The Fourth Benchmark

by Jimmy Taylor

Benchmarks are used in the Incident Management System (IMS) to identify completion of the incident priorities: Rescue, incident stabilization, property conservation. The benchmark “all clear” is given after a primary search is completed to let everyone on the fireground know that rescue has been performed. The benchmark “under control” is used to identify the point at which the fire has been knocked down and that there is no extension. The “loss stopped” benchmark is used to identify the point at which property damage has been stopped and includes the completion of overhaul and salvage. The three benchmarks have been a mainstay of IMS and are used to rapidly identify what stage the fireground is in. These benchmarks are important to us and most command sheets even require the time when each benchmark has been completed be recorded.

There is a fourth benchmark that needs to be incorporated into the IMS system; it is more important than any of the three main benchmarks. It is “size-up complete.” I say it is the most important because we must make our safety a priority. This simple benchmark is needed so that everyone responding and on the fireground is aware that a complete initial size-up, including a walk-around, has been done. I say “initial” because size-up should be done numerous times on the fireground and be continually reevaluated to ensure tactics are working and everyone is safe. The initial size-up is the most important since most tactical decisions will be based on this size-up. The walk-around is the most important part of this benchmark because it will give you the most information about the building.

A complete walk-around will not be possible for all buildings, so the “size-up complete” benchmark should be followed by the amount of the building you were able to visualize during your size-up, for example: “Engine 3 on the scene; size-up complete on three sides.” This should be followed by a complete walk-around or drive-around to complete the initial size-up and ensure initial operations are being carried out in a safe manner. The safety officer and the rapid intervention team officer should complete additional size-ups and relay any concerns to the incident commander.

The high-rise building size-up should include a visual of as many sides of the building as possible and should be completed in the fire control room. If a smoke detector is going off and there are no additional alarms, there is a good chance that it is a false alarm. A smoke detector activation with a supervisory alarm may be indicative of a possible false alarm. If the alarm panel shows the activation of a smoke detector, a pull station, the building’s fire pump and a water flow alarm, assume that there is a fire in the building. This inside-the-building size-up is the only way to properly determine what tactics will be needed.

The exact verbiage of the fourth benchmark is not that important. What is important is that everyone know that a complete initial size-up has been done. If your community is small and doesn’t have any very large commercial buildings, you may be able to adjust the fourth benchmark to “walk-around complete.” Regardless of the verbiage, this benchmark should be the first benchmark used at all structure fires.

Jimmy Taylor, a 24-year fire service veteran, is a battalion chief and paramedic with Cobb County (GA) Fire & Emergency Services. Taylor has a Fire Science diploma from West Georgia Technical College. He is a State of Georgia certified instructorand has taught classes on incident command for high-rise operations at the Georgia Fire Academy.

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