4 ways firefighters can prepare for operational success
Focus on personal, crew, response and scene preparation to support emergency response efforts
By Duane S. Daggers Jr.
The tones go off. You are dispatched to a working fire in your first-due run area.
As the officer of the day, you know you are more than likely going to be the first-arriving unit on the scene.
Are you thinking about what you are going to do when you get there? Are you prepared to control the incident? Is your crew prepared to handle the incident?
In our profession, there are many tools to aid us in doing our job safer, faster, smarter, easier and more efficiently. Of all the tools in the fire service toolbox, the one that is the most important to use and sharpen is preparation.
Preparation is a skill that is critical to understand, even from childhood. Preparation is the foundation of the Boy Scouts of America. I learned the scouting motto “Be Prepared” in my first meeting. Written by Robert Baden Powell, the “Be Prepared” motto meant to always be in a state of readiness of mind and body to do your duty.
If being prepared for anything is critical for the young adult, consider its importance in the day-to-day activities of firefighting. From probationary firefighter to chief officer, being prepared for the challenges of emergency services requires a personal investment in yourself, your crew, your response and your scene operations. Let’s review these four strategies for success.
1. Personal preparation
Personal preparation means being physically, mentally and morally ready at the beginning of your shift. If you are not ready in any capacity, contact your supervisor and advise them. Maybe you have been battling the flu or dealing with a family crisis. Share the issues with your officer, as they have a vested interest in your well-being.
Maintaining healthy lifestyle choices is essential for longevity in the fire service. We already face enough hazards without adding to the list ourselves. Make time to eat right, exercise, and take a few minutes each day and have some quiet time. It is amazing what just 5 minutes of quiet relaxation can do to prepare you for the next run.
Make sure you get any important information you will need about your station or your area in the morning by receiving a good pass-down from the crew before you. Note any changes to share with the crew. It is also important to check your daily staffing and correspondence for any changes that could impact your run area or schedule for the day. All of this information will help you prepare your crew.
2. Crew preparation
If you are an officer, you have a responsibility to help prepare subordinates who work for you. While it is true that all people are responsible for their own career, a good leader makes sure they have influence to help their crew become better in all aspects of the job. Make sure that your crewmembers arrive on time, and they are ready for the shift. Any physical, situational or emotional setbacks must be handled as soon as possible.
Hold a morning safety briefing. This is a great time to brief the crew on your plan of the day, any changes in the run area (roads hazards, construction delays, hydrants out of service, etc.) or any issues that may have occurred since your last shift. This could make the difference of critical minutes during an emergency response.
Once the crew is briefed, it is important to make sure the equipment and apparatus are inspected and ready for service.
Company training on equipment, tactics and run area is a critical component of being prepared. A good practice is to have each crewmember come up with a training topic during your work cycle. This gives everyone an opportunity to share a topic they feel strongly about, and allows the crew to share their knowledge with everyone.
One idea for company training is first-due area drills. Take everyone out in the area and pull up to different types of buildings. Cover attack strategies, hydrant locations, building construction and neighborhood layouts. You can often determine the type of structure by knowing what is in that part of the run area. Where are your large homes vs. your commercial areas? Where are the major intersections?
Strong preparation allows for a more efficient response.
3. Response preparation
When you are dispatched, make sure everyone is listening. With all the activity in a fire station, moving to the apparatus, donning your PPE and preparing to leave, there are many distractors – and this makes listening difficult. Ensure that everyone is listening so they are clear on the information. Has there been any special information given during the dispatch? Is your EDC advising they are receiving multiple calls, that a caller is still inside or that police are on scene? These are key pieces of information to help you determine what your action plan will be when you arrive.
Prior to leaving, make sure the driver and officer understand where the incident is and the best route to travel. It is also important to identify your primary and secondary water sources. This is where knowing the run area can really pay off. Is your normal travel route hampered with construction? Do you have water supply issues in this area?
Being prepared helps your crew respond proactively versus reactively. This can save precious time and resources.
4. Scene preparation
During my acting-battalion chief training, my battalion chief was very clear on his position when it comes to incident management: “Have a STRONG command presence from the beginning, and take a strong command presence if no one else has.”
Take charge of the incident from the moment you arrive until the last unit is clear. The initial actions and assignments given on a working incident can set the stage for success or for failure. Preparing yourself and your company to handle an incident is what ensures you are able to prepare the incident scene.
When you arrive on the scene of an incident, there are many tasks that need to be handled. In order to meet your objectives in an effective and efficient manner, the best defense is a strong offense. Prepare to manage each scene as if it is the most chaotic incident of your career. A strong command presence will let everyone on the alarm know who is in charge.
Giving a thorough scene size-up will give responders important information as to what you have and what may be needed when they arrive. Further, a clear and concise 360 follow-up report alerts incoming units to any changes in strategy, changes not seen out front (basements, flow path concerns, etc.).
Assign incoming units their tasks based off of your strategy and attack mode. If you don’t tell people what you want done, they are going to do one of two other things. They will do what they think needs to be done, or they will stage and do nothing at all until called. Having their assignments allows other companies to hear what is being done, but it also allows the commander to hold people accountable when objectives are not met.
Be prepared: More than a motto
Our job is to intervene for the citizens and leave the situation better than how we found it. The situation could be as small as replacing a smoke detector battery or as complex as a three-story senior living apartment complex with heavy fire and confirmed entrapment. When the alarm comes in, we need to be prepared to handle the task at hand. No two incidents are the same, and all incidents need to be effectively resolved.
Being prepared is more than a motto; it is a way of operating day in and day out. It is important to prepare yourself and your crew to be ready to prepare the incident scene for success.
About the Author
Duane Daggers is a 35-year veteran of the fire service. He is a fire captain with the City of Chesapeake (Virginia) Fire Department and is a life member with the Gouldsboro (Pennsylvania) Volunteer Fire Company. He has been an active instructor for over 20 years. He holds a master’s degree in occupational safety and health, a bachelor’s degree in organizational leadership and management, and associate’s degrees in fire science and emergency management.