By MICHAEL TERPAK
Scenario: You are operating at a fire in a one-story Class 3/ordinary taxpayer. During the incident, there are indications of a conflict or some confusion between assigned areas, most notably the interior of the fire building and the roof.
Radio report #1: “Interior to Command, we have heavy smoke, no visible fire, and increasing heat within the building.”
Radio report #2: “Roof to Command, the roof has been opened with only light to moderate smoke showing from all openings.”
So, what concerns do you have, and what actions will you take in this situation?
As we continue to prepare students for promotional exams and ready them for battle in the streets, seminar objectives and an enhanced level of education must not only ensure a great test score but also prepare every member for the challenges that a battle-ready fire officer will face. Unfortunately, we don’t see test designers, promotional exams, and those who consult on them do enough to properly prepare current and future fire officers to meet the realistic challenges firefighters are presented with today. It is critical that we produce both qualified AND capable fire officers in all areas of instruction.
(1) Does the information reported from the roof reflect the conditions below? (Photo by Bill Noonan.)
The above scenario cites oft-experienced concerns within buildings such as taxpayers, strip malls, stores, supermarkets, bowling alleys, factories, warehouses, and so on. These concerns include multiple ceilings, rain roofs, high ceilings, and concealed spaces, among others.
One way to meet these challenges is to use evolving scenarios and exercises in promotional or educational classes. Introduce radio conversation into an exercise that indicates a conflict of information that the students will need to recognize, identify, and act on. The information presented above identifies concerns that the store or occupancy may pose, which may include the following:
- A rain roof installed on top of and over the building’s original roof.
- Multiple or suspended ceilings within a store.
- Fire in the basement (possibly combined with one of the above).
Barring any more information—radioed, visual, or other—some actions that students and responders can take include the following:
- Alert resources, and direct them to these concerns.
- Seek progress reports, and assess the attempt to correct or the correction of any concerns.
- If the situation presents deteriorating conditions, withdraw all forces from the building or affected area.
All of the above are common occurrences in the buildings described. In a testing or an educational environment, a knowledgeable or capable student should at least recognize a conflicting radio report and begin to diagnose the concern through further actions and orders; these are very measurable and creditable actions.
The above scenario attempts to indicate to the student that fire is in a concealed space or, at the very least, in an area that is not yet identified. Furthermore, the scenario is pointing toward becoming an extremely dangerous situation if it is not recognized and acted on.
Let’s take this one step further: If, on the other hand, the student recognizes that a radio report conflict exists and simply opts for a “complete withdrawal from the building,” this may be deemed an acceptable response to some but may also be viewed as a lack of experience by most.
Think about it: The fire service experiences many of these actual situations in older commercial occupancies—most notably taxpayers, supermarkets, and retail-type occupancies—on a regular basis. In lieu of additional information from an exercise or actual incident, simply issuing a blanket statement that removes firefighters from a building every time a conflict with radio information exists could be viewed as a poor response by an incident commander.
As a student or a responder in the above scenario, you can never know enough about building construction; this knowledge is the key. Whether you are taking a promotional exam or commanding an operation on the street, you must demand a level of knowledge and experience in our leaders that is second to none.
MICHAEL TERPAK is a 35-year fire service veteran and has spent the past 31 years with the Jersey City (NJ) Fire Department, where he is a deputy chief and a citywide tour commander. He is the former chief-in-charge of the Training Division. Terpak lectures around the country on fire/rescue topics and is the founder of Promotional Prep, a New Jersey-based consulting firm that prepares firefighters and fire officers studying for promotional exams. He has a B.S. degree in fire safety administration from New Jersey City University and is the author of the books Fireground Size-Up and Assessment Center Strategy and Tactics. His next book is Operational Guides for the Fire Service.
Fire Engineering Archives