Many excellent articles are written and classes presented that include valuable size up information from the perspective of the chief or company officer. However, while much of this material is directly transferable to the firefighter, few would argue that the firefighter maintains a different physical and mental perspective during incident response and operations. The size up process holds just as much significance for members literally "on the line" as it does for supervisors and managers.
Firefighters should be actively involved in the pre-incident recon required to maintain situational awareness in every fire company's response area. The company officer is likely the only member of the crew able to see CAD information on the apparatus data terminal, but using the information that he/she shares while en route and combining the firefighter's institutional knowledge of the district a mental picture of the scene may begin to develop.
Although the officer may make the ultimate decision on where to spot the rig, having an experienced driver/operator who is capable of sizing up placement for the incident at hand is invaluable to efficient company operations. Over time many driver/operators become so adept at positioning and knowing the preferences of their officers, that engines and truck companies are positioned almost without a word of conversation in the cab.
Upon arrival, size up of the building relative to the fire and the assignment of the individual firefighter includes all the senses, experience, and training invested in the task at hand. Firefighters assigned to a ladder company have a unique perspective depending on their duties at the fire. The outside vent firefighter is able to read the building and fire conditions from an exterior vantage point, reported conditions and hazards as he/she moves into position. Likewise, a team sent to the rear to raise a ground ladder may be able to gauge changing conditions or unusual building features. The roof team has the most unique fireground perspective. Firefighters operating on the roof can advise the Incident Commander of hazards and conditions only they can visualize. Firefighters assigned to engine companies also have multiple perspectives and unique opportunities to size up the fire. The first arriving engine often pulls past the building to take advantage of rear pre-connects and leave the front open for the first arriving ladder company. This affords all members a three sided size up as they position the rig. When stretching a pre-connect the nozzle and back up firefighter should once again take the opportunity to view the building and the location and extent of the fire as they stretch hose for deployment on the front lawn or sidewalk. The officer often uses these moments to make a 360 degree size up. Firefighters must also maintain vigilance at all stages of the firefight. They provide valuable eyes and ears in and around the fire building. The first in engine's driver/operator usually has a vantage point to assess conditions on the front of the building. He/she may monitor changes in smoke volume and intensity as well as prevent later arriving units form inadvertently disrupting the flow path while companies are operating inside.
There is almost no end to the contributions an observant firefighter with knowledge and experience can make to safety and efficiency on the fireground. Each set of eyes and ears combined with differing perspectives multiply the real-time information that may be used in making tactical as well as strategic decisions. Every firefighter must understand that size up is just as high on the priority list for them as any chief or company officer.