Take a trip with me for a minute……Beep beep beep beep: “Attn: Fire Dept, Working structure fire 555 W 555 N. Caller advised flames visible”. This is what you hear out of your pager. You race to the fire station. As you run in, you see 5 other members putting on their PPE. Your response guideline says 1st two trucks out the door are Engine 1 and Engine 2 with the 3rd being a water tender. 3 of you jump in Engine 1 and the other 3 jump in Engine 2 and begin your way to the scene. On scene, you encounter a 2 story residential structure with flames showing from 2 upstairs windows. Your SOG says once on scene and declared a working fire, contact neighboring depts. for tenders and manpower. All occupants are accounted for outside of the structure. You begin suppression operations. The fire has now extended into another bedroom and you notice thick smoke coming from the eaves. As you put out the fire in the initial bedrooms, the fire has now vented through the roof. All of a sudden, your hose goes limp. The OIC calls for an evacuation due to loss of water. You retreat to the outside. 10 minutes has gone by and now the first water tender shows up. By this time the roof has almost completely burnt off the structure and multiple rooms are involved in the upstairs. About this time, multiple tenders show up supplying you with water to initiate a Defensive attack and you save the first floor and a partial of the second floor. What you didn’t count on was the initial 6 guys were the only guys that would respond for the next 10 minutes.
Now, three months later you hear: Beep beep beep beep: “Attn: Fire Dept, Working structure fire 222 N 222 W. Caller advised flames visible”. Again, same scenario, you show up with 5 guys getting dressed and off you go in Engine 1 and Engine 2. Again, you are called out due to water loss. This fire was a single story residential 50% involved with fire in the attic. You had the fire 75% contained before you ran out of water. Another 10 minutes before a tender shows up. This house unfortunately was a total loss.
Let me ask you, if these 2 incidents were on your dept. spanning 3 months apart, and no critique was done or recorded, are we really going to be able to remember the water issues we had from several months ago and be able to "connect the dots"?
Some may remember but others may not do to the day to day hustle of life outside the fire service. Overtime, we tend to only remember things like what we saved. For example: “We put a hell of a stop on the fire 3 months ago. Initially we had 2 rooms involved with possible attic. We went in and held it to only that. The entire first floor was untouched and we saved part of the second floor”. Chances are you would not remember the water problems you had because overtime we usually only remember things that went right.
How are you able to connect dots?
If you have a paper trail however, you can lay all your incident critique forms out after 6 months or a year and see Trends in some of the issues you are having that you otherwise wouldn’t have been able to connect due to only looking at one fire at a time. When you have a little run load like many volunteer fire depts. do, it can be hard to find trends if you do not document.
Could both fires have been contained if you brought enough water? Possibly. Does your dept. focus more on manpower than water supply? Which should they focus on? How will they know WHAT to focus on?
One of the things to help these situations is a formal after incident critique where multiple aspects of the incident are discussed and reviewed. HERE is where you will see trends and discuss ways to fix the reoccurring issues.
Learn what is available to you as far as resources. If you have a 5,000 gal. water tender 10 miles away, but you have a 2,000 gal tender and another 2,000 gal tender 5 miles away, why not call the 5,000 right away. Better yet, set up a automatic mutual aid with this dept. to where they will be showing up with 5,000 gal. possibly 5 min after you arrive.
Look at these critiques and decide if there are ways you can better attack these situations. Maybe the first 2 trucks out the door should be Engine 1 and Tender 1. In the volunteer world, you cannot count on anybody coming to the fire scene. You can hope guys will show up and more times than not, they do. But when you show up to the firehouse, and you see a total of 6 guys, yourself included, you better take with you whatever you think you are going to need with those 6 people and not count on receiving one more firefighter throughout the entire incident. This is achieved by proper documentation of formal critiques to recognize the problems you are consistently facing and learing ways to improve on them.