Sizing Up the Situation Before Arrival

By Daniel P. Sheridan

A few months ago, I started a new assignment in my division at the Fire Department of New York (FDNY): I began covering the R Group in the 6th Division. This means that I work in the same four battalions when there is no normally assigned chief. The first weekend, I worked Saturday, and it was pretty uneventful. I went home that night and put on the local news. The weatherman said they were expecting high winds on Sunday, so I made a mental note: High winds and large buildings are a recipe for disaster. Any fire can easily transform from routine to a wind-driven event in a nanosecond.

FIRST CALL

I arrived at the firehouse Sunday morning, relieved the chief from the previous night tour, and got myself ready for the day tour. I love working day tours on Sunday in the Fall--the football games are on, and there usually is a nice meal. The pace is a lot slower, and there are no building inspections to worry about. Our first call of the day was a report of a fire in a nine-story multiple dwelling. I took the ticket from the house-watch firefighter and read it. The address had Critical Information Dispatch System (CIDS) 9 :

1201 Shakespeare Ave

MD- 9 Sty  150X80 CL3 NO STDP

Floors 1-3 entrance on Shakespeare Ave

Floors 4-9 entrance on Anderson Ave

AKA known as 1188 Anderson Ave

I know the area very well. I have been in the FDNY for 25 years, and one of the advantages is that I know every part of the Bronx. I was able to visualize the street, which is extremely hilly. One of the issues we have in the west Bronx is that, because it is so hilly, there are buildings that have more stories on one side than the other. For example, there are some buildings where the lobby is on the fifth floor and the rear of the building could have nine stories.

This particular call was for a fire on the eighth floor. The first-due units went where they were supposed to go, Anderson Avenue. The engine took a hydrant in front of the building, and the truck was positioned behind the truck. En route, I started doing a size-up in my mind, using the acronym

COAL WAS WEALTH.

  • Construction--Class 3: In the FDNY, that means a mixed-construction building: brick on outside, combustible inside
  • Occupancy--Multiple dwelling
  • Auxiliary Appliances--No standpipe
  • Life--1100 hours on Sunday, meaning that people are home
  • Weather- High wind
  • Apparatus--Full assignment, namely three engines and two ladders
  • Street Conditions--Very hilly
  • Water Supply--Plenty of hydrants
  • Exposures--Not a problem
  • Area--Large building,150x80
  • Location--Eighth Floor
  • Time--1100 Hours
  • Height--Nine stories.

I was armed with all this information, and I hadn't even arrived at the box yet! We came up the Shakespeare Avenue side, and I established the command post on the corner. The second-due units were just arriving from the opposite side of the street, so they weren't able to see the Shakespeare Avenue side. I looked up at the rear of the building and saw smoke showing from two windows on the Exposure 3 (C) side on the eighth floor. I let the first-due ladder know that we had smoke showing and that there was a civilian on the floor above waving his arms. I let the second-due truck know that we had a civilian at the window and to go up and reassure him.

I wasn't too worried because the smoke was not heavy; it was light colored, and I was pretty sure that it was a "Food on the Stove" call, but you can never be too sure. I realized then that if there was a decent fire condition, I would have a small problem on my hands, since my second-due ladder was a 95-foot tower ladder and probably wouldn't make the window on the 8th floor of this building. If it had been more serious, I would have had to special call an additional ladder company and probably an extra engine, because it was going to be a long stretch.

As it turns out, it did turn out to be a "Food on the Stove," and there was no extension. When we got back to quarters, the lieutenant from the second-due truck, a very senior officer, asked me a good question. He wanted to know if the rear should actually be referred to as Exposure 2. This building was actually in the shape of a triangle, so it only had three sides. I don't really know, but I told him that I thought it would be clearer if I used the Exposure 3 designation because most firefighters think of that as the rear.

ANOTHER CALL

After watching my team lose and finding myself eliminated from my wife's office football pool, we received another phone alarm for a fire in a multiple dwelling on the second floor. By the time I got into my car, the dispatcher was filling out the box because the dispatch center was  receiving a few phone calls. I noticed that the ladder was not in quarters. They were at another emergency, and the engine had just returned from a medical call and crew members were in the process of washing up and restocking the oxygen bottle.

The house-watch firefighter handed me the ticket, and I noticed that there was CIDS on the building. The first thing I noticed was that the building was a rehabbed building, suggesting that this building probably had numerous fires over the years and had been renovated. One of the biggest problems with rehabbed buildings is that there are numerous voids and drop ceilings. Based on the CIDS, I had a perfect picture in my mind already.

One thing about commanding a fire that's different from running a play at an NFL football game is that, in the latter instance, the coach has all week to practice that one play. The team drills on it over and over. With a fire, you need to formulate a plan in minutes, if not seconds. We do have our standard operating procedures, but there are still lots of unknowns. Based on the information I had so far, this was what I knew:

1310 Sheridan Avenue (Not named after me)

MD CL 3 6 Sty 150X150 H Type REHAB

Gypsum board with metal studs

Each Apt. has uncomp area

Above drop ceiling-fire stop btwn apts

  • Construction--Class 3 -- Metal studs and gypsum board, meaning lots of voids
  • Occupancy--Multiple dwelling
  • Auxiliary Appliances--None
  • Life--1600 hours on a weekend day, so everyone is home.
  • Weather--High wind
  • Apparatus--My two first-due units are not available.
  • Street Conditions--Delivery truck blocking the street.
  • Water Supply--Plenty of hydrants
  • Exposures--Mini-cockloft on each floor
  • Area--150x150, a very large building with two wings
  • Location--Second floor
  • Time--1600 hours
  • Height--Six stories

My major concern was that if there was a decent fire condition, we would need to do a lot of checking for extension. On arrival, I established command in front of the building, which is the throat of the "H." I noticed that the first-due units were coming out of the A wing and were heading toward the B wing. I stopped them and asked what was up. Why weren't they heading up to the reported fire apartment? They replied that there was nothing going on inside the A wing. I then showed them the fire that was behind the window on the second floor. The firefighters headed back in the building and forced the door. The engine stretched a hoseline and extinguished the fire.

It wasn't much of a fire--some furniture in a vacant apartment--but it certainly had potential. As a chief, it is very important to get as much information as possible beforehand. I am very lucky to be a chief back in the area where I started my career, but there are times when I don't have that luxury. Many times, I am covering in other boroughs, and I have only a casual knowledge of the area. At these times, I really need to be attentive to things like CIDS, what information the dispatcher is giving me, and even what the local firefighters have to say. Knowledge is power; so they say. Even though we don't have the luxury of preparing all week for a fire, if we are paying attention, we will have plenty of information to formulate a good plan.

First-Due Battalion Chief: Daniel P. SheridanDaniel P. Sheridan is a 25-year veteran of the Fire Department of New York and a covering battalion chief assigned to Division 6 in the South Bronx. He is a national instructor II and a member of the FDNY IMT. He is a consultant for www.mutual-aid.org.

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