National Fire Fighter Near-Miss Reporting System: Firefighter Expectations of Command

Firefighters have high expectations of their commanders. Firefighters expect their commander will provide oversight, direction, watch out for their general safety; and have the proper resources in place in case of a Mayday. The call of “Mayday” over the radio is that heart-stopping moment where all of the expectations have to be addressed simultaneously with diligence, preparation, a focused mind and steady hand; if the call is heard. In this week’s featured firefighter near-miss report, a rapidly advancing fire sets the stage for a near miss that results from a clash of expectations.
“Units were dispatched to an apartment fire reported “in the area of” with no address. The Battalion Chief arrived on scene and communicated a working fire. I was the officer on the first arriving engine. We found 4 apartments with heavy fire involvement and command advised us to hit it from the other side. Not knowing where the other side was, we changed from pulling a 3″ attack line to establishing a hose lay attacking the fire with a 1 3/4″ line. Command advised we had a second crew coming in behind us. We attacked fire on the 1st floor, knocking major portions of fire in the first two units. My crew advanced the line to the second floor for fire attack. During this time the fire began to intensify…While completing attack on the second floor, the floor collapsed causing me to fall into the first floor. My two firefighters, who were exiting the building, advised command of the incident. Command continued communicating over the radio. I was unable to call a MAYDAY because of the radio traffic…”
Command, control, organization, and discipline, both operationally and on the radio, are requisite elements for every member of a response assignment to a structure fire. SOPs, risk assessments, crew integrity and a well-established safety plan lay the foundation for reaction to the mayday potential. Commanders need to ensure they are well prepared for all of the demands of performing as an incident commander. Once you have read the entire account (CLICK HERE), and the related reports, consider the following:
  1. If your department responded to the incident described, how quickly would it be able to address the essential fireground responsibilities of rescue, fire attack, back-up, extension protection, ventilation, command and safety?
  2. Does your department have a protocol, practice or SOP in place to promote radio discipline so essential messages can be transmitted?
  3. What command post practices does your department have in place to ensure an organized approach so the fireground is maintained?
  4. How many times each year do you participate in firefighter safety and survival training?
  5. How frequently do your department’s command level officers train on handling mayday incidents?
The commander is often perceived as the lifeline to a firefighter caught in a mayday situation. The command post can easily be buried in an avalanche of radio traffic in the early stages of a firefight if the commander fails to quickly organize the fireground with groups and divisions. This organization of the incident into functional elements reduces radio traffic, ultimately leaving more air time for essential and emergency messages.

Submit your report to today so everyone goes home tomorrow. For more on using near-miss reports in your training, CLICK HERE.

Note: The questions posed by the reviewers are designed to generate discussion and thought in the name of promoting firefighter safety. They are not intended to pass judgment on the actions and performance of individuals in the reports.

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