When we open the entry door, we’ve been told to think of that as ventilation, and the effects of that action as negative. The fire service should never think of entry in a negative context. We should think about entry as creating flow.
Flow is more than just air going to a fire or moving away from it. Flow gives us the opportunity to evaluate conditions on the inside once the door opens. Interpreting flow direction and function from this location provides an opportunity to determine if we are in a shared or single directional space. Is the opening providing a bi-directional flow? Bi-directional flow Is low-air entry and high-level exhaust within the same opening. Is the opening displaying a uni-directional flow? Uni-directional flow is an opening where a single direction flow is prominent. A location with a uni-directional flow can function as an inlet flow or an exhaust flow.
Is the open entry door a ventilation point? Of course it is, but it’s more than that. It’s an information portal. When you open the entry door, heat and smoke will escape and fresh air will also track in low. This new flow will find its way to the fire. The route it takes is the flow path. It may return to you or exit in another area depending on its function. Understanding directional flow tells our people a lot more than simply saying something is ventilation.
Opening the entry door is required for us to size up the fire, enter and provide extinguishment. When we open the entry door, we can also close it. When you remove glass, we can’t control that opening any longer; however, doors are different, we can control doors there by controlling flow.
Firefighters know that air will feed the fire, and that fresh air will track inside low to the ground. That entry air can be beneficial to someone lying on the floor in the path to the fire – the flows path. Flow is what we’re interested in understanding, flow towards the fire and away from the fire. If you were to enter through the doorway and close the door behind you, you have eliminated that flow.
By discussing the term Flow, we bring understanding to the movement of air, gases and fire. Firefighters need to understand that the creation of flow is not a negative, and the controlling power they have over flow. While we can’t always control flow we must consider it’s path as we operate and avoid being in an active exhaust flow. There shouldn’t be negative connotations to opening an entry door. There should be understanding of actions and the impact of those actions, so that recognition is more universal.
I’m in a Gypsy Cab, headed up the West Side Highway in Manhattan to 143rd St., “Between Powell and Douglas,” I say to the driver. You couldn’t get a Yellow Cab to take you up there, back then, so you had to take a car. It’s the Fall of 2003, I think – I can’t recall the first time that I had made this trip – I’m with my usual NYC Trip Suspect, Sean, on our way up to the famed “Harlem Hilton” in West Harlem. Ray McCormack is up there waiting for us, about to start the easy-side of a 24, the 9 x 6. We arrive, with requisite pastries and pies, planning to say hello, hang out with friends for a bit, bust balls and head back down to Soho and The Village to make some more bad choices for the rest of the evening. As usual, that is never the case when you visit the gang at The Hilton – and I already knew it. That’s why I love that shop. After downing some coffee, telling stories of the night before’s antics and comparing other notes, we’re squeezing into Engine 69 and Ladder 28 with six other guys in each, off to a vacant.
We arrive to a ubiquitous, Old Law Tenement building that is under demolition. The neighborhood is being bought back up by investors after years of neglect and enduring some of the nation’s heaviest fire-duty during the famed War Years, till present. We get off the rig, exchange some pleasantries with the contractors and for the next few hours, assist in demolishing the building, starting with some doors and locks, then onto making holes in some walls to escape into an adjacent room, if trapped by fire. Since we were onto the whole escape thing, some of the fellas decided to play around with what were some of the remaining, original personal escape systems in the FDNY at the time. They all had them on, of course, because Engine 69/Ladder 28, right? After watching them bail out the 5th floor window a few times, we headed back to enjoy the meal.
I don’t remember what they made that day, but they covered every inch of the plate with food that they put in front of me. We enjoyed a great meal, caught up on all-things FDNY and how the men were holding up from more than a year of working on the pile, attending funerals and rebuilding the largest fire department in the world. Captain Bob Morris, who worked there in 28 when I first started visiting The Hilton was leaving soon to go rebuild Rescue 1, and Ray was still in Engine 69 at the time. I was always amazed at the level of expertise there was on the floor in that firehouse. That’s one of the reasons that I loved going to that place. It exuded experience, tradition, and the proper development of a firefighter. Essentially, if you sucked, you got tossed. Period. There was no other place like it that I knew of, including any place in my own fire department, at the time.
We sat with Ray, hashing out the goings-on in the rest of the world for a while, and decided to head back down to the City, since Ray’s tour was almost over. Yep, we spent the entire day there before we knew it. That’s how it goes up on 143rd St. You never come empty handed when you visit a firehouse, and you never leave, empty handed. We bought up half of their shirt locker for friends and family and walked to down the street to find another Gypsy Cab for the return trip.
I have many of these great memories like these of my visits to The Hilton to see Ray. In fact, I have thousands of other great memories with Ray McCormack, too – perhaps it’s because we’ve been partners in crime for twenty years, now. It has gone by fast, and so has Ray’s career with the FDNY. I think you know why I’m giving you a dose of this nostalgia. That’s right, Lieutenant Ray McCormack has called it a day and has officially retired from the FDNY after 39 years of service.
Let’s all take that in for just a second: 39 years
I’ll bet Ray’s pension that most people reading this aren’t even that old, or that your second wife isn’t even close to this age. That’s a lot of years, and in this job, real experience. Ray has worked in the FDNY a third longer than most of us will ever do in our own jobs, and that’s not because he didn’t know how to find the bridge exit to the Pension Office, it’s because he truly enjoyed the work and what it was really about. Ray is cut from a different cloth, and that’s okay with him. And if you know Ray, you know exactly what I mean. So what does 39 years look like on a one-page resume? Let me give it a shot:
Ray McCormack was appointed to the FDNY on November 7th, 1981 and assigned to Proby School.
Graduated Proby School on December 19th 1981 and assigned to 24 Truck in Midtown Manhattan, near Madison Square Garden.
On May 14th, 1991, Ray was an integral part of the most daring and famous rope rescue in fire service history with Rescue 1. Ray held Firefighter Kevin Shea over the edge of a building with the rope tied around his waist as the only anchor. See the story here and the Rescue 911 video reenactment:
Ray was promoted to Lieutenant on September 3rd, 1994 and assigned to the 16th Battalion where he covered in firehouses all over New York City.
On June 14th, 1997, Ray landed a spot in 69 Engine where he worked for the next ten years
Ray crossed the floor to 28 Truck on June 30th, 2007, where he stayed until his retirement on April 29th, 2020
During his 39 years, Ray worked on several projects for the FDNY and is leaving today after putting the final touches on the new FDNY Engine Company Operations book. This book will surely be the most sought after publication on all-things Engine, and look for its release, shortly.
Whew, now that’s some legacy…
What’s telling about his career in the FDNY is the tenure that he had in the companies he was assigned to. While many departments have their own way of transferring people around, the FDNY lets members work in a spot until they promote, decide to move on, or some else decides that for them. Ray was a Firefighter for 13 years and a Lieutenant for 26 more. He spent 10 years in Engine 69 and 13 years in 28 Truck. That’s a lifetime of experience for any firefighter, but none of that experience was lost on Ray. Ray took that experience and the very best about this job and also put in on paper, and started writing for Fire Engineering over 25 years ago. That’s where the rest of the story continues.
Ray started writing about the job when no one really thought it was cool in big towns to write about the job. Of course there were some stalwarts on the pages of the trade magazines, but very few that got down to the compartments on the rig or the tips that every firefighter should know. Ray paid attention to everything going on at work and took good notes. It’s easy to get lost in your rank, the position that you’re assigned to for the day, or simply the company that you’re in and only what it cares about. Ray’s focus was more eclectic and holistic about firefighting, and although he came from a prestigious truck in his humble beginnings, it was the engine that became his true calling. Why? It’s because he realized how little attention was paid to the most important unit in the fire department. Go ahead, say I’m full of it on that. I’m right and Ray knows it, too. Ray became one of the greatest ever to write about the engine. He talked more about the engine than anyone in history and taught us things that we would never even think about in this kind of company. Ray made being in the engine important again and brought back the peonage of being great in this unit.
Ray also personifies what it meant to be an aggressive, interior firefighter. Many boasted that they were, and still do, but none with the gravitas, longevity and experience that he has. In fact, Ray gave a keynote speech in 2009 that turned the fire service on its ear and challenged the narrative of many special interests. Not to be a contrarian, as he was accused of being, but to be the voice of skepticism and a logical approach – to hit pause for a moment on a national movement of misinformation and misinterpretation. Ray was both vilified and deified at the same time, that day. A fire service Civil War that was brewing erupted, and put Ray in tough spot for a while; however, heads cleared and everyone realized that Ray actually did everyone the greatest favor with that speech: He got everyone talking, not just the special interests at the time, and we still are, today, as a result.
Ray and I were both regulars at FDIC when we met, loved and hated the same people, and knew what was missing in the fire service trade magazine space. Ray and I began work on a top-secret project that was launched as Urban Firefighter Magazine in 2010. It was hard to keep it under wraps, but we managed to pull it off. With some dedicated authors and media talent, we were able to flip the Apple Cart over and give the urban firefighter a voice, space and medium to talk about fires. This was a great time in our lives and some of Ray’s and my proudest memories. Although it was short-lived, it still inspires people to bring everyone the very best training and experience to others, to this very day. I wish you could have all have been on that journey with Ray and me at the time. Having Ray as an editor of that magazine made us all feel like the real fire service was in the right hands.
Ray continues to teach at FDIC and around the country. He is also on the Advisory Board of Fire Engineering, and has recently been on the Advisory Panel for UL FSRI’s Fire Stream Attack and Coordinated Fire Attack studies. He’s not slowing down by pulling the pin at the FDNY. In fact, there’re about 1,000 people that’ll keep him busy, including me. Ray is revered by everyone he taught and collaborated with. He tells it like it is, and you can love him or hate him for that, he doesn’t care. I asked some of our fellow Fire Engineering Advisory Board members to say a few things about Ray and here’s what a few of them came up with:
Bill Gustin, Captain, Miami-Dave Fire Rescue:
Ray McCormack is a highly respected and admired fire service educator throughout the USA because he “gets it.” What I mean by that is that Ray understands that the American Fire Service is not the FDNY and tailors his instruction to be relevant to fire departments of all sizes. Ray gets it because he is a great listener and is genuinely interested in what firefighters think and how their departments operate; especially as it pertains to engine company operations. Ray is an extremely humble man. I knew him for years before I learned, not from him, that Ray was the man on the other end of the rope that lowered Kevin Shea down the side of that building to rescue a trapped occupant. Over the years, Ray has produced dozens of training videos for Fire Engineering and Elkhart Brass. I can think of no finer example of Ray’s passion, experience and insight than his Elkhart Brass “Brass Tacks And Hard Facts” video on the nozzle position firefighter. If you have ever met Ray or attended one of his classes, you know that video is the embodiment of Ray McCormack. Ray has been a wonderful mentor to the young fellas on my company and they look up to him, as I do. Every firefighter who has learned and been inspired by Ray is a better firefighter because of Ray McCormack.
Glenn Corbett, Fire Engineering:
Ray is truly the human anchor, in both the literal and figurative senses. His part in the famed 1991 roof rope rescue cemented his place in FDNY history and lore. His more recent activism in the world of fire behavior research into flow paths and ventilation has forced the fire service to make a more critical and practical assessment of what the research actually tells us in practical firefighting terms.
Congratulations on your retirement, Ray!
Dan Madrzykowski, UL FSRI:
Sometimes “the senior man” likes to rest on their laurels. In other words, they are satisfied with the experience that they obtained during their glory days and they make no further effort to make sure that they have relevant information to share with other firefighters. That is NOT Ray McCormack. Ray, who has significant experience and street cred, also has been investing his time and energy into the most current firefighting research. Ray volunteered to be on the technical panels for UL Firefighter Safety Research Institute projects on Fire Attack and Coordinated Attack. From day one on the tech panel, Ray was all in. He participated in the meetings, traveled to witness experiments at the UL lab and in acquired structures, and most importantly reviewed the data and the reports. Being a tech panel member is a lot of work. Ray has proven that he has been a student of the job over his career, and that is what makes him a valuable teacher and mentor.
Jack Murphy, Fire Engineering:
A ‘Tip for the Helmet’ for your 38 years of service as a firefighter and fire officer in the FDNY. Over the years, your broad knowledge of the job has been a learning & training benefit to all who participated in either your hands-on training evolutions, classroom sessions or the many firefighter conversations you had with your fellow firefighters. Thank you for all your contributions at the FDIC conferences.
Wishing you the best with your new endeavors!
Becki White, Fire Engineering:
I attended Urban Essentials at FDIC with Ray, ten years after starting in the fire service. I had learned the skills individually before, but my skills were brought to a whole new level with the instruction from Ray and his team. It was also my first introduction to FDIC, which has become an annual trip.
I have also had the opportunity to spend lots of time taking to and learning from Ray in a less formal setting. I have found him to be very compassionate and thoughtful. He listens and provides advice based on his years as a firefighter and fire officer, but also on a personal level, which has helped me through some challenges in my career.
Robin Nicoson, Indianapolis Fire Department
It was great working with you—your work truly made a lasting impact, with so many brilliant and creative ideas and suggestions that I’ve lost track. But you are one that has changed the fire service for the better in so many ways. I always appreciated how you were readily available to lend an ear and help solve any problem. We will miss you very much, but I wish you the best in retirement! Thanks for everything!
Frank Ricci, New Haven Fire Department:
Ray has and will continue to have a large voice in the fire service. He is a hard charging, salty Lt. who drives a Prius. He asks the hard questions and has a reputation as a great instructor and for challenging the latest trends. Debate, asking why and challenging trends is at the heart of Fire Engineering’s mission dating back to it’s early days as a Journal. We all wish Ray a great retirement from the fire department.
William Shouldis, Philadelphia Fire Department:
Ray, thanks for your dedication to being a “role model “ for all first responders. Best wishes and consider us fortunate to have been a part of the “best job“ in the world. I hope you will find great satisfaction in sharing your experience with the next generation of firefighters.
Mike McEvoy, Fire Engineering:
My best memories of Ray McCormack are from our Fire Engineering Advisory Board meetings. Ray takes a lot of information in, much the way Alan Brunacini always did. When he voiced an opinion, it was (again like Bruno), invariably something very thoughtful and well spoken. Ray also, in my opinion, was a firefighter’s firefighter. He taught nothing that he did not do or could not do himself. Leading by example is not a common characteristic in this business. Ray always leads by example.
So what’s next for Ray? Don’t worry, he’s not going anywhere. Ray always has a lot of ideas and things on his plate. His retirement from the FDNY is simply a large chapter that is closing. Imagine the time he’s going to have to teach, write, consult, train, etc. when he’s no longer in an hour and a half and three bridges, each way, car ride into the firehouse. I expect he’ll be back at it, tomorrow morning, in being a part of what you read, hear and do on the fireground and in your firehouse, forever. That’s what Ray is all about, and that’s enough for anyone.
Different diameter hoselines with different nozzle pressures and flows were all tested, because the American Fire Service uses various nozzles. Ceiling strike depths were also tested and evaluated to see if variances occurred, if they occurred and what they were, and that’s important information.
Fire departments have choices as to how to fight fires and have options for accomplishing extinguishment based on those choices. Many fire departments have yet to do a deep-dive on water mapping. This is possibly the single most important aspect of gaining extinguishment that there is. We need to understand our hose streams, their capabilities and their progressive effect on fire attack.
Taking the smoke away from how our streams work only leaves the mirrors to deal with. The mirrors are there to show if you’ve trained on this or not. If you train, the image reflecting back will be one of interest in the craft; if you don’t train on it, the image will be one of stagnation. There is more work to be done on water mapping and stream placement, but the real work is always the same continuous training.
I’ve been doing water mapping and stream placement review for years watching firefighter operate their nozzles, the good, bad and ugly. You must access the information to gain knowledge and practice the different stream placements to build it into your nozzle operations. Formal training in this should be done at every fire department and be part of every new firefighters training curriculum.
You may be blinded by smoke as you operate the nozzle, but the water is always line of sight. Always find out what it’s doing and where it’s going. Don’t stand on the sidelines of this valuable firefighting training component stand under it for a better understanding.
Check out our newly released report on the “Exploratory Analysis of the Impact of Ventilation on Strip Mall Fires.” Access the report here: https://s.ul.org/2RCxzdi
The purpose of this study is to increase fire service knowledge of fire dynamics and the impact of firefighting tactics through a better understanding of how suppression and ventilation are coordinated on the fireground in acquired commercial structures.
This report provides a fire dynamics analysis of each experiment, a discussion of ventilation and pressure, and tactical considerations developed with the project technical panel.
Thanks to the City of Fairborn, Ohio – Municipal Government Fire Department for their support in aquiring these structures and providing suppression crews. Project funded by the Department of Homeland Security Assistance to Firefighters Grant program. Online training to follow! #ULFSRIFairborn
How the UL fire studies impact the fire service and individual departments is a very interesting topic of discussion. The initial reaction from many departments, after studies are published, has often been a declaration to change.
Many in the past have seized upon what they felt was a good fix without a more complete perspective. A rush to judgement should ever be applauded in the face of hundreds of pages of documentation. We have learned more about previous tactics, the more they are put to the test, under varied conditions. Additional study on things we do at most, if not all fires, is important for the fire service to mull over. Fire departments need to take a tactical pause regarding broad changes they plan on making without a full picture.
As time moves forward and more areas are examined, a more complete picture is drawn. No final story has be written on any topic so far. Our operations are multi-faceted and will require additional study, as the layers are uncovered, revealing more questions than less. I believe this study, Coordinated Fire Attack, will add critical building blocks for tactical improvement.
Only the private home portion of this study has been released; there are two additional portions commercial and multiple dwelling still to come out. Waiting is the best advice; waiting until the entire study is released before instituting anything prudent.
For panel members, who have intimate knowledge of how these studies work and have taken part in internal debates, we like you, wait. Discussion is always good, it creates questions and moves us forward with new ideas and a search for answers to come.
We should remember that rapidly implemented change may not be the best takeaway from any report. Utilizing all of the information from a completed study and positioning it alongside your current tactical framework with an eye towards improvement is the goal.
We must never be bound by what is presented to us. Let the initial dust settle and be mindful to revisit the information again to discover what may have been overlooked, or requires more attention. I believe we should embrace tactical development over change and foster implementation through informed consensus.
Ray McCormack served as a panel member on both the UL Study of Coordinated Fire Attack Utilizing Acquired Structures and Impact of Fire Attack Utilizing Interior & Exterior Streams on Firefighter Safety & Occupant Survival Study.
Heard in the kitchen: “Yo bro, who’s the boss coming in tonight?” “Ah, think it’s the Captain.”
A Senior Captain once told me that this rank has both extremely unique challenges and rewards. He said: “The Captain is the Captain.” I know that sounds redundant, but when you look at the dichotomy of the position, it makes sense.
In our organization, uniquely, the rank of Captain is the only one for which there is just one. Each company has a Captain. With 25 firefighters assigned to each company, for each member, the Captain is the Captain. Each company also has three Lieutenants. To them, as well, the Captain has no equals. Even in the level of management above the Captain, the Battalion Chief, four Battalion Chiefs are assigned to each Battalion.
The Captain has responsibilities in function and form that other officers do not: A balance on the fire floor, and in the office, of leadership, motivation and mentoring. As the Company Commander, you set the tone and policy for the company. They are ultimately responsible for the actions and inactions of the members on and off the fire floor. A trusted Captain simply stated: “It is better to keep them out of trouble… than get them out of trouble.” TheCaptain needs to know his people…
There is a point in pretty much every day that I wish I was at the firehouse. The reality of it is, whether I am there or not, management style aside, when you are the Captain you’re the Captain.
For more information about Captain Mitchell’s work, instruction and how to contact him, please visit the following links, and be sure to check out his amazing book, ’25 to Survive: Reducing Residential Injury and LODD’, from Fire Engineering Books: www.traditionstraining.com www.facebook.com/traditionstraining
Doug is a Captain in the New York City Fire Department with 27 years of fire experience, the last 21 with the FDNY. He is currently assigned to the Bronx’s 7th Division. Doug served as the FDNY’s Executive Officer of the Probationary Firefighters School and is a member of the FDNY IMT. He was a Lieutenant in the Bronx, a Fire Marshal in Queens and a Fireman in Manhattan. Doug previously served for Fairfax County Va. Fire & Rescue Department and with Howard County MD Fire and Rescue.
He has lectured and conducted hands-on-training programs nationwide and at the FDNY’s training academy. He is a principal member of the NFPA 1400 committee. He co-wrote Fire Engineering’s “25 to Survive: Reducing Residential Injury and LODD” in 2013. He has a Bachelor’s degree from University of MD Baltimore County.
The engine officer needs to make several strategic decisions at standpipe operations. In this example, there is a set of scissor stairs centered on a straight run hallway, and a single standpipe riser located inside the stairway, serving each floor. I have listed five of the most common decisions that the engine officer will have to make. These decisions set the stage for a well coordinated stretch and attack plan
On what floor will you hook up your hoseline.
If you picked the fire floor, you are making a bad decision. We always want our hoseline to have the best chance of placement and sustainability. Choosing the outlet on the fire floor stair landing doesn’t give us that, because that door will remain open for a period of time and will draw heat and smoke to that landing. Using an outlet on the fire floor places the attachment process in jeopardy and forces us to work in an IDLH. Exiting firefighters end up at an outlet in the hall instead of the stairway. The floor below is the most common location in which to start a standpipe stretch. It typically provides a safe hook up site as well as not not using up significant amount of attack travel hose.
2. Which stairway will be used for attack?
We don’t always have to use the riser stairway as the attack stairway. With scissor stairs and attaching the hose on the floor below, we may have to switch stairways on the floor below to give us closer access to the fire area when we emerge from stairs. I feel that this choice is preferable to using the riser stairway which would cause us to make a U-turn on the fire floor and make for an extended return trip when you may be low on air; however, when you leave the riser stairway to stretch up another, more travel hose may be required than if you had stayed inside the original stairway. It’s best to add a length if you are concerned by what you see and or if you’re missing information.
3. How far is the fire area from the stairway?
This is a size up question that calls on your understanding of how much hose you have available and how your choices impact the stretch. With 150’ of hose available, a 50’ standard would be used for the fire area, leaving 100’ to reach from riser to fire. If more would be needed, then apply the necessary lengths.
4. Will you be able to stretch dry or only wet?
Dry stretches: bring the lead length dry to the apartment door. It is then flaked out towards the attack stairway. A wet stretch means we are charging the line inside the stairway. This is recommended if the apartment door is not controlled or a fire is located in the hallway. This is also an option when there isn’t enough room the flake out the lead length in the hallway.
5. Is there a wind condition?
If there is wind condition, which side of the building is it on? If the fire is wind-impacted toward the interior hallway, seek an alternative stream entry tactic. You can not win this battle head on. A wind driven fire is a game changing event. Implement your alternative plan.
The Operations Function (position) in the Incident Command System (ICS) has its hands full during the first few minutes of the fire. This position is the one responsible for deploying and managing companies until the arrival of successive chief officers, to fill in the gaps, and keep things going according to plan. It is also the job of the Ops Chief is to support or not support what the first few companies are doing, once he or she arrives. What’s more, once the balance of the first alarm assignment gets there, this person must start slowing down the pace of deployment to ensure that the initial companies are properly supported. In my place, I have four engines, two trucks, three chiefs and a rescue company that all want to do something when they get there, as they have pre-determined assignments based upon their order of arrival. With this, there can be such a problem as managing ‘adequate’ resources in some instances if they’re all getting there within five minutes and can overwhelm the chief if things are already going south. It is easy to get into a ‘Plug-n-Play’ deployment conundrum if you don’t get ahold of your companies before they ‘punch-in’ to the fire building. This refers to simply allowing companies to head into the building under the assumption that they know where they’re supposed to be going. Make sure that all of your companies are stopping into the Command Post (CP) and or say Hello to the Ops chief before heading in.
As a chief officer, if you have any decent-size fire upon arrival, you know that you will soon have at least two hoselines stretched, trucks and rescues poking around on every level and cops and bystanders looking to get info and accountability, all at the same time. This is why we like having companies say, “Hello” in person before deploying and have command boards at the CP to track and account for everyone enjoying themselves during the incident; however, there is one component of the CP that isn’t a box or item on a physical board or tracking system, won’t be found in any ICS class or policy, but can kill your command board and plan and cause all sorts of the above problems if it isn’t managed or tracked well: The Suggestion Box.
The Suggestion Box is simply the process of a later-arriving company(s) meandering over and standing next to the Ops chief at the CP, letting you know that they’re awaiting an assignment and what productive thing or two that they could be doing – if you let them…
The Suggestion Box is a place that everyone has likely been as a company officer, particularly at greater alarms. I also call this place the “Command Bored.” In full disclosure, I was one of the greatest violators and a frequent visitor as a boss, myself. This Box is not always a bad thing to have on the fireground, but you better know how to manage it, or you’ll find yourself with several more companies in the fire building than you remembered to keep track of, clogged stairwells, and no companies readily available to relieve companies when their bells start ringing and tell you that they’re coming out of the building.
Posit: You agree to let a company or two that’s been standing around for a bit to, “check for extension” in another wing of the building that you initially considered to be unaffected by fire or smoke. This is a harmless assignment and you add this company number(s) to a corner of your command board as they go walk stairs and hallways for a while, not radioing you so that they get to stay in the building, and forget to keep tabs, as initial, operating companies start sending a litany of updates and location change requests (head to floor above, et al) once the fire is knocked down*.
*Once the fire is knocked down, prepare for everyone to get on the radio, as this is the opportune time they have to do it and keep an eye on their people at the same time under less stressful conditions. Prior to the fire getting a good ‘knock’, expect most of your comms to be from deploying companies and other chiefs. Remember, let the initial companies get to work before hounding them on the radio. They’ll let you know what they need if there’re any immediate concerns. This is also the time that you may forget that a couple of companies got some special treatment from you and are still in the building. Remember to never cross out a company on the board unless they’re actually out of the building.
Now that you’ve let a couple of companies swindle you into hanging out in the fire building, do you think that they’re going to volunteer to come out? It’s a rhetorical question as you can bet your pension that they’ll meander closer to the fire floor/area, hoping you forgot about them, and radio that they’re available to help a company they just ran into that needs help pulling ceiling or moving hose. This one was in my old bag of tricks, which is why I look for it…
The main concern with regards to safety, sans accounting for their location when you forget about them, is what usually happens when more companies are deployed than need to be: Clogged stairwells. A lot of people spend every second of their careers trying to get out of the engine to cross the floor to the truck, but for some reason, everyone wants to be near the first line’s nozzle when there’s a fire. This means that companies will tend to flock to stairwells to get after the areas involved in the most fire, if their assignment is completed, a company requests more help checking for extension or they weren’t lucky to have been one of the first few companies to arrive. Although we can discuss stairwell management and keeping people off them until they need to be on them, the Suggestion Box is usually the thing that leads to an overly-clogged means of egress. Companies that have been sitting in the nosebleeds until they finally got the nod to head in will make sure that they get as close to the action as possible, and almost always spend time on the stairwells to get a piece.
Finally, the Suggestion Box is the number one reason you run out of companies later on in an incident. Although not as hectic, you still have to relieve companies once the fire is under control. It is a sinking feeling when you realize that you still need companies to do something, but have been swindled by the Suggestion Box and sent needed companies in to do whatever. Analogous to redeploying charged supply hoselines, consider the time to get these companies out of the building and or relocated in a timely fashion. Moreover, they may be running out of air, too, and will be a two-for-one loss of manpower to get stuff done. I know that you can always call for extra resources or additional alarms, but you’re a pro and don’t want to be known as a two alarm mattress fire chief.
It’s okay to beg for work. We all do, but that’s what radios are for while you’re out shopping for the meal or driving by another firehouse’s area when the alarm comes in. The Suggestion Box is okay if there’s something that was truly missed, or could be done. Chiefs don’t ever make mistakes, but we do make ‘oversights’ and sometimes need something brought up that we missed. The Suggestion Box just needs to be managed, accordingly. Succumbing to the gravitas of experienced or regarded officers and haphazardly letting people pick an assignment becomes the Mission Creep we sometimes have to make after-action reviews about, later. Always expect this “Sixth Function” of Command to rear its head at good fires and be ready to manage it. You’re the chief!
Being an Engine Officer is privilege, and as such, comes with tremendous responsibility. Taking on that role requires many skills and a strong will. The fireground is the real test of your skill sets and it doesn’t grade on a curve. You must be able to perform at a high level no matter what is thrown your way. To become proficient in the necessary skill sets requires study, practice and determination. The community’s fire protection relies on you.
Leadership must also take place in less hostile environments such as the fire station. New officers or senior officers can be terrible at leadership, but for different reasons. The seasoned officer, because they never cared enough to formulate the traits required, and the new officer hasn’t had the time to be seasoned.The other reality is that some people are just naturals for leadership while others struggle.
One pivotal trait of leadership is being consistent:a If you are hot one day and cold the next, people will be confused and stay away. When your people don’t know what they’re getting from day to day, that is a problem for the leader and those they lead. In fact, more than half of your ideas will most likely suffer from being simply ignored. The reason for being ignored? Who wants to risk approaching you to discuss things if you’re always in a different mood. Implementing ideas will be an uphill battle with few supporters.
So, trust is vital for quality leadership in the fire station of the fireground; You build that by being a good listener. Digest others’ concerns and try and see their pitch. If your answer is typically rapid and in opposition, did you really think their proposal through? Don’t be quick to reject an idea, instead look for some merit. You must thoughtfully ponder what is presented to you – Meet again and hash it out. This should be something that you enjoy doing. If it isn’t, then the trust isn’t robust enough on your part. Early dismissal of ideas is often practiced by those who feel personally challenged. Remember it’s business not personal.
Fireground trust is built upon decision making. Your decisions must follow the pattern of common sense and risk vs reward. You must know what’s manageable and set your crew up for success. If either one of those is out of balance, good results can suffer, and safety can tip towards being compromised. Know what an outside operation looks like from the start and stick to it. Mixing exterior with interior on such calls can put firefighters at great risk. Know what you want to do and move others to support the plan. Always stretch another line for those just in case moments.
The fire service practices top down leadership. Communication also follows that route sometimes to our detriment. While leadership can be found at all ranks, leading above your rank is rare. I don’t think that’s a bad thing it’s how the structure functions. There are, however, opportunities to influence and collaborate with others of higher rank towards common goals. Remember leadership is about sharing.
Fireground leadership is controlled by the IC and filled in at the task level by company officers. Small unit operations is how we function on the fireground. The goal is saving lives and property. Stretching lines for extinguishment, performing smoke removal ventilation, conducting targeted searches are categories that we use to accomplish our main goals. Direction and focus are two traits of the company officer. Lead your people with insight and encouragement because you understand what is occurring. You must be a student of the fireground anything less and your leadership suffers because it’s blind. When leadership suffers so does followership.