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By David DeStefano
With the dynamic environment of the fireground, company officers and chiefs must constantly be aware of the major incident benchmarks and progress reports on which operational effectiveness is evaluated; decisions are made; and, ultimately, success is measured. During an offensive firefight in an occupied building, the changing tide of an operation may rest on numerous critical junctures.
The incident commander (IC) and each company officer must be aware of the value of transmitting and receiving progress and benchmark information in a concise and timely manner. Company officers must understand that the IC relies on the reports of interior companies to gauge the effectiveness, safety, and value of a continued offensive firefight. These reports are typically relayed as situational reports or fireground benchmarks.
Benchmarks, as the name implies, are transmitted from companies that are assigned specific tasks during an operation. These responsibilities may be preassigned by policy or ordered by the IC at the scene. A benchmark generally verifies that a major goal or task has been completed relative to life safety, incident stabilization, or property conservation. Once received by command, the time of completion should be recorded based on department policy. Some jurisdictions will retransmit this information over the radio for documentation purposes and to inform all units on the status of the operation.
A list of benchmarks may include the terms “primary search complete,” “secondary search complete,” “fire under control,” “air quality verified,” and “overhaul complete.” When these transmissions are made, particulars should be offered because more than one company or division may be working to achieve a benchmark. Adding specific information to the benchmark report will supply the IC with a more accurate picture of an incident’s progress. For instance, a company transmitting a search report should include the area they were assigned to search as well as the results of their efforts.
“Ladder 1 to command, primary search complete and negative on the first floor. Ladder 1 will exit via side A for air supply”; this transmission informs the IC that the search of a specific area is complete, no victims were found, and the company will exit the building at a specified location for fresh self-contained breathing apparatus cylinders. Each benchmark should be reported in a similar manner so the IC can ensure that the strategic goals are completed.
Another form of report that is important to incident tasks and company accountability is the situational report, or “sit-rep.” A company officer, command, or other team leader may initiate this transmission, which is used to report or ascertain the current conditions, progress, and location of a company or other organizational element operating at an incident. An officer or other unit leader should initiate this report whenever a task is completed, the unit changes location, or conditions or needs change on the fireground. A helpful acronym that allows us to easily remember the format of this report is LCAN (location, conditions, actions, and needs), which provides vital information to command regarding the status of an assignment, the conditions at a particular location, and any resource requirements. It also serves to ensure accurate accountability by reporting a current location. ICs who need an update on any of the LCAN particulars may also request a sit-rep from companies that are currently engaged in the operation. Based on responses from one or more companies or other functional elements, the IC can evaluate future resource needs, the effectiveness of the incident action plan (IAP), or the safety of the entire operation.
Although the benchmark report is transmitted for specific tasks, the sit-rep can be used whenever circumstances warrant it. A roof team may provide this update on completing vertical ventilation or reporting conditions in the cockloft or an engine company may report that they have water on a first-floor fire and conditions are improving, but they need horizontal ventilation. An experienced officer will know that the IC will look for progress or lack thereof from the first-in companies relatively quickly. Sit-reps reporting the location of the fire, a call for water, and a report on extension or hazards not visible form the exterior will be of major concern. If this information isn’t forthcoming from deployed units, the IC will then initiate a request for a sit-rep.
Whether they are initiated by command or a unit at the task level, one caveat regarding sit-reps concerns the number and length of the messages. By design, they are meant to remain brief updates that are pertinent to execution of the IAP. If command peppers each unit at the scene with multiple requests for sit-reps, or individual companies feel the need to report every action on the fireground, radio airtime will become cluttered, and urgent messages or Mayday transmissions may not be heard.
When used routinely and adopted as department policy, benchmarks and sit-reps are important tools that enhance safety and efficiency on the fireground. They can provide a guideline for the progress of a firefight and the effect of the IAP. They also give the IC and all members operating at the incident a better understanding of conditions that are beyond their view.
David DeStefano is a battalion chief for the North Providence (RI) Fire Department (NPFD), where he has served for 28 years. He is also the NPFD’s chief of safety and training. He was previously the captain of Ladder Co. 1, where he also served as a lieutenant and firefighter. Additionally, he was assigned as a lieutenant in Engine 3. DeStefano is an instructor/coordinator with the Rhode Island Fire Academy and lectures on fire service topics throughout Southern New England. He was also an FDIC International 2017 presenter. DeStefano can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.