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Fictitious San Francisco Police Inspector Harry Callahan coined a profound statement in the 1973 movie Magnum Force. His famous quote, growled from the throat, A man’s GOT to know his limitations has stuck with me since the first time I heard it.

In today’s fire service we should heed the Inspectors words while engaged in our daily effort to survive and defeat the Red Devil. All members of a company must be acutely aware of this concept and make every effort to live and serve by that infamous Hollywood expression.

It doesn’t matter what type of service you provide to your community the bottom line is you must be completely capable to adapt and overcome everything and anything you might encounter on an emergency scene. And how we do that is as simple as Training and Guidelines.

Training and Guidelines

Repetitious training practiced regularly and correctly over and over drives us to be able to identify our limitations. In an order of sequence the individual will learn his or her limitations, while learning the limitations of their teammates. The team will then learn their limitations and capabilities when working together. And the department or company will learn its limitations and plan on how to adapt and overcome through technique and the use of additional resources.

Guidelines are critical because they support both training and operations. Specific guidelines are usually in place to provide members a step-by-step process in how to identify task assignment and problem solving. They are designed to keep everyone on the same sheet of music when things are at their worst.

An example might be a volunteer fire company who runs a single engine with a ‘first due’ of densely packed row homes and storefronts. The company has adequate personnel during the evening but during daylight hours manpower is limited. With hydrants spaced 600’ feet apart and a respectable available fire flow this engine company knows that their operations are dependant on ‘laying out’ to the fire and aggressively getting to the seat of the fire for extinguishment. With that they also know that failure to accomplish that will certainly lead to additional damage to exposures and if not contained, a possible row house disaster.

Our engine companies train hard at the KSAs associated with SFD residential fire attack, they routinely stretch lines for bread and butter operations, which usually involve a room or two and occasionally a floor of fire. But do they train for the unexpected, a single unit in the middle of a row with fire on all three floors?

Do they train for this with a limited ‘daylight’ crew? Do they have an operating guideline which states that: “With fire evident on two or more floors the first in engine shall lead off with master stream operations until otherwise directed by command.”

Specifically for this situation knowing your limitations might include the knowledge of how many seconds or minutes your engine could flow a topside or portable master stream from the booster tank while awaiting a positive source. We all know limited manpower coupled with more than two floors of fire requires GPM to solve the BTU problem.

Train your personnel by simulating the short staff response by having a 3-person engine company simulate the laying of supply from a positive source and assigning the rider to remain at the hydrant. As soon as the hydrant person signals the chauffer to go forward the engine ‘lays out’ a prescribed distance of supply line and prepares to flow water from the topside master stream appliance. Assign the front seat rider/officer to jump up and flow the master stream while someone assumes the role of official keeper of the time. Compile and compare the numbers and assess the operating guideline associated with this evolution.  Experimenting with different nozzles and tip sizes will teach the members what is effective and reasonable when it counts most.

Now the engine company has that vital knowledge of how long it can sustain fixed master stream operations from the booster tank. The next step is to perform the same training and evaluations while using pre-connected master stream appliances.  

Finally use various configurations of pre-connected attack lines to demonstrate how long the company can sustain fire fighting operations until either running out of water or receiving a positive supply. The data will more than likely surprise you and your company members.

Departments, which house aerial apparatus, must use this same mentality when training to learn the company’s limitations. An aerial device is limited by it’s own design and physical footprint. Every type and manufacturer has specific positive and negative features and we must learn them shortly after delivery.

One issue many operators frequently have to overcome while working on a tower ladder is the simple question…can I get my ‘working side’ outrigger or jacks placed for aerial operations in narrow tightly parked urban streets? 

One effective and quick drill is to train members to use a job aide. Now I’m not suggesting issuing tape measures to the truck companies for precise measurements on the fire-ground. I’m suggesting using a ‘known’ length piece of equipment readily found on the apparatus…like the New York Roof Hook.

Through repetitive training the chauffeur and a rider can quickly and easily make positioning decisions based on the ‘known limitations” of the apparatus and how to adapt and overcome them by using job aids.

These are just a few of many quick and effective training drills you can conduct with your members. Ultimately in the end it will help solve the problem of knowing one’s limitations. So “Go Ahead and Make Their Day”.

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