Two-Minute Drills: Communications


Communication is one area of fireground operations where there’s always room for improvement. It is used at every operation by all personnel to one degree or another. It may be between a company officer and the members of that company, between a chief officer and a company officer, or between members of a company.

Photos by author.

Photo 1. These are the conditions on your arrival with the first-due chief officer. What are some of your observations as you start your size-up? Identify the fire building by construction type and dimensions-height in stories, width, and depth. This will help determine fire attack strategies. Knowing the height in stories along with the fire’s location will give you an idea of internal exposures. The dimensions give you an idea of total fire area and the size water flow you will need to control this area. Different construction types react differently under fire conditions, and the time it will take to bring the fire under control safely will vary accordingly.

In this case, the fire building is three-story and appears to be of ordinary construction. The outside walls are of brick or masonry, and the remaining structural components are wood. The width of the building is at the most 20 feet. Three windows are a maximum of 36 inches each, plus the same distance between them, plus a two-foot span at both ends. This is a total of around 19 feet. Depth is unknown at this time, and because the building appears to be one of a row, a look at the back is not possible at this time. If you know your area, you know these buildings usually run between 40 and 50 feet deep.

A look in the front doorway shows more than one mailbox, so you are dealing with at least a two-family but more likely a three-family multiple dwelling, one apartment per floor. It is possible that the individual floors have also been subdivided, but you cannot determine this from the exterior.

The last thing to look for is fire location. From the street, it appears to be a first-floor fire, with probable extension to the second floor. There also appear to be two handlines stretched-one dry and one apparently in operation.

How can communications help or hinder this operation? What does the incident commander (IC) want to hear from companies operating inside and outside, and what do the companies operating inside want to hear from the exterior?

First, as the chief arrives, he notifies personnel that he is on the fireground. Unless he is fortunate enough to have an aide, he must take a quick look at the fire building to determine the above information and to measure the success of the tactics employed by the first companies. He must identify the companies that are inside the fire building and their operating positions. Normally at operations, the first-due engine company stretches a handline to the fire floor. The second engine stretches a second line to back up the first line and to protect the floor above. Truck companies, two of them in this case, also split up the fire building, based on department standard operating procedures. The first-due truck here is responsible for the fire floor as well as vertical ventilation, since the fire building has a flat roof. The second-due truck is responsible for the floor above the fire floor and the rest of the fire building.

The first-due engine officer should report to the IC that all personnel are in their proper positions, the first line is in position and operating, the stream and water supply are adequate, and personnel are moving in and darkening down visible fire. The officer should also report any operating difficulties or anything that might impede the first line’s extinguishing the fire.

The second engine’s members should report that they are in position, whether backing up the first line or at the door to the apartment on the floor above. If they have to remain on the fire floor because the first engine is having problems, a double notification is necessary-from the first-due engine that there is a problem and then from the second engine that its members are remaining on the fire floor. This sends a signal to the IC that he must order a third line stretched to the floor above.

Truck companies must report on their progress as well. This building has a pretty basic layout-one staircase with one or two apartments per floor. Since it is an occupied building, conducting searches becomes of the utmost importance. The IC wants a progress report on the searches. Truck company personnel must conduct rapid searches of the fire floor, the floor immediately above the fire, and then the top floor. They report any operational problems they encounter, including forcible entry, unusual floor layouts or alterations, and heavy smoke conditions.

The exterior or outside team also has vital information for the IC. The firefighter assigned to the roof position may be the first one to get an overall view of the entire fire building, including the rear. He must relay any information vital to the outcome of the fire. Fire may be out the rear windows or in a shaftway between buildings, or people may be hanging out rear windows-situations the IC cannot see from the front of the building.

If the fire enters the top floor, the roof firefighter has to initiate roof operations and call for needed equipment and resources.

If your department is fortunate enough to have well-staffed ladder companies, you may also have an outside vent firefighter, who may also get a look at the rear of the fire building, depending on conditions on arrival. Again, he must report any information that may have a negative effect on the operations.

Companies operating outside must report changes in fire conditions visible from the exterior, an expected strategy shift from offensive to defensive, the use of outside streams, or any operations that will affect the inside attack. Other reports from outside include visible smoke and fire, notification of available companies for relief, and transmission of additional alarms.

Photo 2. This building definitely requires reports from the inside. Again, take a look at the fire building and form a mental picture of how you would conduct an operation. On arrival, let’s say you see fire showing from two windows on the top (third) floor just to the left center of the photo. Where are the access points to the second and third floors? There are two commercial occupancies on the first floor and two doors between them. One of these two doors leads to the staircase to the second floor. What might you find on the second floor? Most times there is a landing with two doors and another staircase leading to the third-floor apartments. In this case, on reaching the second floor, operating forces are confronted with four separate doors and no stairs to the third floor! What now?

First, notify the IC that this is a problematic building. Second, start forcing doors! You need to start making some sense of this building! Initial size-up indicated a wood-frame building, and as you try to figure out the layout, the fire may be attacking the building’s structural stability.

After forcing a door on the second floor, you determine that this building had been converted into four duplex apartments. Each apartment on the second floor has a private staircase leading to the third floor, and the fire showing out of the two left windows actually indicates fire in two separate apartments. A definite “time out” is in order. Take a minute to establish what you are getting the companies into!

BOB PRESSLER, a 29-year veteran of the fire service, retired as a lieutenant with the Fire Department of New York. He created and produced the videos Peaked-Roof Ventilation and SCBA Safety and Emergency Procedures for the Fire Engineering video series “Bread and Butter” Operations. Pressler has an associate’s degree in fire protection engineering from Oklahoma State University, is a frequent instructor on a wide range of fire service topics, and is a member of a volunteer department.


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