Tactical Safety for Firefighters: A Rush to Judgment and a Person of Interest

By Ray McCormack

We hear the phrases “a rush to judgment” and “a person of interest” used a lot concerning crimes and police work. Do they transition to the fire service? I would say they most certainly do. Firefighters are often accused of rushing to judgment over fire conditions and their reaction to them. Who is the person of interest at your fire? Is it you or the civilian who is experiencing the fire along with you?

Fire conditions are just one part of the arrival puzzle we attempt to solve. Despite the fact that our puzzle will always have missing pieces, it is easier to solve when we start with the outside borders and then attack the inside. Your first size-up is just an exterior view of the puzzle. Some exterior pieces help us work the puzzle more confidently, hinting as to a quick solution, whereas other borders leave no hint to solving the puzzle’s core.

At every level of incident command, from the first arriving company officer to the chief officer, actually viewing the puzzle’s border is very important. Command-level personnel who believe that radio reports sufficiently provide all the clues should get some SA, situational “awakeness.” Most prudent people wouldn’t buy a house unseen, yet we have people in positions of life safety judgments who believe fervently that they do not need to see the fire building while their people are inside it. Hard to believe some commanders just can’t bear to leave their comfy confines while you battle to stabilize yours.

Solving the interior of our fire puzzle is a bit more complicated and requires us to use our big pieces first, charged handlines (both primary and backup), search priorities from two directions, and a command that understands how the interior works and how those pieces provide solutions, efficiently and effectively. Do you understand that this can be done safely? Firefighting structural fires is done safely every day.

The missing pieces of our fire puzzle need to be found as quickly as possible to increase our ability to efficiently deliver a successful outcome. Building information needs to be a standard that is provided to us prior to arrival. Will we know everything about the building? No, but we need to further develop simplified databases that will tell us structural information that often remains hidden.

Who is your person of interest? Of course it’s you, and that is not being narcissistic. We do what we need to do to operate and satisfy our minds and bodies; however,  when we respond to a crisis, we must also wonder who else needs our help. What are you, as an individual, going to decide is the level of assistance you will give to someone in need?  Use your head, use your skill, use your knowledge, and use your success balancer to help that person as best you can.

We don’t always know how many persons of interest exist within the occupancy. Sometimes we do, and sometimes this is a missing puzzle piece. We use all of our focusing powers to decide and determine what is required and how plausible it is for us, you and me, to rescue that person of interest. If you have no interest in these persons and you’re only interested in yourself, then tell us so that we can adjust to your plan. Tactical safety is never served by a rush to judgment, but it is well served by firefighters who have an interest in persons of interest.

Next Tactical Safety – Nozzle Backward

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Ray McCormack: Tactical Safety for Firefighters

RAY McCORMACK is a 30-year veteran and a lieutenant with FDNY. He is the publisher and editor of Urban Firefighter Magazine. He delivered the keynote address at FDIC in 2009 and he is on the Editorial Board of Fire Engineering Magazine.

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