Over the years I have heard many first due officers and firefighters give hundreds of on scene reports from around the country and with in my own departments.  

But it was not until recently that I started thinking more about it.  A lot of these officers and firefighters not only give the usual type of construction, height of the building and what is happening but a lot give the size of the building.  I.E. 30 x 30, 100 x 100, what ever it is at that moment.  

I think that is a fantastic addition to an on scene report.  Guys coming in can get more of a visual and more pre-planning can be done such as line stretches, truck placement and so on.

My question is, how are they determining the size?  

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Not sure on estimating the dimensions, I know FDNY does this regularly, but IMO, I don't find this as useful. IMO, I think a first in report should be as short as possible, structure (residential, commercial, industrial), size, (small, medium, large), whats showing.


Not sure on other depts but for me, most of us know the city well and when a call comes in, you know the typical structures in the area, may know the specific building (hospital, paper mill, etc). There are very few buildings that I can't picture where giving dimensions would help.

We give the following at a minimum:





Location of fire

Anything else important would be included such as people trapped, people on fire escapes, large volume of fire, extension problems, anticipated water problem, etc. This is given by first unit in. A later report would give more info such as exposures, number of lines stretched/operating, status of searches, progress of firefighting efforts. This is given by battalion chief.


Free-standing buildings often allow for two sides to be seen upon arrival. Dimensions will be obtained visually. An estimate is OK. 30x50 vs 20x40 is not a big deal. Idea is to give responding units a general picture. Same with larger area building (100x200 vs 200x300). They'll get the idea that it's BIG either way. For attached buildings local knowledge or estimate is used.


If any estimates are way off base, a survey from roof and/or rear can correct them.


Pre-fire planning is also a good way to obtain building dimensions.


Exact dimensions are not always necessary but IMO the more accurate the info is, the better off we all are.

For the big urban departments you could have new or detailed firefighters/officers, relocated units or multiple alarm units coming from a distance. The dimensions could be helpful to them because they are not as familiar with the neighborhood.

I'm not condemning how any other dept out there operates. In the context of this thread and the OP's opinion to add this to a first in, my opinion differs. If a larger urban dept believes that giving dimensions is part of their first in report, so be it. In regards to my experience and what tends to be trained on, I find giving out more information, that doesn't really dictate conditions, etc, to become too wordy for a first in.


If sticking to very basics like type of structure (residential, commercial, industrial) number of stories, size of structure (small, medium, large, mega) and what is showing, you get the gist across to incoming rigs. When adding stuff like hydrant location, trying to detrmine dimensions, giving orders to incoming, giving operation mode, and so forth, realistically all that info can be given AFTER a first in report and once command has been established.


IMO, giving dimensions doen't really mean much to me, what is happening on the scene does. If the report is for fire or smoke showing, I will gear up in the mindset to be working and assigned a role depending on arrival, if it is nothing showing, I know this is investigative mode. When I get on scene, I will be doing my own size up as well as operating within dept protocols for the particular assignment.


I haven't worked in a large city to know how they operate, I happen to work in a city where an immediate picture comes to mind, anywhere in the city. If I would be working a trade or OT on the opposite side of the city, I still basically know what is the make up of the buildings in the area I'm responding to. Getting on scene I should have an idea of what line to pull first and how far that can stretch. If it comes to placement, giving dimensions on a first in doesn't really help  in regards to rig placement.


To me, all that stuff comes down to training. Every FF should be able to take a quick look and determine which line is the best choice, pre-connect, or static load, etc. When it comes to the truck, an operator should be able to look for overhead obstructions, etc when it comes to placement. Even if an officer or FF is detailed elsewhere, there typically tends to be some regulars who know the area that can give some more insight if needed. In my opinion, there should be more time spent on training on what to do on arriving given the conditions and less time worrying about what to say in a first in. Again a first in should be a brief report to give a brief picture of what the building is doing. All other communication can be secondary and after command has been established.


Below is a link to the "Holy Shit" fire in Chicago last year. I never worked in Chicago and really don't have an idea of neighborhoods, areas, etc. However, given the report (second clip on the page), I would say I would have a pretty good idea of what is going on.


I agree that too much info on initial report can be counterproductive. But I don't believe including dimensions makes a report too wordy. An example of an initial report in my city would go like this:

"4 story 20x50 Class 3 MD, fire on 3rd floor"

That tells a lot quickly.

In urban departments width can indeed be important for rig placement. To place rigs properly we have to enter the block in correct order due to narrow streets. For narrow buildings a ladder company has to get front of building. For a very wide building that may not be as critical. It is policy that ladder precedes engine into block or engine must pass building before taking a hydrant, although we don't like passing up good hydrants.

In addition, we could have a 4 story 20x50 Class 3 MD with one apartment per floor on the same block as a 4 story 75x100 Class 3 MD with six apartments per floor. It's nice to know going in which it's going to be and dimensions would tell us that.

There is really no time lost obtaining dimensions for initial report.

PS. I was surprised to hear that report from Chicago. Sounded like an on scene Handie Talkie exchange between officer and chief. I've never heard that kind of language broadcast. Unprofessional IMO.

Both John and captnjak make good points but lets face it; does everyone eyeball a dimension exactly??  If you pull up to a house and roughly guess-timate it to be 30X50 but its really 50X75 that can send the wrong message to incoming units.  And I dont know about you guys but I am not wasting time with a tape measure to get accurate measurements.  In my opinion, both ways have good and bad points.

As assistant chief my reports are brief and to the point; Occupancy (residential or commercial), size (number of floors) and type (Type I, II, III, IV or V) and what exactly is happening (fire or smoke visible second floor windows bravo side, fully involved, smoke showing, nothing showing investigating).  I use the same idea for MVA's as well, its not only fires that we shoud be sizing up and lots of you focus on fires only when discussing size ups.  I will mention exact location with nearest cross streets (In front of address, or right after ABC street), number of vehicles involved and if known how many patients, and any known hazards for incoming units such as wires down on car, fires, haz-mat spills etc.  Later I will give updated patient info, request additional EMS units/air assets, and updated size-up.  Typical one for us would be "On scene 2 car head-on with 3 patients, in front of 2345 route 20 near Bear Swamp Rd, power lines are down next to vehicles requesting 2 additional ambulances and National Grid to the scene."

No tape measure needed; it's an estimate. There is no good reason why we can't come up with a reasonable estimate of dimensions just by looking. Anyone who can't do this probably shouldn't be in a position to give reports. For some of us (most of us?), a 75 foot wide building is much different from a 25 foot wide building. SOP would likely be different and you get a chance to consider tactics PRIOR to arrival. You can now hit the ground running even if your view of the building is blocked.

For example, in my city a 75x100 Class 3 MD is likely to have some steel structural elements, while a 25x50 Class 3 MD will not. A larger building with a top floor fire may require trench cut while the smaller building would not. A member going up fire escape would have to be sure to pick the appropriate one because on the larger building that fire escape may not serve fire area. On the smaller building there will probably be only one fire escape.

The hose stretch could also be quite a bit longer, even though both buildings are the same height.

In the narrow building we would expect two "railroad flat" or "shotgun" type apartments per floor. In the wider building we would expect six or more conventional apartments per floor.

I believe it is valuable to know all of this prior to arrival.

I have to agree here. I have seen a few guys on a bigger department get transfered for temp work assignments and they were working in locations thay had never been before so it could be beneficial in that regard.

In The FDNY first arriving officers usually did not give a size up. They would transmit the radio signal for a working fire and include what type of occupancy. Building height and dimensions would be given when the IC gave his first progress report.

Each firefighter would be doing a mental size up from the time the box came in. As an examble: If you worked in Manhattan and got a phone alarm for fire at 320 east 87th. st. You would know just from the address alone that the fire was on 87th. st. between 1st.ave. and 2nd. ave. That it was on the south side of a west bound street and was probably a fire in a five story tenament.

You would know this because in that section of Manhattan, the addresses from 300 to 399 are between 1st and 2nd ave. 320 is an even #, even numbers are on the south side of the street odd #'s on the north side. 87 is an odd # and traffic flow on odd # streets is west bound. Five story tenaments are the main type of construction found in that area.

On arrival a quick look at the front of the building will tell you how many apartments per floor. Railroad flats will, most likely, not have a fire escape on the front of the bldg, it will have a rear fire escape or a rear balcony that runs between two bldgs. If the fire escape is on the front of the bldg it means 4 apts per floor. There is an exception to this rule, that would be a front fire escape on a bldg. with railroad flats but these types are very very rare.

Knowledge of your district is the key. In an urban area paid dept. building inspections allow us to gain that knowledge. In suburban and rural vollie areas drills should include the different types of occupancies that will be found.


FDNY officers are required to give a basic size up when transmitting the 10-75.

"10-75, fire on 3rd floor of a 5 story 25x75 NFP MD"

It is fairly common for an officer (or chauffeur) to just give the 10-75 and the chief will give it or dispatcher will get it from a unit arriving later, but policy is for the first arriving unit to give a size-up and many (most?) do. Plus dispatcher will immediately ask the trtansmitting unit (once) for size-up when hearing the 10-75.

We are a small volunteer department.

We've been asked by one of the counties we serve to keep our size-ups short and simple.

A typical example (This was actually about three days ago): "Chief 30 on scene, one story commercial masonry, smoke showing from the roof."

Turns out it was a cooking fire in the grill area putting smoke through the vent. The built-in suppression system had failed.

We knew we had a fire, but did not know the location. No problem. Prior to our arrival the Chief advised in a secondary report what it was and instructed the first arriving engine company what to bring in.

I agree that a brief size-up is good, followed by a  conditions/needs report as soon as possible.

captnjak;  I try to form my posts in the past tense. I have been retired for more than 12 yrs. When I came on in 68, the first arriving gave a simple 10-30 which was the code for a working fire. Later the code was changed to 10-75 and again that is all that was transmitted. Later still, the policy was changed again to include the 10-75 and the type of occupancy. This was how it was done when I retired, but I'm sure there have been many changes in 12 yrs.

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