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The Domino Effect
by Mark van der Feyst

A sure-fire way to stop fireground freelancing

Freelancing will compromise the entire firefighting operations; planning ahead and reacting swiftly will reduce the amount of fireground freelancing

By Mark van der Feyst

One of the most frequent topics covered in firefighter training is freelancing. It is practically mentioned in every training session, debriefing session and post-incident analysis as a way to remind all personnel of the dangers of what freelancing can produce.

Freelancing by definition is when individuals work independently, commit to tasks and acts without the express knowledge or consent of an officer or incident commander. Essentially, it is when firefighters do what they want to do, when they want to do it.

Freelancing on the fireground usually produces bad results. This can be attributed to many dominos lining up prior to a call coming in such as soured relationships between firefighters and officers, a lack of discipline within the fire department and a bad attitude toward following instructions.

Once on the fireground, a lack of accountability, command structure, command presence and knowledge on departmental operations also can be small dominos lining up. With all these small dominos lining up, eventually they will fall causing a bigger problem handicapping the operation. 

Eliminating the problem
There are ways to eliminate freelancing on the fireground. One is to have pre-determined assignments for arriving apparatus. This includes detailed assignments for the first-, second-, and third-arriving apparatus so that personnel know exactly what is expected of them once they arrive on scene. And the incident commander or first-arriving officer will know exactly what each crew is doing and where it is at.

These detailed assignments can be documented in standard operating procedures or guidelines. Establishing accountability quickly will also aid in reducing the amount of freelancing that can take place by keeping track of where each member is and his or her assigned task. 

When a task has been assigned to a crew, it is prudent to make sure that they are doing exactly what they are supposed to be doing. This can be accomplished by using sector officers, the incident safety officer and even the front line officers to keep an eye on what is taking place around them. By ensuring accountability of all personnel with regards to their assigned tasks, freelancing can be reduced.

So what happens when certain individuals do not follow instruction? These two videos show the results.

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One video shows a training session involving an acquired structure for live fire training; the other was shot at an actual structure fire. When you watch these videos, you will see the results of freelancing — firefighters getting hurt and being put into a bad situation leading up to the ultimate fate, death.

Freelancing injures and kills firefighters. It needs to stop and be prevented before it becomes too late for those who are caught by it.

When freelancing occurs control needs to be regained quickly by the incident commander. This will involve using sector officers, incident safety officers, and front line officers as well as departmental procedures for personnel discipline to control those members who wish to disregard instruction. This may involve removing the individual from the fireground.

Prevent the dominos from lining up and creating a bigger problem by addressing this issue in the station prior to any call. Training will be the key to ensure that all members will follow instructions when on the fireground. 

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About the author

Mark van der Feyst has been in the fire service since 1999 and is currently a full-time firefighter in Ontario, Canada. Mark is an international instructor teaching in Canada, the United States and India. He is a local-level suppression instructor for the Pennsylvania State Fire Academy and an instructor for the Justice Institute of British Columbia. He is also the lead author of the book "Residential Fire Rescue." You can contact Mark with feedback at

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Tuesday, January 15, 2013 6:35:40 AM I think you picked up on the main issue. This is a training issue(command issue). People who are trained to understand how fire follows ventilation will not break all the windows out.
Gayland W Grant Gayland W Grant Friday, January 18, 2013 4:55:43 PM I have been in flash overs and that is were the fog nozzle comes in to provide protection over head. It was hot but was able to control the fire over head and get out.
Mike Whilden Mike Whilden Monday, January 21, 2013 5:13:48 AM Wow!
Dushon Ivanic Dushon Ivanic Monday, January 21, 2013 9:34:54 AM great topic, as a training officer I see alot of this. Seems tunnel vision takes over on a incident cammander and a simple thing as accountability is thrown out the window, Yet it is proven that it is a life saving tool for fellow firefighters. Thanks for a great topic.....
Steve O Steve Steve O Steve Thursday, August 07, 2014 2:09:48 PM The first video : no charged line pulled prior to venting, breaking all of the windows only fed the fire. There didn't seem to be any kind of command at the scene. My opinion as a former Training officer , poor training. Command and control is very important. Sector commands, Accountability officer , safety officer(s). Train like you work. Took them forever to to a charged line and wet stuff on the red stuff. Second video : they didn't read the smoke. There were signs of a flash over or smoke explosion right in front of them (overhead) They should have been told that if they weren't Reading the smoke. If you see something dangerous let people know.It might save their life. Thanks for posting , good information. Train, train, train. Don't train till you get it right, train till you can't get it wrong.
Tim Teeter Tim Teeter Thursday, August 07, 2014 9:32:58 PM I had the enjoyment of taking course taught by mark and learned a lot! what he taught me can and will save lives. yes everybody wants to be the "hero" but your life is more important than being a hero and your officers will give you more respect when you listen and obey orders. many times I stood by the officer waiting for orders and the carried then out

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