I haven't put in the amount of years that you have and maybe I'm off on this, but a proper size up can not be done without the whole picture, so reading the smoke from afar would not be sizing up the incident.
And secondly, without a proper size up, how can you plan your attack when smoke and fire conditions change rapidly. And to add,that from afar, you really don't know what kind of structure you have or where the smoke is coming from unless you see it in front of you.
When we get called to a scene, we know what type of structure it is, but we look at the whole picture when we get there to decide what route to take.
Mind you, at times there may be huge plumes of smoke filling the sky. From that I suppose you could get an idea that you might be looking at a defensive battle. But without seeing it, it's a hard call.
This is how I see it.
Interesting question, but I would imagine any officer who has a little crust around the edges would tell you that size-up begins in the cab on the way to the scene. Whatever intel the dispatcher gives you, observations of the weather, etc.
If you catch a glimpse of the smoke en-route, of course it becomes part of your intelligence gathering... This is how you format your first, or "windshield" size-up. Then you must get out and do your 360' visual size-up...
So to answer your question: How many times do you read the smoke from afar? Everytime you can!
Size up starts as soon as our pager message comes through, it tells us what sort of fire we're being turned out to. That first bit of information can tell us what vehicle is needed, that type of turnout gear is needed. The process continues with any further information supplied over the radio by despatch, then from any view of smoke whilst onroute; the amount, colour and movement of smoke from a grassfire tells us a lot.
If one was to await for arrival on scene before starting to plan, a lot of time has been wasted.
Thankyou for your reply. You are correct that a proper size up is needed and I also agree that you must get the whole picture. I started this disc. after reminiscing about a trainning school class that an officer and friend was teaching. "How to read smoke and recognize fire changes". There was a section on responding units reading smoke enroute and on scene. This class also stirred alot of disscusion as both the rual and city dept's sounded off. Thanks again for your reply.
Some have crust others dont to say the least. I thank you for your response. You are exact when you say it begins in the cab. I was a truck officer for some time and remember well listening to the PSAP spew out as much info as one could possibly absorb in 1min. I must add that the info was the beginning of the size up. I have also worked in E.M.S. for numerous years and once again PSAP "painted the picture" Your response is appreciated.
as soon as the smoke becomes visable to us we start reading it for well all sort of thing ie: Wind direction, Fuel loading, or if a neighboring dept. has started there attack. I think one of the best things a person can learn is how to read smoke up close and from a ways out.
Since most "reading smoke" refers to structure fires, I'll mention we do a lot of wildfires in our district. We look at a column from a distance and read color, density, convection and leaning. Sometimes they will even be "bent" part way up, indicating stronger winds aloft. The column tells nearly everything about the maturity and activity of a wildland fire. We depend heavily on that as we approach to decide early what resources we need, where and how to attack, etc.
Just wanted to add that, yes, pre-plans are a must, as well as reading smoke is a must. I was adressing the topic of size-ups. Yes, you can get an idea of the situation by what you see for smoke, and you can have an idea of what you may or may not do when you get there. In that respect you can prepare yourself for what you might do. But unless you are there, you can't tell for sure what your actions will be unless a complete 360 is done. Mind you, the closer you get to the scene, the more info you will have.
Some say that you start your size-up as soon as the bell goes off. I totally agree. You can visualize what's going on because you have seen the location before and you have certain information given to you, but when you arrive on scene, the situation could have, and usually has, changed.
I also know that some of the info given to you by dispatch has the potential of being a little off the mark. They go by what people tell them. Got called for a structure fire/ dispatch said that caller could see flames from his certain location. We get there, and it was a flowerbox on fire...just the corner of it and a little trim around the window.
So, anyway, I use visual information to use for a preliminary size-up. I see the smoke then add to my preliminary size-up. Close I get, the more clear it becomes.
By no means was I saying that you were wrong, Greg. I was only giving my idea. I live in a rural area, and I suspect that seeing smoke in the city or town would be different than seeing it outside of town.
My appologies for the mindless babbling, long day and the brain doesn't seem to want to work with me. If I offended anyone, I am sorry. If I made a good point, wow.
Norm, I tip my helmet to you and the hundreds of thousands of wildland firefighters out there! Your job is equally tough, but a whole other animal!
I had the good fortune to spend some time out in Northern California (Lassen-Modoc Ranger Unit, in Susanville, CA) during the historic wildland fires of 2008. What an eye-openner that was! A whole different mindset and approach to the same problem of beating back the beast!