The military spends big bucks on drones and other technology to provide valuable intel for planning purposes. In their environment it is critical to be able to gather information in an attempt to reduce uncertainty. Obviously this information is best gathered discreetly. Enter the drone. Able to fly undetected, these futuristic machines can be outfitted with all sorts of high level technology to bring back the desired information. Pretty fancy stuff.
So how does this have anything to do with firefighting?
As firefighters we too have our battlefield. We also have a need to gather intel. Luckily, we don't have to be quite as stealthy in the pursuit of information. I'm not talking about your department required pre-planning and inspections. While important, these obligations typically fall short of the type of boots on the ground knowledge we need.
We have the luxury of having access to every square inch of our battlefield. Everything is literally right out in the open just waiting for us to take a look. It's almost too easy! We know fires are going to happen, it's the nature of the beast. Uncertainty is also part of the equation, and something we don't have much control over. One way we can reduce this uncertainty is by getting out, getting dirty, laying eyes on the land, and figuring things out ahead of time. This is not hard stuff. In fact, we have everything we need already on the rig.
Streets: Probably the most fundamental aspect of this whole discussion. Sitting at the kitchen table looking at maps is all well and good, but we need to hit the pavement as well. Learn the streets, learn the back streets, learn the short cuts, learn traffic patterns. Learn how the streets look under the cover of night. The landmarks you use during the day may not be visible at night. Wouldn't you rather figure this out ahead of time?
Hydrants/water supply: We all know the value of a pressurized, or sustainable water source. We need to be confident in our knowledge of hydrant locations, as well as which hydrants are going to help or hinder operations. How often have you stumbled across a hydrant no one knew existed because it was hidden by brush or debris? Driving by hydrants is helpful, but laying hands on the hydrant is even more beneficial. Put your hand on the hydrant, and look around. Make note of what is close by. These steps will help cement the hydrant location in your memory.
Hose stretches: One of the most valuable actions we can take while exploring is discovering what hose stretch will be most efficient. We don't have to flow water, all we need to do is put lines on the ground. Maybe you discover that the crosslay doesn't quite reach where you thought it would. Now what? Do you have a longer line to pull, or will you have to build a long line. See how this can be helpful to figure out ahead of time? Does the thought of pulling lines off a truck terrify the white shirts? Cut some rope in 50ft or 100ft lengths and use them to simulate hose lines. At least you will still gain valuable intel on the required stretch.
Ladders: Again, this is a resource we already have on the rig. Put them to use! Get out there and figure out what ladders you are going to use for specific structures. Maybe a window you thought would require a 35' actually only calls for the 24', or vice versa. Experiment with getting your ladder in position on uneven ground, or in a tricky alley. While you're at it, make sure to get some reps in wearing full gear and your SCBA. Don't pass on these chances to set up your aerial ladder. Whether you're running a straight stick, platform, or tower ladder, get out there and figure out where it works and where it doesn't. Get comfortable with how much room you need to set up. Figure out which sets of powerlines are going to give you trouble. Figure out which roof lines you can reach easily, and which ones you need to position perfectly for. Setting up the ladder every shift on the front ramp is not helping your level of readiness.
Forcible entry: Every door we encounter is a chance to discuss forcible entry tactics. Whether it is the apartment building down the street, the house next door, or the highly secured rear door on the strip mall across town, discussing how to deal with these doors will pay dividends. Bring the tools with, and use them to discuss placement (obviously without doing any damage). As you discuss, develop your plan A, B, C, D, and so on. These are highly valuable discussions which will serve to refresh memories, and even lead to the development of new ideas.
As you can see, none of this is rocket surgery. In fact, not only will you be gathering valuable intel on your response area, but you also get some good training opportunities. Talk about a good reason to get out of the station and out on the streets. Your visibility in the community will also be beneficial. People generally love seeing us out and about practicing our skills and learning our area.
We already have everything we need to gather time saving information on the fireground. Everything is within reach, and all we have to do is hop on the rig and go find it. Why would we not take advantage of this opportunity to figure things out ahead of time? Just imagine pulling up to a building and already knowing what line you are going to pull, what forcible entry challenges await you, what ladder you will need in the rear, and exactly how much supply line you need to tag the hydrant. Sound to good to be true? Get out there and try it.