Fireground attack: the officer’s role

fire rescue

By Jason Hoevelmann

We discussed the backup firefighter and the doorman in recent articles. Hopefully, the importance of all of the positions on the hose team is obvious.

Advancing a line to the fire is just that, a team job. We cannot effectively advance a hose line of any size by ourselves, or in some cases, with just two firefighters.

We discussed the challenges that present themselves and the importance of the doorman position to manipulate a line. Speed is crucial.

Now I guess you’re ready to discuss the nozzle position. Well, you are going to have to wait one more month. We need to talk about the guy in charge — the company officer.

Captain not-so Fantastic
I remember a captain taking the nozzle out of my hands on a good working house fire when I was a young career firefighter. I also have seen this happen to others while being a part of the back up team or the doorman as the nozzle team made the push.

In both cases it had nothing to do with trusting their nozzle man; it had to do with the captain not being able to grasp that he was no longer the guy on the nozzle. He either ignored the fact that his job changed when he started riding on the right side of the truck or was never told what his responsibilities were.

On the other hand, I have witnessed company officers at the end of their careers using the 360-degree evaluation to avoid going in altogether, and letting two or three firefighters make the push on their own.

In either case the officer’s job is not to stand outside nor is it to take the nozzle.

New responsibilities
Sometimes it’s difficult for a hard-charging firefighter to make the transition from nozzle man to overseer on the attack line. He still has the eagerness and excitement to want to push the nozzle to the heat and flame and extinguish the fire.

But, his job has changed dramatically in regards to advancing a hose team. Instead of being told what to do or handling the nozzle, he now must watch for changing conditions and keep his crew charging ahead or get them out when things start to go bad.

There is a lot for the officer to consider when thinking about advancing the attack line. It starts during training and drills with his crew.

Prior to any fire or incident there should have been constant communications between the officer and his crew on a daily basis so that there is no question as to everyone’s responsibilities. The firefighters riding on the back should not have to ask what to take when they get a fire, and the officer should not have to tell them.

Of course, if the situation is unique a different strategy may be needed, and the officer can make that decision.

When arriving on the scene of a working fire, it’s important for the officer to do an adequate size up and to determine what is needed. He has to decide what size line to take and where to take it. He must consider many other factors like vent, enter, search, if the fire is too far progressed and if exposures need to be protected.

These decisions cannot be made effectively if the company officer is focused on getting the nozzle and putting the fire out.

What needs to happen
When deploying the line, the officer should do his 360 and get on the line after determining the point of entry. This is where his role is significantly different than when he was a firefighter.

The company officer should have the thermal imaging camera and monitor conditions. The nozzle man should be looking for the fire and pushing in that direction, and an experienced firefighter on the nozzle will do this. The officer should be watching the smoke, feeling the heat and monitoring progress. The officer must also consider these questions.

  • Is the smoke banking fast and is it turbulent?
  • Did smoke conditions change rapidly?
  • Are there signs of roll over? He must have a working knowledge of what the smoke is doing and what it leads to.
  • What type of heat signatures is he seeing with the thermal imaging camera? Is he panning the entire compartment and the path to the fire?
  • Is he staying oriented to where they are and where they are going?
  • Is he noticing multiple fires or strange conditions that could lead to the possibility of a set fire? We know that these types of fires have a huge head start and can be deadly for firefighters.
  • For prolonged stretches, is he keeping tabs on the crew’s air supply and his own?
  • Is he listening for any additional information being conveyed from the exterior?

He should be aware if the floor is hot and if carpet is melting to his knees. This could indicate worsening conditions in the compartment or a basement fire. He also has to make sure the line is advancing, and that once the fire is reached, that the attack is effective.

These are just some of many responsibilities that the company officer has while operating on an attack hose line. The bottom line is that the company officer cannot monitor all of those things and control the nozzle at the same time.

So, if you’re in charge, be in charge and take responsibility for that team and the successful advancement of that line. That’s not done by taking the nozzle, but by making sure that the team stays safe and unimpeded.

Thanks for reading and keep training. I’ll see you next month From the Fireground.

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