THE MULTIDIMENSIONAL THOUGHT PROCESS: THE STRUCTURE FIRE SIZE-UP

BY TOM BRENNAN

For years most of my efforts in training were devoted to getting the firefighter to adopt a habit of constantly thinking! The thinking firefighter is the safe, efficient, aggressive, and successful emergency worker.

Size-Up. Captains studying for chief officer constantly referred to size-up! Some chiefs had a 13-point size-up procedure; one even had a 44-point size-up. (He was usually on point 32 when we were taking up the hose and cleaning tools.)

I remember asking a deputy chief who was in his own business teaching young kids like me how to study for promotion, “Chief, what is this process I keep hearing about—size-up?”

“What do you want to know for, kid?” he responded; he then continued: “Size-up is a chief’s job. You are only studying for lieutenant!”

Well, that shut down my thinking for a few years until I was able to jump start it out of frustration in dealing with fire after fire in the “burn-baby-burn” days of the ghettos of New York City in the 1960s and 1970s.

Size-up is the job of everyone on duty! In the paid sector, it is easy; you need only to work with Ray Downey’s “computer under your helmet” on your path to work that day. In the volunteer sector, it is an ongoing process.

Structure Fire Response

Engine officer: This officer must imagine what he thinks is on fire by considering lots of stimuli entering his brain from the alarm to arrival: What is our arrival estimate?

If first to arrive: Where do I go? What will be my probable position? Where will my water be? What is burning? Where is it burning? What size hose will ensure penetration on an aggressive interior attack? How many lengths of hose?

Is the building equipped with a standpipe? Is there an elevator? At what floor do I abandon the interior stair stretch and mount a hose-fold standpipe evolution and more?

If second to arrive: Where is the first engine? Is the water supply ensured? Relay? Pump the hydrant supply in an in-line setup? Is there water on the fire? Where is the truck? Where is it coming from? Does the first line need assistance of any kind?

Remember: getting water on the fire from the first handline is crucial. Do it before thinking about the second line to the same fire location!

If third to arrive: Where would the third line be stretched? Should one be ordered? Is it needed? Never! A third line in the same building opening and on the same path to the fire? NEVER (another silver bullet here)!

Engine company members: Here, assignment systems are very important. In the paid sector, making assignments is made simple by establishing a roll-call procedure. Some of you may think this is beneath you. You are quick to shrug off an attempt to ask the on-duty crew to get up and gather somewhere on the apparatus floor. Usually those, “It’s all bull …” remarks come from the mouth of a semihorizontal body already in the recliner. Get up, gather the team, and talk of the assignments for that day.

In the volunteer sector, it is a must to have tactical assignments relate to the position of response on the apparatus.

Nozzle assignment: Where is the nozzle today? Is the hosebed(s) I will use set up correctly and neatly? What is the condition of the nozzle? What is the pattern set for the automatic type nozzles? And has the bail been shut down, determined to be operable, and then shut down again?

One of the firefighters we lost years ago was blocked by fire. We could not get through because of a broken nozzle bail in the standpipe hose pack—broken from too many drops in lobbies at false alarms (another lesson). Where is MY 100-foot length of small-diameter hose? Where is it on the crossways? Where is it on the hosebed for reverse lays?

Assigned backup: Where is the second 100-foot length of small-diameter hose? What does it look like? What about the rear bed? How do the hydrant hookup systems look? Are they stored correctly and efficiently? Are the hydrant tools remote from the pump ready and in place?

Driver or chauffeur: The acronym BIGSOC is one of the oldest for the drivetrain; use it at the beginning of a tour of duty and when returning from an alarm.

Brakes–air reservoir levels all the time, presence of moisture in northern communities during winter operations, operation, feel, parking brake holding, and more.

Ignition–battery levels and status, starting ease, charging level of the running engine.

Gas (diesel) levels–top off at the start of the tour; running out of fuel should be a violation of rules and regulations.

Steering–condition and tightness, power steering fluids and operation.

Oil levels–transmission, steering, motor, and hydraulic.

Cooling–both the levels in the engine and in the rehab container, if you are a nice person.

More on the thought process in a future column.

TOM BRENNAN has more than 36 years of fire service experience. His career spans more than 20 years with the Fire Department of New York as well as four years as chief of the Waterbury (CT) Fire Department. He was the editor of Fire Engineering for eight years and currently is a technical editor. He is co-editor of The Fire Chief’s Handbook, Fifth Edition (Fire Engineering Books, 1995). He is the recipient of the 1998 Fire Engineering Lifetime Achievement Award. Brennan is featured in the video Brennan and Bruno Unplugged (Fire Engineering/FDIC, 1999).

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