Decision time: Life safety vs. incident stabilization

Video from Los Angeles blaze underscores the importance of smart decision-making and fireground prioritization


Let’s review the three main fireground priorities: life safety, incident stabilization and property conservation. Every fire scene we respond to requires these three priorities to be addressed. The order in which they are addressed will be dictated by the situation.

Primarily life safety is usually going to be addressed either first or second at a structure fire, depending upon what is happening with the fire. Stabilizing the incident may need to be done first in order to address the life safety factor. Stabilizing the incident may be as simple as closing a door or putting the fire out quickly.

We can witness this domino effect with this month’s video – “Early video: Man found inside burning California home” – which takes place in Los Angeles.

Here we have a single-family dwelling that has fire in the garage, with smoke extending into the rest of the structure. Without being able to see inside, fire is most likely starting to extend into the structure as well.  

In order to address the life safety priority of the homeowner inside, the fire or incident needs to be stabilized. As you will see, the fire is attacked right away by the first attack line and the crew starts to make a good knock down while the second line is being positioned.

What is amazing is the fact that, after a while, you see a team of firefighters escorting/walking out the occupant who was inside the structure. Not knowing where this person was located inside, why they were not able to get out on their own, or what the conditions were like near them, the person was still a viable rescue, and was it possible because the fire was controlled/knocked down. Removing the fire is what helped to stabilize the incident.

Could the responding fire department have addressed the life safety priority first by going inside to do a primary search before stretching a handline? Yes, they could have and, based upon certain large city department operations, this may be their response model. The outcome may have been the same, with the occupant being found and removed outside; however, the fire may have grown in size and created a bigger problem for crews to manage.

All of this comes down to a good size-up, and based upon various incident factors, the decision will need to be made: life safety first or incident stabilization first?

Training time

After watching this video and reading this story with your company, I recommend you do the following as part of your next training:

  • Refer to your department’s standard operating procedures/guidelines (SOPs/SOGs) to see if there is direction given regarding rescue models or addressing fireground priorities.
  • Practice single-firefighter hoseline advancement from the engine to the door to help stabilize the incident. Quickness helps in getting a handline in position.

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