BY Mark Van Der Feyst
Size-up is an important aspect of our fireground operation and should be conducted by every responding and arriving member of the fire department, officers and firefighters. The officers’ size-up is geared toward information that pertains to their train of thought. The firefighters gather information that pertains to their operation. We teach new firefighters that their size-up begins as soon as the call is dispatched and ends when they are back at the station. Most firefighters conduct a size-up when they arrive on scene and limit it to what they can see in front of them. Why do we limit ourselves to gathering information for size-up purposes only when we are responding to a call? Why can’t we be gathering information all the time, when we are driving around during our down time or when off duty?
Profiling looks at factors that are constant, trendy, and well established; that pertain to lifestyle; and that are of short and long duration. By observing these factors and picking up on the clues they present, we can ascertain important information that can help with our rescue operations.
Active profiling encompasses factors that involve trends, short-duration items, fashionable statements, or items unique and personal to someone’s home are included in this category. This type of profiling usually takes place after you have arrived on scene. By observing what factors or clues are presented, you can make some deductions. These deductions are reinforced by knowing what the trends are, what is fashionable, and for whom they are fashionable. In photo 1, you can see the front door of a residential structure designed for adult lifestyle living. Notice the handrail attached to the side of the brick wall. This is a personal and unique device added to the structure for assistance. Not every unit has this feature. By scanning the clues presented, you can note in your profile that this an occupant of this house has problems with stairs and has limited mobility.
(1) Photos courtesy of author.
You may see other items of necessity at the front of the residence, such as accessibility bars at the main entrance, as shown in photo 1. Obvious features such as wheelchair ramps and lifts may be present; wheelchair ramps can be at the front of the home, on the side of the house, or even inside the garage. If the garage door is open, you may find a ramp that leads to the kitchen area. Some people do not want the ramp to be obvious, so they blend it in or hide it from public view. Some houses are built with the front door entrance flush with the floor of the house. This allows a wheelchair to easily navigate in and out from the residence. Every house built has a three- to four-inch step at the front door leading into the interior. In handicap-accessible residences, however, there is no step. These clues indicate that one or more of the occupants are handicapped.
Knowing the motor vehicle trends for certain areas can help you predict what may be waiting for you inside the structure (photo 2). Say two vehicles are parked in the driveway, a minivan and a sport utility vehicle (SUV). Usually, families with children purchase minivans and SUVs. Since most families commute to work, many families will have a minivan or an SUV and another smaller vehicle for commuting to and from work. By looking at the type and size of the house and the vehicles parked in front, you can predict that children are inside the structure.
Another way to gather this information is to look inside the windows of the vehicle as you are approaching the front door of the structure. If you find car seats, booster seats, or the base of a car seat sitting on the inside of the vehicle, you can determine the ages of the children.
Some vehicles may have bumper stickers on the back. They may indicate the sports teams their children play for or the schools they attend. The stickers are visible when the vehicle is parked nose first in the driveway. Knowing the local teams and schools in your area enables you to gather some valuable information.
Sometimes you may observe toys in the front yard, the driveway, and the side yard or on the sidewalk. Sports equipment often is a short-term item encountered at a residential structure (photos 3 and 4).
As you arrive in the apparatus, pull past the structure so you can see at least three sides. When you pull past, look at the side yards and the backyard. Many families have play houses for their young children in the back on the side of the house. If you can see these clues, you can determine that small children are inside the structure.
We can find many clues at a residential structure that are unique and personal to the homeowner, as well as trendy and short term. It is up to us to make sure that we conduct a complete and accurate size-up whenever we are given the chance.
The next time you are driving around your response district, take the time to size up by gathering all the information presented to you with respect to residential structures. Find out what the demographics are in the area and what the types, sizes, ages, and designs of the residential structures. Become familiar with the trends of your social community and what short-term items many families are acquiring. Doing all of this during your “down time” will alleviate the pressure of trying to gather all of this information when arriving on scene for an emergency call.
MARK VAN DER FEYST is a firefighter with the Woodstock Fire Department in Canada and a 15-year veteran of the fire service. He holds a bachelor’s degree from the Justice Institute of British Columbia and is completing studies for an MS degree from Eastern Kentucky University. He is an international instructor and has taught in India, Canada, and the United States.