With the new year rapidly approaching, I was reminded of my lackluster record of posting lately (You know who you are). Of course, this hasn't been for a lack of great training subjects, but more from a re-focusing of my time into other personal priorities. With that being said, I thought it a great opportunity to ring in the new year with a topic that is near and dear to me, which I feel is worthy of discussion with you fellow brothers and sisters.
Since drill school, we have all had the "Importance of Accountability Speech," and of course are constantly reminded to maintain our accountability of our troops, as officers. We've all heard the recommended span-of-control remains at 3-7 with 5 being optimal. Blah, blah blah… We've also been impressed with such terms as "Level 2", or "Level 3" accountability for certain larger, or more complex incidents.
These are items that I feel most of us would have no problem explaining to a stranger, or before an assessment board for a promotion. Where I want to pick up, is where we reinforce to our subordinates the importance of also accounting for our officers. This sprang out of the last incident which I had the honor and pleasure to respond to. We were the first engine company on the scene of your typical 2 1/2 story wood frame, at about 1:00am, with fire showing from the first floor windows, with smoke coming from the second floor windows. No other sign of fire existed, and nothing else stood out as remarkable. Immediately, after giving my size-up and directing my crew with a few basic strategic orders, I went towards the front of the building, searching for the occupants to hopefully be waiting outside, or maybe hanging in a window, awaiting rescue. Seeing neither of these, and with no indication that the house was unoccupied, I made the decision to make an aggressive attack of the fire, and to get a crew to the upper floor to do a search. My crew, along with the first-in ladder company and second-in engine proceeded to attack the fire, and made great progress on the first floor. Once the heavy fire was knocked down in the front living room, I directed my nozzleman to hold fast and protect the staircase, while I was gonna crawl a little further in, and check with the TIC for any hidden pockets of fire, or possible victims on the first floor. I never made it more than 10 feet from his location, when I feel through a weakened section of floor, which had collapsed under my weight. Unfortunately for me, I didn't go all the way into the basement, and had supported myself halfway-in and halfway-out of the hole. I immediately went through my emergency procedures, declared my MAYDAY, activated my PASS Device and awaited either my nozzleman to come and pull me out, or some company that was working in the area to get me before a RIT would ever get a chance to enter the building. Neither of these things happened, and I was suspended over this hole (which I believed was caused by an un-seen basement fire, so I did NOT want to end up down there) for approximately 5 minutes, before I was able to self-extricate. (In hindsight, there was no fire in the basement, and the glow which I saw was the smoldering floor joists) Now, I am not going to get into Rapid Intervention, Saving Ourselves, or any of those topics, because there are plenty of great posts on this website, and it gives me ammo for another post someday.
What happened to me is more common that one might think. Firefighters are always taught that their officers will always watch over them, and not to run-off or freelance. As officers, we are all taught to watch over our guys like they were our little children. (And if not, maybe we should). The biggest issue is that reciprocal "watching over the other guy," mentality that we have to instill in everyone who's working on the fireground. We can sector a building or a fire off, and maintain that span-of-control and have that direct accountability to a senior officer. Actually, if we follow the purest form of ICS, this is what we should be doing; and establishing "Divisions," for this same reason of accountability on the fireground.
When I spoke to my nozzleman after this incident; first he had an overwhelming feeling of guilt that he had for losing me, and not being able to help. After comforting him, and telling him that it was not his fault, I explained to him my deficiency for not training my crew in keeping accountability of everyone (Including me!) and also went into a small discussion on Crew Resource Management (CRM). Another great topic of discussion. I mentioned to him that when I tapped him, and told him that I was going to do my search that he had given me a positive acknowledgement, so that was why I went forward. He believes that he may have gotten caught up in the moment, or believed that I had already returned. Either way, we need to instill in our firefighters the urgency in making sure that messages are communicated clearly, and should be repeated for clarification; along with everyone needs to be expected to keep an eye on everyone.
The job of an officer is challenging enough, but maintaining their crew is by far the most important, in my opinion. Firefighters have to feel comfortable that their superiors have their needs at the forefront while conducting dangerous operations, and that they will not lose them. On the flip side, we as officers need to also remind our crews that they need to watch our back and keep us in mind as well. When you pin on you bugles, you don't magically become fireproof, or invincible; we still need the help of our most precious resource…our crews. So, please chew on that for a little bit, and let me know what you think. Thanks again, and may all of you have a happy and safe New Year!!