When an incident expands and the Incident Commander needs to start filling his or her command staff positions, are we providing a lip stick attempt at safety? We all know that operating at a major incident, increases the chances of having a firefighter injury or death. One of the first lines of safety prevention is the Company Officer's mindset to determine (SA) situational awareness for the environment they are trying to combat. The next would be the choice of filling the (ISO) Incident Safety Officer position. This is a person dedicated to providing a specific eye for the multiple "what if" scenarios? It is a critical component that most fire departments in the United States attempt to provide for greater margins of firefighter safety.
But are we implementing the process to the best of our ability? Maybe but then again maybe NOT. I am a Pro-Board ISO Instructor and I also teach a lot of classes on Command and Control of the Mayday Incident. My goal for years has been to prepare fire officers for the best possible outcome to an event that is not a normal fire ground operation. If you have ever been involved in a true mayday event, then you know first hand the chill and frozen feeling that can overcome you at the sound of those three words. MAYDAY - MAYDAY - MAYDAY. Some are able to work through the emotional and stress induced event while some really good commanders appear to be cemented to the ground and unable to move. Let's be realistic, every incident commander I know, wants the best possible outcome for his or her people and safety is usually the forefront of their mindset. Nobody wants something bad to happen on their watch.
So after years of focusing on how we can better front load our command staff in our Mayday Management for Incident Command Class, I realized that we have been doing it wrong at major incidents. I want to prevent the Mayday from happening. Prevention assures EGH Everyone Goes Home. The first question I ask during class is "Where is the most dangerous place on the fire ground?" 90% percent of the time, the answer is on the INSIDE of the structure! So it makes sense that if I am assigning an (ISO) Incident Safety Officer, he should be trained to be a (ISO) 2. have a solid background of field experiences, 3. have a great safety mindset (the "what if" guy or gal) and lastly be assertive enough to make the difficult decisions and carry out the difficult task of ruining firefighters playtime.
Most of those qualities can be covered with solid training and the field experience comes with time. So with that said how can the Incident Commander provide a better opportunity to command a safer operation? The answer in my mind is you have to put the right person into play, so he or she can view if "the conditions" match or warrant my choice of strategy and tactics. You see an incident safety officer who is walking around the fire ground in a plastic traffic control vest may meet the standard for filling out command positions but they are going to have very limited amount of information to make serious, life saving decisions.
In many larger municipalities and urban departments, the chief's buggy has a driver assigned as the Chief's Aide. That person is an extra set of eyes and ears for the incident commander. Sometimes they are sent to locate or get first hand information from the inside. In the process of front loading my command staff positions, I recommend assigning two highly compotent (ISO) incident safety officers. Call them Safety 1 and Safety 2. You can establish them from your personnel or if you are a smaller department you can get them from your mutual aid run card. They should be equipped with full gear, SCBA, a cylinder cover designed for the interior heat conditions that will identify them as SAFETY (see photo to the left) a flashlight, portable radios and one of them should have a thermal imaging camera. Safety 1 essentially starts as the exterior safety officer and Safety 2 would go in as the interior safety officer. When Safety 2 goes interior, he or she must report to the Division Chief or Officer. The interior safety officer must communicate well over the radio to the Accountability Officer, so he or she is accounted for while they move within the fire building. The benefit is the interior safety officer is they are not humping hose, they are not focused on the physical fight therefore their mindset is all about determining the working conditions, stability of the incident and does the Command Strategy and Tactics match the working conditions. Safety 1 and Safety 2 can rotate positions as needed depending on the length of the incident. I have seen this system work first hand and it has many additional benefits as well...
Now in the event of a Mayday incident, the exterior safety officer can immediately respond with the stand-by RIC team and we now have a designated a safety officer for the firefighter rescue operation. The interior safety officer who has been on air prior to the mayday call should retreat from the building to give command a face to face report and ultimately becomes the safety officer for the continuation of the fireground operation. This is just a short excerpt of the positional responsibilities of the 2 person (ISO) incident safety officer model from our Mayday Management for Incident Command - Strategic Considerations. For more information on this topic or our full training program on the process, drop us an email.
So instead of seeing your next incident covered by the "yard safety officer" maybe we should look at positioning them in the most dangerous place on the fireground to make a real difference in firefighter safety.
Stay Safe Brother and Sisters.... and Safety On!
Billy Greenwood, FETC Services
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