In this edition of “KTW” retired Battalion Chiefs Don Stukey and John Nowell discuss (1) their initial action on a center-hall apartment fire, and (2) how they addressed members who underperformed. Both men established prominent LAFD reputations and in retirement continue to be recognized nationally for their fire service expertise.
Operational question: What are your considerations as the first-in engine captain on a pre-33 4-story center-hall with one unit well involved on the 3rd floor?
Don Stukey, B/C retired: With heavy smoke showing I want to bring my own water supply, ensure a good spot for the engine (emphasis on hose line access, room for additional co’s, aerial spot). I’ll give a good, quick size-up, describe the structure and the fires location. Request additional resources if: #1 – you have a working fire at night (possible high life hazard and delayed alarm), #2 – it’s advanced into the hallway (spreading quickly and blocking escape routes for occupants) or #3 – the fire is in multiple units (multiple hose lines). Look at the smoke, that’s the fire talking to you . . . also, how quickly are conditions changing.
Direct the crew based on our most immediate problem (usually fire attack, but not always). Is this a drop-bag operation or interior stairwell? Join your crew and give additional size-ups once inside. Remember you are still the IC until you pass command or are relieved by a higher-ranking officer. If other co’s are coming on scene, give them assignments based on most immediate needs. In this incident, I would be very concerned with search and rescue on the 4th floor. Other high priority tasks include: Back-up fire attack, ladder fire escapes, aerial ladder to the roof, assigning co’s to the rear to check for trapped occupants, ventilation (horizontal and vertical), check for extension and salvage.
In addition, it is very important to maintain well-trained crews that routinely know what you want and/or expect. For example: proper line and nozzle selection (an 1¾” provides good gpm and mobility), pulling ceilings to fight fire and enhance firefighter safety.
I have always stressed that TRAINING + SELF DISCIPLINE = SAFETY.
John Nowell, B/C retired: Saving lives is your first priority, and the most effective way to accomplish that is to get water on the fire as quickly as possible. Consider the following three-phase approach:
PRE-FIRE PLANNING AND TRAINING: It’s absolutely true that at every incident you respond to you will not “rise to the occasion” but rather “sink to the level of your training.”
Pre-fire planning and Night Hotels are for your safety also. Take advantage of inspections to identify: hydrants, apparatus spotting locations, access routes, drop-bag locations, etc.
Practice laying-a-line quickly and without blocking access for other resources. Practice drop-bagging lines at a parking structure. Train your engineer to anticipate a drop-bag and pull hose from transverse beds. With practice you can drop-bag 8-10 floors.
RESPONSE: Bring water. Leave room for a truck to reach two sides of the structure with the aerial . . . hose bends, ladders don’t.
Short concise size-up: “Metro from E-45, at 456 S. Norton. We have a 4-story center hallway (add letter shape “L”, “H”, etc., if appropriate) with one unit on the 3rd floor well involved extending to the 4th. Double the assignment.”
Get inside quickly and drop-bag a line. Pull sufficient slack, usually to other end of hall. Hold the fire in the room and push it out exterior window.
Place co’s: Consider an engine to the 4th to cut off extension (Div 4); engine to assist with back-up, additional lines or S&R; Truck for ventilation on 3rd and/or 4th floor; Truck for salvage, etc.
Don’t overextend and try to do too much. This is not a promotional exam. You do not have to do everything; you do need to get water on the fire.
AFTER ACTION: Take time to conduct a tailboard “Hot Wash.” Start by explaining your thoughts and actions. Give each member a chance to talk, then finish by summing up the company’s performance based on your expectations. Praise members performance every chance you get.
Leadership Question: How did you address your members when they experience failure or disappointment on the fireground or in the engine house?
Stukey: When we’re dispatched to make a positive difference at an emergency it can cause frustration, sadness and regret when things don’t go well. This is especially true if the incident results in civilian deaths after we arrive on scene. Even worse, if serious injury or the death of a firefighter occurs this can be extremely tough on all members.
As a captain, you should know the personality of each member on your crew. Everyone reacts differently to any given situation. It’s important to get the crew together and critique the incident to bring out what went well and what could have gone better. This discussion should always be conducted in a positive manner – this may be a challenge based on the circumstances. It should not turn into a “bitch” session. The goal is team building and improvement.
It is important to lead this off by being completely honest about your own actions. Bring out the things you would do different in the future, i.e: Did not assign resources to the 4th floor soon enough or recognize the warning signs of a flashover. Be completely honest.
This is a good start – now let each member of your crew talk about their actions and how they feel we can do better in the future. If it’s a training issue, address this and fix it as soon as practical. Remember, you are part of an emergency service and any tactic should be considered a timed event. Time on the fireground is a critical factor.
Nowell: It’s important to understand that a properly trained and supervised crew will rarely experience failure or disappointment. More often than not, both of these can be turned into training opportunities.
That being said, you’ll likely experience both of these on the fireground. They need to be addressed immediately by conducting a tailboard “hot wash” and allowing each member to participate. The IC should also conduct a “hot wash” at every incident prior to releasing co’s. If you don’t, the locker room will, and you may not like their assessment. Don’t hesitate to let the IC know of a particular situation. IC’s, actually no one, likes being surprised by issues.
Start any review of a situation by looking in the mirror. Quite often the culprit is the person responsible for the members training and performance. More often than not the “boots on the ground” (crewmembers) will be doing the right thing in spite of their direction.
Don’t operate in a vacuum – know that someone on the Department has already had to deal with the same situation. Have a list of resources and utilize them, it is ok to ask for help.
Don’t forget that many incidents have a pre-determined outcome regardless of your efforts. In these cases, your best effort is all that can be asked.
Here are four rules for every incident, which will result in consistent performance:
• Respond rapidly
• Take care of the problem
• Be nice in the process
• Get your crew home safe
“Train as if your life depends on it, because it does” … And so do the lives of the citizens you serve.
In next months KTW Captains Bill Wick, Joe Sharrar and Chris Hare will discuss (1) tactical considerations when assigned Div A, and (2) how they continue to develop as leaders on the LAFD.