Prepare for every call: Size-up tips for responses

There should be a general knowledge of the area that you cover, and sound decision-making comes from that knowledge

The tones drop and your company is dispatched to a working fire. The job is in your still area and the dispatcher says he has received multiple calls on this fire. You and your crew know you have work and everyone has their game face on.

Thoughts start racing through your mind and as you expeditiously get your PPE on, your size-up has already begun.

When teaching classes and attending classes on the subject of size-up, many start with the company arriving on the scene. It's obviously an important part — but our size-up begins before the call comes in.

I have asked classes when the size-up begins and many will give the typical answer of "when you arrive on the scene." But we should be pulling information about the call before we ever get on the truck.

The company officer should know as much as possible about their still area, or first-in area. They should have a good knowledge of what type of occupancies are typical, water supply issues and the best direct route to any call.

This information is learned and remembered over time and experience. Information of this nature is a responsibility of the company officer and the members of the crew.

We have received the call and we now know the address and area that the call is in.

That alone should give us a good impression of what we are likely dealing with. We should know if that area is primarily single story, two story, basements or no basements, or mostly commercial.

Are these single family or multi-family buildings? Is there a high percentage of elderly or young children in these households? Information that we need to know and should know as soon as we get the address.

We also have to consider that if we were awakened from sleep it is very possible that the occupants are either still inside or had been awoken as well. Are there kids still sleeping or could there be someone with a disability who was not able to exit?

Waking out of a deep sleep requires us to get sharp fast and we have to ensure that our crew is ready to go and in the right frame of mind.

While responding, have a brief discussion to make sure everyone knows their assignments. They have the proper tools and we know what we are going to do when we get there.

The officer is going to take the thermal imaging camera and do a 360-degree survey very quickly. The other firefighters split duty between pulling the line while the other is forcing entry if needed.

This discussion is very brief and to the point.

The company officer has to take into consideration the weather along with the vehicle operator. Poor road conditions can make our response delayed, in turn making any tenable spaces untenable and allowing fire growth to increase. Seconds can make a difference and we have to take that into account.

There has to be some discussion about water supply and if a pre-connect is going to be used or if we need to lead off. In some instances we lay to the hydrant, depending on how we attack the fire and how long our additional resources will take to arrive.

The operator and the officer should have a good idea of hydrant locations and how reliable the water supply is.

Is this an area that has newer, larger mains or are they as small as 4 inches and old? It all plays a part in our planning.

As we pull up to the fire building, we are identifying the type of occupancy, approximate size, special features like additions, multiple levels and approximate age of the building.

The type of occupancy will determine how many possible victims we are accounting and searching for, and possibly the age of potential victims. The size could dictate how much fire hose we need to stretch and will determine our deployment choice.

The age of the building will help us with looking for fire spread, balloon frame versus platform, and types of roof systems, floor systems and interior finishes.

We want to look for what I like to call the "character" of the occupancy. Are there cars in the driveway and nobody out front? Are there kids' toys in the yard or other indications of youth like basketball goals or skate boards laying around?

One thing to remember is that young kids, preadolescent, will hide under a bed, in a closet or under the blankets.

An older child will try to hide in a bathroom or shower. So, it is important that we identify these possibilities. Are there window coverings in the basement windows, maybe identifying a living area? These are just a few but not all of the "character"

Finally, we have to look at the fire conditions and the condition it is currently in and where it is going to be in five or 10 minutes. What is the smoke doing? What color is it?

Is it forcible or lazy? Do we have flames showing from one window, no windows or is it through the roof? We start to get into the tactical side of things at this point.

The point is to be prepared for any call in your area before you get. There should be a general knowledge of the area that you cover and sound decision-making comes from that knowledge.

Don't over think your size up and make sure you consider all of the factors and information being presented. Don't discount something because it has never happened before.

These are not all of the factors that need to be considered during a size-up, but a short list of basic examples that will lead to additional information for you to base decisions on.

As always, train hard, be persistent in gaining and passing along knowledge, and I'll see you next month From the Fireground.

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