Tactical Safety: Nothing Showing

By Ray McCormack

The size-up term “nothing showing” has been used for years in most parts of the country for first-arriving fire officers and has become part of the extinguishment culture. However, it’s time it be removed.

This on-scene arrival message to the dispatcher and other responding units sets the stage for dangerous operations. The announcement that nothing is showing from the reported structure truly does set the stage but in a bad way.

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Stating nothing showing means:

That there is no apparent fire.
That firefighters have arrived at another non-fire event.
That we can relax a bit.
That additional units need not respond so rapidly.
That we will be leaving here soon.
You can argue the fine points, but nothing showing could be translated to “we’re off the hook on this one”

Nothing could be further from the truth, of course. While many responses are nothing showing because they are not fires, many responses that start off as nothing showing become serious fires.

Why is it so necessary to get on scene and declare that you didn’t see any evidence of a fire from the cab? What is it doing for anyone who hears it? (See above).

If complacency kills, then this statement is the red carpet leading up to it.

Is it that critical for the first-arriving unit to give a detailed size-up? Does it change the tool assignment or travel route or anything else if you hear fire on arrival or nothing showing? Should it?

Nothing showing is a phrase that should be dropped from the size-up. It can be assumed if only arrival is given to dispatch. If we are concerned about firefighters being in the correct mindset upon arrival, then we want them to be thinking operationally, not disengaged. Why not take the approach that we have something going on here and we just haven’t discovered what it is yet? This would make the phrase nothing showing superfluous.

Keep Fire in Your Life  

Ray McCormackRAY McCORMACK is a 30-year veteran and a lieutenant with FDNY. He is the publisher and editor of Urban Firefighter Magazine. He delivered the keynote address at FDIC in 2009 and he is on the Editorial Board of Fire Engineering Magazine. For more on Urban Firefighter, visit http://www.fireengineering.com/urbanfirefighter.html.

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