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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

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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Mark van der Feyst has been in the fire service since 1998, currently serving as a firefighter with the Fort Gratiot Fire Department in Michigan. He is an international instructor teaching in Canada, the United States and India. He graduated from Seneca College of Applied and Technologies as a fire protection engineering technologist, and received his bachelor’s degree in fire and life safety studies from the Justice Institute of British Columbia and his master’s degree in safety, security and emergency management from Eastern Kentucky University. van der Feyst is the lead author of the book “Residential Fire Rescue” and “The Tactical Firefighter.” Connect with van der Feyst via email.