“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.
When you work on the fireground, you are told what to do by receiving orders or preset guidelines. Standard assignment tasks that need to be completed at every fire include: secure the water supply, make a search and ventilate the building. The fireground is a much more cohesive operation when it is dictated under a set of guidelines both verbal and written.
If you are having a “safety moment,” are your concerns about completing your tactical assignments valid? You must not only assess the order, but also the process and the allowable range in which it can be carried out. An example might include: being assigned to extinguishing a basement fire; the assignment order may allow you to select the path your handline will take and/or the extinguishment tactic.
Under that example you have options. Some believe that by following orders, your options are eliminated, however they are not; you always have options on the fireground. The majority of times you will be on the same page as the person who gave the order. There really shouldn’t be too many surprises. Is the order way off the mark? Would another rational firefighter or officer of the same experience level make the same choice?
There are only two levels to task assignments options that require our attention: First, can the order as given be carried out? Furthermore, are there obstacles that initially thwart success, or has a road block suddenly appeared? Second, does your assignment as given include the proper exit strategy needed on the fireground? In other words, will completing this assignment place you in more danger?
Safety in regards to decision making is primarily about knowledge. When you have sufficient knowledge, your ability to make safer decisions is enhanced. Remember, no one on the fireground has a crystal ball to foresee the future. However, experiences with similar situations and a core understanding of tactics, timing and reasonable expectations help us process orders in relation to their safe completion. Is your safety increased by opting out of following orders? Generally speaking, no it is not. The vast majority of fire assignments and orders make perfect sense and are requirements to stabilize the incident quickly and efficiently.
The idea of equality in a fire company is an interesting one; as much as we profess and aim for equal treatment, we do not give equal weight to expressed opinions of young firefighters as we do with those of senior firefighters or officers. Can a less experienced firefighter have a valid concern or see what no one else did? Of course, and the observation should be noted and passed up the chain so an evaluation can be made. That evaluation may just stay at the company level firefighter to officer-officer to command, depending upon urgency and impact level.
Everyone can speak and be encouraged to note anything unusual but we cannot allow people to dictate their own agendas without the necessary vetting. If two individuals watch an event on the fireground and one deems it safe, while the other does not, who is right?
We have to train our people to be observant and to understand how a fire scene develops and the many variations they may encounter. Fire engagement requires that we operate to accomplish goals that are within our resources and are completed with a reasonable expectation of safe and effective operations. If the doorway is full of fire, you cannot enter through that opening. You can either acquire a handline and put the fire out, or look for another entrance. No one is going to tell you to march through the opening.
We have to build in observation skills and knowledgeable options to varying occurrences on the fireground. We must be careful not to diminish our tactical safety with an abdication of responsibility.
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