Taking multitasking on the fireground to a new level
Picture it: You and your crew arrive at a structure fire with confirmed people trapped. Perhaps there are numerous people on the fire escapes or a mother lying in the driveway screaming that her husband and children are trapped on the second floor of their private house and that her husband lowered her from their bedroom window and he’s trying to get to the children!
In the above scenario, there are numerous tasks that must be performed simultaneously. Depending on the type of unit you arrived on (engine, ladder, etc.), the resources arriving with you, additional resources responding and their ETA, and your department’s standard operating procedures or guidelines; your actions may be predetermined or may require augmentation.
The main focus, of course, is the known life hazards. However, the stretching and operating of the first hoseline may be the best ways to address those known life hazards—especially if your unit is understaffed or limited in staffing or does not have the ability to perform search, rescue, recovery, AND the stretching of the first hoseline at the same time. As the first-arriving officer and probably the incident commander (IC), you must fight the natural instinct to focus all your attention on the fleeing/screaming/trapped occupants. This is much easier said than done; however, as the IC/company officer, you must take in the bigger picture. To not do so could prove catastrophic for both your members and the trapped civilians.
Here is where the company officer must be decisive in giving orders and enacting an incident action plan. This is not the time to allow your firefighters to freelance or deviate from their basic assigned tasks. Quite the opposite; this is the time that core competency tasks must be performed at the expert level. Those basic firefighting tasks require focus and determination to perform successfully. The company officer may need to call an audible and make tactical decisions to raise portable ladders, perform aggressive searches, hit the fire venting from the window below the trapped occupant, etc., all while radioing in a preliminary report, requesting assistance, establishing command, and interviewing the mother/evacuating residents as to possible location of trapped victims, access to their location, and the like.
Sounds easy, right? If it was easy, the police would do it (just kidding)! Now, imagine extreme temperatures, wind, multiple floors/multiple buildings involved in fire, partial structural collapse, or a multitude of other complexities thrown in, and you’ll probably feel your heart rate rise and your adrenaline start to pump through your veins. GOOD! Run through these scenarios in your mind at every opportunity. Play them out with different scenarios. Watch videos (ask, what would I do there?), and talk to your crews so they can think about what they should or would be doing. However, use caution not to criticize or condemn the departments in the videos you’re watching. As mentioned above, there are often variables that affect what’s going on behind the scenes in the video that we know nothing about.
With the extreme cold temperatures throughout the country, fires happen. A good friend of mine ended 2017 with a multiple-alarm fire in which 13 residents lost their lives and several others, who were rescued by firefighters, are still fighting for theirs (as of this writing).
While I’m writing this article, that same officer is starting 2018 with a first-due multiple alarm fire in a five-story, fully occupied apartment building. The fire started in a fully involved mattress store on the first floor and extended throughout the building and into the cockloft shortly after arrival. Game on!
Size-up is conducted by many individuals at many times throughout a working fire. Subsequently, situational awareness takes that size-up and compares it to the strategy and tactics being employed with the reality of the situation to see if they are applicable and working successfully. That reality is not how the IC wishes it to be. Rather, it is based on how the incident is actually going. Is it getting better? Or, is it getting worse?
Tough decisions and situations may be uncomfortable for the company officer to think about. However, by placing yourself in these uncomfortable situations before they occur, you’ll give yourself and your crews the opportunity to visualize and sharpen your skills in a comfortable environment. Drill and train for “The Big One” because … it’s coming!
Stephen Marsar, EFO, MA, is a 30-year veteran of the fire service and battalion chief in the Fire Department of New York (FDNY). He is also a former chief and commissioner of the Bellmore (NY) Volunteer Fire Department. Marsar teaches extensively at the FDNY and Nassau County (NY) Fire and EMS academies, and he’s an adjunct professor at the Nassau County Community College. He has a master’s degree in homeland defense and security from the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School as well as a bachelor’s degree in fire science and emergency services administration from SUNY Empire State College. Marsar graduated with honors from the National Fire Academy’s Executive Fire Officer Program and is a National Roll of Honor inductee. He has been a member of the IAFC Safety, Health and Survival Section since 2003.