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.
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.