On the Line: Sweat the Small Stuff

Article by David DeStefano

Remember the old saying that admonishes us not to “sweat the small stuff” or worry about the little details? As firefighters, we can never be so carefree! Attention to detail allows us to operate more efficiently and may help preserve our life or the life of another. “Sweating the small stuff” begins with personal preparedness and should carry through everything we do as firefighters.

Am I Ready?

Attitude, concentration, and mental and physical preparedness are keys to maintaining a sharp edge as a firefighter. All members should monitor radio traffic and incident activity throughout their tour. Following incidents as they develop will better enable firefighters and officers to operate effectively should they be special-called to the scene. Additionally, knowing which units are currently engaged gives members in quarters a heads up that they may be covering additional response areas. Your personal protective equipment (PPE) and self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) are your second skin, and should be treated as such. Your gear should be on the rig and your air pack checked immediately upon entering the firehouse for your tour. Be sure to check your inventory of pocket hardware when placing your turnout gear on the rig. Double-check your door chocks, gloves, wire cutters, knives, vise grips, and the like. Don’t forget to make sure your handlights are working properly and your portable radio has a serviceable battery and is set on the proper channel.

Is The Rig Ready?

The driver-operator usually has a daily and monthly checklist to review and submit, but all members assigned to the company must take an active part in keeping the apparatus ready for service. Engine company firefighters should be sure all their nozzles are clean and have freely operating bails and adjustable patterns if applicable. Nozzles should be inspected frequently for signs of damage or excessive wear. All hand tools in both engine and truck companies must be properly stowed (not scattered in the crew cab) to avoid injury. Ladder company members should pay special attention to their power equipment, saws, generators, and the like. Establishing and following a schedule to ensure fresh fuel mixes on the rig will help ensure that the tool will run when it is needed most. The can (water extinguisher) carried by most companies must be fully charged and serviceable so it’s able to knock down small fires or hold larger ones in check until a line is stretched.  

Am I Prepared for My Work Environment?

We are at the mercy of the elements each day. We may find ourselves operating in blizzard conditions, ice, extreme cold, heavy rain or high heat and humidity, depending on where we work and what season we are in. Monitoring the weather forecast before and during your work day is a little detail that will pay off by helping you make preparations to cope with the weather. Prehydrating in hot weather, putting extra gloves or a sweatshirt on the truck, or moderating training for the day will allow firefighters to operate more comfortably and safely in various weather extremes. Additionally, if severe weather is expected at some point during an overnight tour, members should not be surprised to find adverse driving and operating conditions when responding to incidents in the middle of the night. Another work-environment issue is of particular importance to company officers and driver/operators: hydrants out of service and temporary street closures and detours may cause havoc with response and operational plans. These variables have the ability to completely disrupt an otherwise well-conceived preplan. Whatever system is in place for compiling this data must be accessible, current, and reviewed regularly to avoid turning a minor street closure into a response disaster for a fire company.

Do I Pay Attention to Detail in the Field?  

Realizing that small details can make or break an incident, firefighters must never allow complacency or inattentiveness to surface on the fireground. Chocking the correct door can make the difference between safe egress and a trapped firefighter, just as controlling doors during forcible entry may mean the difference between a room-and-contents fire and a well-involved public hallway. The simple act of closing a cab or compartment door will save valuable time if the apparatus needs to be repositioned or another rig needs to pass by on a tight street. With virtually every fire department operating short-staffed, members must be aware that engine companies often need help making long or complex stretches. Members of other units should be “heads up” to kinks or difficult corners in a hose stretch. If you encounter these problems, they should be straightened or sufficient hose brought around a corner to assist the engine company firefighters.


The preceding observations are only a sampling of the myriad of small details that firefighters need to master on a daily basis. Attention to these and other pertinent “small stuff” will ensure there are plenty of “thinking firefighters” working on your fireground. Big-picture size-up is certainly important, but there is another old saying that reminds us “the devil is in the details.”                  

Maintaining Accountability with Automatic Status ChecksDavid DeStefano is a 23-year veteran of the North Providence (RI) Fire Department, where he serves as a lieutenant in Ladder Co. 1. He previously served as a lieutenant in Engine 3 and was a firefighter in Ladder 1. He teaches a variety of topics for the Rhode Island Fire Academy. He can be reached at dmd2334@cox.net.



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