Strategy and Tactics: A Safety Relationship

Strategy and Tactics: A Safety Relationship


Tom Brennan’s Random Thoughts On…

Firefighter deaths and injuries occur most frequently on the fireground. It’s here that department policy, chief and company officer supervision, awareness, and accountability can have the greatest impact on safety. Safety considerations at the scene begin with the arrival of the first unit and do not diminish until the last member has left the scene.

A thorough conceptual understanding of strategies, tactics, and procedures, supported by fluid and continuous size-up, can help us accomplish our many operational objectives — safely.

STRATEGY is the game plan. It’s the symphony conducted, the chess pieces set in motion by the master. Nothing can have more impact on a fireground safety record than the proper selection of strategies dependent on an ongoing size-up. It’s generally accepted that strategies have four or five modes: Offensive – A direct, offensive (usually interior) attack at the seat of the fire. It’s the strategy most often employed initially at occupied structure fires. Offensive/Defensive – A combination of attacks which are offensive at the seat of the fire. Usually an interior attack within the fire structure, simultaneously coupled with defensive firefighting operations within or outside the threatened exposures. Exposures, depending on conditions, can be within or surrounding the fire structure. Stretching additional handlines to floors above the fire occupancy or to adjacent private dwellings, while maintaining an aggressive offensive attack at the seat of the fire, is an example of this strategic operation.

Defensive/Offensive – Defensive attack on the fire structure, either outside or indirectly, while mounting an offensive interior attack on the exposures. Such a strategy would be employed, for example, during a fire at an unoccupied or vacant structure which severely exposes a nursing home. The offensive interior attack would continue until such time as exposure protection is assured. Resources can then be added to the defensive attack on the original fire building to complete extinguishment.

Defensive – The original fire building is too involved or structural stability is too tenuous (due to fire stress or the hazardous nature of the structure’s contents) to safely mount a direct offensive interior attack. An outside, exterior attack is therefore mounted. Usually, the immediate goal is exposure protection and safety.

Indirect – Application of an extinguishing medium through a small opening in an otherwise sealed structure. The action of the fire on the medium, or vice versa, causes extinguishment without entry of fire forces.

TACTICS are those methods used to play the strategy. They are the operations performed by those under direction of the incident commander (be they his staff, sector commanders, or even an entire unit) that enables the IC to achieve his immediate goal: keep the overall strategy a successful plan.

Tactics that must support an offensive, interior attack are prompt and proper roof ventilation, forcible entry, position of interior hose streams, search, horizontal ventilation, etc. Setting up large caliber streams, proper position of tower ladders and ladder pipes, and respect for a collapse zone are examples of defensive strategy support tactics.

NOTE: When the tactics do not support the strategy chosen, safety records on that fireground collapse.

Offensive strategies are slowed, stopped, and, in some cases, destroyed if a defensive outside large-caliber stream should be put into operation. A defensive operation could cause serious injuries to a unit or individual still operating in an offensive mode. A typical example is an interior engine company continuing to operate because of a communication gap or a macho attitude when the strategy changes to defensive.

PROCEDURES, for our purposes, are defined as the selection and operation of tools and equipment with which a unit accomplishes its tactic. Stretching a 1-¾ inch hoseline equipped with an automatic nozzle, cutting a roof with an axe or power saw, entering a fire building by portable ladder, pulling ceilings with a hook or pike pole, or using a hydraulic spreading device are all examples of procedures.

Safety and injury reduction can be enhanced by all personnel, from the chief in command of strategy to the company officer who oversees and communicates his assigned tactics to the firefighter. All must be aware of the safety considerations, limitations, and ramifications of the tactics and tools used.

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