BY MARK VAN DER FEYST
SIZEUP 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’ sizeup 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 sizeup begins as soon as the call is dispatched and ends when they are back at the station. Most firefighters conduct a sizeup when they arrive on the scene and limit it to what they can see in front of them. Why do we limit ourselves to gathering information for sizeup 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 downtime or when off duty?
Special Forces of the military and intelligence agencies train their personnel to be consistently and constantly gathering information to keep themselves uptodate and so they can react in a timely manner. This same principle can be applied to the fire service by training members to be consistent and constant information gatherers. One of the main reasons for a sizeup is to facilitate rescue, and the majority of our fire calls are to residential structures. Let us look at how the fire service can be profiling for rescue by gathering information on a consistent and constant basis.
TYPES OF PROFILING
Profiling looks at factors that are constant, trendy, and well established; pertain to lifestyle; and 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. There are two types of profiling: predictive and active.
Predictive profiling deals with the wellestablished, constant, and longduration factors. As regards a residential structure, a house is built to last for a long time; therefore, it is a constant or longduration item. It is a wellestablished structure that will provide living accommodations for a long duration.
Our response districts contain different types, styles, and ages of residential structures. These homes are grouped in different parts of the response district. As a municipality grows and develops, the building of new homes increases. Just as you can tell how old a tree is by counting the rings on its inside, often the growth of a municipality can be determined by groups of homes built during certain periods of growth, which can be likened to the function of rings on trees. By profiling your neighborhoods, you will be able to gather information on which types of homes are in which part of your response district, how old the homes are, how they were constructed, and so on.
By knowing when certain homes were built, you will know their construction methods and how they will behave in a fire. Also, when a call comes in for a particular address, you will know the age and type of home to which you will be responding based on its location.
The type of home will also indicate the type of occupants. A onestory house will usually indicate a person who is older, has trouble with stairs, and is retired or elderly. A twostory house that has three to four bedrooms will indicate that a family dwells there. The building styles of residential structures are unique in every response district, municipality, city, and town. Knowing which styles and types reside in your response district is important.
In the United States and Canada, the manner of construction and types of residential structures are consistent. The houses are either one or twostory. The layouts of most houses are also similar. It is more economical for builders to build homes with similar layouts. Once you have been in one house in a residential plan, you will know the layout of the majority of the homes because they are all similar.
From a rescue perspective, you can also predict where certain features of a residential structure are located. Stairs, for example, usually are in the vicinity of the front door of the structure. Bedrooms, in a onestory house, are on the side opposite the kitchen and living area. In a sidesplit house, the bedrooms are above the garage area. In a backsplit house, the bedrooms are in the back of the house. In a house with an attached garage, the kitchen is right next to the garage or behind it. Either way, a main door leads to the kitchen area. All of these building features are constant and consistent, which allows you to predict their locations when you arrive on scene.
Demographics can also be used to create a profile. People can be grouped by types and styles just as homes are. You will find within your response districts sections devoted to families, seniors, retired persons, and adult lifestyle living. Certain cities or towns are populated mostly by students, retired persons, or a mixture of young and old. Knowing the types of populations that reside within your response district and where they are grouped gives you an advantage when responding to that area for a fire call.
Another factor to consider with profiling demographics is large immigrant population areas. A common finding today is a large home or older houses inhabited by more than one family. These residential structures are partitioned into smaller apartments, accommodating multiple families. These separate apartments may be in the rear of the house, in the basement, or in the attic. If you find a staircase on the outside of the structure at the rear of the house during your walkaround, consider it a strong indicator of an apartment or a renovated secondfloor residence. The danger here is going through the front door and finding no fire in the rear. Other indicators to pick up on if you are at the residence for a reason other than fire, say a medical call, are stairs leading to the second floor that are closed off or multiple doorbells at the front door.
In offcampus housing, you will find multiple people living in an olderstyle house that has been separated into apartments. Here, you need to profile your neighborhoods and demographics to ascertain if any areas of your response district contain this type of residential housing. According to the U.S. Department of Education, there are approximately 18 million students enrolled in 4,100 colleges and universities across the country. Approximately twothirds of the students live in offcampus housing. Statistics from the year 2000 to present show that there were 113 fire deaths in offcampus housing, 84 percent of the number of campusrelated fire deaths.1 Many factors contribute to this high number of fire deaths. If your response district contains student housing, you need to profile these types of houses.
Active profiling includes factors that involve trends, shortduration items, fashionable statements, or items unique and personal to someone’s home. This type of profiling usually takes place once you are 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. 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 a person with limited mobility and who has problems negotiating stairs lives in this house.
|(1) Photos by author.|
You may see other items of necessity at the front of the residence such as accessibility bars at the main entrance of the house, 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 into and out of the residence.
Every house built has a three to fourinch step at the front door leading into the interior. In handicapaccessible residences, however, there is no step. These clues indicate that a handicapped person is among the occupants.
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 the children play for or the schools they attend. The stickers are visible when the vehicle is parked nosefirst 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, in the driveway, in the side yard, or on the sidewalk. Sports equipment often is a shortterm item encountered at a residential structure (photos 3, 4). In these photos, a basketball net, a hockey net, and bicycles, visible in front of the house, indicate that there are children occupants.
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 of or on the side of the house. If you can see these clues, you can determine that small children are inside the structure.
There are many clues that you can find at residential structures that are unique and personal to the homeowner, as well as trendy and short term. It is up to you to make sure that you conduct a complete and accurate sizeup whenever you 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 what are the types, sizes, ages, and designs of the residential structures. Become familiar with the trends of your social community and what shortterm items many families are acquiring. Doing all of this during your “downtime” will alleviate the pressure of trying to gather all of this information when arriving on scene for an actual call.
1. U.S. Fire Administration, http://www.usfa.dhs. gov/citizens/focus/campussafety.shtm.
● MARK VAN DER FEYST is a 13-year veteran of the fire service and a member of the Woodstock (Ontario, Canada) Fire Department. He is an international instructor teaching in Canada, the United States, and India; a local level suppression instructor for the Pennsylvania State Fire Academy; and an instructor for the Justice Institute of British Columbia.