In this edition of KTW Captains Willahan, Thompson and Martinez discuss (1) the difficulties in coordinating multi-truck ventilation operations, and (2) an officer’s dilemma in guiding a member through the promotional process.
Operational Question: When in charge of a multi-company ventilation operation, how do you ensure the efforts of the vent teams are coordinated and complying with your direction?
CII Ken Willahan, FS26-C: Ultimately, there can only be one officer in charge of ventilation. Although the first officer to the roof is most often in charge, should the initial officer not have the necessary ventilation experience, they should consider relinquishing command to a more experienced officer.
If roof operations begin to deteriorate or a vent team’s safety becomes compromised, officers from the 2nd or 3rd truck should prepare to take command. Likewise, the initial officer in charge of the roof should be open to tactical input from the officers assisting them.
One of my biggest errors was not recognizing deteriorating roof conditions and failing to direct tactical change. If multiple trucks on the roof are not coordinating their efforts then it’s my responsibility redirect these companies. If I cannot accomplish this then my focus is no longer ventilation, but the safety of my crew.
With multiple trucks assigned to the roof, it’s imperative they work together and not hinder one another’s operation. The goal is to manage the operation to ensure firefighter safety and operational effectiveness. Put your ego and feelings aside, and coordinate your collective efforts.
CII Mark Martinez, FS61-C: A strong working relationship among neighboring companies is essential if you are to function effectively on the fireground. Knowing the operational expectations of surrounding companies through multi-co training and dialogue will go a long way in avoiding conflicts on Game Day.
When managing any ventilation operation you must first and foremost, TAKE CHARGE. By taking charge you avoid trucks operating independent of one another as well as compromising the collective effort. Remember, coordinated operations have the inherent risk of deteriorating quickly without good communication.
Here are some thoughts to consider: ensure tactics are clearly understood; ensure vent plan is communicated to I/C; clarify your plan (offensive or defensive); communicate what you need, but not how to do it; communicate face-to-face if possible; be open to input from other companies; work smart and work together.
The bottom-line – know your job. If you’re in charge of ventilation and member safety, then take this responsibility seriously. You must halt any operation that is hampering operational effectiveness or member safety; stop it cold . . . no questions asked.
CI Eric Thompson, FS98-A: When truck co’s perform independent of one another their ventilation efforts can be counterproductive and unsafe. A multi-company ventilation effort should therefore start long before the incident by discussing tactics with neighboring officers and A/O’s. These pre-incident discussions reveal company SOG’s as well as the tactical expectations.
When multiple trucks are operating on a roof, communication is key; a “face-to-face” is the preferred method. Sometimes a vent team cannot adjust to the efforts already in place or may have simply misunderstood your direction to them. When this occurs, safety is now paramount.
If another truck is operating independent of your direction, immediately determine if your escape routes have been compromised. Then determine if your direction to them was clear – simply restating your objectives might be all it takes. When roof operations become unsafe as a result of a lack of coordination, consider retreating to a safe zone until a safer and more effective operation can be restored.
Leadership Question: How do you address a member when they’ve expressed a desire to promote before you feel they are ready for that position?
CI Eric Thompson, FS98A: Remember is that it’s not our place to prevent or hinder any member from promoting. Regardless of our opinion, everything should be done to ensure this person’s success. Be honest regarding what skills and knowledge you feel they are lacking as well as any other traits you feel need adjusting.
Periodically place them in the “hot seat” to reinforce their strong points as well as to identify any flaws. This is the best way to actually gauge their performance level. The bulk of our learning does not result from doing things right the first time – we must learn for our errors to improve at out craft.
Mentoring in this manner provides valuable technical and personal insight while identifying areas needing improvement. This process will teach members about themselves and whether they are actually ready for the position. When this member promotes, you need to make sure you have given them all your knowledge, skills and experience as this will also reflect on your character and leadership.
CII Mark Martinez, FS61-C: Every member has a fundamental right to promote. Along with this right comes an enormous responsibility, and that is determining the “right time” to promote. The obvious risk of promoting too soon is the destructiveness created when holding a rank beyond one’s competency level.
When making a decision to enter into the promotional process several factors should be considered: position desired; experience level; areas worked; what firefighters/officers has the member has been mentored by; etc.
By delaying an early promotion, members will set themselves up for future success by increasing their operational wisdom and maturity. Some of the benefits of delaying a promotion are increased operational experience, tactical knowledge, credibility, maturity, and work location diversity.
The testing process doesn’t determine who’s ready for a particular position; that is the responsibility of each member. Contrary to popular belief, promoting is NOT a race to the top. Members cannot indiscriminately cut corners in preparing for or deciding when to promote as the lives of co-workers could be at risk by the decisions they make.
CII Ken Willahan, FS26-C: I’m not only responsible for identifying the strengths and weaknesses of my command, but I must also encourage my people to use their strengths to their advantage during the promotional process. That said, I’m also responsible for pointing out areas of their performance in need of improvement should a particular promotion be their goal.
I routinely preach; “Learn the job, and the test will come easy.” If I sense one of my members is not operationally sound or mature enough to take on a particular position, then it’s my responsibility to be honest with them. I will not hesitate recommending they wait until they have acquired a more appropriate background or experience level.
I have also found that by placing members in a controlled drill-type setting they can usually assess whether or not they are ready. Following the success or failure of these training exercises, we’ll have an honest discussion to address my concerns. I have found that being open and honest with respect to my crew’s performance is not always easy, but in the end it will most often serve them and the LAFD well.
In next months article Captains Mike Tombrello, Denise Jones and Jeff Amberian will discuss (1) the importance of a fire attack hose-lay, and (2) how to challenge and better develop rated members through training exercises.
Facilitated by Jerry Bedoya, Capt II, FS 10
The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of LAFRA or the LAFD