A fire academy instructor scrapes the remains of a fire during flashover training with the Miramar (CA) Fire Department at Los Angeles County, California’s, Verdugo Fire Academy.
By Joseph Pronesti
For Part 1 of this series, click HERE
For Part 2 of this series, click HERE
The concept of conducting the 360° evaluation of a structure is understood by most officers. In fact, when I conduct simulation training and I do not supply the “C” or “3” side of the building, my students will ask, “What’s the back look like?” But what if you can’t do the 360°? Or, are there times when the first-in officer has to do another task first, i.e., assist with an urgent rescue on arrival to a large type III in the middle of a commercial block that prohibits an initial walk-around or putting the deck gun into service while your other members establish a supply. The first-arriving officer doesn’t always have to do the 360°, BUT a 360° must be done by someone within the first few minutes on arrival.
Continuing my series on how we become “lost in the fog” of the fireground, I will focus on what can happen when fireground distractions keep us from conducting a 360° size up such as when residents of the occupancy take up our time, i.e., advising people that are trapped, or when fences, dogs, or hoarding conditions take us off our game and we do not get a recon of the back side.
My personal story of getting lost in the fog occurred many years ago. I was first to arrive at a working fire in Elyria, Ohio, with a trapped occupant. The urgency of the situation as well as the “citizen rescuers” kept me from doing an adequate size-up and, most importantly, a 360° of the residence. This critical mistake along with not coordinating the ventilation of the rear windows almost caused the incineration of my nozzle firefighters; they escaped unharmed but only because their protective gear held up. The gear was, however, damaged to the point of needing replacement. The heat we faced also melted the engine officer’s remote microphone, causing the metal solder to ooze out of the top, rendering his radio unusable. Yes, they flowed a lot of water (as the video below shows). The crews were spectacular and performed their duties flawlessly and with professionalism. The truck crew members found the victim located not far from where the citizen rescuers were talking to him at the C-D area on Division I. Below is a video of this fire.
If I had completed a 360°, I would have had a much better view of the entire residence and its size and I would have better read the smoke and conditions. The lack of arriving resources kept me from getting crews to all necessary areas, and the firefighter assigned to the outside vent did his job of venting ahead of the line. However, me not recognizing that vents made by the citizen’s thrown shoe as well as not coordinating the event caused more headaches. I might have also been able to see the clues of a possible hoarding condition inside the structure; members on the attack stated that conditions were made even worse by this excessive clutter. It wasn’t until a mutual-aid chief arrived that I became aware of the conditions and pulled members out to go defensive and attempt to gain the upper hand.
We may mentally plan on doing the 360° and train on it, but when we are confronted with an actual event where stress interferes with our thought processes, we may not complete a 360°, and the cost in not doing so can be disastrous. In a recent survey of Maydays across the country, author Don Abbott looked at many aspects of fire events where the Mayday occurred. He examined the type of building, the size of the response, whether the department was paid or volunteer, and so on. Out of 1,371 career Mayday events he reviewed, Abbott noted that the 360° was completed in only 211 of those events—a paltry 16.3 percent. Furthermore, Abbott noted that an incomplete 360° occurred in 343 of the 1,371 events, or 26.5 percent. No 360° was conducted in 57.1 percent—or 739—events out of the 1,371 surveyed.
Abbott studied 388 Mayday responses from volunteer and part-time departments and found that there was no 360° conducted at 232 incidents, or 59.7 percent. An “incomplete” 360° was documented 43 times (11 percent) and a “completed” 360° was noted 113 times (29.3 percent). Take the numbers and the data however you wish, but the point of this article is that when we arrive at a working fire, the ones charged with command need to keep the views of the fireground clear; you must keep the fog from “rolling in” by not being distracted by victims, police officers, family members, and so on. Stay focused and “in the game.” Train constantly prior to your event and review as many fires (with both positive and negative outcomes) as possible with a noncritical mind, and apply your actions to the event based on your department’s size, procedures, and so on.
Following are three events where a lack of a 360° was noted as one of the many contributing causes to a failure during the response. One event resulted in a line-of-duty death, another a very close call. If you are already familiar with them, review them again and approach the events strictly from the first-arriving incident commander’s view and see if they perhaps were “lost on the fireground” because of routinely encountered distractions.
On March 30, 2010, the Homewood (IL) Fire Department was dispatched to a reported house fire in a 950 square-foot single-family dwelling. There was a confirmed entrapment of an elderly victim in a rear family room. On arrival, crews faced heavy fire conditions on the C side. Firefighter Brian Carey was tragically killed and Firefighter Kara Copas was severely injured when they were caught in a flashover. After action reports noted a lack of a complete 360° along with uncoordinated ventilation as contributing factors. More information can be found HERE.
Colerain Township, Ohio
On April 4, 2008, Colerain (OH) Fire Department Captain Robin Broxterman, a 17-year veteran career firefighter and paramedic, and Firefighter Brian Schira, a six-month part-time probationary firefighter, died after the floor they were operating on collapsed at a residential structure fire. In a detailed internal fire department report, Broxterman did not conduct a 360° size-up on arrival. There were several other factors involved in this tragedy, and I encourage everyone reading this article to study this event in depth. Readers can access the report as well as the audio HERE.
Prince George’s County, Maryland
On February 24, 2012, the Prince George’s (MD) County Fire/EMS Department (PGCFD) responded to a working fire in a single-family dwelling. The fire was found to originate in the basement and, on arrival, the first engine reported fire showing from the C side of the structure. Although this fire highlighted major issues involving wind-driven fire conditions, the detailed after action report noted the lack of a 360° by first-arriving crews. The structure’s basement provided access on the C side. Firefighters Kevin O’Toole and Ethan Sorrell were seriously injured, and 11 other firefighters suffered minor injuries. O’Toole and Sorrell were caught inside the structure without a hoseline when the wind-driven basement fire that was blowing from the C to the A side flashed the first floor. The National Institute of Standards and Technology created the below video overview of the conditions at this fire.
Access the PGCFD internal report HERE.
Below is an indepth interview with Firefighters O’Toole and Sorrell:
The 360° size-up is very much engrained in every size-up class, discussion, and so on. Most firefighters realize that a 360° must be conducted, and what we take away from them is situational. However, on-scene victims, fire, and the overall commotion of the scene can stop us from completing this important task. We must not get “lost in the fog” of the fireground and fail to complete our most important tasks; the key is being aware and fully engaged in our profession. Never stop sizing up structures, incorporate size-up in all your training, and review all possible distractions in simulation exercises and video reviews.
JOSEPH PRONESTI is a 26-year veteran of the Elyria (OH) Fire Department, where he is an assistant chief and shift commander. He is a graduate of the Ohio Fire Chiefs’ Executive Officer program and a lead instructor at the Cuyahoga (OH) County Community College Fire Academy. He is a contributor to fire service publications and sites, including Fire Engineering. He will be presenting a four-hour preconference classroom at FDIC International 2016 titled “Main Street Tactics and Strategies: Are You Ready?” He can be reached at email@example.com