Fireground Responsibilities Faced by Company Officers
The Volunteers Corner
Company officers are the most important people on the fireground. Highly appropriate strategy developed by chief officers depends on the capability of company officers to translate it into effective tactics and direct the efforts of the fire fighters they supervise to attain the desired results.
If a company officer does not do his job well, the chief officer’s strategy will be battered by ineptitude where the extinguishment efforts and the flames meet. On the other hand, alert, adaptive company officers who know how to lead their men to extra efforts and take advantage of conditions in their piece of the fireground can provide that extra support that makes a chiefs strategic plan look inspired.
The company officer, who is face to face with the heart of the action, must use common sense—common sense sharpened by experience, training and education. It’s his job to fill out the tactical details that carry a chiefs strategy to a successful conclusion.
Continuing size-up: As we mentioned in our column in the February issue of Fire Engineering, the first-in company officer must begin sizing up the fire when he arrives ahead of the first-alarm chief officer. What is equally important is that the first-in officer and every other company officer must continue to size up the conditions within his operating area.
As each officer works, he must observe the effect his company is having on the fire. Is his company’s line darkening down the area? If not, what will the fire be doing in the next few minutes? What is needed to halt the progress of the fire and eventually extinguish it? What is the fire doing to the structural integrity of the building and thus the safety of the company?
The company officer needs to look for these questions and give the answers to his chief officer, who at working fires cannot give undivided attention to each company under his command. On the other hand, no chief appreciates a company officer who is chatty with trivia.
When he is first on the fireground, the company officer has a decisive responsibility to put a stream into operation with a flow rate that is appropriate for the volume of fire. At most fires, that first stream should darken down the flames. However, there are other fires where the largest rate of flow the first-in company can develop can only confine the fire or perhaps only protect an exposure. Whatever the situation may be, it is the company officer’s decision that makes the most of it. Attacking the main body of fire with an inadequate stream that would be adequate for protecting an exposure can be the first step toward losing the building. Protecting the exposure can buy time for developing the necessary fire streams.
Advancing lines: When an engine company is “holding its ground,” the building and contents are being consumed by the fire, so an officer must make every effort to keep his line advancing. With an automatic nozzle and 1%-inch hose, a word radioed to the pump operator can increase the rate of flow, or it may be necessary to request the chief officer to get another line in the area.
Sometimes all the officer has to do is give a few words of encouragement to his nozzleman to get the line moving ahead. This is particularly true when descending stairs into a cellar fire when conditions improve rapidly as the hose crew nears the bottom of the stairs.
There are other times when a request to a chief officer for increased ventilation is all that is needed to improve fire fighting conditions. Sometimes both ventilation and a larger rate of application of water are needed. The company officer will be the first to recognize this, and it is his responsibility to act.
Ladder company officer: Different types of responsibilities face the ladder company officer. He should be thoroughly familiar with the capabilities of each of his men and given them fireground assignments in accordance with their capabilities. Some may be particularly good roof ventilation men while others may excel in search and rescue. When the fire situation is not critical, a man can be assigned to a task that will give him needed experience to sharpen his ability in that type of work.
While the engine company officer generally keeps his men working as a team, the ladder company officer has the added responsibility of knowing where each man in his company is working. It is a good idea for the ladder company officer to work with the man—or men—assigned to the most critical job. The officer provides supervision and uses his knowledge and experience to overcome any difficulties.
The ladder company officer should be so well trained in the standard operating procedures of his department that he can begin the proper ventilation—horizontal or vertical—of a building without waiting for the first-alarm chief to issue an order. He should be able to supervise the search of a building and provide accurate information on fire extension.
For both engine and ladder company officers, the safety of their fire fighters always should be foremost in their minds. They must evaluate the structural integrity of the building—or their section of the building— not only at the start of operations, but throughout the time they are in the building.
Safety is of particular concern during overhaul because there is a tendency for fire fighters to relax and become careless at this time. Company officers bear the responsibility to remain alert for dangerous conditions and working procedures.