"The Fire Service's Weekly Safety Column!"
By Ray McCormack
Tactical Safety examines the process of firefighting to see if there is a better and safer way to operate.
What Type of Film is in Your Size-up Camera?
As we approach any incident, we are absorbing the elements that will form our initial size-up. As additional elements are added to the big picture, our size up not only increases in scope, it must also shrink, as not all size-up elements rate as critical. Size-up is fluid and or dynamic because what is seen on arrival for one individual’s interpretation later provides a different time-elapsed picture for another. These differences can be stubble or dramatic as they chart incident progression.
The interpretation of what is experienced forms a scene picture for our evaluation; the development of the “film” for some will be delayed, sent out to be developed, and processed over several minutes; for others, development time is quicker but still lags; for some, processing is instantaneous. The quicker the interpretation, the better, as the photos just keep coming, and interpretation is a step we can never skip.
We know that a size-up does not begin upon arrival at the scene; however, the arrival picture is the sweet-spot of the size-up because it answers many assumptions, descriptions and suspicions. Getting the big picture is the goal of every size up, which starts with knowledge of: your response area, common building types, construction, procedures for fire extinguishment, and water supply options to name a few.
Some in the fire service seem to breeze through decision making; easily developing what they see, hear and sense, transferring those elements into correct action plans while others send their film out and suffer from long action pauses.
The ability to make sound size-up decisions, and process information, varies between individuals. Those whose tasks are more sharply defined should be able to process their size-up decisions rather quickly. If that is not the case, other factors may be impinging on the process. Removing clutter from image-interpretation is a fine art. Highly-focused firefighters do not suffer from tunnel vision, they are keenly aware of their surroundings; however, they avoid image clutter which reduces decision development time.
How does someone switch to the new digital age of instant size up development? They learn their craft well at the level they are at now, and study how the craft is performed at the next level. Once the image is gained, it must be quickly processed as images are constantly being transmitted. Usually the fireground is a scene of incident-escalation progressing towards stabilization; control of all of these events ‘views’ will vary. It is the processing time that must be worked on, so that we do not get hung up on delayed interpretation. Things change rapidly; we need to bring in the next image without having to push out the previous picture, minus requisite interpretation.
Decisions are based on factors that will impact results. Size-up allows us to plan how best to limit, then stop, escalation. We can not predict the future; we can only direct resources towards a projected and agreeable goal. We see the goal in the future, and use size-up image development to tweak the plan as it moves forward. We can only use projection successfully when our size-up interpretation turn-around-time is rapid.
Working towards a faster processing speed is something technology can assist us with, along with old standards such as: reading about past incidents, and how they were handled; mentoring with those who have field experience, along with self development and study. The size-up adage for Carnage Hall is, “Practice, Practice, Practice.” Size-up image development is no different, you must practice, practice, practice to quickly develop and understand the pictures you are constantly taking at fires to maintain tactical safety.
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