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The Butcher's Bill
by Tom LaBelle

Stop, evaluate and decide

Keeping communication open lets you know if your plan is being carried out, and if it's having the impact you're hoping for

By Tom LaBelle

As we finish up this series on the IAFC's Rules of Engagement for Structural Firefighting we'll look at the last "rules" for "The Incident Commanders' Rules of Engagement for Firefighter Safety." As always, check out the resources listed on this page for both a full outline of the rules and a great poster.

It's also worth pointing out that many of these rules can be practiced at regular drills. Including these items in table top and even regular drills will give command officers an opportunity to practice these skills. And like most, if not all, skills in the fire service, the more we practice them, the easier they are to implement in the field. 

8) Act Upon Reported Unsafe Practices and Conditions That Can Harm Them. Stop, Evaluate and Decide.

Objective: To prevent firefighters and supervisors from engaging in unsafe practices or exposure to unsafe conditions that will harm them and allowing any member to raise an alert about a safety concern without penalty and mandating the incident commander and command organization officers promptly address the question to insure safe operations.

I've written before about Crew Resource Management techniques and applying them with your crews and departments. This isn't to be confused with giving up control, but in fact allows more information to flow up to command. But when you know about it, take action. Doing so lets your officers and crews know what you expect and that it's worthy of speaking up about.

9) Maintain Frequent Two-Way Communications and Keep Interior Crews Informed of Changing Conditions

Objective: To insure that the incident commander is obtaining frequent progress reports from command organization officers and all interior crews are kept informed of changing fire conditions observed from the exterior by the incident commander, or other command officers, that may affect crew safety.

One of the best things we can do is practice, practice, practice radio communications. Just like the individual who talks too much on the radio is problematic, so is the individual who doesn't give enough. Letting crews know about what they can't see and how their activities are impacting the fire are important. If what you're seeing isn't synching up with what they see, something is wrong, and both you and them are likely to find out the hard way.

10) Obtain Frequent Progress Reports and Revise the Action Plan

Objective: To cause the incident commander, as well as all command organization officers, to obtain frequent progress reports, to continually assess fire conditions and any risk to firefighters, and to regularly adjust and revise the action plan to maintain safe operations.

Like above, keeping communication open lets you know if your plan is being carried out, and if it's having the impact you're hoping for. I also like to remind crews that command gets nervous. If you don't keep command in the loop, and they get too nervous, they WILL and SHOULD pull you out.

11) Ensure Accurate Accountability of All Firefighter Location and Status

Objective: To cause the incident commander, and command organization officers, to maintain a constant and accurate accountability of the location and status of all firefighters within a small geographic area of accuracy within the hazard zone and be aware of who is presently in or out of the building.

In some ways it's hard to believe that accountablility is still an issue; and I'm not talking about large scale events. We have problems with calls with just 20 to 25 members on scene. Like all other things, get a system and use it, practice it, drill with it. Practicing the transition from an offensive to defensive attack can be quite an operational eye opener and really show some weaknesses in your accountability plans.

12) If, After Completion of the Primary Search, Little or No Progress Towards Fire Control Has Been Achieved — Seriously Consider a Defensive Strategy.

Objective: To cause a benchmark decision point, requiring the incident commander to determine if it's safe to continue offensive interior operations if there is no progress in controlling the fire and there are no lives to be saved following the completion of the primary search.

The passage of time on the fireground is an interesting thing, almost like a science fiction movie. Key benchmarks are great for forcing a re-evaluation of strategy. After primary search is complete (and negative) our life safety role really focuses on our own people. That's a great point to consider how well your strategy is working and if it's time to go defensive.

13) Always Have a Rapid Intervention Team in Place at All Working Fires.

Objective: To cause the incident commander to have a rapid intervention team in place ready to rescue firefighters at all working fires.

Again, if you practice it will happen. If you don't, then it will likely fall through the cracks when your firefighters need it the most. Like all mutual aid assignments, if the team isn't needed, it's easier to send them back than start them late.

14) Always Have Firefighter Rehab Services in Place at All Working Fires.

Objective: To insure all firefighters who endured physically strenuous activity at a working fire are rehalbilitated and medically evaluated for continued duty.

Aggressive fire attack is physically demanding. For most departments, career and volunteer, staffing is at a minimum, especially in the initial moments. Crews must have access to rehab if we want them to be able to perform at peak levels. If you establish it, they will come!

I really hope folks will take the time to review the documents created by the IAFC. I also can't say enough about the efforts of the Safety Health and Survival Section that put this document together. But like most great resources for the fire service, it takes action at the local level to truly bring about benefit; so use it!

About the author

Sponsored by Globe

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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