From the Bay Door to the Front Door: The Company Officer On Scene

By Joseph McClelland

Once you arrive on scene as a company officer, perform your size-up but try to keep it brief and to the point. Other responding units, command officers, and dispatch initially only need:

  • structure size, type and occupancy
  • What is or is not showing and
  • the actions you are going to take at this point.

An example is:

Dispatch, Engine 9 is on the scene of a 2.5 frame single-family with smoke showing from the second floor. We will be pulling a line and going interior. I will update you if needed after my 360. Have all incoming units switch to RED fireground on arrival and have the next-in officer take command.

This paints the picture for all incoming units about what is going on. You can say more, but simple goes a long way here and you still can add to your size-up after your 360 before you meet up with your crew.

This is a model that works for me. I am aware there are many other models out there on this subject; just find one that works for you and your department. I am not going to go into different fireground/tactical channel choices, since not everyone has the same channels or choices available to them. 

As you perform your 360, you will have to triage your scene. This means you need to prioritize your needs in order of importance.

Does it look like a bread-and-butter room-and-contents fire, or do you have people hanging out upper-floor windows? Do you have jumpers on the ground who need EMS assistance? Are you facing a possible vent-enter-search scenario because a family member told you someone is confirmed in a room needing immediate help? Are there exposure problems? Remember, you are only one company and can only do so much. This is why knowing the limits of your crew (covered in my last article), is so very important.

Once inside, you will need to give your CAN (Conditions Actions Needs) report. Even if your engineer is assuming the command role at this time, after you give this report to him, he can relay it to the next-arriving person who will be taking command. Plus, you are saying it over the radio, so the responding units should have heard it, as well.

Once a command officer arrives, he should be calling you for an updated CAN report on your situation. You should also then ask what the conditions look like from the outside to see if what you’re doing is working (or not).

Again, remember that you are only one crew and there is only so much you can do. It is your job as the company officer to prioritize the tasks at hand according to your knowledge of your crew, their limitations, and what can feasibly be completed with what you are facing on an emergency scene during the initial stages of your incident.

Whether career, part-time, or volunteer, as an officer you are not only responsible for the people on your crew but to your crew members’ families as well. They are putting the lives and safety of their loved ones in your hands. They demand that you make yourself as educated and experienced and as up to date on the many topics concerning the fire service as possible.

Here in Illinois, I am honored to be a part of a firefighter focus group that is in partnership with Underwriters Laboratories and the National Institute of Standards and Technology. We are doing some very interesting studies on every aspect of tactical firefighting and the hazards we face and coming up with some very interesting results that will definitely change the way we look at our current tactics and strategies and even how we train ourselves and how we should be training our new people. The ever-changing fire service will certainly be changing again, with some pretty powerful results that will affect every firefighter worldwide.   

So remember, things will happen that are out of your control and that you will have no chance at making better. Just make sure it is not because of a lack of knowledge or a lack of training. It’s up to you to be as prepared as possible for whatever may come your way during your tour. The buck stops with you. Take your role seriously, keep your people safe, and do your very best to bring them home after every run.


Joe McClelland is a firefighter with the Midlothian (IL) Fire Department. He was previously a part-time firefighter with the North Palos (IL) Fire Protection District and is a field instructor for the University of Illinois Fire Service Institute’s Cornerstone Program.


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