Fire attack: A checklist for the first 5 minutes
A successful fire attack depends largely on the first-due crew engine carrying out its tasks within the first five minutes
By Lt. Joe Daniels
The term "engine company" is relative. Its intended meaning denotes an apparatus and firefighters assigned to the specific task of fire suppression.
However, the name is directly affected by department size, manpower, and response factors that apply to individual municipalities. In short, to broadly categorize all engine companies is to ignore the fundamental differences present in our fire service culture.
For our purposes, the engine company is the first-arriving fire apparatus. This vehicle meets NFPA 1901, carrying a pump, tools, hose, ground ladders, water and the associated personnel to the fireground. Despite these strict guidelines, the variations of brand, style and manufacturer seem endless. Just as unique are the firefighters who drive, operate and use the engine.
Yet our primary goals as first-due engine firefighters should be governed by a sense of purpose to meet very specific tactical objectives.
As explained in the previous article, the Single Engine Residential Fire program focuses on the first five minutes of fireground action. And it takes into account how these actions set the table for other companies later in the event.
At the very core of our profession are the variables and unknowns that present challenges to any single firefighter of any rank or status. We use proper and efficient management of these situations to eliminate as many variables as possible, either prior to an event or as they are presented in an emergent situation.
We eliminate unknowns through training and preparation, planning for the worst of situations with the best of readiness.
Firefighters are creatures of habit, but habits are just that, a repeated action. As with any part of our lives, habits can be good or bad.
What is good or bad is very subjective. But in terms of the fireground and how habits affect the outcome, we can create good habits — or positive repetitive actions — that will more often allow us to deal with the uncontrollable variables associated with a building fire.
Creating pre-determined assignments for each member of the engine company gives us a checklist of tasks that must be completed every time for efficient first-due operations.
Regardless of the staffing demands of a particular jurisdiction, this checklist serves to guide the engine company in a logical fashion. The tasks are prioritized. And although the tasks are not always met in the same order each time, at the very least engine firefighters approach the scene with fixed objectives.
At the very heart of the title is someone who must know how to get the crew to the right spot. Street and district knowledge is one of the most critical skill sets for all firefighters.
When we arrive, proper positioning becomes the next priority for the driver. Once the vehicle is in the most advantageous spot, the driver should know how to operate the vehicle. This means parking brake, pump gear and proper pump pressure according to the guidelines of effective hydraulics.
These actions are pre-determined for any fire apparatus, but they represent the most critical skills for the first-due driver.
One of the many adages we have heard since our early time in the fire service is that driver is the busiest person on the fire scene in the first five minutes. While this may be true in a comparative sense, the driver's responsibilities and tasks are arguably the most predictable.
That is not to say those tasks are unimportant, but planning and practicing those tasks turns a busy five minutes into an effective five minutes. This allows the driver to address the known factors in order to better address the unknowns as they present themselves.
The front right seat
This represents a position of authority, so no matter the title, this individual should be the designated adult on-scene. The level of experience associated with this seat is irrelevant if pre-determined tasks are not established and met upon arrival.
The actions of a well-prepared firefighter are equal to or greater than the actions of an irresponsible or complacent lieutenant or captain. Experience means you've been there before, but does not necessarily mean you did it right.
Scene size-up is the primary action of the front right seat. They must communicate what they see, establish command, and establish a course of action for the first five minutes. Technical language or jargon only confuses the matter; state simply what you see and what is being done.
Much of what is communicated is dependent on reconnaissance of the building. The 360-degree walk-around exposes many unknowns, or in some instances alters the primary course of action.
Some debate may arise when talking about company size or manpower. A leader in a four-person company has much more latitude to accomplish the 360 than a counterpart in a two-person company. However, it is arguably more important a task in a two-person staffing model, only because the point of entry or course of action is critically dependent on good information.
Once the 360 is completed, the leader can address the next most-important step in the pre-assigned actions. Again, that may vary based on crew size, but at least the leader knows what to do next.
Jump seat firefighters
Once again, the number may vary, but the universal responsibilities are unchanged. Tool selection, hose line deployment and entry represent the very basic, but absolute critical elements of first-due firefighting.
Where the tools and equipment are kept are easy training items. In reference to known and unknown elements, tools and equipment represent one of the most obvious known elements.
Proper wear and use of all personal protective equipment and self-contained breathing apparatus are paramount. Every firefighter of every rank, every age and every level of experience should have intimate knowledge of their PPE and SCBA.
Proficiency, or lack there-of, in this matter can have a direct impact on fireground operations. Delayed preparedness can lead to fire growth and extension, which changes the strategy and tactics of the event.
In the discussion of pre-determined assignments, we often become over-ambitious and create confusion contrary to the intended purpose. Keep it simple and keep those first-five minutes in mind.
Upon arrival, the coordinated independent tasks of the individuals allow for a coordinated team attack on the residential fire. Effectively executing known elements allow us to coordinate our efforts against the unknowns that present themselves on the fireground.
Lt. Kevin McFarland contributed to this story.