After we are dispatched to the call and speed to the scene to save the day, the most important part of the arrival of a fire apparatus besides pulling the first line and forcing the door is the size up by the first in officer and the initial actions that he/she orders. If everyone stays informed as they arrive and communication remains clear on the fireground, then the emergency will be mitigated much more efficiently. The first arriving officer or acting officer must paint an unmistakably clear picture for all units responding to the scene. The officer needs to remain clear and concise so as not to tie up the radio, but they need to broadcast some very important elements to incoming apparatus. Below is a link to a pre-arrival video from my volunteer department.....What would your size up be?
The CAN Report
A report of conditions, actions and needs should always be broadcast upon arrival of the initial unit to communicate what the plan for the incident is. Firefighters need to describe the conditions they see and what type of occuancy they will be operating in. These conditions may be heavy fire, or they may be nothing showing, either way they need to be communicated to start the painting the picture for the incoming units. Then we move to actions, who is now in command?, what is the crew of the first in doing? will the the crew be rescuing a trapped occupant? These are all things that command should communicate to the firefighters that are not on scene yet. Lastly, we move to needs, this could include needing a water supply, needing the roof vented, needing an agressive search, just to name a few.
Through this CAN report, incoming companies can gain an understanding of the necessary incident priorities that may unfold as they begin to arrive. Also, an effective CAN report allows the burden of all critical thinking to be removed from the IC. While the orders may be issued by the IC incoming companies can encourage actions that the IC may may missed especially if he/she becomes task saturated. Quite often simple tasks are missed by IC's all over and the subsequent officers arriving can assist in catching some of these "lost" tasks.
A SIT report or a situational update can assist the incident commander by allowing incoming companies an idea of the staus of critical fire ground tasks that may or may not have been completed. By advising units of what is going on prior to their arrival, the IC may allow for critical decisions on apparatus positioning, approach paths, and tools selection to be made by incoming officers not him/her self. This takes additional tasks off of the already full IC's plate to allow for critical tasks to be accomplished in a well coordinated and efficient manner. Additionally, the SIT may allow your dispatch center to understand the need for additional resources, or the urgency of some requests by the on-scene companies. Also, your dispatcher may be able to prompt the IC on actions or triggers that they may have missed due to the scene conditions, external stressors, etc.
Revisiting the CAN
At regular intervals during the incident, the IC and the other members on scene should revisit the CAN report to ensure progress is being made and that no new needs have shown themselves. This is also an opportunity for the IC to reevaluate his/her tactics and their current effectiveness. Is there steam conversion? Is the primary attack line advancing or retreating? What are the future manpower/apparatus/resource needs that may need to be addressed? Revisiting the initial CAN report is good for everyone including the officers operating under the IC. See the link below for a video showing the fire that you saw in the first video about ten minutes in. What would you be telling your incoming units? What about the interior firefighters?
Lastly, and quite often the most important piece that is very hard to teach, is the command presence and demeanor of the Incident Commander. Andy Fredericks was quoted as saying "The garbage man doesn’t get excited when he turns the corner and sees trash, and you shouldn’t get excited when you turn the corner and see fire. You should expect fire on every run". In departments everywhere and every day there is someone either screaming or getting excited over something on the radio. We all know that if the first arriving officer gets excited that each and every person on that fire will be more amp'ed up either from anger or from nerves. Important and often overlooked attributes for an Officer to have is a calm demeanor and strong command presence. These attributes can make or break an officer's "street cred". Officers must exude confidence in every radio transmission they make, because in times of peril including a firefighter mayday, the officer may be the only one to remain calm.
The first arriving officer can set the tone of the incident quickly, whether it be by initial line placement, or by the initial radio report, they make or break many things at every fire. Training, experience, and personnel all play into this equation, but the resources are out there for everyone to improve. As Laurence Gonzoles stated in his book "Deep Survival" There are things we can control, and we must control them all of the time". We must prepare to be that first arriving officer or company, that way we can control the variables that we can manipulate. There will be things going on that we can't control, and we also have to prepare for them. Preparation is key to any successful company and any successful officer, so get out there and get ready for the next bell to hit.....
-Gonzales, L., (2005) Deep survival: Who lives, who dies, and why. New York: Norton and company.