Fundamentals, Basics, Training, Oh My!

Last night I had the pleasure to listen to and get in on a discussion on Art Chief Reason’s new FirefighterNetcast radio show.  The show was fantastic and the content was interesting and stimulating.  However, the topic that came up that really got my attention was when he and Dave dove into the subject of risk vs. benefit and safety vs. extinguishment.  I know, I know, this has been beaten with a sledge hammer over our collective heads for the last year or so.  But, I just can’t figure one thing out; when did it become okay to perform different risk analysis and size-ups for assumed different buildings?

Now listen, I understand that if a vacant building is leaning and crumbling you have to take a different approach, but overall, your first 90 seconds should be very similar, if not the same, on every a call.  I don’t buy into the segregation of calls and how you look at them in theoretical terms.  I think that this is a crash course for failure.  Oh, and I get that a commercial building is different from a residential building, but the basics are the same.

Before you start slamming me on this, hear me out.  We are taught as company officers to size-up a call and/or building as soon as we get the dispatch.  We should be familiar with our area and resources that are or are not backing us up.  We should be more than competent at basic size-up skills and ideally get a look at three sides of the building before we ever get off the apparatus.  We can determine within seconds and relay to our back stepper what size line to pull and give instructions to incoming units before we hit the ground.

We have heard of and there are some teaching victim profiling; determining if there is someone in the building or not and if it is survivable.  While I understand what is trying to be done in regards to keeping ourselves safe, why should it be any different from your size-up and basic training as a company officer?  A building is tenable or it is not, no matter if it is occupied or not occupied.

Decisions, decisions.

Decisions, decisions.

It seems to me that the real problem is intermingled between fewer fires, thus we have less real-world experience.  The second part of this is that we have not compensated for that lack of real-world experience as a whole.  The experience we cannot help, but the training has to change for company officers and improve.

The fire officer when confronted with a crisis situation pulls from past experiences to determine what he should do.  Those past experiences include actual calls, education and training.  We have already determined that we are all getting less experience because fires are down.  The other part of this is that the training has to be meaningful and relevant.

If our training doesn’t match what we are expected to do under extreme circumstances, we will fail to make the proper decision at those times.  So, when the company officer pulls up and has a working fire in any building, he is pulling from his past experiences, or lack of, to make his decision on a course of action to take.  This is critical and I think it goes back to mastering the basics and being able to identify potentially hazardous conditions at any fire without trying to run down two separate matrixes based on occupied/unoccupied.  That is just confusing.

When an officer pulls up to the building or situation his experience and training will kick in if trained appropriately.  Whether it is a two-story, occupied house or a single-story vacant house, the process should be the same and the decisions made from the same variables identified by the company officer.

–What is showing?

–What kind of construction?

–Life safety indicators?

–Conditions at present time and where will they be in 5 minutes?


–Is it safe to enter or is it not?

These seem simple, but several other factors can be determined from each of these and the company officer will make these decisions in seconds and minutes.  If the building is not safe to enter, don’t enter.  If there is a chance to search safely, whether occupied or not, search.  If the building can safely be entered to extinguish the fire, whether occupied or not, enter and extinguish the fire.  If the building is not structurally sound, occupied or not, don’t enter.  Why make it so hard?

I truly believe we can over think some of this.  If we have officers making bad decisions, we need to look at our training and drills.  We need to look at what emphasis we put on career/professional development and make sure our fire ground leaders are competent.  But, don’t confuse the issue by buzz phrases and methods that just complicate fire ground decisions.

The bottom line is that the sooner we put a fire out, the better opportunity any victims will have.  Use common sense and training and past experiences to make prudent, sound decisions that take into account all factors.

I am sure that I will rub someone the wrong way with this, but I have been kicking this around for a long time and thought I would try to put in the blogosphere.  So, no offense meant and train hard and frequently.  Don’t complicate things, remember our mission and master the basics.

Tenable or not tenable, vacant or not.

Tenable or not tenable, vacant or not.


  • Dave LeBlanc says:


    I am not sure it all came out in our discussion on the Netcast Brother, but you hit the nail exactly on the head. You even expand your thinking into other areas as to cause for this shift and I agree with you 100%.

    Fire duty is down, and with that lack of experience comes an avenue for failure. The best we can hope to do is bring some of that gap with training. Good, relevant, realistic training.

    A question asked of me a year or so ago was “do you ever see the time when someone will be promoted to Lieutenant without ever have been to an actual working fire?”

    Unfortunately the answer to that question is yes. A decrease in fires combined with the flow of the work chart could very well create that exact situation.

    I tend to fall back on the Military for a lot of ideas and framework. Not every Lieutenant in the military got rank through battlefield commisions, yet they manage to lead effectively. Sure they rely on there NCOs that have “been there, done that” but the rest of the “experience” comes from training. Hard, dirty, realistic, relevant training.

    So why can’t we do the same?

  • dc802 says:

    Your right too. I know that this will not be met by all with positive comments, but I really believe this.

    I agree, we will and do have company officers that have seen very little fire.

    Thanks for the support and I really enjoyed our conversation the other night. Oh, you got me on the John Norman thing, that was great.

    Take care and keep up the great work.

  • Engine Captain Missouri says:

    Jason, I support this 110% and would gladly have an adult conversation with any Brother or Sister that disagrees. We have an obligation to do our jobs correctly and as safely as possible, however, Common Sense is the key! Train, then Train some more to make sure whomever makes the right seat, understands completly the job that entails, no excuses! Oh Jason, watch that LeBlanc! Seriously Dave is good people as we say in Mo. He’s got a bunch of knowledge it that small brain of his!

  • Robby O says:

    I think one thing people do not take into account is that the “vacant” or derelict building is different then the regular occupied building. I totally agree that our entry or determination should be based on fire conditions.

    However these vacant buildings add a little more to it than just your avergae size up. Typically they are boarded up and usually are in some sort of interior dissary. So even if the conditions warrant entry and interior operations we have alot of work to do on the front end in my opinion in order to make this building able to be worked in.

    This includes removing the boards from the windows and a more indepth size up. Running into these buildings no matter what you think the life hazard may be is foolish. We recently had one were once we removed the plywood from the front door opening we waited for the smoke to lift and were able to visualize that there was no flooring on either of the three floors. had we just charged in then it would have been a bad day.

    In short I think you have to walk through these fires and not run.

    Robby O

  • Dave LeBlanc says:


    I think the point that Jason is making, and we talked about the other night, is that size up is size up. I mean sure that is oversimplfying it, but you should conduct your size up the same for every fire. Your size will determine where the fire is, where it is going and where it will be once you are able to get to it. That will change from building to building but the process should be the same.

    When we step away from this and say “use size up A” for vacants and “use size up B” for occupieds, then we run the risk of doing a poor job all the way around.

    You could pull up to an occupied structure with a fire condition that has compromised the floors just as you described, and if we just ran in the results would be tragic.

  • dc802 says:

    Dave is right on. In addition though, this brings up again training and experience. We all know that the fire service a dynamic job in that every situation, no matter how similar is different.

    My point is that if the company officer after doing or during his size-up doesn’t feel that something is right based on his training and experience and chooses a different course of action, then that is good. We should train and expect our officers to be thinking officers that take the information they gather during the size-up (boarded up windows) and make an appropriate determination from that information.

    It’s when we tell them what and when to do things on the fire that they get into trouble because they start second guessing everything and worrying about other things.

    This just led to my next blog post that will really rattle the walls.

    Thanks to all for commenting, it is great to talk fire stuff with fire people.

    Take care.

  • dc802 says:

    Hey, Robbie O, I like your site, keep up the good work.

  • Engine Captain Missouri says:

    Robby hit a good point in his last sentence. Yes it’s true we have to be cautious at these type of jobs, but we shouldn’t be running into any job, occupied or not. Training and appropriate size up are always required

  • Size up for all building fires must be as complete as possible and decisions should be based on information known and gathered. However a big exception occurs when we fight vacant building fires. These fires need to handled differently operationally. Once the structure is opened the battle efforts must be based around the engine company and extinguishment. What does that mean? Well it means that a second line is ready before any entry. It means that truck work is minimized until extinguishment. It means that additional operational precautions are taken in an effort to do it right and safely. We need to not only size up our fires correctly and comprehensively we need to apply that soundness to operational tactics also.
    Ray McCormack
    Urban Firefighter Magazine

  • Engine Captain Missouri says:

    Well said Brother Ray! We can’t run into any job, without proper size-up, that doesn’t mean take 20 min. Train, know your first due, in my case my city, know building construction, and know fire behavior. As a boss, knowing less is not an option!

  • Nick Morgan says:

    Great post Jason, and all of the comments are very good. ray brings up some critical points, as vacant or abandoned buildings can be especially deceptive, especially when boarded up with smoke and fire showing. But the bottom line is the same: Size-up is size-up, and ALL of those considerations are part of any basic size-up. Remember COAL WAS WEALTH. Keep up the good work. And to all of you brothers and sisters out there;
    Stay safe!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *