience. The second part of this is that we have not compensated for that lack of real-world experience as a whole. The experience we cannot help, but the training has to change for company officers and improve.

The fire officer when confronted with a crisis situation pulls from past experiences to determine what he should do. Those past experiences include actual calls, education and training. We have already determined that we are all getting less experience because fires are down. The other part of this is that the training has to be meaningful and relevant.

If our training doesn’t match what we are expected to do under extreme circumstances, we will fail to make the proper decision at those times. So, when the company officer pulls up and has a working fire in any building, he is pulling from his past experiences, or lack of, to make his decision on a course of action to take. This is critical and I think it goes back to mastering the basics and being able to identify potentially hazardous conditions at any fire without trying to run down two separate matrixes based on occupied/unoccupied. That is just confusing.

When an officer pulls up to the building or situation his experience and training will kick in if trained appropriately. Whether it is a two-story, occupied house or a single-story vacant house, the process should be the same and the decisions made from the same variables identified by the company officer.

–What is showing?

–What kind of construction?

–Life safety indicators?

–Conditions at present time and where will they be in 5 minutes?


–Is it safe to enter or is it not?

These seem simple, but several other factors can be determined from each of these and the company officer will make these decisions in seconds and minutes. If the building is not safe to enter, don’t enter. If there is a chance to search safely, whether occupied or not, search. If the building can safely be entered to extinguish the fire, whether occupied or not, enter and extinguish the fire. If the building is not structurally sound, occupied or not, don’t enter. Why make it so hard?

I truly believe we can over think some of this. If we have officers making bad decisions, we need to look at our training and drills. We need to look at what emphasis we put on career/professional development and make sure our fire ground leaders are competent. But, don’t confuse the issue by buzz phrases and methods that just complicate fire ground decisions.

The bottom line is that the sooner we put a fire out, the better opportunity any victims will have. Use common sense and training and past experiences to make prudent, sound decisions that take into account all factors.

I am sure that I will rub someone the wrong way with this, but I have been kicking this around for a long time and thought I would try to put in the blogosphere. So, no offense meant and train hard and frequently. Don’t complicate things, remember our mission and master the basics.

Also on FirefightersEnemy …

Back to Basics Part 1: Ladders – February 17, 2010
Kitchen Table Tactics 1-13-2010 – January 13, 2010
Back to Basics Part 2: Bring Your Tool! – February 22, 2010
Basic Engine Company Ops from the Brotherhood – April 28, 2010

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Comment by Jason Hoevelmann on May 19, 2010 at 8:33pm
Thanks for the link and story Brad.
Comment by Todd Trudeau on May 19, 2010 at 3:55pm
Jason and Brick, nicely put and very true. Does the fact that we "know" a building is vacant lead us to sloppy tactics and off our a game? More times than not I would say. Train like you work, when the *@%$ hits the fan, that's what we'll automatically go to. Thanks guys for the common sense revisit.
Comment by Jason Hoevelmann on May 19, 2010 at 1:50pm
As always, well said Brick. Thanks,
Comment by Michael Bricault (ret) on May 19, 2010 at 1:15pm
-Abandon buildings, fires and firefighters. What is injuring us, the fact that the building is abandon/unoccupied or poor tactics?
-Far too many firefighters think that the building type will indicate the occupancy load, the Rescue Profile and therefor dictate their actions. This is emphatically incorrect.
-It is true that far to many firefighters have been injured while operating at a fire in an abandon structure. However, the heart of the matter is that it is NOT because the structure is abandon that firefighters were injured. The more likely cause is a poor strategy supported by sloppy tactics coupled with poor/no supervision and/or poor or clear leadership.
-The simple, inescapable fact of the matter is that abandon structures do not set themselves on fire. That means, short of a lightning strike or mice playing with matches, the fire was started by human intervention either by accident or design. Someone was inside and caused the fire folks and they still may be inside!!!! That fact, in and of itself necessitates an interior search. Moreover, in these trying economic times, the reality of people living in abandon structures is a reality that must be addressed.
-An interior search and interior fire operations must be based on whether firefighter suspect someone of being in the structure or not. These decisions are not based on whether the building is abandon or run down or even that no one SHOULD be inside. The decision is correctly and properly based on whether firefighters believe or suspect someone to be inside.
-Abandon structures are also homes for the homeless, drug dens for the addicted and playgrounds for unsupervised children. Abandon structures are everywhere and these buildings DO NOT SET THEMSELVES ON FIRE!!!!
-Therefor, proper firefighting strategy and tactics must be in place and adhered to so as to avoid foolish injuries that can occur regardless of whether the structure is obviously occupied, empty looking or appearing to be abandon. Strategy should not be based on the type of people inside or the type of structure but the possibility of someone being inside. And this information is gathered and evaluated from the information available to the dispatcher and on scene indicators.
-The Rescue Profile is determined by available information to the first arriving company coupled with fire conditions, available manpower, crew experience and finally the mantra...
1. Risk EVERYTHING to save a human LIFE.
2. Risk a little for property
3. Risk nothing for that which is already beyond saving
Comment by Jason Hoevelmann on May 19, 2010 at 11:44am
Can't wait to see it.
Comment by Jason Hoevelmann on May 19, 2010 at 11:27am
Thanks, Jeff. I really appreciate all you do. Looking forward to your next blog.
Take care and stay safe.

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