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Coordinating your fire attack

Ways to coordinate your resources in a safe, aggressive, and intelligent manner

By Michael Lee

This article is the first in a 10-part series to assist in evaluating (and maybe rediscovering) the process of items and thoughts that go into the smooth application of skills, knowledge and objectives to coordinate a safe, effective and efficient fire attack.

We have all been exposed (excuse the pun) to a variety of acronyms and walked through numerous management styles to control fires faced by your crews.

This article is not meant to be the best or even the only manner to address fires your department faces, but hopefully it will stir up all those processes you have learned over the years and renew some concepts.

The whole reason for this is to help you make decisions that assist with the command decisions that will coordinate your resources in a safe, aggressive, intelligent manner. Please keep in mind to follow your local SOPs and departmental procedures when appropriate.

As we approach the concept of coordinating the personnel and equipment we will use to manage fires, it’s a good time to discuss fireground objectives. A number of fireground acronyms exist to assist firefighters with a quick, easily remembered prompt to create a framework to initiate a standard application of processes.

Each person will utilize the one they are familiar with, and consequently I will use the acronym I have used in a past articles: REC REVOS. Hopefully the mention of this acronym brings to mind these tactical concepts:

  • Rescue
  • Exposures
  • Confinement of fire
  • Rapid intervention
  • Extinguishment of fire
  • Ventilation as needed
  • Overhaul
  • Salvage

We will approach these topics from a general direction, but throughout the course of subsequent articles, will go much more in depth. In the next article, we will look at the primary decision that will drive the direction of the command process: it is the need for rescue.

We have all heard that rescues must take priority over suppression and yet are presented with the options of enhancing our ability to make rescues by putting the fire out. I believe that both concepts are valid but like any tool, proper application at the proper time is essential.

I will point out the Castle West apartment fire that occurred in Colorado Springs, Colo., on January 16, 2007. The first unit on scene was the District Chief assigned to the area and when faced with a significant number of above grade rescues to be performed, he classified this as an “all hands rescue.” Consequently, all resources initially assigned to the incident were directed to make aerial and ladder rescues. Before this fire was completed, the Colorado Springs Fire Department made 85 ladder rescues, 40 by the first three companies. Only two civilians were lost in this fire, thanks to the quick thinking and significant level of effort by the Colorado Springs Fire Department.

It bears mentioning that in other tactical priorities, the mention of salvage and (at times) ventilation are not only met with derision, but considered second class citizens when observed as a tactical decision. These options are generally applied when necessary or possible. I believe strongly enough in both that they should be designed into the tactical evolution and placed into every incident action plan, both to ensure nothing is missed and that customers receive the best we can deliver to them.

Levels of importance
Ventilation and property conservation must be considered as part of any other activity and should carry the same level of importance when considering utilization. Like every operation, they must be considered and placed in the proper process when they apply and are needed.

At this point, I would like to also offer another perspective on the need for utilizing all of the steps we will consider during the course of this series. First, all tactical decisions we will discuss — rescue, exposures, confinement of fire, rapid intervention teams, extinguishment, ventilation, overhaul and salvage — must be considered as a possible tactical choice when working through the size-up, mitigation and termination of all calls, but not all tactical decisions need to be utilized on every fire.

A dumpster fire will generally require only half of the process, but the parameters presented with and the surrounding environment will dictate when necessary. Utilizing the same dumpster fire setting, a fire in a dumpster that has a covered roof to enclose the dumpster will be an exposure if the volume of fire coming from the dumpster is sufficient for spread. The same wood-frame dumpster cover, when connected to a town-home, changes the impacts again.

The whole point of this analogy is that all calls should cause the officer to consider the need for all tactical options and select those that are needed when creating the mental incident action plan. While all objectives may not be required at every incident, they should be considered.

Different objectives
The next step in the coordination of events on a fire is to remember that just because the tactical objectives are in order of consideration, various objectives can take place at the same time. A fire attack line placed specifically to protect egress is technically ahead of the rescue objective, but required to protect access and egress of both the crews and victims.

Positive Pressure Attack techniques would force the set up of ventilation prior to entry of crews. The positive change in the environment enhances the survivability of victims and enhances the crew’s ability to locate and extinguish a fire and locate victims in the proper application setting. Remember that the proper application of a specific tool for a specific task does not mean it is required to be applied first. When rescuing victims, what ever tactics required to access and remove those victims must be applied in conjunction with initiating the rescue objective.

The final mention when weaving the tactical objectives for the safe removal of victim is that the safest fire attack (based on size-up and the prevention of the fire from escaping the box of origin) is a daunting challenge for the first due company.

It goes without saying that a single engine crew will be faced with selecting the best tactics that will save the greatest number of victims. The two-in-two-out rule allows for the ability to ignore the rule when a known rescue is faced by the initial crews. As resources arrive to assist the first arriving apparatus, the Incident Commander should be considering what the best assignment is for the next incoming resource to enhance their ability to rescue victims.

In addition, they need to ask, “If preliminary rescues have been made, then what task can I assign that next company to improve our ability to control exposures?” These tactical objectives allow the IC to prioritize the assignments of resources as they arrive to reach a successful end to the fire scenario. The point to be made is that objectives may be carried out by different companies as one company cannot be expected to be responsible for every activity.

Even these rules may not apply in those rural areas where resources are few and far between. In these circumstances, remember that risking a lot to save a lot takes a lot of courage. Rescue is always our first priority and the first arriving company officer must make the best tactical decision possible based on the resources at hand and what process will allow them to reach and rescue victims as soon as possible.

Throughout the next series of articles, I will walk through the tactical objectives and try to weave them into a flexible, real-world application of options available to us all. At the end of the series, I will pull them all together and attempt to show how they can all be brought to the table and coordinated in a successful fashion to enhance our ability to perform our jobs as effectively and efficiently as possible. See you next month!

Michael Lee teaches firefighters the ‘Street Smarts’ they need to survive in some of the most dangerous situations they encounter: ice rescues, basement fires, and structural collapses. Read Lee’s advice in his FireRescue1 exclusive column.