|Safety: A Fireground
By: Captain James Benjamin, MS, CSHM, CFEI
Now more than ever before safety has to be the top priority at an emergency scene. Yes, the Emergency Services still have to protect lives and property, but this MUST be accomplished in a safe and methodical manner. We can no longer live in the past, freelancing must end!
We as emergency service workers need to understand that although expected to be superheroes by the public, we don’t have a big “S” and a cape under our uniforms. We are there to do a job and we must do it as safely as we can.
This article will look examine both fire-ground and staffing concerns and see how these areas both play a role in scene safety.
WITHOUT ORDER THERE IS CHAOS!
Having a command system in place not only allows the commander to track the progress of the incident; it establishes an orderly way of allocating, deploying, and tracking resources. Don’t freak out at setting up a command structure. I can’t tell you how many times I have head “we’ll so and so won’t establish command,” or “my people view the incident command system as intimidating,” or better yet and my personal favorite “hell, by the time you set up the command structure, there is no one left to fight the fire.”
If this is the case, it might be time to replace some of your personnel. Granted, there are times and instances where the command structure can become involved.
However, these cases are the exceptions rather than the rule. As a general rule, usually three sectors in the command structure will suffice for most incidents (Operations, Safety, and Staging, as the incident grows other sectors will have to be added). Another question that usually follows when discussing command systems is: “Do we need to set up a command structure on every call?” Absolutely, as I say, you play like you practice.
Have your department get used to using the incident command system on the day-to-day calls. This will enable the department to identify gaps in the command structure as well as, give your officers and firefighters an added comfort level. So practice often. Again, setting Operations, Staging, and Safety sectors early, will do wonders for you in the long run, especially in the area of safety.
THE SAFETY SECTOR
Speaking of the Safety Sector, make sure this position (as well as the other command positions) is staffed by someone you trust as the commander and understands his or her role and responsibilities. I can’t tell you how many incidents I have heard of that had an Operations and Staging sector but no Safety sector. Give me a break! How can Incident Commander do his or her job effectively without a having an established Safety Sector? The Safety Sector is an extra set of eyes with the purpose of protecting the fire crews and others involved with the emergency scene.
The person placed in this position must have a through knowledge and understanding of building construction, chemistry and physics of fire, fire suppression, incident command principals, and the principals of safety and health management.
The sole purpose of this position is to identify and hopefully eliminate unsafe acts and situations. This position must have the authority to “pull the plug” on any or all operations when they deem it necessary. Fire scenes are inherently unsafe, lets not add to the situation.
These all point to the same basic need on the fire-ground. STAFFING! Without adequate staffing, the foundation starts to crumble, safety is compromised, and resources are stretched to their breakpoint. It’s hard to believe that even today, there are two-man Engine and Truck Companies arriving at fire scenes.
This practice is just flat dangerous not to mention useless! If your staffing has been cut, or you know your manpower is limited, do something about it.
If you need assistance, GET it. It’s as simple as that. Don’t let false departmental pride perpetuate an already dangerous situation (lack of staffing or resources).
Request additional hands early. Waiting to call additional resources increases the dangers to firefighters as well as, the potential for fire loss. Mutual Aid (MA) agreements are wonderful, but not always the answer. Even under the best conditions a MA requests could be delayed up to five minutes (not including travel time).
Consider Automatic Mutual Aid Response (AMAR) contracts. As some of you know, AMAR contracts alert multiple jurisdictions of an incident at the same time. Thus, reducing the response time and increases staffing, resources, and safety on the initial alarm.
Trust me, as a scene commander you will always be able to find additional resources, you just have to call.