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The Scene Size-Up, Is It Really That Big of a Deal?

       The scene size-up is the most important thing the first due officer can do. In my class I have a large section based solely on the scene size-up and the things that go into establishing one correctly. It needs to be accurate. It needs to be complete. It sets the tone for the rest of the incident and should be based off of Life Safety, Incident Stabilization, and Property Conservation. If we do not get this done then the strategic and tactical goals of the incident may not be what they need to be and we know without good direction after the scene size-up the incident will not go as planned and mistakes on the fire ground will be made.

Step Off and Step Around - GET THE 360

       First due decision makers have to get the 360; we have to walk around these structures. The Driver/Engineer must pull past the structure to give the Company Officer (CO) a three sided view of the structure. When the CO exits the apparatus he needs to walk around the structure to gather more information. This walk around will allow the CO to see if there are any immediate rescues to be made at the rear or sides of the structure, look at fire behavior, smoke behavior, establish a plan of action, and overall ensures firefighter safety on the fire ground. Situational awareness is the key. Tunnel vision is a killer. We have to maintain situational awareness; if we do not do this we will tunnel vision in on the unimportant things. As we do this overtime we train ourselves to replace the IMPORTANT things with the UNIMPORTANT things and this is a recipe for DISASTER! If you follow hoarder home articles and Collyer Mansion Conditions, then the 380 degree size-up may ring a bell with you. This is a term these authors have coined that add 20 extra degrees to the 360 that includes looking in garage door windows, cars, and other areas looking for stacks of papers, boxes, and anything that will lead the Incident Commander to believe there will be heavy fire load and access problems inside the residence. If you aren’t familiar with this terminology look it up for future training and learning purposes.

Questions To Ask Yourself
• Where is the fire located now?
• Where will it be in the next 3-5 minutes?
• What smoke conditions do I have?
• Is there an immediate need for rescue or can occupants shelter in place?
• What type of construction do we have?
• What additional resources do you need?

Go Ugly Early

       Go Ugly Early. What does this mean? This means if at any time during the scene size-up, or first few key moments of the incident, you believe you may need more resources than you have then to call for them RIGHT THEN! There is no need to wait around to make this call, we’re already behind the 8 ball per se’ with a fire that has us outgunned, why wait for later? Let’s get what we need there as soon as we can and kick this thing in the throat. This also allows us to perform all the necessary task on scene that are manpower intensive. These are primary searches, secondary searches, making the roof and ventilating, VEIS, secondary hand lines, back-up lines, water supply, rapid intervention, forcible entry, and more. It’s not a good idea to stand in the yard needing more engine or truck companies and not calling for them “hoping” your troops make a good push on the fire and get a hold of things! This starts with swallowing the ego and accepting we need help. So, GO UGLY EARLY!

First-In Command Decisions

       When you arrive first in and give your scene size-up and perform the 360; you now have to make a command mode decision. There are times you will arrive on scene and nothing is showing, this means you are going into Investigation Mode and will be investigating the incident. If you arrive on scene and there is a working fire that is a one or two room and contents fire that you believe will not extend out of control if you and your crew get in there and get the fire out as soon as possible then you can go into FAST Attack Mode. FAST Attack Command Mode usually only last a few moments and this is until the situation is stabilized, command is transferred to the second due officer, or you change your mind and withdraw to the exterior of the structure and establish a Formal Command Mode. It is important to note that if you go into FAST Attack Mode you announce on the fire ground channel where command will be located, such as “Command to all units en route be advised we have a working fire, Engine 33 will be FAST ATTACK on Division 2”. This lets all incoming units know the fire is in a state at that time that the IC believes it can be taken care of if gotten to quickly and command is on the line on Division 2. Then of course there is Formal Command Mode. We know this is when a Formal Command Post is set-up on the fire ground, the command location is announced to all units, and accountability is taken up at the command post. Formal Command Mode can use the name of the street involved or possibly the structures name such as “Home Depot Command”.

       There is one way to get better at giving scene size-ups, learning building construction, and being in command and that’s training and experience. I encourage firefighters that I train on a regular basis to just pick a few structures on the side of the road while riding to work every day and give a scene size-up to yourself in the vehicle, “Engine 33 on scene of a single story, single family dwelling, wood frame, fire showing from the AD corner on Division 2, Engine 33 will be FAST Attack on Division 2.” or “Engine 33 is on scene of a single story commercial structure, non-combustible construction, heavy fire showing from Side A and C, Engine 33 will be defensive setting up “Main Street Command”. These can be said in just a matter of seconds and over time you will be able to let this information out with ease and no hiccups and you can change up where the fire is located, what attack mode you’re in, and what command mode you’re setting up. I have literally put fire mentally in my head at every building from home to work, some I mentally burnt down, and some the troops won the war. (HaHa) You can also gather around and do this with pictures and videos as well, I post several picture a week to aid in this topic area on my page at

Remember….when you’re the First-In FireFighter and the decisions are on you, it’s YOUR call! Be Prepared!

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Comment by Nicolas Morgado on March 7, 2015 at 3:58pm

As a first arriving Company Officer we are expected to make critical decisions that will affect the outcome of the incident and more importantly the safety of responders and the public we serve. Often the decisions we make are based in incomplete and often inaccurate information. The more information we can gather; dispatch information, information from the homeowner, people on scene, PD (don’t take it as gospel), what we see and learn from our 360/380, the better decisions we will make. We take all this information, combine it, process it and turn it into intelligence, apply risk management guidelines and develop our “mental incident action plan.” Size-up is a “Big Deal” performed by everyone on scene, it is constant, ongoing, and starting before the call comes and doesn’t end until the last apparatus is in quarters. Excellent post.. Thank you for sharing..


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