Fire Fighting in Canada

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Trainer’s Corner: February 2012

The sound of your pager going off seems to release chemicals in your brain giving you a heightened sense of caution, adrenalin, anticipation, and, perhaps even a bit of fear.

February 14, 2012
By Ed Brouwer

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The sound of your pager going off seems to release chemicals in your brain giving you a heightened sense of caution, adrenalin, anticipation, and, perhaps even a bit of fear. As a newbie volunteer firefighter, I did not experience fear of the unknown incident, but fear of being first on scene. Although I was tempted to, I never waited around the corner from the fire in my private vehicle until I heard the chief had arrived on scene. A great responsibility comes with arriving first on the scene of an emergency.

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First-arriving firefighters are responsible for selecting and implementing the initial plan. Size-up should be a rapid but thorough analysis of what you see. 


 

There is more to being the incident commander than arriving first on scene, donning a colourful vest and shouting, “I’m in command.” Although you may know how to use the radio and the incident commander’s vest may be a perfect fit, the real question is whether you are able to competently manage the incident.

The first-arriving fire officer or firefighter has the responsibility of selecting and putting the initial plan into action. Note – I said initial plan. As situations change, your plan should too. Stay flexible in your attack plans. Always have a plan B in mind before you need it.

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Experienced fire officers will tell you there are three phases to managing an emergency incident: panic, confusion and remorse. If you are looking for an alternative to those three phases, try think, plan and act.

The first step – think – is perhaps the hardest. Some may say you don’t have time to think at an emergency. If this is true, it proves the need for pre-plans. Pre-planning allows you to become familiar with potential challenges in your fire-protection area.

Anytime you are out and about in your area, make observations that may be invaluable during emergency conditions. Take particular note of any occupancies, hazards or unusual conditions that may present particular fire-ground problems. This information filed in the back of your mind may help you identify the problems and solutions while controlling the incident.

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Instilling the think, plan and act phases of command in the minds of all your members will bring big dividends to the fire ground.


 

Our department in Greenwood has been granted use of the abandoned curling club for our 2012 practice scenarios. At our last practice we did a walk-through. When we got back to the fire hall I divided the members into four teams and asked them a series of questions: the street number of the building, the location of the gas meter and the nearest hydrant, and the number of entry points. Although many have lived in Greenwood for years, they had a tough time answering.

It’s strange how you can walk by a building and not see what could be of life-saving importance. One of our members asked if I wanted them to case the joint. “Yes, exactly!” I said. “When you go into a local business, look at the floor plan, look for points of egress, or things that could hinder a rescue incident.”

One of the toughest times to get your brain engaged is when you are looking out the windshield of your vehicle at a scene of chaos and confusion. We all know from experience that the first few minutes on scene are the foundation for the next few (or several) hours, so take a deep breath and adjust your helmet strap while looking over the situation at which you have arrived. Do a complete walk-around and look at the whole situation, not just at what first catches your attention. Fight the tunnel-vision trap.

Some departments do a drive-by of the scene, giving themselves a view of at least three sides of the incident. This helps to determine the best place for their apparatuses. The key is to get the whole picture in your thought process. It takes three times as long to reposition your apparatuses and hoselines as it does to deploy them.

Your on-scene size up should be a rapid but thorough analysis of what you see. It may help to determine what is going on, what you have and what you need.

Evaluating the influencing factors of the incident is the first step in determining your course of action. Remember that these factors are dynamic and must be evaluated continually. In fact, size up should be ongoing, continuing throughout the incident and even during salvage and overhaul.

After evaluating the situation, set your incident priorities. It may also be beneficial to estimate the potential results of doing nothing. In other words, do something because you have something to do – not simply because you have to do something. Choose your strategic goals and set your tactical objectives.

Decide which method of attack (offensive or defensive) to take. The best way to limit the loss is to offensively defend the exposures, and firefighters should know when to make this decision. It is easier said than done, but leave what is already lost for the insurance companies to assess.

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As situations change, your plan should too. Stay flexible in your attack plans. Always have a plan B in mind before you need it.


 

Aggressive by nature, firefighters are often quick to take immediate action. In some situations, such as a rescue, this is exactly what is needed. However, when it comes to commanding the fire ground, far too often we have to retrofit our plans and actions because we did not think or plan. Knee-jerk fire fighting is simply throwing wet stuff on red stuff. Act only after you have thought and planned.

The fire ground is dynamic and the incident commander must be flexible. When you initiate the attack plan you may be operating with limited information. As the incident progresses, more information will become available, which may require you to amend your plans. A good planner takes into consideration how the tactics are going to impact where the fire will be in five minutes, rather than where it is now.
Continuing to instil the think, plan and act phases of command in the minds of all your members – not just fire officers – will bring big dividends to the fire ground. However, there is one universal fire-ground problem that we did not address here: communication. It is impossible to competently manage any emergency incident if your fire-ground communication is a mess. I will address this problem in my next column. Until then, stay safe and remember to train like their lives depend on it.


Ed Brouwer is the chief instructor for Canwest Fire in Osoyoos, B.C., and Greenwood Fire and Rescue. The 21-year veteran of the fire service is also a fire warden with the B.C. Ministry of Forests, a Wildland Urban Interface fire suppression instructor/evaluator and a fire-service chaplain. Contact Ed at aka-opa@hotmail.com


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