Engine Company, Firefighting

National Firefighter Near Miss Featured Report: How much are those doggies on the ledge…?

This week’s Report of the Week from the National Firefighter Near Miss Reporting System deals with the action-oriented nature of firefighters, a force that, when harnessed and focused, is a powerful tool for mitigating emergencies and saving lives. The philosophies that are instilled in firefighters from the beginning but are many times lost in translation are the “duty to act” and “time is of the essence.” Many times, however, the reasoning component of the “duty to act” is lost. Not all incidents we get “dispatched” to are true emergencies, but we adopt a mentality that treats all events as life-threatening emergencies. First, there has to be balance favoring the firefighter’s life in all risks taken, except those risks taken for the savable life. That is the only case the value of a firefighter’s life should be placed on an even plane with the savable life. In all other instances, the value of the firefighter’s life must take precedence over accomplishing objectives. The risk taken must be the result of reasoning that included consideration of the appropriate knowledge, skills, abilities, and equipment available to successfully complete the task.

This week’s featured report takes us to the scene of an incident where first-arriving firefighters find themselves in a situation that eventually requires the assistance of better-equipped technical rescue members to remove them from harm’s way. The actions of the first arriving engine would certainly be replicated by teams of firefighters across the country. However, as you dig into to report, several questions of the risk-versus-gain should be evident.

“We were called on a technical rescue response for a report of two dogs stuck on a cliff. The response consisted of an engine, a rescue company, a truck company, a chief, and a safety officer. The reported location was a rugged area of suburban/wild-land at the mouth of a steep canyon. The first due engine responded from the station approximately one mile away. The rest of the units were coming from substantially farther away and would have a delayed arrival. Upon arrival, the first due engine company met with the reporting person and were escorted up to the area where the dogs were. They were on small ledge approach 75 feet down from a small promontory that served as their access point. The terrain below the access point was a series of steep loose rock and grass slopes ending in small 5-10 drop offs to a ledge. The dogs were on the third ledge down at the end of a ten foot drop off. Below that ledge was an approximately fifty foot drop to a dirt access road. The two firefighters had grabbed a utility rope bag and a rope rescue pack before heading up. Upon reaching the access point the first firefighter began to scramble down to the dogs. As the dogs were initially agitated and growling, the second firefighter felt that he should proceed down to assist his partner who had now reached the dogs. About half way down the slope the second firefighter realized the severity of the terrain and asked the bystander to throw down a rope. He threw down a utility rope while holding on to one end. The closest firefighter tied a loop around his waist and tossed the end down to his partner who did the same. They asked the bystander to “belay” them. The engine officer observed this part of the operation from a vantage point below the access point. He gave a size-up that said they had reached the dogs and it was a simple low angle rescue. When the rescue company arrived on-scene…”

Standing by and waiting is an action few firefighters take unless some extremely formidable event is unfolding (e.g., the proverbial green cloud emanating from an overturned tank car). After you have read the entire account (CLICK HERE), consider the following:

1. How well trained are your members to perform a rope rescue?
2. What harm would have come from the first engine waiting for the arrival of the technical rescue assets?
3. Would you describe the engine company in this week’s report “proactive” or “reactive?”
4. What factors do you think compelled the firefighters of the first engine to engage?
5. Do you think you could have taken the same actions they did? Why or why not?

Had a near miss due to insufficient information? Submit your report to www.firefighternearmiss.com. Do it today to contribute to survival tomorrow.

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.