This year we embarked on sharing aspects of duties and responsibilities that are necessary on any structural fireground to assist in life safety and extinguishment—truck work. If you are not directly involved in water supply and placement and direction of hose streams, what else must be done? The answer is simple, the responsibility awesome—everything!

As it is with everything we do on the fireground, our ability to size up our situation and make critical and timely action judgments is the key to success and the foundation of our ability to grow in expertise. The knowledge we are able to gain from this function should begin before the fire with preplanning and end after the actions are critiqued, improved, digested, and adopted for “next time.”

Receipt of the alarm. Valuable information includes the following: What is the time of year, time of week, time of day? The time of year can indicate unnatural storage practices— ineffective sprinkler systems in commercial occupancies, maze-like conditions on occupancy floors It also can indicate an enormous life load in vacation communities. In colder climates it can indicate that the alarm will be delayed. The building will be tightly wrapped, venting will be difficult, and more victims will be overcome within the structure. The time of week can affect traffic patterns, road conditions, and occupant load of the buildings. The time of day will affect your commitment to life safety and the level of expertise and courage that you must summon. The search mode takes on new urgency in private dwellings at 3:00 a.m. and eases off in commercial buildings at the same time; with schools it’s just the opposite. Nursing homes are a nightmare any time but at night are especially a horror.

What is the location? Again, in conjunction with time, what is the predominant occupancy in the area to which we are responding—bedroom community or commercial park at night?

What is the type of alarm? Is it automatic and basically routine? Is it a phone alarm and what is the message? Or is a police vehicle on the scene reporting smoke and flames issuing from a structure?

Conditions on arrival. To assess these we must follow the first rule of arrival —slow down! What is the building? Does its height affect the type of construction? Can we use our aerial device? What is the construction and how much time do we have based on that assessment? How deep is it? Can we effect an individual search or is a team search necessary? Where are our entry points? Is there a security problem and, if so, how difficult is it? Where does the fire appear to be located and, where are the people in relation to it? Are there secondary exits—stairways, fire escapes, balconies?

Are there any witnesses or occupants seen at the location? What do they know? This is most valuable information. Obtain it calmly and thoroughly. Where are the life exposures? Are they seen on arrival? Are those that are seen the most severely exposed? (Again, where’s the fire?) Is life safety and search more apparent from witness statements or is it routine because of other size-up procedures?

Conditions outside the building. Quickly gather and remember this information: Where are the interior stairs? Where is the secondary exit? Checking for more than one mailbox or more than one doorbell will tell you if you have an unplanned-for life load to account for in a primary search. If there are fire escapes, where are they on the fire floor in relation to the fire location?

What does the smoke look like? Is it “easy” and whispy—an oil burner’s faulty ignition, a mattress, a garbage can, a clothes dryer, or a pot on a stove? Is it pushing out fractured windows with considerable pressure? Is it rising rapidly above the roof line as would a shaft fire, a top floor fire, or fire in the rear of the building? What is the color? The black of petrochemical or plastics, the grey of wood, the yellow/grey mess of a cockloft or attic space?

A lot to think about? You bet! And there’s more next month.

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