By David DeStefano
Operating safely in the dynamic environment of the modern fireground requires firefighters to place emphasis on objectives prior to, during, and after the incident. A substantive process to enhance fireground survival may be explained as the "triple A" triangle of incident survivability. The protective sides of the triangle include anticipation, action, and analysis. Just as the triangle is a strong geometric shape as long as all sides remain in place and connected, the "AAA" triangle remains most effective when firefighters fully employ each of these elements.
There are an untold number of things firefighters can do to increase survivability on the fireground. However, if a firefighter waits until they arrive at a fire to think about survival, they have already lost some of their best opportunities to enhance safety and their chances of surviving the incident.
Anticipation is a broad objective that holds a slightly different meaning for each firefighter. The first step to preparing for action involves acknowledging that at any time a significant fire may occur, even if there hasn't been one for a while. Approaching each day before the next fire as an opportunity to train, preplan, and learn the details of the response area will help ensure members have the fireground skills and preincident knowledge necessary to operate safely.
Training to enhance fireground survival should include regular review and drills using department policies or guidelines for rapid intervention as well as self-rescue and air management. Other skills that provide increased survivability include practicing size-up profiles, learning new techniques with the current assignment of tools, and discussing different tactical options for likely incident scenarios.
Anticipation in the survivability triangle may also extend to the thought process for each firefighter as an alarm is transmitted. Based on their position or responsibilities, each member should begin to form a picture of an incident unfolding as the alarm is dispatched. Using the information in the dispatch as well as radio reports of first-arriving units, firefighters may anticipate certain conditions, actions, and scenarios when factoring in their prior knowledge of the neighborhood, block, or building. The tactical options previously discussed and techniques reinforced on a daily basis will be at the forefront of each firefighter's thoughts.
Upon arrival, the preparation, planning, and training that comprised the anticipation side of the triangle must now be translated into action.
The action side of the AAA triangle will match our knowledge and skill against incident conditions. Firefighters must conduct an ongoing as well as initial size-up of conditions to employ the appropriate tactics considering incident strategy and safety considerations. While operating at all levels from command to individual firefighters, a continual awareness of conditions must be maintained. Members operating in the building must always know their location relative to an egress point as well as the progress of the fire. Monitoring the condition of the building as well as the status of their air supply is part of each member's basic responsibilities.
Monitoring the progress of the fire and condition of the building are important, but this will not lead to a successful firefight if this information is not processed and acted upon in a timely manner. Surviving the fireground may be a matter of knowing when to withdraw or when to modify tactical options. Deploying members to the floor above the fire, putting a backup line into operation, or raising a ladder to the fire floor are actions that may prove instrumental to ensuring fireground survival at many "routine" fires.
Sometimes the most important action taken on the fireground is coming out of the action. Rehab and medical evaluation for firefighters engaged at an incident is a critical part of survival. Responsible rotation by incident command as well as company officers and individual members knowing when they are spent will go a long way toward preventing heart attacks, strokes, and heat or cold related injuries.
The last side of the AAA triangle addresses the need of the fire service to learn from each incident to enhance operations and survival at the next incident.
In reviewing each level of operation, be sure to confirm those policies and decisions that work properly and change those in need of revision. Adopting a "lessons learned" attitude as an organization will ensure that even members not present will benefit from the experience of the incident. Not all forms of analysis may be appropriate for each incident depending on the incident's scope, location, time of day, and weather conditions. However, appropriate forms of analysis will enhance the learning opportunities of the department.
The "curbside critique" (Survival Zone, October 31, 2007) format used to discuss incidents of up to a single alarm has the advantages of timeliness and brevity as it is conducted while companies are still on scene to refer back to the building or apparatus placement. This may be sufficient analysis for some incidents or serve as the springboard for a more in-depth review.
For more complex incidents or those where a more in-depth study of operations needs to be conducted, a full post-incident analysis may be conducted with senior staff, company officers, and members present at the incident. This may be conducted sometime after the incident once reports have been filed and audio and video records have been reviewed and prepared for discussion. This type of in-depth review may aid the entire organization in planning strategy and tactics as well as reviewing the effectiveness of training and standard operating procedures.
At the task level, each company officer should discuss the actions of the company at the previous incident relative to safety, effectiveness, and adherence to department guidelines. In turn, each member of the company should conduct a personal review of their performance, making the best use of the larger methods of analysis to improve efficiency and, most importantly, safety on the fireground.
Learning from lessons of previous incidents and modifying tactics and policies as necessary are some of the best way to be proactive about fireground survival from the individual firefighter to the incident commander.
Although anticipation, action and analysis may contain certain unique objectives that are organizationally specific, many major points are universal. Use the AAA triangle to manage activities prior to, during, and after the incident in a format that is customizable down to the individual firefighter to help enhance our main objective--fireground survival.
David DeStefano is a 23-year veteran of the North Providence (RI) Fire Department, where he serves as a lieutenant in Ladder Co. 1. He previously served as a lieutenant in Engine 3 and was a firefighter in Ladder 1. He teaches a variety of topics for the Rhode Island Fire Academy. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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