First-In Officer’s Decisions Set Pattern for Fire Attack
The Volunteers Corner
Decisions made by the first-in officer at fire are extremely important because they establish a pattern for the development of the fire attack by later arriving chief officers.
If the first-in officer makes the proper decisions, the incoming chief can expand on those decisions as he issues orders to implement the appropriate strategy. Conversely, if the initial decisions are inadequate—or just plain bad—then the chief officer must issue new orders to working companies and in some cases even call in additional companies to alter the pattern of attack to fit the strategy he has selected.
Good decisions by the first-in officer lead to an effective fire fighting operation with extinguishment in minimum time. Poor decisions result in loss of time as the game plan is changed, extension of fire and possibly greater endangerment of life.
The fire situation: Immediately upon arrival on the fireground, the first-in officer must size up the fire situation. Basically, he has to determine where the fire is located, what is burning and how the fire will extend if left uncontrolled. At the same time, this officer must determine the life hazard that exists in terms of the relative number of persons endangered, their mobility and the effect of the fire on their means of escape from the building.
The type of construction of the fire building— wood frame, ordinary (masonry bearing walls and wood joist and floors), fire resistant, and noncombustible—and the general layout of the building must be noted by the officer because they affect both the progress of the fire and the safety of the occupants. I hasten to emphasize that noncombustible construction is the most dangerous type for fire fighters. Remember, noncombustible construction will not burn, but it will collapse all too quickly when subjected to the heat of contents seriously involved in fire.
As all this information is obtained by the first-in officer—much of it subconsciously by the experienced officer—he evaluates the information and determines the action that is required to resolve the fire problem.
Available capabilities: What the first-in officer has to recognize is that the action required by the fire situation sometimes may exceed the capabilities of the first-alarm response—or even the entire department. There should be no hesitancy by the first-in officer to request a second alarm or mutual aid response when he recognizes that the capabilities of the initial response are inadequate. A department that does not allow its company officers to call for additional companies needs to start a training program to improve the competency of its company of ficers.
Once he has evaluated his present capabilities, the first-in officer makes his strategic decisions, determines priorities and issues tactical orders to his company and the others presently under his command. Obviously, the single-line fire offers little in the way of problems. It is the larger fire situation which gives the first-in officer the opportunity to initiate actions that will make the work of the incoming chief officer easier.
For example, if life hazard exists, then with the limited men at hand, the first-in officer must take action to ameliorate this danger and at the same time act to limit the fire from increasing the life problem. The old rule of getting a line between the fire and those threatened by it can be implemented by the officer while at the same time he orders two or more men to remove occupants. When additional companies and the first chief officer arrive, he has only to expand the operations already under way.
The first-in officer should always remember that an aggressive attack that darkens down—or even extinguishes—the fire will minimize and possibly eliminate’all the other problems, including the life hazard.
Prepare for extra help: Sometimes an obvious action by a first-in company can be carried out so that it becomes the foundation for an expanded operation with the arrival of other companies. If the fire demands at least a 2½ -inch line and the company has no deluge set, the officer can order parallel 2 1/2-inch lines stretched. This gives the incoming chief officer the option of manning the second line with men from a later-arriving company or putting both lines into a deluge set carried by a following company.
Or perhaps the roof needs to be opened and most of the manpower is needed to stretch lines by hand. If the first-in officer can spare a couple of men to raise a 35-foot ladder and start removing roof covering, he will save time for the truck company arriving later with a power saw.
When the fire is of all-hands proportion, the first-in officer can avoid inline pumping and present the chief officer with the first pump hooked up to a hydrant, pumping to one 2 1/2-inch line in operation, ready to pump the second of the parallel lines laid and available to take one or two more lines from the second-arriving engine company.
These are just a few of the ways the decisions made by the first-in officer can provide the chief officer with a fireground operation that can be expanded effectively. That first-in officer knows the possibilities that may become realities as continuing size-up develops more information about the fire situation and he avoids actions that will limit the chief s options.