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“Watch a Fire Video Without Watching the Fire? And How to Better S.U.T.E. your Size up Training Using Video”

A guide to help your self-study in size up and command


By: Joe Pronesti


With today’s social media everyone knows that fire video is a click away sometimes we can get video while crews are on scene still. It’s great that we can utilize video and audio from fire events all over the country for self-study and professional improvement and sharing as many videos and their lessons can be of great benefit as long as we are learning and NOT critiquing. That said, anyone watching a fire video is going to be naturally drawn to the fire, the action, the smoke, etc. Most of the video I watch is made by members of the media or freelance videographers who do a great job helping our profession with their videos but do not have a background in actual firefighting and/or command and control, so the video is pretty much what they see and that is FIRE and human drama!

So the other day while watching a video of an incredible fire event in Manhattan the thought occurred  about the process of classifying building types and forecasting fire spread, tactics and collapse potential by utilizing two examples gained from recently reading two books, one a sports book (it can’t be all fire all the time) called “Take Your Eye Off the Ball: How to Watch Football by Knowing Where to Look” by Pat Kirwan and a tactical reference book titled “The Art of Reading Buildings” by John Mittendorf and Dave Dodoson; both are excellent books by the way and highly recommended. Kirwan is trying to help football fans understand the game better by watching the blocking schemes, receiving routes etc. instead of simply following the ball during play. Mittendorf and Dodoson penned that an officer should classify a building using four key points, size, use, type, and era. And like Kirwan’s book, I tried to watch a fire video and NOT watch the fire but watch the building, potential fire spread, apparatus placement, etc. at the same time trying to apply it to my city’s buildings, department and staffing.

The late Fire Department of New York Battalion Chief Orio Palmer in an article published in the 2002 4th quarter WNYF (With New York Firefighters Magazine) described a way to locate the fire in a building by simply listening to what address the dispatcher relayed or reading what the response ticket said and correlating this with what the caller was reporting. This can be easily added to your study when listening to fire audio and incorporating it to S.U.T.E. acronym

So like any other firefighter I decided to make an acronym (S.U.T.E.) to help myself remember these excellent points when sizing up my next fire. I would now like to share this with you and provide some examples on how to utilize it when you and your crews watch your next fire video. It’s just another tool for our toolboxes, give it a try.

The four keys of size, use, type, and era are not something new, you will find them being brought up in most if not all mentions on building size up but have you ever thought of them together and train on applying them when you/your crews watch a fire video?



Dodson and Mittendorf go into great detail in their book about size considerations and interpretation what is “small, medium, and large” is. It is not my intent to try and replicate in this article what they have already so effortlessly explained in their book but to emphasize the need in your self-study of command and control to take into consideration the size of the building and the potential and quantity of “stuff” inside that can burn and apply what we have learned from all the current data out on today’s modern combustible furnishings and plastics, envision like size buildings in your response area. Also, the size of the building you or your members are going into on fire attack will certainly play a role in SCBA air management. Example: A 1200 square foot ranch vs a 4000 square foot colonial. Or a Family Dollar store in the middle of a strip mall versus a vacant storefront with apartments above in the middle of your Main Street



This one might be a little difficult when studying a video of a fire in a city that might be next door to yours or 3,000 miles away, but sometimes obviously the title or a little extra internet/Google Earth research on the address or video description can help you out. The building use is critical when determining possible inhabitants or fire load which can help you determine spread of fire and possible collapse. It is up to you and your members to constantly stay on top of what is going on construction and renovation wise in your district or city. The prudent officer will be nosy and in turn will spread the word to members under their command, example: A place of worship going into a once vacant store front in the middle of a “Main Street” building constructed in 1898.



Type in this acronym refers to construction and while this too might be difficult to ascertain while watching a three minute video from an unfamiliar place but with a little study and research this also can go into your video viewing and further your size up study, by determining the type you can then analyze collapse potential and fire spread in the building.

There you have it…How to S-U-T-E your fireground size ups, give it a try the next time you search fire videos or go to your favorite firefighting website. Good Luck and Be Safe.



This one again might be tough watching a video from a department other than yours but the lesson here is that we all must get a handle on the types of structures we protect. My department protects older legacy dwellings and occupancies, Type III and Type V balloon and platform dominate my landscape, but in the Village that borders our North their firefighters need to be up to speed on modern construction and fighting fires in new Type III stand-alone businesses, i.e. furniture stores, etc.


(Dotson & Mittendorf, 2015) on differentiating between age and era state that building age “deals with the deterioration of the building over time-rotting, rusting, lack of maintenance, and other detrimental effects. The era will deal with the period of time the building was constructed, firefighters dealing with buildings built prior to the World War II era had fires in buildings made with substantial amount of mass, while firefighters today fighting a fire in a fast food restaurant built in a period of four weeks in 2013 have to consider open spaces and less mass which equates to quicker collapse.


The Era component is very easy if you are an engaged fire officer, but it is often overlooked when educating new firefighters who may not be from the area they are now sworn to protect and serve. We must pass this on daily!


The following are some examples to help get you going I hope it S.U.T.E.s your needs……..

Our first fire video is one of a mixed use occupancy, the fire took place this past February and also included a MAYDAY, I have attached photos of the building prior to fire,and a Youtube video of the fire prior to FD arrival. Go ahead and practice your size up utilizing S.U.T.E. acronym.

Side A/B- Lazy%20Lizzard%20A-B.JPG

Side A/D- Lazy%20Lizzard%20A-D.JPG

Side B/C   Lazy%20Lizzard%20B-C.JPG

Side C/D- Lazy%20Lizzard%20C-D.JPG


Video 2 is a fire in a commercial: SIZE, USE, TYPE, and ERA



First 15 minutes of Audio Courtesy of Broadcastify-Nashua%20Audio%20A%20%282%29.mp3

Video 3- Residential Fire- SIZE,USE,TYPE,ERA





1)Dotson, Dave and Mittendorf, John. "The Art of Reading Buildings" 2015 Fire Engineering Pennwell Corporation.

2) Palmer, Orio. “Update II: Size-Up and Communications.” With New York Firefighters.

4th/2002. Fire Department City of New York.


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