Fire/EMS Safety, Health and Survival Week: Day Six: “Situations, Size-Up, Actions and Entertainment”

Fire/EMS Safety, Health and Survival Week: Day Six: “Situations, Size-Up, Actions and Entertainment”

Protect Yourself: Your Safety, Health and Survival Are Your Responsibility

I had the opportunity this past April to present a large body of original research in the form of a comprehensive presentation at this year’s Fire Department Instructors Conference (FDIC) in Indianapolis. During the ensuring research phase of the program development, I was immersed in some research and in reviewing a number of case studies and line of duty death reports, while furthering my concepts related to a new methodology on fireground operations and command risk management that I call Five Star Command TM .

This process and review encouraged me think a lot about the manner in which the modern fireground is managed, the way the current generation of firefighters and officers see themselves, and the manner in which strategic and tactical battle (Incident Action Plans-IAP) are developed and executed. It also prompted me to begin thinking about what, we as firefighters are thinking when we find ourselves in the center of a "good" rockin' know what I mean, the kind of interior firefighting that we’ve come to define as the essence of being a firefighter, but are attempting to redefine.

I have been giving a lot of thought over the past couple of months to the continuing challenges and issues surrounding firefighter LODD and the issues of dynamic risk assessment, command decision-making and company level accountability. My recent lecture at the South Carolina Fire Academy’s annual Firefighter Safety and Health Conference provided an enlighten forum with a wealth of critical thinking and dialog amongst the attendees on firefighter safety, command risk assessment and tactical accountability related to opinions on the emerging new model of modern fire suppression strategies and tactics.

I went further back in time and began to visualize and think about the manner in which I functioned as a company officer when I first got promoted and the kinds of things we used to do; when we were young and both naïve to the true risks of fireground operations and filled with a sense of fireground invincibility. I know, I placed myself or found my company in positions and places of greater risk, “back in the day”, for the sake of getting more nozzle time in a well involved structure fire, or extended our stay-times in hostile places that were not safe or acceptable by today’s standards. WE, were lucky.

Any one of us could have then or even in the present day, find ourselves in an instant, in the wrong place, operating under the wrong plan for all the wrong reasons. We looked for ways to increase our “playtime” for the pleasure, enjoyment, adrenaline rush, exuberance and at times euphoric pleasure doing what we do best; and that was fighting fires.

To think that this is not happening in today’s fire service would be absurd and illogical. If we look at the ways many departments, companies or personnel are operating on the fireground during structural fire operations and the places we are assigning and directing them to operate within, we would be asking ourselves, WHY?

There are tremendous national, state and locally efforts and initiatives directed at enhancing firefighter safety, reducing firefighter line of duty deaths and injury rates, on effective command management, skill development, competencies and cultural changes to improve and enhance the fire service. But it all has to start with the basic unit of operation; the Company, the Officer and personnel.

Today’s incident scene and structural fires are unlike those in past decades and will continue to challenge us operationally when confronted with structural fire engagement and combat operations. Operationally, We need to be doing the right thing, for the right reason in the right place to increase our safety and incident survivability.
We need to stop "entertaining" ourselves, the job is dangerous, it has risks, we are not invincible, and we can die; at any alarm, in any fire, at anytime for any number of reasons.....

Let me leave you with some new thoughts and concepts related to operational safety and the definitions that I’ve come to develop that may support apparent or contributing causes to many of the fire service’s undesired events or incidents. Think about the definitions; think about how they apply to you, your company or your operations; past, present or future.

TACTICAL AMUSEMENT *tak-ti-kəl ə- *myüz-mənt
1: of or relating to structural fireground tactics: as a (1) a means of amusing or entertaining during fire suppression, support tasks or operations that places personnel at risk
2: the condition of being amused while engaging in fire suppression, support tasks or operations that places personnel at risk
3: pleasurable diversion while engaging in fire suppression, support tasks or operations: entertainment; that places personnel at risk

TACTICAL DIVERSION *tak-ti-kəl də- *vər-zhən
1: the reckless act or an instance of diverting from an assignment, task, operation or activity while engaging in fire suppression, support tasks or operation for the sake of amusing or entertainment; that places personnel at risk
2: the reckless act of self determined task operations that diverts or amuses from defined risk assessment and incident action plans; that places personnel at risk

TACTICAL CIRCUMVENTION *tak-ti-kəl sər-kəm- *ven(t)-shən
1: to deliberately manage to get around especially by ingenuity or approach that diverts for the purpose of amusing; assignment, operations or tasks that countermand or disregard defined risk assessment and incident action plans; that places personnel at risk
© 2009 Christopher J. Naum

Let me further reiterate on some elements for consideration related to the issues surrounding situational awareness, dynamic risk assessment and size-up. I discussed these in greater detail on Day Three this week: Fire/EMS Safety, Health and Survival Week: Day Three: “Dynamic Mana...

The built-environments that form and shape our response districts and communities pose unique challenges to the day-to-day responses of fire departments and their subsequent operations during combat structural fire engagement. With the variety of occupancies and building characteristics present, there are definable degrees of risk potential with recognizable strategic and tactical measures that must be taken. Although each occupancy type presents variables that dictate how a particular incident is handled, most company operations evolve from basic strategic and tactical principles rooted in past performance and operations at similar structures. This basis is based upon Predictability of Performance.

• Modern building construction is no longer predicable
• Command & company officer technical knowledge may be diminished or deficient
• Technological Advancements in construction and materials have exceeded conventional fire suppression practices
• Some fire suppression tactics are faulted or inappropriate, requiring innovative models and methods.
• Fire Dynamics and Fire Behavior is not considered during fireground size-up and assessment
• Risk Management is either not practiced or willfully ignored during most incident operations
• Some departments or officers show and indifference to safety and risk management
• Command & Company Officer dereliction
• Nothing is going to happen to me (us)

The fireground often has competing or conflicting incident priorities, demands or distractions before a complete appreciation of all mission critical or essential
information and data has been obtained. The effective assessment of the incident scene is much more than the three-sided size-up methodology of past fireground practices. In fact the term size-up doesn't align with the newest directions in firefighter safety and incident command management.

The 360 degree assessment has become the generally accepted standard from which risk assessment is performed and incident action plans derived. The fact that many LODD case studies and reports repeatedly indicate the lack of an effective 360 degree assessment of the incident scene where structural fire engagement is being initiated was a contributing factor or may have contributed to a different incident outcome.

Think about the effectiveness and value that the 360 ◦ Degree assessment brings to the development of an effective and valid incident action plan and the tactics that are driven by those identified and assumed assessment indicators. The question is: Are you conducting a 360 upon arrival, and if not WHY?

All command and supervisory personal and operating companies must be able to recognize and appreciate the risks which are present at an incident in order to carry out an effective dynamic risk assessment. The 360 Degree assessment is a mission critical element for effective and safety incident operations.

Don’t for a moment think, “it takes too long to perform” or that you don’t have time to conduct, especially from a company officer perspective when you’re deploying and initiating tactical assignments. That extra minute to conduct a “three-sixty” may make all the difference in the world…..There may be three hundred and sixty degrees of safety margin that separate you and your company between injury or death....think about it.

Situational Awareness and Risk Assessment
Situation Awareness related to Building Construction, Command Risk Management and Firefighter Safety is another mission critical element. Situation Awareness (SA) is the perception of environmental elements within a volume of time and space, the comprehension of their meaning, and the projection of their status in the near future. It is also a field of study concerned with perception of the environment critical to decision-makers in complex, dynamic situations and incidents. Both the 2006 and 2007 Firefighter Near-Miss Reporting System Annual Reports identified a lack of situational awareness as the highest contributing factor to near misses reported.

• Situation Awareness involves being aware of what is happening around you at an incident scene to understand how information, events, and your own actions will impact operational goals and incident objectives, both now and in the near future.
• Lacking SA or having inadequate SA has been identified as one of the primary factors in accidents attributed to human error.
• Situation Awareness becomes especially important in the structural fire suppression and firefighter domains where the information flow can be quite high and poor decisions can lead to serious consequences.
• Dynamic Risk Assessment is commonly used to describe a process of risk assessment being carried out in a changing or evolving environment, where what is being assessed is developing as the process itself is being undertaken.
• This is further problematical for the Incident Commander when confronted with competing or conflicting incident priorities, demands or distractions before a complete appreciation of all mission critical or essential information and data has been obtained.
• The dynamic management of risk is all about effective, informed and decisive decision making during all phases of an incident at a structural fire.
The integration of Situational Awareness and Dynamic Risk Assessment related to the building and occupancy is a mission critical element in managing structural fires and in the strategic command management and company level tactical operations as we go forward into the next decade.
• Traditional phased incident scene size-up and monitoring is antiquated and no longer appropriate or applicable to modern fire service operations.
• Situational awareness is a combination of attitudes, previously learned knowledge and new information gained from the incident scene and environment that enables the strategic commanders, decision-makers and tactical companies to gather the information they need to make effective decisions that will keep their firefighters and resources out of harm's way, reducing the likelihood of adverse or detrimental effects.

Command and company officers and firefighters MUST understand the building, the occupancy features and the inherent impact of fire within and on the structure, AND be able to identify, communicate and take actions necessary to support the incident action and battle plans, mitigate incident conditions and provide for continuous safety protection to themselves, their team, their company and the entire alarm assignment operating at the incident scene.

Everyone on the incident scene MUST stay alert to changing conditions, obvious or latent conditions or escalating factors that require prompt identification, comprehension and appropriate implementation of actions. To the Incident Commander, fire officer or firefighter, knowing what's going on around you, in and around the building structure and understanding the consequences of building, construction, assembly, fire load and fire development and growth is mission critical to incident stabilization and mitigation and profoundly crucial in terms of personnel safety. Maintain a three-sixty sphere of observation and awareness at all times.

I’ve attached an Activity program that provides you with a series of incident scene operational images and questions that can be utilized for enhancing skill sets in the areas of Situational Awareness, Size-up and Risk Assessment and Profiling. It’s attached as a PFD File. If your interested in obtaining an electronic file as a Power Point Program, please submit an email request at;

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