Fire fighters face an unusual and demanding set of circumstances every time they show up at a working structure fire. The contents of the building are often unknown, without searching the building it is often impossible to tell if it is occupied, and the extent of the fire and its effect on structural stablity is hard to guage. While it is naturally our first impulse to grab a hoseline and head into the building, we need to evaluate our situation with more of an eye toward safety.
Last time I wrote about the importance of considering 'Risk vs. Benefit', risking a little to save a little and risking a lot to save a lot. Every fire fighter has the responsibility for their own safety - but the Company Officer - the Fire Lieutenant or Fire Captain in charge of the crew has the responsibility of looking out for the safety of his or her entire crew. A typical fire fighting crew (the ones you see riding on the big red fire engines and ladder trucks) are composed of three fire fighters and one company officer. The company officer is the foreman; the one who calls the shots, leads the action, and is responsible for the safety of those assigned to his or her crew. The company officer must constantly evaluate the structure, the viability of operations, and the integrity of the crew - a while the work is being done. They act as a safety officer for the fire fighters immediately assigned to them. The company officer should not be involved in the hands-on portion of the work, they direct the crew and keep an eye out for danger. This role is extremely important in the ever-changing unpredictable world of fire fighting. Worsening smoke conditions, signs of structural instability, and crew fatigue are just three of the hundreds of things the company officer has to keep tabs on. If the officer realizes that conditions have changed for the worse, or the crew's firefighting efforts are not making headway, it is their job to communicate that to the chief officer who has overall command of the incident. A re-assignment or re-evaluation of priorities may be in order.
Next time we'll discuss the job of the Incident Safety Officer.
Until then - stay safe!
March 23, 2010