BY TOM BRENNAN
So you want to be an incident commander? You know all the book information; the systems; the vest colors; your department’s accountability system; and all the staging, participants, records, frequencies, and tactical support for strategies chosen (or forced on you). However, you don’t know the ongoing information you need about that fire that is in the building so you can make initial and early decisions on tactical positions, on the additional logistics and personnel assessment, or whether you are even winning or losing. Your position in the street is one you hope to be relieved of so you can get “inside,” where it is easier to work. So what does the initial incident commander do to find out the data needed? From whom does he get the information? What type of information?
First, like any decision and operation on the fireground, you, as the initial incident commander, would need to know where the fire is. I know that it is usually just “under the smoke”-but where in the building? Your interior primary search team should have that information and pass it rapidly on to you as part of the goals and objectives of the primary search tactic: On what floor did the fire originate? Where on the floor? What does the fire look like? Also, a value judgment on the probability of controlling the fire, the number of lines that may be needed, and an evaluation of probable fire extension. If you don’t receive this information over the radio quickly, chase it down.
Many firefighters performing that tactic think that the only valuable information is whether another human was found or whether the entire area was searched for victims and the results were negative.
There are three more primary search goals and duties. Victims are seldomly located. The fire’s location is found all the time-the inside crew should be good at this task.
Some of the other information you would need from the inside team includes the following: What is the fire doing? Is it winning, or are the firefighters winning? Basically, you need to know if the nozzle team “sees” the fire. Are the team members reporting they are applying the stream of water on the visible fire and that they are advancing on it?
Remember, anyone telling you that they are “holding” position on the fire with small-diameter hose should put up a danger flag for you! You need to act-order a second line in place or a larger line to replace the one that is stalled. Make sure you monitor the situation! The safety/success rule here is that a small-diameter hose must be able to advance on and into the fire, or you must alter the procedure or prepare to begin to lose and withdraw!
What else can a sharp initial incident commander discover by probing firefighters assigned different positions on and in the fire building? I recently was discussing a firefight situation with a friend, who related the following: “We forced three doors of occupancies before we found the fire in the fourth choice. The smoke condition and fire source indicators at the front of the building were intense enough to give us a nightmare assigning tactics to the true fire occupancy.”
What a delay! Who could have helped here? The firefighters operating on the roof for vertical ventilation know a lot in this case and may be the only team that can pinpoint the fire occupancy-or, in the worse-case scenario, where the fire is not.
What area of the roof is showing more intensity than another? If the fire has burned through the roof or the team has cut through the roof, tell command where that specific area is. Where are the parapets or interior enclosure and bearing walls? What is their relation to the obvious fire occupancy? All this must be told to command. In the case described, the roof team has the best information with regard to the location of the fire in these multioccupancy enclosures.
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).