FDIC 2012: Riley Highlights Red Flags on the Fireground

FDIC 2012: Riley Highlights Red Flags on the Fireground

"Ninety-nine percent of what goes wrong on the fireground is preventable," declared Ricky Riley at his Monday morning FDIC 2012 workshop, "Red Flags on the Fireground." The Clearwater (FL) Fire & Rescue operations chief said if it's predictable, it's preventable. Together with Larry Schultz, a retired officer of the District of Columbia Fire Department and fellow instructor in the Traditions Training organization, Riley reviewed videos of fires illustrating fireground conditions that the incident commander should recognize as "waving red flags." These indicate potential dangerous incident situations that must be addressed.

The presenters cited the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) report, "Leading Recommendations for Preventing Fire Fighter Fatalities," which reviewed firefighter line of duty deaths (LODDs) occurring between 1998-2005. Seven years later, the same areas implicated in the LODDs studied are still issues for the fire service--among them communications, lack of situational awareness, and neglect of incident command system implementation.

Among the "red flags" that should concern the incident commander (IC), Riley and Schultz cited:

  • initial attack line has little or no effect on the fire;
  • rapid buildup of smoke and heat;
  • the fire doesn't respond to normal firefighting procedures;
  • heavy fire load;
  • fire appearing in multiple sites above or below firefighters;
  • reports on interior conditions not matching with what incident commander is seeing from outside.

Riley and Schultz also discussed the importance of setting up and a regularly using a standard initial incident report that includes such information as structure type, number of floors, water supply/layout data, and so forth, and using the incident command system at every incident, no matter how seemingly minor.

Schultz said the complexity of some incidents requires the incident commander to have an aide to assist him on scene with radio communications, unit tracking, and other duties, acting as a buffer so the IC can focus on the fire. An aide is a must at a Mayday incident. "You can't do this by yourself," he said.

Illustrating the potentially fatal effects of lack of situational awareness and tunnel vision, the instructors recounted the crash of Eastern Airlines Flight 401 on its final approach to Miami Airport. The plane's crew had become focused on fixing a landing gear indicator lamp and somehow the autopilot had become disengaged. They noticed too late that the airliner was losing altitude, and the plane crashed in the Everglades.

Riley said he has been listening to and reviewing many incident audios from across the country and identifying clues that incidents are having problems. He has also reviewed incidents in his own department where critical incident factors were present but not seen or heard by the IC or the command team. Incident commanders must be constantly on alert and vigilant even on routine incidents.

Riley urged students make use of SOP-driven fires to help reduce decision making on the fireground to assist in successful incident accomplishment. Regular use of command sheets, cheat sheets, and good command habits to helps enforce good fireground practices.

For more Ricky Riley, visit his blog at http://www.fireengineering.com/blogs/blognetwork/ricky-riley.html and House Fire Roof Vent Helmet Cam - Training Tips.

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