Plan B

Flames vent through an upper story window at a structure fire

By David DeStefano

Photo by John Peninne

Often while working in the dynamic environment of the fireground the initial tactical option that we select may not play out as planned. Myriad factors affect each operation, resulting in scenarios that seldom unfold in textbook fashion. Competent firefighters, officers, and chiefs must maintain at least one (ideally several) alternate plans for each strategic and tactical action during an operation. Firefighters with considerable experience can draw upon past incidents to contribute to their depth of knowledge, but all members regardless of their experience level should train to achieve common fireground objectives from multiple perspectives. Looking at an objective from more than one dimension is vital to success in many fireground disciplines such as extrication and technical rescue. This ability can be just as important on the fireground.

The concept of having a “Plan B” involves understanding that an alternate method of working through a problem must always be considered and remain available for use during operations.  In the following paragraphs, several common fireground operations are discussed with scenarios that require firefighters employ a secondary (Plan B) option to achieve an objective. Although there are numerous solutions in addition to those discussed, the remedy must be efficient, safe, and provide for the achievement of the next objective.

Engine Company Operations

Scenario: The first-arriving pumper lays a supply line from a hydrant that is not functioning. The volume of fire can’t be contained using tank water available on the apparatus.  

Plan B: The second-arriving engine, not part of the primary water supply operation at this fire, automatically stages the apparatus in the direction of the fire at a secondary hydrant. As soon as the driver/operator of the initial engine reports a problem, the second engine’s crew (or other members not yet assigned) can begin to provide water from the secondary source using their Plan B. Had this plan not existed, the incident commander may have used valuable time directing another resource to find a hydrant and complete a hose lay. Apparatus may not have been positioned to make the lay and a delay may have occurred, forcing interior operations to be compromised or external exposures to be threatened.

Scenario: Engine companies attacking a fire in the office area of a commercial building stretched an attack line short of their objective because of interior compartmentation that couldn’t be predicted from their exterior size-up. They are unable to effectively operate the line at the seat of the fire and have closed a door leading to the office to contain fire spread while Plan B is enacted. 

Plan B: An additional engine company has stretched a backup line that is at least one length longer than the original attack line. In most cases, the extra length will be enough to position the line for a knock down. A length or two of bundled hose can then be added to the original line to provide backup or add to the fire attack if necessary. Having the slightly longer backup line in place and keeping extra hose bundles on the rig for quick deployment may make the difference between holding the fire or losing considerable property and inhibiting searches.

Scenario: A single engine company arrives first at a working fire in an occupied dwelling. The company has secured its own water supply at a hydrant adjacent to the residence but the arrival of the first-in truck company will be delayed. The engine needs to begin a primary search in the area adjacent to the seat of the fire while operating a handline to contain the fire to its present location. The officer wants to ensure that the firefighters completing the search remain oriented and the hoseline is in operation to provide protection and containment.

Plan B:  The officer knows that the best way an engine company can save lives at a fire is to operate the proper hoseline on the fire. The delay of the truck company, however, prompts concerns that a rescue from the products of combustion may be too late for any occupants who were unable to self-evacuate. In his Plan B option, the officer orders a hoseline stretched down a hallway to the fire room to contain the fire and protect the means of egress for firefighters and occupants. The remaining firefighters in the company girth hitch a piece of looped webbing or clip a personal search rope around the hoseline that is stretched in the hallway. The rooms off the hallway adjacent to where the line is operating can be quickly searched; the searchers will maintain orientation with the hoseline that is holding the fire and protecting their egress. Although this is not the preferred method to conduct a primary search, it leverages the available personnel and provides protection and orientation while allowing at least a rudimentary search to be undertaken prior to the arrival of the truck company.     


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Truck Company Operations

Scenario: The ladder company working on vertical ventilation has just completed what they feel is an adequately sized opening for a considerable fire condition on the top floor of a residential building. The members have pushed through the ceiling and are about to transmit a situational report and leave the roof for another assignment. However, the roof team becomes concerned that the return of smoke and heat out of the vent opening is much less than would be expected for the volume of fire below. They believe the vent hole may be over a closet or bathroom with a closed door separating the area from the fire.

Plan B: Rather than immediately beginning work on another opening, the roof team will try two simple remedies that may provide a quick solution. First, they will simply angle their hooks to catch additional rafter bays alongside the area where they originally pushed through the ceiling. The attempt is to reach an adjacent area that may be more directly over the fire. If the original “push through” was in a closet or room adjacent to the fire, this tactic may provide better access to the fire area. The next option is the completion of a “Plan B” considered during the initial roof cut.

When making the first opening, the roof team considered the possibility that the opening may need to be made larger for several reasons. Because of this consideration they “over cut” the vertical and horizontal cuts beyond their intersection with each other. This tactic effectively added “arms and legs” that could extend the size of the opening by completing just one full cut. If necessary, this option will allow the roof team to access a different area to push through the ceiling that may be more directly over the fire, or to simply enlarge the size of the ventilation opening.

The point to be made is that each of these options, while not a perfect solution in every instance, represent rapid tactics that firefighters who are trained to think ahead of the curve can undertake to remedy problems that would likely impact mission success without decisive action. Each member operating at an incident should look at their assignment from the perspective in which it was assigned, then plan for a second option using readily available skills and resources that can be employed if incident dynamics require a change.


David DeStefanoDavid DeStefano is a battalion chief with the North Providence (RI) Fire Department, where he has served for 29 years. He is a shift commander in the operations division. He was previously chief of training and safety and has also served as a captain, lieutenant, and firefighter in Ladder Co. 1 as well as a lieutenant in Engine Co. 3. DeStefano is an instructor/coordinator with the Rhode Island Fire Academy and lectures on fire service topics throughout Southern New England. He was a presenter at FDIC International 2017 and 2018.    

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