A Question of Access
At my two most recent operations, while the units were getting the first line in operation and ladder companies were going to their respective positions, I asked myself this question: What is the worst-case scenario here? What could happen that could get firefighters in trouble?
The second fire was in a 21-story, fireproof, multiple dwelling. Our standard operating procedures are totally different when operating in these types of buildings. Our outside teams normally work inside the building because the fire floor is usually out of our ladders’ reach. We got a report of a fire on the six floor of the building. On arrival we had smoke showing on the Exposure 4 (D) side on the sixth floor. I held off giving the signal for a working fire because I wanted to verify that we did indeed have a fire. In hindsight, I probably shouldn’t have done that because, for some reason, the dispatchers didn’t give me a full assignment on this box. This went against my intuition; on the way to the box, I had a sense that we had a working fire on our hands. I assure you that I will not do that again. It is easier to turn companies around than to get them there if you need them. Once the first-due ladder verified that we had a fire on the sixth floor, I gave the signal for a fire in a residential high-rise. Fortunately, Manhattan companies are close, and they arrived quickly.
It is incumbent on the incident commander at every fire to think of the worst-case scenario and how he would handle it. An old captain told me once that a measure of a good chief is not how well he knows what is in the manuals but rather what is going to happen next at a fire. I don’t think it is out of line to imagine the worst at every fire. If we start thinking, “Oh, that could never happen, that’s absurd,” we will eventually get into trouble. Once things start going wrong, they continue to go bad exponentially, as my experiences have shown me. As the old adage goes, “Expect the best, prepare for the worst, and prepare to be surprised.”
DANIEL SHERIDAN is a 24-year veteran of the Fire Department of New York and a covering battalion chief in the First Division. He is a national instructor II and a member of the FDNY IMT. Sheridan founded Mutual Aid Americas, which works with fire departments in Latin America.