How to smoke the emergency simulation – 12 key points
By Steve Prziborowski
The emergency simulation, also called the fire simulation, the tactical exercise, the tactical problem, or some other similar name, can be one of the most challenging portions of a fire service promotional examination assessment center. Many fire departments require a candidate to actually obtain a minimum score of 70% in these exercises to pass the overall assessment center and be eligible for promotion.
Some general guidelines when faced with your next emergency simulation include:
- Expect to have a firefighter down, missing or trapped. Hopefully when this happens, you will already have your Rapid Intervention Crew (RIC) already in place, ready for immediate evacuation.
- Determine you actually heard the distress signal.
- Attempt to make contact with the firefighter(s) to have them remain calm, find their last known location, determine their situation, amount of air remaining, etc.
- Activate the RIC, ensuring they heard the traffic and know their objectives.
- Don't forget to replace the RIC with at least one additional RIC.
- Request additional fire resources (1 or 2 alarms).
- Have a chief officer assume the RIC Group Supervisor role.
- Request at least one ambulance (code 3) if not already on scene.
- Switch firefighting operations to an additional radio channel, keeping the firefighters in danger on the same channel they were on.
- As challenging as this can be, don't forget the rest of the incident you are already running; if the fire goes unattended, the level of danger for the RIC and the firefighters in danger will significantly increase.
- Prepare for Critical Incident Stress Debriefing.
- Expect to have to evacuate or shelter-in-place local residents or occupants.
- Know your local policy and who is responsible for evacuation (typically law enforcement personnel).
- If you have multiple law enforcement personnel, also request a law supervisor to coordinate those efforts and reduce your span of control.
- Provide air monitoring to determine if any hazards are present.
- Expect to have medical patients; have a plan to treat and transport them.
- If you have multiple patients, besides requesting ambulances, consider requesting a medical supervisor to oversee patient care and transportation.
- Establish a Medical Group Supervisor.
- Consider activating the local mass casualty incident plan to alert the hospitals, other fire departments, other public safety agencies, and the local Emergency Medical Service (EMS) agency of a possible significant EMS system impact.
- Call resources early, and don't forget to request appropriate resources.
- If you have a fire during a simulator, expect it to go to at least a second (if not third alarm). Depending on how much your department wants to torture you, you could be requesting even more resources.
- Most departments are not going to give you a 747 into a hotel in the middle of the night, especially at the captain or battalion chief level. Most of them will be a little more realistic. Giving battalion chiefs and captains a two story house with a rescue and even a downed firefighter can be challenging enough.
- Captains and battalion chiefs should be able to handle a second or third alarm assignment with minimal issues.
- Don’t forget the appropriate notifications, as well as fire and non-fire resources, such as law enforcement, gas and electric, ambulances, city officials, senior staff, fire investigators, public information officers, etc.
- Try to always have a full alarm assignment in staging. Why?
- Besides doing so for common sense reasons (because when you need resources, it typically takes five to ten or more minutes to get them to the scene, especially if they are from other departments and have to go through the mutual aid request process), it allows you to handle those "immediate need" issues that will pop up.
- Immediate need issues can be a firefighter down or missing, a medical patient, a person needing immediate rescue from a window or perilous situation, a fire spreading to exposure(s), etc.
- Be ready to explain your actions: why you did or did not do something. There are many right ways to accomplish the same task or manage the same incident. You’re getting evaluated on your thought process and decision making, so be prepared to defend your actions or non-actions.
- Remember if you didn't say it, you didn't do it and don’t get credit for it. Yes, every point counts, and you’ll need all you can get to get promoted.
- You may have to fill out documentation.
- You may have something as simple as a piece of blank paper to write on, a tactical worksheet typically used in your agency or an ICS 201 (Incident Briefing) Form.
- Use what is recognized (and that you are comfortable with) in your agency, and write quickly and neatly; you may or may not be graded on your written communications and/or your spelling, neatness or grammar.
- You may have a white board, chalk board or flip chart to write on to draw a site map.
- If so, don't forget to include apparatus placement, hose line placement (including the hydrant and line from the engine to the hydrant), personnel placement, and any other pertinent factors such as the command post, staging area, standpipes, sprinkler system connections, etc.
- Know and use the Incident Command System.
- Be able to establish Command or I.C. (Incident Command), whichever your department uses.
- Use appropriate methods to decrease your span of control (establish Groups or Divisions, Branches).
- Use correct ICS terminology – “Roof Group” is not appropriate since group is a function and there are numerous things to potentially accomplish on a roof – ventilation, fire attack, rescue, forcible entry, etc. Assigning someone as Roof Division would indicate they are responsible for ALL operations on the Roof.
- When assigning units, make sure you:
- Advise them who they report to. If they are the first unit in that area or performing that task, make sure you advise the officer he/she is in charge and is known as the Ventilation Group Supervisor or whatever title they have been advised.
- Advise them of their tactical objectives, no more than three at a time.
- Have them provide a “CAN” report – conditions, actions, needs.
- Hear back from them that they confirm their task, title and objectives.
- If you are requesting things through a dispatcher, try to not ask for more than three (3) things at a time.
- Any more will overload them and you will run the risk of not getting what you ask for.
- So instead of dropping a salvo load on them asking for: a second alarm, three ambulances, an ambulance supervisor, law enforcement, the gas and electric company and a safety officer, pick the three most important items and start with those.
- Then wait a minute or two (allowing dispatch to process your request) and then ask for three more.
The emergency simulation exercise can be one of the most challenging exercises of a fire service promotional process. If you want to be successful at the promotional examination, including the emergency simulation, it is critical that you prepare for the position you aspire to – as opposed to just preparing for the test. Too many people focus on preparing for the test and then when they forget to prepare for something, they are thrown a curve ball that they swing and miss at, and lose valuable points.
For example, one of our battalion chiefs is known for his wildland firefighting command ability and used to put together promotional simulations. On one test, a few candidates spent too much time preparing for a wildland event (thinking that is what he would use) and they were taken aback when there was not a wildland event on the simulation. They had spent too much time preparing for a wildland event and forgot about the other types of events an officer could be faced to manage – commercial structure fires, apartment fires, hazardous materials incidents, weapons of mass destruction events, mass-casualty events, etc. Had they instead just focused on preparing for the position of battalion chief, and not just the test itself, they might have been more successful and would have been able to handle anything that was thrown at them.