Who Should Size-Up?
Paul McFadden’s volunteers corner
Size-up has been defined as an ongoing evaluation of a fire or other emergency. Size-up starts at the receipt of the alarm (in some cases before) and continues until the problem is mitigated and personnel and apparatus are safely back in the fire station or otherwise ready for another emergency.
Size-up for the volunteer often starts with an unexpected interruption of sleep. After all, we don’t go to bed every night thinking about the tvpes of buildings in our districts and what will be needed to save them should they catch fire. And the fact that many departments can go six months or perhaps a year without a structure fire tends to put some of these thoughts on the back burner—no pun intended. This month, I would like to focus on one firefighter and follow his size-up responsibilities.
It’s pre-dawn and Jim is suddenly awakened by his home radio or pager. The dispatcher reports a structure fire at a specific address and adds, “Be advised that we have received multiple phone calls on this alarm. The fire is reported on the first floor of a private dwelling.”
Jim’s size-up begins.
It’s winter. Early morning. Maybe 15°F. I’ll have to put on more than the required minimum of long pants ami shirt. 1 don’t want to chance exposure.
Just like a specific job requires a specific tool, so too do specific weather conditions require specific clothing.
Jim continues his size-up while driving to the fire station.
It ‘s early. The building is almost assuredly occupied. I hope we have a good search team.
Whether or not the occupants have escaped or were not even present is unknown. But it’s obvious that a search of this building is a must. There are just too many variables to skip the search responsibility, both primary and secondary. Maybe a neighbor entered through the back door to alert the family of the fire; or perhaps a family member reentered to save his pet; or perhaps there is a forgotten overnight guest; or…; or…; or….
The fire building is on the cast end of town. 1 think that’s where the colonial type buildings are. Although, there might be a few ranch styles. I’m not sure.
Many towns across the country have grown during different construction periods. If your town grew in this way, you may find buildings of similar construction features grouped together.
The dispatcher said that the fire was reported on the first floor. Okay, that usually means that there is more than one floor. Living and utility areas on the first floor, bedrooms above.
Just because a residential structure is more than one story doesn’t necessarily mean that all bedrooms are on the second floor.
And we must always be ready to deal with the weekend carpenter who has modified the interior of his home to fit the needs of his family (you know him, he’s the Irish guy with 10 kids).
Knowing that these variables exist will assist us in more smoothly adjusting our firefighting strategies, tactics, and procedures to the situation without panic.
Let’s recap: Jim has just pulled into the fire station parking lot, but already much is either known or suspected about this alarm. Multiple phone calls, probably a “worker.” The time of day puts people inside the building and in a specific location—within or near the bedrooms.
It’s probably a multiple-story building. I’m almost positive it’s a colonial. I’m sure it’s a “worker.”
As Jim mounts the pumper that is going to be first to arrive, the officer says, “Jim, you take the nozzle, Mike will back vou up.”
The nozzle. Okay, but first things first. Where are my gloves? Check the pocket. Great, nobody stole, cr…borrowed them. Where’s my SCBA? Turn it on. Check the gauge. Take a breath. Make sure the facepiece straps are fully loosened. Everything looks good.
“Mike, I’m going to take a length of hose with me to the front door. Make sure that we have enough hose stretched to cover the building. We don’t want to stretch short or have all the hose like spaghetti at the pumper.
“Bob, when we get water, you straighten out the kinks and feed us the line from the front door.”
Jim is not the officer, but he realizes that the officer’s hands are full in the front seat, making sure that the driver knows where he’s going, wondering about water supply, monitoring the radio, and preparing himself for the fight. Someone has to take charge of the “back step” so that the operation will go as smooth as possible and not look like the Keystone Cops. That someone is Jim the nozzleman.
“Bob, make sure that someone starts a backup line and, for God’s sake, don’t let them crowd the door.”
The fire building gives no surprises. It is indeed a two-story colonial of newer construction, and the stretch goes well. Now it’s time for Jim’s double check.
Are my boots pulled up? Is my coat buttoned up, including the top snap, so that debris cannot enter my coat? Is my air bottle turned on fully? Is the nozzle in the straight stream position? We have ivater— bleed the line. My facepiece and gloves are on. I’m ready to enter the building.
Where’s the staircase to the second floor? There it is, just to my left. The fire is in the rear and just starting to enter the hallway. Open the nozzle down the hall and direct it on the ceiling. Keep it open and advance. My main job is to keep the fire back and protect the staircase. I’m staying loiv. The nozzle is well in front of me so that I’m controlling it and I’m rotating it clockwise to drive the heat, smoke, and steam away from us and the staircase.
Jim can feel Mike leaning into the line to absorb the back pressure, and they continue their advance into the fire area.
The floor is getting hot 1 forgot to cool it. Okay, drop the stream. Sweep the floor and then back to the ceiling and advance.
Now Jim can see that the fire has darkened down. Shut down and zvait.
The fire lights up in the right-hand corner. One more shot and it’s over. Relief is in and Jim and Mike go out for a well-deserved rest. It went great.
Size-up. The receipt of an alarm can spark uncontrolled emotions or logical, disciplined thinking. Jim allowed his size-up process to flow unimpeded. Jim was successful because he was in control of Jim.