In this edition of “KTW” Captains Kemp, Wynne and Hing discuss (1) back-up fire attack considerations, and (2) why captains fail to earn the respect of their commands. These topics and experienced-based opinions should be points of discussion for all of us.
Operational question: Tell us your tactical considerations and actions when given a “Back-up Fire Attack” assignment on a Single Family Dwelling?
CII Kenny Kemp, FS 21-B: When assigned Back-up F/A I initially consider the district where the fire is located as we’re enroute. This keys me in on various tactical considerations depending on the area and occupancy trends. I also listen to radio communications in an effort to determine the extent of fire and the progress being made by the initial fire attack company.
I’ll direct my company to lay-a-line and then develop a hoselay from the most suitable engine. Generally, for aboveground residential fires I lean towards a 1¾” handline and for ground level residential fires a 1½”. When assigned Back-up F/A my goal is to locate and determine the extent of the fire prior to entering the structure, and then to follow-up the primary F/A handline of the company I’m backing up.
I will co-locate with the company I’m assigned to back-up at which time I’ll identify my assignment and myself. I’ll update the fire attack officer on conditions I’ve observed from the outside and get his input on the operation/progress being made. From here I develop a coordinated attack on the fire while considering search and rescue, checking for extension, pulling ceiling, etc.
CII Steve Wynne, DPU: A Back-up F/A assignment supports the efforts of an interior fire attack company already in place. Tactically, I would secure a supply from a separate hydrant and then advance an additional handline along with taking a pike pole to the entry portal. I would determine who I’m backing-up and support their actions by pulling hose, pulling ceiling, providing additional GPM, etc. to support their efforts.
Like all other assignments, Back-up F/A requires a disciplined team approach. We will enter through a different portal or proceed in a different direction, and not advance over another F/A Co. We are there to help advance and fulfill the tactics initiated by the company we’re there to support.
There may be instances during a Back-up F/A assignment when a different tactical approach is necessary. When this occurs you must support the tactical shift initiated by the IC or company you’re assigned to back-up. In re-evaluating conditions, if you determine a different tactical approach is warranted, communication and teamwork is key. A Back-up F/A assignment is a support role, even when a different tactical approach is taken.
CII Jason Hing, FS 27-A: A Back-up F/A assignment is a crucial tactic in the overall strategy of mitigating a fire related emergency. My primary responsibility is assisting the initial fire attack team with developing their handline, pulling their hose, feeding it around corners, up/down stairways, etc. Working with the primary F/A Co rather than trying to overtake their handline demonstrates discipline and job competency.
When assigned Back-up F/A we bring an additional handline for several reasons: the primary attack line is not pulled far enough for the objective, the primary line fails, protection of the initial F/A Co and added gpm to augment the primary line. The Back-up F/A Co should also assist with a secondary search, evaluate salvage concerns and check for extension and hot spots with the TIC.
Controlling the portal of entry and ensuring we limit the number of people to those needed for extinguishment is necessary to complete the given task. Keeping all non-essential personnel out minimizes many problems and helps if immediate egress from the occupancy is required.
Leadership question: In your opinion, what are the two biggest reason captains fail to gain the respect of their commands?
Kemp: Officers can either loose or fail to gain the respect of their commands for several reasons. Some of the most apparent are their lack of operational competency or poor interpersonal skills. While many of today’s officers have numerous certifications and ratings, a large number still do not possess the necessary field experience to effectively command a fire company.
At times some of these officers can be inflexible or unapproachable, which further hampers their ability to lead. They often disallow more experienced subordinates to train their commands for fear of being upstaged or exposing their own lack of experience. As for their poor interpersonal skills, I’m referring to an inability to speak with subordinates in ways that would make them want to listen.
Capturing a member’s attention without commanding it and creating an atmosphere of followership and buy-in is my goal. Some of the skills I use are: common sense, patience, tact, active listening and simplicity. I truly believe if an officer gives a direct order in a non-emergency setting then they need to take a step back and reevaluate themselves as an LAFD officer.
Wynne: As a captain you not only hold your command accountable, you hold yourself accountable as well. This starts the moment horns are pinned on your collar, as does the responsibility and influence accompanying your new rank. Unfortunately, some do not understand this. Captains can no longer be the jokester, prankster or locker room mascot – your success, in part, depends on this.
Captains must own every decision they make. We must demonstrate respect for the position we hold, because if we don’t, our commands never will. Ultimately, we are the ones making the decisions that benefit our community, department and crew. Although these decisions may not be the most popular, they are often the most crucial.
Not being responsible and accountable are leading causes for captains failing to gain the respect of their commands. You’re not tasked with being the most friendly or popular – you’re tasked to lead. When a member steps out of line it’s your responsibility to immediately correct them, hold them accountable and reeducate them on our mission. Popularity does not qualify as leadership – carrying on the mission prescribed by the Chief does.
Hing: One of the problems within our organization is that too many people assume positions of leadership without considering the impact it will have on others. To me, the key reason for captains failing to gain the respect of their commands are character flaws related to credible leadership. Two of the biggest contributing factors are entitlement and selfishness.
Respect is not an entitlement; it is earned. How many times have we heard: “Promoting to the rank of captain does not guarantee you instant respect.” Some new and seasoned captains fail to gain the respect of their crews through this simple, but misunderstood concept. Realizing you’re here to take care of your people and not just yourself is a prudent expectation, and one that can be easily demonstrated while carrying out your duties.
Selfishness – contrary to societal beliefs it’s NOT all about you. In choosing to thrust yourself into a position of leadership you are now charged with the development and wellbeing of your people. You develop your crew by placing their needs first; in doing so they perform at a higher level, build morale and foster trust . . . that’s leadership.
In next month’s KTW retired chiefs John Nowell and Don Stuckey will discuss (1) fire attack considerations on center-hall apartments, and (2) how to manage subordinates when they failed on the fireground or in the engine house.
Facilitated by Jerry Bedoya