In the November article of this series on the IAFC's Rules of Engagement, we talked about the concept of risk and how much risk we are willing to take. I pointed out that there is a direct relationship between how risky an event is and what resources we bring to it.
Equipment without the necessary staffing to carry out the myriad of tasks on the fireground is pretty useless. Personnel without training and the right tools tend to cause more damage, to property, the customer and themselves.
All too often we believe that the newest gadget will address our shortfalls in staffing, or that just getting more people to join in the fire attack will make everything better.
So, continuing with the Commander's List of Rules, which we began last month:
4) If You Do Not Have the Resources to Safely Support and Protect Firefighters, Seriously Consider a Defensive Strategy
Objective: To prevent the commitment of firefighters to high risk tactical objectives that cannot be accomplished safely due to inadequate resources on the scene.
The mantra of doing more with less is heard across the land, but not always realistic and we must be honest politically and operationally with elected officials and ourselves.
Fire service leaders should educate themselves with items such as NFPA 1710 and 1720 and the NIST Study. Discussion and planning for realistic operations is vital, and should be resource-based.
From that honesty you can develop training, SOPs and SOGs and a clear expression of what can and can't be done.
5) DO NOT Risk Firefighter Lives for Lives or Property That Can Not Be Saved — Seriously Consider a Defensive Strategy
Objective: To prevent the commitment of firefighters to high risk search and rescue and firefighting operations that may harm them when fire conditions prevent occupant survival and significant or total destruction of the building is inevitable.
Recognize that a savable building and savable property are NOT the same thing. And that much of what exists in the home today is so damaged that we need to recognize when it's simply too late.
Or that often we get so focused on fighting a fire that has the upper hand that we don't make an effort to save the property in the process, losing both objectives in the long-run.
Building contents (both their destruction and addition to the fire load) as well as building construction must impact the strategy. And defensive must be an option in our minds from the beginning.
6) Extend LIMITED Risk to Protect SAVABLE Property
Objective: To cause the incident commander to limit risk exposure to a reasonable, cautious and conservative level when trying to save a building that is believed, following a thorough size up, to be savable.
There are people that are shocked when they see a fire department not take aggressive action at what they (as Monday morning quarterbacks) consider a small fire.
It is incumbent on all command staff to expand their knowledge of visual indicators. Too many people have such a limited mental catalog of what happens as the building breaks down under fire that it can be tough to make the call at the right time. But adding to your knowledge is easier now than ever with the amount of free training resources that are available nowadays.
7) Extend Vigilant and Measured Risk to Protect and Rescue SAVABLE Lives Objective: To cause the incident commander to manage search and rescue, and supporting firefighting operations, in a highly calculated, controlled, and cautious manner, while remaining alert to changing conditions, during high risk search and rescue operations where lives can be saved.
When we know (or believe) we have a victim in the building, then the "game is on." The commander must have a strong enough command presence to keep control of these activities — this includes keeping the most aggressive of firefighters on some sort of "leash" to ensure the most effective search is performed.
We are expected to take calculated risk. The better we train and understand fire behavior and construction, the greater the chance the risk pays off for all involved.
Tom LaBelle serves as an assistant chief with the Wynantskill (N.Y.) Fire Department where he is responsible for training. He has been employed by the New York State Association of Fire Chiefs since 1995. Prior to joining NYSAFC, Asst. Chief LaBelle served as the legislative director for the New York State Assembly's Sub Committee on Fire Protection Services. He provides support for career and volunteer departments from the nations largest to smallest. He currently sits as a voting member on the NFPA 1720 committee. He is a certified fire instructor and fire officer. Chief LaBelle can be reached via email at Tom.Labelle@FireRescue1.com.
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