The "First Due" Officer… what are you thinking?

I mentioned a fewpost back that I wanted to follow up on Chris Naum’s show Taking it to the Streets.  Chris has a regular show on Firefighter Netcast and last week’s was The First Due Officer.  I was brought in late and wasn’t really up to speed as to what direction Chris wanted to go. I did know however that Chris and I share a lot of the same views and ideas when it comes to “redefining today’s fire ground” so I din’t mind being in on the conversation.

That said, I felt like I came across as a bumbling idiot on the show. I was NOT at Firefighter Netcast’s Eastern Headquarters (Rhetts house) with head sets, a mic andsomeone to look at while talking.  Instead, I was walking around my house, alone;  talking through the cell phone … it felt a little “odd” and had me off. So, to follow up; I’d like to give ya just a little insight to exactly what is going through the Company Officer’s mind while responding to a fire…. well through mine anyway and what I wish I had said in last week’s netcast.

  • The alert sounds. The members of Engine 13 and myself race towards the bay from where ever we were within the station or from whatever we were doing (working out, studying, cleaning, eating, rest room break etc… you drop it and go).  Our heart rate just doubled. My Lt. goes to the printer and gets the “ticket”. The dispatcher announces Engines 13, 5, 4 Ladder 5, Medic 5, RS1 andBattalion 2 respond to “123 Alphabet Street” for flames from a house.
  • I’m now at the truck and rush to get into my gear… boots, pants up, suspenders on, hood, radio strap and then the coat. I have to hurry because I need to get in the rig and slip into my SCBA so I can buckle my seat belt before we pull out. All this takes less than 1 minute.
  • “You good Boots?” … “I’m good Capt” meaning he’s in his seat and buckled up. We pull out.
  • I look at and ask my Lt. (George) “you know where we’re going?”  “yea …. I got it”
  • I pull the map book and find the right page (we don’t have computers in the rig). I double check to make sure I too know where we are headed and to verify hydrant locations.
  • Now, my mind begins to roll. We’re gonna be first in… who will be 2nd?    “WATCH THAT TRUCK… Clear right”. What direction will they be coming from so which hydrant will be the best? What kind of flows do I have on the available hydrants? If I need a 2nd for defencive operations, where will we get it ?
  • What’s located in the “123” block of “Alphabet Street”? Residential? Commercial?   What time of day is it? Should people be home right now? If commercial, is it working hours?
  • Depending on the answer above, what kind of construction is in that block? New, lightweight or older balloon construction?
  • We turn onto “Alphabet Street” and I see heavy smoke banked in the street about half way up the block on the left. I tell Boots… “we’re going to work'” again, our heart rate increases.
  • As we approach, I get a good look at the “Bravo”  and then “Alpha” sides of the structure. I notice a parking lot beside the house and tell George to place the rig there. Pulling past the house and into the adjoining lot, I get a view of the “Delta” side.
  • I take a breath, collect my thoughts and key the mic. “CONTROL, Engine 13″.  She acknowledges..” ENGINE 13″ (it’s important that I allow her to acknowledge me so I know she’s listening and I wont have to repeat all I’m about to say).
  • I give my size up… “Engine 13 is arriving at 123 Alphabet Street. We have a 2 story, wood frame, residential structure with heavy brown smoke from the 1st and 2nd floors, sides Bravo, Alpha and Delta. This is a “working fire” . Have Engine 4 lay me a line from Alphabet Street and Soup Avenue. Ladder 5 be advised that you have the address. Engine 13 is establishing “division 1” and preparing for an offensive attack.
  • Meanwhile, Boots has already exited the truck and began making a stretch to the front door but I take a second to look and assure he’s not having any troubles / issues. He’s not.
  • How’s the building looking now? Is it any different than just a few seconds ago? Get a look at the roof … are shingles bubbling or sinking?
  • Look at the foundation … is that a crawl space or a full basement?
  • I head around the house to get a look at the “Charlie” side since I didn’t get a look at it on arrival (this will complete my 360). When I get there, I find the back door open and the brown smoke now turning black and pouring out but high. I also encounter a Spanish speaking male (I don’t speak Spanish) who is frantically pointing to the 2nd floor and saying something I do not understand.
  • I ask him .. “is everyone out of the house”? His reply … something.. something… Spanish.. “upstairs”. I ask again, “is everyone out of the house”?  I get the same reply… “upstairs ” is the only word I know.
  • Is he saying someone is still inside or asking me if I see all the smoke pouring from the upper floor? I’m not sure. IF … IF  someone IS inside there, are they viable? Let me think…by now, this fire has been burning for at least 10 minutes (we arrive within 4 minutes, give 1 minute for turnout and another 5 minutes for someone to have noticed and reported the fire).  Could someone survive the circumstances I’m seeing right now?
  • Am / should I commit or risk my crew in this situation? What is the risk / benefit?
  • I key the mic … “CONTROL… Division 1” She replies .. “DIVISION 1”.  “CONTROL, be advised that we have possible entrapment on the 2nd floor, Advise Ladder 5 of the need for ventilation and a primary search. Division 1 will be advancing to the 2nd floor for fire attack, radio designation now Division 2 PAR with 2”
  • I head back to side Alpha to get Boots and the line. I make the Alpha side just as he puts a boot to the front door. It didn’t budge. I get to him and quickly tell him… forget the door,  stretch to the rear .. the door is open and we need to make the 2nd floor.
  • We go through the back door. The smoke is banked only half way down.  The home is small and it is apparent that the fire is above us. I lead him right and we locate the stairs.  Up we go.
  • Upstairs paints a much different picture. There, the smoke is worse and turning black. ZERO visibility and HOT. We push down the short, small hallway to the two rooms. Here comes our water .. George was right on time.
  • Where EXACTLY are we in this house … how would I transmit our location to the Chief if I needed to? Are the conditions here changing? How quickly can we make the “seat” and begin the knock down?
  • By this time, back  up has arrived. Engine 4 is laying in, The Ladder is opening up and beginning their searches.  Engine 5 is stretching a 2nd line. The Battalion has arrived and established command.
  • Again I take a breath and key the mic. “COMMAND, Division 2”. He replies… “DIVISION 2″. Chief, we’ve made the 2nd floor, high heat, zero visibility, working to the seat…. need ventilation ASAP”

Ok, I’ll stop there. What I want you to realize is that all the above.. the dressing, thinking, talking on the radio happened in about 6 minutes or less! That’s 6 minutes under HIGH STRESS! It’s a LOT to do and consider and you don’t have time to waste. Hesitation or indecision allows the fire to double in size every minute. Waste a minute and then you’re looking at a totally different picture. Give away a minute and your tactics would have to change.

What factors lead you to or away for one decision or another?

Had the Spanish speaking male been able to say … “everyone is out but my cat is in it’s crate in that upstairs bedroom” would you have committed the crew? Are you prepared enough to have said the “RISK” is high (it’s about to flash and unvented) and there is NO benefit to saving a cat? Can you hide your pride and go defencive?

After finding the conditions on the 2nd floor, how long would you have “took the beating” and stayed in the heat and zero visibility. The conditions were not improving, they were becoming worse. Were the chances of a victim surviving the conditions on the 2nd floor less than surviving on the first? How quickly is that “small chance” heading towards “no chance”? Are you capable of backing out?

Now, I’m no expert but these are just a few things that we as the “first arriving Officer” have to consider. In some departments, the first arriving unit establishes command and sets up the scene for the in coming units. Would you have had the time for that in the above scenario?

Did I, as the first due; “paint the picture” for the in coming?  Something as simple as my saying “smoke showing from Bravo, Alpha, and Delta” should have let you know that I was seeing the house from left to right. Did the post size up and update transmit ions let you know where I was and what needed to happen? If it did, then it was the 1st due Officer who set the strategy and tactics for this fire… NOT the IC (although when the IC arrives, he / she may see changing conditions etc and make the necessary adjustments).

Again, there’s a whole lot happening on the fire scene and the decisions we make are as serious as life or death (ours or civilians). Are you ready for these decisions? Did I miss any (I’m sure I did)? What happens when the Captain is off? Does the Lt. bump up to the seat? Is your Lt or junior Officer prepared?

I hope you both are. It doesn’t come easy! It takes training, open eyes, ears and a willingness to accept new ideas / challenges. Today’s fireground is ever changing and as Company Officers, we need to stay ahead of those changes. Take the time to visit Firefighter Netcast and click “follow” to be update on schedules of their shows. If you lived through this post, you’ll easily make it through (and learn a lot more from) one of their netcast.

As always, thanks for following .. this was a long one to hang on for (and I still sound like a bumbling idiot..but whatda ya do?). Let me know what you’re thinking. Tell me what I missed. What would you add or delete? How does your Department operate?

I’ll catch ya later… we start 4-day tomorrow. Until then, stay safe and in house!

Captain Wines