Firefighting, Structural Firefighting

National Firefighter Near Miss Report: Could it just be we’re rusty?

By Amanda McHenry
National Firefighter Near Miss Reporting System

The original focus for this week’s report was going to be on near misses that occur at commercial structure fires. However, this week’s featured report provides another of the unique twists that can be found when using The reporter this week cites several near misses that occur in course of a minor fire. There is one key phrase the reporter uses in his observations of the incident. This fire was the first the department had run in “quite some time.” There is a suggestion that infrequency leads to incident scene performance that in isolated cases may not be show stopping, but left uncorrected could be a precursor to a more devastating outcome in more demanding incidents. Select any two other reports after you insert “commercial” and “structure” in our site’s keyword search text box and see what the similarities and differences are between the reports.

“Our fire department was dispatched for a possible structure fire in a 1 story commercial brick building after a passerby reported fire visible inside the structure with light smoke showing. The building was occupied by both a restaurant and a drycleaner…I arrived on scene, advised command I was the incident safety officer for the incident and performed a 360 of the structure to identify any possible hazards…The fire was located and confined to a commercial dryer. The building was ventilated with PPV and checked for extension. This was the first fire that the department has had in quite some time. As I was checking, I realized that our accountability procedures were not in place and that I had no reliable information on the number of firefighters in the structure…I observed 50% of the firefighters had removed their SCBA masks and walking around inside of the building. I notified the OIC of the interior to have all firefighters go back on air which they did. The building was then metered and elevated CO was detected…”

The possibility of “making a fire” is a drive that hovers just under the surface to keep us sharp and anticipating the first stroke of the house bells or warble of the alert tone. For some of us, the further we go between fires, the deeper the drive is buried. For the vast majority of the American fire service “making a fire” is more the exception than the rule. Since there is a recognized infrequency, what are the odds you’ll perform with perfection at your next fire? After you have reviewed the entire account HERE and at least one other commercial structure report of your choosing, consider the following:

1. When was your last commercial structure fire?
2. What type of occupancy was involved?
3. Were actions taken specific to the occupancy, or did the response crews attack the fire “as we always do?”
4. Discuss the pros and cons of applying your “as we always do” to two structures in your area: a single family residence one commercial structure (not a converted residence).
5. Place yourself at this incident scene as a firefighter, company officer and incident commander. Is there a correlation between how you would act at this “minor fire” and how predictable performance would be on a larger fire?

Have a best practice save you or a colleague from harm? That’s a near miss. Take 15 minutes on to give another firefighter a lifetime.

Note: The questions posed by the reviewers are designed to generate discussion and thought in the name of promoting firefighter safety. They are not intended to pass judgment on the actions and performance of individuals in the reports.